“That’s right; give those teeth a good clean. And when you’ve finished we’ll go and get Gramps’ present. You haven’t forgotten have you? It’s his birthday today. We’ll go and see him after lunch. And you can wear your red dress. Yes, that’s the one. The one Granny gave you for Christmas.”
He hadn’t thought about not opening the notebook. The one he found in the old wooden kist in the lounge of the tiny flat. It’s just that after he had finished his egg and toast he wasn’t sure what to do with himself. He knew it wasn’t a work day and she was out, probably with Jenny Simpson and Teresa Carter, both old school friends and both now living back in the area – we all come back sooner or later, he mused – and also both keen amateur artists. He noted that the easel was missing from behind the spare room door so he knew they would be out sketching and painting somewhere, near some picturesque old mill or up on the moors. She wouldn’t be back until late afternoon. So the day was his to fill and enjoy as he liked.
He would just potter, he thought. Potter around their little retirement nest, poke into old boxes, flick through photo albums, rummage around the cupboards. You never knew when you were going to find something of interest.
Anyway, this note book was one he couldn’t remember seeing before. So he opened it. Lifted the black cardboard cover with the tip of thumb of his left hand. And why shouldn’t he? There was nothing to suggest that this was private. No warning signs. Nothing to indicate that reading this could bring unhappiness.
The front page was almost blank. Only six words. In her handwriting. Of course it was her handwriting. He would recognise it anywhere. Their early days of courting had been a long distance affair with letters of eternal love and high passion carried backwards and forwards across vast and dividing oceans by unsuspecting mail ships.
“Yes, Gramps loved Granny very much. One day I’ll show you some of the letters they wrote to each other. When you’re ten. That’ll be a good time. Now hurry up with those shoes and tie them in proper bows, not knots.”
He looked affectionately at the framed water colour hanging above the fireplace. Signed Veronica Ottoman. She certainly had a way with the brush, he thought. And with words. Never a word wasted. Always honest, never flinching. Those love letters, so direct, so brave, so unashamed of her feelings. And he never doubted what he read.
His eyes went back to the note book. Six words. In black ink (she always wrote in black and couldn’t understand how a large percentage of the world’s population took to writing in blue; just didn’t understand it at all; silly old thing). Six words. Only six. “To kill or not to kill”.
No words wasted, he thought. Always direct, always honest, unashamed. Never a reason to doubt them.
He noticed a tremble in his hand and moved to the comfortable wicker chair next to the sitting room window. He pushed the curtains further apart to get more light and slowly lowered himself onto the embroidered cushion.
“To kill or not to kill”. What was she thinking of? Was she unhappy with him? He thought not. Was there someone else? How could there be? They were always together, rarely apart. Unless she was out sketching. With her friends. Jenny Simpson and Teresa Carter. He removed his glasses and rubbed his forehead. It was tingling. It happened now and again. The tingle. Anyhow, she loved him. They still wrote each other love letters.
But! Her words – always direct, always honest. “To kill”? Kill who? Him? She was planning to kill him. He rubbed harder. But why. She still loved him. There couldn’t be anyone else. They were always together. Unless? Unless what? Jenny Simpson and Teresa Carter. He hadn’t seen them for months. Was she really out with them? Up on the moors?
He knew what to do. He reached across to the occasional table on which the phone rested and picked up the well-thumbed phone book. Flicked quickly through to Jenny Simpson. Dialed. Halfway through the number his finger slipped so started again. Dialed the number. Heard the ringing tone. Held his breath. Heard the voice, “Hello, Jenny Simpson speaking.” Carefully replaced the large black handset onto its cradle. Went back to the phone book. Selected another number. Heard the voice, “Hello. It’s Teresa”.
“This one, what do you think of this one? Do you think the colour will suit him? It’ll go well with those brown corduroy trousers he likes to wear. Anyhow, he needs a new jumper. The one he’s got at the moment is quite disgraceful, don’t you think. Time for a new one. And you can draw a picture of him wearing it if you want to. But you’ll have to hurry. We’ll be leaving in about an hour. And we still have to wrap this. You can help me tie the string. Dear old Gramps. He’ll look good in this. A gentle colour to suit his gentle nature.”
The tingling was getting worse. He should press the red button on the wall. Every room had a red button. “For emergency use only.” He knew he should ring it. When the tingling starts he needs to press the button. Then someone would help him. But what would he say? That Veronica was planning to kill him? That would make sense. But what if Veronica came? With a knife or a heavy blunt instrument? God, he hated her. Always making his life a misery. Always calling him names. Going out with other men. Laughing in his face when he challenged her. He felt the anger arising, reaching every pore of his body, every fibre of his being.
Blindly, unseeingly, he rampaged through the flat, tearing pictures off the walls, pulling books off the shelves, shouting at furniture, damning Veronica, the person who had lived the lie, who was the epitome of the cheating wife. The tingling had turned into a black and searing pain and the more he raged, the more he hurt.
“You remember Mrs Simpson and Mrs Carter, don’t you. Friends of Granny and Gramps. Do you remember them? Well, they’re coming to the party with us. We’ll pick them up along the way.
“Gosh, you look lovely in that dress. Gramps will be so pleased to see you in it.”
He stood quietly amidst the wreckage of the room in his baggy underpants. He was calm. Watching. Waiting. He knew they would come for him. In their uniforms and with their false smiles. With their pills and their needles. His jailers. He knew them, oh, he knew them, with their superficial friendliness and their, “Good morning, Mr Ottoway”, or their, “Hi, David, nice day today. Egg and toast for brekkie. Enjoy”.
Oh, he knew them and how they kept him locked up in the building, restricting his movements, refusing him his rights. But this time he was ready for them all. Two can play at this game, he thought. And so he was calm. Calm and ready. He would nod and smile and laugh and all would be fine. Oh, he could play this game.
He watched a group of them getting out of the car. Three women and, skipping around excitedly, one little girl dressed in red. The little girl looked up at his window and waved. He stepped back. She was signaling someone. He mustn’t let her see him. He needed to be careful.
He heard the gentle knock on the door. “Gramps, it’s us. Come to wish you a happy birthday.”
Downstairs a nurse on her break sat in the library and browsed the books. One particular title caught her eye. To Kill or Not To Kill. By Veronica Ottoway. She remembered it well. A best seller in its day.