Judy looked down
at Gary for the last time. He looked unfamiliar, as if they hadn’t been growing
into their lived-in faces day by day for forty years. The best embalmer money
could buy couldn’t limn that quirky character on a corpse. She was glad he’d
never dreamed he wasn’t the love of her life. She was glad now that she’d come
back after that perfect weekend in the English countryside with Charles, glad
she hadn’t taken the unthinkable step of leaving not only Gary but her precious
little Danny, who was now a man of thirty-five with children of his own. In
those days, mothers almost always got the children in a divorce, but Gary would
never have let her take Danny out of the country. She’d have lost him, and the
whole world would have condemned her. Even for a perfect love, it wasn’t quite
realized she couldn’t bear to let Gary touch her, she thought briefly of killing
herself. But then Danny would lose his mother. She considered killing Gary. But
you couldn’t look up poisons or buy a gun on the Internet in those days. So she
endured. And in the end, she got over it. In real life, a passion that never
dies doesn’t last forever, not unless it’s nourished. Charles never answered
her letters. He never called. No email, no texting, no Skype or FaceTime back
then. No social media. She couldn’t even stalk him. In the end, she stopped
pursuing him. In time, the pain faded, and she got on with her life. She got
used to Gary again, almost forgot that she’d stopped loving him. But that
weekend still glowed in her memory as perfect.
lived in a country house, like the ones in all those English novels. They were
friends of Charles’s parents. He’d known Phoebe since they were both in
nappies. Diapers to Judy, who was endlessly delighted by the British words
she’d only encountered in books until that weekend. Judy had flown to London as
a courier for Gary’s firm. She had begged for the job as a breath of air, a
brief respite from her mommy role. Charles, whom she and Gary had met in the
South of France on vacation, holiday to Charles, when they were trying to get
pregnant, invited her down for the weekend.
What do you do during an English
country house weekend
when there is no murder? Judy
asked herself. The answer was obvious. You
fall in love. Of course Judy fell in love with Charles. He had just
finished art college and was already an immensely gifted painter. He’d started
late, because he had a child, a little boy one year older than Danny. There was
something wrong with the mother. Judy guessed it must be drugs or mental
illness. With authentic British reserve, they never quite came out with it. But
Charles fought for custody of George when he could have walked away. His sense
of responsibility was part of his perfection, along with his intelligence, his
talent, his breathtaking good looks, and the way he tucked his prepositions
neatly in at the end of the sentence.
George was living
at the Cavendishes’ as well as Charles. He was a lovely child with perfect
manners for his age and that enchanting British accent. In a way, George was
one of the biggest reasons Judy didn’t stay. How could she abandon her own son
to bring up someone else’s? Not that Charles asked her. But surely he would
have if she’d given him enough encouragement rather than pouring out everything
she felt, including her ambivalence, because such a consuming love must include
Cavendishes were there, because the grandfather, Sir Henry Cavendish, was
dying. He was a knight, not a baronet, they explained to Judy, which was why
Phoebe’s father, Mr Cavendish, was not Sir Julian. I’m in a fairytale,
Judy thought. Then she scolded herself for thoughts
that were inappropriate at a time when the whole family had gathered to attend
Grandfather on his deathbed—Cavendish aunts and uncles and Phoebe’s older
sisters, who were all married with husbands and children in tow. It was moving
to see the loving family rally
around the patriarch, the wellbred English behaving just as they were supposed
to. It filled her heart to bursting with love for them all.
The weekend was
a disaster from start to finish. He should never have invited Judy down.
But she’d made
it so evident she was longing to be asked. He’d never been any good at saying
no. There was too much going on to play the good host properly, with George to
mind, Sir Henry dying, and Charles himself under pressure to make decisions that
would affect his whole life. Now he’d finished art college, won all the prizes,
done all he could to please them, he was ready to stop faffing about and be a
painter. Instead, thanks to one of his own family’s ghastly financial messes, they
wanted him to be a teacher. Once in, he knew he’d never break away. He’d become
one of those Sunday painters his most idolized mentor despised.
He was expected
to comfort Phoebe, who was in a twit about how poor Sir Henry was lingering. Charles
kept reassuring her that he felt no pain, his best guess at what she wanted to
hear. He always tried not to disappoint people, though his good intentions
often fell short. Phoebe wanted to go up to London, get a flat, and write.
Unlike him, she wisely had told no one else of her ambition. All the world knew
he had to paint or die, and they all had an opinion.
sponge off the Cavendishes forever. Phoebe, as a girl, could live at home until
she married. He suspected that was why both families were so keen to prod him
into supporting himself. They’d made that match when he and Phoebe were in
their cradles. They had always been like brother and sister, but everyone would
be so pleased.
his mother. He expressed it in night terrors and anal retention. This made it
awkward to be attentive to Judy during the night. The moon was full, the
curtains were blowing, the soft night breezes carried the scent of roses in
from the garden. And he couldn’t tell her that the tender scenario she imagined
turned to farce when he heard George’s cries from the other end of the house
and found his son red-faced and howling, stuck firmly on the potty. Judy must
have thought the cries were an owl or a fox. George took a long time to soothe.
Judy was asleep when Charles returned. He didn’t tell her what had happened. He
barely thought of her at all. She was going back to America and not important
in the overwhelming scheme of things.
afternoon, after seeing an effervescent Judy off on the train, he sent off the teacher
certification papers. He submitted to the unendurable congratulations, rigid
with misery. Old Sir Henry finally expired, and the rattling of documents, the
will being the most crucial, succeeded the death rattle. Even Phoebe started joking
about their children, his and hers. To escape from the hubbub, he went up to
the attic, which had a high sloped ceiling and good north light. Here, he felt
at peace. His latest painting, finished shortly before the American arrived,
stood on the easel. It was dry now. He took a long, critical look. Did it need
a touch of white here? A couple of shorter brushstrokes there? No. It was
It wasn’t done
to say that Grandfather was an unconscionable time a-dying, but everybody
thought it. The weekend was the last straw, with everybody scheming and
bullying poor Charles and making plans for his future. She felt sorry for the
American girl. She heard Papa say crossly, “Charles, why couldn’t you take her
to a hotel?” more loudly than his deafness would excuse. The poor thing was
obviously besotted with Charles. It would do her no good. Phoebe would get him
in the end. But first, she would do exactly as she wished. Gramps had promised.
He had shown her his will a week before he had his last stroke. So during the
morning, while everyone was fussing over breakfast or taking the dogs out or being
polite as the American said her goodbyes, because whatever one thought, one
never forgot one’s manners, Phoebe went upstairs and put a pillow over Sir
Henry’s patrician nose. The girl who sat with him was in the loo, so no one saw
her. It was the perfect murder.
Elizabeth Zelvin writes the Bruce Kohler
Mysteries and the
Mendoza Family Saga. Her stories appear in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Black Cat Mystery
Magazine. Liz also has a story in the anthology Jewish Noir II.
Keith C. Walker was
born in Leeds in 1939. He studied Ceramics at Leeds College of Art and the Royal College
of Art. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, he was Personal Assistant to Eduardo
Paolozzi. Keith taught at Hull College of Art and Leicester Polytechnic, which is now De
Montfort University. In 1994 he retired from Academia.
says, “Digital technology has made and continues to make big changes to all of our
lives: the way we communicate, the way we are monitored, the way we entertain ourselves,
and much, much more.
We now leave a digital footprint wherever we go, and with whatever
Do we already have one foot in an Orwellian
collages are an investigation, with a small “I,” on the impact of digital
technology and its possibilities.”