Extract from Vivika Widow’s ‘The Grip’
Jessica McElroy had been preparing her evening meal at precisely six o’clock as she did every evening. As the pot bubbled on the stove she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window. She had reached her middle age without the grey becoming too evident through her blonde hair. Her skin was soft and pale like it had been in her youth. Only the slight lines of crows feet were telling of her age. Yet, she couldn’t smile. She couldn’t seem to affix any kind of emotion. That horrified her the most. She looked back towards her stove. The television in the parlour was playing a comedy show. The comedian was throwing himself around like a clown to an appreciative live audience. The laughter from the screen drew her attention, finally she smiled. How dazzling that smile had been twenty years before. ‘You could be a model,’ she had been told more than once. She chose instead to marry Walter and bear their son.
The telephone began to ring. She ran to answer it. When she lifted the receiver her heart began to beat a little faster.
“Mrs. McElroy?” asked the voice on the other line, a deep resonant tone of an ageing professional. “My name is Jack Farther. I’m the head of student services here at Filton College.”
Jessica’s heart began to beat faster still. Her son, Dorian, was a student at Filton College. When his father left them it seemed Dorian could be no more interested in her than Walter. He left for college and in the beginning there were regular phone calls, sometimes twice a day. Those calls became twice a week, then twice a month until eventually they stopped altogether. Jessica had written him several letters and after a trickle of replies they finally ceased too. Dorian was set on becoming a teacher. He had had his nose in a book ever since he was a little boy. He was nineteen now and in a few short years he would make a confident, encouraging English teacher for young people like himself. The phone call from Mr Farther had come out of the blue. The college had never contacted her for anything. Jessica couldn’t help but wonder what trouble Dorian had found himself in.
“This is Mrs. McElroy,” replied Jessica after a few moments contemplative silence. “What’s wrong? What has happened? Is Dorian okay?”
Mr. Farther breathed a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry Mrs. McElroy. Can you come to the college right away?”
Jessica shook her head, as little good as it would do over the phone. Her body tensing was evident in the tones of her voice. “The not knowing will drive me crazy. It is a long trip to Filton and it will only torture me. Please tell me what has happened.”
Mr. Farther pulled the receiver away from his mouth. Jessica could still hear his voice speaking to someone else but it was muffled and faint. When he returned to her clearer he said, “Please Mrs. McElroy, I really shouldn’t do this over the phone.”
Jessica insisted, “If Dorian has found himself in trouble please tell me what I can do to fix it.”
Mr. Farther sniffed. “Earlier this evening, Dorian’s room-mate found him,” he stuttered; hesitated. “Dorian had taken pills. Dorian is dead.”
The receiver fell from her hand. Tears immediately began to stream from her eyes as the words dropped into her ears like a deadly poison clouding her brain. She caught her reflection in the window again and this time it was filled with emotion. The pots on the stove were beginning to bubble over.
“Mrs. McElroy? Mrs. McElroy?” Mr. Farther continued to call over the phone as the other end fell away.
Jessica managed to pick up the telephone again. “Why?” was all she could mutter.
Mr. Farther adopted a more soothing voice. “I’m so sorry Mrs McElroy. I had known Dorian his whole time here at Filton. He was a good boy. Please can you come down here?”
“Yes, yes of course. I’ll leave right away.”
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