He had his back turned to lock the door but she was still talking at him and he could see the jabbing finger that always went along with the words when she really got going.
“See, the way I look at it is…….”
He didn’t listen to the rest. There was no need to. After being married to her for fifty two years he knew exactly how Elizabeth looked at everything. Even the way that he tied his shoelaces and brushed his teeth. There was nothing that she didn’t have an opinion about and most of the time she shared it with him, never noticing whether he wanted to hear it or not. She marched through the gate, leaving instructions that he should make sure the sneck was down, and he followed her miserably to the shops down the road. A long time back he had tried to do the shopping for her on his own but it had proved too difficult. When he arrived back at the house and dumped the carrier bags down on the table (this was in the days before she turned against carrier bags) there would always be something wrong, something missing, something forgotten. It had got to the point where he would just stand there next to her as she unpacked the bags, being told to get out from under her feet, waiting to find out what it was. So when they had both retired he had been declared unfit to do it on his own and they had started to go shopping together. She had a bad knee and needed him to carry the bags.
The supermarket was not very busy. It never was in the winter. The visitors in the summer made it more interesting, he liked smiling at the kiddies and seeing what they had bought, but in winter there were just the same few grey pinched faces glad to get out of the wind and hoping for a chat. Elizabeth liked that. It meant that there were more people to listen to her pontificate. Familiar faces were not able to lose themselves in the crowds when they saw her coming. Pontificate. He liked that word. It described what his wife did perfectly. She didn’t have conversations, she made announcements and declarations. Today it was Jack and Pauline Dobson who were the victims. As he stood slightly behind them, almost unseen, and watched their faces he could see what Elizabeth never noticed. He saw their hesitation, their restlessness, eventually even their annoyance, as the flow of words washed over them, leaving them no space to make their apologies and leave her standing there. When they did manage to find a way to reply to her this only provided a fresh impetus for Elizabeth to feed off, a new source of energy for her stream of words. He watched them walk off, hunchbacked and cowed into silence when they finally managed to get away, wishing that he could do the same. They had only had five or ten minutes of it. He had a lifetime.
“Can you reach one of them bread loaves down?”
He grabbed one and put it in the basket. She looked at the little brown label on it and pointed at the top shelf.
“Get that one behind.”
He looked up at the top shelf in puzzlement. She sighed at the delay and pointed wearily.
“What’s wrong with the one you’ve got?”
“The one at the back will have a longer sell by date.”
He reached back and grabbed it. It did. She was always right, at least in her own mind.
“Put that one back.”
He did. He followed her up and down the aisles as the trolley filled up relentlessly, thinking about his garden and doing as he was told. Finally the shopping was declared finished and they were allowed to go the checkout. There was no queue. Elizabeth would like that. She greeted the slightly embarrassed check out girl as though she were a long lost friend and bludgeoned her into a conversation about Dancing On Ice. The girl had watched it, so it went on a fair while, but it wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t. He waited for the stream of words to stop, eyeing up the rows of sweets near the tills. Maybe he could get a bounty bar to eat while he watched the news. She didn’t like coconut. Finally someone else turned up behind them and the girl started shaking out a carrier bag for the next customer so Elizabeth was forced to move on.
“You take those two. Watch that milk and make sure the iced buns keep on top.”
He picked up the bags wondering how he had ever managed to hold down a responsible job in an insurance office when he now needed instructions before it was safe for him to carry a bag. He said nothing of course, he never did. It only led to trouble.
As they walked home Elizabeth kept up a running commentary describing their trip to the shops, as if he hadn’t been there. What the supermarket stocked, what it didn’t stock, who they had seen and what they had said, who they might have seen and what they might have said. He heard it all as he trudged behind her, but he didn’t listen. There was no need. He would hear it all over again while he ate his dinner.
When they got into the kitchen she dropped the bags that she was carrying down onto the table with the same “Ooooof” sound that she always made. He winced.
“Well, that’s a good job done. I like to get out and about and see folks. Let’s get that kettle on.”
He sat down at the kitchen table, knowing that there was a right place for everything in the cupboards and he didn’t know where it was. The kettle screamed out its frustration, matching the pain inside his head.
When the prosecuting counsel asked him why he had murdered her he simply said that he couldn’t stand the sound of her voice anymore.