by Joyce Bingham
I have never been alone in this room. The heavy door closes behind me, the rest of the house hidden from sight and I from them. My footsteps falter. I look down at my feet willing them to continue further into the room. As I place the lamp on the table at the door, his portrait above the fireplace regards me with those same eyes he mocked me with in life. His desk dominates the book-lined room. I have the key to the desk in the drawstring bag at my waist. My widows’ weeds are stiff in their newness, the taffeta rustles, the heavy jet necklace thumps my chest, keeping time with my rock of a heart. I look around the study, his books, his leather chair at the fire. He never stinted on having that fire aglow, my drawing room cold whilst he drank and read in comfort.
The lamp lights a path to the desk, my shadow leans to insert the key. It turns as if cutting through butter. I open the large drawer as instructed in the will. It is a mess of papers with ink splodges and wax drips higgledy-piggledy. This is unlike the fastidious man I knew. I sense the touch of his odious friend Mr Sumner. In the midst of this mess is a large pink leather box, new and smelling of the leather-workers hands and chemicals. Even after all these years I can still hear the thrum of the leather works, the men calling to each other the stench of the tanks. This leather has the smell of death.
The box feels soft and warm to the touch as I lift it out and onto the desk, it seems to pulse, hum with a vibrancy. I withdraw my hands. No, I’m sure it is my own heart beating fast within my tight corset, Jane pulled the strings so hard today. I open the lid of the box, and bend to peep inside, I can see little. My fingers begin to tremble, my stomach clenches, I make myself open the lid further.
A portrait of his eyes, the stare accusing, hides behind the lid, I almost see them blink. I look away. A red silk cloth hides the contents. When I pluck at it, the silk wraps itself around my fingers, writhing between them. The silk slips revealing a skull. White in the flickering light of the lamp. The empty sockets look up to me from the leather box, made of his skin. His teeth, white and strong shine in the lamp light, a grin worthy of his malice.
A card written in his hand falls from the silk cloth.
My Dear Martha, I leave you my body and soul, my love always, William.
The curtain moves. A shadow falls across the desk. I can smell the pomade he used in his hair. He is here.
Joyce Bingham is a Scottish writer who enjoys writing short fiction with pieces published by VirtualZine, Funny Pearls and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in the North of England where she makes up stories and tells tall tales. @JoyceBingham10
Photograph via Hayden Peters, Art of Mourning.