A Loving Wife Dies: Painful Truthsbyohio©
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is an alternate ending to "A Loving Wife Dies" by H2Owader. He is a wonderful writer and the story really inspired me. My ending goes in a very different direction from the end of his original story. I humbly ask his indulgence for my taking up his story in this way. If you hate it, please blame me and not him.
This ending will make no sense without first reading "A Loving Wife Dies". It begins just before the end of that story, after the wife's letter that closes
"Your loving wife,
(In other words, skip the last nine lines of the original story and proceed to what follows below.)]
Martha lay quietly in her hospital bed, propped up against the pillows. Today was a good day—not much pain. She knew she had only a few days left, but she could still talk, and thankfully she was not too uncomfortable.
Across the room sat Rachael and Paul, along with her husband's brother Daniel. They were talking quietly together, letting her get some rest. There were always a few family members in the room with Martha, as there had been for the past few weeks.
She glanced at the clock—it was just past 2 pm. She eagerly looked forward to Max's arrival. He came every day at about 2, and sat with her until she fell asleep for the night. He would read to her, talk to her, or just sit quietly with her, holding her hand in his, offering her water if she was thirsty.
She was grateful for his calm, loving presence by her side for so many hours each day. Now, with so little time left, the happiest moment of each day was when he arrived.
The door swung open and Max appeared, but with a look on his face unlike any she had ever seen before. There was a cold intensity that shocked and frightened her.
He came straight to her bedside, and stood looking down at her. She reached to take his hand with hers, but he ignored it.
"You ... whore!" he said quietly, his voice a low growling sound in the quiet room. "You ... fucking ... WHORE!"
Her smile froze on her face. She couldn't reply. His look terrified her.
Across the room, Rachael, Paul, and Daniel were looking at him in alarm. "Dad—what's wrong?" Rachael asked. He ignored her, looking only at Martha.
"You fucked twenty-one other men? You let me raise four other men's children as my own? You soiled our marriage bed for forty-five years? And now you ask me to forgive you?
"You DESTROY me, you tell me our whole life was a lie, and you ask me to forgive you?" His voice was rising, its strained sound revealing his pain.
"Max, sweetheart ..." she began in a quavering voice.
"You selfish, evil ... whore!" he cried, his eyes still fixed on her. She began to cry.
He brought his face closer to hers. "I will NEVER forgive you. I ... hope ... you ... burn ... in ... HELL!"
He stared at her another moment, watching her cry, watching her arm reach again for him. Then, very deliberately, he spat in her face. Without another word, he turned towards the door.
The others jumped forward. "Dad, what on earth..." Rachael said in a shocked voice. Max's brother Daniel grabbed his shoulder and swung him around.
"Max, what are you doing?" he cried.
Max stared back into his brother's face. "You BASTARD!" he shouted. With all his might he swung his open hand against the side of Daniel's head, catching him flush on the cheek and knocking him to his knees.
Max moved swiftly to the door, opened it, and disappeared, leaving a stunned silence behind him. On the bed Martha was sobbing. Rachael moved to her, grabbing a cloth to wipe the saliva from her face.
"Mom? Are you all right? What on earth made Dad behave that way?" But Martha didn't answer. When Rachael gazed searchingly into her eyes Martha couldn't face her and silently turned away, still crying.
After a moment Rachael looked at Paul and Daniel. "Stay with her," she said. Then she ran out of the room in pursuit of her father.
She came running out of the hospital, looking around, out of breath. She saw Max sitting on a bench near the entrance, his head in his hands. She went to him and sat next to him.
"Dad, why were you so cruel just now? She's DYING, Dad—what were you thinking?" She tried to keep anger out of her voice, but the concern was evident.
He turned to her, all anger gone from his face now, looking old, haggard, and terribly sad. Without a word he handed her Martha's letter.
She began to read—then gasped, and stared at him in shock. She looked back to the letter, read it again, and then grasped his hand tightly.
"Dad—you mean you didn't know? You didn't know that she ... that we ... weren't actually your children? But she ... she said that you knew all about it ... she told us ... we shouldn't discuss it with you!"
Max gazed at her. He adored all his children—his children! He supposed he couldn't even call them that now! But he felt closest to Rachael, his baby, his last treasured little girl.
"Sweetheart," he said in a despairing voice, "She lied to you—to everyone. I didn't know anything about it until an hour ago."
Then, suddenly, he turned away from her, and his head was in his hands again, and he was weeping. She put her arms around him, her head against his shoulder, and began to cry.
The church was nearly full. More than 600 people had come to pay their respects. They sat quietly, listening to Father Martin conduct the service. The usual prayers were mixed with words of praise for Martha Franklin, for her love and devotion to her family, for her generosity to the community.
There was a small buzz of surprise when Max rose from the front row and moved up beside Father Martin. With tight lips, looking unwilling, Father Martin moved to one side and sat down, relinquishing the podium.
Max begain to speak, slowly and clearly, in a loud and resonant voice.
"I know it is unusual for anyone besides the priest to speak at a funeral, but I insisted. I made it clear to Father Martin, and to my family, that unless I could speak there would be no funeral. I am the husband of the deceased, and that is my right."
Max heard the murmuring, saw the people in the pews looking at one another. He went on.
"You've heard all about how Martha was a wonderful wife and mother, and a pillar of the community. Now I will tell you the truth.
"Martha and I were married in this church, 45 years ago. Some of you were here on that occasion, as we pledged to be faithful to one another, 'forsaking all others', for as long as we lived.
"My wife broke her vows to me, the vows she made here in the sight of God. She betrayed me. She committed adultery hundreds, if not thousands, of times. She bore children to four other men, and let me unknowingly raise them as my own."
The church echoed with a babble of shocked whispering. A few feet from Max sat Father Martin, looking stiff and unhappy.
Max continued, silencing the murmurs with his voice. "Martha lied to the members of my own family, making them accomplices in keeping the truth from me. She told them all that I willingly allowed her to fornicate with other men. My own mother and father ..." Here Max choked up, and had to pause for a moment. The church was now quiet again.
"My own mother and father went to their graves, believing that I had knowingly let my wife cheat on me, let other men father children with her!
"For forty-five years I never knew any of this.
"But Father Martin," Max cried out, "compelled Martha to write me a letter last week, revealing her abominable sins against me and against God. Instead of letting me end my life with the happy memories of a loving, faithful wife, he insisted that she destroy my peace of mind with her confession!"
Father Martin sat stiffly, his lips tightly pursed, looking at nothing.
"This man, this ... man of God, who has never had a wife or children! Does he know the feeling of being a betrayed husband? Does he know what it is to learn that the children you adore more than life are not your own? Yet in his blind, unthinking arrogance, he saw to it that Martha compounded her many sins with a final sin: to make me bitterly aware of the empty lie of my marriage."
There was quiet. Father Martin felt the eyes of the congregation on him. His legs began to tremble, and he pressed down on them with his hands to keep them still.
Max's tone became quieter. "But Martha was not the only adulterer. She betrayed me with twenty-one men, most of them married, some of them friends of mine.
"I now know twelve of their names. And in this place of God, let them now face Him and answer for their sins!"
In a grave voice Max read out a list from a card he pulled from his pocket. The names were like the tolling of a bell in the great space of the church. "Raymond Hunt ... Arthur Foster ... Ben Newton ... Henry Appleby ... Brian Spencer ... Peter Thomaston ... John Garner ... Nicholas Menzie ... Richard Harper ... Robert Henderson ... Barry Jones ... "
The congregation squirmed, looking around them. Several of the men sat in the church, their faces rigid and pale. Some of them had wives or children looking at them in horror.
Max had saved one name for last: "and Daniel Franklin. My own brother."
Again the church was alive with whispers, full of shock and horror. Max stood tall and silent until the noise subsided.
"Father Martin told Martha that I had to forgive her so that she could get into heaven.
"I do not know what the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, will decide. But my wife died and will be buried without my forgiveness."
Slowly, formally Max stepped away from the podium. He walked towards the central aisle of the church. As he passed the coffin containing his wife, he stopped. He looked at the enormous china vase, filled with beautiful blue and white flowers, that rested on the coffin.
Then with a sweep of his arm he knocked it to the floor. The vase shattered with a crash that resounded for long seconds through the church.
Max walked down the aisle towards the rear of the church. As he passed the second row his daughter Rachael rose. Taking his arm, she walked with him. They opened the door and were gone.
As the echo of their footsteps died away, a vast silence filled the crowded church.