In the conservatory, George lies prone on a faded wicker recliner. Today’s lunch finished with, Agnes listens to his contented snoring. It used to be his habit to nap for at least an hour after a Sunday lunch. Now he sleeps every day after every meal, be it breakfast, lunch, or supper. She cuts his food up to feed him by hand. It’s as if he were a baby again. She has been running on auto-pilot since he was diagnosed, always with half an ear cocked for the slightest groan or sudden movement to indicate that her husband was awake.
Agnes moved as quickly around her tiny kitchen, as her arthritis would allow, cleaning pots and china on her way into the lounge, where she began swishing a well used duster over wooden picture frames. Indulgently, she gazes at the old black and white photographs of their marriage. How proud and handsome George had looked in his RAF uniform, with his new bride on his arm. The pictures showed the two of them on a wonderful spring afternoon standing outside the registry. They’d been lucky to collar a couple of soldiers on leave who’d acted as witnesses for the price of a pint of beer. There were snaps of them taken a year later proudly showing off baby Cathie. Such a happy time. Agnes sighed, wistfully shaking her head.
“Oh Cath, darling. I wish you’d come back to us…to me”
Cathie used to visit several times a week, forsaking her own family to help out with little jobs around their bungalow; shopping, and taking in her mothers washing. Inevitably, the day came that they had all been dreading. George had stared directly at her and hadn’t recognized his own daughter anymore. She’d run, blinded by tears as her father, brandishing his cane, had stumbled after her. Screaming.
-Get out! Aggie! Call the police. She’s trying to steal our money. Go on get out before I kill you myself”!-
After that, Agnes’s days and nights had, almost without her noticing, merged into one endless round of dusting; sweeping and –because the washer was broken- washing filthy soiled clothes by hand. She makes sure George is clean and comfortable before pouring herself a chilled can of Guinness, a tonic the doctor had OK’d for her because of its iron content. She’d promised herself and the local GP- Doctor Singh…lovely man, very sympathetic- that she’d try to take things a little easier. To that end she sat, relaxing as best she could, whenever she could, allowing herself the luxury of reminisceing…
…Was it the hacking cough or the crack of breaking glass on hard tile that pricked her ears first? Agnes was at her husband’s side within seconds. His good arm had caught the glass of water that she’d used with his medication.
“Oh dear lord I must have gone to sleep”
His hands slapped at the unseen moth of her arms, pinning his own down to stop him hurting himself.
“Please, please stop it darling. Please. Please stop” She sobbed bitterly.
Even as she held his venous wrists to her breasts as tightly as she could, she felt her own strength ebb away. George was still physically strong and her body shook with the effort of trying to control him. Breathless minutes later his spasms eased; the medication was beginning to take effect, calming him, giving him peace once again.
But for how long? She thought. How long this time?
“I went to sleep. What was I thinking about? You stupid stupid woman. Cathie would never forgive me if I’d…what? Let him die!”
Agnes was shocked. Realizing that she’d spoken out loud, she covered her mouth with long, age mottled fingers, looking tearfully up at him. He showed no signs of having heard.
“You wouldn’t understand anyway would you? Not really. You haven’t heard what I’ve been saying to you for years George. Have you?”
Holding him down had sapped her strength and the effort to stand herself upright sent a dagger of pain through her weakened legs. Grimacing, she edged slowly to her feet and shuffled slowly through the kitchen, constantly eyeing her husband for further signs of movement. He was still. She reached deep into the pocket of her housecoat for the “special” key that nobody else knew about; felt its familiar shape in her hand, then moved purposefully into the lounge. Agnes inserted the key carefully into the old oak writing bureau, and turned it in the lock. With her senses heightened, the click of the key sounded like a thunderclap. Behind a collection of letters and postcards, a cardboard shoebox lay in front of her, still looking as if it may contain shoes. It was anything but. Removing the lid she folded back the oil cloth inside to reveal George’s old Webley revolver. The stale oily smell made her wretch. She looked at the hated object. They’d had huge arguments over it being kept in the home at all:-
-What if Cathie finds it?-
– She won’t, I’ll lock it up-
– No George. I won’t have it in the house! Its dangerous.-
But she’d relented and he had locked it away, but knowing it was there had caused the first real strain on their marriage.
She hesitantly picked it up by its embossed handle. Its unfamiliar weight more than she expected.
“I’m sorry George, sweetheart. I can’t take anymore of this. I’m just so tired”
Agnes walked the longest walk of her life. Past the wedding and their baby girl.
“My life’s just memories now.”
Past the broken washer, to where the kitchin became the conservatory. She held the gun quivering at her side. Tears streamed unstopably as she faltered behind her husband.
” Mum. I’m sorry.”
Said Cathy. She held a bouquet of roses.
“The back door was open so I let myself in. Here’s that part you needed for the washer. It should…”
Cathy’s smile faded as her eyes scanned down.