Guilt by Association" by JY Saville
It was no use pretending I hadn't seen her. The guilty start was enough to give me away.
"Jean!" she cried, "I haven't seen you in ages."
I murmured an answer, made a polite grimace and tried to move past but she wasn't taking the hint and held my elbow.
"You're looking well," she smiled. "Life treating you better at last?"
I smiled back as best I could and pulled away, meaning to walk around her, into the road if necessary.
"Where is it you're living these days?" she asked. "You must come for dinner."
"Oh, you know," I said, "Quite a way away, I rarely get down here any more."
I live far enough away that you will never see me with your husband, is what I meant.
He arranged for a friend to send her a letter from Florence, said he'd had a midlife crisis and needed art. Needed space. In fact he was thirty-five miles away in a suburban close so similar to their own that sometimes it almost frightened me waiting for him to do it again, to hop from boring round to boring round, preying on spinster friends. I made sure I didn't have any spinster friends; while he seemed happy enough to wreck his own marriage he still had qualms about breaking up anyone else's.
"And are you still with, what was his name?" she went on. "Malcolm, was it?"
"No," I replied, meaning both it wasn't and I'm not.
"No," she said, "We none of us are, are we?"
Poor Malcolm, I thought, whoever he may be. But of course that's not what she meant.
"You'll have heard about -"
"Yes," I cut in, stopping that quavering voice. "I'm sorry." And I was, but mainly for myself.