Friday, April 16, 2021

The Ending by Liz Breen

Maggie and Jim sat on the bench. The evening would arrive soon enough, and the day’s warmth would leave them. Autumn was approaching. The leaves were beginning to change their colours.

“It’s over. There’s no going back.” Maggie said, her voice calm, her hands clasped together on her lap. 

“You’ve made it that way. I didn’t get a say.” 

“You understand that we’ve reached the end of the road, though?”

“This has all been your decision. I had no idea it was this - bad.” Jim’s voice betrayed his sadness.

He couldn’t look at Maggie. He tried but each time he turned his face towards her, he stopped himself. Her eyes were always so beautiful. They would plead with him. Jim had loved Maggie for thirty years and now everything was all disappearing. 

“It’s been heading this way, admit it, Jim. You know things got worse after mum came to stay.”

“You were the one who insisted she did. You were the one who said there was no other option, that she shouldn’t rot in a home.” 

He’d held her hand in the room the day they’d lost hope of babies, and he’d listened to her tell him all the news and gossip she wanted to share. Not that Maggie was one for gossip. She preferred to keep her life as private. 

“How do we do this?” Jim asked.

“We sit here for a while and take it all in. We let it settle, and then we deal with what’s ahead. There’ll be questions. You need to be prepared for that.” 

“What do I say? I can’t tell the truth.”

“I’m happy to do the talking, so that we can move on and find a way of living separately.” Maggie’s voice was flat as she spoke.

“I don’t see why we can’t try… We have choices about how we deal with this.”

“There are some things that bind you and some things that unravel you. We are never going to be the same people, Jim. It simply wouldn’t work. Besides, it’s out of my hands.”

The sky lowered and the temperature began to dip. Their time was ebbing away.

“When did you decide to - end it? Was it a long time ago, or was it a sudden decision?” Jim asked.

“It began that day in the garden when I was trimming the rose bushes. You were laughing at my sunhat. Remember? Mum was sitting in the chair we brought out. She agreed that I looked ridiculous in the hat, and then she told me to do my homework. You laughed at that, but my heart broke into tiny pieces.” Maggie cleared her throat. 

“It was funny. I suppose for me, it was sweet, imagining you as a schoolgirl. I bet I’d have had a crush on you then.”

The tenderness in Jim’s words were the worst. Not now, it was too late. 

“Yes, but it showed me that it was gone. There was nothing left.”

“You are wrong, it’s not all gone. It can’t be.”

“Jim, how will you ever be able to trust me or look at me again? You can’t even look at me now.”

“I’m in shock. Allow me that. And, I’m angry, too. You should have told me how bad it had gotten. I  knew it was difficult but… I went to work and had no clue about the days stretching ahead for you, that the dementia made her say such cruel things.”

“She told me I had an ugly face last week, that no man would ever marry me. She said that I smelled of sex, that I was a whore. She hit me when I bathed her and she screamed, too. The worst thing was when she’d wake from her rant and recognise me briefly. The sadness, she’d feel. She’d stroke my hair and call me sweet Maggie, her miracle baby. A moment later, I’d be told to leave the house and never return, that I was stealing from her.”

Jim began to cry. Maggie reached over, found his hand, squeezing it tightly. 

“She was mum for a few moments yesterday. She said she didn’t want to live anymore. She asked me to do what I could to end it” 

“She wasn’t herself, Mags. The illness took her away.”

“This afternoon she started up again. She called me a thieving bitch who wasn’t welcome in her home. She threw hot tea at me. She found the strength to do that. I knew then. I waited an hour until she was sleeping and… There wasn’t much of a struggle.” 

It was becoming chilly on the bench. Maggie let go of Jim’s hand. 

“We go back to the house now, and I ring an ambulance and tell them what I’ve done. The police will want statements. You say nothing about what I’ve told you. You know nothing. I will tell them everything” Maggie said.

“I don’t want this. I love you. They don’t need to know what really happened, they’ll think she died in her sleep.”

Maggie stood up and smiled at Jim, then turned and walked back to the house.

© Liz Breen

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