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Returning

by Neil Brown

Published in The Molotov Cocktail

I was sick on the carpet outside the bathroom. A torrent of red wine and regurgitated cheese splattered the walls and pooled around me. I’d only had a couple of glasses. Fred had insisted. “Something to grease the cogs.”

I was still on all fours when he came up the stairs and saw me. He had been a hospital orderly before he retired, so I guess he was used to that kind of thing. He smiled, but I could see he was disappointed.

He helped me to my feet. My left hip was acting up. I had neglected to inform the doctor about it the day before. I knew what it meant. I freshened up in the bathroom and found Fred waiting on the bed. He was a handsome enough man. He still had a full head of hair—obviously dyed—and his eyes sparkled when he smiled. My Ted’s eyes had lost their sparkle before the end. His libido had vanished along with his hair when they began the chemotherapy, but it was his eyes that I missed the most.

The tremors had started in my hand about six months before. The doctor had described how the Parkinson’s would progress. The shaking would spread until I was completely incapacitated. My son was taking care of everything. To pay the hospital bills, he was selling my house: the house I had lived in all my married life; the home I had raised him in. I guess I should have felt scared or angry but remembering all the years with Ted, and I just felt lonely.

I had never been with another man. Ted and I had met at a dance and married within the month. Watching cancer eat away at him had been devastating. I had stopped thinking of him as my husband toward the end—just a ghost of the man who had made my heart pound and my knees tremble.

Fred sipped at his whisky and stroked my arm. We had been dancing and walked on the beach; we had been to the ballet and visited the zoo. Now I was in his bedroom. He kissed my neck. I held my breath. He began to unbutton my shirt as his tongue found my ear. I felt queasy. I wanted him to stop. I slapped his hand away and left him sitting on the bed.

Outside the drizzle is muffling everything. The kids in the park and the bus to Totnes seem far away.

Fred could never make me feel like I had with Ted. He couldn’t compete with the years Ted, and I had shared. Fred would never know what I was thinking or silence me with a look. He would never know why I was terrified of carrots, or that I liked to be called “Dove.”

A faded red truck is rounding the corner by the Post Office, the dark grey exhaust fumes being swallowed by the mist. The wheels are spraying water in an arc. I unlace my shoes and leave them on the kerb. My socks are slapping in the puddles, and I push on, smiling, as future’s ebbing tide bears me into the ceaseless past.


Disfigured Liberty

A Psychiatric Hospital, a London bomb, an abusive father, a hedonistic rock star, bereaved parents, and a suicide bomber, come together for this literary sojourn into the grimy depths of sadness and regret.

“Vividly drawn dark stories”

“Dark and compelling”