The sound of a turning key signaled Max finally being home and she closed her book. ‘Hi lovable,’ Jet called.
‘Yo, only here for a sec.’ She heard him dump his case on the floor. ‘Did you call the priest?’
Fuck. Here we go again she thought. ‘No.’
Jet remained still. She didn’t want another confrontation on this issue. It had been discussed already and they couldn’t agree. She didn’t believe in one church. She thought Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Hinduism all had something important to say and the whole power struggle for religious territory had only been a major cause of world sorrow. She didn’t want to talk a priest, thank you very much.
The noise in the hallway had stopped abruptly.
Silence was followed by footsteps to the kitchen. He was probably counting to hundred and back. Jet opened the book again and stared at the page without reading a word.
‘Intelligent answer,’ came the muffled response; his head probably in the fridge.
‘It is, isn’t it?’ she replied drily.
‘Jet, shut the fuck up and call him. You promised.’ She listened to the clanking of bottles marking the slam of the fridge door.
She sighed. ‘We’ve been over this hundreds of times. I don’t want to talk to a priest, I don’t want to become a Catholic, I don’t want to get married in church. Religion has done nothing for this world but ruin it. And besides, I’m registered as a Protestant.’
Max appeared in the doorway. Jet noticed the dark circles under his eyes and wished she had shut her big mouth. He looked exhausted.
‘I’ve never asked you to convert.’ He slumped in one of the comfy chairs by the fireplace. ‘Your grandfathers would not be pleased, you know.’
Her mind wandered to her youth. She was raised withtolerance and her parents had not pushed the whole religious streak. Both had experienced enough God at home: Her father had been raised by a vicar and Mum’s parents had left their three million dollars to one of those ghastly TV reverends in California who turned out to have a string of girl- and boyfriends. God had been all over the place although you couldn’t actually blame Him. He had never asked for people to become idiots.
She shrugged. ‘I’ll end up in hell then, I’ll live. You on the other hand, will probably get to heaven for saving all those lives.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Well, better than hell. I’m not kidding, Jet.’
She snapped. ‘Oh Max, you shut the fuck up. We’ve been over this and the answer is no. I don’t want to marry in church.’
He got up and threw her a look of despair. ‘Suit yourself.’
Jet winced when she heard the front door close with a quiet click. Always better when he slammed it. It was different for him; he had been raised by a family with strong Catholic values. She thought about their priest. She had met him once and he seemed a gentle man. Maybe it was better to have it done and over with. Lie through her teeth but peace would return.
She cleared away her coffee cup and her eye fell on the mail Max had dumped on the table: bills and what looked like a Christmas card. She left the bills and opened the envelope addressed to Max. Astonished she stared at a Tarot card depicting Death. What was this supposed to mean? She flipped the card over but there was no sign who sent it. Why would somebody send Max a card with Death?
Anxiety slowly creeped in. Was he in trouble at the hospital? He had told her some weeks ago that the hospital was suffering another malpractice case. She remembered she’d asked him if it was the same idiot colleague again who was certainly unfit to come near a patient, let alone operate. Max hadn’t answered. Was he the one who had made a fatal mistake this time?
She crumbled the card and put it in the bin. There was no need for him to see this. Whoever sent it, it was a horrid thing to do. She wandered on the balcony and looked down to the neglected garden of the ground floor apartment. It had been unoccupied for months now and they sometimes used it to have dinner outside when nobody was around. A male figure sat on the swing hanging from one of the two hazel trees, looking straight back at her. He tipped his hat at her and shocked she stepped back, out of view. Who was that? Was there a new tenant? Gingerly she moved forward to steal another peek but the solitary figure was gone.
The grey fog seeped through every crack of existence accompanied by a thin but endless drizzle. Jet emerged from the park and slowed down. The moisture of the morning fog pinched through her running clothes and she picked up her speed again. She passed the large church where a Christmas tree filled the square. The gothic building was daunting and beautiful at the same time. It was not yet declared out of service but no longer accessible to visiting public. Nobody knew what was going on inside and the building didn’t seem willing to give away its secrets.
Her thoughts turned to Max. Why had this Catholic thing suddenly become so important to him? They had been together for years and marriage had no longer been on her list. They were happy, she didn’t need to be married to him to love him but he wanted to seal it. She had said yes. Of course! Marrying in church was a new thing though. Was it his family that tried to persuade him? If so, why didn’t he tell her?
Unfortunately they hadn’t talked about it after their last fight a few days ago. Max had spent most of his spare time at the hospital. She had asked him if everything was alright but he had curtly assured her there was nothing up; just hectic days before the Holiday Season. Dismissive to say the least but she hadn’t been Miss Perfect either. She tried to shake off her confusion and ran on towards their apartment building already looming through the mists. She resolved to be good and have a proper adult conversation about it over dinner; maybe there was a compromise to be found.
Max was finishing his night shift and she fumbled for her keys. While opening the door she noticed the garden gate was ajar. She let herself into the building and run up the four stairs. Arriving at their floor she spotted a package in front of their door. She kneeled down and picked it up. It was solid and heavy. She looked around but not a soul stirred and the building was still sound asleep. Sunday morning 9am, who in heavens name would deliver a package at this time of day? There were no stickers of DHL or UPC, no delivery notes, no address. Solely for Max’ surname the box was blank and silent. She carefully opened it. Inside was an old battered book: Selected works of W.B. Yeats.
She smiled. Yeats, her favorite poet. Her only poet. A friend had told her that poetry condensed where prose elaborated. Up till then she had never read poetry. Her mind had been too impatient to let words with so many meanings, sink in.
Yeats was different though. His stories and poems were able to draw her attention and she could get the gist of it. She had only read a few but his whole persona intrigued her. He was raised a protestant but had a keen interest in the mystical side of life. She liked that: an inquisitive mind.
There was no note but a copper coloured book dart attracted her attention. She opened the book at the dart and a short poem called Death filled the page.
The book fell out of her hands, as if it had burned holes in both. She tried to calm down her pounding heart and picked up the book. She shook it lightly but nothing fell out. She turned to the white box: ‘Fam. Montines.’ It definitely had his name on it. Max had to be in trouble. Who was this sick bastard? She heard the downstairs door of the building close and quickly hid the book. She had to find out who had sent this. She knew Max’ password so maybe she could access his patient files online later.
With Max sound asleep, she scrolled through the files. There were so many. She hadn’t realised he performed such a number of operations on an almost daily basis. No wonder he looked half dead himself these days. After half an hour she found what she was looking for: Mrs. G. Signoret, deceased three months ago. Apparently Mrs. Signoret could not be saved with treatment and the chemo after the operation had taken all its toll. She read the last entry in the telegram style report: ‘informed the family, file closed.’ The date of this entry however, was last week. Puzzled she tried to find more information but the whole medication protocol was gibberish to her. She jotted down the contact details of the remaining relative and stashed the note in her pocket. She would write this husband tomorrow at work and tell him in no uncertain terms that she was sorry he lost his wife and all, but it was to no fault of Max and he should stay away from them.
She woke with a jolt. The first rays of sunlight seeped through the window and the red numbers of the alarm clock blinked the time. She listened for a sound, positive Max coming back from the hospital had woken her, but the house remained silent. Jet fell back in the pillows and stared at the ceiling. Further sleep eluded her.
After a few frustrating minutes, she got up and opened the curtains. At the swing she saw the similar contours of the man who sat there last week. Motionless. Her hands slapped her mouth, fighting the urge to scream. The man slowly stood up and took of his hat, beckoning her to come. She stepped away from the window and stumbled back on the bed. It was him. He had received her letter.
Closing her eyes she silenced her mind. After a moment she calmly got dressed. Purposefully she moved to the kitchen before putting on her ski jacket, gloves and boots. Without fear she entered the garden carrying the book.
‘For some the Tree of Life, for others the Tree of Knowledge.’ The man gestured with his hat towards the two hazel trees throwing their shadows around them.
She ignored his remark and threw the book at his feet. ‘Why are you here? Go away.’
He observed the book between the dead leaves, the dart still stuck between its pages. ‘I gather he didn’t inform you?’Jet briefly shook her head and stuffed her left hand in her pocket, gripping the bread knife.
He fixed her with his eyes. ‘I requested for Doctor Montines, specifically. But he did kill her. No matter what he says he beliefs.’
She remained silent and held his stare.
He looked pointedly at the hand in her pocket. ‘So, you would kill too for someone you love.’
Jet’s lips quivered. ‘Maybe,’ she answered defiantly.
‘We have more in common than you might think.’ He got up and walked to the gate. ‘Alas, men has created death.’
Jet recognised his parting line from the poem of Death and her legs buckled. Once he left through the gate, she collapsed on the swing, still fiercely gripping the knife in her pocket. She took it out and stared at it. Her vision blurred and she tried to breathe evenly. She sensed Max enter the garden and come within reach. ‘Jet, give me the knife sweetheart.’ He slowly extended his arm inviting her to hand it over. Trembling she let it fall in his hands.
‘Did you kill someone?’ she blurted out.
‘He wants to kill you.’ Her eyes feverishly searched his face.
I don’t think so,’ he replied.
‘But the card, the book. He left a marker on Death.’
Max laid down the knife and picked up the book. He opened it at the book dart and briefly studied the poem. He turned a page and his face softened. Carefully he removed the book dart and placed it at the next page before returning the book to Jet. She stared at a poem called the Two Trees and looked at him questioningly.
‘A poem about love,’ he explained. He fished a letter out of his coat. ‘This came with it. Read it.’
I sense that my dead wife sings this to me as I try to sleep. She may be urging me to get on with my life and not to despair over what cannot be changed.
In her final days she also stressed several times that an ignorant man follows the public opinion. A wise one makes his own decisions. Maybe one day I will be able to show my gratitude.
Max sat down at the derelict picnic table. ‘His wife was very ill. Her last months were spent in the hospital; we couldn’t save her. She was also a bad sleeper and we talked some these dead hours. About religion, poets, you.’
He paused and Jet watched him gathering his thoughts.
‘Also about life,’ he continued. ‘And death. Her last night she showed me this poem. Told me to read it. With you.’
Jet looked at the poem and it dawned on her. He had granted this lady’s wish and helped her die; defying his own religion and probably without a soul knowing.
She swallowed. ‘Morphine?’
He nodded. ‘She had a DNR,’ he added, as to exonerate himself.
‘I gather Mr. Signoret had his suspicions and didn’t approve?’
‘Not quite.’ He rubbed his tired eyes. ‘But the book is a late gift, to both of us. Took him a while to come to terms with it.’
‘He selected you,’ she whispered. ‘I thought he had come to kill you.’
‘So I was told.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Signoret called me just now. Told me to go home and tend to my brave but confused lady for a change.’
She choked. ‘Oh my God. I threatened this poor man.’
Max gestured to the knife lying on the table. ‘I think he got that.’
Her feet made small circles in the sand. ‘Is this why you suddenly want to marry in church?’ she asked carefully.
A wry smile crossed his face. ‘Maybe. I performed a practice considered sin by Catholics, not laid down in protocol, not approved by her husband. Resting his elbows on his knees he stared in the distance. ‘Not approved by my family either. I’d like to be less alone in this.’
She got of the swing and kneeled in front of him. ‘You’re not alone. I’m here and I think you took a wise and brave decision.’ She pointed to the sky. ‘She thinks that too. She’s probably gazing down right now, thanking you.’
She smiled. ‘Oh hell, why not? Heaven, yes.’ She got up, gathering the book and the knife.
Max pondered the large knife and a grin slowly formed on his lips. ‘A bread knife doesn’t really do the trick, you know? Not pointy enough.’
Jet looked at the serrated blade with the blunt end and let out a laugh of relief. ‘Never thought of that.’
He yawned and put an arm around her shoulder. ‘Remind me to keep my scalpels at the hospital.’ She chuckled. ‘Don’t be daft. ‘Let’s get some sleep first, we both need it.’
Max had gone straight to the bedroom, discarding his clothes on the way. He had fallen asleep instantly, dead tired of it all. She smiled at his tranquil face and closed the curtains.
On the swing a small blade glittered in the sun.