Enjoy Chapter Two from In the Deep End-Book 1
Continuing on from my previous Chapter One in my blog and facebook page: Read for free right here!
In the early evening, several weeks later, Alex stood in the fading light, surveying the soft expanse of the master bedroom he used to share with his late wife. He was sure he could still sense her presence in the room. He could smell the faint scent of her body, nearby. If he concentrated hard enough with his eyes closed, he could feel her lips delicately, almost imperceptibly, against his own. Despair etched its miserable impression on his face as he pulled back the blankets, revealing the crumpled indentation on his side of the bed contrasting against the smooth pillow and white cotton bedsheet on Mila’s half. He began moving into the walk-in closet, emptying drawers of Mila’s clothes onto the bed, pulling selected items of her clothing off hangers and throwing them on top of the increasing pile of women’s apparel. His logical, clear thinking-self had shrunk to a sliver of its former self and could no longer override his distraught emotional anguish. Like a tsunami of abject misery, he had managed to barricade behind a fortress of stoicism, masking his pain from all who talked to him.
He wanted one last connection with her in the hope of exorcizing Mila from his house, but not his heart. He drank straight from a bottle of bourbon that he had lifted from the bedside table. He swigged it down unceremoniously in between loading Mila’s clothing onto the bedcover. It was getting dark, and he was unaware of the time, but he didn’t care. He stripped his clothes off and gently lowered himself onto the large king size mattress. Alex stretched out the full length of his body and rolled onto his side, facing Mila’s half of the bed, where the mound of scrambled clothing lay. He clutched the remnants of her strewn underwear, shirts, dresses and jeans, to his chest, surrounding himself with her. Alex lifted handfuls to his face, burying his nose into the fabric and breathing in the elusive scent of his dead wife. He gradually sat up and wrenched the white linen sheet over himself along with Mila’s crumpled clothing, nestling himself amongst it, desperately trying to uncrumple his heart and unearth his hope.
He sobbed out loud, enclosing her clothes in both arms, clutching the bundle, pressing it against the full length of his naked body. He gently rocked, rolling back and forth, as if comforting her, by comforting himself.
How could she have done this to him? Abandon him when they could have still had more time together. He felt the familiar tension pulling across his neck and shoulders. His anger at her had erupted several times over the past few weeks and now he felt remorse at having smashed her favourite dinner plates. He had carried them outside onto the covered veranda and one by one, he had smashed the fine white china onto the stone pavers, shattering them into countless pieces before falling to the ground sobbing uncontrollably. His heart pounded in his ears as another blinding headache seared his mind with rising guilt. It was all so hopeless, he thought now, everything in his life seemed pointless.
Years ago, he had read somewhere that the mind’s story could make or break your attitude. Nothing’s good or bad, but thinking makes its so, he repeated the famous quote several times over. He still clung onto Mila’s clothes while trying to shift his thoughts to happier times, memories that used to lift their spirits and make them both erupt with laughter. He lay silent and unmoving, replaying the time Mila had surprised him on his 30th birthday with a diamante covered body part. A faint, almost imperceptible smile graced his lips as he ventured deeper into the past.
She had returned home around dinner time that day and bustled into the kitchen carrying supermarket shopping.
‘I was just beginning to wonder where you were,’ Alex said.
‘Aha,’ she smiled broadly. ‘Clearly you were concerned about your food quota being served on time.’ Before Alex could respond she continued, almost taunting him with suppressed laughter as she packed the shopping away in the pantry.
‘I don’t want you to worry your pretty little head about anything,’ she said chuckling. ‘I promise, the last thing on your mind will be food when I show you what I’ve got you for your birthday.’
‘Really?’ he looked at her, trying to decipher if she was serious or just teasing.
‘I’ll feed the kids first and then we can have some alone-time,’ she said in an exaggerated sexy hushed whisper.
Alex was surprised and amused by her flirting.
It was the next morning when Alex left Mila fast asleep and shuffled into the kitchen. His daughters had the television blaring out cartoons as they were eating toast. He leaned over the sink and filled the kettle with water, flicked the espresso machine on and absentmindedly watched the girls munching through a slab of peanut butter and jelly on toast. He could still see Mila’s Bedazzled Brazilian and her hysterical delight at his shocked expression as she ripped her clothes off. Both utterly spent, as they both drifted into blissful sleep, she recalled how horrified she was after the waxing.
‘But I look like a 12 year-old down there,’ she waved her hand in the general direction of her nether regions. ‘Alex will be more shocked than … ahhh … inspired, if you get my drift.’
‘I can fix that in a heart-beat,’ offered the beautician and 20 minutes later Mila’s bald patch was camouflaged with a stunning array of stick-on diamanté sparkles.
Alex grinned broadly remembering the shock of Mila’s birthday surprise. He was surprised all right!
He was brought back to the early morning kitchen reality with the squealing of Sacha at the television.
‘Hey, you two, what’s with the half jar of jelly on that toast? It’s a bit much.’ Alex warned. ‘You better eat it before your Mom gets down.’
Both daughters looked up at their father, standing on the other side of the kitchen island. They swiveled the bar stools around to peer at him more closely.
‘What’s that?’, asked Suzie, pointing at her father’s face.
‘Yeah Dad. What’s going on with your cheek?’ demanded his young accusatory teenager, Sacha.
Alex looked from one daughter’s perplexed face to the other and rubbed both hands over his stubbled face. He caught something on the second pass and peeled it off his left cheek with his thumb and index finger. It was a stick-on diamanté piece of evidence from Mila’s birthday gift.
A rush of blood burned his crimson cheeks with embarrassment, which quickly spread down his neck to his chest, peaking out through his wrap-around dressing gown.
‘It’s nothing,’ he said abruptly, swinging around and grabbing his coffee before retreating to the bedroom. The girls had called it the ‘walk of shame’ when teasing him in later years. As parents, they had never been able to escape the knowing giggling and teasing from their daughters. The looks of mock-disapproval from Amira and Fred after the sisters reported the incident in detail added more fuel to the situation. There were so many fond and funny memories …
Eventually, Alex fell into a dreamless asleep.
As the first rays of early morning sunlight cast shards of light across the disheveled bed Mila’s husband opened his blurry eyes, rubbed his tired hands over his pale, drained stubbled face, and sighed. He felt as though he hadn’t slept at all. He was shattered by relentless grief and exhaustion. Closing his eyes, he knew he needed to gather the strength to face another empty, heartless day. But today, he finally realized there was no hope and there was no Mila. The full burden of being alone for the rest of his life was all he could expect. So many regrets flocked like unbidden bats, flapping their accusatory wings inside his mind.
This cold, blunt end of his grief extended every night over many weeks. He climbed into their shared bed, clutching at the last strands of Mila’s existence. But on this day, he understood he needed to eradicate her from his life. Remove all clothing, photographs and marital souvenirs from the house, or he would never be able to claw himself back to reality. His eldest daughter had promised a visit next week, so he had to pull himself together. Work had told him to take all the time he needed. But there wasn’t enough time in his life to grant him that. They had called twice this past week to see how he was doing. He had to get himself towards himself as Mila used to say, quoting an old Irish expression.
He stood up, casting a disengaged look around the cluttered room, clothing strewn on the carpet, shoes, and stuff everywhere before he spotted his boxer shorts and pulled them on. After coffee, he would call Amira to come and help him sort out Mila’s things. She would know what to give away and what to keep. They could work together clearing out everything and delivering clothing to the Salvation Army. Some other less fortunate people could benefit from Mila’s shortened life.
The next day Amira arrived looking miserable but managed to mask her suffering with a brave, smiling face. She didn’t fully grasp how deep the misery had impacted Alex, but the state of the house was enough to confirm her worst fears. The kitchen looked like a bomb site, with every surface covered in glasses, empty alcohol bottles, and cans, along with half-finished plates of food. Clothing and clutter were scattered throughout Mila’s once happy home, and he clearly hadn’t opened the curtains for weeks. Her heart contracted with pain. She called him every day, but he was apparently in a far worse mental state than he sounded on the phone. His grief was almost palpable in the house, everywhere she looked was dark, desolate with his suffering.
Alex could see by the pitiful look on her face that Amira was shocked at the state of his home. They both registered that Mila would be horrified. She reached out to him and hugged him.
‘Oh Lex, why didn’t you ask me for help?’
Tears sprung into his eyes, his lips firmly pressed together as he shook his head. She hugged him again.
‘You get in the shower, and I’ll make a start,’ she ordered.
Amira stripped the bed, piling Mila’s clothing in one corner of the room, ready to be boxed up. She carried the bedding to the laundry room and threw it into the washing machine. Grabbing the soap-powder she lifted open the top of the box. She picked out the scoop buried in the white granules and felt something sticky underneath the packet. She stopped, put the scoop down on the top-loader and lifted the soap powder box up again. There was a piece of tape with a small torn, folded, fragment of paper, half hanging from underneath the laundry powder box. She carefully lifted it above her head and peered more closely, tilting the cardboard container then peeled back a thick piece of tape which held a small flat metal key in place.
Amira picked the rounded head of the key from its glued position and held it in her open palm. To her surprise, she recognized it as belonging to a small lock-box. It was for Mila’s metal safety-box she kept at the top of her wardrobe.
She quickly slammed the washing machine lid closed and turned it on before racing to the master bedroom. Alex was still in the bathroom. She reached up and removed the metal box from its hiding place and sat on the bed. The key easily slid into the basic lock, one twist and the lid opened. There was a single sealed envelope inside with both Alex and Amira’s name inscribed on it in Mila’s careful handwriting. She quickly opened it without hesitation. A single sheet of writing paper was folded inside.
Dear Alex, Amira and Fred
I’ve not been entirely honest with you all, as I could not bear to see the sadness in your eyes for the last weeks of my life. I had a recent scan which informed the medical experts that I only had three more weeks to live. I made a pact with Amira to help me, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for adhering to my wishes.
I didn’t want to cause any more hurt. Alex, I want you to know that I always loved you and only you.
Please forgive me and love one another. Mila Xxx
(I’ll be releasing the Chapter 3 next week! Watch this space.