“Pass the salt,” Mary said.
Martin looked up from his end of the table and raised an eyebrow at his wife, a forkful of spaghetti stuck into his mouth. He didn’t move. Mary cast him a withering look.
“Pass the salt,” she said again.
He began chewing – slowly, deliberately. She was gripping her cutlery so tight her knuckles were turning white. Martin kept his gaze fixed on her, unblinking, unflinching, as he swallowed the spaghetti ten times slower than he normally would have. For the briefest of moment, Mary broke eye contact, noticing the trail of sauce that dribbled out of her corner of her husband’s mouth.
“Oh dear,” he said, “It seems that I couldn’t swallow it all.”
Mary bit the inside of her lip hard enough to bleed. Martin wasn’t making any move to clear the sauce off his face, and God help her, if he wasn’t going to do it soon, she would walk over and wipe it off herself, along with that idiotic poker face he had on.
“Fine,” she said, “Don’t pass the salt. See if I care.”
“I intend to,” Martin said, nodding as he did, “Trust me, darling, I intend to.”
He said “darling” heavily, the word dropping off his tongue like a lead marble. She could feel the heat rising up from beneath her collar. She hated how she sweated all the time. Whether she was anxious, nervous, or in this case, angry, her body seemed to delight in dissipating its pent-up energy in the form of perspiration.
“Which one of those do you intend to do?” Mary tilted her head to one side, “Pass the salt – or wait and see if I care?”
“I don’t know, darling,” Martin said, “darling” falling heavily off his tongue again, “What do you think?”
She resisted the urge to fling the knife in her hand across the table and straight into his eyeball. Self control, Mary, she reminded herself, be dignified, be ladylike.
“There’s beer in the fridge,” she said.
Martin served her a bemused expression. “It had better be good beer,” he said.
“Trust me, honey,” she said, discovering to her pride that she had managed to make “honey” sound like an insult, “It’ll be the best you’ve ever had.”
“‘The best you’ve ever had’ is very much subjective, my dear,” Martin said, trailing off the sound on the last syllable: my dee-ah, “One must sample all sorts of beer before deciding on which is the best.”
“But ah, you won’t know unless you try,” Mary said through a tight smile, “And you won’t try unless you pass me the salt – and wipe that stain off your face.”
“Two for one?” Martin laughed mockingly, “The law of equivalent exchange dictates that you choose one or the other; and I have good grounds to question the quality of this beer that you offer in exchange.”
“It’s simply business, sweetheart,” Mary said.
Martin reached for his napkin, and in one swift motion, wiped the stain on his face onto it, greasy red smearing onto white. Mary almost smiled a genuine smile, but then Martin tossed the napkin onto his half-finished plate of spaghetti and stood up.
“And it seems that our business here is done,” Martin sounded almost sad as he picked his coat up from the chair and made his way to the door.
“Damn it, Martin!” Mary’s voice rose, desperate, “Pass me the damned salt!”
Martin looked at her through cold eyes. “No,” he said, and was gone.