he morning was grey and cold even though autumn had just begun. A thin light breeze was playing silly games with the leaves on the dry ground. The small disengaged group around the grave, mainly business acquaintances, kept their eyes averted. The priest’s voice droned monotonously and was as uninspiring as the body in the coffin now seemed. The silent tears streaming down Donna’s face weren’t for the man lying there, but for herself and her lost youth.
Her black knitted frock sensuously embraced her slender body, but Donna was unaware of Luke’s hand on her arm while she stared at the casket as if watching a movie playing behind it. Luke had become her rock over the last three years and in him she had found a depth of understanding and support she had never experienced before.
Her two children had reluctantly flown back from their gap year in Canada to attend their father’s funeral. However, this was more to support Donna than to pay their last respects to a father who had been glaringly absent from their lives.
The end started seven years ago. Donna had suspected for quite some time that Harold was having an affair. Longer hours at the office, seemingly urgent and important projects on weekends, shifting from long hours in his study at home to projects that had to be discussed with his clients at the office.
“Come on Donna, don’t be childish,” was Harold’s response whenever she had confronted him. “I’ve got more work than I can cope with. Where do you think I would get the time for an affair?” Being ten years older, Harold had been brilliant at blaming all Donna’s concerns on her youth. It hadn’t taken long for Donna to feel like a single parent of the twins, attending school functions, sport practice and matches, dancing classes, swimming classes, maths tutorials, and much else besides.
Their eighteen years together was not at all what Donna had dreamt of as a seventeen year old. The knight in shining armour who was going to rescue her from her rigid, stoic Catholic father had turned out everything but. The loss of her mother when Donna was fourteen was one of the saddest moments of her otherwise uneventful life. Donna had instinctively taken over the role of caring for her two younger brothers, cooking meals for the family at night and helping her father with the washing on weekends.
Without the moderating influence from his loving wife, Donna’s father reverted to the only way of coping he knew – to take firm control of his three children. Not knowing how to grieve, his wife’s death was never discussed, leaving a gaping hole in Donna’s heart, ready to be filled when she met Harold just before she graduated from high school.
Her rowing teacher, Harold was a blossoming young architect who met with her father’s approval. Maybe because she didn’t know any better, Donna found their relationship satisfying, even though it was never passionate.
For a moment Donna looked right into Alistair’s avoiding eyes on the other side of the grave. His frail and shrunken body conveyed a message so sad that Donna almost felt sorry for him. To pull herself back she focused on the priest’s plump hands resting on his large stomach to support the book he was reading from.
“For you were from dust, and you will return to dust,” she heard him say as the casket was lowered down into the grave. And with that, Donna allowed that last scene to roll down with the coffin.
* * *
arold’s office was housed on the seventeenth floor of the Novotel Building in the centre of the city. “There’s no one in the building, Mrs Palmer,” the night guard had said when Donna rang the bell.
“I know Malcolm. Mr Palmer asked me to come and pick up some documents for him. He’s over at Harrington’s and they need it tonight for a deadline tomorrow.” She was thankful that Malcolm, looking unconvinced, said nothing when he pressed the button to open the thick glass door.
Donna viewed herself in the mirror as the elevator started the ride upwards. She combed her hands through her windblown curly blond hair. Although a little nervous, the reflection staring back at her looked curiously victorious. At least the suspense, the unknown, the waiting would soon be over.
The seventeenth floor was half lit and her flat shoes made no noise on the thick carpet of Palmer and Palmer’s prosperous chambers. Seeing the light under Harold’s door, the apprehension in her stomach was knitting a web so tight she could hardly breathe.
Donna, sure of what she would find, was unsure of how to act. Should she yell and throw a scene? Should she stare at them both with cold eyes and tell them “I have known all along?” Donna had practised a million different scenarios in her mind over the last two weeks since she had made her decision.
She opened the door. For two very long seconds the world came to a halt. Even Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that was playing in the background paused to hold its breath.
The lamp light threw an apologetic golden glow revealing the clothes strewn on the floor. Donna noticed that the desk was neat and tidy; the way Harold always left it at the end of the day.
Harold and Alistair’s squirming naked bodies slowly untangled on the couch. Above them hung a print of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper that she had bought for Harold when he became a partner in his cousin’s firm. The painting was slightly tilted. That must have happened during their passionate love-making as Harold couldn’t stand anything that wasn’t perfectly straight.
When the clock at last started to tick again, Donna sharply drew her breath. If she hadn’t felt so sick she would have laughed at the astonished, bewildered look on their faces. As she turned around to leave, the bile in the pit of her stomach doubled her over and she threw up violently on the expensive carpet.
“Donna, wait,” Harold said flatly as she ran towards the cloakroom to wash her face. Donna could hardly believe that the face now staring back at her was the same face she saw in the mirror only moments earlier…
* * *
et us all depart in peace,” the priest said, and Donna felt an unfamiliar sense of lightness as Luke led her away.
* * * * *
Martha Landman was born in South Africa and moved to Australia in 2000 where she now runs a private practice as a psychologist in Townsville. Martha has always loved the art of writing and is an avid reader. Among her favourite authors are Ayn Rand, Richard Flanagan and the Afrikaans-language writer P.G. du Plessis, these being illustrative of Martha’s catholic tastes. She has taken up writing as a hobby and is a member of Writers in Townsville Society.
Her publications at Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.