BLAST FROM THE PAST – PAUSE FOR ARGENTINA

MOUNTAINSIDE OF ME

 

‘You’re dying,’ I said.

‘I don’t feel well,’ said my husband.

‘No, you’re dying. I’ve murdered you.’

‘Phone the hospital,’ he said.

His words were not clear. I am not used to seeing my husband look anxious and confused.

‘I suppose I can do that,’ I said.

I was being sarcastic because me calling for help was part of the plan. Maybe I was being facetious. I am never sure which is which.  I rang 999 on my mobile. I told the operator that we were on the side of a mountain in the Lake District.

‘My God, you’re up early this morning,’ said the operator.

‘My husband has had a heart attack,’ I lied.

The poison had worked as expected. Three cheers for the Amazonian tribe that invented this stuff.

‘We wanted to see the sun rise.’ I lied again.

That was the excuse I had given my husband when I had suggested we make the climb at five in the morning. I wanted him to die and for there to be no one around but me.

‘You poor thing,’ said the operator.

I told her that my husband was comfortable and lying horizontal on dry grass. The view over the two lakes in the valley was lovely and the weather was fine because Paul was very good at picking sunny days for mountain walking but I did not mention that.  I said goodbye to the operator and put the mobile back in my pocket. My husband raised his head a little so that it was clear of the dry grass. He sighed. The poor thing was confused.

‘You killed me?’ he said.

‘I definitely did,’ I said. ‘I need your money.’

‘You have my money.’

‘I want it for me.’

‘I loved you.’

Aw, I thought. I was tempted to say thank you. He could have said nothing. After all, he was dying because I had murdered him.   I stayed silent, though.  His head went back down on the dry grass. Well, that did not last long, I thought. My husband stared at the morning sky.  Maybe he remembered his glory. Paul was handsome and rich and he was intelligent.   He made women go weak, which was why I liked walking in a room with Paul. He had a voice that would have melted more than women, whatever can be melted.  I was envied. I have been envied all the time I was married. The envy makes the money especially worthwhile, so there was no excuse for becoming irritated by Paul. But I did. Paul is clever and witty and, for those who want to listen to his thoughts, really interesting. So many times I have driven to work, thinking why did I not think of that. Paul is the only man I know who can be profound and amusing with Weetabix and cold milk inside his mouth. Not that he can anymore, of course.

I lay on the dry mountain grass and stared at his face. He did not smile. He never smiled again. Indeed, I noticed a tear just before he died. No surprise, people like Paul expect to live forever. He died before the emergency services arrived, which was what I had expected.  I had time to drink the rest of my water and eat my snack.   I then split his food and water in two and put half in my rucksack. I did not want the police to know I had been munching bacon flavoured crisps while my husband was dying. The emergency crew carried his dead body and me away in a helicopter. The pilot and the rescue team were very earnest. What would we do without them, I thought.

Paul looked very ordinary as he was being flown in a helicopter across the mountaintops of the Lake District. Admittedly, Paul was dead by then.

‘Can I phone my mother?’ I said.

‘Of course, you can, love,’ said an earnest voice.

My mother was very upset.

In the hospital, the policeman who spoke to me fancied himself. He looked at me and he liked what he saw. The policeman was especially sympathetic. The hospital was very busy. I had picked a Sunday morning to murder my husband because I knew the hospital would be still labouring from the Saturday night rush. The poison from the Amazon left no trace in the body after death but I believed in being careful.

When we climbed through the clouds that morning, the mood of my husband had been perfect. I bet Paul thought it would be a special day. Well, it was, Paul, in a way. I did not let you down, Paul, not like you did me.  Actually, I am being harsh and unfair. Life with a rich, handsome and extremely intelligent man should be perfect. Unfortunately, it was not. Nothing fabulous is ever an appendage or even equal, and Paul is, or was, fabulous. A bright sun always leaves a shadow and his sun covered me. I became grey and reduced and I am better than that. Not as bright and as beautiful as Paul perhaps but something more than grey. Once in a while a girl likes to be noticed for her own appearance and her witty remarks. I was envied but envy has two sides and the inevitable happened. Before long, I resented being envied because of someone else. I envied Paul and my envy was just as bitter as that of the girls who thought they, and not me, should have married Paul.

I soon realised that I had become invisible. I suspected people were bored with me, that they expected a glamorous girl on his arm every night but not the same one. I know, this sounds like unreasonable self-pity. But what do you expect from a girl now all alone in her luxurious mansion?  It is true that I need my secrets, now especially after murdering Paul, but I do not delude myself. I like to think I have self-understanding. I am aware that I like to be noticed.  I know that I want something more than envy. I need regard and respect. I am not stupid, though. Maybe, without Paul, I will have even less in my life from others, neither envy nor regard. I will take my chance because I have to and because I had to. At least, I will have all his money and I will not be invisible. Not with all this money.  The envy I was obliged to feel began very early and probably appeared before we were married. This is a serious admission. I married someone I did not love. I did not marry him for his money. I married someone because everybody else loved him.  Paul has gone, and it left so many people sad. My mother is inconsolable but easily avoided.

I am pleased about the mansion. It reminds and confirms an essential truth, that killing Paul was sensible and unavoidable. Without children in the marriage the settlement would have meant buttons for me. And Paul would have divorced reluctantly. Paul was not an unfaithful husband. He did not have the time. He had a multimillion chemical company to run and he was serious and curious. The term multimillion that I use is deliberately self-effacing. Now his global company is mine.  Perhaps I should make a special business trip to Brazil and thank the Amazonian tribe. The irony is that we have struggled to find a commercial use for the poison the Indians mixed from plant seeds. The chemicals do not ease pain, even in small doses. The tear that I noticed just before his death may have been a consequence of pain rather than surprise.

If Paul was not unfaithful then neither was I.  My sullen mood and frustration meant that I was too busy thinking about my future to want to be seduced by strangers. And when the best of the gender disappoints, it does make you wary.  That makes me sound like a bitch but I was actually a loving wife. I admired Paul so much and told him so. I understood why so many women wanted to have him in the sack.  But sex with Paul was like eating chocolate. You see a box screaming luxury and think the pleasure will be fabulous. And the bigger the box and the more expensive the chocolates the more fabulous will be the pleasure. But the truth is that after a couple of chocolates you have this sticky taste on your lips and a heavy taste in your mouth. Understanding the limits of your appetites can be chilling, especially if you are a girl who thinks appetites and aspiration are important. The tragedy is that Paul was a patient lover. In sex, like everything else, he was definitely better than the rest.  He also impressed me because he had integrity. I believe it was a reaction to how his father had expanded the business. Paul set himself high standards. But integrity is not sexy or it is not for me. I need some dirt, a moral flaw that I can pick at like a scab.  His only weakness, his naivety, was that he assumed perfection or something close to it would be its own reward.

Well, poor Paul.

Oddly, the sex improved after I decided to murder him. The word improve is inadequate. I did not become more attracted to Paul but sex with him became exciting, sex with someone you know you will murder is more than exciting, really. It became intense and wicked. I could not keep my hands off him and I began to physically react in ways that I found embarrassing. Paul would just smile self-effacingly and assume, as I tore his clothes off his body, that he was so lucky to have a wife that found him so attractive. But I did not. I just liked having sex with a man that I knew I was planning to murder. I suppose the body of a potential victim acquires a different identity. Something definitely weird happened to mine. Maybe I thought that I was raping Paul without him knowing. Oh, that is a bit twisted.  I miss the sex I had with Paul at the end of our marriage.

Since Paul, of course, there have been other men.   I have acquired experience, money, status and power. Obtaining men is easy. I am also more adept. I understand attraction and can identify men who will excite me, men who do not cast a shadow and who have moral scabs I can scratch and pick. I am planning to marry again. Bruno works in my company and is handsome but he is not the physical or intellectual equal of Paul. If Bruno excites me more than Paul could, he does not excite me in the way I was excited with Paul after I had decided to murder him. I resisted at first because Bruno will be my next husband but now I fantasise about his murder. I am obliged. I yearn for the ecstasy that I savoured with the man I murdered but can no longer experience. There is consolation. My fantasies do have a positive effect on my sex life. I have found a new husband-to-be and, I suppose, compared to some women, I am satisfied in the traditional sense.  But a fantasy is no substitute, of course, for genuine ecstasy, and its memory nags at you like a devil that you cannot see. Yearning is like being haunted. I think of Bruno and wonder what will happen next.

As Howard Jackson is touring Argentina at the moment, this story has been borrowed from his collection NIGHTMARES AHEAD.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

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