Anyway. It was easy to put the dream out of her mind this morning; after all, it was only a month until her wedding. She’d met Glenn six months ago, and the wedding was planned in a bit of a hurry, to be sure, but Sarah felt a vague sense of urgency about the whole thing. She felt almost as if she needed to snag Glenn before he got away — as if he were not a man, but a fish. Her best friend, Janie, seemed to think of all men as fish in this way; she caught any number of them, played with them for a while, and then threw them back. It was as if they were little trophies. But she was insistent that Sarah needed to grab onto Glenn and hold on to him as hard as she could.
“Face it, darling,” said Janie. “Some women, women like me, need lots of men. And some women need just one man — a very strong, steady man, with a strong hand. You’re one of those. And you need to find a man like that and hold on to him, or else you’ll end up an old maid with no one at all.”
It was true, Sarah knew it. She wasn’t strong, like Janie. She felt like maybe she’d been strong, once. But it was a long time ago, before… Before everything.
In any case, she had Glenn. He was strong, and confident, and steady enough most of the time. And they were going to be married, and it wouldn’t matter that she was a weak woman. She would have someone to take care of her.
So once she had cleared her mind of the dream, it was a wonderful day. She sang along with the radio in the car on her way to work (Glenn had given her the Austin 35 as a birthday gift three months ago — he didn’t come from a wealthy family, but he had joined the RAF right out of school, and risen quickly to be a Group Captain — and the car made all her friends, even Janie, so jealous!), and there was a spring in her step as she went about her business at the flower shop. Mrs. Guswhite, the secretary, wasn’t as snippy as usual, and Mr. Valducci, who owned the shop, had taken the day off entirely. She finished up all the corsages and arrangements in record time — in fact, it looked like she’d get all her work done a couple of hours after lunch.
“Mrs. Guswhite,” she said, “how would it be if I left an hour early today? I’d like to go over to Glenn's place and surprise him with dinner before he gets home.”
Mrs. Guswhite wrinkled her nose. “You shouldn’t spoil a man like that,” she said. “He’ll come to expect it every night. I serve Harold cold beans and stew six nights a week. Saves us a lot of money, and makes him really appreciate the chicken and rice on Sunday.”
Sarah stifled a laugh. “Well, I won’t do it any more after the marriage,” she said. “I promise. But I want to make sure I hold on to him till then. — I’ll buy you lunch?”
Mrs. Guswhite gave a harrumph. “All right,” she said. “I’ll make sure your time card shows you worked the full time. — And you owe me something from the fish and chip shop.”
She hummed her way through the rest of the afternoon, and sang along to Vera Lynn on the drive to Glenn's flat. It was a small place, but nice — two stories of simple, elegant furnishings, and a kitchen with a brand new stove. She scanned the fridge contents critically. A bachelor never had a great selection of healthy ingredients on hand. What could she do with beers, beans, and ketchup? She should have stopped by the shops on the way home…
There was a strange thumping noise from upstairs. For some reason, her mind jumped to a story Lil and Ed had told her about an island in Sagaia, in which little invisible one-legged dwarfs hopped about continually, thumping and thumping… She pushed that aside. This was London; this was real life; Lil and Ed… Well. There wasn’t any point in thinking about Sagaia ever again.
So what could that thumping be? It was strangely regular. Maybe hot water in the pipes?
She started towards the stairs, ready to go right up them, but paused at the bottom. What if there were an intruder up there? She hesitated. Maybe she should just call the police? — But if she did that, and it really was just a noise, she’d feel so silly. And Glenn would be annoyed that she’d called the police over nothing…
But the thumping just kept going and going. Her hand sought a frying pan, and gingerly lifted it over her head. “Hello?” she called out.
The thumping immediately stopped. There was some shifting and whispering noises, and she could have sworn she heard a woman’s voice. Surely… surely not?
But yes. A woman appeared at the top of the stairs, a woman Sarah didn’t recognize. She had short-cropped blond hair and pasty-white skin, and she was wearing slippers, a short skirt, and one of Glenn's shirts. Sarah yelped, and the other woman did too, putting her hands over her mouth.
“What the,” cried Sarah. She swallowed the rest of the curse.
The woman laughed. She laughed! And then she dashed down the stairs right at Sarah. Sarah flinched and took a step back, and the woman pushed past her, through the kitchen, and out the door, without stopping.
There was silence for a few moments. Sarah struggled with feelings of betrayal, shame, fear, and anger. But she couldn’t hear anything… Maybe Glenn wasn’t home at all? Maybe the woman was some kind of intruder, a thief?
“Glenn?” she called out.
“I’m here,” said Glenn, and he appeared at the top of the stairs, wearing nothing but slacks. He put his hands on his hips. “Well, hello,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you for an hour or so yet.”
“Glenn? Were you — were you with that woman? What the — what’s going on?”
“Wow, you must be upset. You almost cussed there.” He grinned and started coming down the stairs, swinging his shoulders, swaggering a little.
“Glenn, explain!” She started backing away from him.
He shrugged. “Explain what?” he said. “I was just having a little fun.”
She felt waves of ice and heat shake her chest. “What do you mean?” she asked. “A little fun! — Glenn, we’re engaged to be married! Are we — are you calling it off?”
He looked puzzled. “No,” he said. “Of course not. I love you, pumpkin.”
“Well then why — how can you — “
“Pumpkin, we’re not married yet. It’s nothing serious.” He grinned, and reached out for her. She backed away again, bumping into the kitchen counter.
“Why are you so upset?”
“Glenn, I don’t understand why you would do this! It’s — it’s shameful, and —“
“Shameful?” He laughed. “Oh, Sarie. You’re acting like a child! Look. A man has needs, right? If you weren’t off at work, maybe you’d have more time for me. Why should a woman be working, anyway? It isn’t wartime anymore, I make plenty for both of us and your family’s loaded.”
The battle between shame and rage in Sarah abruptly ended with rage on top. Instinctively she grabbed a knife from the counter, and her muscles remembered being Queen of Sagaia. She threw the knife, and it whirled and whipped in the air. She regretted it as soon as it left her fingers, but it stabbed square and true into his arm. He bellowed and yanked it out. Blood gushed; and suddenly Sarah found herself facing an enraged man with a bloody knife.
“What the fuck!” he screamed at her.