Gene sank, exhausted, onto the sofa. He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and slumped back, elbow resting where Sam’s head had been.
How were you supposed to look after someone if they didn’t want to be looked after? If they begged for help and brought you running, and then did something like this to spite you? After you’d been planning this day for so long?
They’d worked it out. Gene would arrive after breakfast: “Just passing, Gladys, come to check how you’re doing,” and Sam would reply, “Well, as it happens, Gene, they say I can go home today. It’s just a question of getting a lift.” And then Gene would say, “Well, Sammy boy, good job I popped in then, wasn’t it?”
How had it gone so wrong that Sam thought death was preferable?
Gene shifted restlessly, one foot catching the glasses Sam had dropped on the floor. They chinked gently and he held them up, refractions showing where Stu had chipped them as he stormed out for the last time.
He knew if Sam died he’d never use them again. Throw them in the bloody grave, probably, anniversary glasses or not. He tapped the tumblers together in a bitter parody of a toast - up yours, Sam - and again, harder and harder, clicking and clashing, until he realised he was imagining how the broken glass would feel driving deep in his hands. He stopped abruptly. Bastard.
And if he lives, Gene? What then?
“We can’t know whether he intended to kill himself, but I can tell you that in his very weak state the exhaustion simply caught up with him before he’d taken enough for any serious harm. He’s a very lucky man, Mr Hunt. Again.”
If he lives, are you going to tell your man that in a fit of pique – be honest, Gene – you smashed up your special anniversary glasses, just to prove you’re hurting too? Your mother’s glasses? Can’t force a man to stay alive, Gene. Can’t keep him if he wants to go.
* * *
She speaks with quiet determination.
“Promise me, our Gene, you’ll never force a girl.”
They stare in silence at the new-cut stone; not much to show for a life of toil. She still has the black eye she got for helping to lay out Granny May while the man of the house waited for his tea.
“I won’t, Mam.”
“No. Not like some I could mention.”
The split lip she got for answering back is starting to heal. Gene glances across awkwardly but says nothing.
* * *
Perhaps he should have stayed this morning instead of breezing straight out to work, but he’d been anxious to show Sam how much faith he had in him and his recovery.
* * *
“And another thing, son.” She turns from the grave. “Never persuade a girl, neither. Doesn’t work in the end. Might get her into your bed quicker, but she’ll never forget it weren’t really her choice.”
He starts to move away; sex isn’t something his Mam has ever talked about, but he’s heard her whimpering afterwards while his father snores. She catches his arm and looks at him fiercely.
“Gene. When you meet your special girl, your one and only, don’t you give her a lot of chat. Girls aren’t as stupid as most men think. You tell her what you got to offer, you be respectful, you treat her right. ”
Gene shuffles his feet and looks down at the raised turf of the grave. At fifteen, he knows there will have to be girls, but they’ll never be special. He sighs and asks the question anyway.
“How will I know, Mam? My special one?”
“You’ll know, son.”
* * *
And he had. After all the years, the hopeless, empty waiting, he’d known immediately. Sam had called it a coup de foudre. “Puff of smoke, more like,” Gene retorted. “One minute, all quiet. Then the next – bam. Detective Inspector Nutter turns my life upside down.”
And he’d done everything his Mam had said: no chat, no persuading, just months more waiting until he could tell Sam what he was offering and what he wanted. He’d made his commitment honestly before taking Sam to bed.
Gene half-smiled. He’d do it again tomorrow.
He touched each glass to his lips briefly, and settled down for one last night alone.