Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandra Davies

‘From battle and murder, and from sudden death’

   ‘YOU as good as murdered him, so don’t even think about coming to his funeral. We don’t want you there.’
   Des.
   Unaccustomed mid-morning coffee still hot on his breath, as was tobacco from a half-smoked cigarette, thrown down and swivel-killed under his toe as I emerged.
   The eldest of my four step-sons, newly succeeded, due to his father’s death, to the ownership of Burdock’s Farm. Entitled and impatient to occupy the family farmhouse. Waiting only for me to remove myself and my personal belongings, his failure to immediately expel me, in the shocked small hours of Sunday, still rankling: others, less vindictive, had overruled him.
   Now, contrary, he had parked his Land Rover so as to prevent my final leave-taking until he spoke his piece. Thinking, from my silence, that I’d not understood he repeated ‘We don’t want you there.’
   The sourness of his scowl had telegraphed hostility but his ultimatum had been delivered with unprecedented viciousness. It had taken more than a moment for me to recover the power of speech. Then, holding rigid the muscles in my jaw and throat so as to disguise any tremor, lifting my chin, fully meeting his barely-shamed eyes, I retaliated with precisely-enunciated scorn.
   ‘You are being unnecessarily melodramatic which does no credit to your father. Bearing in mind that I have spent the past thirty years as his wife, have born two, have brought up four, perhaps five of his sons (I don’t know how your brother feels about that) and in all that time he uttered not a single complaint about my behaviour, you may be sure that under no circumstances whatsoever will you prevent me both organising and attending his funeral.’
   I made no claim to having mothered him. Never had done since he, thirteen years old when I married Mike, had declared himself not to need it.
   And at the time I was but seventeen myself.
   Those extra four years, plus, thank god, a talent for quick-minded verbal self-defence (honed in dealing with my elder brothers) enabled me to manage him far more effectively than ever he learnt to deal with me. Even so it had been another dozen years before we reached any sort of equilibrium, during which time he moved from a confused hatred which oozed, pustulent, from his unadmitted (because thought ‘unmanly’) mourning for his first step-mother, to resentment at my too-speedy (and in his eyes unsuitable) substitution. Resentment had been shortly after intertwined with discomfort at his dawning perception of his father’s lust, and only superseded by a rampant need to satisfy his own, culminating in an attempted rape (which I never did inform his father of). Thereafter, guilt-spattered, threadbare tolerance ensued.
   And even now – especially now, despite him having reached his early forties – I had to maintain ascendancy because, in a complex confusion of anger and revulsion, Des still found it impossible to be dispassionate towards me. His nature contained too little in the way of moral certainty, a lack uncompensated for by his inheritance of better-than-average Burdock good looks and a deceptively easy-going smile.
   One he’d never used on me.
   Grief further aged him – he anyway looked older than I nowadays – and he barely listened as I said ‘We cannot even begin until after the post mortem. And then I shall tell you what arrangements have been made.’
   ‘No. You’ve forfeited the right. He was our father, and we will organise the funeral. You have no choice. We don’t want you there, you won’t come, it’s as simple as that.’
   I smiled.
   With apparent confidence and with pity. It cost me, and was wavering brittle, but I smiled.
   For all his bullying and his bluster Des was not a patch on his father. Mike was – had been – no saint, had a devil of a temper, was inclined to arrogance, was impatient, stubborn and could be unthinkingly cruel in some of the things he said, but he had many virtues too. Certainly he would have been incapable of the underhand disloyalty, would have roundly condemned anyone who displayed the moral weakness that I’d long known Des possessed. Even so, I was glad I had full-size ammunition with which to shoot him down.
   ‘No, Des, you have a choice, one that’s even simpler than you realise. Either you accept my right to organise Mike’s funeral and to be there to follow Mike’s coffin, in first place, as his wife. As his widow. Or I tell Alice about Natalie Brown.’
   I made sure to watch his face to see the twitch of shock before he swung guilt-blistered shutters into place.
   ‘Tell Alice …? I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t know a Natalie.’
   ‘You’ve forgotten her already? When you were there on Friday afternoon? You’ve forgotten that she has a five year-old the spitting image of your Eddie? That she had an abortion, at your request, with your signature countersigning the permission form, at a clinic in Hertford a year ago? Don’t give me ‘don’t know’ Des, you may be a two-timing shit, but you’re not a stupid two-timing shit.’
   Unable to continue facing me he turned, walked away, saying ‘It’s grief, or guilt, gone to your head, anyone can see that …’
   ‘Then you’ll not mind if I go round and tell Alice? See if she thinks I’m deluded with grief …’
   Finally my words penetrated his hear-no-evil rant. He turned, grabbed my arm and brought his face close to mine. ‘You say anything of that, of those lies to Alice and you’ll be sorry!’
   Disliking having to stoop to this level of attack, I nevertheless demolished his threat. ‘But you’ll be sorrier won’t you? Because you need Alice’s money to …’
   ‘Shut the fuck up! How the fuck did you get hold of this stuff?’
   ‘Never mind how. Just accept that I did. Just accept that for something as important as this I am prepared to expose your dirty behaviour just as readily as tales were told about me. I’d prefer not to, but you do need to believe that I will if necessary.’
   And without waiting for him to reply I turned and walked away. Away from thirty years of family memories, from a centuries-old farmhouse, not especially beautiful except in the patina of its familiarity, but a place I’d been fulfilled and happy in. My destination now, temporary but more than welcome, a utilitarian red-brick and slate-roofed agricultural tied cottage, home of my eldest son, three villages away.
   This battle, unanticipated though it had been, I’d won.
   The next I would lose.
   Not necessarily on my arrival but before too long my son, as shocked and aching at his father’s death as Des, would question me.
   And he would very quickly force me to admit that it was witnessing the fleeting more-than-kiss between myself and the man with whom, for the past two years, I’d been having an affair that had caused the heart attack that killed his father.

© Sandra Davies 2012

More writer than printmaker these days, but still needing, and responding to, those wide horizons while juggling three novels. The blog is sandra-linesofcommunication.blogspot.co.uk

2 comments:

  1. Such animosity between these two. They are like rattlesnakes with their business ends knotted around each other, hissing and spitting face to face. You have created two or three little worlds I have eagerly entered into time and again. You have become my new favorite British author.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Michael - your have boosted me so often over the past two years, not only into writing, but writing better, and better again.

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