“As they say, ‘Better Late Than Never’, whatever that means?” Alfred said to his wife. He wasn’t sure if she understood. She gave no sign. He hoped for a smile, even a glint from her sightless eyes. He could wish. His memories drifted back to their wedding day, all those years ago.
“April 1st, 1962, it was sunny and warmish for the time of year. Why did we get married on All Fools’ Day? Her father suggested it, I remember,” he muttered to himself.
“He never wanted us to be wed. Silly old man, he didn’t understand us.”
Alfred sat down on the edge of his wife’s bed with a grunt. She didn’t move. He swept the lank greasy lock away from his eyes. Another moan. As aches gripped his back, he forced himself to a stoop and onto the bedside chair.
"I’m spending most of my days here.” Patting the chair’s arm, talking as he would to a friend, not an aged piece of furniture.
Thoughts ran haphazardly as he dipped in and out of his mid-morning nap.
“The twins were born in November,” a chuckle escaped. He pictured his father-in-law’s face when he worked out that his precious daughter was no virgin on her wedding night.
“The best three years of my life, the boys giggling, crawling and then walking, the first mispronounced words, the fun baby games, and getting them to try various foods. What great days? Then what happened? Their japes began as fun, then rudeness crept in, the naughty pranks started getting serious…” He dozed off.
The dream got real as the boys were sticking needles in their mother’s fat behind. He screamed and chased them, their laughter drowned his snore.
He awoke with a start. “That took me back. Their pranks got worse. Lumps of coal rubbed on the neighbours' washing. The teacher glued to his seat. My ticking off from the headmaster, and then laughed at by their classmates.”
The teapot was calling, Rich Tea biscuits were rattling in the tin as the kettle whistled. He looked around his kitchen; it was okay, clean and boasting all the appliances that they needed. Unlike the rest of their three-storey home. They were so proud when they moved in, sharing a huge bedroom at the top, the boy’s rooms on floor two and a small games room, a dining room and a comfortable lounge next to the spacious kitchen on the ground floor. Huge windows open out onto the manicured lawn. He could visualise her kneeling and picking weeds from the flower beds.
He rarely went upstairs to the second floor. It was now battered and tacky. One bedroom had been turned into a makeshift kitchen for the twins. The top floor was now two bedrooms, with a vast bathroom shared by the boys.
“God knows what they get up to?” he thought.
After escaping jail sentences, with some luck and a clever solicitor, who used their identical identities as cover because the police could not point to one or other and place them at the scene.
Luck had pursued the boys through their criminal careers. The Jags in the drive were witness to that.
The only visitors banging the front door were CID teams. Alfred just showed them to the stairs. Why did the boys never speak to their father, not even looking at their mother?
“Where did I go wrong with those two?”
His mind drifted in time. He had hosted a lavish 21st birthday party, over one-hundred guests turned up. A lovely buffet which his wife had organised, live music performed by Top of the Pops hit band. Each guest received a small memento to go with the bruises most received in an all-out punch-up with local louts and police batons as they tried to break it up.
“What an embarrassing night that was,” he grumbled to himself. “Could we have done more? The best schools, everything they wanted, we even bought them new cars because they were fed up with the old ones.”
The pound of the music from upstairs vibrated the whole house. And that smell?
“What is that?” Every week or two, the same scent drifted downwards. “What is it, quite nice actually?” he said.
He walked across to his wife, placed his hand on her brow, gently touched her eyelid. No twitch, no tremble, only icy cool flesh.
“Goodbye, my dear. I tried to be a good husband. I tried to be a good father but clearly failed there. Well, it is time, my dear.”
He pushed himself up to a standing stoop and plodded back to the kitchen.
He rooted amongst the drawers, even though he knew exactly where everything he needed was.
He rested on the post at the bottom of the stairs, gulped in air.
“Not as fit as I thought,” he said, grinning.
Gently and quietly, he took one step at a time.
“I don’t know why I’m creeping. With that racket hammering away I could be a full battalion marching up and down,” he laughed louder this time.
He considered sitting and resting on the steps but decided he would not get up. With a deep breath, he carried on, step by step.
On reaching the middle landing, he was gasping. He put his holdall down and shook the stiffness from his arm.
He remembered his sons had linked a light and a bell to the door.
“We don’t want to be surprised,” they had told him.
“And I don’t want to surprise you, at least not yet.” He sniggered like Tom Cat.
He squeezed super glue into the locks. Stepping back to admire his work. Then he placed an old t-shirt at the bottom of the door. Then, the heaviest item, a gallon container of petrol, was opened. He doused the cotton shirt, then splashed fuel up and down on the door. Puddles of 5 Star liquid flooded the carpet.
“Only the best for my boys,” he said.
He was puffing and struggling to control his breathing.
Alfred started crying, “You stupid old fool.”
His lighter was downstairs, next to his wife. He had wanted to hold her hand as he flicked the flame. Now, he realised he had no strength to get down the stairs. He looked around for anything that would make a spark. Nothing but dust.
After five minutes of hoping for inspiration, he edged on his belly to the top stair, sprinkling petrol as he went. A smile spread across his face as he slid headfirst down, bump, bump. He hit the tiles at the bottom hard, but a cut head was not a worry. Splashing the last from his canister, he rolled over to his wife.
Stretching up to reach the Zippo, he flicked the lid as he grabbed her lifeless hand.
“Better late than never.”