These are taken from a manuscript called The Art of Infidelity, which is a sequel to Edward O’Dwyer’s most recent book, Cheat Sheets (Truth Serum Press, 2018). Each is a collection of short dark comedy vignettes with the unifying theme of infidelity.
When my wife passed away, I knew I would never want anyone else. She was the love of my life and, by myself, I’d just have to see out whatever number of years remained.
The loneliness of her absence was causing me a lot of bother, so I checked the classifieds and found the number of a medium whose ad came with some testimonials from very satisfied customers. I immediately rang and made an appointment.
She arranged the room just as you’d see it done in the movies, darkness but for the single candle between us on the table. She joined her hands with mine and spoke aloud to the air, attempting to make contact.
“I have made contact with the deceased,” she announced commandingly.
“Ask her how I turn on the cooker,” I gasped. I had so many questions. There was so much I wanted to say to her.
“I am speaking to you from the realm of the living, where I sit now with your husband, whom you have left behind to enter the realm of the dead,” she intoned.
“Oh, and ask her where she hid my collection of naughty magazines,” I added.
“This isn’t a good time for your wife’s spirit to talk,” the medium said, addressing me this time.
“She said that?” I asked. “Why isn’t it a good time? Is she aware that I’ve hired a very expensive clairvoyant so that we could have this chat?”
“It seems your wife’s spirit is on a date,” she carried on, ignoring me and listening keenly, still, to the voice coming from the realm of dead.
“On a date?” I raged “On a fucking date? You have got to be kidding me. Tell me you’re kidding me!”
“Your husband wants to know if you are joking,” the medium spoke, and again in the chant that meant she was addressing the spirit world. For a moment she listened and then turned to face me once more. “Your wife’s spirit hopes you will not be mad at her, but she really is on a date, and it is going quite well, but being contacted by her still-living husband is somewhat taking the romance out of it, so she has asked if we might do this at another, more convenient time.”
“Oh fine, fine, fine,” I bellowed. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. “But one last thing before so goes back to her date,” I snarled. “Tell her that I miss her unbearably.”
It’s such a tragedy when a beautiful love is destroyed. Thankfully it didn’t come to that, and my girlfriend and I were eventually able to put our follies behind us. We’d both been having silly affairs and had found out in the same moment.
“I’m ending it immediately,” I told her. “It won’t ever happen again.”
“I’m going to do the very same,” she said, and it looked like that was that, the problem solved.
However, I was more peeved about it than I had initially thought. Using my background working with explosives, I decided to rig a small bomb inside her refrigerator, which would activate when she removed the bottle of Chardonnay I’d put there for her, knowing she’d be eager to pour a glass when she got in from work.
Of course, we share this tendency to overreact in emotional situations. Maybe that’s just love. I should have known she’d be similarly irked, but I wasn’t prepared for the bear trap she’d set up just inside the door of my apartment.
She called the fire brigade and I called the ambulance, of course. The oddest thing happened, though. They must not have been able to hear each other as they zoomed around the same bend in opposing directions. They must have heard nothing but the screams of their own siren. When they collided, it was at high speed.
In a cruel irony, the firefighters were too injured and in need of medical care to put out the flames consuming the medics. Similarly, the medics were too distracted by the flames searing their flesh to attend to the injuries of the firefighters.
It was such a terrible shame. All of them were killed, and all due to our childish domestic squabble.
“Our love must survive as a tribute to their great sacrifice,” I told her, when the pandemonium of it was beginning to settle down, and we were assessing our options.
“Agreed,” she said. “If we don’t make this work, then they’ll have all died for nothing.” She leaned in as though to kiss me, but then stopped, probably having remembered all the bandaging on her face, and the fact that, beneath it, she had no lips any longer. Like my lost limb, neither of us would ever again be whole, but it didn’t matter. We were both sure we were headed into a future of endless fulfillment.
I’ve always been so proud of my boyfriend, the lifeguard. I could really imagine how his confident presence must have made even the most nervous swimmers feel entirely safe, so totally at ease.
When he left the house without his lunch one day, I felt I’d better bring it to him. You have to keep up your strength when in the business of saving lives.
As I was there, a woman began flapping in distress. While other swimmers closer to her froze in panic, my boyfriend sprang into action. It was thrilling to see him run and leap so purposefully into the pool, his strong arms cutting through the water at speed.
When he pulled her out she appeared to have lost consciousness. It seemed a little dramatic on her part. She wasn’t under for very long.
As he leaned his bare chest over her half-exposed breasts and put his lips to hers to begin with C.P.R. I couldn’t stop myself feeling a burst of jealousy.
After a while, it just started to seem a bit much. I suspected she was quite possibly conscious again and must have been faking it in order to keep my boyfriend’s lips to hers.
“You call that a kiss?” I screamed at her. “I’ll show you what a real kiss looks like,” and I grabbed my boyfriend from off of her and started kissing him very passionately, pressing my body up against his.
I suppose, in hindsight, I may have overreacted, and I’m just so relieved he was able to forgive me. It’s a terrible shame she died, of course, but in my defence, that lost minute or two he spent trying to wrestle me off him may not have actually made any difference to the outcome.
I met the most beautiful woman and soon she became my girlfriend. She was so kind and considerate, so it was no surprise to discover she did loads of volunteer work for various charity organisations, and had plans to dedicate her life to helping the needy and disadvantaged.
“How did you ever get to be so good?” I asked her once. She was after bringing a homeless man back to the house and had drawn him a hot bubble bath, and as he was soaking in the tub, laundered his clothing, cooked for him, and later listened to his story before doing up the bed in the spare room.
“Oh, you’re the good one,” she said, and she blew me that wonderful kiss that far exceeds the great generosity in all her other works.
Her goodness had shown up my own blindness to the sufferings of the less fortunate, and it wasn’t long before I was feeling inspired, eagerly getting involved, volunteering. I was offering support and understanding wherever I could. I was keeping my eyes and ears open for any form of neediness I might somehow lessen.
Unfortunately, the police didn’t quite understand when I explained I’d only intended to be of comfort, compassionate, when one day, in the street, I’d met somebody so painfully unattractive I immediately grabbed her and started kissing her very passionately, as I was sure she’d never been kissed before. I then began trying to remove garments of clothing from what I was sure would be an equally hideous body, but she totally got the wrong idea and started screaming for help. I tried to explain but everyone refused to see sense, and she pressed charges.
My ever-giving girlfriend, of course, didn’t doubt my intentions for even a second. She’s just that good a person. She sees the very best in people. All the way through the trial she supported me, gave me love and strength. There’s no way I could have gotten through it without her.
“She really is incredibly ugly,” she soothed after they’d passed sentence on me, “and whatever they may say, always remember that you were generous and selfless, and I’ve never been prouder of you.” They put on the handcuffs and took me away, and I looked back to see her blow that amazing kiss once more in my direction.
My girlfriend had been unemployed for a long time, and I sometimes wondered what she did all day while I was at work, earning the money to pay our bills.
“Oh, a bit of this and a bit of that,” she’d reply when I’d ask her every once in a while, and then she’d turn up the volume on the TV to let me know I was annoying her.
I was very happy to come home one day and find her sitting at the desk, updating her curriculum vitae. She asked me if I would check it for any spelling mistakes when she was done and of course, I told her I’d be delighted to.
She hit the print button and moments later handed me the sheet of paper. There wasn’t much on it. Then again, there wasn’t a great deal she could put down in terms of education and work experience, but as I went through it, it occurred to me that would-be employers might give her a chance, find her honesty refreshing. They must get really sick of the terrible lies candidates these days come up with.
When I got to hobbies, I noticed she had included having sex.
“I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to list having sex as a hobby, dear,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m really flattered you enjoy sex that much, but it might send the wrong message to employers.”
“Well, I meant sex with somebody else,” she said. “I wasn’t really talking about sex with you. I mean, what we do is fine, but I’ve never really considered it a hobby.”
“Oh, I see,” I replied, sighing dejectedly.
“Oh, don’t feel bad,” she said, laying her hand on mine and looking into my eyes. “You’re so good at other things. I mean, I wouldn’t ask this other guy to check my spellings. If I did, I’d probably never get a job.”
Edward O’Dwyer’s poetry collections, The Rain on Cruise’s Street and Bad News, Good News, Bad News (Salmon Poetry, 2014 & 2017) have drawn frequent comparisons with Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. They’ve been Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes, and the latter contains the Michael Hartnett Festival 2018 award-winning poem, ‘The Whole History of Dancing’. His third book is a dark comedy flash fiction collection, Cheat Sheets (Truth Serum Press, 2018), which featured on The Lonely Crowd journal’s ‘Best Books of 2018’ list. Donal Ryan refers to them as “wicked little gems”, while Tanya Farrelly compares them to “Woody Allen at his best” when referring to the collection as “a side-splitting study on the absurdity of human behaviour.” Exquisite Prisons, his third collection of poems, is due from Salmon Poetry in Spring 2020. A sequel to Cheat Sheets is already finished, and he is currently working on a first novel. Edward lives in Limerick.