In the absence of hemlock, a large whisky, very, very sour
I should have realised, right at the beginning; but I had fallen in love.
I met Julia whilst on a training course in Exeter. It was early June, warm, sunny and we were often cast together, either as a pair, or in the same team of four. Most of the time, the exercises were conducted in the grounds of the Hall, which the Company had hired to train us in inter-personal skills. We therefore spent many hours during that week, either sitting at picnic benches, or lounging on soft, lush, green grass.
The nature of the course meant that we also spent our evenings together, continuing discussions either in the bar, or on the patio outside. For much of the time, the other attendees gave us a wide berth. In five days, I learnt more about Julia: her tastes, likes and dislikes, than I had ever known about any other person, in my twenty-seven years.
I was surprised when she announced that she was forty-three years old. From her appearance and bubbly enthusiasm, I had guessed around twenty-five. The first night we spent together in bed, she behaved like a woman in her mid-twenties. It was just after one o’ clock on the Thursday morning when she whispered. ‘I love you.’
As lunchtime neared on the Friday, I became restless, nervous, wondering how I should deal with the business of our parting, how and when, we should meet again. I could not decide what to say. I believed that if I put so much as a lettuce leaf in my mouth, I would be sick. As it happened, I need not have worried.
‘Must you return home this afternoon?’ Julia asked.
‘No there’s no rush, I can ring Adam, why?’
‘I’m going to visit my parents. They live just outside Gloucester; it’s on your way, so why not come with me?’
‘If you think it will be alright, not inconvenience them, that would be great.’
‘No problem, they are looking forward to meeting you.’
I had not considered that Julia being the age that she was, would have parents in their seventies. Hence it was a shock when I was introduced. Her father, a retired vicar, totally bald, depressed and subdued: reeked of loneliness. Mrs Scott-James was an altogether different proposition. She was tall, stately, overweight, but with her ample flesh suitably encased, no doubt by the most skilful of corsetiéres. Her manner was brusque, formal and even when she merely said, ‘How do you do.?’ there was challenge and accusation in her tone. I immediately realised that Julia and I would be housed in separate rooms, although I had not expected that we would be on different floors.
In order to inconvenience them as little as possible, bearing in mind the brief notice of my arrival, I suggested that I treat the four of us to supper at the village pub. Herbert’s expression lightened, until Elspeth commented. ‘Providing we can get a table.’
Julia rang and charmed the licensee and we were given a reservation for eight thirty.
‘A little late for us Herbert, we must only have one course,’ was the dragon’s observation.
The atmosphere at the Black Swan resulted in us enjoying a more pleasant evening than I had expected. Herbert had little to contribute to the conversation, but discovered the courage to defy his wife and order a rich, creamy pudding.
‘I trust you will be able to sleep after such a dessert Herbert. I think it best that you take appropriate medication before you retire. I would not welcome being disturbed during the early hours.’
‘Leave him alone Mum,’ Julia chided, and poured him another glass of wine.
Mrs. J-S. was about to respond, but perhaps remembering my presence, consoled herself with a look that would have frozen soup, had there been a bowl of it on the table. When the three of us stared at her, Elspeth smiled wanly in her daughter’s direction.
Julia had previously told me that although Elspeth bullied her father, she was generous towards her. In her mother’s eyes, Julia had already far exceeded expectation, by rising through the company, to become the head of the firm’s legal department. I had to agree that it was an exceptional achievement.
Soon after we returned from the pub, the oldies said good night. We were left alone in the magazine-layout sitting room. Giggling, we lay on the carpet, alongside the marble surround of the over-sized fire grate, rather than risk making an indentation, or leaving a stain on an item of furniture.
That first encounter was thirty-two years ago. Since then, Julia and I married, she suffered a miscarriage, and her parents died. Herbert went first, quietly whilst he was asleep. Elspeth suffered a brain tumour. She went blind and deaf during the final weeks, but retained her power of speech, so that she could purvey her vehemence and continue to criticize, mainly me.
My wife had changed with the years. She and Elspeth had become more like sisters, and I was the principal recipient of their joint venom. After her mother had been cremated, Julia assumed the sole mantle. I had progressed in the company to the position of Sales Director. We had a fine house, nice cars, lots of money and acquaintances; no family of course, and few friends. It should have been a wonderful life, but it was one of misery. I worked as many hours as I could, stayed away from home and had liaisons, but she always knew – whether by a sixth sense – or because I was lax in covering up. She knew and made me pay, by her words and actions. In time her skills made her mother’s performance seem amateurish.
It was at the party to celebrate my early retirement that Adam proclaimed. ‘Julia has the ability to brighten a room, merely by leaving it.’
That made me think about the years ahead. Although seventy-five, Julia was fit and healthy. She had her mother’s genes, so I decided that I should be rid of her. I spent days, weeks developing a plan, a plot to engineer her demise. It should have worked perfectly, except for coincidence. At the very moment that she slipped from the cliff path, falling onto the rocks below, an air sea rescue helicopter on another mission passed overhead. Both pilot and navigator swore that they saw my hands upon her back, the split second before she fell.
I have decided that when my solicitor visits tomorrow, I shall instruct him to enter a plea of guilty.
Having spent the best part of thirty-five years writing reports on such subjects as ‘Provision of Caravan Sites for Travellers’ and ’Aspects of Pest Control in the Urban Environment’, Roger Noons began even more creative writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts and having become addicted, began to pen short stories and poems. He occasionally produces memoirs and other non-fiction. He has begun to perform his poems, and has just published ’An A to Z by RLN’, an anthology of 26 short stories. He intends by the end of the year to have followed that up with a novella.
He is a member of two Writers Groups and tries his hardest to write something every day. As well as CafeLit, he has had credits in West Midlands newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, Paragraph Planet, Raw Edge and a number of Anthologies.
Roger is a regular contributor to the CafeLit site and a couple of his stories have been selected for the Best of CafeLit 2012.