EDNA surveyed her husband as he sat slumped in the armchair, half-asleep after his shift at the Post Office. She smiled, realising it would make a brilliant picture for this year’s Christmas Card. Her husband and his chair, each one deflated, with flaking leathery skin, waxy against the afternoon sun.
Edna was ironing in the living room, listening to the mumbling of the television alongside the piercing shriek of the radio in the kitchen. She frowned a little as she looked around the old, worn sofas, the rusted fireplace which was covered with faded photographs of her wedding from 1955. Almost two years ago now, though it seemed like another lifetime. One filled with coffee-stained shirtsleeves in the morning, and the dial tone of the house phone. She always seemed to miss those late afternoon calls, especially since William said calls were free after six. Now, Edna didn’t bother to pick up the receiver unless it was at least a minute past the hour.
Edna was succinct, concise, and lived her days without the need for complaint. She kissed her husband on the cheek when he came home dead-tired and gravitated to his beloved armchair that he wouldn’t let her clean. She pressed his suits just the way he liked and made him countless cups of coffee to keep him awake in the morning. No tea. William hated tea. He said since it was the product of those “foreign people,” his principles prevented him from taking a single drop. Edna offered his principles a little pat on the head so she could purchase her own tea leaves in secret, from one of those new fair-trade shops which were beginning to pop up around town.
Edna was dusting the mantlepiece, eyes softening at the framed memories, when her husband coughed from his chair. She didn’t bother to turn around. When she did, it was only to observe the room in order to see what else needed dusting. But William was holding up his palm, signalling her as one would signal a valet or a waitress. Smiling, she danced towards him, as graceful as a tethered storm.
“What is it, dear?” she asked. Her husband’s hands shook, and his face betrayed a complexion paler than the porcelain tiles in the bathroom. He was almost blue. Pale and blue, as if he were bound for a train station six feet beneath the soil. He coughed and choked before finding the strength to speak.
“My chest is on fire. I need an aspirin,” he choked out. Edna patted his shoulder and laughed. Her teeth were almost pearls. Almost, but not quite. The odd stain marred the enamel, and her gums were crimson.
“Please, I don’t feel quite like myself”. William coughed again. Edna laughed and shook her head.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Everything’s fine. You’re alright, aren’t you? Stop being such a baby. Everything is fine”. She continued to dust the bookshelves. Her dress was covered in daises, her hair crimped. She was blonde. Dyed. From the corner store, at half price. Edna was always happy to find a bargain. And as she continued to dust, her husband fell silent.
It was only a few days later, during a lazy afternoon on a sleazy weekend, that he rushed into the kitchen while she was cooking dinner – roast chicken with homegrown veggies – and vomited onto the tiles. Simmering yellow against pure white. He braced himself on the back of the chair, the one upon which the cushion she’d embroidered with the kit her Mother bought her, sat undisturbed. Edna chuckled good-naturedly and shook her head. Oh, William. Delicately, she picked up the mop, while her husband composed himself.
“I think we need to call a doctor. Please. Take me to the emergency room, please. Call Ronald, he can drive me”. Edna’s eyes twinkled as she mopped up her husband’s vomit.
“You silly goose. Nonsense, you’ll be fine. You don’t need a doctor. Besides, you shouldn’t bother Ronald with something like this – he’s about to make Partner at the Firm and you know how tired he is from working all those extra hours. You don’t need to go anywhere. Don’t worry. You’re perfectly fine”. She kept mopping, every movement precise. She used to dance, Edna did. She still danced at the town hall at every annual ball, but otherwise, her slim hips and hourglass figure were reserved for vacuuming the upstairs carpet. After mopping, she knelt and sprayed the tiles, wiping them as her husband rushed to the bathroom to vomit again.
“Don’t forget to flush dear,” she called after him, still smiling. In the sunlight, the now clean tiles gleamed as stars. She was engrossed in her reflection – the blinking, doe-eyed woman with cherubic skin. So engrossed that her very contentment drowned out the sound of the toilet flushing upstairs.
For the next few days, William was holed up in bed. He shouted at the indignity of it all, propped against three pillows. Edna chuckled.
“Don’t be such a child, dear. You need to get your strength up”. She offered him a bowl of her Mother’s chicken soup. He snatched the tray, setting it on his lap. Edna smiled and watched him eat, swallowing saliva. She pressed a hand to her stomach, wincing as her insides shrieked. William looked up from the soup.
“My suit,” he said.
“Of course”. Edna smiled and stood. She left the room in silence. William had to get better. They’d been together nearly seven years – he couldn’t leave.
He was out of bed in a matter of days.
“I’m right as rain, dear,” he smiled and kissed her. He tasted of chicken soup and vomit. Edna smiled and licked the inside of her mouth. William was back on his feet.
It was a week later, when dusk came and Edna was sitting in her husband’s armchair, feet resting on the table upon which he usually placed his coffee and newspapers. Her hair was still perfectly crimped, dress hitched up enough so it wouldn’t be a bother whilst cleaning. She was sitting with her model’s hands in her lap, smiling at the ashen fireplace. The house was finally clean.
As she sat back to relish in the umber sunset on the veranda, her husband clutched at her leg. His greying pallor shone against her milky skin. He was mute, choking on blood, and grasping for her ankle. His face had turned an alarming shade of purple, while his limbs convulsed. Oh, William.
Edna waved at her husband as he seized on the floor of their living room. Her nails had just been filed. Smiling, she said, “I told you, dear. Everything’s fine”. With that, she eased back into the armchair, wondering what all the fuss was about, while her husband’s hands clutched her ankle in a white-knuckled grip.