To Do List, a short story by Paula R C Readman at

To Do List

To Do List

written by: Paula R C Readman



‘Have you got the list, Bruce?’ A voice yelled from inside the house, slicing through the frosty air on a chilly Saturday morning while I was outside vigorously scraping ice off the windscreen.
‘No, Sally.’ I sighed inwardly and lowered the ice scraper. ‘And, please close the front door! You’re letting the heat out. Global warming and all that!’
As I cleaned the ice off the windows, I briefly thought about turning on the heated rear window, but that was too easy. I enjoyed finding things to do to avoid Sally when she was in one of her pre-departure checking list moods.
My wife’s obsession, with list-making, is relentless. For as long as I’ve known her, she’s been a list maker. From the normal sort of lists, everyone makes like Christmas and birthday cards to the absurd ones. Going on holiday, things to do while we’re there, things to do when we get back, jobs needing to be done around the house, a list of all the lists is endless. It wouldn’t surprise me, if Sally hasn’t already made a list for her bloody funeral and mine, too.
Sometimes, it frustrates me that she can’t focus without one. No matter what the task, she has to make a list first. A checklist before leaving the house, and one for things we need to remember while we’re out.
‘Why make two journeys, when you can make one, Bruce?’ she always says with that stupid, knowing smile.
Okay, so maybe she’s right. On the odd occasion, after we’d arrived home, I remember I’d forgotten to buy something needed to finish a job. With that all-knowing smile of hers, she would shake her head, her red curls bouncing as she waved a finger with its neatly painted nail, and say, ‘Tut, tut, what have I said about making a list?’
For once, I would like to do something spontaneous like jump in the car and roar off for the day without any planning. No last-minute consulting of a bloody list.
I blame her mother who must’ve been a list enthusiast. The school gate banter, with my mates, their jibes, ‘Here comes Sally To-do-list.’
Whenever Sally’s mother dropped her off, she would call after her, ‘Have you got everything on your list?’
‘Yes, mum, I’ve checked my list.’
Years later, Sally had climbed the corporate ladder, living in a fine house, driving a fast car, and jetting off on exotic holidays. Sally To-do list never left anything to chance or took a gamble without knowing the odds.
At the school reunion, a few years later, I met up with an old schoolmate. Tony had taken over running his father’s business, a garage. We stood propping up the bar while downing a pint or two, laughing about what had become of the rest of our school chums.
‘You lucky little devil, Bruce,’ Tony said, ‘If only I had known, I would have taken a gamble on Sally myself.’
I smiled and nodded. Oh, I wish you had, Tony, I thought, maybe we can swap lives now. A hand on my shoulder made me flinch. I drew myself up and stopped leaning on the bar.
‘Hello, Tony. How’s life treating you?’ Sally said with one of her unnerving smiles.
‘All’s good, Sally. I must say you’re looking very well,’ Tony said as he ran an appreciative eye over my wife.
‘Your garage is in a prime location,’ she said.
My heart sank. Sally was on the hunt.
What Tony didn’t know as he looked from the outside in was, I didn’t have it all. It might seem like I did, but I didn’t. It’s all Sally’s. Yes, I had a job—a good job. I was happy with my position in life.
On many occasions, I’d wanted to walk away, but Sally had total control over me. She knew exactly where I was at any given time. Some called it love, but I didn’t.
I was another one of her investments on her tick list, and as long as I performed well, I was an asset to her. Of course, Sally always got what she wanted.
Tony lost his garage, and Sally’s investment paid off. With her bonus, she bought a fancy high-tech electric car while Tony received a stab in the eye, along with the loss of his family business.
Once the car was defrosted, I sat in it to warm up while waiting for Sally. She finally climbed in and pushed her copper-coloured hair back from her face as she struggled to strap herself in. While Sally settled into her seat, I leaned across and kissed her.
The kiss took her by surprise. For the first time in a long time, a natural smile shaped her lips catching me by surprise, too. I wanted to take her in my arms and feel the warmth of her body against mine, but I knew to be spontaneous was against Sally’s nature, if she hadn’t planned it.

I fell in love with Sally’s beautiful hair and sparkling green eyes. She was a ray of sunshine in a sea of bobbing heads as I hurried into school behind her. I was too nervous then to get to know her at school, but a chance meeting years later brought us together.
It was a sunny day. The sun cast dappled light through the leaves on the low-hanging branches as I strolled along the towpath down by the canal, looking for interesting subjects to photograph for my next exhibition. After taking a few snaps of houseboats and swans, I looked around for something more unusual.
A flash of bright copper-red came walking towards me. Tall and leggy, dressed in a long white skirt and gypsy blouse. I froze, staring in disbelief.
‘Hello Bruce.’
My voice caught in my throat. The schoolboy in me reappeared. The girl of my dreams spoke to me. ‘Sally To Do…’ I snapped my mouth shut cutting the words off just in time.
‘Oh, so you recognize me?’ Her cheeks flushed pink, and she lowered her eyes.
‘You are unforgettable, with such lovely hair.’ I smiled.
She returned it, causing my heart to lift.
Over the next few hours, arm in arm like old friends, we strolled along the path. The years between us were gone. She became my model and muse. Ordinary scenes I had photographed a hundred times became extraordinary as the sun shone off her flaming red hair. As the camera snapped, Sally told me how she had seen my exhibition in New York. Of course, I hadn’t gone to America; just my work.
It all sounded wonderful, but my work was only a small part of a bigger show. My name, Bruce Marston, was an up-and-coming one. Sally chattered on singing praises about my work, and what she had overheard other people saying about it. I was in heaven. I had it all; the girl of my dreams, a job I loved, and a bright future.
My passion became her passion. Lost in her scent, swept up in love, Sally was perfect in my eyes. For six months, I photographed every side of her and ticked off a list of places she wanted to visit. Every landmark I recorded through her green eyes. Then, in a moment of madness at the height of my passion, the words I hadn’t expected left my lips. ‘Sally, marry me, please?’
‘Of course, I will, Bruce. I’ve been waiting for you to ask.’
A few days later, the first list appeared as Sally and her mother planned our wedding day down to the last tiny rosebud on the wedding cake. From then on, the lists became endless.

Now I was in the driving seat; I turned off the Satnav and headed for a dead zone for mobiles.
‘Where are we going?’ Sally’s voice was soft and edgy.
‘It’s alright; I’ve planned everything so there’s no need to worry.’
Sally gave a half smile and then settled back. We raced away from the city and towns and headed north. Sally drifted off to sleep with her head on her shoulder, her arm between the door and the seat. Her other arm rested loosely across her lap. On one occasion when I glanced at her, I realised, she wasn’t sleeping but checking her phone. I pretended not to notice.
‘Have you booked us in somewhere nice?’ she asked, shattering the silence and stopping my mind from racing.
‘Everything is sorted.’ I said, trying to keep my voice even. ‘Please let me surprise you for once.’
The journey was uneventful, considering I hadn’t planned it or had a list. My heart began to race as I tried to recall which turning we needed off the main road. Years ago, I stumbled across the turning by chance when I was first in the area on a photo shoot. A friend had suggested checking it out. I glanced at Sally. Concern marked her face as she stared out the window.
‘Are you okay? I asked.
‘Where are we?’ She met my eyes, with a puzzled stare.
‘You’ll see it’s lovely here. It’s a bit chilly, but I have a couple of blankets in the boot. Right, here’s the turning, we need.’
The country lane was just as I remembered it, tall, ancient trees growing on either side, creating a tunnel with their bare branches. A hint of fresh green was everywhere to remind us warm days were just around the corner. Suddenly, doubt clouded my mind; what if there had been a sudden increase in housing, or now it was a caravan site? Maybe I should have planned it better.
The late afternoon sun was still bright as I made the second turn. This time it was onto a farm track. ‘It might get a bit bumpy here, but think of the wonderful sunset that will be the backdrop to the photograph; I’ll be taking of you.’
‘We’ve driven all this way, so you can photograph me!’ Shock edged her voice this time.
‘Yes, I thought it would be fun to do it on the spur of the moment.’
‘You could’ve warned me!’ Sally said, laughter edging her voice.
‘What, and spoil the day with you panicking about whether you’re wearing the right clothes, or us carrying your wardrobe in the boot. I like what you’re wearing.’
‘Black boots, black jeans, and a thick green jumper are not exactly inspiring for nighttime photographs.’
‘We’ll see,’ I said, swinging the car around and parking. On opening the door, the cold entered, causing Sally to shiver. On closing the door behind me, I noticed Sally covertly checking her phone.
As I walked up a slight rise, I checked mine. No signal. I turned slowly, taking in the stunning view across the valley. The village below nested amongst trees. I glanced in Sally’s direction. She danced about with her phone held high, trying to locate a stronger signal. When she saw me watching, she slipped her phone into her back pocket and pulled her fleecy jacket from the back seat. Sally stepped cautiously towards me and seemed to check the ground. Of course, her black suede boots were more suitable for walking in town rather than through rough grass, heather, and bilberry in among bracken and gorse. If Sally had known, she would’ve checked the weather forecast and selected the right outfit.
‘It’s very beautiful here,’ she said, slipping on her jacket and hugging it to her, ‘So isolated. How did you find it?’
‘I uncovered it a while ago for a special location as a backdrop for glamour shots.’
‘Oh, I didn’t know you went off hunting for locations, with glamour models, without my knowledge.’
‘Sally, it was before we met,’ I lied. ‘You look cold,’ I pulled out a blanket out of the boot.
‘Well, if I had known I would’ve been better prepared.’
‘Yes, I know, darling. I wanted to make this moment special for us.’ After wrapping the blanket around her, I kissed her cheek and felt her stiffen. I ignored it and fetched two folding chairs and a small table. After ensuring the chairs and table were on the level, I draped the blanket over one of the chairs. ‘Please take a seat.’
I returned to the boot, took out my camera and heavy tripod, and set them up before returning to the hamper next. I laid out a fresh white tablecloth, cutlery, and plates and turned the lamp to a soft setting. I opened the hamper, took out a bottle, and poured us a glass of wine each.
‘Oh, Bruce, you have thought of everything.’
‘Thank you, it’s the least I can do on our anniversary.’ I took a little bow. ‘What would you like to eat first?’ I set a plate of sandwiches on the table and pulled off the plastic wrapping. For a while, we ate and watched the sun slowly sinking. The dying sun gave off a brilliant burst of light, as I got ready to snap a few photos. Sally shivered slightly, pulled the blanket tight around her, and put her hand to her face.
‘Are you alright,’ I asked.
‘I don’t know. I feel a little sick. You better take me home.’
‘Okay, sit there, while I clear everything away.’
While putting the uneaten food back into the hamper, I noticed Sally fleetingly look at her phone, but when I picked the hamper up, she was slumped forward, eyes closed. Hurriedly, I loaded everything into the boot. On looking up to close the boot, I glimpsed Sally walking unsteadily towards me, carrying my camera and tripod.
Just as I reached for the boot lid, a sharp pain caught me across the back of my head. I fell forward, striking my forehead on the edge of the boot, and then everything went black.
On opening my eyes, the night sky was full of galaxies and stars. An excruciating pain sliced through my head, if I tried to move. Who had hit me? Why? I became aware of voices.
The lamp, which stood on the bonnet, where I had left it, had been turned up. From my position sprawled on the grass, all I saw were shadows and feet moving in and out of view. Sally was arguing with someone. The voice sounded familiar, but no name came to mind. I touched my forehead and found a large lump had formed.
Had they struck me? Was Sally in danger? No one knew we were coming here for a sunset dinner.
‘Why destroy my life, Sally? Was it because of some childish name-calling years ago?’
I focused on the voice.
‘As if, Tony!’ Sally snapped. ‘For fifteen years, you used me. I was your dirty little secret. Then you cast me aside to marry someone else. I loved you, but I wasn’t good enough for you to marry, only to be your tart.’
Tony? I rolled onto my back. The damp grass beneath helped to clear my head. I wanted to crawl away, but intrigue stopped me.
‘God’s sake, Sally, we weren’t right for each other. Bruce and you are a better match.’
‘He’s not you, Tony.’ Sally’s tone was seductive.
‘Why did you want me to follow you?’ Fear edged Tony’s voice.
‘Needed a lift back, didn’t I? Good job you fitted the tracker. You wouldn’t have found me.’
‘What choice did I have? Where’s Bruce?’
‘Dead, I hope.’
‘I got tired of waiting for you. I hit the stupid bastard as hard as I could, with his camera. It was the heaviest thing to hand. Bruce might not have been planning his murder, but he couldn’t have picked a better spot,’ she said, with a giggle.
‘Why marry him, if you didn’t love him?’
‘He fulfilled a need and I’ve insured him well. Now let’s get rid of the body, so we can get out of here. I’m getting cold.’
The lamp began to flicker.
In the darkness, I rolled onto my stomach. With my forearms and elbows, I began the painful effort of crawling away to hide among the gorse and bracken. I didn’t want to see death coming or make it easy for them.
I struggled down a slope. In the darkness, a pair of strong arms embraced me as a voice whispered. ‘Don’t say a word. This is the police.’
As the hill exploded with flashing blue lights, I closed my eyes. A voice boomed, ‘Sally Marston… you’re under arrest for the attempted murder of your husband, for blackmail and fraud.’
‘You can’t do this to me,’ were the last words, I heard Sally utter before an ambulance whisked me away.

A few days after the trial, the doorbell rang while I was packing up, ready to move out and on with my life. On opening the front door, the last person I expected to see stood there. ‘Hello, Tony.’
‘Hey, I don’t expect you to want to talk to me, but I needed to see that you were all right.’
‘Actually, I’m glad to see you. Come in.’
In the living room, among the boxes, Tony sat on the edge of the sofa, glass in hand, while I poured myself a drink.
‘It’s crazy to think Sally To do List was ready to kill you. I didn’t know what to do. My wife said to inform the police about her blackmail. They suggested I continue to help her while they gathered evidence. We lost you for a while. That’s when she must’ve hit you. They wired me and told me to keep her talking. I’m sorry.’
‘I don’t know what shocked me most. Her trying to kill me, or that she had an affair with you, Tony. She never said.’
‘Biggest mistake of my life, but luckily my wife forgave me,’ Tony said.
‘Let’s just forget about it. We both got lucky. Cheers! Here’s to our second chance of a wonderful life.’

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