Jess and I had been together for two years. We were complete opposites, which is why it worked. She was always very ‘big picture’, leaving the details to me. Last year’s Vietnam trip was no exception: Jess decided how we’d spend each day; I held the map and kept an eye on the time (the only reason we missed the boat to Ha Long Bay was the departure time on their website had been wrong). Here at home, we enjoyed the simple life: spending our time playing scrabble, watching films or listening to music. We were happy, which is why I was so startled the night Jess brought Zoë home.
‘I’m Simon,’ I’d said feebly, immediately noticing Zoë was both slimmer and younger than me.
‘Jessica says you’ve got the Wi-Fi details?’ She sounded as Scandinavian as she looked.
I asked Jess if it was Ok to share our Wi-Fi credentials, trying to sound more casual than I felt.
‘I’m busy with dinner, Simon, just tell Zoë whatever she wants to know.’
As it turned out, Zoë wanted to know everything: Jess’ height, her weight, date of birth, even asking to see Jess’ texts and photos. After dinner, Jess made cupcakes for their visit to her mother the next day, then Jess and Zoë went to bed together. In two years, we’d never slept in separate rooms. As I lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling, I tried to imagine why she was punishing me.
I flicked through some old photos, pausing on a rare one of the two of us. We were at the hairdresser; it was the day she’d had her long auburn hair shortened to her shoulders. I kept flicking, eventually reaching a photo of Jess with her ex, the two of them in a changeroom, as Jess tried on a black dress. I’d met Jess’ ex briefly, she lived with Jess’ mother now. I suddenly realised I wasn’t being punished; I was being replaced.
The following morning, Jess and Zoë emerged from the bedroom. Zoë lay cheerfully on the couch alongside me as Jess boiled the kettle.
‘You look drained,’ joked Zoë.
‘Just look after her, will you?’
‘No, I mean it – she’s a good one.’
She paused. ‘Ok, I will. I promise.’
Jess sat down next to me on the couch, nursing her mug. She gently ran her thumb across my face, stroking it the way she’d done a million times before, telling me we needed to reset things between us.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked, knowing what this meant. She said she was, and everything turned black.
When I woke, an elderly woman with glasses squinted at me.
‘Hello, which language do you speak?’ I asked.
‘I’m Simon, your virtual assistant for this device.’
‘It’s like Siri on the last phone I gave you,’ said a younger woman with auburn hair.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘Susan,’ answered the older woman. ‘And this is my daughter, Jessica.’
© Matthew S. Wilson, June 2020
This piece was written for June’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre, where entrants were given 55 hours to write a 500-word story, meeting the following criteria: Each story’s first and last words had to begin with J; Each story had to include a game being played; Each story had to include the phrase MISS/MISSED THE BOAT.