‘You’ve committed a crime.’
In writing this, I seem to have morphed the challenge into, ‘A crime has been committed’, which may qualify as a total cop out on my part, but I’m willing to endure the derisive remarks and the inevitable relentless shaming that will no doubt come my way as a result. My challenge this week fell to Jen, whose response can be found here.
Brevity had always been among his many strengths. It was, therefore, unsurprising that his final communication consisted of a solitary sentence written in a shaky hand: ‘She left me no alternative.’ Slightly more curious was the letter’s resting upon a desk adjacent to the couch on which it’s author reclined, eyes closed, legs crossed, one arm behind his head. In the chair next to the couch sat his wife looking as though she were taking a nap. The entire scene reeked of a normal evening in a normal house occupied by a normal couple, the exception being that they were dead. It was clear that the end had arrived quietly, no blood, no broken lamps, no sign of struggle. As a matter of fact, to the homicide detective gazing in wonder at the scene, it appeared that this might be a lovely way to die, all things considered. Certainly better than he was used to seeing, anyhow.
In the coming days, it became clear that the struggle invisible to the naked eye had been confined within the mind of the dead man and placed there in large part by the woman in the chair. He had been a chemist of some renown, a bit of a prodigy and a relatively young professor at a prestigious university. Having recently been awarded the sacred crown of tenure, it seemed for a time that the world was suddenly his oyster. His decision to celebrate his good fortune by abruptly marrying someone known for leaving a wake of destruction in her path floored everyone. What prodigies possess in brain power and talent, they sometimes lack in social discretion and common sense. He had married her against the almost unanimous warnings of family and friends, including even some of her own.
Their second year of marriage saw the birth of a little girl, subsequently named Molly. While he was ecstatic, his wife soon became less enamored with the routine necessary in the care and feeding of a small human. Domestic bliss began to crumble as the professor’s lab grew in relation to his need to maintain and acquire the funding necessary to support his research, position, and, by extension, his familial security. As soon as was practicable, however, his wife began pawning off every duty possible to him in exchange for trips to anywhere else with anyone willing to accompany her. Within two years, rumors had spread detailing affairs, plural, and unconfirmed reports of an abortion that had taken place in the vicinity of a favorite getaway destination.
Through interviews with friends and colleagues, it became clear to investigators attempting to make sense of the situation that the father had done all he could to protect his daughter from the wreckage of her mother’s indiscretions. Having caught wind of his clandestine discussions with a divorce lawyer, the wife appeared to have decided upon a preemptive strike of her own. She made public accusations that in her absence, her husband had abused their daughter and then threatened divorce in the event that she attempted to report it. The authorities acted immediately, assuming for the sake of safety that the father was guilty, and removed both mother and daughter from the house. Life began a very rapid descent for the chemist, his reputation destroyed by an accusation that, while untrue, nevertheless planted a seed in people’s minds that could never be unplanted.
Placed on administrative leave from the university, as well as enduring widespread ostracization, hopelessness soon took hold. Those working in his lab reported finding evidence of his having spent nights there working on something, though none could be sure what exactly. The solitary clues as to his efforts were books detailing protocols involved in the isolation of various compounds from plants. The toxicologist involved in the autopsy heard this seemingly meaningless piece of information and sat down shaking his head in a combination of awe and dismay. In all his years of lab work, he’d never seen anything so complex.
The final story of the couple’s penultimate evening centered around the chemist’s offer to his wife of a feigned reconciliation over a bottle of wine. He was willing to give her whatever she wanted in exchange for her admitting to the erroneousness of the accusations. Knowing that she’d never agree to such a thing, her pride being more important than her integrity, he had added a compound to the wine. Acquisition of the hemlock was easy. The difficult part had been the isolation and purification of the alkaloids from the plant, followed by their being made soluble in alcohol and undetectable to the senses. Difficult, but certainly not impossible. Many times during the process, the irony of having spent a life acquiring the talent he was now using to end it overwhelmed him. He sustained himself with the resolution that his daughter would not be brought up by this woman.
As he watched his wife slip quietly into paralysis, he sipped from his own glass and reflected on how his daughter also deserved better than a father who moonlighted as a murderer. Knowing how limited his time was, he walked to the desk, penned the sentence, then fell to the ground. Crawling over to the couch, he reminded himself that Socrates had died from the same compound, though in a much nobler way. There was no consolation in philosophy here, though. Through heavy lips, he whispered, “I’m sorry, Molly. You’re welcome.”
Sir @ May 19, 2011