“Have you seen this?”
It was a rhetorical question since Nigel had had the paper since it came into the house. He had picked it off the door mat and was reading it from his stool at the breakfast bar.
“Some poor lady got shot in a care home. They’ve arrested her husband!”
Beryl glanced up from the cooker, her thin lips pursed.
“Says that she was shot with a ’30s service revolver. Jees, how long must he have had that lying around? Did she know?”
Beryl slapped the fried egg down on a piece of toast with slightly more force than was necessary.
“Well of course she knew. Of course she did”.
“What’s that meant to mean?”
“He’s had a gun in the house for 60 years! She’s been keeping the house, washing his clothes all that time. Now they’re in a nursing home with probably nothing but a suitcase each and the thing’s still there. Do you think she didn’t notice? I’d notice”.
Nigel felt slightly stung by the force of her words and detected in them a buried rebuke.
“Maybe she did.”
“Of course she bloody did. Poor old dear was probably terrified her entire life.”
Nigel glanced up at her as he bit into his toast, making the mental calculation of whether to pursue the conversation or just let it go.
“You don’t know that. It might have been for their protection. Maybe it made her feel safe.”
He regretted saying it immediately.
“And what kind of guy keeps a gun all his life? Ex squaddie from Essex. Bloody thug, that’s who. I bet he beat her. Imagine that going on for 50, 60 years. What a life!”
Nigel kept his head towards his wife but his eyes were down towards the newspaper. The conversation as a dialogue was functionally over.
“It was different back then, wasn’t it. A women stuck with her husband through thick and thin. Put up with anything. Well, it killed her in the end, didn’t it? Are you listening?”
50 miles north and 9 hours later, regional sales manager Dave Milson walked in to Penistone Bowling Club for what he referred to as “Singles Night”. Basically, him and his two other divorced friends having a couple of pints of lager and chuntering about their exes.
The preamble is always the same, jostling for who gets the first round in at the sticky old bar and taking their usual spot in the corner of the room that last looked fresh some time in the 1980s. They ask how their respective weeks have been as a conversational gambit, not really caring for the answer. It’s just the prelude to the banter.
“Have you seen this?” said Dave, showing his phone to Steve and Tom.
There was a point about three quarters of the way in to his first pint when Dave felt his body physically relax, like a whole-body sigh. He reached that point now.
“‘Kinell, yes” said Tom. “Imagine”.
“Yep. Poor fella finally snapped!”
“She probably told him to put the toilet seat down one too many times!”
Dave and Tom snorted ladishly at the image.
“Yeah he was like ‘Tell me about that toilet seat one more time. I dare you. I double fucking dare you bitch”
“I bet he’s well pleased with himself. No nagging where he’s going, eh?”
“Just got to be careful not to drop the soap”
Predictable as a Swiss clock whenever prison is mentioned but the anal rape reference got guffaws in any case.
“Wah Wah Wah Pick up your clothes Wah Wah Wah you’re drunk”
“Can’t blame him really, can you”
At about the same time and in the rather more sober setting of a nurses break room at the local hospital, Senior Sister Anita Patel was chatting to her colleague over a cup of tea that most people would consider over-brewed. She found anything weaker too watery and wouldn’t give her the kick she needed to get through the second half of a late shift.
“Have you seen this?” She was gesturing to the coffee-ringed copy of the Daily Mail that had been left in the break room.
“‘Bout that thing in the care room? Yeah, wha’s that ’bout?”
“He just shot her! After been married 50 years”.
“I know! Don’t gettit. I mean, after 50 years an all.”
“Well, sometimes you just get to that age and you don’t know who you are any more. Bet he didn’t know who she even was”
Anita put her cup down and checked her watch. She was due back on the ward in three minutes.
“I’ve seen it loads of times. Old geezers who think their fine and their families think are compos mentis arrive in our department all confused and not know who they are!”
“Yeah, seen it. What do you even do about that?”
“Well by then it’s too late. You just have to protect them and the people around them. Sometimes they suddenly get violent from nowhere. Bet this Ronald guy had frontal lobe infarcts. That’s the usual thing. Saw that a couple of months ago, this frail looking old guy suddenly turned, right in the department. Looked like he didn’t weigh more than 50 kilos but it took 3 nurses to bring him under control. No warning!”
They silently put their cups down and went back to their shifts.
Ronald maintained the same position he had been in for the last 4 hours; Seated but bolt upright, with a spine so straight you could use it as a ruler. The kind posture that only old school army boys had any more. Hands clasped on the table in front of him. Staring dead straight in front of him, eyes focused in the distance at nothing in particular. Silent.
The two young detectives had tried it all. They’d started by treating him as an old uncle, talking down to him, then about him right in front of him. Then they’d gotten more aggressive and tried to threaten him like a common criminal, before finally falling silent in the hope that the awkwardness would force him to start talking. Fools.
He’d lost everything. He would never be free again. At 87 “For ever” wasn’t a scary length of time but still. Never go home again, back to the room that had been home for the last 13 years. He saw his family precious little as it was. Now would they come and visit him, knowing what he’d done? Would he ever get to meet his great-grandson? Unlikely now. Never play cards again with Bill. Small mercies. Bill was a prick anyway.
There was only one thing he had left. A piece of knowledge that he had and nobody else knew. The knowledge that these idiot detectives had been trying to get from him for the last countless hours, and he was resolved to take to the grave with him.
Only he knew why.