Billy Mathews strolled around the swamps, with his hands in the pockets of his overalls, and a straw hat pulled over his eyes to protect him from the sun. He began to feel hunger pangs.
nag, nag!” he said aloud, tossing his head from side to side. “That’s all she
does. Well, ah won’t put up with it no longer. Ah’ll be strong! Ah’ll show her
this very day! She won’t know what’s ‘it her!”
Billy increased his speed and strode purposefully
toward his home. Half way down the hill one of his favourite views caused him stop and relish the sight. He would often stay in this spot for hours, never tiring of looking at their
house from this angle. He could see the red tiled roof and white washed walls
partly covered with ivy. Feeling immense pride, he admired the yellow door. He insisted on it being yellow and he had won! The fact that Annabelle
was out shopping at the time had nothing to do with it really. A shudder shot
through Billy’s lean body as he recalled the fuss she had made on her return.
Annabelle told him to change the colour
immediately. He pretended to look everywhere for the can of paint she had
bought especially for the job. As Annabelle could not find it either, she gave in. A minor triumph indeed, but nevertheless, a triumph! Billy hoped that
Annabelle would never go near the swamp, for that can of paint still protruded
from the sticky mud to remind him of his treachery!
His thoughts were shattered by the high pitched wail
coming from the vicinity of his house.
“Dinner's ready. Don’t yer let it get cold!”
His face lit up. ‘If
she’s nothing’ else,’ he thought, ‘she’s a durn good cook.’ He scooted down
the rest of the hill and arrived in the kitchen panting loudly.
“Wash yer ‘ans an sit yerself down.” Annabelle
ordered, as she lay the table. “Sometimes ah think yer must be restricted,
runnin’ round like a little boy!”
“Retarded, not restricted!” he yelled back from the
Annabelle never let him wash his hands in the kitchen.
“Ah means restricted. Restricted in yer senses!”
“There she goes already,” he muttered softly. “An’ ah
thought she was complimentin’ me!”
A delicious smell assailed Billy's nostrils as he sat down at the table.‘Times like these,
ah’m glad to ‘av Annabelle,’ he thought, looking lovingly at his plump,
“Yer can get yer mind offa that for a start!” she
said, giving him one of her 'not tonight,’
“Wern’t thinkin’ anythin' of the sort!” he quipped,
gulping down the tasty stew. “Ah was thinking’ ‘ow lucky ah am to ‘ave such a
good cook fer a wife.”
“An’ that’s the only reason yer lucky ah ‘spose!” she
said tersely, settling down to her meal.
“Course not darlin!” he answered between swallows.
“Ah’m lucky to ‘ave this ‘ouse. Lucky to ‘ave a carpenter's ability. Oh, oh, an’
so lucky to ‘av YOU, mah love.”
“Phew!” he sighed. Glad he said the right
thing and was able to eat his delicious stew in peace.
When they finished, Billy got up to serve the
blackberry pie. He put one dish in front of Annabelle and one in his place.
Laying a slice of pie on his plate, he said, “a smaller piece fer me, ‘cos ah’m
smaller,” then smiling broadly, “a bigger piece fer yer, ‘cos, yer, er.., er,
such a good cook.” He remembered just in time that she hated to be called ‘big.’
When Billy finished eating, he used the back of his hand to wipe his lips clean. He thanked Annabelle for the scrumptious meal, and left the
table. Seconds later he was lying on their bed. This was his regular habit. It
helped him get out of the washing up. Annabelle must have finished her meal
as he could hear her singing. To Billy the sound of her singing was much worse than her
Ah can’t take much more of
this,’ he thought. ‘When she’s mad at
me she tears at me eardrums, but when she’s ‘appy, she sings! Nuff’s, enuff!’
he decided, burying his head under the pillow.
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * *
Billy heard no sound when he awoke. He looked out of the
window, and saw Annabelle sitting in her rocking chair in the middle of her flower garden. She
was humming quietly to herself. ‘Even the
flies don't like ‘er voice,’ he thought. ‘There’s never any around, when she's out there.’ Billy stood up and
walked through the kitchen, intending to go to his workshop. He smelled a
lovely inviting smell, the irresistible aroma of freshly baked bread.
If his nose could be relied on, a newly baked cake
too! Billy could not resist. He had almost traced the smell to a cupboard, well
out of reach, when he knocked over one of Annabelle’s homemade wines. The
bottle smashed on the floor! Liquid splashed up the cupboard doors. Billy
stifled his cry of.... “Aaaagh!” and bolted straight through the open back
He ran so fast that he was able to hurdle the wire
fence and dive under his favourite bush! His special ‘hiding’ bush.
“Bill-ee!” Annabelle shouted.
‘Well, she can shout all she wants! Ah’m stayin’ put.’ Ah'll
show her whose master of this house!
Ah’ll say it was the cat!’ Satisfied with this explanation he was able to breathe again.
By the time Billy returned to the kitchen, Annabelle
had cleared up the mess. She glared at him, accusingly with her eyes. He
almost blurted out a denial. Walking away quickly, he went into his workshop.
“Know anythin’ about the broken bottle?” she asked.
“No, my sweet!” he called back from the safe depths of
his den. “Ow did it get broke?”
“Ah were hopin’ yer could tell me that!” Annabelle guessed the truth, she always did.
“Av to put it down to the cat ah ‘spose.” Annabelle was used to her questions being unanswered.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
That night Billy waited half an hour for
Annabelle to fall soundly asleep. The even sound of her breathing reassured
him. He stealthily slid out of the bed, having some trouble as it was a high
one. He knelt down, and on his hands and knees crawled underneath it. He
rummaged carefully amongst the boxes and suitcases kept under there. Billy
found the pieces of paper with his notes, written for a special purpose. His
movements were constricted, but he managed to switch on his small flashlight
and began to read hungrily.
Suddenly a sound like a wart hog’s grunt, broke the
silence. Billy dropped the flashlight and it rolled a little way. His heart
beat so fast he thought it would explode. He waited as the snoring became quieter.
‘She usually makes noises,’
thinking, ‘but this gruntin’ was
inexcusable.’ Billy fumbled around
to retrieve his torch.
Finding it, he continued to read as he mentally made notes of the particular
leaves needed, and of the way they were to be used. He re-read the title to
make sure that he had instructions for the correct potion. ‘THE SAFE WAY TO MAKE A DOG’S BARK LESS AUDIBLE.’ Billy had previously
checked up on the big word.
Yes, he held the right paper. Billy read on; ‘This method is painless. The potion shrivels up the vocal chords, making the bark far
less audible. This compound made from rare leaves, only to be found by the
swamps can be added to his meal. There is no noticeable taste if added to a
gravy base. Approximately two hours later, the bark will have diminished.’ Beside
the text, there were pictures of the rare leaves.
Annabelle was stirring. Billy listened intently. His
eyes opened wide in the effort to hear better and were nearly popping out of
his head. He dreaded hearing that voice asking where he was, but soon her snoring
took up an even rhythm again. He realised he had been holding his breath and needed
to gulp in air. ‘What a daft way for
a grow’d man to act,’ he thought angrily, ‘but it won’t be fer long now.’ Billy was smiling again as he
climbed ever so gently back into their bed. How easy this should be. For five
years he had wanted to do this and now finally, he had found the courage.
“Ah’ll do it this time,” he whispered. “Ah will, ah
will, ah will!” He brought his arm down heavily on the coverlet. Annabelle
opened one eye. He could see it, even in the dark! She grunted, and then closed
the eye again. ‘Wonder if she’ll be able
to grunt?’ he thought, settling down to sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Billy felt very excited the next morning as he created
the concoction in his work shop. For many years he had visualized the
shape and colour of the leaves constantly in his mind. He even believed he knew
where to find them, although he never dared look before. The time had not
been right, until now.
The leaves were found quite easily by the swamp and
now he was mixing them, draining and blending them. ‘At last,’ he thought, ‘it’s
ready!’ Whilst waiting to be called for dinner, Billy tried to carve the
last leg for a chair that he was renovating. His hands were shaking so much that
he ruined six pieces of wood. Eventually, he heard Annabelle’s wail.
“Bill-ee!” Dinner’s ready!”
He quickly washed his hands and then rushed back into
the kitchen. Billy could not believe his eyes. There was no gravy!
“Where’s the gravy?” he asked in a pitiful voice.
“In the beef pie!” retorted Annabelle, who had never
heard her husband complain before. “There's always ‘nuff gravy for yer in the
pie! If yer want more, yer’ll av to make it yerself!”
Billy was unsure of what to do, so he sat down and
began to eat from the full plate in front of him. The small bottle with the
potion was in his trouser pocket and he could feel the weight against his leg as if it were a weapon.
“Well?” asked Annabelle.
“Well, what?” he asked, horrified by the sudden
twitching of his right eye, which happened whenever he felt guilty. He hoped
Annabelle had not noticed it.
“Well? Is there ‘nuff gravy in yer pie?” She almost
dared him to say no.
Billy surprised them both! “No there ain’t ‘nuff.
Ah’ll make me some more.”
As he stood up, Billy felt his courage returning, but his confident answer made Annabelle stop chewing. She watched him for a
while saying nothing, even though he was making the gravy too watery. Annabelle
felt surprised at this show of independence, and it took a few seconds before
she continued to eat her meal.
Now that her attention was elsewhere, Billy put his
plan into action. He poured the potion
from the small bottle he held,
into the ladle of
gravy he just scooped up. Carrying the ladle carefully, he held the pan with
gravy in his other hand. Billy then walked over to the table. He poured gravy
from the ladle onto Annabelle's pie, but her hand shot out and caught his arm,
turning the ladle with the remaining gravy onto HIS plate!
“Ah’ve got ‘nuff Billy, ‘twas yer that wanted more!” Annabelle
wondered why he looked so horror-stricken.
Billy groaned. What on earth was he to do now?
“What’s wrong with yer, Billy? When ah looked in on
“What?” he interrupted. His right eye began to twitch
Annabelle fixed him with an icy stare. “Ah was sayin’
to yer, that when ah peeped in, ah saw yer throwin’ yer work in the bin.”
He breathed again, but could not stop his eye
“Never seen yer do that before! Are yer ill?”
Billy nodded. He could not remember a time when he had
felt so ill. “Not hungry, Annabelle,” he answered pathetically and truthfully.
She looked at him quizzically, as he sat there with
his arms hanging by his side. Annabelle had never seen such a miserable expression
on his face, especially not when a plate of food was in front of him. In a
strangely gentle tone for her, she asked him to eat a little, to keep his
Billy lifted his horrified eyes from his plate and
looked at Annabelle. She was so concerned that he felt he had to eat some of it.
He tried to find an area which had the least amount of gravy. He managed to
swallow some small mouthfuls, but soon felt like heaving. Annabelle told him
to go and lie down. Passing her on his way to the bedroom, he noticed she
was still eating.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Billy awoke with a start. For a moment, he thought
he could hear Annabelle singing. But he was wrong. Everything was quiet. If he
had mixed the potion properly, she would never sing again. No more nagging
either! He felt so excited. All those years of planning his words for today
and now he could tell her just what he really thought.
Unfortunately, Annabelle could not understand his
pathetic squeaks when he tried to speak! On finding she was unable to speak
either and without even a squeak, she had cried for them both. This made Billy
feel so bad that his eye twitched for days afterwards. Annabelle wrote
down everything she wanted to say to him.
The sound Billy made when he spoke was too
high-pitched for him to be understood. So, he too, had to write down anything
he needed to say to her. Annabelle could not work out what had afflicted them
both, but she accepted it better than he did.
As each day passed, Billy hoped his voice would get
stronger. There was no improvement he could discern so far and it had
been at least a month. Although he had carefully studied all the information on
the vocal shrivelling up potion, Billy decided to check if there might be something he missed. He needed to
know if there was a chance the vocal chords could heal themselves over time.
Billy went back to his stash of private belongings hid
amongst the items under their bed. He found the paper he needed and read it
again. ‘Ow could they do this?’ he
thought. There was nothing written about the length of time this condition
would last. Billy read all the small print on the page he had torn out of that medical magazine. He had been reading the article whilst waiting in his doctor’s
surgery, some years back. That was the last time he had injured himself badly, ‘throwing’ himself around, Annabelle had
called it. He was only jumping off a haystack, which had been great fun, until the
day he broke his arm.
Billy felt dejected as he replaced the paper with
instructions, to its hiding place. He missed talking to Freddie, his cat. Billy tried his best to make amends by letting the little fellow accompany him on his many
stroked him more too.
Billy could still tell the cat noticed the silence and missed the bond that talking made. Billy never realised how important talking was to communication. No wonder Annabelle used to feel irritable with him. Billy never instigated a conversation or said much in
reply to her.
Freddie, a stray kitten, turned up on one of Billy's walks. The small starving creature followed him home and Annabelle allowed him to keep it. ‘Yeah, she
does have a kind heart,’ he thought guiltily, as he remembered what he had
done to her. His eye twitched every time he thought about his terrible actions.
No wonder he was made to suffer the same fate. ‘Serves me right ah ‘spose,’ he sadly thought. But, in a strange
way, pleased this had brought them closer.
Note-writing back and forth had been more communication than he had
had with Annabelle for years. She gave Billy hugs each time he reciprocated, when she had written she loved him. Stranger still,
he meant it. He now loved her as much, well nearly as much as he did
Billy walked into the kitchen and watched from behind the
door as Annabelle went about preparing their meal. ‘Ah wish she was singin,’ he thought sadly. Then he remembered the
sound of it. ‘No, not singin,’ but
talkin,’even shoutin’ at me.’ He
missed it very much. He wished he could turn back the clock. Her singing
had not been that unbearable. And the
nagging? That too had been a part of his life; and now it was too quiet. He
would give anything to hear her scold him again. Maybe, at a push, even to hear
As the weeks went by,
Billy had time to think. With the many
notes needed to write to each other, they had grown closer. He now understood it was his fault the marriage deteriorated. He stopped communicating
long ago without even noticing it.
The less he talked, the more Annabelle tried
to compensate. No wonder she kept getting mad at him. She felt shut out. It
took this terrible deed for him to realise he still needed Annabelle.
His hopes were for another
chance to say the loving words he should have spoken before. And,
of course he wanted to talk to Freddie again. Annabelle, on the other hand, seemed happy
enough with the extra closeness they gained through this tragedy.
Billy now he wanted so much to communicate with her. Although, no matter how hard he
tried, he was not that sorry she could no longer sing. 'Per'aps her voice would come back quieter, sweeter, more in tune?............Nah, can't see that 'appenin.' There was a smile on his face with that thought. Whatever the result, he would get used to it. He had learned his lesson well.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Donni-Jay De-Ville ~ www.donnideville.com ~
All rights reserved and may not be
reproduced in any way without permission from the author