FoundlingReview

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Beneath a death-black, moonless sky, the man trudges around their back garden, flattening a circle in the overgrown grass. Every few seconds he repeats the same actions - glancing up at the bedroom window to see if she is watching him, straining to hear her anaemic voice calling his name, checking his watch for how long it has been since he took her the drink. Soon, he tells himself. Soon.

He remembers their first date, a play called Ted's Letters at Drury Lane, how he spent the second act watching the stage lights glitter off the sheer of her stockings, his heart pounding when she crossed her legs and her skirt rode up to reveal a lacy trim. Afterwards, over coffee, she held her cup in both hands, her elbows on the table, her face thin and shadowed, a silky lank of hair hanging down the side of her face, the image of some tragic Hollywood starlet.

“I guess I’m lucky,” he said, and then sipped his espresso. “Most of the time, I’m pretty happy.”

She pushed her hair behind her ear only for it to fall again. “I‘m not saying I’m never happy,” she replied. “But when it does happen I’m always waiting for the feeling to end.”

He asked, “How about right now?”

“Don’t worry about me,” she replied, and her smile was like a dark moth shaking out its wings. “All because I’m doomed it doesn’t mean I’ll drag you down too.”

“Or maybe I’ll drag you up.”

“Maybe,” she said, and looked away

In the garden, the man hears a faint banging. Is that her at the bedroom door, trying to get out? The doctor had said five drops would be enough to make her drift away as if she were falling asleep – but who can trust a man like that, a criminal? What if she is in agony? But when the noise comes again, he realises the sound is too hollow, too regular, probably the wind blowing a distant branch against a bough.

After the wedding they bought a cottage in the Shropshire countryside, miles from the nearest village. They thought up children’s names and discussed whose features they would have, how attractive they would look with his brown eyes and her slender frame. Over time, she filled the empty bedrooms with colour, hanging the walls with silver tinsel, changing the light bulbs to pink, as if to forget the reason they wanted the extra rooms.

“Sometimes, you just know,” she would say, lying in bed, struck down by another bout of flu, or stomach pain, or migraine. “Like some little girls who know they’ll be a film star, I always knew there’d be something missing from my life.”

“There are treatments,” he replied. “We have options.”

“Why build our hopes? Why waste money?”

“Don’t be so negative. Besides, if those fail, we can always adopt.”

“Now that would hardly be fair,” she said. “At least if they had my genes they might grow to understand me, and in time forgive.”

In desperation he emptied their savings to pay for a round-the-world trip. They toured Michelin starred restaurants in Europe, drove across the Australian outback in a campervan, took a month long cruise of the Antarctic where they flew all the way to the South Pole. Standing by the monument, the sky and ground divided clean into white and blue, she said, “So, you think we can get a ride back on a woolly mammoth,” and they’d both laughed. He thought, for a moment, that maybe something had changed. But then he caught the end of her laugh, the way it trailed off, finishing with a heart-breaking groan as she gazed over the bleak infinity of snow. When they returned home, she took to her bed.

He can't imagine being here alone, living with the tyranny of her things. In the morning he will collect her clothes and books and art, fill a wheelbarrow with every last atom of her, stack it in the garden, then set fire to the whole damn lot. He might burn the cottage down too.

Once more, he checks the time. It has been twenty minutes since he took her the cup of peppermint tea, kissed her on the forehead, and said goodnight. He pictures himself running into the house, barging the locked door, sticking his fingers down her throat, forcing her to be sick. And then what? She rises from the bed like a princess woken from a witch’s spell and they float out of the room to live happily ever after? No, that will never happen. This is salvation of a different kind. He is setting her free. If she knew what he had done, she would thank him.

He is doing this for her, not for him.

Soon, he tells himself. Soon.

 

           

     



Rupan is a short writer of tall stories. Go say hello at www.rupanmalakin.com.




In this dark and stormy story, I wanted to ask the question: is murder always murder? That the protagonist (I shy away from calling him ‘hero’) loves his wife, and that his wife would thank him for what he has done, in my mind, are not in question…But: it’s in the final few lines that I found myself becoming uneasy - if his motives are so altruistic, then why the self-deception? Why the attempts to convince himself? Often, when we try to convince ourselves of something, it’s because the truth of the matter is all too clear. 





 





  


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