Well, here he sat with his head in his hands, wondering what the hell he should do. His wife was dead. Beryl lay prone at his feet, her eyes glazed, looking up at him. She’s smiling — taunting him! He despised her lifeless, open eyes; they were hollow and judgemental, accusing him of wrongdoings he had not done, accusing him of murder! He hadn’t killed her! In no-way was Lester Snook responsible for his wife’s death, but regardless of his innocence, he felt guilty. He’d sat in shock and watched her clutch her heart, collapse and die. He’d done nothing to save her! Beryl was dead because of his inaction. So maybe she was right, maybe he did actually take her life tonight…
He was a murderer — at eighty-six, Lester Snook was a killer. He’d rot away in prison — a ‘life sentence’ he’d get, which made him chuckle — what life did he have left? It was all gone — Beryl was gone and she’d taken everything with her except him.
He felt so alone.
Like someone who’d thought ‘right here’ and just dropped to the sand to work on their tan — arms and legs splayed — Beryl looked surprisingly comfortable lying at rest, inert on the carpet, at her husband’s feet, deceased. If he closed her open and glazed milking eyes and propped shut her slack jaw he could easily forgive himself for believing that Beryl was cuddled into the bosom of a brilliant dream. He thought of getting a firecracker, but Beryl was a sound sleeper.
She was dead. Beryl was lying on the floor at her husband’s feet, gone.
Lester hadn’t killed her! Honest! But the guilt he felt inside told him that he had — it told him, it said: “KILLER! Oh, the guilt… Oh, the guilt will kill me dead, mark my words, I’ll burn in Hell for what you’ve done!”
Nothing. That’s what he’d done — nothing.
She had just dropped — one minute she was standing, the next she was down. It was that quick. One moment she was moaning in her special bitter-vocal way, then the next splat! — flat on the floor. Gone. Silence. Peace — but at what price? Loneliness. Now he was alone — no-more Beryl. No-more bitterness and no-more belittling — now how would he fill his days? Where now would he find the stimulation to breathe? She may have been the Dragon Lady, but she was his Dragon Lady, and he loved her, and now she was gone.
Beryl was dead.
Lester broke down in tears, and he said amid them: “I’m a silly fool.”
Time. Sweet, sweet precious time was fleeting. Sixty-three years of marriage, fleeting. Beryl was dead. His wife was dead. She had just dropped to the floor so suddenly — what should I do? He panicked. He hadn’t killed her! Would people believe that he had? Would people look at him and whisper ‘Here, there’s that guy that offed his wife‘? Would everyone know of his dark and guilty secret that he’d just sat there impotent and watched his wife die? Did he want her to die? Is that why he’d simply sat stock still and did nothing? Is that why his hands stayed until silence fell upon their home?
He hadn’t wanted her dead. Lester loved Beryl deeply, but there was this part of him that rejoiced, there was this part that —
Lester felt numb. Lester pushed himself to his feet and stood over his wife’s body, and he prayed she’d see sense and come home to him, come alive again — he felt alone, so very alone. But Beryl didn’t return home, and she probably wouldn’t, not now with the sun gone from the sky. She never liked staying out after darkness had fallen, she preferred to be cosy at home, wrapped up in a blanket, knitting and watching TV instead. Lester swayed on his unsteady feet and he moved his stiff joints and switched on the television. He selected Beryl’s favourite soap-opera and pretended that she was alright.
He settled back in his armchair, but soon he was on his feet because he didn’t like the way she lay on the carpet, before the television and between the furniture — she didn’t look comfortable any more so he hunkered down and reached under her arms and dragged her over to her comfy chair beneath the free-standing light. He repelled the pain that surged through his body with a dogged determination to make cosy his precious wife. He calmed his breathing a bit before he put all of his eighty-six year old back into lifting her — that had done it. That had ensured pain and stiffness in the morning, he thought, and he’d get merry hell from her when she found out. “You overdid it again! What have I told you?” He fought on through the discomfort and arranged his wife like she ought to be arranged, curled up all cosy-like with a blanket on her lap and with her knitting in easy reach of her stiffening hands. She looked like she always looked, by the time he’d finished. Snug. She looked like Death had never visited their home at all. Some nights Beryl did sleep with her mouth catching flies so all he needed to do was shut her eyes and the illusion of slumber befell her completely. She was alive! In a broken mind, in one caught in the war between fear and grief, Beryl looked so perfectly alive that Lester took a satisfied sigh and smiled.
Lester settled in his armchair beside her and watched the telly with her.
The soap ended, and as the credits rolled Lester pushed himself up onto his tired feet once more. He looked down on her — she was asleep. She was always asleep by the end of this scheduled show. It bored him rotten, but she liked it but could never keep her eyes open.
Lester shuffled into the kitchen and made their evenings weak tea, as always, and he carried on a wobbly tray two cuppas and two slices of her infamous syrup cake.
“Here butterfly,” he said but she was sound asleep. Lester placed the tray down on the table between them, and then he sat, and then he ate his slice of the gorgeous cake.
From their romance in youth, through marriage — oh, the fervour they’d felt when the seeds of their family were sown — to their children, two of them, who they’d nurtured until they both were full-grown, until they’d departed and left behind such an empty home, so quiet; and then retirement. Old age, and then death — the death of the spouse the other needed.
Was it all some kind of a test?
“You don’t go through,” he uttered to the room, “all you go through to wind up all alone.”
He was alone now — sixty-three years of marriage were over and it felt like they’d spent no time together at all. It was all gone — everything was now nothing but some distant and vague memory, and something he’d struggle not to forget. He wouldn’t allow himself to forget — Beryl wouldn’t allow it, she’d haunt him.
Lester switched the channel to something they both liked to watch, a nice wildlife documentary, today on the Amazon. He’d always wanted to visit the Amazon, but Beryl was always right, he thought, he’d have difficulty with the humidity. His lungs weren’t as they once were and his joints didn’t so much creak but crack, like he was snapping them every time he moved.
Still, though, he’d like to go, and as the narrator spoke of dolphins Lester drifted off to sleep — his mostly-drunk tea was balanced precariously on his lap. Maybe he’d try and convince Beryl in the morning — they didn’t have many years left but they still had one last adventure in them — maybe…
But Beryl was dead.
Beryl was stood before him, her hands on her hips.
“Where have you been?” She asked, a slight glint of sweat on her brow. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting?”
“I’ve been coming,” he said breathless. “I’m not as nimble anymore, not as quick on my feet these days —”
“I did say,” she said. “Now come on, I’ve made us a lovely picnic and I’ve chosen a wonderful spot — I hear these dolphins are beautiful and you don’t want to miss them, do you?”
“No — I’m following butterfly, I promise. I’m coming as quick as I can.”
And he followed; and soon the cup did tumble from his grasp, the remaining dregs of tea soaked the carpet around his feet, but Lester didn’t care.
Lester was with Beryl, and with cuppa and sandwich in hand they watched the dolphins breach together.
— END —