Too much booze and black
Doctor Gregory Smith sat in the brown leather armchair that he had owned for fifteen years. It had a few wear and tear marks, the threading was beginning to fray and it had molded itself to the exact curves of his body. In front of him was a large desk with many drawers stuffed full of papers. He sniffed at the smell of whiskey wafting from a half empty glass and noted how it mixed delightfully with the extra strong mints in his upper right hand pocket. Sprawled open next to the glass was a black leather journal bound in gold leaf, given to the doctor by the Mayor of Scalvadoor, Tom Waits. The doctor turned on a small lamp, picked up his personal journal and pen and began recording notes in preparation for tomorrow’s appointment. His aching lower back sank deeper into the well rounded familiar chair as he let out a deep sigh.
Charles Richard Bennett
Birth Place: Scalvadoor
D.O.B: 4th of January 1921
Weight: 165 pounds
Height: 6ft 2in
Hair colour: dark brown
Facial hair: thin moustache
Occupation: Comic Entertainer
I have been referred a new patient today. It has been some time since I have had one and I am excited by the opportunity to conduct further research. It is my aim to be able to publish all my findings in the next few years, once I fulfil my goal of obtaining five-hundred patients. This is a vast number and it has taken many more years than I would have liked, but in order for the higher powers to take me seriously my theory needs to be tested time and time again. I am getting old though and it’s incredibly frustrating, this is the reason why there are not many high ranking doctors, especially in Scalvadoor, the work takes a lifetime. I am, however, more determined than most. I have a clear goal.
Charles, or Charlie as he prefers to be known, is considered to be well known within in high society. He lives in upper Scalvadoor in a newly built stately home. He was born into privilege, a silver spoon in his mouth so to speak. He was raised by nannies and left to do as he pleased, such as becoming an entertainer. Rich children often develop a touch of ergophobia. Being the ‘funny’ man is something he does, it appears, because it’s easy and people like him. From the information that I have received his mental health has been declining over the previous six months. I spoke to his wife for more than an hour today and I feel he has darkness growing within him.
I comforted Mrs Bennett and promised her I would do everything I could to help. I believe that everyone can be cured, there is of course a reason I am known around this growing city as a man who is not afraid to take on a challenge and I have a feeling Charlie will be my biggest to date. I do feel apprehensive however, I have heard of his antics as The Daily has been covering him extensively for years now.
The receptionist had a large poodle-cut hairstyle complimented with oval framed clear reading glasses and a chipper smile. In front of her sat a heavy black typewriter, a thick notepad and a rotary style phone that continuously rang. As soon as Charlie arrived she called him through. “Mr Bennett is here to see you, Doctor Smith,” she said in her usual happy self.
Doctor Smith looked at the clock, Mr Bennett was ten minutes late. “Yes, thank you, please send him through.” He felt a twitch in his lower abdomen, a feeling of excitement and apprehension all wrapped into one. This stemmed from a simple truth that he couldn’t ignore – not even he, the great Doctor Smith who had so much control over his patients, could control their behavior one hundred per cent of the time.
“Doctor Smith is it?” Charlie stumbled in, pushing the door so hard the handle hit the wall with a loud bang. Charlie was drunk and wishing he was anywhere else but here. He was an extremely striking man, very pale with chiseled features, his thick black hair was disheveled and falling over his electric blue eyes that he had inherited from his mother. His waist coat was unbuttoned and his shoes scuffed but after receiving an earful from his wife, Mercy, only an hour earlier, he didn’t care too much for presentation. Mercy was always well presented, clean and neat. A devout Catholic with a heart of gold and willing to help anyone in need, she did have ‘trouble’ appreciating Charlie’s humor. She often said to him in frustration that the two of them ending up together was God’s practical joke, he guessed she was right.
Charlie shook hands with Doctor Smith and sat down. As he did, both men were aware of reading each other’s body language: alpha males, lead with their intelligent, both exuding a sense of security within themselves. Charlie, however was scattered due to the alcohol he’d been consuming. Doctor Smith smiled politely, he knew when people were extroverts, as Charlie certainly was, and they came for therapy, they often deflected. If you revealed too much of yourself, you could find that they had taken over and by the end of the appointment nothing had been resolved.
“Let’s get straight into this, why are you here?” Doctor Smith asked.
Charlie realised the doctor was studying him intensely with his dark brown eyes behind thin round glasses. He could tell that whoever was in this man’s presence would be watched, analysed, examined, probed and dissected. He was doing it right now to Charlie, putting him into some imaginary box. It was extremely off-putting. Charlie liked to make people feel happy, he was a people pleaser and if everyone was laughing he knew it was all good. The doctor on the other hand, didn’t seem too bothered if you liked him or not. It was almost an enviable position to be in to someone who relied on people liking him for a living.
“Well...” Charlie began, “my wife is very unhappy with the way I am. She feels that it’s time for an improvement in my behavior. Can you improve me, Doctor? Isn’t that your job as a psychiatrist?” Charlie raised an eyebrow and looked directly into the doctor’s eyes. He felt that the way Doctor Smith was staring at him, studying him so closely as if he was an animal in an exhibition, was rude. No one had that right. Doctor Smith stared back with the same intensity.
“Are you trying to provoke me?” Doctor Smith’s voice was calm but strong.
“Provoke? No, I’m a rather gentle person. My wife, on the other hand, has incredibly good tactics in provocation. My ears are still ringing.” Dammit, he had broken eye contact first. Charlie was annoyed, knowing the doctor now had the upper hand, which hurt his ego. He seemed unable to keep his wife off his mind and he knew he was saying more than he had intended to when he first arrived. He took a deep breath and made a mental note not to get drunk before appointments again.
“Please tell me more about Mrs Bennett, in your own words.’’
Before Charlie could think about it, his mouth had taken over. “Oh stunning woman! Brunette with blue eyes but not blue like mine, which are sort of creepy and disturb people but blue as in deep pools you could swim around in like a dream…fine delicate features and tiny ears, I swear Mercy’s ears haven’t grown since she was eight years old. And I should know, I knew her as an eight year old. She also likes the finer things in life, as I suppose most women do, a good church service, good food, good wine, good music and a good husband…hence me being here today. You see, things could be better. I have taken to drinking a little more and caring a little less. I do care about Mercy though, a great deal in fact, and I don’t want to disappoint her, but…” Charlie’s voice drifted off. He was thinking back to his wedding day. Mercy had looked ravishing in a white organza dress with pink roses in her hair and a lacy veil trailing to the floor behind her. Charlie’s mother, Laura, had given her new daughter-in-law a pair of rare conch pearl earrings and a necklace that matched her pink flowers. Mercy had looked like an angel as she walked down the aisle towards him…he wanted to stay in that moment for the rest of time but a rattling sound brought him right back to reality. Doctor Smith was holding out a small white pill bottle. They stared at each other, taking in one another’s energy until Charlie began to feel claustrophobic. He didn’t want to be there anymore.
“You only need one pill at the same time each day and please make another appointment at reception.”
The two men shook hands and Charlie left. Doctor Smith retreated back to his old leather chair. Although the appointment was shorter than usual, he could tell his new patient would prove very interesting indeed.
Charlie hadn’t been sleeping well and although it was only 4:30 pm he was feeling exhausted, especially after his appointment with Doctor Smith. He still had work to do. He knew that people gossiped about him, saying that he had never done a hard day’s work in his life but it simply wasn’t true. None of them had to go through a shit day with shit people and then at the end of it put on a smile, slap on some make up and perform to a roomful of people. Oh and if he failed, everyone turned into a fucking critic and would tell him how awful he was and that they wanted their money back.
Walking the five and half blocks from the doctor’s office to the gig, Charlie passed a man who was slumped on the ground, his hair all matted over to the left side of his head and he smelt of faeces. Charlie stopped and looked down at the man who could have been around the same age as him and yet seemed so frail. When is the last time this chap has eaten? Thought Charlie. The man had not once opened his eyes. Could he be dead? How am I supposed to do a bloody show after seeing a dead man lying on the street? What the Hell is going on with this city? The boats keep shipping these people in, why isn’t the government stopping it or at least helping them?
He shook his head and reassured himself that it wasn’t his problem as he sighed loudly. At least he would never have to worry about being homeless. But as he continued walking he began to think differently. Mercy had been completely fed up when he left. She was at the stage of becoming desperate, what if she kicked him out? I could buy three more houses anyway.
Charlie entered the private door down the back of the building and made his way up to the dressing room on the third floor. The first ten steps were fine but then there were more steps and by the sixteenth he was out of breath. Bloody Hell! When in God’s name did I turn into such an old coot? Eventually arriving at his dressing room, his face dropped in disappointment, I’ve had shits bigger than this and they were less painful! I’m a fucking artist, and this is all they could supply?
The gig was for another charity that so desperately wanted to save the children. He never would have done it otherwise, not in this place. This of course was another one of Mercy’s stupid ideas, why did he do everything she demanded? How high do you want me to jump this time, dear?
Sighing characteristically loudly he collapsed on a small two seated red couch that puffed with dust as his weight hit the old cushions. Laying his head down on the firm armrest he closed his eyes. He dreamt that Mercy was lying next to him running her fingers through his hair and laughing, not angry with him anymore. Her eyes sparkled and dimples nudged themselves into her cheeks as she smiled, she hadn’t had those when she was a girl, they only came with age and years of happiness. The sun was beaming down on the two of them and it felt so warm and inviting as if recharging their souls. He pulled her into him as a loud knock echoed through the air.
“Mr Bennett, are you in there?” A muffled voice called behind the closed door.
Charlie opened his eyes and looked around, trying to understand his surroundings. Broken floor lamp in the corner, a dirty mirror in front of him with only one light working, a lumpy red couch that smelt of mold, oh yes, I remember now…
“Mr Bennett are you in there?”
“Yes… I’m here… What’s the problem?” Charlie stood up and brushed his hair away from his eyes. He really needed a haircut.
“You’re up in 10.”
“Yes that’s fine, I’ll be there” he called out and he got up and stretched his lanky frame.
Falling forward slightly he looked in the mirror, wiping a small spot clean where his face lined up. His eyes were bloodshot but they were still just as hauntingly blue as ever. Trying to perk himself up, he began to speak to his reflection. “Five minutes alone…excellent. Cheer up old man.” Slicking back his hair he straightened his posture. “I have to focus, I’m on in a few minutes. Do not let that moronic hack get in your brain! I am completely fine, nothing is wrong with me, nothing at all, in fact they are all the crazy ones. Not me, I mean I’m a performer we all have our errr little quirks. Yea, I’m just eccentric, an acquired taste maybe…like burn chocolate…who the fuck eats burn chocolate? I am way of topic now…”
Shuffling around uncomfortably he heard a rattle from inside his pocket and pulled out the pill bottle Doctor Smith gave him earlier. He looked at the small white bottle labeled ST. Paul’s general hospital and asylum.
“I guess one can’t hurt,” he said out loud to no one in particular and slipped one into his mouth. It was hard to swallow without a drink and got a little stuck half way down his throat. He forced a gulp and looked back into the mirror. “Yes, tonight will be good, well I will be, who cares about anyone else. Just remain calm and take a few deep breaths. They love you, you’re the amazing comedian of our time, and all the papers said it. They love me, I cannot and will not lose it all now. I am the best, why I’m wasting my talent here is beyond me…” The pep talk was interrupted by his thoughts of home: I hope Mercy is in the audience…I suppose she won’t be. Way too much booze and black. He laughed to himself.
Walking up more bloody stairs onto the fourth floor, he could hear the crowd and then his name being called. It was a feeling he loved and had done so since he was a little boy. Everyone had said he would be a star, from the time he could talk.
“Char-lie! Char-lie! Char-lie!”
He moved gracefully through the crowd towards the stage where people were taking photographs and patting him on his back, everyone smiling and gushing over him. It felt amazing for him to have a room full of people giving him all of their attention and energy, well amazing and troubling. They all had such high exceptions… Smile Charlie, God dammit that’s what people do.
Finally nudging past all the crowd, he walked up the three little steps to the stage. He stood right in the centre for a moment, savoring the attention, knowing everyone was there to see him: Fuck the other acts. This was the only time he could truly breathe.
“Hello, I’m Charlie, and it is a real pleasure to be performing for you lovely ladies tonight... Gents not so much. Nevertheless, I will move on. I have always dreamt of being a comedian, however I then woke up a skinny millionaire and realised it was definitely not worth it.” He could feel the warmth of the lights hitting his face, they blurred out most of the audience but he could see the front two rows, all big smiles warming up to laugh.
“Ahhh it hasn’t always been easy for me. I was once mugged by an out of control youth who I had spat on. He punched me in the jaw and I vomited more blood than a bulimic vampire. A local authority found me in the gutter crying. He said, ‘I’m fining you.’
I yelled, ‘for crying out loud!’
And he said, ‘yes.’
My grandfather has the heart of a lion and a lifetime ban from the zoo. Last year I was having a few, well…‘issues’ and I joined a support group for antisocial people…we haven’t met yet…”
This was the point in his set where all the planning and rehearsing went out the window and he had to feed off the raw energy of the audience.
“Sex, yes yes I know ha-ha, sex is like a theatre piece, just stay with me, it’s not the length of the show that matters but the excellence of the performance! I am rather well spoken, but I am not friends with all the letters of the alphabet. I don’t know Y.” He smiled and took a bow as they clapped. “Whilst I was on my way walking here today I saw a homeless man on the side of the street with only one shoe, I stopped and asked the somewhat sad looking chap if he had lost a shoe. He replied, ‘No, I found one!’” Don’t think about that real homeless man you saw today Charlie, he didn’t even have shoes on. “You know what I say? Start every day with a smile and just get it over with.” He knew he was on a roll and had found his rhythm now. They were loving him tonight and he felt as if he could take off into the sky.
Every performance was like trying to hold onto water with his bare hands, and it was over far too quickly and back to reality. But reality sucked, the colours didn’t seem so bright, the people weren’t so happy, there wasn’t a band to play music as you walked around. Problems couldn’t reach the stage, not real world problems anyhow. A stage hand missing a queue or a heckler shouting obscene abuse, that was about the worst of it and when that happened Charlie used it to his advantage. Life never worked out like that.
“Don’t you just hate it when someone answers their own questions? I know I do. Well, I personally like to hold hands when I go see a show, which always seems to startle strangers. I don’t know why… I had a dream last night I was eating a ten pound marshmallow, I woke up this morning and my pillow was gone… There once was a Scotsman named Andy, who went to the pub for a shandy, to wipe off the froth, he used his kilt as a cloth, and the bartender said, ‘Shit, that’s handy!’” The audience was beginning to get louder now, it was at this point that Charlie really needed to hold on and harness the energy or he could lose them. “Life is like toilet paper, you are either on a roll or taking shit from some asshole.” I have them, but wait, there is a couple in the front row talking between themselves and not listening to me. Well, we can’t have that now. “Oh, I am terribly sorry to interrupt you two but if you don’t mind me asking where did you learn to whisper? In a fucking helicopter!” The crowd was raw with clapping and were thrilled with him. The couple in the front row didn’t look too happy though. Get them back on side, Charlie. “Yes, yes calm down, calm down. Now for some relatable observations, I’m sure we can all errr…relate to. Don’t you just hate it when you’re in the middle of a foursome with three beautiful women and the least attractive one says, ‘Save it all for me.’ Isn’t that just the worst, sir? You would know, look at you, built like a fucking stallion. That reminds me, a neighbour told me I need to be more careful to pull my curtains shut at night. He saw me kissing my wife last night you see. The joke’s on him though, I wasn’t home last night.” Charlie began grinding the air until he finally saw a big smile crack across the man’s face and his wife softly hit his arm.
The rest of the night went well, a few gags died but Charlie knew that happened in any show. When it was time to walk off stage things became a little blurry. He assumed the pills made the alcohol hit him harder. He stumbled out the building and back onto the cold street and was hit by the fact that he hadn’t seen his wife since that morning. It was now close to 8 pm. He knew it would be better if he slept on the couch tonight. He had another appointment with Doctor Smith tomorrow and Mercy was coming along too. If she found out he was drunk it would give her more ammunition to use against him. Not that she needed any more.
Charlie staggered home singing a song he once heard in a bar years ago. There were a few people out but he was in a reasonable part of Scalvadoor so he let his singing get louder and louder and people happily left him alone. Only 10 minutes later the houses became more opulent, with larger lawns, creative hedges, outdoor pools, he was getting closer to his neighbourhood. When he arrived at his own big front lawn Charlie hesitated before going inside. No homeless here but no warm flood lights either. Nothing is ever really perfect is it?
Mercy had planted twenty white rose bushes when they had first moved in, they were reaching the end of the season but still holding their beauty. The roses were so lovely that strangers would stop and take a photo and compliment them on their garden. It bothered Charlie. Why did so many things annoy him? Just part of being a man maybe. Their house was a large three storey with stained glass windows at the front, framed by the roses and a paved footpath leading to the big front door. The backyard was spacious too, with a large tree down the back corner and a hammock swinging underneath it. He would often lay there during hot summer days, writing new material.
Oh God, the world is spinning, I need to get inside and lay down. Stumbling over a rose bush on the way to the front door, Charlie tried to take a sniff but in his wonderfully drunken state he lost his centre of gravity and fell down. Thorns pierced his skin, which was strangely pleasurable, at least he wasn’t completely numb. However, after the delirium wore off, he realised he needed help. “Mercy, darling your bush got me!” He laughed out loud obnoxiously, reminding himself to write that gag down later. These stupid roses, I swear they are always out to get me! It’s bloody resistentialism! Terrifying stuff! Wait…is that even the right word? Or a real word? I’m too drunk for this… Resistentialism…sounds less and less like a word now… I definitely could have made that up.
A light appeared from upstairs with a little head looking down on him. Charlie called out again, “Mercy… There’s a thorn in my face… You’re big bush… Chop your spiky bush!” He laughed again and could hear the sound of feet hurrying downstairs.
Storming out the front door in a long pink nightgown holding a knife in her right hand was Mercy. Charlie smiled up at her “you look like an angel!” He said, then he saw the knife in her hand. “And what are you going to do with that my darling?”
“I could think of a few things at the moment…darling,” she replied. “Charles, it is dark out and you are in one of my rose bushes screaming out obscenities. What will the neighbors think?”
“You know they don’t think sweetheart, now, can you help me please?”
Mercy wavered for a moment, her dark blue eyes focusing in on him like a hawk. She could leave him there until morning but she knew he would get louder and then she would have to deal with the police and no one wanted to deal with them.
The police system in Scalvadoor was completely corrupt. Everything could be bought and sold, and that included people. Mayor Waits was at the top of it all and he had little brainless workers doing everything they were ordered to do without question, well, for the most part anyway.
Mercy was a good law abiding Catholic woman and even she knew that things were not right. She also knew that if the police came for Charlie they would take him to The Pen and they would torture him just for the fun of it and then make him pay for the experience. The press would have a field day, they loved that sort of thing.
“I will help you Charles, but we will talk about this in therapy tomorrow.” Charlie let out a loud groan of acceptance and clasped the hand she offered him. With all her strength, Mercy helped lift him back up to his feet.
“Why thank you, dear,” he said gratefully as he stumbled and fell over again. Closing his eyes for a moment he contemplated going to sleep, but feeling Mercy’s hand on his shoulder brought him back to consciousness. “Our lawn is deceptively bumpy… I will call the man tomorrow night to fix it in the morning… I’m so terribly sorry Mercy, I never meant to let the cat out of the bird hut, it was all the fault of someone else and their dumb mother or maybe it was their great uncle, I can’t remember. I thought it was all codswallop and balderdash right from the beginning, gobbledygook one might say…” Charlie laughed at his own witty use of word play, snorting loudly.
Mercy sighed and once again helped her drunk husband back up. “Stop talking, we need to get inside now,” she snapped, pushing him up the lawn and into their house, closing the front door behind them and locking it.
Charlie dragged his heavy feet into their spacious lounge room and called out “yes I know my dear, I know, I’ll sleep on the couch.” Sighing loudly he flopped onto the big couch. Much better than the one at that stinking little club, he thought to himself. They had only bought it a few months ago, a huge four seated thing, that you could really sink into but he wasn’t aware at the time it would soon become his bed. I should have bought a bigger one.
Mercy was shaking. She wasn’t feeling well; this year had taken its toll on her. Turning away, she went upstairs to her empty bed and placed the knife on her bedside table next to her Bible. Covering her thin body with the soft feathered quilt, she closed her eyes: Where do I go from here? She thought. Please help.
The next morning, Mercy awoke feeling exhausted. The thought of dealing with Charlie and discussing their emotional problems with the doctor seemed unbearable. She held her rosary beads to her heart and prayed. “Please Lord, give me strength today. Sometimes I feel so alone. I go to church and volunteer my time to help those in need and I remind myself of all I have and how fortunate I am… but really I am scared of what is about to happen. I feel darkness creeping in like a rain cloud...all I have left is my faith...” Mercy bowed her head and shed a silent tear.
The sound of loud snores resonated in the distance. Mercy went downstairs and could see Charlie still asleep on the lounge. She went into the kitchen and slammed a cupboard door. Charlie let out a strange groan, muffled by the throw rug covering his face. “Mercy!” he yelled, “my face…your plant attacked me last night…oh God, my cheek is swollen, I feel awful.”
“I think my roses came out much worse than you,” she bit back.
Charlie crept into the kitchen, thinking about how much pain he was in, until he saw his wife. Her dark hair was limp as it fell past her slim shoulders and the skin around her mouth was cracked and dry. He suddenly felt deeply ashamed of himself.
Mercy returned the glance but with no such shame. “We have an appointment in an hour,” she said bluntly. She finished her glass of water and walked past him and back upstairs to get herself ready.
Although Charlie knew how frail his wife was, he also knew that when she was angry she had all the strength of a bull. Charlie rummaged through his pockets pulling out a handkerchief and coins throwing them onto the table until he felt the bottle of pills the doctor gave him. He opened cupboards looking for some alcohol and when he found it, he poured himself a glass and swallowed down two tablets with it. “I’m all ready to go darling,” he called out half-jokingly.
He went into the bottom floor bathroom searching for a pair of tweezers. He still had thorns wedged in his skin that needing removing. Finding a small pair he frowned at his reflection. He did his best to pluck the thorns out but it was difficult because his dominant left hand was also swollen. This is turning into a shit day, he thought to himself.
After sometime Mercy walked back down the stairs wearing a light blue tea length dress with a snuggly fitted top and white pearls that complimented the look. Her hair was sleeked back and smooth with a slight wave at the front and the ends were turned under into a soft role. Pink rouge finished off her cheeks with a natural coral lipstick that matched perfectly.
“You look ravishing my darling, really beautiful.”
Caught off guard by the compliment, Mercy’s face softened as she gave a half smile but she quickly gathered herself and her anger. “There is a driver waiting outside for us.” What a mess his face is, she noted. His moustache hadn’t been properly groomed for two weeks and he had scratches from the thorns. It made her want to laugh and start crying again all at the same time. Sighing she shook her head, the silly man needs my help and I really do love him she thought to herself as she picked up the tweezers on the table and with the precision of a surgeon plucked the last of the thorns from her husband’s face. Charlie looked at her as she did so with his magnetic light blue eyes and the two gave each other a soft kiss. Then they walked in silence to the car.
“Mr and Mrs Bennett you can go right Doctor Smith is ready for you” Said the receptionist happily with the fashionable poodle cut Charlie saw last time he was here.
“Thank you so much,” replied Mercy smiling. ’They’re lovely earrings you’re wearing by the way.” The two women complemented one another as Charlie walked past them both into the office.
“Charlie, it’s good to see you again, please take a seat,” Doctor Smith said gesturing towards the couch. Charlie sat, already agitated because Mercy was still speaking to the receptionist. She’s still buttering up the nurse. Why does everyone in this town think she’s God’s gift? She makes me come here and then stuffs around once we arrive, it’s infuriating.
“You must be Mercy, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Doctor Smith shook hands warmly with Mercy.
“The pleasure is all mine,” replied Mercy, smiling politely. Charlie looked on with interest seeing the interaction between his wife and his doctor. Mercy sat next to Charlie.
“Thank you for coming here today” said the doctor watching the married couples body language. They were both seated fare apart from one another and looking straight ahead agitated.
After taking in a deep breath and seeing no one was going to speak up first Doctor Smith smiled and decided to push for answers “how have you been feeling Mercy? I know what a difficult time this must be for you.”
“I’m tired,” she answered after a brief pause to consider her words.
“Well, I’m sore” Charlie added weakly.
“It’s your own fault! It has taken me years of hard work and effort to get those rose bushes to bloom the way they do… Not that you would know anything about that. ”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I think you know exactly what I mean.”
“Ohh I would love to hear darling, this is why you’ve sent me here right? So you can talk about what a shitty husband I am, but that probably isn’t enough of a humiliation for you. No. You have to really emasculate me and ram home what a shitty human I am as well. ”
“You always do that, you can’t take the tiniest bit of criticism even when it’s well deserved. Things are hard, everything for everyone else takes work and sweat and time and effort. You just walk through life doing as you please, never looking back to see the chaos you left behind and I’m always the fool to clean everything up!”
“How am I supposed to compete with you? Isn’t Mercy just so perfect Doctor Smith? The blameless, immaculate, faultless, beyond compare Mercy Marie.”
“I never said I was perfect.”
“No it was just implied with talking about what a sack of shit I am all the time. It’s always my fault, even when I try. It is never going to be enough is it? You hold it against me that I have money, but that’s the same money that’s given you the life you have become so accustomed too.”
“Oh look at Charlie hitting below the belt…that’s so unlike you.”
They sat in silence both seething after that argument. Mercy did not want to be rude in front of the doctor and Charlie knew that anything he said would be used against him.
Doctor Smith intervened “I find sometimes in a marriage, when we face difficulties and hard times, it can be useful to ground ourselves with faith.”
“If this is about faith then I have done all I can,” said Mercy defiantly.
“I also have faith,” Charlie replied but not even convincing himself.
“That is not true! I was up last Sunday morning bright and early ready for church and I tried to wake you but you refused to get out of bed.” Mercy was becoming emotional. All the anger she had been keeping tightly under wraps was coming out.
“To be fair,” Charlie replied, “I only got a few hours’ sleep before that, didn’t you organize some charity gig for me to go to that night?”
“This is exactly what I am talking about, he takes absolutely no responsibility for any of his actions. It’s always someone else’s fault.”
“That is not true darling…you know I love you very much.” Charlie reached out to take Mercy’s hand but she turns away from him.
“Charles to keep you in the car on the way here I had to lie and say you could go out and have an alcoholic drink afterwards. It’s ridiculous! I’m a patient woman Doctor Smith but this man…”
“Oh yes, let everyone know how awful I am because I don’t sit on my knees and pray to an old crud in the sky and wait a minute, I can’t go out for a drink after this?”
“I cannot do this any longer… You insult me and everyone around me and now you insult my God. I’m trying to keep my composer, Doctor, but I’m pretty sure my husband is still drunk right now and unable to control his impertinent mouth.”
Charlie rolled his eyes. Sometimes Mercy reminded him of the nuns who looked after him when he was growing up. “It’s true, I am somewhat intoxicated as my wife so loudly pointed out.”
“All of this stress you put me under, it’s not good for me in my condition and you don’t care,” she retaliated bitterly. Mercy began to cry, she had so much sadness weighing on her shoulders.
Charlie dropped his shoulders. He knew when he was defeated.
Doctor Smith handed her a freshly pressed white handkerchief. “Mrs Bennett?”
“Thank you Doctor.” She wiped her tears, which were now freely falling down her cheeks “you’re very kind.”
“And I’m not?” Growled Charlie, he had had enough of feeling bad.
“No, you most certainly are not Charles,” Mercy shot back. “I’ll be waiting in the car!” And with that she walked out without saying goodbye to her husband, the doctor or the nurse.
The room was filled with awkward pause. Finally Doctor Smith spoke. “I think it best if we reschedule for another appointment, your wife needs you now.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right, good day then…may it be as pleasant as mine” Charlie mumbled as he walked out solemnly.
Once Charlie had left, the doctor relaxed back in his chair. He opened his notebook and began writing:
Today in session Charlie arrived with his wife Mercy, yet failed to sympathise with how ill she is or the stress his own behavior is causing her. The doctors at the best hospitals we have in Scalvadoor are perplexed as to the cause of her illness. I myself have evaluated all her notes and am also unable to detect any noticeable physical abnormalities. I understand her frustration with her husband’s behavior. She is in need of love and support at the moment and is not receiving it. She realises that her time is limited. This can make one existential and question their own mortality, and yet she is unable to soften and allow time for a weak moment. Charlie is still so obviously captivated by her but he also feels the loss of the woman she once was, perhaps it repels him to see her so ravaged by illness. He has always had her to rely on, now he is struggling to cope with her relying on him. So he drinks and detaches himself from the realities of life. When I’ve seen this behavior in past patients the consequences can be severe. Reality will set in soon, it’s only a matter of time.
The drive home seemed to last forever. Charlie and Mercy sat in complete silence. Once home Mercy went up to her bedroom to sleep and Charlie stayed downstairs to have a drink a quietly leave.
Mercy drifted off to sleep and dreamt she was sitting in church crying when an older gentleman in a white collar sat beside her. He wiped her tears away and asked softly, “do you know the story of the children who walked with God in heaven?”
Mercy shook her head.
“Every day they would light a candle and walk with God, it was a very special time. One day they saw a little girl sitting off to the side, and they asked her, ‘why don’t you walk with us?’ The little girl replied, ‘I can’t, for every time I try to light the candle my mummy’s tears put it out.’” The old man paused. “You see Mercy? You see?”
A loud noise startled her and she woke up suddenly. Where was Charles? All she really wanted was his warm body wrapped around hers. Wiping her eyes and nose and with great strain, she lifted herself out of bed and onto the cold hard wooden floor below. Kneeling hurt her knees, hurt her bones. Clasping her rosary beads between her hands she closed her eyes and prayed. “Please forgive me Lord, for I have sinned. I have become envious of my husband. It must be so nice to be able to switch off with alcohol… I love Charles, but I’m sick and everything about life scares me. I have been told I have to come to peace with my life and my death but how am I to do that? I am ashamed to say... I am losing faith now. I felt so weak today and desperately needed your guidance. Please help me Lord. I need my husband back before it’s too late, Amen.”
The door creaked. Mercy realized Charlie was standing there. “I can see you watching me.”
“Just being voyeuristic my dear,” replied Charlie kindly. Smiling at each other, Charlie helped his wife up onto the bed. They sat together, quiet with each other, before Mercy spoke. “I haven’t seen you since the appointment, where have you been?”
“At a bar, an alcoholic drink or two,” he said playfully.
“Charles...what’s happening to you?”
“I’m turning to shit,” he said, solemnly.
Mercy laughed. She was feeling exactly the same.
Charlie looked into his wife’s eyes, stroking her hair past her ears “how have you been, my love?”
Her eyes wavered before replying, “tired.”
Charlie quickly tried to change the subject. He had to avoid the truth of the situation. “Do you know what’s interesting, darling? When I was at the bar today I was reading a journal that claims smoking may cause cancer.”
“Lucky you gave that up years ago then, and to think, when we were little those same people recommended it for our health.”
“My parents always smoked and it wasn’t a problem.” Charlie had given it up when he and Mercy married, it had always bothered him.
“It makes me think of when we first met,” reminisced Mercy, the corners of her mouth creeping into an old familiar smile.
Charlie grabbed the moment “it was our first day of school.”
“We were so young.”
“Yes! And I was terrified, like most children of that age.”
Mercy’s smile grew as he told the story.
“All except one of course, little Mercy. Even back then you scared and intrigued me. You came over and with your little hand pulled me ruthlessly into class!”
“I felt so lucky to be going to the same school as you, if it wasn’t for those religious scholarships we would have never met.”
Charlie frowned “and that would have been a travesty!” He leaned over and gently nibbled her earlobe “your ears haven’t grown since then either. Can you hear with those tiny things Mercy?”
They laughed, he always teased her about her little ears. Mercy realized how warm and comforted she felt lying in Charlie’s arms. “I’m sorry about today.”
“Me too darling.” Charlie breathed in his wife’s shampoo. She always smelt so beautiful and fragrant, like a rose.
Pain etched across Mercy’s face. “It’s just, I’m sick…I’m dying and I need you.”
Charlie stood up and walked towards the door “please…don’t!”
Mercy sunk back into the bed, her blue eyes glazed over. “Charles this is going to happen whether you admit it or not. I am going to die.”
He hesitated at the door, then left. He could not do this, not now. It was going to be a night out at The Bucket Of Blood. He needed to somehow make Mercy and her illness disappear from his brain. How can I fix this? I can’t do anything, no money or doctors or treatment can do a fucking thing. What good is my money in this situation when it can’t save the one I love? Charlie slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out his old flask made from pure silver. He gulped down as much dark liquor as his mouth could hold.
The Bucket Of Blood was crowded. The scent of smoke, liquor and women greeted him. Dancers were spread across the room with crowds of men everywhere. A gorgeous red head came up to him, Charlie had seen her before but never spoken to her.
She took his hand gently and led him to a table where she took his drink order. It was going to be a scotch-on-the-rocks kind of a night. The drinks kept coming, the girls continued dancing, and he inhaled perfume as soft skin pushed itself up against him. Everyone was talking at once, the band was so loud that he couldn’t hear himself think. People were taking photos and shaking his hand, Charlie was on his fourth or fifth drink, he wasn’t sure, when suddenly he felt extremely nauseous as if he was about to throw up. He had to get out of there, the room was hot and spinning. He jumped up quickly, feeling unsteady and moved through the crowd but there where people everywhere blocking him. He had to push bodies aside and wedge through small gaps, finally he busted out a back door into a dark alley way. Something out there smelt putrid, so God awful that if felt as if it had climbed up into his nose and punched him from the inside. He felt his stomach turn and warm liquid rise in his throat, kneeling over, he threw up everything he had just drunk. The liquor burnt his throat as it gushed out.
He wiped his mouth and looked around to find the source of the stench. There was rubbish piled high up against the back wall of the alley, there were used diapers, rotten food covered in maggots, abandoned clothing and now his vomit.
After recovering his balance Charlie began the walk home with the bitter air burning his ears and nose. His breathing became shallow and fast and a bright white light filled his eyes as an epiphany burrowed deep into his mind and imploded. He stood completely still as he knew with every inch of his being that Mercy was going to die. She would be gone forever. She was in so much pain and he needed to help end that suffering for her. It all made sense to him now. Yes. Yes. Mercy, his beautiful, sick wife needed him. How had it taken this long to realise that? I can make it all better, I can end the sadness and pain, this is an altruistic act. I’ve been such a selfish bastard, but not anymore. I can and will help her. She needs me.
Without knowing quite how he got there, Charlie reached his front lawn. He felt like he had stepped into a different version of reality. The house was silent and the lights off. Breathing in deeply he silently slipped off his shoes and jacket and he crept up the stairs to his sleeping wife. The long hallway was in darkness and it was as if time slowed down. One foot in front of the other, he walked slowly as if the air had become thick and it was an effort to move through. I can make all this better, I can make all this pain go away he thought. Reaching the bedroom door he placed his left hand flat on the wood and wet his dry lips with his tongue. Ever so gently he opened the door, feeling the moments between inhaling and exhaling, heavy and surreal, like he was in a dream state.
Mercy was sleeping with the moonlight pooling through the window and falling on her face, illuminating her pale skin. I can help her. I’m going to end the suffering. I need to end her pain.
Keeping his gaze upon his wife’s peaceful face, Charlie picked up the pillow on his side of the bed. This is the right thing to do, it will help her. I need to do this, it’s the only way. Right knee on the bed first and then the left, he tightened his grip on either side of the pillow and then carefully placed it over Mercy’s face, pushing down as hard as he could…
Mercy woke. What was on her face? She tried breathing in but couldn’t. There was no air. Something was covering her face, pressing on her mouth and nostrils – suffocating her. She tried to call for help but her cries were muffled. Fear overwhelmed her. Reaching her left arm out her fingertips felt a face, soft, thick hair framing it. It felt familiar. Charlie? No, it couldn’t be. He would never do anything to harm her. Charlie loves me and promised to always protect me. Mercy was desperately trying to breathe, even the smallest amount would do but she couldn’t. Her throat began closing over, her lungs were burning. The blood vessels in her eyes erupted and she scraped her nails down her husband’s arm until her limbs fell heavy and limp.
Charlie’s tears fell as he removed the pillow. He placed Mercy’s rosary beads around his neck and walked down stairs in a daze. The lights were off and the air had a deafening silence to it. What am I going to do now? He wondered. Nothing made sense. He walked into his study.
At the back of the room was a small safe. Charlie opened it and took out a packet of old cigarettes, a glass ashtray and a large silver lighter. Lining them up on his desk he sat and lit up a cigarette. His first in years. He felt as if he could breathe on forever. Charlie smoked it down to the butt before placing everything back inside the safe.
Suddenly an idea formed and he slipped out into the garden and chose the prettiest of his wife’s white roses, snapping them off at their stems. He walked back upstairs and gently placed the roses on Mercy’s lifeless body. He imagined her as a sleeping angel with large white feathered wings carrying her up to the heavens. He knew he would have to tell someone but for now, he wanted to spend one final night in bed next to his wife.
Pulling the covers over the two of them, Charlie crawled into bed and wrapped his body around hers. Her skin was soft and warm and her hair smelt fruity and clean. Wanting to hold the moment forever in his heart, Charlie whispered gently into Mercy’s tiny ear, “I will love you forever my Angel of Mercy.”