Guest writer Becca’s short story, “Albert,” as seen in The Elixir.
The old man sat at the bar, nursing a whisky.
“Take it easy there, Albert. It’s only just half four; you should pace yourself.”
Albert smiled wryly at the grimacing barkeep. “I’m 81 years old and I fought in a war. I’ve served out Queen and this country. I think it’s well within my rights to have a drink or two.”
That barkeep shrugged, then turned back around to finish wiping down the glasses with a musty cloth.
The young man finishes his pint and pushes it toward the barkeep. “Cheers,” he calls over his shoulder- though he doesn’t bother to look back as he walks to the other end of the reception hall.
He is in his uniform, today. She likes a man in uniform, and he knows it. He uses it to his advantage.
“Hello, Matilda. What’s a young lass like yourself doing at such a boring reception?”
“I quite enjoy these receptions, actually. The music, the dancing- the sense of decorum. It’s all so wonderful. It makes me feel classy and mature.”
He laughs out loud. “How very curious! I thought you came to these things because you liked seeing me in uniform. But if you’d be pleased I’ll be happy to show you around the dance floor.”
Ignoring the rest of his remarks, she replies, “I’d love to dance with you.”
Albert knew that there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to drown out his thoughts tonight. It was their anniversary, and she wasn’t there.
He hadn’t remembered her like this for a long time. He had been repressing it, and had been successful in his efforts (for the most part). Usually it only took a drink or two to get him to shrug the past off his shoulders- but this year was harder. Fifty years without her and he was still drowning in the regret! He wanted to be over it already…
They smile at each other as they are pronounced man and wife. He kisses her hungrily but chastely, aware of their audience. There’s no rush. They have all the time in the world to spend together now. They just promised each other an eternity of love; in the grand scheme of things, what’s a few hours?
Soon enough, it’s time for them to dance. They take to the floor, and his eyes are locked on hers.
“I’m glad I get to spend forever with you,” she whispers.
“I’m afraid you’re stuck with me now,” he jokes.
She pales and momentarily stumbles before regaining her footing, then hangs her head.
She sighs and shakes her head, lips trembling. Finally, she replies, “You don’t really feel that way, do you?”
He shakes his head in confusion. “What way?”
“That you’re stuck with me.”
He looks at her in disbelief. “Are you being serious? I chose this, Tilly. I chose you. Why would you ever think I would feel that way?”
She looks up at him, finally, as a lone tear streaks down her face. “I’m pregnant.”
He looked down at his watch but didn’t register the time. It was just something to did; he didn’t actually have anywhere to be.
The remembering was the worst. The remembering was why he drank. Usually, when he drank, it was enough; he could forget. But for some reason, tonight it wasn’t working.
He just kept remembering.
Her angry eyes bore into his head. She crosses her arms over her now bulging chest, but all he can see is her swollen stomach.
It’s the only thing he can see these days.
“What do you want me to SAY, Matilda? I didn’t ask for this. I never wanted kids…at least, not so early. Hell, I was barely home from the war when I met you. I just…I need some time.”
“You don’t GET time, Albert. What about that don’t you understand? Why is this so hard for you?”
She slaps an angry hand into his chest. Without thinking, he shovers her, hard. When she tumbles down the stairs, time slows down. He stops breathing at the sight of the blood- so much blood. She isn’t breathing, either. He has a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that is justified when he checks her pulse and finds nothing.
That night, he buries them- his wife and his unborn child -in the back garden.
That is the first night he drinks to forget.
Albert scowled at the memory, picked at a scab on his thumb, and ordered a vodka.
It didn’t even burn on the way down.