The small boat lurched forward precariously.
Its three inhabitants lurched too.
“Can’t he keep this thing still?” The
disgruntled older woman broke off from her conversation
with her daughter.
“Keith!” Megan looked accusingly to her husband,
as if the jolt had been caused by him alone, “you
know Mother gets upset.”
“There’s precious little I can do about it –
tell ‘your mother’ that.”
“Well you might at least try....”
He shrugged and looked away. Conversation restarted without
“Well, as I was saying, when I went to the shops on
Tuesday, I met Mary no, wait, I’m lying it was Monday
morning, it must have been Monday because she’d been
cutting the lawn all morning.” The mother was in full
flow. “Anyway she was telling me about poor Mrs James
at No 22”.
“Isn’t that the woman with the artificial leg?”
“No, no, that’s Anne. Mrs James is the one whose
husband died last year. He’d been ill for a long time
and suffered terribly, although being married to her for
all that time, he must have been used to it. They reckoned
in the end that he’d had enough and gave up the ghost
just to get away from her”
Keith knew exactly how he’d felt. With “mother”
in tow, he’d often felt the same.
The gleeful announcement of his first day off in months
had been met with the idea of an outing. The “We could
take mother” that followed was less of a suggestion
than a decision. No sooner the word, than he was being hectored
disconcertedly into the drama.
After what had seemed an eternity of bobbing around, listening
to the never-ending cawing of the gannets at the other end
of the boat, Keith began to feel an icy chill across his
back from the change in direction of the wind, as he pulled
slowly on the oars of the rowing boat.
“Well, her son came back from college; from somewhere
up north I think, she did tell me, could have been Manchester
or was it Bolton? Anyway, he came back and caused havoc...”
Machine gun like, the mother only paused to reload, “Seems
he’s bought a new car, it’s an old one –
big one, flash thing. Anyway, he left it on their drive
and next morning woke up to find it’d been broken
into – they’d smashed the car window and half-pulled
the door off its hinges. They got away with his radio and
a stack of things he’d left in the back”.
The endless, monotonous tirade washed over Keith like an
annoying background throb, constant and loud enough that
it couldn’t be entirely ignored.
“You should see the car door” she continued,
Megan listening intently to her every word. “Of course,
she nearly died of fright, well can you imagine, on your
“For God’s sake shut up” Keith shouted
silently to himself, without benefit of either a gap in
the conversation or the courage to use it. “On and
on and on, it’s enough to drive you mental –
just shut up, why don’t you, give it a bloody rest”.
But Keith said nothing. Instead, ideas of “dying”
and “car doors” jumbled and jostled around in
his mind. In an instant, a flash of inspiration came to
him. For one glorious second, he saw it all; the images
crystal clear in his mind; her head carefully and deliciously
positioned between the car frame and door, while he repeatedly
slammed it shut with all his force. The sensation was exhilarating.
The immeasurable pleasure of the bang, bang, bang brought
tears to his eyes and a glow to his heart. Bang, bang, bang.
Ten years of listening to this dross all relieved in a simple
action. Bang, bang, bang. But still the voice continued;
still the words, the unrelenting spiel. Despite repeating
battering the head resiliently continued to talk. As if
nothing at all had happened, words spewed forth like a fountain.
“Ellen’s got her grandchildren down again this
weekend. That Sophie’s such a lovely kid, really kind
and polite as anything, but that Darryl he’s a tearaway”.
“He’s only eight mum” Megan added.
“I daresay but he’s old enough to have some
manners. If it was left to me, I’d teach him some.
Ellen told me she’s got no idea what she’s going
to do with them; she doesn’t like to take them to
the cinema, because it’s all blood and guts, so it’s
probably going to have to be swimming, but that’s
not ideal either, because Darryl just splashes everyone
and Sophie doesn’t like to get her head underwater.”
Keith, who until then had been sulking about cars, road
rage and vindication, caught just a snippet on the breeze.
“Yes, yes” he mused, “much better and
so much easier to do”. He saw himself in his mind’s
eye reach forward, grab the floral scarf around the mother’s
scrawny neck and pull her defenceless over the side. Clutching
her by her hair, he succeeded in pushing her gabbling head
deep under the water, so the words became mere glugs and
bubbles. Then suddenly a reprise. The bubbles stopped. For
sure this time it was over. He’d won. He’d silenced
the Medusa for good. Triumphantly and with a flourish, he
pulled her head back out of the water, to look her straight
in the eyes.
As if reborn the mouth sprang back into its routine grinding.
“Its Sophie’s birthday next week too, so she’ll
have a lot more to think about with that as well.”
Keith sighed, incredulously.
“She’s a bit worried because she’s really
not sure what she can buy. After all, it’s so difficult
at that age.... He’s bringing them down for a couple
of days while he goes gallivanting off somewhere. I don’t
think it’s very fair. It’s not for me to say,
but when all is said and done, she’s not been well
and I think it’s a bit of an imposition; he should
know better. She’s too old for baby sitting, especially
in her condition, he should have more thought.” The
mother broke for air.
“How is she these days?”
“She’s not been well, but then she doesn’t
eat well enough. She barely eats anything from dawn to dusk.
If you ask me, she’s not getting the nourishment,
so it’s no wonder she blacks out. She went to the
doctors, but he’s no good either - all ‘ifs’
and ‘buts’ and tests and probes. That’s
the problem these days; nobody wants to make a diagnosis,
they’re all afraid to put their necks on the block.”
Like lightening, Keith’s mind sped there in a flash.
Before him he could see the crowds eagerly assembled, in
places five or six people deep, the muffled drum beating
a slow march as the captive was brought to the stand. The
executioner, masked and ready, axe gleaming, stood aside
the wooden block, waiting. The prisoner was being led under
escort, a hessian sack over her head, slowly up the stairs
of the dais. The crowd stilled. Across the crowded square
Keith stood dazed; he could still hear the faint mumblings
from under the sack. No matter, soon all would be silence.
He imagined the bliss, the peace. The drum stopped. The
moment was at hand. Removing the sack, the Sergeant-at-Arms,
taking a bible in his right hand, turned and solemnly asked
“Do you have any last words..?”
“It was just the same when I saw her in Asda.”
Unconcerned, the outpouring continued, “She darted
into an aisle to avoid me. Ellen said she’d come to
no good and well its looks like she was right. By the way,
they’ve got some new bread in Asda, its got nuts and
seeds in, I bought some last week – you should try
“Cut it off, just cut it off” Keith’s
shouts could be heard loudly bellowing across the crowd,
as he heard the non-stop vocal assault, the unremitting
stream of words fanning out over the gathering, but it was
too late. The dream was already broken. The crowd was dispersing
and the image dissolving into thin air.
A cold breeze slapped across his face and brought him back
to the boat.
He looked forlornly in front of him at the sight of her,
brazen as ever, churning out nonsense like a factory line.
The wind was rising again. A gust caught the boat. He pulled
against a judder on the oars. The oars, that’s it.
The very thing; quick, simple and effective. One massive
swing at head height and it would all be over – the
opportunity was too good to miss.
“Can we get him to go in now” the old woman
asked her daughter, whilst pulling her coat firmly around
her, “It’ll be the death of me, if we stay here
Keith smirked and pulled for the shore.