In the Deep End – Book One will have the first four chapters blogged over the next few weeks. Subscribe to get the latest updates.
IN THE DEEP END – Book One
Written by Nicky Webber
Published by Media Publishers Ltd
Copyright © 2019 Nicky Webber
The right of Nicky Webber to be identified as the author of this work in terms of section 96 of the New Zealand Copyright Act 194 is hereby asserted.
Published by Media Publishers (2001) Ltd, New Zealand
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
A catalogue record of, In the Deep End-Book One,
is available from the
National Library of New Zealand.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The Ending – Present
The stark, white-tiled bathroom almost hurt Alex’s eyes as he surveyed the room. He stood clutching the door frame to steady himself. The light bounced off the hard surfaces as he became aware of a faint chemical smell. Tears had welled up into his eyes. He glanced down into the bath again where his wife’s dead body lay. Mila Jones was fully dressed, awkwardly slouched against the cold porcelain. There were no apparent signs of a struggle, no blood nor injury. Her sheer white blouse innocently clung to her breasts and was tucked into the waist of her jeans. Her feet were naked, her shoes neatly positioned on the bathmat.
Somehow the sight of her two beautiful bare feet stabbed him with pain. Something was haunting and isolated about her lying there. She would never walk beside him again. He would never sit on the sofa, gently rubbing her feet, while watching television together as she drifted into a relaxed sleep. He gasped out loud. The sharp loss cut into his very soul. Moments earlier he had tried unsuccessfully to lift her, but in his panic soon realized he needed to call the police. Once his address was established the response was unmistakable.
‘Don’t touch anything!’ the female emergency responder said into his muffled ear. Was it his voice or had sobs and screams already escaped into the room? The painful noise in his head was overwhelming. He couldn’t think. He didn’t know how to explain or what to say. She repeated herself and reassured him the police would soon arrive, he dropped the receiver and strode back to the bathroom. Hoping against cold reality that he had somehow misunderstood. Mila couldn’t be dead. He carefully walked towards her again, her mouth, slack-jawed, a gas mask shoved half over her head. He had pulled it from her face and pushed it back over her long dark hair which straddled the rim of the bath. He felt her neck for a pulse again, his fingers concentrating their efforts to pick up a heartbeat. Nothing. A gas canister and rubber hose lay slumped on the tiled floor. Suddenly the full realization of her death slammed into his consciousness.
Alex Jones flung his head back, releasing a heart-wrenching, guttural scream. The primal sound escaped from his strangled throat like a trapped animal desperate to free its soul. His tortured shriek would have chilled the blood of the most hardened observer.
But no one was there. He was utterly alone.
Alex knelt beside the bathtub and pressed his cheek against his wife’s face. Her skin was still faintly warm, giving him a momentary shock. Pulling back, he looked into her eyes, wide but now glassy from the eroding fingers of death. He understood she had gone, leaving only her body behind. A loud, uncontrollable sob escaped his lips as he began to cry. A remote doorbell rang. He stood, bracing himself on the edge of the bath. He took a few steps and turned his tear-stained face towards the door. He stopped as the doorbell urgently rang a few more times. His stricken face glanced back at his lifeless wife. ‘Why?’ was the only question he asked himself.
Mila had been so full of energy and light. They had shared over 30 years of marriage but never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined their wedding vows would end like this. He was four years older than her, and he took it for granted that she would outlive him. Her suicide was premature, especially considering the oncologist had reassured them both that she could remain in remission for several more years.
Two years earlier when first diagnosed with breast cancer at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Mila had confided that she had no intention of rotting in a hospital bed. There would be no ‘courageous fight to the end’ as the death notices often publicize.
‘No way!’ Mila announced. ‘I want control over my untimely demise.’
She raised her orange juice and clinked the glass again with Alex’s coffee mug. Her dark eyes laughing at him. ‘Don’t look so morose. It’s only death. I’m not banning you from sex, chocolate, and beer.’
He gave a wry grin. ‘So, what sort of time-frame are you talking about?’ he asked. ‘When’s your cut-off date?’
‘I’ll know when I know.’ She smiled across the table.
‘You’re going to tell me, right? You know how I hate surprises!’
She shrugged. ‘Of course! Let’s not dwell on it.’
‘OK, so I’m on notice then?’ His eyes rested on hers.
‘No!’ She was convincing in her quick response. ‘Of course not.’ She walked around the kitchen table and kissed him on the nose and forehead as if he were a fractious child. ‘There’s plenty of life left yet!’
Alex marveled at her deception. It was only five days ago they chatted so nonchalantly over breakfast. The early morning sunlight was streaming into their white and stainless-steel kitchen. Shades of morgues and hospitals, he now thought. Why hadn’t he seen the signs?
A bunch of purple and yellow Irises lay wilting in their glass vase on the timber dining table. The succulent green stems looked slightly blurry, but on closer inspection, Alex saw they were fuzzy from their process of dying. Like his dead wife, they too had joined the relentless treadmill of life’s terminal touch. He walked over and picked up the limp flowers putting his nose to them. They smelt of nothing, not even of decomposing plant matter. Just blank. The end. He unceremoniously wrenched the flowers from the vase and shoved them into the kitchen sink. Gathering up the slimy stems he flung them dripping into the under-counter rubbish bin. He flushed the tap water down the drain, a few dead petals and soggy leaves spun around as the water emptied. He filled the container with cold water and left it standing in the sink. There would be no more flowers. Flowers, funerals and the other f-word were now engrained is his psyche, and he could never look at flowers again without thinking of Mila and her laughter. She would be wordless, silenced now for the rest of his life.
The shrill sound of his cell phone fractured the silence. It was Mila’s best friend, Amira Davis, keeping up her commitment to call Alex every day and remind him that his sadness would dissipate. She promised unconvincingly that he would eventually get his life back.
Amira had to steel herself to talk to Alex, she was equally as distressed as he was at Mila’s death, even though she knew all about it and had helped her friend die on that dreadful day. In these circumstances, her loyalty lay with Mila, and she would never confess her supportive contribution to her friend’s death. Mila had helped Amira during their shared university days to deal with an abortion and supported her recovery during an extremely stressful time. Mila pointed this out, two weeks ago, when Amira hesitated to be part of Mila’s euthanasia plan.
‘How are you feeling darling?’ Amira asked.
‘Just the same,’ came Alex’s anticipated response after being immersed in bereavement hell.
‘Why don’t you come over and stay with us a few days? Fred would love to see you. You know we both love you and want to do anything we can to help.’
Alex’s voice sounded close to cracking, but he forced the words out. ‘Thanks Amira, you’ve both been truly wonderful. I would never have survived these past weeks without you.’ He gave a heavy sigh which seemed amplified down the phone. ‘But … I somehow need to adjust to my isolation.’
‘That’s what I mean Lex.’ Amira always used his childhood nickname. ‘You don’t need to be alone. Spend time with us just to get you over this awful shock. It’s gonna take time. A lot of time, to get used to being on your own.’
‘You’ve both been so caring and understanding but …
Amira cut him off, her tenacity was so like his late wife’s. It was one of the critical factors that made them such close friends. In fact, they had often been mistaken for sisters, both with thick dark wavy hair and engaging laughter with alert, curious eyes darting from one thing to another. That was part of the problem, she reminded him of Mila. The haunting lilt in Amira’s laughter and some of her familiar catchphrases brought sadness rather than comfort to Alex.
Amira and Mila’s had energetic conversations had ranged over various topics with half completed sentences and partially resolved issues. No one else, and indeed not their husbands, could follow the multiple threads of their lively conversations. They wove their communication up and down, and leap-frogged across concepts already understood between them both. They created new colorful tangents of emotion intertwined with previous strands about children, work and, of course, the vagaries of living with a man. In the end, after copious cups of tea or coffee, their conversation would resolve itself into multiple woven sequences of logic for them both. It made no sense to outsiders but was a perfectly woven tapestry of understanding between the two women. Their satisfaction was innate. Both friends would hug one another farewell, knowing each woman was fully appreciated and understood by the other.
Fred and Alex were both astounded that their wives never grew bored with one another and always engaged in their vibrant conversations with laughter, and sometimes tears as if they had been separated for months. The maximum time they ever spent apart was a few days out of each other’s universal orbit. The loss of Mila was an overwhelming deep-seated heartbreak for Amira. But Mila had begged Amira and made her promise to support and love Alex, helping him and their daughters in any way possible.
Alex also thought it was going to be harder for him to claw back his life, after the gaping loss of Mila’s love and the thinly disguised grief he always saw in Amira’s eyes. Even Amira’s camouflaged voice was often tantalizingly close to distraught as she tried to bravely encourage him to re-design a new world without his wife.
The conversation dwindled out. Alex agreed to think about visiting and would call her back when he felt strong enough. She promised to pop around on the weekend and check in with their two daughters.
Alex and Mila’s eldest daughter, Sacha Jones had qualified from the University of California in Los Angeles, (UCLA) with a Law degree the previous year and had landed a legal executive role at the large corporate, Watson, Parsons and Constantine in the bustling heart of New York City. Their younger daughter, Suzie, was two-thirds of the way through her medical degree at UCLA and her boyfriend, Bruno, a business graduate. They had both recently left New York for a sabbatical year in France, working at a Bed and Breakfast boutique establishment in a small town of Aureille. The ancient stone village was nestled the gentle hills south of Avignon in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southern France.
Both sisters returned to their respective homes three days after their mother’s funeral. They too had spoken several times to Amira expressing deep concern for their father and how lost and desolate he seemed.
Read Chapter Two next week! …
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