http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNrKj7ABF4c 

cock robinBy Chris Wilson

“Ladies and gentlemen, we now are entering the Prison museum execution chamber, where so many poor souls have ended their days!”

Robert dramatically swept his hand towards the gallows and the open trap door, while the visiting group looked apprehensively on return.

“Imagine if you will  I am Albert Pierrepoint, England’s longest serving public executioner, and one of you might possibly be my client for the day. Note the Spartan emptiness of the room, the waiting noose, the polished trapdoor lever, the standard drop length chart om the wall, and the proximity of the condemned mans cell and this room. ”

He paused for a moment and ushered them closer to the trapdoor

“Now think what it would be like to be standing on the door, moments before you are to die. Just think of the terror and despair that might be racing through your mind. Our little tour will soon be finishing and we shall once more return to the comfort of the outside world, but as we leave the room perhaps we should spare a thought for those who were denied such pleasures. Let us be thankful that– unlike so many others before us– we have the freedom to walk away!”

Robert watched his group intently as they looked around the room. Two of them simply yawned, checked their time and looked towards the exit, but the other group members either looked thoughtfully around the room or even tentatively touched the equipment  they had just been shown

He felt sad though, as this tour was now closing, and due to lack of funds, the museum and his tour would be no more. What did the future hold for him he wondered. What would he and his wife Evelyn do all day, and, upon locking the doors behind him for the last time,  would anyone remember all the tours he had done with so much pride?

**************************************************

Officially retired from the prison service now, Robert loved doing the prison tour as it gave him a credibility he had never enjoyed before. During his working life he had worked within the prison kitchens and been called Cock Robin because of his penchant for bright red waistcoats and, whilst walking, his pendulous bobbing chin. He had the governors blessing so now he could play out the role of official chief guide and public executioner to the full.

He said farewell to his group, walked back the gallows chamber and tidied up the sweet wrappers and tissues the group had, as normal left behind them. As he did so he thought of his tightly regimented rose garden and the neat, tidy and well ordered home that he had created. Then he remembered he needed to talk to Evelyn, about the new detailed housework schedule he had just created out for her, and he wondered what might be going through her mind.

******************************************************

“ A large Americano and a piece of carrot cake with chocolate ice-cream please”

Petite in frame and stature yet as pert as any house sparrow in the springtime, Evelyn, having placed her order, sat at the table of her favourite  cafe and watched life and the river in front of her as it slid effortlessly and serenely by. She shouldn’t have really been there at all. In accordance with Roberts current house cleaning schedule, she should have been at home washing the curtains but the curtains were easy to wash and dried quickly, so always had her time on her hands. She would never tell Robert though, as he would only find other work for her. Then there would be no time for her weekly outing; and for her Americano, carrot cake and ice-cream.

A waiter, her slim hipped tight bottomed special waiter as she secretly thought of him,  appeared by her side with her cake and coffee, and she felt herself beginning to grin. The coffee was fresh and inviting, and a pot of steaming hot fresh milk sat invitingly by its side. She always liked her coffee and ice cream cradled carrot cake, but today was special, for as she sat there in the sunshine she thought of a letter she had just received that lay tucked inside her handbag. I was from her friend in America and as she sipped her coffee she thought of the discreet yet wonderfully rich friendship that, for so long now, they had both enjoyed.

She had received letters from him before off course, but this one was special. It had arrived on her birthday, it was in a pink envelope. and it smelt of roses. Not for the first time Evelyn wondered just how exciting things might have been in America, and how different her life might have been had her choice of partner been bolder. When she was younger her friend  had offered love and excitement, while Robert had presented her with security. She was 21 then, security seemed to be more important than passion or romance, and therefore she had chosen Robert. He was lean and fit then,  but he was now he was just dull, fat, petty, pedantic and predictable, and she hated his rose beds and his absurd and ridiculous bouncing chin.  Now she wanted more from life than Robert could ever give her, and stifled by Robert’s autocracy, she  could no longer remember when, within their marriage, such excitement had been around

She still had that unopened letter  though, so sipping on a refill of coffee that her waiter always offered her she began to anticipate what might her friend might have to say. She wanted life now, freedom and excitement, but as she looked down toward the slow moving river, she also knew  she would have to be careful. As Robert’s wife she had a role and unofficial position  within the prison service and local community to consider. That position had to be honoured and respected , or at least, by careful management, it must be utilised to the full.

She still felt slightly giddy and exited as she thought about the letter. How was her American friend, she wondered, what was with the letter, the scent and the coloured envelope, and, what promises of love and freedom might be quietly simmering inside?

***********************************************************

The execution chamber was now spotless, and looking around the room Robert felt very proud. It was all there, just as it always was, and just as it always should have been. No squeaks, no stiff levers or rusty hinges, no dust, and no gum or wrappers; just the noose, a small chair and plain pine table, and on the table a small vase of traditional Old English fragrant roses that he always cut and brought in from his prize winning rose bushes .

The roses and his waistcoat of course should never have been there, as the Prison Governor frequently reminded him, for they lacked authenticity, but they were his roses and it was his waistcoat; and both brought a touch of life and colour into the otherwise dispassionate room. It was his tour, not the Governor’s, and the tour had become an extension of who Robert was inside. For him life, and the tour, was all about order, discipline, fine detail, and his roses. He closed the trapdoor, checked and re-oiled the trapdoor mechanism, and then lovingly polished the vase containing the roses. The blooms smelt as sweet as ever, and he wanted to stay with them, but there was still one more tour to come.

He checked his watch carefully, and scuttled towards the museum entrance, where the final group of the day would soon be ready and waiting, but as he moved down the echoing corridors before him he began to think about his supper and his beloved rose garden, and of course of Evelyn who, as ever, would be patiently awaiting his return. He still loved Evelyn , and he looked forward to seeing her, but, deep down, his roses were his true love. They never spoke words that hurt him, and they were his refuge from the cruel and confusing real world outside. He pulled himself up sharply though, for he was in that world and he still had a job to do. He was lucky, he loved the job, and he was important. He also loved himself as much as his shiny tour guide badge, his peaked cap, and his scarlet waistcoat, and his ever present enormous bunch of keys. Nearly all the keys were redundant, rather like Robert himself, as some of the younger Prison Warders termed him, but they were were wrong. He was Albert Pierrepoint, he was important, the Governor and the Prison Service couldn’t do without him; and anyway the show had to go on!

*******************************************************

Evelyn looked silently out of the kitchen window at the rose gardens that lay before her.

“Six more weeks”.She muttered to herself. “Just six more weeks until Robert finally retires”

She looked at the secateurs on the table beside her, and a recently sharpened garden spade that lay propped up to one side. Looking at the roses once again she cut the air with her fingers, and smiled maliciously, but then uncrossed her arms and looked at the clock on the kitchen sideboard. Robert would be home soon; so it was time to prepare their meal.

“Shepherd’s pie tonight dear

He had said as he left that morning

It was Tuesday. Tuesdays always meant shepherd’s pie, and carrots of course, even during the summer. There had to be order, there had to be discipline, according to her so called Lord and Master, but Evelyn didn’t like carrots, or shepherds pie, unless, –just for once,she thought laconically–it was made with shepherds,  and, not for the first time in their stale and stagnant marriage she wanted to throw caution to the winds. She still had time before she had to start cooking, so she walked out into the hallway and to the main staircase beyond. She walked up the stairs and checked each step carefully. She reached the top of the stairs. She smiled, bent down, and made a slight adjustment to the carpet. Robert would be home soon. He would go upstairs and have a bath, as he always did when he came home. Then he would come down for his supper. She looked forward to him coming down for his supper. It would be ready earlier than usual, and, if her plan worked our perfectly she might not need to have carrots or shepherd’s pie at all. It was handy that Robert was so regular, predictable and respectable. It was perfect for her carefully laid plans.

********************************************************

“Are you nearly ready dear?”.Evelyn’s voice was unexpected as it was unwelcome, as Robert had slipped into a day dream about his roses, and grunting irritably, he glared at the clock on the window shelf  behind the bathroom  washbasin

“Dinner on the table in 10 minutes Robert,” There was more urgency now, it was 6 pm exactly. That was odd as Evelyn normally only started cooking then, but clambering out of the bath and wrapping himself in a bath towel, he opened the door of the bathroom and called to her down the stairs.

“Dinner so soon Evelyn? Don’t worry though, I won’t be long”

He got dressed quickly, too quickly, and as the leather laces in his moccasin slippers snapped between his fingers, he frowned as he walked rapidly out of the bathroom. He hadn’t noticed they were weak and in need of changing and that puzzled him, because he was normally so particular about such things, but shrugging his shoulders briefly, he moved towards the head of the stairs.

“Bother these slippers”.

He whispered quietly, as his feet hit the top step, and began to slip from beneath him “Bother these laces, I must get some more…..”

******************************************

“Thank you so much for coming, you’ve all been so very kind”

The neighbours, her friends, the police, the prison service and the doctor; none of them seemed to suspect anything. Accidental death, the doctor had called it, and it was all so easy, for nobody, not even the policemen, had ever said a word. A couple of stair pins, Robert’s hammer, kid gloves, and a pair of brand new moccasin slippers; that was all she needed, and she had bought those months ago. Just that, plus thirty minute’s privacy and a couple of phone calls; and then the job was done.

“He must have just slipped Officer, such a tragic accident!”

Everyone believed her of course, but then, living in England, and being so respectably married,  she always knew they would do. Grey haired, misty eyed, slightly meek and utterly helpless; she had practised and played her part well and now she was free to live the life she had always wanted. Now she could rest in the arms of her American friend and soon top be lover, and now she could realise her dream

She took her friends letter from the envelope, unfolded it carefully, kissed it softly, and smiled. All her friends had just told her she needed a holiday. What they didn’t know was she had already booked her tickets, the tickets were for America, the house would soon be on the market, and she would be away for a very, very , long time

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Categories: Short Stories, Walk on the Dark Side

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