The Story of Half an Hour

With a nod to Kate Chopin, who saw it first...

Simon Leigh

Brent Teal adored his wife of ten years, the still-gorgeous Louise Lovett, so his reaction to the news of her sudden death shocked him: he laughed. He exploded into laughter. His bark of a laugh startled him and his friend (and former squash partner) Dixon, whose company Ford still stood at a crazy angle in the Teal driveway, with the door open and the engine running.

"You're joking, right? This is Candid Camera."

But Dixon said nothing, his face a tragic mask. Slowly, slowly he shook his head. Brent pulled back from his friend's clumsy attempt to hug him. He stared into Dixon's face.

"Right? RIGHT?"

But Dixon would not look at him.

"Worst pile-up I ever saw, cement truck must have lost a wheel. Her car was totally pancaked, she never had a chance. I wanted to come tell you before you saw it on the news. Those little foreign shit-boxes--"

"Jesus! Jesus Christ! 'Scuse me." Brent turned, retching, rushed up the front steps and vanished inside. The door slammed and he stood, hot, panting, close to bursting into sobs. His skin prickled. Then he sprinted upstairs into his study.

"Shouldn't 'a done that," he gasped, as his irregular heartbeat problem kicked in, shaking his chest like a mad rat in a cage. As a single man his hobby had been triathlon, but now, married, this heart condition had stopped him working out; he was constantly on a diet and knew there'd be hell to pay if any flab appeared. Huge sobs shook him now, and he dropped into his leather chair, head in hands, crying, wailing like a child. Saliva drooled from his lower lip. His lovely wife, poor, poor Louise, gone. That lovely body smashed and lost to him forever. Over and over again he called her name. Once upon a time she had accused him of not being romantic, but he was, he was more romantic than she would ever know. Would ever be. Ever.

But…in time the sobbing receded, the racing heart slowed, and he was surprised at how well he felt, how clear and sharp. He put his feet up and wiped his eyes with the clean handkerchief his wife always insisted he carry, and gazed out his window. Spring had finally arrived. The afternoon’s clouds had lifted and he could see a pink blossom, maybe a crab apple, or a cherry—Louise would know—catching the evening sun. He heard the clatter of his stay-at-home neighbour's push lawnmower.

A thought struck him. How he would love to drag out his own old mower, oil it up and join the guy in push-mowing the grass. His lush spring lawn. But no, his wife had put her little foot down. Too risky, with the heart problem. Instead, she'd had a rider power mower delivered, top-of-the-line, auto-start, typical Louise the Spender, and had taken to manicuring his lawns herself, in her usual determinedly stylish manner, riding around in yellow sun-hat and sixty-dollar green gardening gloves. But…now, with her gone, he could take over. His heart felt rock-solid now.

Tomorrow? Clearly he could stay home again. Why not? The job's grinding him to a pulp anyway. Giving bogus financial advice to know-nothings with more money than common-sense. Here, hand me your life's savings. Thank you. I'll keep some for myself and invest the rest in the crap game called the Stock Market. A shame to take the money. Today, Monday, he had called in sick, which he wasn't, for the first time ever in his working life. (He'd been scared that it would turn into a habit.) So why not call in sick tomorrow too, all week? The man has just suffered a personal tragedy. He's entitled to some time off. The whole rest of his life, in fact.

With Louise gone, along with her money-losing little fashion boutique, Louise's Place, he could quit the stresses of his job and live off his investments. Easily. And do what he really wanted do to: work on his mystery novel. Maybe travel. Wait, he thought, there'll be funeral expenses, but--hold on! The company insurance will cover that, plus, what was it, a million, no, half a million life insurance. Bonus! Lowered overhead plus a bonus! The world was his oyster now.

He adored her, his lovely wife, with her model's figure but…no children, no, and their trying for children and failing, (thermometers, bathroom tests, tears) had somehow taken the edge off their lovemaking, this last year or two. Or three. And Louise loved him. She had always loved him, and yet the pressure of continually proving himself worthy of the love of that superb beauty was the strain, part of the problem. Faithful—of course. She would have murdered him. Now all that was over .

He could hear giggling. He found he was giggling. Thinking now of his wife's younger sister Josie, the wild one, unmarried, possibly a lesbian, possibly not, who loved dancing. He could take her dancing, dining and dancing—why not? After a suitable period, he could and he would. Pudgy sister Josie with the filthy chuckle, who once said, "Louise got the looks, I got the tits."

Oh—he should call her right now, tell her the awful news. No, it could wait. He would see her at the funeral, he would cry again, Josie would console him. He would console her with a hug. Family.

Oddly, he was hungry. He could go out for a steak, a big T-bone with fried onions, the works, forget this rabbit food diet he was on. He had a sudden hard-on for life!

"YESS!" he hissed to the pulsing air of his room, of his house.

He spun his chair, kicked off one loafer in one direction, the other in another, then whipped off his socks too, and flipped them aside. One landed on the dinky lamp Louise had chosen, the other on the floor. Leave it there. Padding barefoot downstairs with an ear-to-ear grin, he heard the key rattling in the front door. Odd, that would have to be Dixon, must have found the key under the mat, good old friend-of-the-family Dixon, who used to come around, he was sure, just to look at his wife.

Composing his features into suitable grief, Brent reached the door and pulled just as it was pushed.

And met his wife face to face!

Behind her stood Dixon, white. Behind Dixon's car was Louise's little yellow Miata, intact, immaculate. Clearly it was not the only daffodil Miata in existence with a LOUI-Something number plate.

"What's all this nonsense about me being—“ started Louise, but her husband was clawing at his chest. He toppled backwards like a tree, dead before his head hit the polished floor. The cardiologists agreed it was the emotional shock, the joy of seeing her alive again. The bare feet puzzled the coroner briefly, but he resolved it must have been the shock of grief that had unhinged the man, for everyone knew how deeply he had loved his wife, now standing there, so adorable in widow's black.

©2009 Simon Leigh. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Simon Leigh was born in Australia and now lives in Canada. He has published three poetry books and one novel, Wild Women with UAPress. His previous story, The Secret Life of Milly Walters, was also published by Black Lantern Publishing and is available here.