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Wedge Tomb

by Marg Wright


June 14
At Barbara’s suggestion, I’ve decided to keep a journal. I have never done so before, but she says that setting down my feelings about our new home will be excellent therapy. As with most things, she is probably right. I will not record daily entries. Deadly little domestic listings such as “Today we baked scones and mowed the back garden” would have no beneficial bearing on my need for self-discipline. But when something interests or moves me sufficiently, I’ll try to recount it accurately. Accuracy and discipline - that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

June 27
We seem to be settling in. Barbara has done wonders with the cottage. She hired a local girl on a temporary basis to help her with the cleaning and sorting out and they spend hours daily, creating order out of chaos. They buzz around like little bees, while I squat on my toadstool, reading. Occasionally, I look up to see the girl’s eyes on me, doubtless wondering how Barbara came to be saddled with such a lazy lout for a husband. In a town this size there are no secrets. I can hear the girl - Kathleen, I believe her name is - reporting to her cronies at the market: “She says he hasn’t been well, but he looks healthy enough to me!”
Stop it, now.
   
“Your overactive imagination is the cause of most of your problems, Mr Ames.”
Dr Hanley said that. Or someone did. The girl is just curious. Or perhaps she finds me attractive. That would be a laugh.
Stop it.
My first impressions of Ireland are painfully trite, I’m afraid - a great deal of green and an impossible amount of rain. Of course, we haven’t been out much yet. Barbara has been too busy and I haven’t felt moved to go for the long walks that she keeps assuring me I’ll enjoy so much. Perhaps later in the summer. I have been reading a book on local archæological attractions and it seems that we have a number of them in the neighbourhood, including something called a wedge tomb. The picture shows a sort of table affair, made of large flat rocks. Not particularly impressive, but incredibly old, like me. Barbara and I were once the same age, can you believe that? And now she is 43 and I am 107.
Stop it.

July 7
What an amazing woman Barbara is. We have been here less than a month and she has made friends everywhere in the village. All the shopkeepers know her and recognize me as being her less-than-better half.
   
“Lovely lady, your missus,” they say, when I venture in to buy a paper. “Fine woman.”
Of course, she is that. No one knows it better. I have rested on those strong, little shoulders for more than a year now. She handles our correspondence, does the banking, remembers my medication, and runs our household without a single mis-step or a word of complaint. I watch her from the window, digging in our tiny kitchen garden, and am overwhelmed by equal parts of guilt and gratitude. She looks up and seeing me, smiles. I must do something nice for Barbara. My Barbara. When she comes in, I will ask her if she wants to go for a walk.
I will.

July 17
The summer is unusually mild so far, the villagers tell us. We walk every day, covering miles in our new boots. Barbara says she is very proud of me. As yet, we have not walked to the wedge tomb, but it is on our list of things-to-do. Barbara’s list. She adds to it every day. I don’t look at it. I have told her that I prefer to be surprised.
An odd thing happened yesterday. I went alone to the bakery and a man whom I’d never seen before said something to me as we passed each other in the street. It sounded like, “You will hear soon,” but I couldn’t be sure. I turned to question him, but he was walking rapidly away and I said nothing. Very peculiar. I didn’t mention it to Barbara. No need to upset her. I’m sure that she remembers those other messages all too well. Poor Barbara.

July 19
There can be no doubt of it, the messages have begun again. We passed the library this afternoon and a word was white-washed on the front window, one word, printed large - “Soon”. When I looked again, it had disappeared, but it was there. Barbara didn’t notice it, but then she never has.
I have examined my feelings assiduously and they are, in ascending order, trepidation, nervous tension and exhilaration.

July 28
We still haven’t been to the wedge tomb. I have taken to visiting the library almost daily. Barbara is thrilled by my new interest in research. And it is research, of a sort.
I must backtrack.
A week ago, I found a mesage in a library book, Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, I believe. It was written on the back of a business card, an advertisement for some local tradesman. “Please listen,” it said. The handwriting looked familiar, though I can’t be sure. I kept it, thinking initially that the tradesman’s address and phone number might have some importance. But, of course, that was irrational of me. The writing is what’s important.
    “Please listen.”
The next day, there was nothing. Then on Wednesday, I found a second message in a copy of “Time” magazine. It was the purest luck that I happened to find it. I rarely read “Time”. “You are among strangers, but you are constantly observed,” it said. Not very comforting. Not for someone with my history.
On Thursday and Friday, there were two more messages at the library, the first stuck under the cushion of a chair.
    “The woman is watching you,” it said.
The woman. I suppose that means Barbara. The second was pinned to the public bulletin board where anyone could have seen it. Of course, since it was intended only for me, no one else would have understood it, but it still seemed injudicious. It said, “The vitamins are really tranquilizers.” I take vitamins. We both do. Barbara lays mine out for me when she takes hers. I do not take tranquilizers of any kind and have not for over six months. Dr Hanley said that there was no further need for them. My blood pressure medication is sufficient to alleviate the probability of either a stroke or a coronary. He assured me of that. The woman was there when he told me. Barbara.
I must be very careful. Very appropriate in my reactions.

August 5
We walked to the wedge tomb yesterday. It is larger than the picture suggested and has a black hole of an entrance which resembles a crooked mouth. Over-imaginative perhaps, but that’s what it looked like to me. The B.P. took a snapshot of me standing in front of it. B.P. is Barbara Person. I shall call her that from now on, for the best of reasons. She is not Barbara. Looking back, I am sure that I have not seen Barbara, the real Barbara, since we left the States. Perhaps even before that. Once, when we’d made our travel plans and begun to pack, I came upon her crying. She tried to hide it from me, but she was crying and I knew it. I am fairly convinced that it was Barbara that day. Since then, I must assume that it has been the B.P.
We get on famously, the B.P. and I. I’m sure she has no idea that I am aware of the deception. We laugh a great deal and, just the other day, she said, “You are so much better, aren’t you, darling?” Darling.
    “Oh, yes,” I said, “ever so much better.”
You can imagine how difficult it is for me. But I am very accurate and disciplined in my thinking, and I have stopped taking vitamins. She trusts me to remember them myself, though she continues to administer my blood pressure medicine.
We spent over an hour at the wedge tomb and walked home hand-in-hand, the B.P. and her hubby. The villagers all smile at us now, that nice American couple. Jesus!
Stop it.

August 10
The messages have been appearing in such profusion that I can hardly keep up with them. I am afraid to record them, for fear the B.P. will discover the evidence in my own writing, but I remember every word. My memory is crystal-clear, better than it has ever been, I think. I am continually amazed by my ability to juggle the messages and the B.P. so easily. Dr. Hanley would be proud of me.
Just this morning, there was writing in the steam on the bathroom mirror.
    “You know what you must do,” it said. And of course, I do. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
On the evening of our visit to the wedge tomb, there was a message on the margin of the newspaper - safe enough, since the B.P. never reads it.
    “Your blood pressure prescription is worthless,” it said.
    “You no longer require medication of any kind.”
That night I told the B.P. that I wanted to be fully responsible for myself, by taking my own medicine from now on. The B.P. beamed and said that it showed how healthy I was and she was so happy to see such a change in me. I could have burst out laughing, but I just beamed back at her and have not taken a pill since.
The next morning, a message was tucked into the pocket of my robe. It said, “Go back to the wedge tomb, alone.” I told the B.P. that I wanted to take really long walk, knowing that she intended to make curtains and would be occupied all day. I left about ten o’clock and fairly sprinted. When I got there, a note was anchored under some pebbles at the mouth of the tomb. Again, a tad risky, but no one was about.
    “The answer to your problem is here,” it said.
    “The B.P. will kill you if you stay in that house.”
I was thoroughly taken aback. Up to that point, I hadn’t thought ahead as I should have. Not only had it never occurred to me that the B.P. might actually be dangerous, but it had seemed enough to simply deal with each new bit of information as it came. Undisciplined of me, I admit - but I’d been enjoying the challenge of the present and giving no thought to the future.
I sat for a while in the shade of the tomb, letting myself relax and enjoy the quiet. A lovely place, really, almost welcoming. I suppose “homelike” is the word I’m looking for.
A course of action began to form in my hand and as it took shape, I made certain plans which I will describe later. I must be accurate, though for whose eyes, I can’t imagine. No one will ever read this journal. Wasn’t it the B.P. who thought that keeping a journal would be good therapy for me. How ironic. I can’t keep from laughing out loud and then cannot control the laughter.
Stop it.
I fell asleep briefly, lulled by the heat and the silence and when I woke, a message was scrawled on the side of the tomb. Shocking to desecrate an ancient monument with graffiti but, as at the library, it disappeared as soon as I read it.
    “Go home,” it said, “and prepare.”
I went reluctantly, but secure in the knowledge that it was only temporary. And I have returned every day between then and now, taking with me such tools as I need to do what I must. I have told the B.P. that I am studying rock formations, in preparation for writing an article, perhaps a book. She accepts this as she does everything, with a mindless smile and a quick little hug, which I return, with effort.
The messages of the last few days have been more or less repetitious, variations on “Hurry, time is short,” “Take nothing with you. There is no need for it,” and “Remember to act appropriately,” which I felt smacked of Dr. Hanley.
Tonight is the last I shall spend with the B.P.

August 11
Last night I watched the B.P. sleep. She lies on her back, although she knows that it makes her snore. She looks like a little farm animal, perhaps a donkey, with her legs drawn up and her mouth open and slack. I watched her and listened to the soft rasp of her breathing and checked my list of things-to-do.
I am stronger than I ever realized, for with a crow-bar, a shovel, and a length of stout rope, I have succeeded in moving a large flat stone into readiness at the entrance of the wedge tomb. Difficult, but not impossible for someone who used to be an engineer. And I was, I’m almost certain that I was. I have enlarged the mouthlike opening just the smallest fraction, so that it can be entered without any problem. Inside it is much larger and deeper than it appears from the outside. Quite comfortable, actually. I have disposed of my tools and the rest of the rope in some thick gorse a mile from the tomb. The bit of rope that remains will not be visible when I am finished.
Tonight I am physically dizzy and short of breath with anticipation. I can feel the pulse beating in my temples and my head aches from excitement. Over-stimulation can have that affect. It won’t be long now. I can hardly wait.
In a short while, I shall tell the B.P. that I want to work late on my notes and, when she is peacefully asleep and snoring on her sturdy little back, I will go. I debated leaving a note for her, but have decided against it. She is, after all, nothing to me. Dr. Hanley would understand and so would Barbara. Poor Barbara.
I am taking nothing but my journal with me. The messages are most explicit on that point.
The flat rock is ready, tilted and weighted at exactly the correct angle and, when I am safely inside the wedge tomb, I will pull the rope in after me, releasing the stone and sealing the entrance permanently.

________

Taken from ‘‘Footprints on the Limestone’ (1993), pages 87-95.

 


Marg Wright