Saturday, 5 April 2014
'The Widow' — a short story
I wrote this 1,500 word story for a friend's 65th birthday this week at her request. She seems to have enjoyed it, although her husband did say after reading it that the next home they buy will be a bungalow...
by Robert Howard
List of characters (in order)
George Manning. The husband.
Ruth Manning. The wife.
Angus and Robbie. An elderly neighbour and his dog.
May. Ruth’s friend.
Scott and Fiona. George and Ruth’s children.
Alan. The Postie.
Mary Marshall. Read on…
For George to be found by his lover was a bonus. Her going to prison for five years was another matter, but there was nothing Ruth could do about that without revealing her part in his death.
It was a brilliantly simple plan. Her calling ‘George’ from the hall a couple of times. Hiding in the bathroom, waiting for him to leave the bedroom and look down. One push and George was over, with no more than a surprised ‘Whoa’, then a crunch as his head hit the stone flagged floor, followed by a gurgling gasp as he expelled air for one last time.
As Ruth walked down the stairs she was glad George was face down, already a pool of congealing blood around his head. That quick. She picked up the radio cassette and returned it to the kitchen and removed the tape. By the end of the day it would be in twenty pieces and distributed in a dozen litter bins between Fort William and Inverness.
Out the back door, into her car and off. 6am. Bang on time. Angus saw her go. It was his time of day. They exchanged waves, as they had been doing for fifteen years. She slowed down, lowered her window, and asked ‘Where’s Robbie?’
‘Ach, I left him in the hoose. Not long now’.
Ruth would miss them both. Angus was one of the church elders who had sold them the manse. Now in his late-eighties, Angus was the only one left and Robbie, his collie, even older (in dog years that is). As she drove away from Angus, the words ‘Not long now’ lingered.
It was a two-and-a-half hour drive to Elgin along the A82 and A96, with a welcome break for a quick breakfast in Inverness, where she was picking up her friend May. Her head a maze of jumbled thoughts. George kissing her goodnight in bed, snuggling up and promptly falling asleep. Who would tell Scott and Fiona? God they were common back then. Working class through and through, dragging themselves up by taking every opportunity life threw at them. Somehow, George had gone from waiting tables to running a catering company supplying oil rigs, whilst she had done a ninety-degree turn from being a hairdresser to running up-market craft fairs with May. Business was good. Golfing wives always had lolly, lots of it, so they were looking forward to a good two days in Elgin. Back came the kids. One in Edinburgh, the other Plymouth. They would come immediately and she would send them away as quickly as she could. This was between her and George. None of their business. So the journey went. She stopped at eight lonely lay-bys on the A82. No one saw her. A brown paper bag with a length of tape and a piece of the cassette into each bin.
Either she would find George or someone would call in. Alan the postie most likely. He often stopped for tea and a chat. A welcome break on his long rural round. If they were out Alan would let himself in, make a drink and use the loo.
Breakfast with May went well and, by the time they arrived in Elgin, Ruth had convinced herself that Alan would find George. Someone would eventually go into her workshop and see ‘Mansion House’ written on her calendar against 7th August. It might take a few hours, but they would find her.
What Ruth had not expected was for Alan to see Mary Marshall of all people drive past him at such a speed that he had to swerve to avoid a collision. The Police quickly established that George and Mary were in ‘a relationship’. The night before he had not closed down his computer and there, on the screen, was an exchange of e-mails, with George saying Ruth was away overnight, so she could come to the house. Mary had replied that she would come over after dropping the children off at school.
Mary admitted to finding George dead and told the Police hat she didn’t dial 999 because her husband would want to know what she was doing at the house. She denied any ‘relationship’ with George and said that he visited her office in Fort William once a week to go through the factoring work she did for him and that, occasionally, they would have lunch.
In George’s home office the Police found items of underwear, and traces of DNA on his day-bed, all belonging to Mary. Her denial of any relationship with George, given that they shared an e-mail account, only fuelled Police suspicions.
Ruth rarely went into George’s office. He was so meticulous. He did the ironing, folded his own clothes, planted the borders, bought the wine. When they first met and went to football matches, they would joke about how football teams reflected the personalities of their supporters. She was all kick and run like her beloved Crystal Palace, then a top goal scoring team. It didn’t matter that they let more in. George liked a passing game, building up to perfect goals, and in those days no team was better at this than his Leeds United. So it was in bed. Him, in control, teasing, nibbling, always the long game, whereas she liked it quick, then again just as quick. She enjoyed the urgency.
‘Mary Marshall, Mary bloody Marshall’ was all she could hear herself saying. She was just a name. Ruth only knew her as George’s book-keeper. It wasn’t the reason she killed him — thirty years with a control freak was the reason. She wanted to go out without giving a reason; take off her clothes and leave them where they fell. The rest she could take. At fifty-seven she wanted some abandonment in her life, especially in the bedroom. The clock was ticking for her just like it was for Angus and Robbie.
Mary Marshall’s husband didn’t help her case. He suspected she was having an affair with someone and had, only a few months previously, questioned her closely about why on one occasion, when he watched her undress, she was wearing no underwear.
During interrogation, Mary finally admitted to her relationship with George and said that she was trying to end it, but he was threatening to tell her husband. Neither of the latter statements were true, and from there on, the Police built up their case. Mary’s trial lasted five days, during which the time the Prosecution argued that her final, fateful, meeting with George did not go as planned. They argued and Mary pushed him, albeit without intent to kill, but since George ended up dead, it was still murder as far as the Prosecution were concerned. It was all enough to get a conviction, but thanks to the Sheriff’s direction the Jury brought in a verdict of involuntary manslaughter.
No Prosecution suspicion fell on Ruth whatsoever and she attended Mary’s trial as a witness only to state that she had never met the accused, nor did she know of the affair. Mary’s Advocate questioned Ruth closely about her relationship with George for thirty minutes to no avail. Ruth never looked at Mary once. She didn’t see the tear-stained face of a woman so sedated that she was incoherent when she spoke, but she did hear the sobs of disbelief. This wasn’t happening to her. It was happening to someone else.
Alan was the one who caught what headlines there were with his graphic description of Mary leaving the scene at great speed and how George and Ruth were the perfect couple as far as he was concerned. The Police did explain to Ruth that they would have to look closely at her marriage and their personal lives and Ruth said that she understood.
The Police did ask about May, noticing that whilst at the Mansion House Hotel in Elgin they had intended to share a room overnight. Ruth pointed out that they had been doing this since teenagers, when they lived in South London. Both had ended up in Scotland by chance and, away from their families, they remained close friends.
Mary Marshall was released on licence two years later, by which time Ruth was living in Cornwall, having moved there a few months after the trial. This seemed understandable to all who knew her, especially since her daughter Fiona lived in nearby Plymouth and was, at the time, expecting her first child. May visited and each stay was little longer, until she sold up and moved in with Ruth. Alan came too, not long after his wife died of cancer, and eventually moved in as well. The locals gossiped, but at sixty Ruth was enjoying life as a widow.
What feelings of guilt Ruth felt about Mary had dissipated quite quickly and she lost no sleep over George. No one would ever know the truth: that she, Ruth Manning, a respectable sixty-year old widow had got away with murder.