Until Death

I fell in love with my husband when I was eighteen. Some people said I was too young for him or he was too old for me, but we had three happy years together before I killed him.

Soon after we married, Derek bought me a large four-wheel-drive car. It was more like a tractor and I told him several times that I didn’t like it, but he claimed it was safer than ‘the stupid little Italian job’ I liked to drive – his words, not mine. The beast, which was what I secretly called that car, was black and had huge chunky tyres. I was nervous every time I drove it and especially when I had to back it it into the double garage. I was never really able to see where I was going. Derek insisted I reverse ‘the beast’ into the garage as he said it looked better when the doors were open to see the front of it – so he was partly to blame for the accident.

On the afternoon it happened, I thought that I’d hit an empty cardboard box or a roll of carpet that had been left on the garage floor. That’s why I drove forward again. I had no idea I’d run over Derek – twice.

When I got out of the car to investigate, I was devastated to see Derek laying on the concrete floor behind the car. Naturally I was distraught. Within seconds tears were smearing my mascara and my fingers tore at my hair which caused it it to spill from its carefully-coiffed chignon. 

Backing a car over your husband is not something you do every day, and it’s doubly distressing when you’ve driven forward over him too. But if that wasn’t enough to upset me, I broke a fingernail as I tried to turn him over.

Obviously I was going to make an attempt to save him, to give him the kiss of life if necessary. When I saw how squished his chest was, I realised that nobody would have expected me to try to resuscitate him.

For the rest of that day I was distraught. When not in tears I was wailing, publicly bemoaning the loss of the man I loved. For weeks afterwards, no matter how much friends told me it wasn’t my fault, I was inconsolable. The police were wonderful and accepted that it was an accident, telling me not to worry. Even Karen, Derek’s mother, forgave me – and she was the judgemental type. Of course, she had to stay on my good side, even if she thought Derek’s death wasn’t entirely accidental. And she did hint to me that she had her doubts about my account of events that afternoon. But I was Derek’s widow and had, by then, turned twenty-one. I now stood to inherit the family business along with the house and the pretty cottage in which she lived. Karen had to hold her tongue as she had no evidence against me – but of course there was no evidence against me.

Unfortunately, the sushi had been in my fridge for over a week. It was remiss of me not to warn her, especially as I knew how much she loved Japanese food. I explained to both the doctor and the police that I had intended to throw it away. Somehow the matter had slipped my mind. I had gone away for a few days, to recover after the funeral, and Karen had offered to house sit and take care of my late husband’s cat. 

The doctor said Karen must have suffered the most terrible case of food poisoning he had ever known, which induced something akin to anaphylactic shock. She died right there, fork in hand, at my kitchen table. The sushi, or something, I dread to think what, stained the varnish and it required a specialist company to re-polish it.

I told everyone how guilty I felt, but they all said it wasn’t my fault and that Karen should have known better than to eat sushi of an unknown age that she had found in someone else’s fridge. Nobody blamed me. 

Her funeral was a modest affair. Karen didn’t have that many friends and there was no sense in spending money on a lavish wake so soon after Derek’s – anyway, it would have been mostly the same people attending.

I had never been fond of Derek’s cat, a long-haired Persian monstrosity – and he never liked me, as far as I could tell. He would never sit on my lap to keep me company, not that I encouraged him. That fur would have ruined my skirt. But it was a shame that he finished off the sushi. He had a long pedigree I believe and I’m sure I could have found a good home for him with someone willing to compensate me for the loss of a soulmate.

Karen’s pretty little cottage, once vacant, sold quickly. I never considered letting it out. I am not, and hope never will be, landlady material. The proceeds of the sale funded a swimming pool at the rear of my house. I had sliding glass doors fitted and a roof that opened to the sky on sunny days. 

Planning permission had been tricky to obtain. The head of the local council committee visited me on site, on several occasions. He was a very nice man, married, but his wife simply didn’t understand the constant stress he was under. I told him that I had once considered a career as a masseuse and explained the benefits of how massage can relieve stress. He was kind enough to let me practise on him. Planning permission was eventually granted.

The family business had to go. After all, there wasn’t going to be a family to inherit it with Derek’s death. He had been a shy man, never previously married, and we had been unsuccessful in having children ourselves – not that we tried that often. I suffered many headaches during that period and awful stomach cramps at night. Derek had always been very understanding.

It surprised me just how much a food distribution business could be worth. There was, my accountant told me, something of an auction over the stock and contracts alone, never mind the warehousing facilities.

I bought a villa on the Mediterranean coast. After so much stress I needed somewhere to recuperate. It was situated on the edge of a golf course and just a short stroll to the beach. I didn’t play golf, had no intention of learning, but I thought I might relate to the kind of people who owned villas there.

My immediate neighbour turned out to be a very gentle man, a widower whose only child rarely visited him. I never met her in the two years I was there. Gerald and I chatted often in my garden, over a glass or two of chilled wine. He would tell me about the round of golf he had played that day and many fascinating stories about other residents. I think he was lonely and enjoyed our conversations, but our consumption of wine did get a little out of control and his face was often quite red by the time we bade each other goodnight. He would kiss my forehead in a delightfully innocent way and I would return a kiss on his cheek before we parted.

He told me one evening, at a barbecue at the clubhouse, that he regarded me as his surrogate daughter. I cuddled his arm, stretched up to give him a chaste kiss and told him that I felt honoured and that it was such a sweet thing to say. Some of his gentlemen friends we were with smiled benevolently. They realised that we were special friends.

Within two years of my meeting Gerald he died of a heart attack. He had been arguing with his daughter on the telephone, his real daughter, or at least his biological daughter as he had come to refer to her. Gerald and I had been indulging in one of favourite wines, maybe overindulging. We were in his garden that night and, when the phone rang, he stumbled a little when he stood. I moved to help him and was by his side during the ensuing conversation. I saw his face redden more than usual and was concerned for him even before he gasped and dropped to the floor.

I did my best. I should have brushed up on my first aid skills after what happened to Derek. Gerald’s daughter was still squawking on the phone, dangling from its cord half way down the wall. She must have distracted me, driving all knowledge of what I should do from my head. By the time I picked up the receiver, Gerald had died. She wasn’t very polite.

It did come as a huge surprise to me that Gerald had included me in his will. He was rather generous, more generous than he had been in remembering his actual bitch of a daughter.

Over the ensuing days she made quite a fuss, even trying to get me disinherited. Several of Gerald’s friends at the golf club came to my defence. Her lawyer, fortunately, was the son of one of Gerald’s golf partners – who was an absolutely charming man. He spoke to his son and explained how well I was known and liked, and that I had been a good and close friend of Gerald. Sadie, the biological daughter, reluctantly conceded defeat.

My villa never felt the same after Gerald’s death. A younger couple bought his property, which he had left to me, and the wife was not overly friendly. I sold my own villa and moved back to my original house to review my situation. I was, nobody could deny, an independently wealthy woman, but I was still young and had a whole life ahead of me. Although my bank account had a healthy seven-figure balance it was going to have to last a long time, unless it was supplemented.

My mother had always warned me that you only have youth on your side for a short period. I decided to heed her advice and find a man to keep me in the manner to which I had so rapidly become accustomed. My mother hadn’t quite managed that herself, but then she always let love influence her choices. I would not make her mistake.

On an impulse, only a few days after returning, I booked a berth on a cruise to the Norwegian fjords. There had been a last-minute cancellation and the travel agent was delighted that I could be ready to depart the next day. I knew it would be predominantly older couples, taking a trip of a lifetime, but there might be someone interesting on board, someone who would appreciate my company. In any event, it would be a chance to reassess my situation and contemplate the future.

I took a short flight the following morning and caught up with the cruise liner on its first stopover. The steward who welcomed me on board told me I would be dining at the captain’s table that night. He escorted me to my cabin, which had a private balcony and was even more spacious than I had anticipated. At dinner that evening, the company was charming, but the only other single person was an elderly woman who kept making not so subtle suggestions to the captain. He was obviously used to such attention and skilfully warded off her advances and innuendos. After the main course I glanced around at the adjacent tables, wondering whether there was a hierarchy to the placements. On a table not that far away, I saw a face I knew. I recognised her from a photograph that had been on prominent display in Gerald’s villa when I first met him. It was his biological daughter. 

When our eyes met I smiled sweetly at her. There was nothing to gain by alienating her further. I wouldn’t allow her to ruin my evening or my vacation. I nodded to her and the gentleman she was with, rather attractive and very tall. I didn’t see her or her friend again. 

Later that evening there was a knock on my cabin door. I assumed it was a steward bringing the hot chocolate I had asked for. I had left the door to my cabin ajar so as not to be dragged away from the wonderful mountain view I had from my balcony. I will never know for sure, but I am fairly certain they were Sadie’s hands that closed around my ankles and lifted me off the floor, but it could have been her friend. I felt myself cartwheel over the railings and plunge into the icy water. I remember thinking that the dress I was wearing would be ruined.

Fortunately, the ship was docked and my screams as I entry the icy water were heard by several people enjoying the same view that had engrossed me. My recovery from that cold, black world was swift, but the fall had been from a great height and I hit the water awkwardly. Miraculously I survived, but several small vertebrae in my back were fractured and it was feared for some months that I might never walk again.

I was told by my doctor that full recovery from such injuries was not always possible and, even if I was fortunate, the journey would be a slow one. The cruise company wanted to settle compensation as fast as possible and avoid unnecessary publicity through a lengthy court case. The sum they agreed with my lawyer was substantial and covered the cost of a full-time, live-in carer.

My carer had trained as a physiotherapist, he was surprisingly gentle and very good-looking. He was, I learned, four years younger than me and unattached. Hydrotherapy turned out to be very effective in my healing process and I thanked my lucky stars that I had that swimming pool built. He stayed with me constantly and it was his skill and patience that helped nurse me to recover.

We married eighteen months after the day we first met and after I had a private investigation company check his history. The wedding was a modest affair with no announcement in the press. Before we wed I did make him aware of my will, which gifted most of my assets to a cat rescue centre in the unlikely event I suffered an early demise.

I still felt a little guilty over the fate of Derek’s cat and a wealthy woman has to be cautious and protect her future.

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