Written for NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenge 2017 part 3.
My brief was as follows:
- Genre: Drama
- Location: A graduation party
- Object: A lobster
- Time limit: 48 hours
- Word Count: 1,000 words
Title: Lobster Trap
Synopsis: When a plush lobster toy goes missing before the graduation ceremony, Mr Olejnik worries his secret could be revealed.
“Mrs Li.” I nod, in greeting.
“Are we ready?” I ask.
“Yes – I think.” She pulls at a piece of paper that is only halfway out of the printer. Her nails have a natural gloss today. She hands me the paper. It’s the order of events for the high-school graduation ceremony. I can’t remember when they became a thing, but they are. Another American import.
“We’re more organised than last year,” she says.
“I wasn’t here last year.” She lifts her eyes from the printer and looks at me, pushing a curly strand of hair away from her eyes. She’s recently had it cut into a textured bob and is still learning to tame the stranded locks. It makes me smile.
“Not even a year.”
“Not even a year. Shall we?”
“How do I look?” She smooths down her dress, it’s a black and white floral cheongsam that she’s matched with cream heels. Every piece of her outfit is prim and decorous, but together it forms an unchaste gestalt.
“Six out of ten,” I say. She punches me playfully. I catch her fist. She opens it so our hands are holding.
“Oh,” she pauses, “did you take the lobster?” Mrs Li and I supervised an overnight field trip to Cornwall. It was where our affair started. She bought two plush lobsters from the aquarium as a memento. I was her lobster, like in Friends, she said. We each keep the toy on our desks.
“No,” I say.
“I thought, because of my husband coming today…”
“No,” I repeat. “I’m sure it’ll turn up.” Lobsters aren’t monogamous of course. I wonder if she knows this.
In the school assembly hall the scene has been set for the graduation. Most of the teachers are already seated around the hall. I take a place at the back. Mrs Li takes an aisle seat within eyeshot of me. Mr Li, a wedding photographer by profession, is setting up the videography for the event. He gives Mrs Li a kiss on the cheek as he passes. The attendees arrive and the tedious task of engaging in small-talk with parents and students begins.
Once everyone is seated the ceremony begins. I zone out and find myself gazing at Mrs Li. She sits bolt upright, as if the qipao has set solid about her body. Occasionally she sweeps a stray lock of hair behind her ear. The evening drifts on.
The final stage of the event is to hand out some individual awards for best performing student in each subject, and a few honourable mentions for other extracurricular achievements. A girl called Gemma Walker gets called to the stage for her outstanding contribution to the high-school dance troupe, which reached a regional final apparently.
Gemma is a student I want to forget. Popular, seemingly due only to her bleach blonde hair and over developed chest, she propositioned me twice this year. The second time she almost uncovered Mrs Li’s and my affair. During the field trip to Cornwall she knocked on my door in the middle of the night, braless with her shirt unbuttoned and the scent of alcopops on her breath. I rejected her firmly, threatening a reprimand. “Nobody turns me down,” she slurred. After she left, I had to explain the situation to Mrs Li, who was hiding my bathroom. But she had dealt with plenty of student crushes and was more worried about our affair being unveiled.
Gemma steps onto the stage with something orange in her hand. It’s the plush toy lobster from Mrs Li’s classroom. Mrs Li turns to me, her lips tight with worry. I give her a reassuring look.
Gemma takes her certificate and walks over to the lectern to give her thank-yous. I await what seems to be the inevitable exposure of our affair and rehearse the denial in my head.
Gemma shudders and starts to cry over the microphone. The head teacher, Mrs Boothroyd, immediately moves to sooth her, but Gemma holds out her arm to stop her. I am frozen with confusion.
“Mr Olejnik,” she starts, taking a long breath, “had sex with me.”
There is a communal intake of breath around the hall. Mrs Boothroyd stands with her mouth agape, unable to move. “He said he loved me, but…” she trails off, crying onto the lectern.
I am so bewildered I cannot react. Mrs Li has her hands over her mouth, her face ashen.
“We did it in Cornwall. He bought this lobster to remind me it was our secret. He has one in his classroom…” she trails off.
Everyone turns to me. My eyes move to Mrs Li. She has the alibi, but to explain it she would have to reveal our affair. I won’t swap my temporary shame for her permanent shame. Her eyes plead with me. I shake my head almost imperceptibly and turn away.
Mrs Boothroyd pulls Gemma away from the lectern. The audience is now visibly aggressive. Some yell, “Paedo”. Others offer to fight me outside. I have to be escorted out of the school.
I am put on suspension over the summer, arrested and questioned briefly, but Gemma doesn’t follow up her accusation. Mrs Li gives evidence to the police, unnecessarily revealing our affair, not knowing the accusation has fallen apart. She doesn’t return after the summer. But I am formally welcomed back by Mrs Boothroyd and told everything has been forgotten and everyone understands the accusations were malicious.
By the end of the first week of the new term someone has graffitied PAEDO onto my car. At the end of week two I find my plush lobster on my desk, crudely singed and torn.
I hear through the grapevine that Mr and Mrs Li have separated. I try to call her at least every couple of days. By week three the phone no longer connects. I am greeted with a dead tone indicating my number was blocked.
Gemma Walker is attending college. She is still popular.