With No Regrets
by Bertil Falk
At this time of day when most funerals take place, Mrs. Terence Thompson stood looking down at the exquisite coffin that was being lowered six feet down into the surface of the earth we live on. In the bright sunshine, a lukewarm breeze of late summer caressed the maple leaves of the shadowing trees as well as her cheeks, but Mrs. Terence Thompson felt nothing. She felt stunned, but she was not petrified. She felt she was surrounded by a kind of haze but was not out of touch.
“I always thought she was totally indifferent,” she heard the voice of her mother-in-law saying through the haze, “but now I can see that she really loved Terence.”
That was the first time Lois Thompson had expressed a positive opinion of her daughter-in-law. Another voice, a voice she could not recognize the owner of, commented out of that same haze, “She’s shocked of course. His dying in that condition would have shocked anyone.” A third voice, which belonged to someone who had not heard or not understood the slight emphasis on the word “that,” unsuspectingly asked if Terence Thompson’s heart condition had a history or if his cardiac death was a surprise.
Actually, Terence Thompson’s history of heart problems was short. The condition was discovered during a medical check-up a few months before he died.
Slowly they lowered the coffin. Now that it with a light thud reached the bottom of the pit, Terence’s last journey came to an end.
Terence Thompson was 32 years old when he died of heart failure. It came as a surprise to all of his friends and acquaintances. They had known him as a well-trained sportsman who played football and once even run the New York marathon. In his day he had been a good-looking hunk of a man, and if people were surprised at his death they had not been surprised when he married one of the most beautiful and coveted young women in the community, a former cheerleader, Virginia Lane.
He had been 25 then and she, 21. From that can be deduced that the widow, for the time being, was 28, standing as if petrified at the edge of her husband’s grave, but without being petrified, just a little bit stunned somewhere in her mind and surrounded by some kind of haze.
Only three people had known about his weak heart: his doctor, himself, and she. Would things have been different if people had known? She did not think so, but she was not sure. And it was too late to think of that now.
After the funeral, some hundred people gathered inside the house, where the haze if anything thickened. In a corner of that haze, father George O’Brien was involved in a theological discussion with someone. “You’re wrong,” she heard him saying. “An enormous number of people admit their sins without any regrets.”
Friends, acquaintances, strangers expressed their condolences. She shook their hands and she was hugged and then they disappeared one by one out of the haze and went back into the real world. The only one who remained was her mother-in-law.
When the door shut behind the last mourner, the haze lifted. Mrs. Lois Thompson turned to her daughter-in-law and bluntly asked her if she had known about Terence’s heart.
“Yes,” she replied.
“You didn’t tell me?”
There was a strong strain of accusation in that voice.
“Terence forbade me to tell anyone.”
“Especially you,” she said, not without a wish to hurt.
“You knew your son, didn’t you? He never told you anything if he could avoid it.”
“But he told you!”
“He didn’t tell me!”
Her mother-in-law took a step backwards.
“For heaven’s sake. Don’t look so silly, Lois. He didn’t tell me much more than he told you.”
“How come you knew, then?”
“I overheard him talking to his doctor over the phone. When I asked him about it, he forbade me to mention it to anyone: especially not to you. Do you hear me? He emphasized NOT to you!”
But Mrs. Terence Thompson did not tell her mother-in-law that she had had a long conversation with Philip Linklater, her husband’s doctor.
She was free. She did not have to be Mrs. Terence Thompson any more. She could be Mrs. Virginia Thompson or... what if she used her maiden name... why not Virginia Lane? But no, it could offend some people. But free she was, free and rich and childless, thank God.
So what? She had no idea what to do with her acquired freedom. People, especially her mother-in-law thought of her as being an extravagant and pleasure-seeking woman, who would now spend lavishly all the money she inherited. She would not. To begin with, she was not half as extravagant as they thought. And when it came to pleasure, she did not seek it.
It was Terence, who obstinately had urged her to dress extravagantly and go with him to parties all over the place. He used her to show off. She had been a showpiece.
The weeks after the funeral she wore black, the same simple black clothes she bought for the funeral. The days of changing dress every day in order to please Terence were over.
A few weeks after the funeral, Virginia realized that nothing happened that ought to happen. Filled with presentiment, she turned to her gynaecologist. There was no doubt. She was pregnant. And the memory she had tried to avoid and push aside came over her with overpowering strength.
Terence stood in the doorway. It was well after midnight. She was lying on her bed in her negligee reading. He begged her to have mercy on him. She turned him down as she had done the last two months.
But this time he did not obey. She tried to offer resistance, but it was too late and he was too strong. Before she knew where she was, he forced himself into her. And he was great. Two months without lovemaking was obviously the spice that had been missing in their married life. They had been doing it too often. At the very moment he came, the wall clock in the dining salon was striking one. It was like the sound of communion.
They had not been to the church for a long time, and now Terence certainly had something to tell his father confessor. She almost heard him whispering, “I raped my wife.”
The sound of the wall clock died out and he ran out of steam and his big body weighed heavily on her. All of a sudden he stopped gasping and made a strange sound. He wheezed. She tried to push him away and get him out of her. But there was no life in him. He was totally slack.
She looked at his face. His eyes were glassy. It was then a feeling of horror seized her. She began to grasp that the sound he had made was a death rattle. Seized by panic, she in some way or another succeeded in getting him out of her. His body rolled over on his back when she pushed and pushed. She called his doctor, Philip Linklater.
Not only rape but also death did them apart. The events had opened her eyes in more than one respect. The discovery that the secret of good intercourse was continence came late, too late. They had simply made love too often. It took a deadly rape to explain that simple truth to her. Now that she was pregnant, she found it strange that Terence, who always wanted a child, preferably a son of course — that was what could be expected by an American sportsman — had made her pregnant when he raped her and died. The irony of it was striking.
Her first thought was to get rid of the child. But even though she was a poor churchgoer, she had been brought up as a good Catholic, and she found to her amazement that an aversion to abortion was profoundly imprinted in her mind like a watermark.
During her feminist period she had enthusiastically embraced the idea of abortion, but it had obviously been a theoretical hug. Now that the idea had a bearing on her own life, the idea of abortion seemed repulsive to her. That was the reason why she decided on having the child.
She kept the news to herself for a while. Her mother-in-law visited her now and then. Mrs. Lois Thompson could not fail to notice that her daughter-in-law dressed less extravagantly and that she appeared to lead a quiet life in the big house and she was not surprised when Virginia told her that she was going to sell it.
“Too big for me,” Virginia said. “I think it always was too big, even for Terence and me.”
“Enough room if you had had children,” Mrs. Lois Thompson said, and Virginia tried to find a reproach in that statement, but she could not find it.
“But you’re right,” Mrs. Lois Thompson added. “It’s too big for a single woman like you.” And she bit her lip. “I think that you and I... that we’ve got closer since Terence died.”
“You never liked me,” Virginia replied.
“Did you like me?”
“I married Terence. I was not interested in you. Whether you were there or not was all the same to me.”
“You just saw me as a part of the furniture, something in the background of your married life.”
“Not even that,” Virginia said. “As far as you were concerned, I couldn’t care less. I knew of course that you didn’t approve of me, but that was what I expected from a woman who had lost her only son to another woman. You would have disliked and disapproved of whatever woman Terence married. It happened to be me. Did you want grandchildren?”
“I think so. I was looking forward to them. And now... well, dreams die for lack of fuel.”
“Do you realize what happened that night when Terence died?”
“He died in your arms.”
“He died at the moment when he emptied himself inside me and the wall clock was striking one o’clock. Please sit down, Lois. I’ll tell you something and it’ll give you a shock.”
Mrs. Lois Thompson stood there without moving.
“Sit down,” Virginia said.
Reluctantly, Mrs. Lois Thompson dropped into a chair.
“That’s better. The bad news I will tell you is that Terence died when he raped me.”
Mrs. Lois Thompson flickered and came to her feet.
“Sit down!” Virginia demanded. “There’s more to it. The good news.”
There was silence.
“There’s good news?”
“The good news is that I’m pregnant.”
“Terence raped you and made you pregnant and died?” She was speaking to Virginia, but actually she whispered to herself.
“That’s right. Unknowingly, Terence killed three birds, including himself, with one stone. And I tell you why he raped me and why he died. His doctor had told me that Terence had to take it easy, no more sporting life, no strenuous physical exercises and no exciting love life. He told me that he had given Terence the same governing rules. I stuck to them. Terence didn’t like them. He was ready to give up sports and games but not the marriage bed. I said no and no, he pleaded and begged and now you know the result.”
Mrs. Lois Thompson looked at her daughter-in-law with eyes that roamed about in the room and returned to Virginia and then roamed about again. She tried to gain a foothold in reality.
“You see, your dream has taken on a new lease on life,” Virginia continued. “You’ll become a grandmother. I can’t say if there’ll be a son or a daughter. Personally, I don’t care, but I guess that you want a grandson, but remember one thing. I’m telling you now, and I won’t tell you again. The child will be mine, not yours. If you show tendencies I don’t like, you’ve seen the last of me and of your grandchild. Understood?”
Mrs. Lois Thompson’s lips trembled. For a moment it was as if she was going to cry, but instead she came to her feet and said in a very calm voice, “Understood, Virginia, very much so. I’ll not steal Terence’s child from you. It’s a promise.”
Virginia did not miss the point.
Terence’s child, not hers.
Afterwards, Virginia felt exhausted. She was not as tough as she had seemed to her mother-in-law. And deeply somewhere in her mind something worried her on the verge of pain. It was a kind of knowledge she did not want to acknowledge, something disturbing. For even though she had told her mother-in-law the truth and nothing but truth, she had not told her the whole truth.
That winter she sold the big house and bought a smaller one not far away, just a few blocks down the street.
She walked on the street to her house when someone called out her name. She turned around and saw a man on a cycle on his way in the opposite direction making a sharp turn to bike up to her side.
“How do you do, doctor,” she said and smiled at him.
She had not seen Philip Linklater since the funeral.
“Let’s sit down and have a cup of coffee over there,” he said and five minutes later they sat talking on the pavement café.
“How do you get along?” he asked. “I can see you’re in the family way. It happened then, did it?”
“So he died making you pregnant?”
She nodded again.
“I feel guilty for his death,” he suddenly burst out.
Virginia winced. “Why is that so? You couldn’t help that Terence died, Philip.”
He stroked his dark hair a couple of times and looked down. “I told him to take it easy.”
“You certainly did. You told me too.”
“Yes, but I also said that he could make love if he took it easy.”
“Maybe, it’s my fault,” she said. “I turned him down for two months.”
“Because of what I said?”
“Yes, what other reason could there have been.” And at that, she knew she was lying.
“You’re of course right, but I should have told you not to be too tough on him. So I still feel responsible.”
When the labor began in the spring, she took a taxi to the maternity ward. The delivery went well. As she breast-fed the little hairless thing, she felt that wonderful motherly feeling she had heard so much about.
Her father confessor, George O’Brien, came over and the girl was christened Caroline. Afterwards, he stayed on and talked to her. “You’ve not been to the church for a long while, my friend.”
Funny, how many people she had not seen since the funeral.
“I’ve led a reclusive life since Terence died. I find retired life soothing.”
“You’re always welcome to the church. The girl looks very healthy. She has Terence’s mouth and your eyes.”
Two years passed before Virginia took courage and went to the church. It was three days after Caroline’s second birthday that she entered the confessional. Father George O’Brien leaned forward behind the screen and lent his willing ear to her subdued voice.
“It was a long time ago since I confessed my sins. The reason for that, father, is that I’ve committed a sin most people never commit.”
And she told him about her husband, his heart condition and what the doctor had said to him and what he had said to her.
“When we were told that he should take it easy, that he could die if he overstrained his heart, that his days as a sportsman were over and that love-making could be dangerous, then I made up my mind. I decided that we would not have any sex. But he could not endure celibacy. After two weeks, he wanted sex. I said no. After one month he was more eager. I turned him down and reminded him of what the doctor had said. But he absolutely wanted sex. After two months he came into my room, but this time he didn’t take no for an answer. Within seconds he was over me and inside me and when he reached his climax, he fell down dead upon me.”
There was silence.
“That was my sin, father,” she added.
“I can’t see that you sinned. You say he took you by force?”
“You don’t understand. I was aware of the fact that he couldn’t stand celibacy for too long. I knew well that if he was denied sex for a longer period, he would be very eager and would take me like an animal whatever I said. However I protested. In other words, I realized that I could get rid of him without leaving any clue to my crime. He would kill himself. And that’s what I got him to do. I got him to fuck himself — forgive me my choice of word, father — to death.
“Father, I’ve sinned against the sixth commandment. I carefully planned and deliberately killed Terence. And at the moment I killed him using himself as a murder weapon, I became pregnant.”
If silence could scream, that was what seemed to happen, until father O’Brien’s calm voice asked the unavoidable question: “Do you repent of your sin?”
“Certainly not, father. I’ve no regrets.”
Copyright © 2010 by Bertil Falk