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He sprawled across the bed in a drunken stupor, ‘God’ he thought, ‘why can’t I get that boy’s face out of my mind?’ That aggressive look with a mean twist to his mouth, and yet a sad sorrowful glint in his eye as if to say “I know you, or your secret.”
He rolled on to his back and looking down toward his stomach which protruded like a rugby ball, he groaned. Placing his hand across his paunch he muttered “God, I’ve been a judge for forty years. I’ve sent men to the gallows, young and old, put lads on probation, sent them to remand centers. Never a twitch, never a feeling of shame or guilt, or of regret about it, and yet this young lad?” He paused, his eyes brimming, a tear trickling down his cheek.
“What is it with this lad, why can’t I forget him?” He stretched clumsily across to the bedside table, took up a half-filled bottle of scotch, and guzzled most of the contents straight down. He then gave a loud belch, another groan, and rolled on to his side.
“Oh I’m an old man,” he cried into his pillow, “too old to be a Judge, really too old.” He paused again then muttered, “He didn’t even protest” and gesturing with the bottle in his hand, “didn’t even shout back, just went. Just went quietly.” His hand fell back on to the bed and the bottle slipped from between his fingers to the floor, the last dreg spilling on to the carpet.
Turning on his back again and rubbing his eyes and forehead roughly, he ran his fingers through his tousled grey hair. Eyes now wide open he shouted “It’s that woman, that woman, as I was coming out. That and the look on that boy’s face!” Belching again, he groaned. “Forty years as a Judge. It’s time I gave up. Time I retired.” He tossed himself clumsily on his side again, the bedsprings creaking with his weight. “Yes, I’m too old now. This is surely just a sign. Once you start to feel guilty, once you start questioning the why’s and wherefores, once you question your decisions, then it’s time to give up.”
He began to splutter, almost as if he were sobbing, and drifted off into a sleep only to be startled awake by the telephone ringing. The shrill of the phone shook the silence of the room. He quickly pulled the pillow over his head. Groaning, he rocked on his side, then, pausing, he pushed the pillow away revealing beads of sweat on his brow and cheeks, and his bleary eyes.
“The phone” he muttered and awkwardly struggling across the bed still on his side, “that’s Jimmy!” He placed his hand on his flabby cheek, distorting his mouth, and swinging his legs over the side of the bed he sat, head in hands, the phone still ringing.
“Oh God!” he spluttered, and bringing his hands down his face, dragging down his flabby cheeks, eyes in a stare, he thought aloud. “I asked him to phone me.” His hands were shaking as he fumbled toward the phone. He knocked the receiver off, then lifting it, with a crackly inaudible voice he croaked, “Hello” and clearing his throat, “Ah, hello, hmmm, hello”
Listening for a moment he went on, “Eh, no” and listening again he began to chuckle, then, surprised, he said “What!” He froze to the spot. “What?” he repeated, shaking his head. “No!” he shouted, “No, I don’t believe it!” He held the receiver down on his chest and looked ahead, in a totally shocked state. His head was in a spin as he muttered, “I don’t believe it.” The voice on the other end of the phone could be heard shouting for attention. “Hello, hello, are you still there?” Still, in a daze, he uttered a “Yes” as he dropped the receiver back down, replacing it from whence it came.
He took up a cigarette from the bedside table and crumpled it to his mouth. Then taking up his lighter he tried to get a light but could only get a spark. Dropping the lighter to the floor he swaggered up off the bed, the cigarette falling from his lips under his feet as he stumbled across to the dressing table.
Wearily he slumped on to the stool and gazed into the mirror. “That woman,” he said. “That woman, what did she say?” then staring into space he fumbled with a hairbrush. “That’s right” he remembered, “she had laughed aloud. Oh, that awful laugh. That’s why he couldn’t get her out of his mind the way she prodded him in the Courts. She must have been the one that just phoned. She had looked pretty familiar. Now she has said ‘you’ve sent your own Son down for life!’. Yes, that’s what she said, for life!”
Looking at the photograph of himself and his wife on the dressing table he repeated, in disbelief, “your son!”
He fondly ran his finger across his wife’s face. “Sorry Ethel,” he said, Heaving his body up from the stool he staggered toward the bathroom muttering over and over to himself the name “Christobel, Christobel.”
Standing in front of the bathroom cabinet he looked into the mirror. “You didn’t tell me, Chrissie, you didn’t tell me”. He took out his handkerchief and blew his nose. Then, setting himself down on the side of the bath he shook his head. “I knew,” he muttered, “I knew Chrissie. I knew you must have been with child. If only you had told me.” He wept into his hands. “I loved you Christobel, all those years ago. I loved you. Why didn’t you tell me.” He dried his eyes. “It’s too late now, too late. She didn’t want me. Turned me out. Turned me away.”
Staggering to his feet again, looking into the mirror, he went on, “But my Son, my only Son. My one and only ambition all my life was to have a son. Why didn’t the bitch tell me! I only married Ethel on the rebound, bless her.” Still looking into the mirror he pulled at his eyes and stuck out his tongue. “You’re an old man” he sneered, “who are you kidding?” His eyes filled with tears again, “It’s time you gave up old chap. Ethel never really loved you anyway, and now, your Son. You’ve sent your own Son down for life!”
Sadly he pulled open the cabinet door and dragged out a bottle. Taking a tumbler from beside it he filled it with water and set it down on to the side of the hand basin. Then, hands shaking, he emptied the pills into the palm of his hand, lifted the glass, and said “Here goes, you old man. You’ve had your day, you’ve had your fling, you’ve……” he paused, then went on, “I’m sorry Son, my Son. I’m sorry Christobel, Chrissie, you bitch! I’m sorry Ethel. Dear Ethel.” Taking a sip of water, whispering ‘my Son,’ he tipped the pills into his mouth and drank down the water.
Just at that moment, there was a knock on his door. He spun around, staggered toward the hallway, and called out in a choking whisper “Who’s there? Go away!” As he fell he could hear a female voice then he faded out.
The next he knew he was lying in a bed, looking up at a bright white ceiling. He was aware of buzzing noises around him but was unable to move. His eyes kept blurring, and his mouth was dry, like parchment. There was something in his hand, he wasn’t sure what, and pressed his thumb hard onto it. After a short while, he could hear rustling, like the crumpling of cloth, and a woman appeared by the bedside. “Ah, you’re awake,” a voice said, but it seemed far away. The woman waved her hand calling “Christolbel, he’s awake.”
He squeezed his eyes tightly closed. He was sure he must be dreaming. Dreaming, or dead. Perhaps the latter as everything seemed so white. So bright. A warm hand grabbed his. He dared not look but kept his lids tightly shut. “Darling, it’s me. Christobel. You remember?”
Opening his eyes, there she was. He had not seen her for a very long time. She had aged almost unrecognisable but he could see from her eyes and mouth that it was Christabel. Chrissie. But what was she doing there?
“What on earth were you thinking of?” she snapped rather playfully. He could see from the tears brimming in her eyes that she was very emotional. “Why have you never contacted me, not since…….” She hung her head. Then she went on, “I have only just learned that Ethel left you. Had I known I would have told you about your Son. Our Son.”
He closed his eyes tight again. What on earth was he going to say now?” She must know he sent the boy down for life. Why is she here, talking like this, if she knows that, why does she never want to speak to me again?”
“Darling?” she whispered, “are you alright, shall I get the nurse?”
Opening his eyes again and glaring at her he sheepishly answered, “No, no. I just can’t” he was now becoming conscious of his body and wriggling slightly he went on, “I can’t understand why you are here, why you ever want to speak to me again not now that…….”
“I know. Our Son. Yes I know you sent him down for life but you really had no option. He had become involved with a bad lot. He needs to learn his lesson. I could never do anything with him. But now,” she hung her head again, “Now perhaps,” and squeezing his hand, “Now perhaps we can get together again and when he comes out, even though it won’t be for some time, when he comes out you can help me to get him back on track again.”
“You think so?……..”