Part 1: A Life In Pieces (click here) Part 2 Another Life In Pieces, part 3 A Life in Anguished Pieces, Part 4 A Life in Mobile Words, Part 5 A Life in Coffee Part 6 A Life in Loneliness, Part 7 A Life In Rags, Part 8, A Life in Confusion, Part 9, A Life In Families Part 10, A Life in Memories, Part 11 A Life in Contemplation, Part 12 A life in church, Part 13 A Life in Lasagne, Part 14 A Life in Chaos, Part 15 A Life in Gossip, Part 16, A Life In Custody, Part 17, A Life in Doubt and Part 18, A Life in Crisis
A LIFE IN “SERVES HIM RIGHT”
Saphie was beginning to think that she was a big fat lump after a critical scrutiny of her reflection in the full length mirror in her hallway, when the doorbell rang and made her jump. It was Sunday afternoon, the same day as the disastrous church service during which the Reverend Josiah Pike had lost the respect of his entire congregation because of a glass of wine and a night-dressed woman, and the last thing she was expecting was a caller. Visitors just didn’t come on Sundays. She didn’t have that kind of friend, the sort that turns up unexpectedly and invites themselves for afternoon tea – or occasionally something more dreadful than that.
She opened the door and gave a little shriek of pleasure, the sort of excited whoop she might have made when she was seventeen and longing to be loved by the latest pop idol.
Rusty was standing there, as alive as life.
“I thought I ought to look you up,” he murmured.
“I imagined they might have thrown away the key!” laughed Saphie. “What happened?”
“The constable told me all about it. Apparently there was some sort of furore at the church where the dreaded Agatha lurks this morning, and it was reaching its high point when that darned Inspector walked in. He’d gone to check his facts with the vicar, and there was that same man in his surplice enjoying a bottle of expensive red plonk, and Agatha was writhing like a serpent all over him in her nightie without him so much as batting an eyelid or pushing her away…”
“We must have left before then,” said Saphie, grinning hugely. “But it was getting to be fun before we went! She waltzed into view in the chancel bearing liquid fruits of the grape and the congregation of a dozen lost souls all left as one, convinced that their vicar had become an emissary of Satan sent to corrupt the holiness of their precious House of God!”
“You were there?” asked Rusty, amazed.
“We were, Izzy and me. We were going to challenge the creep about the stories he was telling about you and your dearest Connie…”
His face dropped as she said her name and that was illustration enough that he still revered his late wife’s memory.
“It wasn’t very Christian of him,” murmured Rusty.
“Anyway, they let you go?” grinned Saphie.
“Yesterday I had a fainting attack and they thought me dead, so I was carted off to hospital and kept in over night just to make sure. I think that fat Inspector was aware that things might go very wrong for him, especially if I did die in custody!”
“You dear man, you’d better not die at all!” remonstrated Saphie. “There are people who rather need you!”
“Well, they thought that’s what I’d done! I was found lying on the floor of a cell and out cold. I remember pacing backwards and forwards and thinking furiously, trying to work out what on Earth was going on, what with the things that Inspector was saying about Connie’s passing had to do with the real world, and then everything turned misty and I knew no more. I must have knocked my head on the floor, and that added to my … unconsciousness. When I came round I told them I was okay, but they still carted me off to hospital in an ambulance with all its lights flashing! I felt like a fraud, but I guess they had to make one hundred percent sure I wasn’t going to do it again. Anyway, a night in hospital is miles better than a night in a stinky old police cell!”
“That inspector is a prat,” Saphie told him candidly. “He believed lock, stock and barrel what the drunken vicar told him, and even that was second-hand, from Agatha, the spiteful.”
“She’d do anything to get a roof over her head,” sighed Rusty. “I suppose, in a way, I feel sorry for her. Her marriage failed, her grown-up kids, as far as I can tell, loathe her and she’s on the brink of being homeless. I think she used me as a port in her storm, but she didn’t particularly like me because I was still mourning Connie. Agatha was a little bit … carnal … in her needs, and I’m afraid I want to have something more than the flesh to keep me warm at nights. I need to love someone, to know I’m loved in return, so it didn’t work out with her. And it never would have. When a man’s tasted the finest wine he doesn’t much relish stagnant water…”
“Is that what Connie was? The finest wine?” asked Saphie.
He sighed again. “Of course she was,” he told her, “She was everything to me! Haven’t you discovered that much about me yet?”
Saphie nodded. “Yet you told me you did want to put an end to her suffering…” she ventured.
“And I might have done. I gave her the pills. I can see them now, small and toxic and filled with death … I helped her put some in her mouth … not all of them, but probably enough … and she relaxed in my arms. Everything relaxed, as if suddenly she’d reached an end to her pain. And I knew that she was dead. I knew that I might have killed her, and I was distraught.
“You know, for months I’d dreamed that a cure would be found, that her spreading cancers would suddenly and magically go away. It dominated my waking thoughts and haunted my nights. Whenever the post came I prayed it would be a notice from the hospital urging us to try a new wonder-cure. Whenever the phone rang the same… And I checked the Internet day after day, and found dozens of crackpot, crazy and very cruel ways I could give her some life back. I knew they were crackpot, I knew they were no more substantial than other people’s hopes, but I tried some of them. Diets that were meant to destroy toxins … I made her soups of ingredients I wouldn’t have normally bought and hoped – I nearly said prayed, but I don’t believe in prayer. But the soups – soup was the only food she could try to manage, little spoonfuls, during those last weeks – were as useless as prayers. The only thing I have to be thankful for is that she couldn’t taste them, because some of them were rank!”
“It must have been horrible,” whispered Saphie.
“For her,” he told her, “I was alive, but she knew she was dying, don’t forget. And then that bloody copper brought it all back to me and suggested that I’d suffocated her with a pillow! I couldn’t have done that, Saphie, not for a moment, not even out of love…”
She was going to say something soothing, something to help this man though remembered agonies, but the doorbell rang again.
“Now who can that be this time!” clucked Saphie.
“I bet you said that when I rang just now,” grinned Rusty.
Saphie smiled and opened the door.
Rusty heard her demand “What in the name of the devil do you want?” and he went to the door, standing behind her, just out of sight yet able to see what was going on.
It was Inspector Greasley, out of uniform and looking as if he’d been invisibly flogged to within an inch of his life.
“I wanted Mr Naille,” he muttered as if the last thing in the world that he really wanted was Mr Naille.
“What for?” demanded Saphie.
“I need to … I’ve been informed … I must….”
“You must?” urged Saphie.
“Apologise. I must apologise.”
“Oh. What if it had been a bit late? What if he was no longer with us? What if the distress of all your meddling brought on a fatal attack of something?”
Rusty made his way past Saphie until he was standing next to her.
“Don’t,” he told the Inspector, “because I don’t believe you. No apology from you would be more than empty words put into your mouths by your superior who, I can see, is sitting in his car just three doors down, not quite out of sight. No doubt so that he can see that you’re doing what you’ve been told to do.”
“Well, I’ve said I’m sorry, and if it makes you feel better I’ve been demoted,” growled Inspector Greasley.
“That’s good,” said Saphie. “Of all the things under the sun that should have happened, you should have been demoted!”
“You’d better go,” added Rusty. “You’ve apologised. I’ve heard you, and rejected the apology because what you said to me hurt more than any apology can put right!”
Inspector Greasley turned, looking like a beaten cur, and slouched off. They watched him as he returned to the car in which a uniformed officer with gold braiding and bright and shiny buttons sat in the back seat.
“Well,” sighed Saphie, “what do you make of that?”
“Serves him right,” murmured Rusty quietly, and he closed the door.
© Peter Rogerson 31.03.14