women. writers.

Fiction: "Final Cut" by Hazel Prior

I will never forget the day I sliced my wedding dress into one hundred pieces. I knew it was one hundred. I counted. I counted as I sat on the lounge floor, as downy white snippets cascaded around me onto the thick-pile crimson carpet. I counted aloud, piece by piece, sobbing and hacking away with my blunt pair of needlework scissors. Over the next few years, those scissors would become my best friends. I wasn’t to know that then, of course. I was just doing what I had to do.
As I snipped, I kept looking up at the photo on the mantelpiece: Me, in the same wedding dress, and next to me Adam, dark hair cropped close, mouth curved into that broad, attractive smile of his. I was managing to look quite attractive that day, too, thanks to a kind light, Clare’s skill with the curling tongs, and Denise’s talent with the mascara and lipstick. The dress flattered my narrow figure and my face was lit up with an expression of utter joy and disbelief. I looked the way brides are supposed to look: Radiant. Yes, I saw it through my tears; that day I was really quite pretty. But evidently, now I was not pretty or—at least—not pretty enough, or not something enough…
When I finished cutting, I stood up shakily. I walked over to the CD shelves and chose the heaviest metal I could find. I slotted the disc into the machine, flicked the switch, and turned the volume up to full. Then I danced—a wild, jagged dance, ladling up handfuls of wedding dress from the floor and throwing them into the air. They fluttered all around me in a snowy blizzard of silk and lace. I beat at them with my fists as I danced, making them leap and fly. As soon as they started to settle, I scooped them up and hurled them into the air again. The music must have thumped and pounded and split my ears, yet when I look back there is only silence—silence and white movement, drifting like a slow-motion film sequence.
“Hi, honey, here I am, at last!”
“Adam!” I sprung to the door and kissed his cheek. “Good day at the office?”
He grimaced. “Bit of a grind. Phone ringing constantly, computer crashing, everyone in a mood.”
“Poor you!” I looked into his eyes and saw that the glint was there, grimace or no. “You must be exhausted!”
“Well, yes, I am a bit,” he confessed, “but all the better for seeing you. How was your day?”
“Oh, same old same old,” I lied. “Come and sit down. Supper’s ready.”
I had been careful to Hoover every last shred from the carpet. I had picked a few frayed white tatters out of my hair. I had given myself a long soak in the bath. I had made Shepherd’s pie, crispy-topped, the way he liked it. The pie was steaming on the kitchen table and a serene smile was on my face. But, hidden deep inside, my poor heart was viciously and irreparably cut to pieces.
That was how the cutting began. From that day on I kept the scissors in the front pocket of my handbag, at the ready.
“You again?”
I smiled nervously, not convinced he was really addressing me. I would have looked around, but I knew there was nobody behind me. I fiddled with my umbrella. “Um, yes, me again,” I said stupidly.
His collar was turned up and beads of rainwater sparkled in his dark hair. He raised a cheeky eyebrow. “Evidently you come here often.”
“To this bus-stop? Well, yes… I do!”
He smiled. “That’s good news. So do I!”
I had noticed him before, of course. It wasn’t just the muscles and the cobalt blue eyes. He was one of those people with that air of self-assurance I couldn’t help admiring. The admiration tripled when I heard him speak. It wasn’t so much what he said but how; he had a way of speaking with a rare directness and warmth that won me over straight away. The conversation went no further that day, though, as his bus chose that moment to arrive. But when he got on he threw me a sidelong glance that did strange things to my insides.
It was the day after—same time, same place, same drizzle—when he caught me trying not to look at him. Immediately he put his hand to his mouth and said in a theatrical whisper, “We must stop meeting like this. People will talk.” And I laughed because it was the best reaction I could muster.
He ducked under my umbrella and stuck out his hand. “I’m Adam,” he said.
I shook the hand. “Lydia.”
“Lovely to meet you, Lydia. I expect, like me, you’ve just finished work and are looking forward to getting home and putting your feet up and having a nice cup of tea.”
Someone who understood.
I nodded. “Yes, that’s pretty much it.”
“And at this moment you’ll be feeling extremely annoyed with English weather and public transport.”
“You got it!”
“And with men who come up to you and try to engage in conversation.”
“No!” I protested.
What to say next? A stream of possibilities ran through my head, but none of them seemed appropriate. I was about to make some dull comment about tomorrow’s forecast when he asked, “Which bus do you take, Lydia?”
I squinted into the distance and pointed. “That one that’s just turned into the High Street and will be here in a minute.”
“That’s funny, Lydia!” he said with exaggerated astonishment. “I do believe I’m going to be taking that one today too.”
“Oh! Where are you going?”
“Well, that all depends. Where are you going, Lydia?”
I liked the way he kept using my name.
I also liked the way he helped me with my bags onto the bus and sat down next to me as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I liked the way he chatted for the whole journey. I liked the way he scribbled down his phone number and left it to me to make the next move but made it clear that the next move would be very welcome. I was flattered, I was curious, I was magnetized. I was on the road to marriage.
I don’t mind at all that the scissors are blunt. It feels good to use that extra bit of energy. Somehow it means more that way. The handles dig into my fingers, leaving a red ring. I am in my own little world, working speedily, focusing on the texture of the fabric as it divides, the roughness of the edges, the contrast of tension where I hold it and flimsiness where I let it fall away.
Three years, two months, and twenty-six days. Some of them happy, I suppose. Like the wedding day itself, with Dad worn out from his cancer but glowing with pride, Denise all plump and pretty in her bridesmaid’s dress, the church wreathed in roses and honeysuckle, the string quartet that Adam had booked as a surprise. The evenings of snuggling on the sofa with my new husband, looking at holiday brochures and putting circles round the cheapest ads. The week in Clare’s cousin’s chateau—that was an unexpected and soothing break after Dad’s death. Adam’s half-successful attempts to cook me dinners that week. Running down to the sea hand-in-hand. Walking in each other’s footprints on the beach. It may seem like a nice list of memories, but they are all, all, twisted and tarred now.
It was not difficult to work out when Adam was having an affair. Naturally, he tried to cover his tracks but I grew adept at sniffing them out. There were the usual tell-tale signs: a whiff of an unfamiliar perfume, a late return home due to an "extra meeting," the odd phone call which sounded cryptic from my end. Chocolates, a pair of earrings, and a few other little treats for me suddenly materializing. No doubt they helped to ease his conscience. No doubt he viewed himself as a bit of a rascal but, well, he was certainly a generous and a charming one! And where was the harm when his poor fool wife knew nothing? Every time it happened his eyes glinted with the joy of his secret. The glint of excitement—that was the thing that, to me, made it so very obvious.
I have no guts. I couldn’t make myself broach the subject, couldn’t bear to think of the consequences if I did. So I took it like a saint and never let on that I knew. But, secretly, I cut things. Sometimes it would be a thin sliver from a curtain lining or a small, round hole made in an antimacassar. Sometimes it would be one of his ties, hacked into several pieces and disposed of in the neighbor’s bin where he would never find it.
“Have you seen my blue striped tie, honey?” he’d ask.
“No, why?” I’d say, all innocence.
“That’s odd. Where the devil has it got to? Seems to have disappeared.”
I’d raise an eyebrow, gently incredulous. “Not more missing clothes?”
He’d continue rummaging in the drawers. “Bizarre. I’m sure I put it here, at the top. I just don’t understand where it’s gone!”
“Well, I don’t know!”
“It must have run off with those boxers I bought last week.”
He can be so hilarious.
“Must have done, careless!” I knew perfectly well where the boxers were, too. They were buried at the bottom of the vegetable garden, cut into twelve ragged strips.
When he was on affair number four, I felt the need to tell someone. It had to be Denise. She was my oldest friend. We had known each other since school days when we used to swap pencil sharpeners and coo over the class guinea pig together. In the fifth form, we were inseparable, both friends in need. I helped her with math homework and she let me copy her French lessons. She was the artsy, creative, fun one and I was the boffin with a head for figures. In spite of our differences, both of us simultaneously developed a crush on Mr. Gregson, the history teacher. We collapsed into helpless giggles whenever he asked either of us a question. We used to discuss his merits for hours: the way he started writing at the bottom of the blackboard and worked his way to the top, his wry humor, the seductively bass tones in his voice. Yes, it was Mr Gregson who cemented our friendship. Then my family moved to London. Denise and I wrote each other long detailed letters for a while but eventually we lost touch.
We met again by chance several years later in front of a house agent’s window. We were both scrutinizing pocket-sized bungalows. We looked up at the same moment, caught each other’s eye, and did a double-take. There were hugs and cries of “Is it really you?” and “You haven’t changed a bit!” A catch-up coffee in the café around the corner and the years seemed to slip away. She told me of her brief marriage and messy divorce, her new interest in sculpture, and her plans to buy a house in the area and set up her own business. I told her how I had given up work but had found the man of my dreams. I burbled on and on about Adam. I flashed my new engagement ring, invited her to the wedding the following spring, and told her that we were also house-hunting. She gripped my hand with excitement. “Perhaps we’ll be neighbours!” she gushed.
I grinned. “Oh, wouldn’t that be fabulous!”
It seemed that everything in my life was falling into place so beautifully.
Now Denise was living with a big, fluffy cat in a house on the estate, only a couple of streets away. I saw more and more of her these days. I didn’t get out much, but visits to Denise’s always cheered me up. She was the one who saved my sanity. Especially when Adam started his shenanigans.
Denise could always be relied upon for cups of herbal tea and reassuring chit-chat. I have to admit, I never normally confided. It seemed I had changed since my school days and now I found it difficult to bare my heart to anyone. But for some reason on this particular occasion, the occasion of Adam’s fourth affair, I decided it was worth a try. There is a limit to how many things you can cut.
It was a bright July day with birds chirruping and lawnmowers humming. I did not need a jacket. The trees were almost fluorescent green against the cloudless sky. I counted them as I walked along, even though I already knew there were seventeen between our house and Denise’s. A neighbour emerging from his driveway waved cheerily and wished me a good afternoon. I totally blanked him. I didn’t realise until I’d rounded the corner, and by then it was too late.
Denise’s house was one of seven that all looked the same except that they were set at slightly different angles. A huge tub of scarlet geraniums sat by the doorstep, lacing the air with a sweet tangy perfume. I pressed the bell and heard the electric ding-dong sound in the depths of the house. Denise was slow to arrive. Then her face appeared behind the dimpled glass, the door was thrown open and I was almost smothered by the enthusiasm of her hug.
“What’ll it be, Lyd? Peppermint? Chamomile? Vanilla and ginseng?”
“Oh, any,” I said, vaguely.
“Camomile it is, then!”
“Lovely!” I perched on her sofa next to the coffee-and-cream-coloured cat.
“Typical Purrcival, taking up more than his fair share of space! Just shove him away!” she sang, disappearing into the kitchen. I pushed back a little further onto the sofa and stroked Purrcival, who totally ignored me as usual.
“Does it smell funny in here?” Denise asked as she reappeared and presented me with a mugful of hot murky liquid. “I made tofu fritters last night, with tonnes of garlic. They were yum, actually, if I do say so myself. New recipe given to me by Liz, the lady I sing next to in choir.”
“Oh, right.”
“She’s a gem. Sings hopelessly out of tune, but a real sweetie. And not nearly as strait-laced as she looks. I wouldn’t have thought she would have a vegetarian recipe in the house, but it turns out her daughter’s a veggie.”
“Ah, that’s handy.”
“Yeah. We’re going to swap a few recipes. I’ve promised to take my asparagus risotto recipe to the next choir prac. And how are you? You look a bit peaky, Lyd, if you don’t mind me saying. Everything OK?”
I studied my tea. How did you say important stuff like this? How did you get your mouth to shape the words? “I’m…er, well…”
“Oh, good,” she said, planting Purrcival on her knee. “It’s so hard to tell with you, you’re naturally so pale. And how’s Adam?”
I fixed my eyes on the dresser behind her. There were two sets of coffee cups, one willow- patterned and one plain blue. The plain blue set had only five cups. One must have been lost or broken.
“You are counting my cups, aren’t you!”
“No,” I said.
“Yes, you are, crazy girl! Why do you always count things?”
I shrugged. “Keeps me out of trouble I suppose.”
She laughed. “Hey, talking of trouble, did I tell you about my argument with the plumber?”
“No,” I said. “What happened with the plumber?”
Two mugs of chamomile later Denise had related every last detail of the plumber saga, but I still hadn’t told her a thing.
“Right, best be going now,” I muttered, standing up. My head was aching. The camomile had been even less effective than usual.
I counted the trees on the way back. Still seventeen.
When I arrived in front of our house—the little house that Adam and I had saved up for together and chosen together and bought together, the house where he had carried me over the threshold covering me with kisses—I could hardly bear to look at it. I focused on the row of pansies along the front. Eleven plants. Twenty-eight purple faces jeering at me. I glanced around quickly. Nobody was in the close, nobody was looking. I took the scissors from my handbag and did some quick snipping.
Every flower-head was gone. Not a single one left. Just clusters of leaves with limp little stalks poking uselessly up out of them. I surveyed my handiwork with satisfaction. Should I pick up the purple rag-heads that were lying on the bare earth? No. Let them lie.
It was after seven when Adam arrived home. He did not notice the massacre of the pansies.
“Hi, honey!” he called. “I’m back! Sorry, love, late again! Tony wanted a word about sales figures so I had to stay on. How are you? How was your day?”
“Fine,” I said. “Just fine!” and presented my cheek for a kiss.
I didn’t need to look into his eyes to know the glint was there, shining as brightly as ever.
“What did you do with yourself today, lovely?” he asked.
“Oh, not a lot. Went to see Denise. Did some gardening.”
“Well done, you! Listen, I’m a bit wrecked. I’m just going to jump in the shower, then we’ll have a nice quiet evening in front of the telly, if that’s all right with you?”
“Fab,” I said.
During the night I had this weird dream about Mr. Gregson. He was writing sums on the blackboard and they were all wrong but I didn’t dare put up my hand and tell him so.
The sense of awkwardness was still with me when I woke up. I could just make out the hands of the alarm clock. It was only three in the morning. My eyes felt like they had heavy weights on them and my mouth was dry as sandpaper. I rose quietly so as not to disturb Adam and went downstairs to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. I gulped it down and splashed my face while I was at it. I still had a burning thirst. Perhaps I was a bit feverish. I refilled the glass and returned to the bedroom. It would be a struggle to get back to sleep, so I didn’t get into bed straight away. I pulled the curtain back and looked out. The moon was almost full.
I wondered who the lover was this time. I really didn’t have much idea about Adam’s tastes, except that he had once liked me. But he’d probably realized that, with his vast quantities of charm and charisma, he was quite able to go up the scale several notches. She’d be a looker, of that I was sure. Someone smart and sassy from the office no doubt. Someone who never gave a second thought to the pain she was inflicting.
Suddenly the pansies were not enough. Adam’s trousers were hanging on the back of the chair, bleached by a white band of moonlight. I picked them up and started going through the pockets. Nothing but a handkerchief. All well and good; that would do for now. But as I pulled it out, I noticed something else stuck to the grey fabric of the trousers. Cat hairs, lots of them. My heart bounded. I sped to the landing to check under the light, but instinct had already shot ahead and told me. They were cream-and-coffee-coloured: unusual, unmistakeable.
I crept back to the bedroom and replaced the trousers over the chair.
Adam was still asleep, his mouth slightly open. The moonlight poured onto his face, softly silvering every line and angle. It was such a handsome face, such fine features…how I had loved that face! I stood gazing down at him while the minutes slipped past. At last, dreamlike, I wandered to the dressing table and picked up my bag. I dipped my hand in and sought the firm, hard edge of the needlework scissors. How small they were, how neat, and, yet, what they could do!
Bolts of yellow sunshine shot across the walls. My brain leapt into action. It was still early and the house was virtually noiseless. I threw on my jeans and jumper and dashed downstairs. I dragged the suitcase out from the cupboard under the stairs. It was bulging after all my night-time activities and I could only just manage it. I consulted the clock. There was one more thing to do before I left. I headed for the mantelpiece. There in the centre was the gilt frame with the happy couple on their wedding day. I gently levered off the back and took the photo out.
One straight, long cut all the way down the center and the two of us were divided. The good half I tucked into my handbag to take with me. It was the only time I’d looked reasonably pretty after all. The other half, the half with Adam, I left on the kitchen table, sliced neatly in two. When he returned from work later—perhaps much later, perhaps with that glint ever brighter in his eye—it would be the first thing he would see. That and the needlework scissors placed carefully beside it. I would not be needing them again. This was to be my final cut.
2 comments on "Fiction: "Final Cut" by Hazel Prior"
  1. I LOVED YOUR WRITING...and the story too. So charming in style. I rarely read on-after the first few lines. Few can capture my attention. But you did! I would love to read more of your work. Keep writing and share your gift to the world. Lovely, really...

  2. Great story Hazel, I stopped work to read it! Reminded me of the day I dyed my wedding dress black - for similar reasons! Best, Pauline x