The orchid lay on the ground, shattered petals strewn across the carpet, and ceramic fragments acting as a threat to bare feet. You tentatively reach down and pick up a large shared. It's still smooth in your hand, but the edge is jagged. It was like your life; smooth and shiny on the outside, but everything so jagged and broken.
Bending to your knees, you begin to pick up some of the larger pieces, brushing the white petals away. The pieces had reached to the edges of the room, even going as far as the door. The flower had been a house-warming gift from your mum, because every good home needs one, but you weren't worried about telling her it had been broken. It had been an accident and you could replace it with a cactus or succulent from the local nursery. It was someone else you feared telling.
As you begin to drag the vacuum into the lounge room, you see headlights shine from the driveway. Taking a deep breath, you leave the vacuum at the edge of the hallway and wait by the door. You couldn't hide, no matter how much you wanted to. Desperately you prayed he wouldn't hate you.
"Hi hun," you greet him with an open door and a smile, taking the briefcase from his hand. "Careful I had a bit of an accident."
He looks around the room at the floor, and the petals that were still sitting there.
"Is that the orchid?" His face downturns.
"I knocked it, I'm sorry." You let your voice drop into an apology. You knew he was fond of the orchid, researching ways to keep it alive after the last flowers had gone. There was meant to be a perfect spot on the stem at which to cut it to ensure it would grow again.
He reaches down and takes a petal between his fingers.
"That's a shame." Suddenly he smiles at you. "Ah well, these things happen. Maybe you can replace it with those daisies you wanted. We were probably going to kill it anyway."
You sigh but you're not sure if it' because you're happy or regretful. "Lovely."
"I haven't started dinner yet," you say quickly to change the subject. "Give me a hand?"
"Sure, what are we having?"
"Steak and mash."
He gives you a quick peck on the forehead and you shudder.
"How about you finish cleaning this up and I'll peel the potatoes?"
"Great." You smile.
As he steps over the vacuum and walks down the hall you sigh. You had gone too far, the broken orchid more than a shattered flower. His kindness only made it worse. Plugging the vacuum in you let the loud hum overtake the other noise. It wasn't enough to drown the memories though. Some things are good for a moment and then afterwards there's only regret, and the truth that must be faced.
You watch the petals slip from the carpet into the vacuum, small pieces of ceramic going with it. The petals were so white, so pure, so unlike what had caused their death. Not finding anymore pieces you drag the vacuum back up the hallway and into the cupboard.
In the kitchen, your husband is busy cutting potatoes and silently you walk past him to get a pot from under the sink.
You start, surprised by the odd tone in his voice. It's small, kind still, but questioning.
"Yes?" With a pot in hand you turn to face him.
"What's that?" He points with the knife at a small silver thing on the ground.
Quickly you go and pick it up, knowing immediately what it is and trying to hide it from his view.
"I don't know, it must've fallen off something, it's not important." You start towards the bin.
"It's a cufflink."
The moment you had seen it on the ground a deep-setted fear had been developing inside of you. Now it escalated, and all you wanted to do was run from the truth.
"I don't think so." He's already seen it, and you know that, but you can't tell him the truth.
"It's not my cufflink." From across the table he's staring right at you, the knife poised over a potato.
"I don't know." What else can you say? Your voice is beginning to gain a slight tremble.
He places the knife slowly on the table, and you're glad it's not within his reach.
"How did the orchid break?"
The orchid had been in the middle of the table, not a spot that could easily be bumped.
"I was dusting."
His eyes staring into you are solemn. It makes you want to tell the truth, but terribly afraid.
He picks up a raw potato and holds it up to the light.
"I don't really like potatoes, but you do; they're easy to cook and fill you up."
You nod. It scares you that he's talking about potatoes; what really is on his mind?
"What did you do?" He chucks the potatoes and you grab it on instinct. It's cold and wet in your hands.
As much as you wish you could avoid it, you have to tell him.
"I'm sorry," you whisper. "I shouldn't of invited him in, I shouldn't of done any of it." Shaking your head, you twist the potato between your fingers. A dinner that was quick and easy after you had wasted the afternoon with another man.
"Why?" His voice no longer had any kindness in it.
You wished you could blame him, but it was your fault.
"I don't know. I just... I don't know."
"Tell me!" His voice is sudden and loud, a moment of anger in what had been a steady tone.
You can't blame him, of course he was going to be angry at you. Everything you had thought before, as you had stepped aside to let the scandalous man into your home, was welling up as regret now.
"I wanted a moment for me." You wish it wasn't so, but you know it is.
"Am I not good enough?" His eyes were bearing with pain towards you, and you feel it only growing more in your own heart.
"No, you're perfect," your voice stutters. He was absolutely perfect, and you had been awful.
"How long has this been going on?"
"Uh." You turn the potato in your hands, feeling the small bumps where the skin hadn't been entirely taken off. "Maybe a month." It was a longer than a month, but you didn't want to accept what you had done. You knew it was wrong, but part of you wanted it to disappear like nothing had happened.
"You just..." He shakes his head. "Did you not even think about us? Don't you care about our marriage, or is that after three years you're allowed a little leeway?"
"I care about our marriage, but you were always at work, I was bored, and..." You stop yourself from saying what you were going to. That this other man made you feel special. Love was work, especially after years, and this wasn't any work at all.
"Can you forgive me?" You ask with a soft voice.
He doesn't reply, but he looks at you with the eyes that you loved that held nothing but hatred in them.
"You can finish the potatoes." He walks past you, so calm and composed considering everything that you knew would be going through his mind.
By now the potato in your hand has lost its coldness, and you can feel the sharp edges more prominent. You can hear him up the hallway in your bedroom, but you don't know what he's doing.
You put the potato back on the table and pick up the knife. Slowly cutting them, you look at the small pile of peeled potatoes. Potatoes were easier to replace than orchids, but love was even harder.
You hear a noise and he's standing at the doorway, a backpack over his shoulder and a briefcase in his hand. He hadn't forgiven you.
He looks at you, still the hard, angered face, but for a moment there's something else, something like sadness. His eyes are red and when he speaks his voice is strong but scratchy.
"Tanya's coming over with the kids on Sunday." He turns to go and then turns back. "Make sure the orchid is all cleaned up."
You nod, a small nod which you hope says so much more than it shows.
He moves away from the kitchen and you hear the front door creak. Shattered orchids are easy to vacuum up, but some things were harder. You slice the knife through the potato and wonder how to clean up the fragments of your marriage that you had broken. As much as you wished you could click your fingers and it be done, you knew it needed more than a good vacuuming.