An anguished groan made her turn towards the kitchen just as Eric stumbled into the room. A broken man, shrunken, every inch his sixty-odd years. She looked from him to her mother. In that split second, she understood. Only an hour ago he said he loved her. A jest. Just something to say. He had fought her battle as he promised he would. Now she was compelled to fight his. As in a world of make-believe, she watched him watching her mother. She saw him kneel and grip the knife. She saw the bulge beneath and wondered if the child would also die.
She was amazingly calm; cold, but not lowering temperature cold. She queried where the emotion was. She was bereft, feeling neither wrath nor grief.
Eric must have endured extreme emotions to become so violently incensed. Did love do that? She had often felt murderous and had threatened all sorts of spiteful things, but never wanted to kill. Not really kill. But she was denying the truth. She had wanted to annihilate her mother. Many times. That was the same as killing, wasn't it?
‘I had to do it, Rachel. Do you see?’ Eric had also stirred, removing himself from her mother's lifeless form, still on his knees, but leaning now towards Rachel, petitioning her to understand. ‘Eventually, you would have done the same. I couldn’t risk it.’
He looked so old.
‘I couldn't risk that depraved woman offending my girl any more.’ Eric mumbled, talking as if Rachel wasn't there. ‘Enough was enough.’
Shuffling on her rump to his side,
Rachel embraced his shuddering body. The lapels of his raincoat were wet with raindrops. He should have taken it off. She would have dried it for him.
‘Enough was enough. Couldn't let it go on. She’s a madwoman.’ He twisted within Rachel's arms and clutched the bib of her apron. ‘It couldn't go on. I had to do it.’
She rocked him as a mother would comfort a troubled offspring. ‘Shush. It's over.’ Sliding a hand over his head, she whispered, ‘She can't bother us any more. We must decide what to do.’
HER hand trembled as she replaced the handset. What would become of them now? The realisation that there would be no more heartache had been slow to emerge. When it did she wanted to rejoice, but it didn’t excuse the deed. Eric wasn’t the only guilty one. If it wasn't for her continual griping and taking advantage of his fondness for fellowship, he would not have become so tragically embroiled.
She went back to the crime scene. With fearful trepidation she toed the chef's knife, kicked it away. It spun across the rug. Rex watched from the corner; he didn’t dart after it. Staring again at the body, Rachel was thankful its back was towards her. She couldn’t have borne to look at her mother's dead eyes.
WHILE she listened for the blare of sirens, slamming car doors, hurried footsteps on the path, she allowed herself the luxury of a glass of wine. White wine, expensive, an extravagant purchase for a special occasion. Glancing at the clock, she speculated on how much longer she would have to wait.
Daylight was fading. Shadows filled the room as one by one the street lights came on. One was reflected in the oval mirror, a beacon of light to expose the guilty. Rachel adjusted her position, stretching her legs in front of her. Gripping Eric's hand, she mentally bridged the years, past scenarios spinning chaotically as she reminisced, her stoical appraisal eventually disrupted by an insistent knocking at the door. It was time to be taken into custody, to be slung without question into filthy, black dungeons, clammy, like the shelters in the field, where their bodies would rot and their minds shrivel, where
Amy would be waiting to haunt them.
REX romped to the hall.
How long would it take them to break in?
She heard Ralph's voice calling.
Scrambling to her feet she hobbled into the hall, her joints set from sitting too long on a hard floor. Seeing Ralph's blurred head through the porthole window she eased the door open, slowly and unsure.
She hid her own hand behind her, silently imploring them to go.
Rex, Ralph wrapped his arms around her, asking if she was all right.
What could she say? Of course I'm all right. Mother's dead. That makes everything perfectly all right.
Giving her a quizzical look,
Ralph let her go. ‘Come in, Terence,’ he said, pushing the door to and advancing towards the living room.
Then he'll go to the kitchen to see what's cooking. Closely followed his brother.
Outside, a car door slammed. An orange light flashed intermittently through the round window, lighting her hair with orange streaks.
Someone leaned on the door bell.
That’s when she fainted.
EVERYONE was talking at once. Rachel opened her eyes to discover that she was lying on the couch, cushions supported her head.
Rex was guarding her, his head resting on her thigh, unblinking eyes fixed on her face. She could smell death in the room.
Instantly, Ralph was beside her.
Terry stood opposite talking to a policeman and another man in a dark blue suit.
‘How do you feel, love?’
Before she had time to sit up, the man in the blue suit came across. ‘Rachel Ellison?’
, where are you. Gary
‘Detective Sergeant Bulwell. Can you give me your version of what happened?’
Rachel scoured the room. ‘Where's Eric?’
‘Gone to the station.’
She sprang to a sitting position. ‘I must go to him.’
‘Did you see him do it, Mrs Ellison? Did he threaten you as well.’
‘My God, what is this. Why would he threaten me? He's my best friend.’
‘He loves me. He did it for me. And I'm glad he did. Glad, do you hear? The bitch is, was, having my husband's baby. She deserved to die. I should have done it, not
Eric. I wanted to do it. I didn't have the guts. Racking sobs stemmed the flow making her next words barely audible. ‘I'm as guilty as him.’
The room was abruptly hushed. Three men posed like statues, gesturing hands suspended in the air. The fourth looked on, notebook in hand, tiredness etched on his face. They stared.
Rachel wondered if it was because of that they stared, on account of his implanted child. Or was it because of her declaration of pleasure? Gary
‘Tell me about it,’ instructed the man in the blue suit.
The uniformed policeman flicked open his notebook.
WITH Rex at her feet, Rachel told her story, one hand absently stroking the dog's fur. She described her failed marriage,
's romance with Amy, the deception. When asked how Gary Eric fitted into the plot, she talked about their relationship, describing it as platonic. Most of the time.
DS Bulwell remarked, ‘I'm surprised he didn't let your husband have the knife.’
She tightened her hold on the dog.
Ralph was a different problem; right now she hadn't the stamina to resolve it.
The Detective Sergeant suggested it was time to depart for the station, mentioning statements and further information. Eagerly, she took off her apron. She would make it right for Eric. She went for her coat. Kicking off the fur-lined, blood-smeared slippers, she slid her feet into the cream sandals she had intended to wear at dinner. On her way out, she put a hand on
Ralph's arm. ‘I'm truly sorry,’ she said, referring to the ruined evening.
‘I'll look after Rex until you return.’ he said. ‘And I’ll keep in touch,’ he added as he kissed her cheek.
The problem, apparently, had resolved itself.
RACHEL left the house with the Sergeant. He held her arm as if she was an invalid. It occurred to her that she hadn't enquired what happened to her mother. She supposed she had been carted off in a body bag; she really didn't want to know. She felt no remorse. As she climbed into the car she saw
Ralph at the door of his Rover. Terry was already in the passenger seat, tugging at the seat belt. Ralph lifted his hand to wave. He looked wistful, she thought. For the first time, her own tears fell.
It would have been no good, Ralph. I would have destroyed you as well. I couldn't ignore the vow I made to
that I would love him forever, for better or worse, till death do us part. Gary
This story was 75% true, based on the life history of a friend but changed, with permission, to suit the writing of a book. As can be appreciated, there could be no happy ending for Rachel because there was none in real life. And anyway, not every situation has a happy ending!