A short story by Colin Devonshire, read it here or listen on https://anchor.fm/colin-devonshire
“He was so small, delicate, perfect. Why oh why?” tears streamed.
“Darling, please stop. You can’t bring him back.”
“No, I know. It’s so sad.”
Mrs Jackie Adams pulled her hand from Mr Joe Adams’ grip.
“I’m going to wash this filth from me,” she said, she brushed her frock.
“What filth? We’ve only been to church,” he asked himself. His wife was bounding up the stairs.
Joe went to the bookcase and tugged the family photograph album from the top shelf. His son was a newborn in the first pages. He flicked through more recent pictures on his mobile. But these too were when their treasured son was a baby.
“What happened to pictures when you were a toddler? When you started nursery?”
Slowly, pages and pictures morbidly turned. Red eyes flicked from photo to phone, studying one then the next. He was too upset for tears, Joe looked up, hearing the spray of water. Picturing his shapely wife soaping herself, now was not the time to join her in bubbles.
“No singing in the shower today?” he thought, suddenly dashing up the stairs two at a time. Unsure why, but panic gripped him.
“She never showers with the door open,” he panted.
Bursting through the doorway, “Honey? Are you okay?”
Tearing back the shower curtain, ripping it from its hooks.
“Jackie, Jackie, where are you?”
Running to their bedroom, the wardrobe doors were open, no Jackie.
Returning to turn off the taps in the bathroom, he called, “Come on, darling, please no hiding in Sammy’s room crying alone.”
Pushing open the bright yellow paintwork of the child’s door.
“Come on Babe, finish your shower, then an early night.”
The undisturbed cotton of Thomas the Tank Engine’s eyes glared at him.
Joe ran to the third bedroom, better known as the box-room.
“Jackie, what are you doing in here?”
The unopened gifts for the second child remained wrapped in pink. She would have been a month old today. Jackie was not there.
“Jackie, where the hell are you?”
Pacing between each room, rushing in and out. He flew downstairs, taking in the emptiness of each room. Eyes searching the kitchen before snatching open the back door.
She was not on the patio; they garaged the car; the garden was empty except for the mower he had forgotten to stow.
“Where the hell is she?” scratching his head, he went in search of his mobile.
“Is Jackie with you?”
“Why would she be here?” said Marcy.
“Have you spoken to her today?”
“This morning, just checking she was all right. Why? What’s going on?” Jackie’s sister asked.
“I’ll talk to you later, must go,” Joe ran to the sideboard.
The blue ceramic urn was missing, as was the smaller pink one.
Sweeping bills and leaflets from the wooden top, her house and car keys were in their normal place.
Running from room to room rechecking each room. Sweat ran down his temples.
“Where are you?”
He slumped to the floor, crying.
The cheerful ‘Joy to the World’ chime infuriated him in happier times. Tonight, he wanted to rip it off the wall. Unless it was her pressing the button.
“Yes,” he bellowed at the door. “Oh, it’s you, come in.”
“What’s going on, you sounded so worried?” Marcy pushed her way in.
She threw her canvas jacket on the chair-arm without taking her eyes from him. Hands-on hips, she glared.
“Go on then, tell me? Where is my sister?”
“Please, Marcy, sit down,” he pointed to the sofa. “I don’t know. That is the truth.”
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“It’s been tough. For me also, they were my children too.”
She studied his swollen eyes and relaxed.
“She went for a shower, I was here. I went upstairs, she had gone. That is it.”
“My sister wouldn’t go anywhere without telling me.”
“I know, that’s why I called you.”
She looked around, “Where are the urns?”
“Again, I don’t know.”
“Call the police.”
“I’ve thought of that, they won’t do anything, she’s only been missing a short time.”
“Did you call them?”
“Call them now, do it, or I will.”
“I’d like to report a missing person…” he started.
“Give me the phone,” Marcy said, grabbing the mobile.
“Please send an officer, it is more than an adult going AWOL.”
Joy to the World rang out, Marcy ran to the door. Two officers could see Joe from the door, head in hands. They listened to Marcy before they started asking questions, Joe first then Marcy.
“Do you have your wife’s handbag, credit cards and purse?”
“It’s all in there,” he pointed to a battered handbag.
“Do you mind if we look?”
“Go ahead, to be honest, I didn’t think to look. She always uses that bag, she’s had it forever,” his eyes welled up.
“Is this the purse she uses?”
“We are sorry, there is not much we can do. It all seems strange, her phone, bag and keys are all here. I will report to a detective back at the station. He will want to ask you the same questions I expect.”
Without a word Marcy marched upstairs she spent the next twenty minutes searching through her sister’s drawers.
“What do you think you are doing?” asked Joe as the bell sounded again.
He left her pulling out clothes. Swearing, he went to the door.
“Yes, and no I don’t want a bible.”
The two plainclothes officers flicked open their badges.
“You had better come in.”
“Thank you, sir. You know why we are here?”
Marcy stamped down the stairs behind them, “Thank God you’re here. Arrest him now!” she pointed viciously at her brother-in-law.
“And you are?”
“I’m the murdered woman’s sister, Mrs Pilkington.”
Joe found it hard to speak. Head bowed, he slumped into an armchair.
The police followed him, “Can we sit down?”
Joe nodded. Marcy crossed her arms and glared.
“It looks like Mr Johnson needs a cup of tea, Mrs Pilkington, would you mind?” he signalled to his junior officer to follow her.
“Now Mr Johnson, I need to go over the basics…”
In the kitchen, “Never mind tea, why haven’t you got him in cuffs?” said Marcy.
“Why do you say that?” said the officer.
“He must have killed her. All her stuff is here, her favourite clothes, jewellery, the lot.”
“But madam, that proves nothing.”
“Where is she then?”
“That is what we aim to find out.”
“I’ve been through this with the others.”
“Yes sir, I’m sure you have. I’m afraid you must accompany us to the station.”
Marcy was carrying the tea tray through, smiling as she placed the tray on the table.
“You can get out of my house,” Joe snarled at Marcy as one officer held his hand out for the house keys the other was instructing a forensic team by phone.
They eased Joe into the car’s back seat.
Joe answered the questions as he had three times before. They signalled the officer out of the room to join others in the corridor.
“Nothing? You have checked his car too?”
“Yes, sir. There was no struggle in the house or the car. There is no sign of drug abuse or illegal medicine, no empty packs of legal medicine. Nothing showing anything out of the ordinary, certainly not murder.”
“I’ve got nothing to hold him on. Before we release him, I must look into the children’s deaths.”
The detective banged out a number on his phone.
After explaining who he is and the reason for the call, “The girl was stillborn? Why?”
“Mrs Johnson had been overdoing it at work, and she was suffering from stress, giving her low blood pressure, all of which led to a sad death.”
“Did she complain about her husband in any way?”
“Only that he worked long hours and didn’t help around the house.”
“That was a year ago?”
“Yes, sadly it was exactly one year before their son died.”
“And what did he die of?”
“That was a very rare case. His heart stopped. He had been fit and well, not a day’s sickness in his brief life.”
“How often does that happen to four-year-olds?”
“It happens, but I’ve never worked at a surgery where it occurred.”
“Anything suspicious?” he asked.
“No, nothing, a sad end to a brief life.”
They ended the call; the officer trying to find a link and failing.
Joe returned home, leaving the mess as it was. He collapsed fully dressed on his bed. Nine hours later he awoke sweating. The central heating was ready to burst. Joe rushed to the kitchen and turned the heat down.
“Why did the police do that?” he wondered before flicking on the kettle and considering where to start the clearing up.
Gradually Joe got his life in order. He decided not to sell the house and move; he kept his job, people were not as friendly, but they passed the time of day with him. He had few friends before, now he had none. Out of work time, he read novels, watched the news with little interest. He learned to cook; the kitchen became only the fourth room he used. The bedroom, tv room, upstairs bathroom were the others. He kept the rest locked.
He only used the corner shop for food shopping. He couldn’t face the swanky new stores in the precinct. The owners nodded and took his money but never spoke. Until one day, eight years after his wife disappeared, they sold the shop. An elderly couple bought the business for their recently divorced daughter.
“Hello sir, welcome,” she said brightly.
Joe shyly wished her the best. He used the shop more regularly now.
Gradually, their friendship grew.
“Please, can I…” he stammered, “Can I… what is the new brand of tuna like?”
She smiled, “What are you asking, truly?”
Laughing he said, “I know what the tuna is like, I eat it most days,” he chuckled, “Can I buy you lunch? Not tinned fish. I mean, well, you know. A pub lunch maybe?”
“I would love to have lunch with you. When do you suggest?”
That was the first of many lunches, they progressed to dinners, and then even touching hands. One evening after walking her back to the shop, he leaned across and in a schoolboy attempt he kissed her full on the lips.
“I thought you would never do that,” she breathed. “Sorry, but I can’t invite you in, what with my parents and all. But…” now was her turn to get nervous, “How about after lunch tomorrow, I come to your house?”
He gulped, “Er, yes.”
Excitement tempered by the realisation he had a lot of tidying to do.
Early the next day, he started scrubbing. The four rooms he used were gleaming, ready for the first visitor in eight years. He treated himself to a little clap as he closed the front door on his way to his date for lunch. Dressed in a fresh shirt, he escorted her to the pub.
Both started speaking together, then both shared a nervous giggle. They were grinning at nothing. Neither ate much, both keen to cuddle up on the sofa. Who knows where that may lead. Giggling like teenagers, they rushed into the living room.
They could hear music upstairs, “Ah, that’s a romantic touch, Joe,” she stammered. Then realising ‘Frozen’ was playing. “Strange pick Mr DJ,” she said.
“Please wait here a minute,” Joe said.
He cautiously climbed the stairs, wondering what was making the music. A children’s movie was playing in the ‘box room’. He listened at the door. Opening a crack, he saw a young girl laying in front of a laptop. She waved, “Hello Dad.”
He was just about to open the second door. He heard a child swearing at a computer game.
“Is that Sammy?”
Leaning back on the wall to stop himself from falling. He heard singing coming from the bathroom.
Someone had locked the door from inside.
“Open up,” he called. “Who is in there?”
“Me, of course, who did you expect, darling?” Jackie laughed.
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