Hi there, I decided to try something new. Story time! Yes, once a month, I will post one of my short stories for you to read. Some of them have won awards and been published in anthologies but some are just sitting around flicking their pages, bored in my doc folder. So, it’s time for a little story.
This story was a winner
This is one I submitted last year and won a highly commended award for. Stringybark Publishing included it in their anthology. What a surprise this was as this was the first time I ever entered a short story competition. David Vernon, judge and editor, wrote
By now you will have read the good news on the Stringybark Stories website or on Facebook, so please accept my congratulations on receiving a Highly Commended in the Stringybark Short Story Award 2022.
With 287 entries submitted to the competition to be chosen as a highly commended and published author is an impressive achievement. Your story has been edited and published in our newest anthology Fruitcake Frenzy.
Here’s the story. I am calling it ‘The Wedding Night’ but it was published as ‘Karl or not Karl’, not a good title really. But I didn’t expect to win or be published so was not realising the title would matter when I quickly submitted it for fun.
Please give me feedback. It’s lonely being a writer.
The Wedding Night
After the whispered vows, the exchange of rings, we sealed our commitment with a kiss. Our wedding was the ultimate realisation of my fairytale dream. It felt perfect, looked perfect in all its expensive detail from the meringue puff dress, the gold-edged place cards to the tango we danced expertly before the gathering of guests. That afternoon, I had it all plus my gorgeous Karl.
But it takes two to tango. By the end of that night, our wedding night, there would be just one, not two.
‘All the best!’ ‘We love you!’
The well-wishers gathered around the stretch limousine as we left for our honeymoon. Such a sweet word suggesting a holiday filled with love, romantic candle-lit dinners and starry nights.
The hotel, as lavish and elegant as our wedding venue overlooked the Eiffel Tower and the arrondissements of Paris. The national symbol lit the night sky like a golden jewel, reminding me of the tiny gilt replica attached to my key chain. How I loved Paris! I stood at the window in wonder as Karl popped the champagne bottle, turning at the sound to smile at my handsome husband.
Feeling like a movie star, I purred, ‘I’ll slip into something more comfortable.’
Leaving Karl by the sofa, I entered the luxurious bathroom to shower and change into the black, silky negligee. Despite our ten-year relationship, thoughts of the night ahead excited me. It was, after all, our wedding night, a consummation of our forever love. But when I returned to the bedroom Karl was nowhere in sight.
‘Darling? Karl? Where are you?’
The champagne bottle sat on the coffee table where Karl had placed it, seemingly moments before. Positioned next to the chilled bottle two glasses and a bowl of strawberries waited expectedly. Everything was in place but the groom. Where could he be?
A hotel room no matter how unfamiliar has few hiding places and why would Karl hide? Was it a prank? I searched the cupboard spaces, the small balcony, behind the curtains, even in a moment of desperation, peered under the bed. His puzzling absence led me to assume Karl had left for the lobby or the bar.
Pulling a dress over my revealing negligee, I left the room and took the lift to the lobby. As we occupied the honeymoon suite, I felt an idiot enquiring at the reception desk, ‘Have you seen my husband?’
The reply there and in the bar, was the same. ‘No, Ma’am.’
A visit to the spa, the gym and the swimming pool offered no further insight into the whereabouts of my new husband. Upstairs back in the room, Karl was still painfully absent, as was his phone. Wherever he had gone, his phone was with him but he did not answer my calls. I left message after message. Panic rising, I paced back and forth, tears welling. The Eiffel tower, the silent witness to my agony, faded from a symbol of sublime golden happiness to just a teary blur of garish light. Hours passed, consuming my wedding night in an evil spiral of time spent alone.
The next morning, red-eyed, I descended to again question the hotel staff. The answer was the same. ‘No, Ma’am.’
The first days of my honeymoon passed not pleasantly, lazily in a haze of love but agonizingly, embarrassingly at the police station.
‘Madame, votre mari, il retournera. C’est seulement deux jours. Madam your husband will return. It has only been two days.’
But days stretched to a week, then two. Unable to afford continued residence in the now ill-named ‘honeymoon suite’, I moved to a hotel nearby in case Karl returned, in case he rang. My mind whirled with unanswered questions. I recalled plots of movies featuring murders, kidnap and betrayal. Which plot was I in? Should I call my parents now happily on a European river cruise and worry them? Or ring my best girlfriend in Brussels who had in another stab of cruel irony, been my bridesmaid? What cruel twist of fate had transformed my previously contented life into this hellish nightmare? Two weeks ago, I had felt beautiful, adored, blessed and so fortunate. Karl had even used these words.
‘I adore you, Rissa! You are so beautiful. I am so blessed and fortunate!’
Though legally Clarissa Robinson, I now felt like a lonely child, the little girl Clarissa Franklin from Melbourne, Australia, the little girl who had by chance met the man of her dreams. Ten years previously, Karl had come to my rescue when thugs brazenly ran off with my backpack, leaving me penniless and shocked in central Rome. Karl, the Roman Adonis in a sharp suit helped me chase them but Rome has many laneways, and we abandoned the pursuit at the romantic Trevi fountain. Soon I realized my gain was greater than my loss. We fell in love, moved to Brussels for work and planned a future together.
Now once again I was an Australian alone, adrift in a foreign land. Where was my Karl to rescue me now from this present nightmare? The police found no trace of Karl. He had vanished as miraculously as he arrived ten years before. Returning to Brussels, I, with trepidation, turned the familiar lock of the familiar door. Karl was there yet he was not. Everywhere were the mundane reminders that he belonged here with me. His clothes, his computer, his vitamins, his toothbrush. The pillow still held his masculine scent. I cuddled it to my chest as I wandered through the apartment touching his possessions. Tears welled again. Since the wedding, I had spoken to no one but police and hotel staff. My family and friends assumed I was happily honeymooning in my favorite city.
‘You’re back! How was the honeymoon?’ they asked on my return.
Muttering the expected reply, I lied, ‘Wonderful!’
Yes, I lied to everyone even myself. Back on the treadmill of life, I hid my pain under the cloak of work. But at night sleep eluded me. Karl haunted my dreams. I would wake in a tangle of sheets, heart pounding. For a guy who was missing, Karl appeared everywhere. He was in the crowds on the street, on the train, the bus and sitting, drinking coffee at the cafes. Karl was every tall man with dark hair, a stranger bewildered by my stare.
I became the mental embodiment of Munch’s ‘The Scream.’ The inability to focus on my work as legal counsellor forced me to realize that I needed to escape to a place where Karl could not be. After searching for him, willing his return, I had come full circle to never wanting to see him again. Australia, my native Australia seemed a solution. He would never be there. He hated my country, decried it as ‘that colonial outpost, that cultural desert.’ Admittedly, The Great Southern Land is a mere vegemite sandwich compared to the smoked salmon baguette with capers of Europe, but Australia now beckoned me like a comfortable old armchair.
So, I headed home over the oceans to suburban Melbourne to a welcome of parents, tears and comfort.
‘Oh, my darling girl! It will be okay now you are home,’ my mother reassured me.
Dare I believe these words, these promises?
Taking tiny steps back to life, I even managed a smile one sunny day when we enjoyed a picnic at the beach. Slowly I started to trust in life again. But then Karl came back.
An unexpected knock at the door. His face. It was Karl but not Karl. In shock, legs like jelly, clutching the door frame, I whispered.
‘No, I’m not Karl. I’m his brother Kyle, his twin,’ Karl’s face said.
‘Let me explain,’ he continued. ‘Karl sent me to apologise. You must have suffered. His actions are unthinkable. He has always had trouble with loving, with commitment. Ten years with you, that was a record for him but then he freaked out once he realized what marriage meant.’
‘But… Karl is an orphan?’ I retorted, my voice rising.
Was it a lie? Could this ‘stranger’ be Karl? I searched his face and hand for tell-tale signs. The small mole on the brow, the scar on the right wrist were absent from this version of Karl.
‘We fell out…. lost contact. You should move on…Sorry,’ he stuttered. Distracted, only snatches of his words registered.
In retrospect, I was rude, banging the door shut on that face, Karl’s face. Whether the face was actually Karl’s or not, I didn’t care, it needed to go. Over the sound of my sobbing, I heard a car door shut, an engine start, a car drive away. The man with Karl’s face left as suddenly as he had come.
Karl was not dead, only in my heart. There had been no crime, no murder or kidnapping, just betrayal and lies. The only casualties were my heart and trust in the male species. No more Karls for me.
Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.