Watching the Twilight
by Andrew Cochrane
‘Leave your jacket on the peg and come through. The food is nearly ready,’ said George.
He began stirring the food in the giant wok with a giant wooden spoon, and his mother strolled in and stood behind him. He could feel her gaze.
‘I brought wine,’ she said.
George was suddenly slightly embarrassed. It felt as though he was on a date, with his mum. Was he really that lonely?
‘Erm... put it on the table. I’ll get glasses out in a minute. Sit down, this is nearly done.’
‘Okay.’ George heard the clunk of the wine bottle on the table even over the sizzling of his cooking.
‘Lovely view,’ his mother commented from the other room. ‘I know I’ve said it before, but it really strikes me every time. It’s gorgeous, especially at this time of day, with the sunset. Oh, look you can see some people down on the beach. I wish the house was closer to the beach, I’d love to see exactly what those people are doing.’ She was looking out through the patio doors, down the huge hill that gave onto the beach and the blue ocean.
George served the dinner on two plates and took them into the dining room. His mother was standing at the window with her back to him.
‘Dinner is served,’ he said.
She spun around, brought out of her reverie by his voice and the food smell. ‘Smells nice,’ she said with a smile, though her eyes seemed distant.
‘You should wait till twilight,’ he said nodding toward the window, ‘the colour is magnificent. It won’t be long now. We can sit out on the patio, if you like, and watch it.’ He put the plates on the table and fetched some glasses for the wine.
‘I’d like that,’ she said.
It was a pinot noir red wine, expensive. Wine was something George’s mother had begun collecting recently, filling the wine racks in her cellar. As he poured first his mother’s glass then his own, the liquid ran like blood and settled sinisterly, calmly rocking like a live organism every time the table was nudged.
They ate in silence for a while, knives and forks clattering the only conversation in the house. Between mouthfuls they both looked sideways at the sunset through the glass door. The sun was halfway concealed by the horizon now. It looked as though it were slowly lowering itself into a bath that was too hot.
‘How have you been?’ George asked, ridding them of the silence.
‘Oh, fine. Keeping myself occupied. I’ve started walking every morning now; I want to lose a few pounds for the summer.’
‘Yes, I’ve been meaning to do some kind of exercise lately but I’ve just been too busy. I’m writing another book,’ he said.
He wasn’t writing another book. Recently, he had discovered writer’s block, and couldn’t seem to put together a simple sentence.
‘Oh, what’s it about? You probably can’t tell me, can you? The secret process of making art and all. I have never really understood that.’
They continued to eat and talk trivialities. George could see his mother kept glancing out the window, and when she looked at George, he could see a deep sadness in her eyes.
‘What?’ George’s mother was looking at him. She seemed concerned about something.
‘What?’ she repeated. ‘Why do you have such a sad look on your face?’
George sighed. ‘I was just thinking...’
‘Of what, dear?’
‘Dad...’ George was reluctant to get into this conversation, but it was too late. He sat back in his chair and let out a long breath.
‘You know he loved you, don’t you, right until the end?’ she said.
‘Was that all the time or just in between beatings?’ George cringed at the sarcasm in his voice. His mother continued as if she hadn’t heard him.
‘We talked about you. When he was in hospital. He definitely loved you. I think he just had trouble expressing it. We talked about when you were really young, about three years old, and you had that little drum. Remember, the kind you strap to your chest. And you marched around the house banging that drum as loud as you could for about a year, non-stop. It got on our nerves, but it was so funny to watch you march around with that thing.’
George smiled. He didn’t remember the drum, he was probably too young at the time.
‘He loved you till the end,’ she repeated forlornly.
‘Why did he act the way he did, then? Why did he make me fear him? And you, too. You feared him, you must have.’ He was trying to keep calm and to keep from saying anything that might hurt her.
‘He loved us both, he just didn’t know how to show it,’ she said almost pathetically, whimpering a little.
George sat forward, resting his arms on the table, looking into his mother’s face. Her gaze kept shifting about the room; she couldn’t hold his stare. There was aggression and anger in his eyes.
‘Mom, when did he show that he loved you? What makes you still hold on to this notion that he loved you all these years?’ A voice in his head was screaming at him not to do this. ‘He may have loved you in the beginning, when you married him, but he put you in hospital more than once, mom. You were hooked up to machines and everything, do you remember? Did you think he loved you even then, lying in hospital? He didn’t even come to see you. You were in hospital because of him, and he didn’t come to see you.’ As soon as this was out of his mouth he regretted it.
His mother burst into tears in front of him. She put her head in her hands and her shoulders began shaking.
‘Mom, I’m sorry, okay?’ George stayed where he was on the other side of the table. He didn’t want to approach her for fear of what else he would say. He wasn’t trying to hurt her. He was trying to make her see the reality, to help her get on with her life.
She tried to speak, but her voice cracked. She cleared her throat and tried again.
‘You... how could you say this about him? He raised you.’ She wasn’t angry, she was almost pleading with him, and George realised, with a flash of indignation, defending him. ‘Even after everything, he raised you, he clothed you, he fed you. You went to a good school and in the end you got a great career. You’re earning money. Everything you have now in part is because of him—’
‘Are you going to give yourself credit for anything?’ He was up on his feet now, leaning over the table, shouting at her. ‘It was you that got me all those things. You who encouraged me to write my first book. You who clothed me. He did nothing but put me down.’
‘George, please stop shouting.’ She was sobbing again. ‘Please just stop. I love him. I always loved him. I always will love him. He was my husband, he was your father. I miss him so much.’
‘Why?’ He had only lowered his voice slightly.
She paused for a moment. ‘You do, too.’
He did it then. A moment of complete and utter senseless rage. His mind exploded, he screamed at the top of his lungs as he picked up the wine bottle and threw it straight at her. The last thing he saw through her tears was that sadness.
The bottle struck her in the face, smashing instantly, sending red wine and blood spraying onto the walls. Her head jerked back and the chair tipped over, throwing the limp body to the floor with a heavy thud.
In the immediate silence that followed, George’s anger subsided quickly. His eyes widened in horror and he could not move. Time stopped. No thoughts went through his head; his mind was as blank as a canvas.
After about thirty seconds of inanimate nothingness, he began to make his way around the table. The silence was strange, endless.
He avoided the glass scattered across the carpet. He stood over the body of his mother and knew she was dead without needing to check for a pulse. She was lying face down, and some blood had pooled onto the carpet, soaking into the fibres. He could see she wasn’t breathing.
He knelt down and rolled the body over, one shaking hand on the shoulder and one on the hip. The head lolled and then came to rest at the same time as the body. George observed the face with a sickening feeling in his stomach. Part of the skull had caved in, creating a depression between the eyes and up toward the hairline. Blood flowed out of a number of deep cuts and a large piece of glass was stuck into the forehead, buried deep, with blood gushing out around it. He was glad that her eyelids were closed.
He felt dizzy, everything began to spin, and he stared down at the face, the blood, the crushed skull. He felt his stomach heave. He rushed outside, sliding the glass door open and vomited onto the grass beside the tiles. Everything began to fade, a haze descending over him. He fell forward and was out when his head hit the floor.
* * *
The first thing he was aware of when he came to was that he was crushing his plants. He slowly dragged himself up, first onto his hands and knees and then onto his feet. The haze was slowly wearing off, and with that came the second realisation, that he had been lying in his own puke. It was all down the front of his shirt.
Gazing into the dining room through the open patio door, he could see his mother lying there as he had left her, the blood now congealing on her face. The chair she had been sitting in as she sobbed was on its side next to her. The food had gone cold. Blood and wine covered the walls.
It was night, the darkness complete, the sun gone. George checked his watch. He had been out cold for almost forty minutes.
In the next few hours George buried his mother. He lifted the patio tiles and dug a grave underneath them. After throwing the body in, he said a prayer. He did not cry because, in truth, he was happy. Not much of his mother had remained after her husband died. She had died with him, and George had cried then.
The jacket hanging on the peg by the front door was thrown in with her, and so too were all the pieces of the broken wine bottle. He was getting rid of all the evidence. He shovelled the dirt on top of the body and re-tiled the patio. It looked exactly the same, only there was a gap between two of the tiles in the middle. It would have to do; otherwise he would have to re-re-tile the whole patio again.
The blood puddle that had soaked into the carpet and dried up was a little more complicated. George filled the sink bowl with steaming water and floor cleaner and scrubbed the carpet for twenty minutes. It wouldn’t come up, no matter how hard he pressed down and scrubbed. This huge red stain would be on the carpet permanently. The blood on the walls, however, wiped clean fairly easily.
* * *
Two days later, the carpet had been ripped up and a new one put in. The carpet man had wondered what the stain was, and George had told him it was red wine, that he had dropped the bottle which smashed and spilled the contents.
* * *
The police came to ask questions. There were two of them at the front door.
‘May we come in a moment to speak with you, Mr Cole?’ the older one asked.
They took off their hats, wiped their feet. George showed them through to the sitting room, where they declined his invitation to take a seat.
‘We won’t take much of your time, sir. I’m Deputy Williams, and this is Deputy Harrows. We’d like to just ask a few questions about your mother, so that we can get our footing... and understand more about her.’
‘So when was it you last saw her?’ Williams asked, flipping open a small notebook and taking a small pencil from a pocket somewhere.
‘Friday night. We had dinner, and then she left. She left after dark.’
‘What time was that, when she left?’ This time it was Harrows who spoke.
‘Erm, I don’t know, must have been around nine-thirty. Couldn’t have been later.’
‘And you’re certain about that, are you? Nine-thirty?’
‘Erm... yes. That’s my best estimate anyway.’
‘So you don’t know for sure? Could it have been earlier than that?’
‘Well, yes, but not by much. It was round about then.’
‘Okay, and she seemed all right when she left?’
‘Nothing troubling her? No concerns? Did she seem distant at all, distracted?’
‘No. Well, actually yes. But her husband had died recently, and she had... she has had a bit of trouble dealing with that. She seemed relatively okay when she left though.’
George thought he saw a flicker of suspicion in Williams’ eyes as he looked up from taking notes.
‘How long ago did her husband die?’
‘Erm... it must have been three weeks ago. It was cancer.’
‘Okay. And did she tell you where she was headed when she left?’ asked Harrows.
‘No detours along the way? No stopping off at any shop or at a friend’s place?’
‘No, not that I was aware of. She didn’t expressly state that she was going home, but she didn’t tell me she was going anywhere else. She hasn’t been out much lately, you know. And she doesn’t have any friends close by.’ There was a pause. ‘And she was tired.’
Did I say that too hastily? George thought. Was that suspicion again in Williams’ eyes?
‘And she walked home, did she?’
‘Yes, she didn’t bring her car. And her car is still in her driveway at home.’
Williams flipped the notepad shut and looked closely at George. ‘Alright, Mr Cole. That’s all for now. We will definitely be back to let you know of our progress, and also to ask more questions if we need to. We’re going to question Mrs Cole’s neighbours and also anybody else in the village who may have seen her prior to her disappearance.
‘I wouldn’t be too down-hearted at this point if I were you. It is entirely likely that she has merely gone off somewhere to be alone and to deal with her grief over her husband’s death. So we will keep you updated, and, really, we’re not worrying yet. It’s only been two days, and I’m sure we’ll find her.’
They left. George closed the front door behind them.
* * *
After searching Mrs Cole’s house, the police formally opened their investigation. They put posters up in the corner shop, the post office, and the pizza takeout. They also went door-to-door, speaking to the villagers, asking if they knew anything, had seen any suspicious activity in the small village recently, and when was the last time they had seen Mary Cole, who lived in the house on the hill.
Nobody had seen anything. The latest sighting of her by anyone other than George had been Friday morning, when she had bought milk and bread from the corner shop, and the old lady, Miss Richmond, had chatted with her for five or ten minutes. Miss Richmond said Mary had mentioned to her that she was having dinner with her son that night. She remarked that Mary had seemed okay; a little sad, but she had been that way ever since her husband had died.
The police came and went to update George on the investigation. They sent a search party out one week, and broke the news to him that they expected her to be dead if they found her.
They didn’t find her.
* * *
‘Would you mind if we took a look around your house, Mr Cole? Would you agree to a search?’ Deputy Williams asked one morning at the front door.
‘Certainly. Come in. You won’t find anything to help you in here, but please go ahead.’
They slowly went from room to room, spending more time downstairs, but it didn’t take too long. They left again, and George was alone with his relief.
* * *
As the weeks passed, George thought of his father less and less. He began to write again, and wrote a very good book, too, about members of a family severing their ties with one another and living a better life because of it.
He wrote every morning for about three hours, and then another three in the evening, and relished every word that for a while he had been incapable of writing. And every evening at twilight, George sat out on the patio in one of the dining room chairs, and, with his mother, watched the magnificent colours light up the sky.
Copyright © 2010 by Andrew Cochrane