Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Dead Husbands Club

‘By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken and to dust you shall return. Amen.’ Father Smogg makes the sign of the cross over the coffin and throws a handful of dust into the grave. The service is over.
The congregation gathered here to pay respects to the recently deceased looks relieved. Thanks God this was short, Lucinda reads in the mourners’ faces. They’re filing past her, shaking her hand, telling her how sorry they are, wishing her luck, then quietly leaving with a kind word or two about her husband she’s sure nobody really means. Soon only the front row, the neighbours and the business associates who owed the dearly departed money, are left. There’s a wake to go to.

Chapter 1

The death of Lucinda’s husband brought joy into Lucinda’s life. She herself would later say that Tony’s demise was the beginning of the life she was meant to have, the life she had always secretly wanted but never told anyone about ‘cause there was no point in bringing it up while she was married to Tony. Tony himself would not have disputed her claim, had it ever been made, ‘cause essentially, Lucinda’s opinions didn’t matter. At the time of his death, Lucinda’s feelings, desires, needs and wants were the furthest thing on his mind as Lucinda had long ceased to interest him in any tangible, material way; after fifteen years of marriage he simply viewed her as a handy household pet, well trained and with predictable responses, and he’d have been much surprised to know that Lucinda was unhappy in their relationship. The idea to ask her had never even entered his mind.
Tony was a man of simple desires. Set in his ways, he saw his life as a chain of meticulously planned and well executed orderly events designed to keep him happy. In this scheme of things, his marriage was nothing but a well-oiled cog in the clockwork.
Tony’s idea of marriage was straight forward. An old-fashioned kind of husband, Tony expected an obedient wife, a home-cooked meal and a clean house. He worked hard for what he got, Tony did, and what he got he deserved — a clean house, a home-cooked meal and an obedient wife. Apart from this, his one desire was to be left alone on the weekends.
Tony’s weekends were spent watching footy. Lucindaah! Tony would shout from the living room where he lay on the couch cracking nuts. Bring me a beer, will you? And Lucinda jumped to it ‘cause that’s how it was from the day they got married to the day Tony died.
The day Tony died was a Sunday. Traditionally, Sunday in Tony’s household was a day of rest. For Tony, who spent it on the couch in the same manner he spent his Saturday — watching footy. For Lucinda, Sunday traditionally was a busy and aggravating day ‘cause there were Tony’s shirts to iron and his favourite dinner to cook — a tedious, drawn out affair with piles of food made just the way Tony liked it and starring homemade sausages, which Tony insisted Lucinda cook from scratch.
The day Tony carked it was no different, for either of them.
‘Lucindaah!’ Tony shouted from the living room where he lay on the couch cracking nuts. ‘Bring me a beer, will you?’
In the kitchen, Lucinda, emitting a sigh, rolled her eyes heavenwards. Elbows deep in sausage meat, she’s busy, busy kneading these stinking sausages Tony insists they have every Sunday.
‘Lucindaah!’ shouts Tony. There’s an intensity to his tone, this time. ‘The beer! NOW!’
Lucinda closes her eyes briefly, gathering herself, gathering her determination to grin and bear it for the good of the afternoon, herself, Tony and their wretched existence together, and all these Sundays she has endured for so long. Only a few hours and it’ll be over, she tells herself; only the footy, the dinner and the evening movie to get through, she thinks projecting herself into the future, into Monday, when she will be alone, cleaning the house and making a home-cooked meal on her own in the welcome, luxurious peace and quiet of Tony’s absence.
Next door, in the living room where the curtains are drawn against the afternoon sun, Tony’s lying on the couch, watching footy on television and precariously balancing a bowl of peanuts on his beer gut. It isn’t an easy task; Tony’s bulging belly button is seriously in the way and may soon cause the bowl to topple and the peanuts to spill. So Tony’s being careful; he wouldn’t want to have Lucinda sweeping up the mess in the middle of the first half, just as it’s getting exciting. So he’s being careful, hardly daring to breathe, waiting for his beer to arrive. The game goes into a commercial, a beer ad of all things, which reminds him.
‘What are you doing in there, woman?’ Tony shouts, grabbing onto the bowl of peanuts just in time. His massive belly button, obscenely huge and almost translucent but for the few grey hairs — yeah, Tony’s getting on — sprouting there on the sides and down his belly, moves, propelling the bowl upwards and to the side. So Tony catches it and puts the bowl down on the coffee table. He sinks back into the couch, and fumes, steaming with anger and vapor ‘cause he is annoyed and ‘cause it is hot in the room.
Tony’s sweating like a hog though he’s not wearing much, just a pair of old Y-fronts which, due to their age and Tony’s reclining pose, are tightly drawn over his tiny small penis but sagging under his great big ass, right under the stain that just won’t go, no matter what Lucinda does with it in the wash. She’s long wanted to replace these unsightly undergarments but Tony won’t have it, is sentimental about them ‘cause they’re his favourite undies to watch footy in, so what’s your problem, woman? asks Tony whenever this topic arises between them, which is often, nearly every time it’s hot. Even today, though Lucinda has said nothing, Tony knows she’s thinking about his underpants ‘cause she’s got that grimace on, those pinched nostrils, which disapprove of him. And the beer is still nowhere to be seen.
Tony gets up, determined to get some answers. She’d better have a good excuse, fumes Tony, ambling towards the kitchen. Maybe she’s dead. She’s awfully quiet in there… thinks Tony, calculating the chances in all seriousness ‘cause it’s really the only thing that would go some way towards explaining why his beer has not arrived.
The kitchen door is ajar. He gives it a shove with his foot and pokes his head tentatively into the interior, expecting to see a calamity of some kind. But nothing out of the ordinary has happened in the kitchen; Lucinda’s carrying on as she always does on Sundays, making sausages.
She has a nerve, Tony thinks, flaring his nostrils into his own disapproving grimace. He could give her a piece of his mind, he could, but he’s determined to rise above it this time ‘cause it’s Sunday and he doesn’t want to spoil his mood; after all, it’s his favourite day — the footy’s on, he’s wearing his favourite undies and he’s gonna have those yummy sausages for dinner. Just thinking about the sausages makes him happy; Tony’s tension is easing and he’s taking a deep breath to savour the kitchen aroma.
To Tony, the sausage meat Lucinda’s making smells delicious; it’s raw and pungent, it smells like a fart — which reminds him… Tony recognizes an opportunity here and decides to get his beer himself. He waddles over to the fridge, opens it, peers in, farts (audibly), takes a bottle out, shuts the fridge door, farts (louder this time), twists the bottle top open and takes a swig. Farts again, a long and drawn one with a stink so strong and unpleasant even Tony’s surprised. He didn’t realize he had it in him, this early in the day, and he looks over his shoulder at Lucinda to see her reaction. She’s busy with her meat grinder, looking like death warmed up.
‘What’s your problem?’ he asks, annoyed at her silence. Stupid cow, has no sense of humour. God, she’s getting on, thinks Tony, noting the lines around Lucinda’s tightly closed mouth, the slight sag in her jaw, the crow’s feet around her eyes. She’s putting it on, too. Tony lets out a sigh of disappointment. And she used to be so bonny, thinks Tony, remembering a much younger, much bonnier Lucinda when she was a perky-breasted young thing who used to make him laugh. Ah, but she’s long gone, thinks Tony, looking at Lucinda’s closed, disapproving face.
‘You got something to say?’ Tony asks. He might just be spoiling for a wee little fight to enliven the afternoon. Tony likes to argue with Lucinda; it gives him the opportunity to tell her a few home truths, to really let her know how he’s feeling about her these days, and for good reason too. But today Tony is feeling a wee bit tired. Maybe later, thinks Tony, multitasking in the middle of this contemplation; he’s glugging his beer and scratching his ass — right on the stain — and managing all this time to scrutinize his wife who, he knows, is quite aware how he feels about her these days. ‘I thought so,’ he mutters when Lucinda declines to comment; instead she opens the pantry, turning her back on him, defiantly it seems to Tony who’s filing this gesture of disrespect for later. He knows Lucinda’s transgression, her turning her back on him, will cost her dearly later on this evening when they finish their Sunday with a wee little argument. Tony will triumph of course; poor old charmless Lucinda will cry. Tony’s quite looking forward to it but right now he has other diversions on his mind so he leaves and returns to the living room, to his sanctuary where the curtains are drawn, the couch is still warm and the second half is about to start.
In the pantry, Lucinda breathes a sigh of relief. The sight of Tony makes her literally sick and the sound of his voice makes her want to drown herself. But Lucinda has developed a coping mechanism over the years; a moment of silence in the pantry is all she needs. A transient thought of a life lived long ago and left behind flits through her consciousness; she sees herself as a young girl, pretty, carefree, laughing on the arm of a handsome young man (not Tony), going out to spend the day in the company of people she likes. But it is a transient thought and it stays true to its nature. Lucinda wipes her hands on her apron, grabs her good luck charm necklace and begins the ritual. She fingers her charms, one by one: the heart, the unicorn, the book, the star, the clock, the bicycle, the seahorse, the thimble… Lucinda’s fingers are looking for the thimble, her most recent acquisition, the newest and biggest charm she’s had but it’s gone. Oh dear, I’ve lost the thimble, but what can I do about it now? I’m gonna have to look for it later, sighs Lucinda and goes on with the ritual, fingering the next charm, a tiny pair of ballet slippers — for the baby girl she used to wish for — and taking deep breaths. She’s feeling okay now; even the feel of those ballet slippers doesn’t upset her; she’s grown out of that desire. In fact, Lucinda’s grateful there’s been no children born to her out of this marriage, and she counts it as a blessing. It would have been awful bringing up children in this household, Lucinda thinks every time her fingers touch the tiny silver shoes, and it gives her comfort. She’s calm now and quite determined to get through the afternoon. Lucinda gathers the few remaining ingredients to finish her sausage mixture and leaves the pantry.
A few hours later, the Sunday dinner is taking place. Tony and Lucinda sit in the dining room — at opposite ends of the long dining table acquired long ago right after their wedding when things were good and children (lots) were on the cards — eating their dinner. The room is filled with the setting sun and the background noise of the Sunday night news. Tony’s chewing is front of house — unmissable, unpleasant and crucial to the proceedings; the intensity of Tony’s chewing indicates his level of enjoyment of the much anticipated Sunday dinner. A lot depends on this and Lucinda knows it. She’s eating her sausage though she’d rather stick to the mashed potatoes and the Brussels sprouts; she loathes these sausages but it would be unwise to let it show so she doesn’t. Lucinda has wised up over the years and for that reason Tony does not suspect a thing; he’s chewing furiously, wolfing down his eight’s sausage and his third helping of mashed potatoes, and a pile of Brussels sprouts saturated with gravy, and he’s doing all right; he’s in heaven, things couldn’t get any better except he’d like another beer. He gives Lucinda the nod and bangs his fist on the table to get her going. His mouth, his stomach and his lungs are full to bursting; Tony’s unable to speak as usual at this point, but nothing needs to be said. He wants his beer. Lucinda knows, is quite aware of the routine so she puts down her cutlery and leaves the table.
Lucinda enters the kitchen. The room is ablaze with light. The setting sun had snuck in through the open window while she was gone and worked its magic to surprise her. And Lucinda is surprised; the space looks so pretty, so warm and inviting, so full of light, Lucinda feels so… she doesn’t know what she’s feeling but knows it’s good and she wants to keep on feeling it. She takes a couple of steps and now she’s in the middle of the room, feeling good. A gust of wind shuts the door behind her, not loudly, only just so. It would be an easy sound to miss if one were not listening.
Lucinda didn’t hear it. She stands in the middle of her kitchen — that drab, dreaded room in which she spends most of her time — thinking how pretty the orange glow, thinking she’d like to look out the window for a bit ‘cause the sunrays dancing about the walls are making her dizzy. But Tony wants his beer, the little voice inside her head whispers, is tugging on her conscience, so Lucinda takes a reluctant step towards the fridge. Just then, she hears something.
She hears music and it’s coming from the window. It’s pipes and drums and trumpets; A marching band! Lucinda exclaims and rushes to the window to look. It is a marching band, complete with pipes and drums and trumpets, playing a familiar tune. Oh, when the saints go marching in … Oh, when the saints go marching in …
There’s red uniforms and silly hats; How pretty! Lucinda exclaims. There’s children running alongside the band; a crowd has gathered and it seems the whole street is out in full force. Lucinda is intrigued; she sticks her head out the window and forgets, for the moment, everything else that’s going on in her life right now.
In her life right now Tony is getting hot under the collar, back in the living room where his Sunday dinner is in progress. He’s down to his tenth’s sausage and getting low on the gravy. The Brussels sprouts are few and far in between, and Tony’s throat is dry. Very dry. Tony’s Sunday is not going according to plan.
Where is that hag with my beer? fumes Tony, chewing furiously, wolfing down his tenth’s sausage. What does a man have to do to get a drink in his own house? Tony grumbles, feeling dry, full to bursting, thirsty and disrespected, on top of everything else. I’m really gonna have to sort her out; Tony bangs his fist on the table with a tremendous force. The gravy boat jumps, falls off the edge of the dining room table, and shatters to bits on the polished parquetry. A small but dense stain is spreading towards the carpet’s edge; dear Lord, it’s reached the fringe! The carpet is officially stained.
‘Lucindaah!’ Tony roars just as the marching band passes by his front lawn. The din is deafening. Tony shoves the last piece of sausage and potato mash into his gob. ‘Lucin—’ Tony chokes. He chokes on the word, the sausage, the potato, the gravy that’s run out and the beer he never got. It’s the real deal, Tony is dying and it’s going down like they show it in the movies. First, he grips the table with both hands, bends over, tries to cough it out. No sound comes. Next, he lets go of the table, grasps his throat with both hands. Nothing happens. He keeps on choking. He’s choking on the sausage, the potatoes, the gravy that’s run out, the beer he never got and every single thing that’s ever made him angry and hateful, and it all comes down to one thing: Lucinda!
Tony’s eyes begin to bulge; it really looks like he’s in awe of the objects surrounding him; the plate, the cutlery thrown carelessly over his napkin, the bowl of potatoes, the bowl of sausages… The veins on Tony’s forehead are pulsating; his head is swimming and his last thought is about to occur. Sausages… thinks Tony, sadly but without regret, who would have thought? He keels over, pulling down the table cloth. The man crashes to the ground like a sack of beans, sags like a bag of wet clothes and lies still, blue-faced, slack-jawed and with eyes wide open, at the foot of his dining table, wearing nothing but a pair of threadbare, stained undies.

The Dead Husbands by Ivana Hruba is now available to download from Smashwords for free.

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