Wednesday, 1 April 2015

"Simon! You Stink!" - a short story

Copyright and Written by: James M. Russell

The cardinal’s song wasn’t particularly melodic but it was loud enough to penetrate the single pane bedroom window and drag Muriel out of a sound sleep.

“Simon, you stink,”  Muriel rolled over in bed and whispered gently to her husband of  sixty-four years.  She wasn’t blaming Simon for his body odour. After all he’s been dead for more than six months. “Simon you stink” was just her way of saying “good morning my love” and she has been repeating it every day since, well, since he  began to stink.

Simon died at the age of eighty-four, just after dinner on one bitterly cold December evening. Muriel couldn’t be sure about his exact time of death; she was out shopping at the time. It must have been pretty near 6:30 when she returned home and found her husband floating butt  up in his own murky bath water. Dr. Persaud told Muriel that Simon could have one of his attacks anytime. Told her to place one nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue then call 911. But Muriel did neither - would have but couldn't -  because Muriel was blocks away when that rascal Mr. Death decided to pay her poor husband a call.
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Muriel had felt guilty about leaving Simon but she assured him that she wouldn’t be long. There was no point inviting him, since the stroke Simon didn’t go out much, especially in winter. In fact, he hated the cold, mostly because the poor man’s toes and fingers were in constant agony no matter how many socks and gloves he wore. So Muriel left for the store as Simon was loading the lazy machine, as she called it, with the last of the dirty dishes.
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Muriel smiled gently as the crisp December air assaulted her face. The feeling reminded Muriel of her Dad and the winters they spent together honing her slap shot and stick handling skills on the steely surface of Maple Lodge Pond.  Muriel knew, from as far back as she could remember, that she was going play professional hockey when she grew up. But her mother had a nursing career in mind for her only daughter and everyone, including Dad knew that there was never any point in arguing with mother. Still, Muriel cherished those times she spent with her Dad and fondly remembers the clear winter skies, the rasping sound of sharpened steel on the rock-hard ice and the joy of seeing that frozen circle of black rubber sail into their often repaired net.

But the most useful lesson Muriel learned from her father wasn’t stick handling or power skating but body preparation. Muriel never would have known how to drain the blood out of Simon if her father hadn’t been the town’s undertaker. And although the process made a real mess in the tub it pretty well dried Simon out and kept those disgusting worms from getting out of control a few weeks later.
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Muriel was fully awake by the time the Cardinal began the second overture of its morning song. She opened her hazel eyes and smiled at Simon who was, as usual, smiling right back with that toothy grin of his. Simon and Muriel loved their mornings together. When he was alive, they were both usually awake by six but often never left the bed until nearly ten o’clock. Simon, especially loved  listening to the coo of the pigeon that nested just above their bedroom window. Muriel always tuned in the joke of the day at 6:45 on the radio then spun the dial over to Simon’s BBC news at eight. The rest of the morning they spend reading, talking or, when the spirit moved them, making love. It was the best of the best times they had together and Muriel saw no reason to change things just because her Simon was dead.
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Granted, their sleeping arrangements did become a bit strained when Simon reached such a sad state of decay that she just couldn’t bear it any longer. But Muriel simply propped open the bedroom window with a wooden ruler to allow those exasperating flies, and the smell, to escape then made her bed downstairs on that Victorian sofa where the two of them spent so many happy evenings playing scrabble. When she finally returned to their bedroom a few weeks later Simon didn’t really look much like himself, but it didn’t matter, they were still together.

Simon and Muriel first met at a Scrabble tournament when she was thirteen. Simon was tall and dashing and knew the name of every city in the world. Muriel, on the other hand, was short and scrawny but had already committed to memory the first volume of the Oxford Dictionary that her parents gave Muriel for her eleventh birthday. So It wasn’t long before they ended up on opposite sides of the Scrabble board. Muriel doesn’t remember who won, only that Simon had such lovely brown eyes and smelled of English Leather cologne.

Simon doesn’t smell that good anymore and his eyes, well, are coal-black voids but he still has that wonderful smile, a bit taut, but a smile nevertheless. It was just after nine and Muriel was still in bed, making a mental list of all that she hoped to accomplish that day, when she suddenly remembered that their nosy daughter Jessica was coming for lunch.

Jessica was to be their first real visitor since Simon died. Their dear and only daughter has been teaching in France for nearly a year and remained blissfully unaware not only had her father passed on but that his body was still resting comfortably on what has always been his side of the bed.
Simon said he chose the left side of the bed because he and his failing bladder required the shortest route to the bathroom -  just down the hall. But Muriel knew that it was because it was also closest to the door. You see Simon took his job as Man of the House very seriously. Every time their old wood and brick bungalow flexed its arthritic joints in the wee hours of the morning, Simon would grab his long handled flashlight and set off in search of intruders. Simon was such a valiant man and she loved him for that.

That was another reason why she could never allow her shining knight to suffer the indignity of being  stuffed in some old musty wooden box where he couldn’t feel the gentle morning breeze on his face or hear the ceaseless purr of those damn pigeons. She hated even more the thought of spending the rest of her life without her companion and best friend. But Muriel was a realist however and knew that eventually the world was going to find out that Simon was dead. But with Jessica living thousand of miles away, the recent arrival of new neighbours on one side and the imminent departure of her other neighbours, the Stewarts, to one of those ghastly nursing homes,  it was unlikely that anyone would  notice Simon’s absence for quite a while, perhaps even years.
If Muriel and Simon just get through their daughter's visit.
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Jessica, now 52 and still without a prospective husband in sight, was due to arrive around one. Muriel knew that nothing short of duct taping the girl’s hands to the front door would prevent Jessica from conducting her usual snoop around the house, assessing the value of various antiques and searching for evidence of her parent’s approaching senility.  Simon's passing is all the ammunition their dear daughter would need to lock her mother away in a nursing home. A death sentence that Muriel refused to even consider. So, she needed to hide Simon’s leathery carcass where Jessica wouldn’t find it.

Muriel ruled out putting him under the bed; too visible, and the closet was smallish and already crammed with clothes. The tool shed in the back yard would have been perfect if it weren’t for the mouse droppings that Muriel noticed recently. She couldn’t bear the thought of some miserable rodent gnawing on her defenseless husband. No, it would have to be the basement. Jessica always hated the place with its packed dirt floor, low ceiling and warm aroma of earthworms. And except for an occasional spider or centipede there’s nothing down to disturb Simon’s sleep. The problem was getting him there.

Muriel leapt out of bed with a grand flourish, wrapped her sagging body with that lovely embroidered, silk house coat that Simon gave her for her birthday last year and headed downstairs. She thought it would be best to postpone her usual morning bath until Simon was resting safely in the basement.

Muriel made a neat, well-thought out list of the supplies that she would need while sitting at the kitchen table eating from a bowl of corn flakes with sliced bananas and a decadent half spoon of the white sugar that her doctor foolishly made her promise to give up. The list was complete by the time her bowl was half empty. She would need: one hundred feet of nylon rope, three pulleys, two plastic garbage bags to catch any remaining body fluids and that hideous green blanket someone gave them for their twentieth wedding anniversary.

When Simon died the ordeal of lifting him out of the bathtub, dragging him into the bedroom and hoisting him onto the bed had ripped the tendons in Muriel’s right shoulder and  didn’t do her lower back much good either and although he’s a lot lighter now, lifting Simon was not an option. Instead , she would lower his emaciated body down the long stairs in the green blanket sling suspended from the rope, an idea she got from an old episode of Baywatch.  Then, from the foyer,  she would wheel Simon on his old mechanic’s dolly into the kitchen and slide him down the basement stairs. Muriel had no idea how she would manage the return trip after Jessica’s hopefully, brief visit, but first things first.

Muriel washed her breakfast dishes then started gathering  her supplies. It was nearly eight-thirty and Jessica would arrive in three hours or so, depending on traffic.
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 Muriel looped one end of the bright yellow rope through the belt of her bathrobe so that she could use both hands to brace herself as she climbed the kitchen step ladder.  The extra height allowed her to reach the top rung of the ornate burglar bars that  she and Simon had installed four years ago over the stained glass windows to either side of the front door. Unfortunately, Muriel couldn’t remember even one of the dozen or so fancy ties she learned in Brownies but she got the job done anyway with a half dozen or so regular knots.

Next she made her way up the stairs and looped the rope around the elegant mahogany ball perched atop the banister. Then, creeping backwards into the bedroom, she fed the remaining rope through her aching fingers and wrapped the end around the heavy brass bedstead. When they were younger that same bedstead proved quite useful when she or Simon needed a handhold for leverage or, once, she remembered with a  smile, a handy spot to attach a pair of handcuffs. Muriel drew the rope as tight as her pain would allow, then tied it off.

It took just a few minutes to roll Simon into the plastic lined blanket but she struggled for nearly an hour before she was able to attach the metal pulleys. Two shoves and a tug was all Simon needed to get coax him off the bed and into midair. The rope groaned under the load, but held. Muriel smiled, quite pleased with herself. Quite pleased indeed.

The cozy sling containing Simon glided effortlessly along the first few feet of rope before the pulleys began to squeak miserably. At least until Muriel gave them a good spray with a can of WD-40 that she found on Simon’s always tidy workbench. Muriel was relieved that she and Simon had completed the first leg of their journey without a hitch but recognized that the most difficult part, down the steep stairs to the front door, still lay ahead.

Muriel had just unhooked the pulley at Simon’s head and reattached it to the section of rope that sloped down to the front door when Simon’s body suddenly lurched forward and slammed into the banister.  Muriel apologized to her dear husband then quickly tied the loose end of the rope to the rear pulley and wrapped it securely around her wrist. It was the only practical way that she could think of controlling Simon’s descent.
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  Simon slid toward the front door at a slow and orderly pace, although the coarse rope burned her palms. The sling containing Simon’s body was directly over the bottom stair when Muriel heard a car pull onto the gravel driveway. The stately grandfather clock at the top of the stairs read ten twenty six, far too early for Jessica to arrive. Nevertheless, Muriel recognized her daughter’s shrill voice when she demanded a receipt from the taxi driver.
Muriel couldn’t let Jessica come in, not now, so she stood very still while the doorbell rang once, then again. It was just before the third ring that Muriel suddenly remembered the extra front door key that she and Simon hid in the clay flowerpot on the north  side of the porch. Jessica remembered it at about the same time. Muriel dropped her rope and hurried down the stairs, recklessly ignoring the loud protestations from her arthritic knees. And although she tugged frantically at the knots securing the rope to the burglar bars, her bony fingers couldn’t loosen even one. In a panic, she dashed into the kitchen, grabbed her favourite butcher knife then ran back into the foyer and sawed frantically at the stubborn rope. She was making good progress when she heard the key turn in the lock. Suddenly the door flew open , bringing Jessica and her father face to grinning face.
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Oddly enough, it was at that moment that Muriel realized that if she and Simon had only  known forty years ago that their dear daughter could scream with such vigour they would have enrolled Jessica in Mrs. Scott’s drama class instead of foolishly pushing her toward a career as a classical pianist.
... the end...


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