The Good Samaritan

Page 30


‘Okay.’ DS O’Connor sighed and took a quick gulp of his tea. ‘I will pass your message on.’ He stood up to leave. ‘But we have no control over what they can and cannot write about. So you should prepare yourself, as there might be some interest in this story.’
He wasn’t wrong. Two days later and it had made the front of our weekly newspaper, page leads in four tabloids and a column in two broadsheets. Journalists raided Facebook for photographs of Charlotte and spoke to former workmates and acquaintances she had barely known. Stories were illustrated by tasteless graphics of the clifftop and the trajectory of their fall.
When journalists left me voicemail messages and texts urging me to talk to them, I turned off my phone. I could barely speak to the people around me, let alone strangers.
I didn’t care about attending Charlotte’s funeral.
I didn’t need to say goodbye to her. I didn’t want to remember her fondly and I didn’t want to pay her my last respects. She deserved nothing from me. The only reason I agreed to attend the church ceremony and short journey to the crematorium was because I’d been guilt-tripped into it by my parents. If Charlotte didn’t want to celebrate her life, then why should I?
I was so muggy from swallowing two of Mum’s sleeping tablets and hungover from another beer binge the night before that I couldn’t focus on who was standing at the lectern, scrambling to find positive things to say about a woman who murdered her baby.
My eyes wandered around the church, which was decorated with vases of daffodils and posters advertising forthcoming Easter celebrations. But once they snapped towards the coffin as four pallbearers carried Charlotte in, they never left it. I ignored the order of service and didn’t join in with the hymns. I didn’t even bow my head in prayer.
Dad and Johnny flanked me and kept me steady for the moments when I was required to stand; and later they apologised to anyone who tried to converse with me as they guided me back towards the funeral car. I cared so little that I didn’t even try to avoid the reporters at the church gates, trying to engage anyone who made eye contact with them.
Once Charlotte’s body was released to me, I’d left it to my in-laws to organise her farewell. Choosing a funeral director, picking which clothes she would wear to go into the flames, what objects to throw into her coffin, what music should play as she was brought into the church, how many cars were required . . . She was their daughter so she was their problem. I told them through a third party that they could also keep her wedding ring. I had no use for my own, let alone hers. Everything it signified was a lie. Charlotte had thought so little of me, and now the feeling was mutual. I just wanted it all to be over.
I did, however, want to go to the coroner’s court later that same week for Charlotte’s inquest. I allowed Johnny and my mum to accompany me. We sat two rows behind Charlotte’s parents, but neither family looked at each other, not even the briefest glance.
I didn’t know why I’d wanted to attend. Perhaps I didn’t think I’d suffered enough and needed to know how much more pain I could endure before I completely cracked.
I listened carefully as witness and character statements were read aloud, and I watched as the dashboard footage taken at the clifftop was shown. Eventually, the senior coroner, a plump, middle-aged woman with a soft face and sympathetic eyes, ruled the medical cause of her death as ‘multiple injuries’.
‘No shit,’ I mumbled to myself. I think Johnny might have heard me.
‘Before I record a verdict of suicide, I have to be positive of two things beyond a reasonable doubt,’ she continued. ‘That Mrs Smith caused the act which led to her death and that she did so with the intention of killing herself. I have to be sure on both accounts this is what happened – and I am. Mrs Smith went to the top of Birling Gap with an as-yet-unidentified man, then tragically died when she impacted with the rocks below. Therefore, in these circumstances, I record a conclusion of suicide.’
So there it was: in the space of three days, my wife had been cremated and it was on public record for all the world to see that she had killed herself. Perhaps now I could move on.
After eight weeks of living at my parents’ house, I felt a prevailing urge to be back inside my flat again. I needed to surround myself with familiar objects to help me feel like something close to my old self. I couldn’t allow Charlotte’s ghost to bully me out of my own home.
As I unlocked the front door, I hovered nervously in the doorway. There were faint traces of the air fresheners she preferred. Her raincoat hung shapelessly on a coat hook. We grinned under an arch made of roses in a wedding photograph gathering dust in its frame.
I’d spent almost a third of my life as an ‘us’ and suddenly I had to accept being an ‘I’ again. It hit me that the former life I’d loved so much was irrecoverable and I’d never be able to copy it with anyone else. Once the tears began, I couldn’t shut them off.
I wasn’t ready to return to our bedroom, so I chose to sleep in the box room. It was the only part of the flat that we hadn’t got around to decorating in our time there. We’d just about managed to wedge a single mattress and the tiniest of Ikea bedside cabinets inside. But it suited me fine for now. Next door was the nursery. I wasn’t ready to face that yet. While it remained as it was, in neutral shades of yellow and with soft toys scattered about, I could pretend Daniel was sleeping there. I didn’t want to let him go.
Days later, I printed out Charlotte’s mobile phone records. I’d believed DS O’Connor when he’d told us how frequently she’d called End of the Line, but I still wanted to see it with my own eyes. I scanned each column and most of the calls had been made in the morning or early afternoons when I was at work. Occasionally, she’d called evenings and weekends when we were both at home. I remembered her wandering into other rooms claiming to be catching up with friends, but now I knew that just metres away from me, she was actually telling a stranger that she wanted to die.
Some calls lasted seconds, others continued for more than an hour. For a moment, I let my anger dilute into pity.
Why couldn’t you tell me how much pain you were in?
I thought about Charlotte’s car and how, at some point, I’d have to sell it. In fact, there were a lot of things I needed to organise as my new normality began. But packing away her clothes, sifting through her documents, changing the name on the utility bills, closing her bank account, et cetera, would all have to wait.
And so would my job for now. The thought of walking into that perpetually cold lobby as if everything in my life was exactly the same as the last time I’d been there filled me with dread. My sympathetic doctor signed me off for another month, but he wouldn’t let me leave the surgery until he’d given me a handful of leaflets about coping with loss and the telephone numbers of grief counselling organisations. I scanned the advice given in one when I reached my car. ‘Try going away somewhere for a weekend that’s brand new to you, or take a long walk. Perhaps you might think about getting a pet.’ I laughed out loud.
Yes, doctor, I’m going to replace my dead wife with a hamster. Marvellous idea.
Johnny and the lads I played Sunday-league football with took turns to visit the flat and keep me occupied, but despite their best efforts, they rarely got much conversation from me. Johnny also insisted on dragging me out to our local pub, The Abington, and did his best to re-engage me with a world outside my cloudy little bubble. But I didn’t care for it. There was little I cared for anymore.