A brief preface: This is following on from an earlier story called Crisp Afternoon. It's not essential to read that story first but it might be fun.
It's also had one line changed since it went up on Tuesday night following a suggestion in the comments section. OK. Here we go.
They sat staring into the enormous, mutually-decided-upon pudding that sat on the table in front of them. As far as they could tell it had all the forms of chocolate involved at some point in its construction. If there had been a birthday it might have had candles. Maybe even sparklers. But maybe sparklers only happened in America. Neither of them was sure if they really wanted sparklers. They probably would have been inappropriate.
The pudding had seemed like a really good idea to her at the time. It had been spontaneous and silly when the waitress had asked if they wanted anything else. It had been something to get his mind off what she’d done.
It scarcely seemed plausible. Looking back, she still wasn’t quite sure of the mechanics of what had happened. It was the kind of thing that shouldn’t happen. Ridiculous, really. She’d gone round to meet him before they went out. He’d shown her into the kitchen and she’d noticed the cage on the small table in the corner. He’d explained that it housed an elderly gerbil that had survived a good few years longer than expected. She’d asked if she could pick it up, he’d said yes. She’d opened the flap at the top of the cage, had reached inside, and picked up the little furry animal. It had seemed willing enough. It just twitched a little bit, but all those small animals did that.
He’d turned his back to get some mugs for the tea when the gerbil had lunged forward, contorting its tiny face to bare its fangs, and had bitten her sharply on the finger. She’d cried out as the small sharp teeth embedded themselves in the flesh around her nail. As she moved her hand sharply downwards in a (perfectly natural) reflex action, trying to shake the thing loose, the gerbil had connected with the top of the microwave and its spine had broken with a sharp, horribly audible crack.
He’d turned around and seen her holding her hand up to her face, with the gerbil hanging off it at an angle that could only be described as unnatural. It hadn’t let go.
“You should eat some of this,” she told him. “It’ll cheer you up. Chocolate does that, I think. Right? Anyway, look at all that!”
He smiled agreeably, picked up his spoon, and took a bite.
“There’s my man!” She paused. “Sorry. Not about that. You are my man, and, y’know, there you are. But about the gerbil. I didn’t mean to. Kill it.”
“I think you’re the first girlfriend I’ve had who’s murdered one of my pets,” he said through a mouthful of ice cream and chocolate chunks. There was a cheeky little grin though, framing the mess between his teeth. She felt better. It hadn’t been her fault. She knew that. But it was important to her that he knew it too.
“Murder?” she cried, loud enough for the waitress to drop her notebook and look over. She leaned across the table. “Murder?” she whispered theatrically. “How dare you? I never murdered anything in my life.”
“You murdered that animal in cold blood. I saw it. And a jury of twelve will see that you hang for it.”
She arched her eyebrows and played with her watch. “I’ll have you know that the animal you’re talking about was psychotic. I don’t like to cast aspersions on character, or to talk ill of the dead, but that gerbil was crazy. How are you going to prove it didn’t just off itself? Take the easy way out?”
There was a moment when she thought that she might have overstepped the mark. He looked at her and it was clear that he was making up his mind about what to say next. He straightened his back and dusted crumbs off his jacket.
“That gerbil had everything to live for. He had a wife waiting for him at home, not to mention three little gerb-lets who are going to have to grow up without a father. He had a job. A mortgage. You’re telling me that he threw all that away?”
She grinned and he couldn’t help grinning back.
"It doesn't matter anyway. Even if they try to pin that trumped-up charge on me, they'll have to catch me first. I've got a flight booked to Morocco that leaves in twenty-five minutes"
He snorted and looked down at the pudding. The ice cream was melting and the whole thing was starting to look unappealing.
“I really am sorry, you know.”
“I know. Thank you.”
He reached a hand across the table. She took it and gave it a squeeze.
“You know you still have to come to dinner with my parents,” he told her. She grimaced.
“Are you going to tell them that I murdered your gerbil?”
“I am going to tell them that you murdered my gerbil.”
“They’re going to love me so much.”
Right, so. Hope you enjoyed it. This is actually a follow-up story. Yep, a sequel. I believe back when I wrote a story that was entirely dedicated to being disgusting that I promised a nice, pleasant story would soon follow. Well, here it is, dead gerbil and all. The two characters are in fact the two characters from my previous attempt at a nice pleasant story, Crisp Afternoon. It wasn't my plan initially, but as I came up with the idea for a couple dealing with a murdered pet I thought why not bring them back. It was going to be a story about a couple staying together through it, because I wanted to write something nice and vaguely romantic (And I do think it's a little romantic). It's not as if they really did very much apart from meet in the earlier story. So my plan at the moment is to come back to them periodically. I like the idea of giving them these situations that they have to deal with. They will get more difficult. But I wanted to write something funny so I settled for this awkward but not insurmountable issue. I'm planning on switching between their perspectives as well, so the next one, whenever it may be, will be from his point of view. They're called Francis and Sophie, by the way. I'll probably drop their names in the next one.
Initially my idea was for Sophie to have killed a bigger animal, like a dog or a cat. She was going to either let it out, or run it over, but it was going to be nasty. Thoroughly unpleasant. But I wanted to keep this fairly light, so that would have been trickier. And I think you'd judge him for letting that go as quickly as he does here. I certainly would. I think a gerbil is forgivable. Sad, but forgivable. He's more upset about it than he's letting on, but he is upset.
As for their film noir riffing, I became aware as I was writing it that it was essentially a not-as-funny version of a series of scenes in the brilliant American sitcom Parks and Recreation. If you've not seen it, do so and see that I'm so much less funny than they are. Seriously.
The next story will be Halloween based. I'll aim for something fun and spooky. Until then, hope you enjoyed this.