Benefits – By Jim Moeller
‘This is ensuite?’
‘For your use only.’
‘We share the kitchen.’
‘I’m a terrible cook.’
‘I’m not looking for a chef.’
‘I’m also quite a novice.’
‘As long as there’s nothing unusual.’
‘I have simple, straightforward tastes.’
‘And if it doesn’t work out?’
‘Termination is immediate. No questions asked. I’ve drawn up an agreement. Let your solicitor look at it.’
‘My solicitor is an old family friend.’
‘There’s such a thing as client confidentiality.’
‘Easy enough to get around.’
‘There is an agency I can put you in touch with. Impartial and discrete. After you’ve talked to them, we can meet at the end of the week?’
‘I’ll ring you when I’m sorted.’
‘On my private number.’
* * *
She had the contract vetted and returned the signed copy. If the solicitor she contacted was bemused, he didn’t show it. She didn’t need his judgment to complicate her feelings. She had taken the decision. It was a practical solution. The arrangement was no worse than having a boyfriend. Better in fact. No messy hang ups. No difficulty in ending it. All set out in the contract. Clauses answering all questions. No demands on her to remain faithful. Any extra-curricular activities were to be kept from view and not conducted in the room provided for her. There was even a provision for health checks. Roland had thought of everything.
Everything except the unthinkable.
* * *
Once she had endured the shock of intimacy, she relaxed. In time, she enjoyed the encounters. She even looked forward to them.
* * *
‘You must have a new lover. You’re looking radiant, Sally.’
She laughed. ‘It’s me. Same old, same old.’
‘I don’t believe you. Come on, I want to know everything.’
Sally changed the subject. She did not want to tell her friend about Roland. She deflected the conversation by talking about one of the new lecturers. He was fuelling all sorts of rumours.
After trading comments on his suitability, Sally realised it was getting late. She was due at the flat.
She passed a coffee shop on the way. There were two people sitting at a window table, talking to each other. One was an attractive young woman. The other was Roland.
She felt a sharp pain in her chest. Surely not jealousy? That would be ridiculous. However, she could not stop dwelling on the fact that he might be cheating on her. She could not stop the feeling of inadequacy. It worried her all afternoon.
‘I saw you today in the coffee shop on Palmer Street.’ They were getting dressed. She managed to keep an annoyed tone out of her voice. He did not say anything. She guessed he had nothing to say. Why should he? There was no exclusivity clause in their agreement. Indeed, there was provision for her private life as long as she kept lovers away from the flat. The arrangement was all in her favour. She had a comfortable room, ample spending money, and a lump sum on termination. It was too good to jeopardise by…jealousy? No, it was more complicated than that.
She waited for him to speak, but he said nothing. Was he was getting bored with her?
‘I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. I apologise.’
Roland shrugged. As usual, he was taciturn. He would speak to confirm details about money, but nothing else. He showed no curiosity.
‘I’m getting married,’ he said.
The announcement went through her like a thunderbolt.
Their liaison was based on the services she provided. Not a lot different from marriage, but without commitment. Why would he want to get married?
‘You’re not developing any feelings?’ His tone was level. She could not tell if he wanted feelings or if they would embarrass him.
‘When I saw you this afternoon, I felt a flicker of something. Don’t worry, it wasn’t jealousy. It’s to do with my feelings of inadequacy.’
‘You flatter me.’
She supposed he had paid her a compliment. To press for more would raise matters she did not want to take up.
‘I was hoping you’d say that.’
‘You still want the arrangement?’
‘More than ever.’
That was alright then.
November 2017: ‘Benefits’ was a runner up in the annual Gloucestershire Writers’ Network Competition 2017 and featured in the Cheltenham Literature Festival.