AFTER THE LAUGHTER
Margaret spooned coffee into the cafetiere as she waited for the kettle to come to the boil. A cup of strong, black coffee; yes, that is what she needed. Something to perk her up after this morning’s upset.
She gazed out of the kitchen window, across the leaf-strewn lawn and the beds of dying perennials, to the old oak at the bottom of the garden. It all looked so forlorn out there in the Autumn rain; the colours fading to deep purple and deep golden shades of brown………. Oh, she would miss him, but everyone left her eventually.
Her parents had left her when she was only 5 years old. They had died in an accident on treacherous mountain roads. Margaret had thought that it “served them right!”. After all, they had gone off on holiday, leaving her with her Grandma. She had heard their laughter as they drove away; had they been laughing at her, laughing because she was left behind ? Well then, they deserved to die, her distressed little mind had reasoned. She should have gone with them; she could have gone climbing in Tibet !
She poured the boiled water onto the coffee and closed her eyes as the delicious aroma filled the room, then she glanced out of the window again and sighed. …………Oh dear, she would miss him !
Grandma had done her best for Margaret. She had loved her and cared for her and sent her to the best schools; but she could never really understand the strange little girl and her moods and tantrums.
The young Margaret found it difficult to make friends at school. The other children did not comprehend her strange ways, either. They laughed at her and Margaret hated that and so the serious, weird little girl became a solitary figure; teased and taunted and lonely.
A puppy was bought for this reclusive child and he became her only friend, never laughing at her or ridiculing her ways. For a time, Margaret was happy, but the puppy left her too; run over by a speeding car after wriggling through a hole in the hedge. Once again Margaret was alone and she felt that someone, somewhere was laughing at her.
She reached up and lifted her special china mug from the shelf, then counted to ten and pressed the plunger into the cafetiere.
Of course, the next one to leave her had been her Grandma. …………How dare she become ill, how dare she die ? Margaret remembered the sound of laughter echoing down the hospital corridor, as a group of nurses shared a box of chocolates. How could people laugh when her life was falling apart ?
The executors of Grandma’s will had not known what to do with this strange child and so, as ample provision had been made, they sent her off to boarding school. Margaret toiled at her books as though she was possessed, ignoring the usual teasing and taunts from her peers. She was determined to do well; so well that no one would ever want to leave her or laugh at her ever again.
Margaret poured her coffee and smiled as she remembered the praise when she had gained a place at Oxford. Oh, no-one laughed then !
But University had been the same as school. The girls didn’t understand her and the boys, at first attracted by her pretty face and voluptuous figure, soon dropped her when they encountered her clingy, needy, weirdness. They talked among themselves, comparing notes about the sexual exploits and laughed as they recounted her tears when they dumped her. So Margaret had worked hard, ignoring the social scene, studying late into the night; she would show them !
She picked up her mug of coffee and then, glancing down at her sweater and skirt, she noticed the mud. Ah, yes, the mud ! She had forgotten all about that in the confusion. She slipped off her sweater and, surveying the damage, she wrinkled her pretty nose,
“I hope it won’t stain” she thought.
It had been such a shock, finding him dead on the lawn; dear little squirrel Nutkins. He had been so tame, feeding from her hand everyday. She gulped back tears as she remembered how he used to sit on the kitchen windowsill, by the back door, waiting for her to bring out his daily feast of peanuts and other goodies. She had loved to see him playing among the branches of the old tree and then watch him forage in the hedge. She would sit out in the garden for hours, smiling as he scrambled up the bird-table and stole the bread-crumbs and fat-balls that were placed there for the robins.
And now he was dead, gone, lost forever.
She had discovered him, early this morning. He was lying so still in the pouring rain and she had cradled him in her arms, tears rolling down her face ,as she wrapped his little body in a fluffy hand-towel and tried to rub life back into him………….. But he was dead, a victim, no doubt, of next-door’s huge tabby cat. Heartbroken, she had buried him in a deep hole in the roots of the gnarled, oak tree and as she gently smoothed the soil, she noted the musky smell of the rotting Autumn leaves; the smell of decay and loss.
He had been her only friend, well, except for Brad, of course.
She slid her soiled skirt down over her hips and popped it and the sweater into the washing machine. Oh, if only she could be more pragmatic about little Nutkins. She managed to harden her heart about other things …..why not the beloved squirrel ? She switched on the machine and sighed.
Her first class Oxford degree had helped her secure a position at one of the City’s largest Merchant Banks and she swiftly rose to the top. The Directors cared nothing for her strange ways, all they cared about was hard work and profit, both of which Margaret always delivered. She was single-minded, hard-working, never indulged in office gossip; in fact, she appeared to have no friends whatsoever. But this pleased her superiors, it ensured that all her attention was focused on the Bank ……… she was the ideal employee.
Brad was transferred to her department from the Birmingham branch and he was immediately attracted to this beautiful, aloof woman. No-one had ever understood her like Brad, he seemed to sympathise and bond with her and they began a tentative relationship. She was aware that their affair was discussed around the office; she knew the juniors sniggered whenever she left the room. But now she could do something about the laughter, this was what she had worked for.
The main offenders soon found themselves dismissed or transferred to some obscure suburban town, where they faced a difficult commute…………. Margaret’s power was absolute and her wrath was, indeed, terrible.
She picked up her coffee and then, once again, replaced it on the worktop as she heard a moan.
Brad had stayed the night and was standing in the kitchen, in his dressing gown, when she had burst in the back door, soaking wet and covered in mud. She had just buried Nutkins and tears coursed down her cheeks,
“ Oh, Brad,” she had sobbed, ” Squirrel Nutkins is dead ! ………… He was my best friend and now he is dead !”
Brad had taken one look at her mud-splattered clothes and he had laughed. LAUGHED !! ………..At her !!
Margaret sighed impatiently. Obviously the first blow hadn’t killed him, he was still moaning. Calmly, she picked up the long kitchen knife and plunged it, once more, into his stomach. Then, picking up her coffee, she stepped over his, now lifeless, body and, clad in her bra and knickers she wandered into the sitting-room.
Nobody laughed at her ! ……… NOBODY !