I’m wondering if people who read this blog and love me (or who read this blog and are indifferent to me but feeling charitable) could give this bit of stuff a look over and tell me what you think… Yes? Oh great. Thanks a bunch.
tiny disclaimer: it’s not edited yet so don’t worry too much about spelling and what not. And oh God please be kind.
It was not necessarily the cancer that killed him. The cancer had certainly been systematically destroying parts of him from the inside out for years but it was arguable as to whether this, or the forty years worth of drinking scotch, or the deep and abiding bitterness that had settled at the base of his chest long ago, was the reason that his heart stopped. Whichever it was, it made no difference now. Joan’s husband was dead.
He had been so for around seven hours now and Joan had so far found her hours worth of involvement to be a more trying time than she had ever anticipated. She had, of course, expected the shock, though this was excacerbated considerably by the pool of blood thickening on the carpet. The blood was seeping slow and sticky from a hole in the back of Frank’s head. The hole had been carved on impact with the corner of the coffee table which occurred moments after his body, fatigued and grey, had finally let go of its life. His legs had buckled slightly at the knee, jutting a little to his left, which caused his weight to list to his right and his head, following his defeated torso’s lead, to meet the coffee table.
Joan had never done well with blood. She wondered idly between calming sips of Earl Grey tea if Frank, his murky rage finally crystalising in his last moments had as his crowning act, tipped purposefully towards the walnut table to make her life -audaciously longer than his- more difficult.
She frowned towards his face from her position on the lounge, marveling again at the difference life makes even to so disagreeable a person while dabbing at her eyes with a small monogrammed handkerchief. She had not expected the tears. She was, in truth, a little disappointed with herself.
Frank’s mouth was open, the lower lip sagging slightly so it looked not unlike he’d had a stroke. A family friend, Lowell Fitzimmons if Joan remembered correctly, had had a stroke around ten years ago. They had gone to see him and his wife, Merideth soon after it had happened. Joan recalled feeling uncomfortable looking at Lowell’s gaping mouth, the hint of glistening saliva at its lowest point. They didn’t stay long and in the car afterwards Frank had said “Poor bastard” at least seven times while shaking his head. Joan had stared out of the window at the homes they passed. She had wondered if it had been her instead of Merideth, if she would still be around to wipe Frank’s drool and she rather suspected that she wouldn’t.
Get yourself together woman. He’d laugh at you if he saw you sitting around crying and reminiscing like this. Lord. Joan straightened her back and ran her still shaking hands across her cheeks. She tightened her lips, stood and walked slowly over to her husband, making sure to keep her Italian heels away from the blood.
“Well. What the hell do I do with you?” she asked putting her hands on her hips. The corpse gave no answer, but lay there in a mockery of the stretching silence that had been lately a signature of their home. After a minute of this the thought of covering the body occurred to her but nothing she was happy to throw away afterwards suggested itself for use so she resumed glaring at the body. She felt flustered, and put apon. Honestly. That she should have to deal with a body, of all things, at her age.
“Like I’m in some sort of gangster movie” she said and was relieved to hear she didn’t sound as hysterical as she had feared she would. She was tapping her fingers together and wondering briefly if further illumination would come with a second cup of tea when she remembered the phone. She should call people. That was the thing to do.
Joan moved, a little stiffly as the time sitting with the corpse had caused her arthritis to flare up, across the room and into the kitchen. Its down lights were on, as if waiting patiently for her to return the house to normalcy. She walked briskly now across to the phone, pausing briefly to check her eye make up and smooth her beige satin dress in the stainless steel fridge front, and dialed.
It took seven rings for her daughter Charlotte to pick up. Joan began to feel irritated but decided to be magnanimous as she was, after all, calling at eleven thirty.
“Hello.” Charlotte had the throaty and confused voice of someone who had been asleep.
“Yes hello dear.”
“it’s me, your mother.”
Charlotte cleared her throat then said huskily “Mum. What’s… What’s going on? Is everything ok?”
“Oh yes dear.” Joan had spotted a chip in her manicure. Hell. “Oh. Well, no, actually. The thing is, is your father.”
“Dad? What’s happened? Where is he?”
“Well he’s dead, Charlotte. He’s in the sitting room.”
Joan waited for a moment before asking “What shall I do, do you think?”
Charlotte seemed to be awake now.
“Oh mum.” She sounded genuinely concerned, but composed. “Are you ok?” Joan could almost hear her tilting her head, the way she did when she was Taking An Interest.
“Yes dear, I’m fine, I’ve just had a cup of tea. It’s your father that’s died.”
A sigh leaked through the handset. “Ok. Have you called the ambulance?”
“No dear, you’re the first one I called. Oddest thing, I could not seem to make a decision. Anyway, the ambulance? Really? There’s not a lot they can do now, surely.”
“Mum, someone’s got to.. to take him to the morgue.”
“Oh yes. Yes. Well I’ll do that then.”
“I’ll do it mum, ok?”
“Oh well I’m sure I can manage”
“Mum, just let me do it.”
“Well. Alright. I suppose I’ll just keep sitting here like a lump then, will I? Oh and who cleans up this mess? Will they bring the right.. equipment, do you think?”
“Equipment, mum? For what?”
“Well for the blood dear, the blood.”
When Charlotte finally spoke Joan was not pleased with the faint trace of suspicion in her voice.
”Mum, what happened?”
Honestly. “I told you Charlotte. Your father died, he’s in the sitting room bleeding everywhere. Utterly unsurprising of course. He always hated the carpet since we got the beige shag. Now I am a little put out and wouldn’t mind a brandy if I’m honest, but it seems I’ve got to do something about the body first”
Finally after much more back and forth than Joan thought strictly necessary for a call she regarded now as largely a courtesy, Charlotte hung up, saying she would make the calls necessary if Joan spoke to Damien. Charlotte, being a lawyer and a very successful one, was used to getting her way.
Joan called her son. The conversation was a lot quicker with Damien, owing largely to his falling apart on the other end of the phone as Joan pursed her lips.
“Oh G-God mum. God. Are you alright?” he asked, his voice hitching slightly. Joan rolled her eyes. He had always been sentimental. And oddly attached to his father, despite the last several years of their relationship being what could only be described as estranged.
Damien had broken down completely after a few minutes causing his partner, Robert, to take the phone and say gently “he’ll be ok. We’ll come over now, alright?”
She had agreed of course, it seemed this was the thing to do, to bring the family together. But thing to do or not she found it strange, the practice of gathering around a body, or the place where someone died. What were they to do then? Talk to Frank? About Frank? Wish things were different? Things were different enough already for Joan.
Pleased that she had at least started things in motion Joan eased herself onto a stool at the kitchen counter. She placed her arms parallel to each other on the bench enjoying, as always, the way the marble bench top shocked her skin.
He will never feel this marble again. The thought came suddenly, unbidden and Joan exhaled noisily as tears once again rushed to gather in her eyes and spill down her cheeks. Oh honestly. Frank had hated this bench, much like he had hated the majority of the furnishings in the house so it was unlikely the lasting memory of the cool marble was plaguing him in the afterlife, wherever that was. Joan shifted on the stool in order to see her reflection in the fridge again, turning her head slightly. Her hair was still in place. That was something at least. She sniffed loudly and nodded at herself.
It was only then that she noticed the glass of scotch sitting on the other side of the bench. A small ring of condensation had formed around it. She couldn’t see any ice, but knew there would have been some when Frank had poured it, his hand probably shaking slightly. He would have taken a first sip, his mouth watering in the second before the amber liquid pooled against the glass and poured past his lips. His eyes would close, and he would hold the glass still as he swallowed. Then, opening his eyes he would put the glass down and loosen his tie, smacking his lips once or twice in the way that had always irritated her.
And now… now he was dead. How odd, she thought. How does a man who has moments earlier loosened his tie and poured a drink, a man who has never had the courtesy to give her a moments peace if he could help it, a man who was crude, loud, and angry, walk into the sitting room and cease to live?
Joan sat, thinking about Frank, absurdly dead. She sat, staring at the glass of scotch, at the bench top, at her own hands. She felt as though time had stopped or had never started. Moments seemed to stretch out thin and long until felt like it had always been only her, the bench, the glass. A fly landed near her hand and walked silently across the marble. Beads of water slid down the side of the tumbler, to join the growing pool at the bottom. She found herself nodding slowly and feeling entirely peaceful, the most peaceful she had felt since she found the body.
She was roused from her trance with the thought that she should really go and check on Frank. After a moment this idea seemed so ridiculous that huge, hysterical giggles formed in her chest and threatened to bubble out of her and into the kitchen. She closed her eyes, willing herself to regain control, breathing deeply until the convulsing in her throat died down.
Calm again, she opened her eyes and thought I could just go and look though.. Just in case. She began lifting herself from the stool only to sit down heavily once more. In case of what? Do you think the body is going to be moving? Rifling through the drawers? She laughed out loud at herself again, this time in disgust. Oh God though… Imagine it… She looked to her left, then to her right and smoothed her hair again. She cleared her throat. She drummed her fingers on the counter. What if Frank had moved? A light sweat had appeared on her forehead. Frank sitting up. She twitched slightly on the stool. Frank face down in his own blood. She cleared her throat again. Frank walking on broken limbs toward the kitchen, jerking grotesquely through his own blood. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps. Frank not there at all.
Joan heaved violently up off the stool and limped, whimpering across the kitchen. She rounded the corner and saw him. Shockingly still, his legs slightly bent, one arm underneath him and the other palm up on his left hand side, he was definitely dead. Joan looked around her reflexively, embarrassed by her near panic. She stared at the body, at his loosened tie in silence, hearing for the moment only her slowing heartbeat.
A knock at the door startled her enough to make her clutch her chest.
She thought wildly of what kind of people came knocking on doors at this hour of the night. Was she to fight off intruders now, as well? She walked cautiously down the hall, past several framed John Brack prints, berating herself for not, at least, drinking the scotch. Through the tinted orange glass she could see the distorted shape of one man, then two. They seemed to be wearing uniforms, she could see matching white shaped that had to be badges of some kind and she remembered that Charlotte had said she would call the paramedics.
Joan stood tall once again, patted her hair, plumped her cheeks and opened the door.
Joan led the men down the hall, past the framed John Brack prints and into the sitting room. They had been remarkably polite. Asked firmly if she was alright, and for the location of the body. She had told them about finding it, about the blood, about the walnut coffee table, even about the scotch. Eventually one of the men, after glancing at his co-worker had placed a hand on her arm and said “Ma’m. The body?” .The room where her husband fell seemed too small now, for so many moving people. She heard herself saying “I didn’t cover the body, my towels are expensive” and worried more about the tremor in her voice then about how cold her words must have sounded.
Joan was assured it would be best if she went to the kitchen and let them do their work. The paramedics had looked at her as though they knew exactly who she was. She drank her husband’s watery scotch in one gulp. Then, because she could, she smacked her lips loudly. After rinsing the glass she poured herself a brandy.
She tried, after a moments savouring the brandy, to remember the last time she had shared a drink with her husband. Finally she thought it must have been at Alistaire and Eleanors silver** anniversary, around ten years ago. They had been on opposite sides of a crowded room. A waiter had refilled Joan’s glass with a nod and moved on and she had looked up to see the crowd thin momentarily in front of her and through the clouds of ciger smoke, Frank, staring at her. Something about the moment must have caught them both, her new blue dress that clung the right way to her hips, or his top button undone, making him look for a second like the man she had once loved. He had lifted his glass and winked, actually winked at her and she had raised hers as her head dropped in a girlish smile. She had been drinking champagne then and remembered feeling so silly as the bubbles tickled her nose. She had lost sight of him again soon after. They had never spoken about it.
“Ma’m?” Joan looked at a man’s handsome face and smiled.
“You’re so young.” She said, and her eyes again filled with tears. The face frowned slightly then repeated
Joan shook her head slightly.
“Heavens. Forgive me, I was thinking and…Yes?”
“We’re all done Ma’m.”
“Oh good. Thank you, you’ve been a help.”
As the man smiled gravely at her and turned to leave, Joan thought of all the times she’d rinsed out other peoples words like she’d rinsed out her husband’s glass.
The sitting room was empty, save for the blood stain on the carpet. He was gone, being wheeled on a stretcher out of their home. That he would never walk through the door again, that they would never argue, that she would never wish him dead, that she was not as detached as she thought she would be, were facts that occurred to her one after the other, quiet and true, things that could not be remedied. She stood at the door, watching the men load the van. When it was closed and they had driven away, Joan fell, sinking into herself in the entryway, her last thought before welcome blackness took her that she had never before considered herself prone to fainting.
(this is all I have… it’s not supposed to end, as it’s the beginning of a novel. Thanks so much for reading if you did, please let me know what you thought. Kindly.)