When I raked over the embers of the fire after the barbeque we had the previous night, I had to look again when I saw the chard finger bone and the titanium wedding band intact. I had a strange lurching feeling in my stomach. One part of me wanted to touch it and the other part of me told me we needed to call the police. The thing was I recognised the ring. It was my husband’s work partners with his distinctive name ‘Andre’ scrawled across the front.
The thing was there had been a bust up between them later in the night. Too much beer had been consumed and a few home truths had poured out between them. It had put a damper on the evening and everyone decided to go to bed in the tents under the summertime stars.
There had been a dozen of us, all couples. The thing was my husband stalked off at the time saying he needed time to himself. Likewise, Andre said the same and went off in the opposite direction.
My husband didn’t return to the tent until a couple of hours later and I was half asleep, I didn’t question him where he had been. Now I wondered if something macabre had happened.
That morning whilst most of us were gathering our things together and loading our cars I noticed Andre’s wife Camilla asking if anyone had seen her husband. She had slept like a log under the influence of excessive glasses of wine and was not even sure if he had slept in his camp bed.
One of the other couples told her not to worry and that perhaps he just went to take a walk to clear his head from the previous night. Maybe he was hoping not to face Ron (my husband) after the argument. Camilla seemed happy enough with this and started to load her four by four.
Glancing at Ron he didn’t flinch or show any kind of response to this and seemed rather indifferent. When the other couples left and said it had been a great weekend and that we must do it again no-one mentioned about Andre and that he still had not returned. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable about the situation and asked Camilla if she wanted all three of us to see if we could find Andre, but she assured me he would be back soon and to go on ahead. She said he always said too much after a few beers and probably was hoping Ron and I were gone by the time he got back so that he didn’t have to face any awkward situation. Although I did say that both Ron and Andre were equally accountable for their behaviour.
Camilla seemed really calm and not at all perplexed in regard to Andre’s absence and told us to have a safe journey home and said she needed to fix her face and rummaged in her handbag retrieving make-up which applied professionally.
I saw Ron glance at Camilla before he got behind the wheel but I could not make out his expression. I knew it was wrong but I just couldn’t bring myself to mention what I’d seen in the campfire. Maybe I’d had my drink spiked the night before and had a hallucination of some kind? Though I knew it wasn’t true.
We were quiet on the way home and it was almost as if we were both trying to avoid the confrontation they’d had the previous evening. Then I got to think that there were no other bones just that one finger, so what about the rest of Andre? No, I definitely must have had some weird delusion.
When we got home Ron went to have a shower as I put the washing on. When he came out I went to take a long leisurely bath. Tomorrow was Monday and it would be back to the same routine.
My husband worked long hours and I was a well-kept housewife with two grown up children who had flown the nest years ago. Now in our late fifties we had a comfortable life.
Sometimes Ron would sleep in the spare room if I kicked him awake if he started to snore and this happened most nights. That night was the usual routine. I drifted off to sleep after some time and woke late the next morning. I couldn’t hear a thing downstairs and guessed that Ron had already gone to work. Taking a shower, brushing my teeth, and dressing I went downstairs to get some breakfast cereal. My life was pretty regimented; Mondays were hairdressers late morning followed by lunch out with my friend Carol. Then we would both go to the nail bar. Tuesday was tennis with my coach Andy and after showering at the club I would have lunch there. In the afternoons I would meet up with my friend Jo and we would go clothes shopping or jewellery if it took our fancy. Wednesday was my art class with Rhoda and then the class would all go to the pub for a meal. Thursday was my line dancing class with the girls and we would then go for an Italian meal. Friday was swimming at the leisure club followed by a back and neck massage with spa therapist Suzie. In the afternoon I would leisurely read a book until Ron came home from work early for once and he would always bring home a takeaway of some sort. Saturdays and Sundays were always some kind of get togethers, usually with Camilla and Andre and other work colleagues of Ron’s. To be frank I found them all rather boring but one had to put on a front just so I could have a lovely Monday to Friday. Let’s face it Ron was having to circulate with all his ‘cronies’ as I called them so that he got paid his massive salary. It was just something I accepted.
For some reason, my Monday didn’t fall into place as I expected it to. First of all, I got a call from my hairdresser to say she was ill and she would see me the following week. Then I got a call from Carol to say her father-in-law had been rushed to hospital. So, it seemed my day had been side-lined. I decided I would take myself for a walk in the park. That’s when things really started to get weird as I bumped into one of the wives of the weekend away. Her name was Shelly. At first she seemed a little embarrassed and then said she was so sorry about what had happened with Andre fiddling the company books and making off with all the money. Now it appeared everyone was out of work and that it would be especially hard for me with Ron being his work partner and having to face the music. The colour must have drained from my face when there was the realisation that I was completely unawares. It looked as though she wanted to say something else but couldn’t bring herself to and then excused herself saying she had to meet up with someone. Reaching for my phone I was about to ring Ron but decided against it knowing that he was most likely up to his eyeballs with the authorities in explaining the company’s downfall. He had been planning on retiring early so maybe this was the right time. Before going home, I went to get something to eat and drink and pondered on what the next step of our lives would be. No doubt we would have to downsize but I knew he had invested in offshore savings.
When I got home it was 2.30pm and I put my feet up to watch an afternoon movie when the doorbell rang. Opening it were two police officers, one female. Offering cups of tea, they both declined and then sat down in the lounge area to inform me that my husband had spoken with them in regard to Andre who had left the country after laundering money. Although I had already been forewarned I had to play the shocked victim. They were aware that Ron had not played any part of these criminal activities and he was having to call in lawyers as the company was going into liquidation. The policewoman asked me if I had any idea where Andre could have absconded to but I had no idea and then felt nauseated as I remembered seeing the finger and ring in the ashes.
After they left I could see the pity in their eyes knowing we weren’t the first people who had the wool pulled over their eyes. I then sent Ron a text saying the police had been and explained what had happened. He responded saying he would be away all week to sort everything out and not to worry.
This was nothing that I wasn’t used to as he often had to work in other towns or cities. So, I continued the rest of my week following my usual routine. It wasn’t until the weekend I knew something wasn’t quite right.
First of all, Shelly called around and handed me an envelope. She told me that her husband had managed to find a job in the next town and did not hold anything against me. She then told me that my husband had given her this envelope before he went away to sort out all the fiasco and was told to give it to me the following Saturday. It was then I realised why she had looked so embarrassed when she had seen me on the Monday. She must have steamed open the letter being curious. He had told Shelly that it was a surprise reservation for a holiday after he had sorted out the mess he had been left behind. This is what he had told her. Shelly said she was unable to stop for a drink as she had a meeting.
I got the letter opener and slid the knife across the top.
I know I shouldn’t be doing this by letter but it is the only way I know how.
You see all these years we have ticked along together and now with Andre doing a runner and leaving me to sort out everything best I can with the law, I have realised that I now want a simple life.
I have got savings and so am leaving you the house and its contents to you. I believe if you sell it and downsize you can live off the funds quite comfortably. I rarely see the children and their families now, but they are doing well financially and want for nothing. You are probably wondering why I don’t want us to live together anymore and I just feel that we have been living apart for far too long. I will contact you through the lawyers for any paperwork that needs signing.
I’m sorry I’ve taken the cowards way to end our marriage but with the company gone to the wall I realised we have been living separate lives for far too long.
Take Care, Ron”
I was a little stunned to begin with but I didn’t feel sad because what he had told me was totally true and I excepted my fate.
It wasn’t until six months later when I happened to see Shelly in a carpark that the true realisation of what had really happened. She told me she had heard that everyone had got new jobs and were living different lives now and that Andre’s wife Camilla had given up on ever seeing her husband again and had gone to live in Spain. I then told her that I was still living in the area but in a smaller home which suited me fine and that Ron and I had gone separate ways. She said she knew because apparently there had always been rumours that Ron and Camilla had been seeing one another after Andre had done a runner.
My blood ran cold. It then occurred to me that the two of them had been in on it the whole time. Whether they had planned on killing Andre that night I don’t know but all I knew was that he would never be found. They had got away with murder. I could have gone to the police and told them everything but then by doing that I would implicate myself. So, I did the cowards way out like Ron did and ignored the truth. I wanted my cosy life where everything ran like clockwork. Things are a little different now. Mondays I go to work at the food bank and give to those less fortunate, Tuesdays I am a befriender and chat to lonely people on the phone, Wednesdays I do voluntary work at a charity shop, Thursday I take my new rescue Corgi to hospices as a petting dog, Fridays I tend to my vegetable patch, and Saturdays I help out at the soup kitchen for the homeless. You see I’m trying to make up for the errors of my ways. I’m trying to pay back to society for all my selfish ways. I sold my soul to the devil now that I had lied to protect my comfortable life. This is the only way I can live now in the hope I am redeemed and can get to heaven as I gaze up under the stars.
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Nice story, Meryl. Hopefully the first of many.