Authors: John Marrs
“I’m sorry for what I did to Billy and for not trusting you. You have to know that.”
“Don’t you dare use his name! You aren’t fit to use his name!”
“I know, I know, but I had to tell you the truth before my disease made it impossible.”
“Am I supposed to be grateful? How could you let me spend my life believing it was my fault when it was you who’d killed him? His own father!”
She tried to jab her elbow in his stomach but it wouldn’t budge against his clutch. The last time she’d been forcibly restrained by a man, she’d eventually given in and accepted her fate. She would not make that mistake again.
“Please, please forgive me,” he cried, “Don’t let me die knowing you couldn’t find it in your heart to accept my apology.”
His desperate hope filled the room as it fell silent. Finally, she replied in a voice so fuelled by venom, he barely recognised it.
Her response immediately drained him of his energy and she wriggled until one of her arms came free. It flailed around behind her, trying to hit anything that felt like him. A fingernail scraped across his eyeball and instinctively, his hand reached to cover it.
While he was temporarily blinded, he failed to notice her grab a metal picture frame of his children before it smashed against the side of his head. He fell to the sofa, dazed, but moved just before the orange glass vase from the fireplace shattered against the wall above him.
“Kitty, please,” he yelled, but she would not listen. A man capable of such evil did not deserve to be heard.
As he opened his mouth to beg for her forgiveness one last time, she reached for a brass poker from the fireplace and swung it above her head. He backed away but not fast enough to avoid the brunt of its force on his wrist. They both heard the bone crack, but he felt nothing as he fell to the floor.
Then as she raised the poker again, he didn’t flinch or try to protect himself. Instead, he lay there, sodden and shaking, accepting his fate, and as weak and pathetic as she’d ever seen a man. With a final lift, the poker was as high as she could carry it.
Then she threw it against the fireplace with all her might.
“You don’t deserve the easy way out,” she spat. “I want your disease to slowly eat away at you until your one and only memory is of the son you killed. Now get out of my house!”
He used the wall to support him as he slowly rose. He backed away from her towards the door while blood poured from the open wound to his head. He touched his temple to stem the bleeding and pricked his finger on a shard of glass that jutted out from it.
He opened his mouth to make one final apology but his vocabulary was barren. And when she glared at him with such menace he knew, unlike Dougie, he would not be afforded the gift of atonement.
So he fumbled for the handle, opened the door and stumbled down the gravel path, his heavy feet shunting stones in all directions.
He didn’t hear the door slam behind him, or see her slump to the floor and wail like no other person had wailed before.
He steadied himself against the church railings while he lurched through the village, his body as traumatised as his mind.
He failed to notice the school he’d once attended; the Fox & Hounds where he’d tasted his first pint of beer or the village green where he, Roger, Steven and Dougie had spent so much of their youth playing.
Finally, when he reached the graveyard, he could breathe again. He scrambled as best his shaking legs would allow from grave to grave, hunting for the plot that housed an unhinged soul so many had thought they’d known. But they’d never understood it had abandoned his body long before he’d left them.
His eyes prickled from the tears of regret he shed for lives lived, lives wasted and lives taken. And he cried for the forgiveness he had no right to expect and would never receive.
Catherine had deserved the truth no matter how much it had hurt her. He’d wanted her to apologise for what she’d done and for her to understand why he’d allowed Billy to die. Before he left Italy, he’d convinced himself that when she learned she was equally to blame, then she would forgive him like he had forgiven her. Then he would return home to Sofia and Luca and await the day he could take Luciana once again in his arms.
But now he knew what a stupid old fool he’d been. Because what he had never considered in all that time they were apart was that he might have got it wrong. And in the end, it was he who had been hurt by the truth just as much as her.
Eventually he found the charcoal grey, granite headstone he had been searching for. The sandblasted lettering on the epitaph was as brief as that written on his mother’s marker.
‘Simon Nicholson – loving father, gone but never far.’
It was an ambiguous memoriam and open to interpretation, but only he, Catherine and Shirley knew that.
He inched his aching limbs towards the ground and knelt. With few burial spaces remaining in the three hundred year old churchyard, he wondered if another corpse lay beneath where his should have been. It seemed apt, he thought, as wherever he roamed, a dead body was never that far away.
He removed the silver hipflask Luciana had given him for his fiftieth birthday from his jacket pocket. He frequently topped it up with Jim Beam to take away the bitterness of his medication. It also helped to relax him on the days confusion made him feel like a tightly balled fist.
He took out both packets of pills. He knew the ones designed to slow the pace of his advancing Alzheimer’s were no longer powerful enough and he’d barely touched the anti-depressants. But he hoped there were enough of them combined to put him out of his misery. One by one, he popped them from their blister packs into his bloodied palm and then to his mouth. After each four or five, he took a swig from his hipflask and swallowed hard.
Then he sat motionless, numb to everything but the sensation of the tablets as they slipped down his throat and settled into his empty stomach.
Nobody in this world had understood him like Luciana, and if God were willing to show him just one act of mercy, he would soon be with her. But he knew it was a lot to ask considering all he’d said of the Lord and the torment he’d inflicted on the undeserved.
Finally he accepted it hadn’t been God, Doreen, Kenneth, Billy, Dougie or Catherine who had caused his suffering, but himself. He’d been so hasty to blame everyone else for not living up to the perfection he’d expected from them, yet he was the least perfect of them all. He’d been the architect of his own misery.
He began to think about his death and how it could create complications for those he loved. Luca and Sofia would be financially secure for the rest of their lives. But when they were to learn of his passing, they would surely have questions only Kitty could answer. He hoped that when they finally traced her, she might respond to their confusion and grief with kindness.
As for his other children, well, keeping his return a secret would be too tall an order for her. His body, less than a mile from her home, would be impossible to conceal. He hoped they wouldn’t hate their mother for lying to them for most of their lives.
He was conscious there was nowhere left for him to hide and wished he’d hung himself from the tree in the woods when he’d had the opportunity to, all those years ago.
‘You know what to do,’ came the voice that only appeared when his options were few and far between. ‘This is the place. Right here, right now.’
“I do,” he said out loud. It was a solution that would help everyone. He could bury himself where no one would think to find him - in the ready-made grave below. If he could disappear once, then he could do it again.
So he lifted his aching head and began to dig.
As he clawed his way through the sharp turquoise gravel chips, he failed to notice the blood that dripped from his cracked fingertips and temple was making the soil underneath syrupy. He tried to ignore the numbness of his broken wrist and that made digging much harder.
He just needed to scrape a little deeper, he imagined, and then heap the earth back upon himself, and nobody would be any the wiser.
“Focus, focus, focus,” he repeated, determined not to be defeated by an aging body that wanted to admit defeat. But his arms smarted and his knees grew weaker.
He began to topple forwards until he steadied himself and then made one last frantic attempt to scoop away the broken earth and push it to one side. But it was no use; he no longer had the strength to support his weight.
‘I’ll rest for a minute then continue,’ he reasoned, and with all his remaining strength, he pushed himself onto his back and lay on a blanket of grass. He watched carefully as the burnt orange sky gradually faded to a darkening twilight.
And with a final anxious sigh, he closed his eyes and wondered if God would listen when he apologised for all he had done.