Cyril Tyne sat in his chair. It had been his chair for nearly forty years. At his wrists the pattern had worn thin and the hessian weave stared through at him. The cushion was flat and moulded to Cyril’s bony backside. Once it had been a bright and vibrant floral pattern. Val had chosen it. Cyril didn’t get involved in those decisions; “you know best dear, you always keep a lovely house”. A compliment was the best way out of any task Cyril had found.
On the teak mantle rested the silver framed photograph of Cyril and Val on their wedding day. The frame was engraved with the date. 25th October 1953. Today would have been their 60th wedding anniversary; diamond. Cyril was in a sharply tailored dark suit, shoes shining like jewels. His hair, short back and sides and Brylcremed into a fixed slick on top. Val’s white dress was beautiful, decorated with lace. In her delicate hands she held a bouquet of roses. They were stood in the doorway of St Mark’s church, their parents on either side. Cyril’s parchment skinned hand slid slowly into his cardigan pocket.The bony fingers closed around a small cushioned box, no bigger than a matchbox. He gently rubbed the leatherette surface, his nails gently marking the material. Cyril relaxed his hold on the box and it slipped gently down and nestled into the pocket once more. “One day” he said quietly to himself, half whispering.
Alongside the photo frame on the varnished mantle stood two carriage clocks. One either side. The first, on the left was a gold clock, with small fretted doors opened to show the face. The dedicated hands were stopped. The clock told the same time, never changed. 7:45. The date below the ivory face read “25th Feb 1976”. The top of the clock had a small ornate silver handle. A piece of time yellowed tape held a sepia Polaroid photograph propped up on the handle. The photo was aged and sun faded but clear. It showed Val. Young and vibrant, full faced and with thick black hair. She was in a steel framed hospital bed. In the crook of her elbow nestled a heavily swaddled baby. The baby’s wrinkled face was peaceful and still, eyes shut tight. Val’s gaze was unbroken, fixed on the baby’s perfect face. In blue ink on the back the date; 22nd February 1976.
Cyril stood, smoothed out his creased trousers and cardigan and walked slowly to the clock. He stood straight and tall, and stood, stood. Cyril’s hand reached forward from his side and he caressed the two beautiful faces in the picture. His finger tips tracing the outline of Val and the baby’s faces in turn. The idyllic scene had not lasted. The baby, a boy, had been born with a weak heart. He had grown weaker by the hour until he couldn’t fight any harder. On the 25th of February at 7:45 in the morning the doctor has come out of the small room and told Cyril and Val that Thomas had passed away. They had tried all they could but he was too weak. It broke Val. Cyril did what men were supposed to do; kept strong for his wife. Nobody kept strong for him.
On the right hand side of the photograph stood the second clock. A gold carriage clock, with gold hands and a gold face. Polished and clean. The hands read; 2:35 and the date below read 2nd January 2009. Like the first clock the second was stopped. The small door on the back of the case revealed the empty battery holders. The foam packing still in place. Rested against the casing was a colour photograph of Val. She was sat at their dining table, a glass raised in a toast and a Christmas dinner spread in front of her. On top of her silver hair, still thick and lustrous, she wore a blue crepe crown. She looked happy, alert but thin. On the back of the photograph in Cyril’s spidery hand “Xmas 2008”. Again Cyril moved to stand in front of the clock. He leant slowly forwards and examined the picture. A small tuft of fluff had rested against the photograph, he brushed it carefully to the side. Cyril pic ed up the picture in his fingers and looked at it intently. He raised it to his thin, pale lips and tenderly kissed his wife.
Cyril reached into the pocket of his trousers and pulled out his wallet, coins and his handkerchief. He walked across to the sideboard, decorated with floral ceramics that Val had collected over time. He opened his brown leather wallet and folded over the photograph of Val he kept inside. Alongside the wallet Cyril placed a neat pile of coins; from 50 down to 5 pence piece stacked like a wedding cake. He carefully folded his handkerchief and laid it squarely on top of the wallet. Cyril looked a the wallet, gently squared it up against the line of the sideboard and surveyed it again.
Cyril lowered himself slowly and carefully back into his familiar chair. His back nestled snugly back into the time shaped cushion. His hands rested in their familiar position, fingers gently hung over the frayed and threadbare end of the arm. His tired eyes never wavered from the clocks and the photographs on the mantelpiece. The television was on quietly on in the background. The news. He picked up the remote control from the side table and turned it off. He enjoyed the silence momentarily.
Cyril woke gently, it had grown dark, the curtains still open. This would have never happened when Val was here. Cyril braced his hands against the chair thought about hauling himself out of the comfortable chair, and slumped back into the cushions. He was tired. On the table alongside the remote control he had placed the white plastic bottle. Alongside the bottle, a glass of water.
Cyril had been prescribed the sleeping pills after Val had died. He had genuinely struggled to sleep, he had not wanted to sleep. Everyone else had told him he should “you’ll make yourself ill”, “take care of yourself”. Worst of all – “Val wouldn’t want to see you like this”. How would they know? How dare they presume to know what his wife would or would not want? At that moment Cyril had never hated anyone as much as his sister. He tried to take them, they did work. But he felt guilty, they had never taken pills, taking pills was dangerous, a bad habit. They had always agreed on that.
He struggled with the cap, in spite of the instructions. Cyril poured the pills into his white and wrinkled palm. Small and white and nestling into every crease and corner. He reached over with his empty hand and picked up the glass. The pill hand raised – automatically – to his mouth and he snuffled up the pills as if they were mints. The tepid water wished them down, no choking, gagging or pause. Cyril swallowed hard and they were gone. Decision made.
He braced his hands once more on the arms of the chair and hauled himself up. This time he wasted no time in smoothing out the creases in his clothing. He crossed the room to the sideboard once more, he paid no attention to the wallet, pile of coins and neatly folded handkerchief. Stooping low he opened the cupboard door, the magnetic catch resisting in a picture of futility. In the front of the cupboard, next to the box of four cut glass glasses – unopened – was the white cardboard box. He lifted it out, walked to the mantle and opened it. The tape was already cut. It has been opened many times before. He pulled out the moulded polystyrene block and separated the halves. Inside was another gold carriage clock, with gold hands and a gold face. Cyril turned the clock over and opened the door on the back. He found the wonder and gripped it tightly. After a moment’s pause he turned the clock back to normal.
Cyril looked at his gold wrist watch. 2:35am. 2 Jan 2013. He checked the hands on the carriage clock. All was well. Cyril returned to his chair, slack back into the familiar comfort of the cushions, hands hung over the threadbare piping of the arm of the chair. He slowly slid his right hand into the cardigan pocket. The small padded box rested in his palm once more, gripped imperceptibly tighter than before in the cold palm. Cyril’s eyes closed, his chest heaved slightly and his shoulders relaxed. He had tried to do this before, many times and the clock had been returned to the box. The warmth of sleep gradually swept over him like a blanket, he relaxed into the warmth and let it envelope him. “Are you ready Val?” He said, quietly, softly, a tear moistening his eye. “I’ve got something for you, my love.” The tear formed in his eye, swelled, glistened and broke. As it broke, it rolled gently down his cheek, onto his lip and spread. His chest heaved one last time.
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