tagRomanceIt's an Ill Wind

It's an Ill Wind


(Many thanks to Dawnj, whose editing made this story into a real one! All typos etc. are mine. If you only want the bedroom bits, please turn to page 5.)


August may be a wicked month, but there's no month as unpredictable as November, nor as unpleasant at times; and that day the weather had steadily deteriorated. When she tried to open the back door she had to put all her weight against it; and even then it was quite a job. She was met by a blast of rain that came straight from the northeast. It was cold and wet with a hint of sleet, and it howled through the branches of the old trees that surrounded the house. Damn. She had left the car halfway the drive - she was going to get wet. But it couldn't wipe out her rosy feeling of well-being; she was still basking in the glow of their being together. She looked back into the house over her shoulder.

"Rotten weather!" she shouted. "See you!"

"Take care!" he shouted back.

She stepped outside. The door was almost blown out of her hands but she managed to close it with as little of a bang as the wind allowed. Shielding her head from the icy rain with one arm, and carrying her bag on the other, she hurried to the car. She got in, started the engine and switched on the windscreen wipers; it was getting dark and the wind blew a flurry of overdue leaves off the trees.

She switched on the lights. She could see clearly for just about thirty yards; after that everything got blurred. Lovely, she thought. Just what I need.

She slowly put the car into first gear and moved forward when a sudden squall made her adjust the speed of the windscreen wipers to its maximum. She crept down the narrow drive slowly and then the old chestnut, which had been ailing for years, was blown over. It crashed down on top of her car and she lost consciousness.

An hour later he left the house to walk the dog, and high time, too, when in the light of his torch he saw the car, or what was left of it, still sitting in the drive. With his hair on end he ran over to investigate. The windscreen had gone, and he saw Jolene's bright red coat in the beam of his torch. He shouted at her but she didn't react, and forgetting about the dog he ran back into the house and called 112.

The ambulance was rather long. The police were the first to arrive, and they immediately called the fire brigade, who had a hell of a job getting the tree out of the way and extracting her from the wreck.

An officer and one of the paramedics came over to where he stood; he gave them all the information he had to give them.

He stood looking on at the ghastly scene in the driving rain, lit by the powerful headlights of the other cars, without realising he was drenched, and when Jolene was finally freed from her confinement he got a brief glimpse of her face, and his stomach turned over. He retched and looked away.

The paramedics shook their heads. One of them walked over and asked him to come along. He declined.

"I'll be over as soon as possible," he said. "Have to put on dry clothes and lock up first... and have you seen my dog?"

She was rushed to hospital. She was still breathing when she arrived but she did not come to any more; when he arrived by taxi at the hospital, thirty minutes later, she had already died.

Dwayne Rushing had had a long and boring day. He had gone to a conference that he couldn't see his way out of, but he had not expected it to be worth his while, and it wasn't. It had been long and far too detailed and he really couldn't care less, and he had left at the earliest possible opportunity. He didn't feel like having dinner with that lot, so he had made an excuse - he had a long way to go and all that - and he was looking forward to having a nice bite at home; he'd pop something into the microwave alright.

It really was a long way to go. The nearer his home he came, the worse the weather got, and he had to hold the steering wheel hard not to be blown out of his own lane involuntarily. With a sigh of relief he left the motorway behind; he felt even better when he drove on to his own drive. He looked at the digital clock on the dashboard. Ten thirty. Oh my.

Strange. Janet's car wasn't there. She was never out late at night. There wouldn't be something wrong with Rosie? He jumped out of his car and ran into the house.

Rosie was sitting on the couch in the living room. She clutched her felt rabbit and looked at him with a tearstained face. He picked her up and held her close.

"What is it, darling? Where's mummy?"

"I don't know," Rosie blubbered. "She wasn't there when I got home."

"How did you get in?"

"Mummy always leaves the key on a hook in the shed."

Dwayne looked at his daughter, flabbergasted. Rosie, at five years old, was much too young to have to let herself in.

"Always? Isn't she there more often?"

She nodded. "I'm hungry," she said.

Dwayne pulled himself together. "Come," he said. "Let's go to the kitchen."

He found some food in the freezer and stuck it in the microwave, and he found Rosie some biscuits and made her a glass of orange squash. Then he took his cell phone and called his wife's number.

"Hello," a male voice said. "Valley Hospital."

Dwayne's heart skipped a beat. He had to clear his throat twice before he could croak, "Is Janet there?"

"Who is this speaking?"

"Dwayne Rushing. My wife is missing, er -"

"Mr Rushing, do you think you could come over?"

"Yes, of course. What's wrong with her?"

"You'd better come over first. Please."

Dwayne said he would be there and rang off. "Rosie," he said, "mummy's in hospital. I have to go there."

"Is she ill, then?" Rosie said.

Dwayne shook his head. "I don't know. But I'm afraid things are not alright." He stroked her head, and shook his head again.

Then he called the neighbours. He told them he had to go to hospital and asked them to take care of Rosie. Dick and Peggy, who were in their sixties and who he could always rely on, were there within minutes.

"Oh, you poor things," she said. "It's usually bad when they won't tell you over the phone. Come on then, off you go. Do you want Dick to come along?"

Dwayne gave her a bewildered look. "I er -" he said and then he looked at Dick. "You do not mind?" he said.

They went to his car and Dick drove them to the hospital. He was received by an elderly doctor, who made him sit down before he told him the bad news. "You'd better not look at her," he said. "It's not a pretty sight. But perhaps you can identify her jewellery; the fact it's her cell phone isn't identification enough."

He laid out a few items of jewellery. Dwayne could definitely identify her wedding ring; there were a bracelet and a necklace he had never seen before. There was also her red jacket - but she only wore that at festive occasions?

"I do recognise her ring and her jacket," he said. "It can't miss. What happened?"

The doctor raised his eyebrows. Then he told Dwayne her car had been struck by a falling tree, over on the drive of a Mr Tillotson. It had taken them a long time to find out who she was, as the information Mr Tillotson had given was patently wrong; he had said Janet's name was Jolene Molloy. He said that Janet could not have suffered at all; she must have lost consciousness straight away.

Then he told Dwayne that Janet would have to stay there, and he took down his address so the police could contact him.

Dwayne was given Janet's bag and her jewellery. Her jacket was bloodstained and he didn't want it.

The doctor's tale didn't make sense, he thought. Mr Tillotson? Jolene Molloy? And then her red jacket and the key in the shed? Shaking his head he left the room, escorted out by the doctor who went in again when he saw there was someone there to take over.

Dick, who had been waiting for him outside, looked at him questioningly.

"She's dead," Dwayne said. "She was squashed by a falling tree."

His face was white and the skin of his cheeks felt as if it had been stretched too taut across his face. He held Janet's possessions in one hand and he clenched his fists, without realising, and stared into nothing.

Oh Janet... He saw her smiling face before his eyes, and he wanted her so badly it hurt. He felt a wave of nausea come over him, and he stood shaking. The hospital corridor got blurred as his eyes filled with tears.

Dick put a hand on his arm. "Come on. Let's go home."

Peggy had sat in the kitchen with Rosie until she had eaten some food; anxiety had ruined her appetite, and she kept asking Peggy what had happened. But Peggy didn't know. She took the little girl on her knee and cuddled her, and eventually Rosie fell asleep. She sat waiting with the sleeping child still in her arms when she heard the car return.

"Wake up, Rosie," she said. "Let's hear what your dad has to tell us."

Dwayne and Dick hurried in from the rain, and Dick dumped Janet's bag on the floor. Rosie got off Peggy's lap and ran to Dwayne. He stooped, and picked her up. "Oh, Rosie," he said. "Rosie..." He shook his head and rubbed his hands over his eyes. His voice didn't seem to work.

"Rosie," he said. "You must be a big girl now. Mummy got hurt. She's not coming home. She'll never come home any more..."

He realised with a start she was all he had now, and he hugged his daughter closely.

"She's dead?" Peggy asked.

"Yes," Dwayne said. He nodded and the tears ran down his face.

Rosie started to cry, and Peggy came over to him. She stroked the girl's head and took her in her arms again. "What happened?" she asked.

Dwayne explained, more or less. He was rather inaudible, and Peggy had to ask him to repeat things a few times. Dick made a pot of tea, and when Dwayne had finished they all sat at the kitchen table, having their tea in silence.

Rosie was trembling with fatigue. Peggy lifted her up and left the kitchen to put her to bed. When she returned Dwayne had changed from tea to whisky; he looked a sight, she thought.

"What was she doing at Joe Tillotson's place?" she asked.

"I don't know. I've never even heard of him. Janet said she'd be home all day; it seems she was away more often. Rosie -" He didn't know if he should tell them, but then he did; he was afraid he would burst if he didn't. "Rosie said she left the key for her on a nail in the shed when she was not in before Rosie came home. Who is Tillotson?"

"He's a photographer," Dick said. "One of these fancy photographers that ask a fortune to do your portrait. They say he's quite good."

"He said that Janet was called Jolene Molloy. And Janet wore her red jacket and there was jewellery I have never seen before..."

Peggy and Dick looked at each other. Peggy shook her head.

"It sounds a bit fishy," Dick said.

Dwayne nodded. He looked bewildered. Then he put his head in his hands and cried. Peggy put an arm round his shoulder. She just let him cry. There was nothing she could find to say.

Eventually he dried his eyes and poured himself another drink. He looked at Dick and Peggy.

"No, thank you," Dick said. Peggy shook her head.

"Should I contact the undertaker's now?" he said.

Dick shook his head. "Better leave that until daylight," he said. "It's well past twelve now. You'd better finish that drink and go to sleep. We'll come round in the morning to sort the two of you out, if that's ok with you."

Dwayne nodded. "That would be great. I er, I don't know if I can handle this on my own. What can she have been doing there?"

They finished their drinks and Dick and Peggy went home. Dwayne went to bed. He set his alarm for seven and switched off the lights.

Sleep didn't come. The wind kept howling round the house, and the open questions raised by Janet's death kept churning in his mind, with all sorts of possible and less possible explanations. He wished she were there, and he wished he could hold her tight and kiss her, and when he'd lain staring at the ceiling for well over an hour he got up, put on his robe and went downstairs.

He took Janet's bag and emptied the contents on to the kitchen table. There were her keys, her purse, a leather wallet for cards and stuff, an A5 envelope, a plastic bag and a cardboard box.

He felt rather uncomfortable about it all; he'd never in all their marriage looked into her things, on a mutual understanding that one needed one's privacy. He'd implicitly trusted her. He took the plastic bag and emptied that one, too. It made him gasp for breath. The bag contained a set of black underwear and stockings, of a kind he would never even have dared to buy for her. The bra had hardly any cups and the panties no crotch. She never wore other than cotton underwear of a highly utilitarian kind, as far as he knew.

The box was even worse. There were a couple of small sex toys in it, and two silver objects he didn't recognise for what they were, a kind of silver stars the size of a man's large watch with a hole in the middle. He put his hands over his eyes in the hope it would dispel the image, but it didn't work. Then he opened the envelope and took out a series of photographs. They came out upside down, and on the back it said, "for Jolene with love." There was Joe Tillotson's trade stamp as well.

He turned them over. The top photograph showed his wife dressed in the underwear he'd just found. The objects from the box were around her nipples that stood quite stiff in their silver jewellery, and he could clearly see her mons pubis - completely hairless, too. The next one showed her face; she had a penis in her mouth and smiled around it into the lens. He let the pictures fall on to the table. He didn't want to see the rest; it hurt like hell, and the worst thing was that she'd never wanted to have oral sex with him.

The last eighteen months or so their sex life had been less than satisfactory anyway. She'd usually pretended to have a headache, or to be tired, and she'd often been rather distant, almost as if he wasn't really there...

It made him feel the more how much he'd always wanted and needed her. He'd always thought it was mutual... She could put her arms around his neck and smile at him in a way that made him go completely soft inside, and when she did his whole being would sing. He had never ever expected -

When they'd just met she'd been all over him; nothing fancy but very passionate, and very often. To his regret it had all become rather pedestrian over the years, and lately...

He picked up the photographs again. The rest of the series showed his wife making love with some man he'd never seen in a lot of poses and positions. The photos were well-made alright - he found them extremely hard to look at. When he'd seen them all he put them back into their envelope. He stuffed the underwear and the box into the bag as well, took them upstairs and put them into the wardrobe.

Then he returned to bed. The image of Janet as he'd known and loved her became confused with the Janet he'd seen in the pictures. His love for her and his deep disappointment merged into one; they were painful in the extreme. He wasn't sure if it all hurt or rather rankled but the net result was the same, anyway.

Janet's nightgown lay on the other pillow, and her smell was in it. Oh Janet, he thought, please, please - why did you - how could you -

He sat up in the bed and searched his mind to find if there was something, anything, he might have done wrong, anything that could have driven her away from him, anything that could have driven her into someone else's arms? They had never quarrelled, and he had always tried to make life as good for her as he could. Had he been dull or inconsiderate? He sat shaking his head for a long time, and he suddenly felt terribly cold. He lay down again, put his face into the pillow and cried himself to sleep.

He woke up at seven and got himself ready for the day. First he cancelled his appointments and then he took Rosie to school. He gave the necessary information to the head and Rosie's teacher, and returned home. Dick and Peggy came over when he'd just called the undertaker's, and together they went through their various address books. When they'd made a list of everyone that had to be informed, Dwayne first called Myra, his mother-in-law. Then he called his own father, and a few of their close friends. The others would get a written notification.

Peggy made coffee and saw to the catering. They received the undertaker and made the necessary arrangements; then the police came by. The wreck of Janet's car had been towed away and the insurance company ought to be informed.

It was early afternoon before they were on their own again. Peggy looked at Dwayne.

"Did you get any wiser yet as to this Tillotson business?"

"Yes. She had an affair. I er - there's photographs to show. I don't know for certain but I think it must have been going on for well over a year. That's how long we hardly ever touched..."

Peggy was very quiet for a long three minutes. Then she sighed and said, "I feared as much; she often went out of an afternoon, and she obviously didn't go shopping. We discussed things, of course; but it wouldn't have made life any better for either of you if we'd meddled, we thought."

Dwayne made a face. "You're probably right. I wouldn't have known what to do if I had been in your shoes. The knowledge is galling. It taints my thoughts about her, and it's worse because we can't talk about it any more. I can't think of a reason why. I must have done something wrong. I don't know... I don't know..."

He had to stop talking because the tears were too close. When he'd pulled himself together he continued, "I will have to say something at her burial... Maybe I can write it down and show it to you to put it right. Rosie mustn't find out - she dotes on Janet."

He coughed and quickly turned around to hide the fact he was crying again.

Peggy noticed, but she decided to give him the little privacy he wanted. She waited for some time, and then she said, "What do you intend to do about Rosie? I can take care of her when you're not at home. You wouldn't want her to be a latch-key child."

"Are you sure? It'll be such a lot of trouble..."

"Don't you worry about that; I'm very fond of her, and she's absolutely no trouble at all."

Dwayne looked at his neighbour and nodded. "It's the best thing I could think of for her now."

He gave her a wan smile; he appreciated her help very much.

"Alright then. You go ahead and see to your speech."

With no worries about Rosie's spare time it was a little easier for Dwayne to write it, but all the ambivalent feelings and the sense of betrayal didn't facilitate his writing anything good. For Rosie's sake he couldn't vent any of his feelings. His hurt but painfully strong love for his late wife made for a hysterical piece of writing and he tore it up; the text he eventually came up with was very neutral, without touching upon any feelings whatsoever. It was nothing but a story of Janet's life that nobody could find fault with, but that wouldn't move anybody either.

Peggy duly read it through. "It is alright," she said, "but only just. Oh well, it will be attributed to shock. You can go ahead with it."

To everybody's surprise there was a caller after lunch. Peggy opened the door onto a younger man who introduced himself as Joe Tillotson.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" she asked.

"I would like to apologise for my being part in this," he said. "I honestly didn't know that Jolene -" he checked himself - "that Janet was married. I didn't even know she was Janet. I've always known her as Jolene Molloy."

"Do come in, then," Peggy said. "You'll get wet through. But I'd better ask Dwayne first. Could you just wait here for a moment?"

She went into the living-room and explained.

Dwayne gave her a dazed look. "Do you believe him?" he said.

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