Sunday 18 – Thursday 22 September 2011
‘It was the shoes that gave it away. Look,’ he pointed to her tennis shoes, ‘they’ve got blood on them.’
She looked at the white and green Adidas shoes, and upon first glance, there was no blood to be seen. She was about to say so when she saw what he’d been pointing at.
‘Damn and crap,’ she said.
‘Now, now,’ he replied, ‘we do not need to get frustrated in that manner. Take them off and clean them.’
She did as he instructed. He had explained to her in the past, that if she used bleach to wipe away blood, it became difficult for crime scene investigators to clearly identify it using Luminol and a black light. Some bleaches lit up the entire area they were used to clean, and blood became indistinguishable from the cleaner. It wasn’t a foolproof way of cleaning up blood, but it was the best that could be done with home supplies. Ern was like that – he knew things.
When she was done, they sat together at the kitchen table. He had been busy cooking while she was out, and the table was covered with her favourites – corn bread, potato salad, fried chicken, snow peas, corn on the cob, a huge garden salad, and the biggest chocolate cake she’d ever seen. It made her suspicious.
‘What’s all this for, Ern?’
‘Nothing special. No reason,’ he replied.
‘You spend basically all day preparing this, and it’s for no reason? I don’t believe you,’ she spoke quietly, too tired to argue the point strenuously. It had been a long day.
The old man hated lying to his granddaughter, but telling her the truth was not an option at this point. She was far too fragile to hear what he would, at some point, have to tell her.
‘I wish you’d stop calling me Ern. Why can’t you just call me Pop, like every other kid calls their grandfather?’
‘Because I’m not like every other kid, and you’re not like every other grandfather.’
He couldn’t argue with her logic. They were an unlikely family, thrown together by a stroke of bad luck, and forced to make the most of their union.
‘Start eating before it gets cold, sweet pea,’ he motioned to the food in front of them as he spoke.
‘I wish you’d stop calling me sweet pear. Why can’t you just call me Sally, like every other pop would call his granddaughter who was named that?’ she smiled at him, knowing that her response would make him smile. She was, after all, a chip off the old block. He obliged her with a smile and a snicker.
‘Touché, little one, touché. Now, tuck in. You’ll need your strength for tomorrow,’ he patted her head as she reached for a piece of corn bread.
‘What’s on for tomorrow?’ she asked through a mouthful of food.
He sighed, grabbed a cob of corn, and bit into it hoping that his eating would distract her. It was a feeble attempt, and he knew she wouldn’t let go that easily. She didn’t.
‘Ern . . . pop . . . what am I going to do tomorrow?’ she pressed him for the information. He swallowed the corn and put the cob back on the plate. Taking a paper napkin, he slowly wiped his face and his hands, then threw it on the table in front of him.
‘You’re not going to finish eating until I tell you, are you?’ he asked her.
She shook her head, ‘Nope.’
‘Fine,’ he gave in. ‘No point arguing with you. Sweet pea, I’m old and tired.’
‘So?’ she questioned.
‘So, I’m old and tired . . . and I’ve just about had enough. I want you to do what you do best. To me.’
‘No. No way, pop.’ Sally leapt up from the seat and began to pace around the table, scratching her scalp, something she did when she was nervous. ‘You can’t expect me to do that. Not to you. No. I won’t do it.’
‘Thought you’d say that, sweet pea,’ he rubbed his face.
‘Is that what this is all about?’ she motioned to the food.
‘Yep,’ he half-heartedly laughed. ‘Thought I could bribe you into doing it.’
‘You expect me to put you down the way I put them down?’ Sally threw her arm in a direction that indicated something outside the house.
‘Yep,’ he replied.
‘Why me? How come you can’t do it yourself?’ She was still pacing and scratching.
‘Fair questions. Can’t do it myself because I’m too scared that I’ll mess it up, sweet pea. And why you? Because you’re the best.’
Sally opened her mouth to speak, but found no words.
Silence hung between them. Sally continued to slowly eat as she contemplated what Ern wanted her to do. Could she kill him? Put him down like a lame animal? Did she want that on her conscience?
‘I don’t know, pop,’ she started, ‘I don’t think I can do it. I mean, you’re not sick dog.’
‘Sweet pea, it doesn’t bother you to kill a calf, or a lamb, or a piglet,’ he replied.
She snorted a little laugh. ‘Ern, you’re not a baby animal.’
‘No, I’m an old man who is dying, and who wants to go on his own terms.’
Sally clenched his frail forearm.
‘What are you talking about? An old man who is dying?’
He patted her hand as he spoke, ‘I’m old, Sal. Not long left for me on this mortal coil.’ He chuckled at his attempt to sound more intelligent.
‘Damn, old man, can’t you speak simple English?’ She smiled, and thought about how much she’d miss Ern when he was gone. Without realising it, Sally had lost her appetite and had stopped eating. She looked at the food spread out on the table. It was oddly reminiscent of the last supper. She felt ill.
‘Okay,’ she whispered. Ern barely heard her, his ears straining to catch the wisps of words that fell from her lips.
‘Good. Good,’ he said mostly for his own benefit, as if reassuring himself that this was the right thing to do.
‘When?’ Sally asked.
Ern nodded, ‘Tomorrow.’
‘Not hungry now,’ she rose from her chair and walked out of the room.
Understanding that she needed time alone, Ern cleared the table, refrigerating the food and washing the dishes. He knew she would eek out eating the food until the last possible moment, wanting to savour the last meal that he prepared for her.
Sally chose to remain in her room for the rest of the night. Ern took the time to make sure that the paperwork that Sally would need after his death was readily available. He laid it out on the table – bank account details, house and land title deeds, last will and testament. Everything that Sally would need would be waiting for her in the morning. He desperately wanted to spend his last hours with Sally, but she needed this time to be alone. He wondered if she understood that she would have a long time to be alone. Pushing Sally, however, would only lead to an ugly argument, and Ern did not want her to remember him that way.
Sally was unable to sleep. She tried to lay in bed and will herself into unconsciousness, but the harder she tried, the more awake she felt. Counting sheep never put her to sleep, and she’d always thought that was because she spent such a large portion of her waking life dealing with the animals. Pacing the floor was her last resort and it wasn’t helping either.
The longer she stayed awake and paced, the angrier she became. How dare you put me in this position, Sally thought. Ern had lived a long and reasonably happy life, and now he was asking his only grandchild to commit murder on his behalf. She knew she wouldn’t survive in jail if the police found out. She certainly didn’t want to spend any more time in a prison cell – the five year sentence she’d previously served was long enough to teach her that jail was not where she belonged, and Sally had promised herself that she would never end up there again. Ern had done everything humanly possible to set her back on the straight and narrow, which made her consider the seriousness of his request. He wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t important to him.
These thoughts, however, did nothing to lessen the rage that was inside of her.
‘How dare he expect me to do this?’ she was outraged now.
An idea struck her as she spoke. She pulled her bedroom door quietly open, and walked to Ern’s bedroom. She stood outside his door. His bedside lamp was still on, but it meant nothing. More often than not, Ern fell asleep book in hand, lamp burning all night. She hesitated though, her hand hovering above the door handle.
‘Now or never, Sal, now or never,’ she whispered.
She put enough pressure on the door handle to unlatch the old door. She peered into the room. Ern was fast asleep. The book he had been reading was laying on the floor, slightly under the bed. He’d done his usual trick of falling asleep whilst reading. She didn’t bother trying to be quiet. He wouldn’t hear her. Ern was a deep sleeper.
As she stood by his bed, Sally picked up his spare pillow. Despite her love of the old man, he had angered her enough for her to do this job for him. She took an extra step closer to the bed, put the pillow over Ern’s face, and applied enough pressure to suffocate him without leaving too many visible bruises. Her action understandably caught him unaware, and momentarily he struggled against her before realising that this was the way Sally felt able to do as he’d asked. Giving in, Ern relaxed and waited to die.
After a few minutes, Sally released the pressure and removed the pillow from Ern’s face. She put the pillow back on the bed next to him, almost exactly where she had found it. She walked out of his room, shut the door, and returned to her own. It was after midnight when Sally finally fell asleep. The job was done, and her conscience was oddly clear. Ern had passed somewhat on his own terms.