Something old. My head is too clogged and fogged for something new right now. Perhaps it will surprise itself this evening and an idea will erupt with all the ferocity of Krakatoa. I hope not. The famous eruption made for some fantastic sunsets but it wasn’t beneficial to local wildlife. This little story was written in a writing group last year from a prompt relating to the Knights of the Round Table.
On the good ship Camelot, Arthur found himself sitting on the king’s chair. It was just one of those things. Not a divine right at all. Rather, his name had been drawn first from the hat that evening so for one night, and one night only, Arthur would be King of the Britons and rule over the other diners at the restaurant. Camelot had opened a couple of years previously and Arthur had dined there regularly, usually alone but sometimes with friends. He liked the food. The dishes were cheap, not too spicy, and the portion sizes were larger than average. He liked the ambiance. The woman who decided to deck out her restaurant as a mash-up between Camelot and a cruise ship had to be some kind of genius. Arthur had met her a couple of times and she said there was really nothing to it. She just liked the Round Table stories and liked the luxuriousness of going on a cruise. When she visited Camelot she always came dressed as Guinevere, but in a captain’s hat.
Arthur surveyed his realm. Five dozen happy diners. Some alone, like him. Four men on different tables. Had they come out to escape from a woman or to meet one? And one woman sat reading a book, waiting for her meal to arrive. She looked lonely, sad too, and Arthur wondered for a moment whether to invite her to sit beside her at his right side. She was very pretty and Arthur could see from the design on the cover of the book that it was one of his favourites. Beautiful inside and out?
He moved his gaze away from the woman, almost painfully, and watched the other diners. Some in pairs, staring into each others’ eyes as if fulfillment could be found behind their companion’s faces. Some in groups, boisterous, egging each other on to try the spicier options on the menu or laughing about whatever it was people laughed about.
Arthur ordered his food. The most expensive dishes on the menu. And why not? It was restaurant rules that whoever was elected to sit in the king’s chair could dine for free. Tonight was the night for ordering something he had never ordered before, something he could never have justified to himself or his budget. Tonight was the night for foregoing the house wine in favour of the champagne right at the bottom of the list. Even though he didn’t particularly like champagne. Tonight was the night for that dessert he had always thought about but never ordered. Forget the calories. Forget that dishes would be larger than Arthur’s stomach. Tonight was greed night. Tonight was a celebration of freedom.
To begin with, a starter. On the menu it was wittily called “Gawain And The Green Salad.” Arthur had never ordered it before. While the green salad would have been cheap enough, he couldn’t spare the money to purchase Gawain. Gawain was an ever so special lobster. When Gawain arrived before him Arthur stared at him. The presentation was magnificent, so much more so than if he had stayed at home eating toast.
Just as he was about to set to work demolishing and devouring the innocent Gawain, there was a cry from across the restaurant. Arthur looked across and, horrified, he saw that the lonely woman had fallen face down on her table. The book was still open under her head. What if the spine was damaged? A couple of waiters were nudging her and Arthur could just hear one of them saying, “Madam, madam, wake yourself up, come on, wake up.” The two waiters talked quietly to each other and one rushed off. A man on the next table said, too loudly, “Oh my God! She’s dead, isn’t she?”
The restaurant manager rushed out from the kitchen and made an announcement. “I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen but due to unfortunate circumstances I have made the decision to close the restaurant for tonight. You won’t have to pay for anything you’ve ordered of course and we look forward to seeing you here again soon.”
Arthur was mortified. He felt bad for the woman. Of course he did. But he also found he felt bad for himself. He’d finally been chosen as king for the night and now he wasn’t even going to eat Gawain, let alone drink the champagne or indulge in the richness of his chosen main course and dessert. It might be years before he was chosen again. It just wasn’t fair at all. Arthur stopped himself thinking about it. He knew he shouldn’t be feeling sorry for himself when some pretty young woman had died so suddenly. He felt even more guilty when the manager drew him aside on his way out and informed him that when he next booked he could automatically be given a free meal to compensate him. It was so good of the manager to think of these things at a time like this.
Later that night Arthur sat at home watching television. He’d had a simple meal of toast and jam and that had been enough. He wondered again about the dead woman. Would it have made a difference if he had invited her to sit with him? Perhaps not, and it wasn’t worth thinking about because he could never know.
As Arthur was getting ready to go to bed, with a mouthful of toothpaste, the doorbell rang. He nearly ignored it, not wanting to be disturbed so late. But then it rang again and someone knocked very loudly too. He opened the door, surprised to find two policemen waiting for him.
The first said, “Arthur Franklin? Could we come inside for a chat please? I’m afraid it is rather urgent. We have some bad news.”
Arthur led the two men into his lounge, sat on an armchair and offered them the sofa. “What can I do for you?”
“There’s no easy way to say this. I’m very sorry to inform you that your wife has been murdered.”
“My wife? But I’m not married. I’m a bachelor boy, just like Cliff.”
“Oh yes sir? Your home doesn’t seem much like a bachelor pad to me sir.”
The policemen explained how a young woman had died out of the blue in a local restaurant. She wasn’t carrying any identification but the manager said that she had entered that evening with a man who had been chosen to be king for the night, a man who hadn’t invited the woman to sit with him. He had been a regular customer but none of the staff knew who he was and he always paid cash.
It was the book that gave it away. Inside was a full-page plate sticker that read, “From the library of Arthur Franklin.” It gave an address too.
Something cracked in Arthur’s mind. He was sure he had been alone that night. How had the woman come to have his favourite book? He got up to check the shelves and sure enough it was gone.
That night he was arrested and later charged with the murder of his wife, Annabelle. He was convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment. Eight years into his sentence, after much therapy, he finally remembered the woman he had married and killed.
He remembered. And he laughed at the memory.