I focussed too much attention towards his premature attempts of family décor to listen entirely to the fodder flowing from his mouth. My wife, on the other hand, appeared to be entirely enthralled by the vaunts of his career. At the time my disgust was targeted exclusively at photographs of grinning toddlers and not my wife’s lewdness. Her lips were a darker shade of red that night.

The following Autumn I was struck by my wife’s infidelity. It was no cause for concern that she had spent a great deal of time helping the Merriweathers move in. Yet, before long she became their reliable babysitter, an occasional dinner guest and a mandatory cog for the family Bridge games. With every one of these frequent jaunts, my wife’s face grew less recognisable as she became more generous with her powders and lipsticks. She was hiding; covering herself and her wrongdoings.

It was a Tuesday when Martin Merriweather lowered our garden fence in order to ‘gather more sunlight for the primroses’; even when the sun was setting. It was my rose which he had his eyes on, though. It wasn’t long before watching them chatter across the splintered wood became a visceral pastime. I imagined the words that escaped her wandering mouth. Words that she no longer had time to spare for me.

On bonfire night the clouds were fresh with bursts of flame as fizzled light danced beyond the darkened sky. A neighbourly celebration was taking place at the Merriweathers’ residence and the invitations were plenty. My wife wore a suitably fitting red dress together with a black satin shawl that caressed the arch of her smooth back. Pearls hung close to her neck and lit up against the fireworks. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to gather her so tightly in my arms that she would forget the outside. I wanted to envelop her entire body like a rapacious clam hides its only riches. I wanted to protect her.

It took only a thought of my wife holding on to a single word of that Martin Merriweather’s for me to torch their house. Red filled my eyes. Screams echoed in the burning. An accident. No one was hurt but the house which fell to the Earth like an unfolding rapture. My wife did not scream at the burning or at the sight of the wreckage. She accepted this fate but turned a shade of pale that I had never seen before.

I did not murder my wife. But I could not save her. Only a single month after the fire, she grew so weak and fragile that a limp beyond her mattress became virtually impossible. Her jaunted face was full of shadows when she finally uncovered the nature of her sickness. Her womb had given birth to tumours that had taken hold of almost every organ in her body. She explained how Martin had accepted her as a patient to a heavy programme of experimental drugs that had a chance of saving her life, if only for a little longer. A sickness tugged at my throat as she delivered a truth I could not swallow. Her love was never questioned and yet I had burned her hope in a fire of jealousy. The medicine had all been lost in the ashes that wrote my name. She crumbled away like the walls of the house next door. My helplessness was my foreboding punishment.

And here I stand, looking at my dead wife. Every inch of my honing gut begs that she might wake up with those blushing eyes that still belong in her skull. But she lays still. I close the coffin lid; covering her body for the final time. She was always mine to protect.

 

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