In the Spirit of Maggie Figgs
Posted: 29 September 2008
Word Count: 688
Summary: I wrote this for a short story comp. but it didn't fit, so I'm just parking it here for the time being.
The sweet fruity smell of the spirit of figs wafted through the room as the old man carefully measured out a spoonful and held it to the woman's mouth. The bloodless lips barely parted on one side to allow the sticky liquid to slip between them.
"Swallow" said the old man, not unkindly, more in the tone of something that is said at every such occasion, followed by "There, all better now". The lips twitched in one corner with the pale remnants of a smile.
"Shall I read us something from the paper?" said the man, again not looking at the woman's face for any sort of validation, but reaching for the local Gazette as he said it, the folded newspaper lying crisp and new on the chair beside the bed, and so missing the eyes opening a little wider, the muscles of the neck contracting momentarily to give an impression of a nod.
"We'll start with the obituaries then, shall we? - you always like the obituaries. I suppose you'll be wanting to know if you're in it," with the ease of almost fifty years of familiarity, the old man gave both sides of the conversation as he shook the paper open, and folded it at the right page. "Says here old Mrs Cooper died last week. Loved by husband Harold and children Susan and Rachel - no flowers by request. Well that doesn't surprise us, that family were a right tight fisted bunch."
His lips moved slightly as he continued down each column, stopping occasionally to read out other names he recognised.
"I see Betty's in here, finally. Took her long enough. Jim reckons it was because she couldn't decide between burial and cremation, so in the end she told the family to surprise her."
He chuckled to himself, then added an extra chuckle for her. Then he stopped reading and frowned. He read the words through twice before his mouth dropped open as realisation finally dawned and he looked across at his wife. Her expression remained as impassive as ever, the left side mirroring the paralysed mask of the right. His gaze returned to the newspaper and read the piece aloud.
"Margaret Figgs, Aged 21 and a bit
-A bit more than that, you old devil-
Would like it known that she has not passed away peacefully - or any other way for that matter; all appendages accounted for.
And if anyone has a loving memory - or any other memory - of her, could they please pop round and share it before dementia sets in and they forget it.
As for the arrangements for her wake - yes, she is awake, and if she's not you can give her a little shake.
Flowers Original Strong Ale, or a nice Rose, may be brought to the house. All donations of bottles of spirits gratefully received.
Service will be provided by the loving husband, Reginald, and their children, Jennifer and Isabell.
The old man stopped reading and stared long and hard at his wife. "So who's responsible for this, then? It was our Issy wasn't it?"
There was a slight shake of the head.
"Ok, then it must have been our Jenny - although I always thought that girl had a sensible head on her shoulders"
Again there was a slight shake of the head.
"But if those two didn't help you, how on earth did you manage it?"
A thin arm slipped out from under the covers, revealing a mobile phone clutched in the palm of the hand. The old woman held it up to her face, while a thumb laboriously pushed the buttons, after a few moments her hand flopped down to her side. Her husband was about to take the phone when his pocket bleeped. Taking out his own mobile he read the brief message.
He pressed ‘reply' and texted back.
Well, after almost fifty years of marriage, what more was there to say? Quite a lot, actually, but for now it would have to wait, because down in the darkened hallway the doorbell had just rung.
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