BY HEATHER RATH
Copyright is held by the author.
I LIE in a semi-comatose state, that hazy land between sleeping and waking, and try to remember where I am. Keeping my eyes closed, I listen for clues. The ding ding ding sound of a soft bell brings it all back. I am in the hospital.
This realization depresses me. I want to go back to sleep.
“Missus Dawson. Missus Dawson. Good morning Missus Dawson . . . it’s a new day.” The nurse’s voice, feigning a cheery note, disturbs my reverie. I refuse to open my eyes.
“Come now, Missus Dawson, time for your pain medication and then breakfast will be here in a moment.”
I ignore her sickening Pollyanna happiness. She persists. Which tired nurse is it this time . . . Susan or Myrtle or Janet or . . . who cares who? I’ve been in here too long. Time to go home.
“Oh there you are, Missus Dawson. Bright as a button. I’ll just raise your bed.” It is Susan and she blathers on as I reluctantly open my right eye. Sometimes my left eyelid stays closed of its own accord, as if it has a mind of its own.
“Today,” she smiles too brightly, “is the day you get tested in the kitchen to see whether you can go back home.” She pauses, looking at me. “I bet you pass. Why, you’re getting to be as spry as a young chicken.” What liars these nurses are. Susan is patting my sheets, plumping my pillows, chattering to me as if I am a child.
I am not a child. I am an 80 year old woman with her faculties intact and I’ve had one hell of an active life and staying in the institutional wing of this hospital is a fate I will fight against despite the wishes of my damn family.
Imagine! I’m being tested to see whether I can cook in the kitchen of this place. Can I boil water? Can I safely use the kettle? Can I toast bread? All this so I can earn my stars to go home where I can live the way I want to. I hate these bitches they call nurses.
Me. Cecilia Dawson. Known far and wide for her hospitality, her gourmet meals, her generosity to all who come to her table.
Me. Cecilia Dawson. Mother of four, two of whom, unfortunately, are questionable citizens. One has gone off the deep end mentally and I keep trying to stop blaming myself. What’s that Erma Bombeck, my favourite now dead columnist, once said? “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” It wasn’t my fault my daughter got mixed up in drugs and decided to be a drag on society and her family. Another kid turned out gay. Dan, my deceased husband — God rest his soul — and I did lots of research on that one and couldn’t figure out where the gay bit came in. This son just disappeared. Left the house at 19 and never came back. We think he’s still alive somewhere but don’t know. Never heard from him again.
Ah, but Bernadette and Josie . . . they are my pride and joy. A bit misguided these days it seems. Thinking I need help at home or else they’ll worry about me. Nonsense. Nothing is wrong with me that a good manhattan up with lots of cherries won’t fix. A bit of this favourite libation is all I need. These meds I’m on are no good. One keeps me up. The other keeps me down. One makes me pee. The other makes me constipated. Quite frankly, I told Dr. Wayling, if everyone left my body alone I’d be a lot better off. Don’t trust the medical profession these days. I’ve researched on my own and gone the alternative route. That’s why I’ve been in such good shape all these years.
My body doesn’t look like my body at all right now. I was always a sexy little lady. I could give a great blow job and have an orgasm at the same time. Sex, how I loved it. Still do. But all this medication is messing me up.
My hair may be grey at the roots but it’s cut in a short bob, rather stylish. Soon’s I get outa here, I’m heading for my favourite hairdresser, Guy. My Guy is gay but that’s okay. He loves my clear blue eyes. Well, they were clear before I fell and came in here and took all this medication I should not take. It would be easy to just give up. My skin isn’t bad. Not too wrinkled because I spent a fortune on Laroche Posay products with all that Vitamin C to keep my face smooth and soft. Worked, too. Then when I switched to organic, the wrinkles stopped altogether. I’m a bit saggy, but hey for my age I’m eye candy for any man in his 70s. Most of these old geezers can’t get it up anyway. What I need is a howling good orgasm but how the hell am I going to get that? As the Rolling Stones belted out long ago: Can’t Get No Satisfaction.
It’s time to get out of here but can’t get no satisfaction in that department either. I’ll be a good girl and do what they say so I can get out. No way Bernie and Josie are keeping me in here. I can cook. I can wash and dry dishes. I can turn the stove off and on. I can pee. I can walk. I can talk. I want out of this jail.
What’s that Susan is saying?
“. . . Dr. Wayling will be in this morning. He’ll want to take a good look at you. It’s up to him whether you have to stay longer or not.” She smiles in that sickeningly professional way as if she already knows what’s going to happen but she knows I don’t so she thinks she has some power over me.
A sad little creature from the corridor carries a food tray over to my bed. She looks like she should be the one in bed, not me. I eye her suspiciously as she places the tray on the bedside trolley. Little stainless steel tops cover the hidden food sitting on the “property of Edgewood Hospital” dishes. As if we are in a high class restaurant. Ha! This place has no idea what good food is. I’ve been all over the world and eaten in some mighty grand places and tasted some gastronomic delights. I sniff at the breakfast tray and stare my nastiest glare at the sad little creature who timidly backs out of my private room.
“Well,” says Susan, “are we going to eat? Or are we going to be difficult?” How I hate that we bit.
I lift the metal cover off my egg cup and stare at the little brown oval. I asked for hard boiled but it’s probably soft. Which means the yolk will run all over the plate and into my toast. I hate runny eggs. I like everything nice and tidy. Everything in its place please.
So, is this what my life has come to? Lying in a hospital bed hoping to get back to my own home?
Perhaps I’m lucky they never discovered I am a murderer.
You think I’m kidding? Well, I’m not.
It was back 50 years — half a century ago! — when I was having this bizarre affair. I must have been crazy then but I felt alive and tingly and loved the sensation of illicit meetings and liaisons. The chemistry between Bill and me sizzled with excitement at first. I could hardly wait for Dan to leave for work then I’d call Bill from next door on some pretence or other, like the sink needed fixing or the couch needed moving, and over he’d come, like a panting dog. He knew he was in for a fucking good time.
It was just a diversion, you know? I’d always been what they call a “good” girl, and suddenly I just didn’t feel like being good anymore, you know what I mean? And there was tall, gangly Bill with those brown puppy dog eyes that followed me wherever I went. Those hungry eyes shot up and down my ripe body. I had pretty good breasts in those days and he couldn’t have been more obvious about wanting to touch and milk them. He had that desperate horny look; always a wet spot on his pants between his legs and I loved teasing him about it.
His wife, Doris, was a sweet, hard-working office-type person. But totally boring. I bet they didn’t play in bed. In fact, I bet they wore pyjamas. Imagine! Dan and I never wore any and because of that we had four children, I swear. Nothing like the feel of bare skin to bare skin. Kind of wakes you up no matter what sleepy state you’re in.
Bill and I made love everywhere in my house. I’d come up behind him in the bathroom while he was trying to fix a pipe and rub his crotch. “Now, Cec,” he’d say, “at least let me finish what you called me for.” I always ignored him. I’d touch his crotch again and his cock would spring into action.
“Dammit, Cec,” he’d say. “When are we going to cut the games and divorce our partners and get together? Sometimes when I see you with Dan I go crazy with jealousy.”
Silly Billy. Like all men, he thought with his cock. No way I’d give up Dan for Bill. Dan was far superior. He provided a good life; we started to travel; and more than that, Dan was a damn good lay. Bill was like a change, you know? I couldn’t see myself living with Bill at all. I didn’t like his personal habits — his dirty fingernails for instance — and once I saw his underwear wasn’t spanking clean that grossed me out. No, I’d never give up Dan for Bill but stupid Bill couldn’t see that. Did he think we’d fuck everywhere if we got together? Not likely. He didn’t realize it was the novelty, the spontaneity of the trysts that kept this affair going. He was no prize catch.
Eventually Bill became a problem, as most men do when it comes to sex. He was beginning to find excuses to come to the house — I wasn’t calling him over — and he was beginning to think I was his which led to some overzealous controlling behaviour. That’s when I realized this little adventure had to end. Bill was far too possessive and to be honest, it scared me a little.
I tried to cool it naturally. “Bill, let’s not see each other for a while. It’s more exciting to be with each other after a break. So let’s try that approach.”
That didn’t last a week. He was over after three days, with that poor-me look. He was in rutting season and didn’t take too kindly at being brushed off. As far as he was concerned, I was his during daylight hours. As a night watchman, he could sleep on the job for a while without any fear of repercussion. He had it all worked out with a buddy system.
Truthfully, Bill was becoming a drag. I had created a monster that wouldn’t go away. When he was with me, I’d try and talk some sense into him but all he did was reach for my clothes to tear them off.
He also had a violent temper, I soon discovered, when he didn’t get his way. If I didn’t succumb to his charms, he’d get ugly. He sank to prepubescent behaviour. Like kicking the tires of my car. Not once but three or four times. Viciously. Or attacking my car with a key. Once he destroyed my front garden by fiercely stomping on those innocent flowers. I worried about being his next victim.
One especially vexing day, I took the bull by the horns and told him I wanted to end the whole thing. No more seeing him. No more sex. I was even thinking of telling his wife which would have severe consequences.
“You do that, Cec, and I’ll make damn sure Dan knows everything, too. He’ll know it’s true when I tell him where he puts his slippers at night and what drawers are his and where he keeps his beer and . . .”
“Shut up, Bill,” I said. “This isn’t going to work. I just want you to cool your jets for a while.”
“So Miss High and Mighty wants everything her way,” he said. “Well, this can get pretty messy if you want.”
I hid my fear. “Get out of here, Bill. Go back to your own house. I’ll rattle your cage when I want you.”
Glaring at me with narrow sinister eyes, I could tell he was practising full self-control by not hitting me. Enraged, he turned and stormed away.
Each time I left the house after that confrontation, Bill followed me. If I was driving, he was right behind me. If I was walking, he was behind me about a block. He was forever calling on the phone so I stopped answering. He’d begin his conversation the same way each time: “So what are you doing now? I’m waiting to come over. I can see into your bedroom window. Imagine us in your bed. Together. Fucking . . .” He always talked dirty. Turned him on and thought it turned me on, too. At first, yes, but later, no. After a few of these unwelcome calls, I began scheming to get rid of him.
The best way, I decided, was a medical emergency. A natural heart attack would be best but highly unlikely. As far as I knew he was as healthy as a horse, no heart problems. I couldn’t just murder him . . . wasn’t the type. Besides, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison.
So I began to think creatively. Ever since I told him we should cool it, Bill had become a stalker. In fact, I swear I saw him one night in the bushes outside our bedroom window. Even Dan mentioned he thought he saw someone in the backyard. That terrified me, really. Bill was too aggressive and again, I feared for my personal safety. Once, when we were talking, I asked him if had gone into our backyard. He was almost proud of his antics. “Sure my sweet lady. It’s a challenge to see how often I can spy on you without you seeing me. A neat game. Saw you ruffle Dan’s hair the other night when he was sittin’ in the living room and I damned near knocked out the window I was so jealous. What d’ya figure he might have said if I did that? If he asked me what I was doing I’d tell him the truth. That you and me’s bin pretty hot and heavy lately and so what did he expect when I saw you runnin’ your hands through his hair. What d’ya suppose Dan would say, sweet girl? Would he be surprised? Hurt? Wonderin’ if I was telling the truth? Huh? Well, what d’ya think, sweet lady?”
That diatribe did it. I vowed to get rid of this dickhead. Fast. And forever.
After some musing, the solution came to me. If I could get Bill to run a red light or something like that — involved in a car accident — then maybe he’d get really injured and leave me alone.
I thought about this strategy for a while. First, I tested it. Yep, each time I left the house in my car, Bill was right behind me. I had to find a place and time to set up a car accident. This became my prime focus and motivation. No-one else should get hurt either. This agitated state was between Bill and me. I got myself into this mess and had to get myself out of it.
The first attempt at a car accident failed. Like I expected, he drove on my tail. A man obsessed. I stopped at a stop sign. Looked both ways. A car — it was red — was approaching on my left. Figured there was enough time for one, but not two, cars to make it across the intersection. Gunned the accelerator, shot across the street, and could hear the squealing brakes of the red car. Looked in the rear view mirror. Like an idiot, that damn Bill fool spurted right after me. Almost gave me a heart attack but no accident.
After that, I was determined to get rid of this leech forever — and soon.
There was a railroad crossing not far from the edge of town. I was sure it did not have crossing barriers. If I could time it to drive just in front of an oncoming train and Bill was intent on following me . . . well, I could get lucky and Bill, well, maybe not so lucky.
So I called the train station and asked about timing at this particular train crossing.
On the morning I prepared to carry out my plan, I was a little edgy. You could say, excited. The adrenalin was running. I carefully went over the route in my mind so I would be at the railroad crossing the last possible moment to get myself over the tracks.
Driving to the scene of the crime, I could hear the train whistle in the distance. I could see the wigwags beginning to clack and red lights flash back and forth. As I approached the crossing I glanced behind. Yep, Bill was there. Not too close but he was there. Actually he was moving closer and closer as I reached the crossing and was almost on me.
I had to time this perfectly. The train whistle blew longer, louder. Gunning the car just before the train bore down on the crossing, I prayed. Right behind me, I could see Bill gunning his car . . .
Bill’s funeral was a sad affair for many — he would have loved the wonderful accolades people gave him — but I felt sorry for Doris. Eventually she moved on to find someone new and that was good. Bill really wasn’t right for her. As for me, I felt only a sense of grateful relief.
“Missus Dawson?” queries nurse Susan dragging me back to the present. “Why, you haven’t touched your breakfast tray! You won’t ever be allowed to leave the hospital until you can prove you’re healthy enough. I’ll just have to report this to Dr. Wayling.”
“Susan,” I snarl, “how’d you like to get smashed to smithereens at a railroad crossing by a fast-moving train?”
“Oh,” she smiles sweetly looking down at me, “is that how you got rid of my Uncle Bill?”
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I once wrote a composition for an English assignment. I think I was about eighteen. I thought it was great, imaginative yet highly realistic. I received a zero mark, and my teacher’s comment, “I don’t believe a word of it,” really stung. I decided then to learn how to suspend disbelief. It took me another fifty years and I am still working on it.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I kept my cloak of disbelief on my shoulders while reading the whole of your story. And particularly the ending, the coincidence of which I found impossible to swallow.
Sorry to rain on your parade, Heather. I can see that you write really well, but, for me, not convincingly enough to overlook what I considered to fatal flaws in the narrative.