A LIFE IN ANGUISHED PIECES
Saphie was in a hurry.
The conversation she’d just concluded with the strange man in a street café had unnerved her. After all, it’s not every day that a total stranger confesses to a double murder out in the open like that. And he’d been so softly spoken, so seemingly genuine.
I guess I’m no judge of character, she thought.
“Hey! What’s the matter? Wait for me!”
It was his voice. She turned and saw him struggling towards her. Like her, he found running well nigh impossible and even walking quickly was a struggle. In one hand he struggled with a walking stick.
“I’m too old for this,” she thought, her mind racing. And she was. Nothing worked quite as well as it had, and she had a problem with one hip which threatened to crucify her if it seized.
The last thing she wanted to do was let him catch her up, and the one thing she did do was slow down and let him.
“I didn’t mean to … to shock you…” He was out of breath, like her. She looked at his face properly, for the first time since he had sat at her table in the café.
It wasn’t the face of a killer. But then, she asked herself, what kind of face does a killer have? Is is harsh, cruel, spiteful, slavering, disgusting? Is it scarred with hatred and persecution and the need for violent death?
Or is it kindly, like this man’s face?
How can you tell what a person’s like, just by looking at them?
“It would have shocked anyone, the things you said,” replied Saphie. “Telling me about all the women you’ve killed!”
“I shouldn’t have. It’s just that you looked sympathetic.”
Saphie turned to walk on, not so swiftly, not as if she was running away, yet making sure she was always walking with plenty of other people close enough to thwart anything this man might have on his mind. In one way she would have preferred it if he’d gone the other way, and in another she wouldn’t.
”If you were so happy with your first wife, why did you have to look for another?” asked Saphie, “especially one that turned out to be so unsuitable you had to kill her?”
“I was lonely, and I didn’t marry her.” The reply was simple, but she understood it. She could be lonely, too, especially since Timmy had wandered into the path of a double-decker bus.
“I know what it’s like,” she murmured.
“I could tell when I saw you sitting back there, outside the café. I just knew we’d be able to talk and I’ve got a head full of nonsense to sort through, but I suppose I talked too much.”
“It’s no good, just looking for a way out of loneliness by picking up a date and trying to make it fit your bill,” she told him. “It’s no basis for a relationship, two sad old people trying to avoid being on their own.”
He nodded. “I discovered that,” he said quietly.
“And you killed that second wife? Really killed her? Blood and gore and all that?”
He grinned at her, not a killer, nothing like that at all, she thought, puzzled.
“Not blood and gore and she’s not actually dead,” he confessed. “But she might as well be! We had a row, one hell of a row, which is something I’d not had with Connie, not once in all the years we were together. But Agatha was different! She thrived on disputes, on being cruelly critical of everything I did.
“One day she went too far. She said I was still under Connie’sthumb and that she’d been an evil so-and-so to treat me the way she had. And when you think what an angel Connie had been all those years, that hurt!Then she said, and this was the crucial bit, life would have been better for both of us if we’d met years ago! It didn’t cross her mind that for the best part of a life-time I’d loved Connie and for the worst part of half an hour I’d hated lady Agatha of the black heart!
“Anyway, I lost my temper and chased her out of the house with my walking-stick! You’ve just seen how I find rushing difficult, but I did! I never hit her with it, though I was tempted! And she ran right into the road without looking to see if there was anything coming, and, surprise surprise, there was. And, believe it or believe it not, it was a horse-drawn trap with a bloke in uniform in charge, holding the reins. Behind him a posh woman with a fancy hat was sitting as if she was Lady Muck on the way to a royal ball! And Agatha ran straight into that horse as it high-stepped along.
“A lorry or a bus might have killed her, but the horse kicked her in the head and left her in a coma. And she hasn’t regained consciousness yet, and I hope she never does! She’s as good as dead to me. That’s why I said I murdered her. If she dies it was me who chased her.”
“So you didn’t kill her?”
“As I said, it was me who chased her, me who threatened her and me who wanted her, let’s face it,dead! But no, technically it wasn’t me who killed her in the gory, bloody knife sort of way because, as yet, nobody has.”
“And what next?”
“I visit her once a week. She’s in a convalescent home where she’s fed through pipes and gets turned every day.She’s out cold, hasn’t regained consciousness once in the months she’s been there – and it has been months – and when the nurses aren’t looking I tell her exactly what kind of bitch she is, and hope she hears. They say she’ll come round – she’s not brain dead or anything like it – and I reckon she’s waiting for the right moment to open those nasty eyes of hers and start on me all over again.”
“Did you marry her?”
“That was one mistake I didn’t make. I couldn’t. But I did let her live with me, like a fool.”
“Then you can simply let her go. You’re not responsible for her, surely?”
“I guess not.” He smiled. “What about you? Are you responsible for anyone?”
“Yes,” she said. “I am. Myself. And that’s as much as I can cope with. On my own, with nobody spying on me, I can have a weepy hour if feel like it. And, you know, it’s been nice bumping into you and finding out you’re not a real killer, but I’m beginning to feel like having a good cry on my own … so, please, I’ll say goodbye.”
“If you must. Goodbye, Saphie.”
“Goodbye, then, Rusty,”
And she did something she never thought she’d do again.
Swiftly, yet with the hint of a linger, she kissed him on one cheek, and turned and walked away.
©Peter Rogerson 09.03.14