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Chapter One: Grave Danger

I loved her. The crystallised passion pouring out of my eyes made that very clear,
clear as the reflection of myself on the sharp marble gravestone in front of me. For
45 years she was more than my life, she was a mother, a talented author, and a
great person. With a bitter side. We all have our bitter sides, the annoying voice on
our left shoulder making decisions we will later regret. I probably have the biggest
one in the whole of Northern Ireland. Perhaps that's why we fell in love, because we
both accepted each other and our cruel personalities. But now, staring at her name
makes this acceptance seem pointless. I should have loved her for who she truly
was; not the preconceived fantasy wife I had always wanted. I wanted her to be
everything she wasn't, and it times, this menacing desire engulfed me. But at the end
of the day, the love we shared was entirely unconditional. My love has grown, hers
has sort of diminished into ashes now scattered under cold Irish dirt.
"In loving memory of Jane Healy, a mother, wife and friend", she was more than that.
Isn't it embarrassing that we label our loved ones with mere obvious titles. Yes, she
was a mother. But she was the kind of mother who held her children each morning
before they vanished off to school and looked them never endingly in the eye before
hugging them. Yes she was a wife, but she was a wife who never once asked me to
change my rooted antique ways, she embraced them. I'm certain she fulfilled the title
of "friend" expertly, and that's because she was my greatest friend. My soul mate.
And now she's ashes. She's dust. She's air. She is nothing.
The subtle roses in my hand look sorry for themselves. No matter how much I prune
and rearrange them they look sad. The contrast between cold black stone and
tender pink just doesn't fit. It doesn't fit Jane's personality. Those small white things I
spotted in the store would have summed her up perfectly. But the flower will die.
Everything in graveyards die, so fussing over this is pointless. I am quickly distracted
from my self-pity by the cry of Reverend Barnard. "Morning John", he comes
treading down the path of the graveyard carrying books. He is too young, and I find
his intrusion disrespectful. "Morning Vicar" I reply, whilst watching him digest this
scene before him. He must be regretting saying hello because the tears pricking my
eyes create a frost of awkwardness. "You keeping well John? Lovely flowers you've
chosen". "Oh, don't mind me, sad lonely man. Still can't get over his wife's death" I
reply. "John, God allows mourning. It is natural. How long has it been?" he asks.
"Five years" I reply. "Five years? I had no idea. I hope you look after yourself John,
like Mary would have wanted". "Oh yes, well I keep myself to myself" I say, hoping
he'd receive the "I want to be left alone" picture I'm painting for him. "Why don't you
come inside John? Let me pour some tea" he asks. "That's very kind Vicar. But I
must be off in a second, I just was not expecting to feel so emotional this morning.
And now I have to go off to work, it just feels so horrible". "Very well. Well if ever you
need someone to talk to, some advice, I'll be waiting at your beck and call" he says,
and backs down the same path down into the church. "Prat" I whisper under the cold
steam coming out of my mouth.
I touch her golden name for a final moment and then pull myself together. I pull my
jacket down and bring my hands up to my mouth, and produce steam with my

breathe. The sky is very cloudy which makes me feel completely alone. I hate this
weather. Today should have been a sunny day, didn't the weather know my spirits
would need lifting? I walk past countless gravestones and countless stories until I
reach the moss ridden gate. If I am to make it to work I will need to get a brisk move
on. Mary is with me, she is always with me and I know that. But no one else knows
the pain that walking away from a loved one brings upon you. Like a shadow, just
swallowing you whole and making you feel worthless. Surely I should have told her
that I loved her and I always will love her and one day we will be together, and all
that romantic stuff. But instead I stared and cried, like the fool I am. On my aching
journey home I can't help picture it all. The day everything happened.
But then I smile. Smile because our relationship was bound by as much hate as
there was love. At the best of times Mary was still a controlling challenge to deal
with. She was so emotionally dependent, especially in her final years. Always
wanting to know where I was and what I was talking about. She was like a spec of
dust that didn't leave my coat for 45 years. A speck that said "John, really?" or "John,
you are not the man I married". She wasn't the woman I married either. As soon as
Charlie and Isabel flung the nest, she changed. Her life must have been tipped
upside down when they left, so I bet that she picked her next victim. She almost
killed me with love. Annoying love.
We had been arguing non-stop all evening. We both had shouted stuff we didnt
really mean. And then I woke up alone, and found her. In the river. Ice cold, with her
eyes still open. Suicide of course. There was a full investigation and many
interviews, each officer wanting to know the same answer to each question, all
wanting to trip me up. It's bitter sweet because for years I had wished her dead, and
then one day... water. I honestly have no idea why she decided to commit suicide,
but the post mortem had revealed her stomach was a potion of sleeping pills and
cheap wine. Poor Mary.
And I can still picture the night clearly, as well. We both lied on the bed, facing away
from each other, and both played the game of whose going to say "I love you" first. I
did, she instantly, almost robotically replied. When I opened my eyes I knew at once
something was very wrong. I thought she had gone downstairs to make me some
tea, or breakfast, as a way of apologising. But even if she would have done,
something still felt uneasy. The air seemed unnaturally clean and the silence surreal.
But, even though Mary hadn't made me tea in 3 or 4 odd years, I walked downstairs
yawning in my dressing grown. There was no tea and no Mary. But the door was
closed and everything looked similar to how I left it last night.
"She's probably gone to pick flowers, or gone to get a paper" I thought out loud. But
then, as I trodden upstairs I remembered that I hadn't seen her thin silk grey dressing
hanging from behind our bedroom door. As soon as Mary woke up she got dressed,
and normally in a matter of seconds. I remember waking up and adjusting my eyes
each morning, the first think I always saw was that ghostly piece of clothing
confronting me. But this morning I just saw a blank oak door. On the middle of the
stairs I stood and suddenly I was drowning in panic. I rushed outside, I rushed in
each room, up the road, but it was no use. We lived alone, miles of from anywhere.
Stupidly, I presumed she had left with a lover friend of hers at work; what other
explanation is a 60 year old man supposed to come up with?

I ran outside because I remembered I had forgot to inspect the shed, maybe she was
gardening. But there was no Mary in the shed. I walked back to house past the river
that run adjacent to our garden and noticed something misty in the water. I
collapsed. It was the ghostly white dressing gown. I jumped in, still thinking she
might be alive, maybe she had gone for a walk in the forest down the stretch and her
dressing gown was caught. And then I felt a hand something lumped over with my
frozen foot. "Mary" I screamed? I knew full well it was her. But everything just
stopped for a moment. I looked up into the sky waiting for an answer, looking at the
birds in the breeze. Without crying, I picked her up without looking at her face. I
carried her inside and almost like I had done this procedure daily, called the police.
There she lay, on the rug. In torn pyjamas. Soaked. I cannot even look, I cannot
even breathe. I just emulate her, I curl up on the floor, lay down, and cry. I feel the
cold tile kitchen floor kiss me, and its feel it laugh at me. This whole farce was
probably a punishment because I was such a bad husband. I didn't deserve her.
Maybe thats it. Or maybe she wanted to haunt me until I die. But she never seemed
sucidial. She was a great mother. Sure, she liked a drink. But she the Mary I know
would never have taken her own life. Yet the pile of skin of bones I loved, laying
infront of me suggests otherwise. I hear a whisper "John... John". I jump up, but shes
there. Dead. I know I am going crazy, and the air outside is calling for me. I open the
door and see flashing blue lights. And that was the last moment I ever got with my
beloved wife. Atleast when she was alive. In retrosepct, sometimes I enjoy spending
time with her ashes more than I do her. Ashes dont argue back; ashes dont tell you
how bad of a husband you are.
Each time I walk from the graveyard I picture the whole day more clearly, and begin
to digest it all. There are still so many questions left unanswered, how did my wife
end up in the bottom of a river? I know we may have had a fiery relationship, feulled
with ups and downs, but I really thought she knew that I loved her. And I loved our
kids. We often spent weekends on the coast, reminiscing about old times with our
two children. Maybe she just got bored of her own family.
You'd think a 68 year old man would lean to live each day as it comes, and strive
forward in the short number of years ahead of me. But some part of me needs to
know answers. I want my family back, and I want to be able to talk to my Son again.
He doesnt understand anything, instead he just runs off to America and tries to forget
everything. We never had a great relationship but I never dreamed he would have
accused his own father as the murder. Even the idea that she was murdered makes
me sick. My corner of Northern Ireland is tucked away nicely, thank you very much. I
am confident she wasnt murdered, and after a 4 month wait the court trial concluded
it was obvious suicide. I thought that would bring closure to my sons superstitions,
but instead he fled to the other side of the pond with his American girlfriend, Colleen.
We send cards, we don't send love.
My daughter still remains intact. Her imagination isnt as easily penetrated as her
brothers. We have both helped eachother get over this loss, I would lost without her
monthly visits; I know a day a month isnt often but she has a busy career life. Too
busy for her own children, and too busy for her own husband. Bertie is an interesting
character, if I do say so myself. They met at University, thats the story they tell me

anyway. He likes to keep silent, and I don't like looking at him direct in the eye. Mary
could tolerate Bertie, in fact I'd say out of my daughter Chloe, my son Jamie and my
son in law Bertie, she got along most well with the latter. They both loved books, and
often gave each other old finished ones. Mary would stay up reading all night. Just
drowning in the tales until her brain flicked a switch that pulled her out of the water.
But at the end of the day, maybe I'm the one over analysing everything. Maybe they
all just miss her, and can't get their head around the fact that she would close her life
so dramatically. I am also closing a big part of my everyday life, my career. I've been
working at John Breut Academy and teaching my beloved history, and tomorrow
2000 years of history shall crumble under my feet. I'll be left, stuck, in an empty
house, waiting to die. But for today atleast I have minds to feed and nuture, and
sexed up teenagers to deal with.
When I enter through the large alcove doors of Breut everything dawns on me. This
will be the last time I shall ever walk through these doors, see these faces, hears the
piercing shouts of students in the corridor refracting down the oak stairwell. 20 long
years spent here, longing for freedom, and when the day finally arrives I want
nothing more than to go back to what I know. Look at them, the young teachers with their young ideas. I believe my old fashioned roots in education change lives,
and after today all my hard work will turn to dust.
And the day is over quicker than it started.

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