Northwords Now

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Polished Off

by Catherine Halliday

Furniture polish was the weapon of choice. Pledge, if you must know. Other brands are available, but we don’t use other brands – Paul didn’t think they did the job well enough. He may not ever have done the polishing, but it didn’t stop him from having an opinion.

As a freelance contractor, there weren’t many work colleagues to tell but they all sent sympathy cards, some even sent beautiful flowers. All were very kind.

A quiet burial. Numbers restricted - stringent virus rules, I reminded them. My sister was keen to come but she’s shielding, lives in a tier 4 area. Too risky to travel, I insisted. So, it was just me and his best friend present. That wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t even stretching the truth. It was just me and the dog, who was his best friend - he didn’t have many. Paul that is, not the dog. I can’t think Hector, the Labrador, has many friends either, except perhaps the postie who brings him a biscuit most mornings but even Hector can see that that’s a bribe, not a gift.

He was a victim of Coronavirus. It was his decision to sack the cleaner on the grounds that whilst he was happy for her to visit our home, risking infecting us and her, he drew the line when he discovered that she was also cleaning several houses, increasing the risk of contamination. Which is all very commendable if he then helped with the cleaning other than his self-appointed advisory role. It was his insistence on using furniture polish on the floor, ignoring my warnings that it would be too slippery, that was the catalyst for the accident.

The cleaner was indeed a luxury, especially since I’d given up work to concentrate on painting, a hobby I’ve loved for years but had no time to enjoy. With no children and with sufficient income to see us comfortably off, I gave up the rat race. He loved his job. He claimed we needed his salary, but I suspect work gave him a sense of self. Although, that dwindled with demand for his work, when lockdown induced him to give up the office lease and to work from home.

The straw that broke the camel’s back wasn’t a straw but a plastic container. Sat on the table. Empty. He’d eaten the last of them, Marks and Spencer’s double chocolate rolls. I don’t like them, so it wasn’t his selfish act of eating the last three that did it. I had bought them for him, he likes them and as he tells me, in jest, of course, he pays for the shopping so what does it matter if he eats them all? It wasn’t that. I do the shopping, I put things away, I do the cooking, I do the clearing up, I tidy the house, I do the laundry. I manage the garden. He earns the money to pay for it all.

Rushing to finish the housework so that I could do some painting, he was left to have his morning coffee on his own. This irritated him. He didn’t like to play second fiddle to anything, including the housework. I left him glowering and sarcastic at the kitchen table with his coffee and the tub of cakes. Which is where I found the used cup and empty container a couple of hours later, sitting dejectedly alongside a tell-tale pile of crumbs. At that point, he shuffled in to check that his lunch was not being overlooked.

‘Are you just leaving those there?’ I challenged him, incensed.

He laughed sheepishly and went to move them. I headed to the larder to get out the bread. When I returned, he’d scarpered, leaving the cup and empty container now sitting by the sink. He’d had to pass the recycling bin to put the plastic container on the worktop and the dishwasher is right next to the sink.

Taken in isolation this sounds petty, but this wasn’t a one-off. That morning I’d skipped breakfast to go for a walk, yet when I went to make the coffee the detritus of Paul’s breakfast stared back at me from the table. As every morning, I put the now warm milk and butter in the fridge, the glass, plate and cup in the dishwasher, the jam, the marmalade away. There was no point in leaving them out or saying anything it just led to sarcastic remarks and encrusted plates.

He hadn’t always been like that. When I met him, he was kind and generous and supportive. We’d been happy and had lots of fun in our long marriage. He even did the cooking and shared the chores. Only, as work took on a greater focus for him, he lost sight of what was important and took so much for granted. And then this virus, so me on breakfast, lunch and dinner duties, seven days a week. No meals out, no meals with friends, no takeaways - Paul didn’t want to take any risks. Paul didn’t want to lift a finger either.

And even then, I would have just inwardly raged, if he hadn’t slipped on the floor. It was bad timing.

The postman was involved, but he could not have known of the trail of events he was unleashing with his kind act. Hector is not entirely blameless as it was his mad dash for the postie’s biscuit – rushing in case Paul or I decided that morning to get to the manky biscuit before him - that caused Paul to slip and concuss himself. Although, it wasn’t Hector who then fed him a cocktail of Nurofen and Glenmorangie, to finish him off.

I did miss the support of family and friends at the burial. His body was so difficult to manoeuvre into the shallow grave alone. The house is tidy now, just how Paul liked it.

The Board and Editor of Northwords Now acknowledge support from Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
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