My name’s Geraldine Dingle, I like dancing and I once nearly choked on a whelk during ‘Bingo’ at the working men’s club in town.
I say nearly choked, I would have if the bass player from the ‘Harry Dingle Experience’, hadn’t leapt over the tables and chairs in his two-tone suit to prize it out with a plastic spoon. It was quite a spectacle, like something off the telly.
Course he was fifteen years my senior but that didn’t stop him in his pursuit of the younger woman.
My mother was all for it. She said, ‘You want a man with a hobby Geraldine and Harry’s got a proper job in the day – welding down at the canal-yard. You’ll find his dalliance with music will keep him out of your hair so he’s perfect for you. And besides, you owe him something. He did save your life.’
At first, I couldn’t see past the bulbous nose and acne scars, but after a while I found myself slowly warming to him. Him being one of them ‘Mod’ types. Plus, he had a Vespa 98. Built in 1946 and I quite liked sitting on the vinyl as he whizzed through the town.
There weren’t many that thought we’d make it, Harry and me, but we’ve been a couple now for almost forty years. We’ve built a comfortable life, all things considered; what with my penchant for home decorations and his dedication to overtime. And we’ve got a static caravan down in Devon Sands and how many people can say that?
He’s always seen to it that I have what I want and I’ve always ensured that his scooter magazine is picked up on the first Thursday of every month come rain or shine.
Course, he doesn’t have the Vespa anymore, sold it when we bought the summer house. He still keeps a photo of it on the sideboard next to his collection of stamps and the signed photo of Lonny Donnigan.
And his suit’s still gathering dust in the back-room wardrobe; it’s faded a tad, a bit like Harry and it wouldn’t fit him now, not by a long chalk.
Looking back, we’ve had some nice years together, but the fifteen-year age gap was bound to catch up with us in the end. There comes a point when the yellow stains on the toilet mat and relentless requests to remove humbugs from his dentures, gets a bit much.
I suppose things started to slide during my ‘menopause years’. He was skating on thin ice back then, what with his dodgy hip and his untimely wind. Not to mention him constantly leaving the cheese out.
Plus, I think I never really got over not having children, so the thought that my organs had completely given up the goat, tipped me over the edge. Oh, we’d had tests, but Harry was told his sperm had deformed heads so they kept being rejected.
There were many occasions when I thought of slipping off to the ‘Dog and Sausage’ to allow another to plough my furrow, but everyone around here knew Harry and besides, I didn’t want to jeopardise the holiday home.
If I’m honest, I don’t think I ever really got over having to empty his commode after the knee operation. It all just hit me; what I’d signed up for I mean. When I uttered the vows, ‘In sickness and in health’ I hadn’t really analysed what that was going to mean. I’ve never been able to stomach bodily unpleasantness – I have a very delicate constitution – always have.
Trouble is, in the last few months I’ve found my patience has all but run-out. I found myself watching him whilst he was viewing endless programmes about extreme fishing and DIY and I reached the point of no return. It didn’t help, him cutting his toenails on the duvet, especially when I found that piece of fungal nail embedded in my pillow. No. After some serious deliberation, I came to a decision.
I started keeping a jotter under the bed, you know, recording thoughts and ideas of how I was going to set about it. I made suggestions for the best times of day to carry it out; the best chemicals to use that kind of thing. I even enrolled on one those courses they were running at the local college. ‘Household Chemistry for beginners’.
Do you know, they did everything on that course: how to get stains off the carpet; the most successful way to clean your oven; making your own creosote. We even spent six weeks learning how to make fireworks with everyday items you’d find in your cupboards. Folk don’t realise how much danger lurks in your average kitchen.
I met some smashing people during those sessions.
‘Gash’ the Goth. Course his real name’s Nigel, but apparently only his parents and the Department of Work and Pensions call him that. He has quite a special relationship with the DWP, him never having worked on account of his anger management issues.
It was Gash who put me on to the Latvian supplier, he drove me over to his farm out in the sticks. I was a bit dubious at first, especially as we pulled up in his converted hearse. There were rusty tractors and piles of broken furniture scattered about around the grounds, but Gash said that this man was ‘kosher’ and told me to stop worrying.
He led me to this converted barn patched up with corrugated iron sheets and tarpaulin and you could smell something very pungent as you approached. Inside there were rows and rows of cerise and lilac-white coloured flowers, their tiny heads bursting in a spray of colour. You wouldn’t think something so beautiful could cause such harm, would you?
I was a bit shocked at first, I mean it wasn’t cheap, but my thinking was, if it was good enough for Socrates then it was more than good enough for Harry.
I watched as eight leaves were taken from the plants and packaged into a greaseproof bag. When we got back to mine, Gash pulled a thick piece of plastic sheeting out of an empty coffin which he’d got in the back of his hearse – well I assumed it was empty, but you never really knew with Gash. He said I should lay it out on the table when I prepared the leaves; to make sure none of the Conium dust was left on the surface.
Harry was down at the social club whilst all this was going on, with the ‘Hendrix’ guitar lads. A group of them met up on a Tuesday to pay homage to their idol, by having a ‘sit-down’ jamming session.
Do you know, there’s not a good set of legs between them. Hip replacements, new knees, varicose veins. There’s even one bloke who’s lost four of his fingers. How he plays ‘All around the Watch-Tower’ is anyone’s guess.
It didn’t take us long to grind down the leaves cus they’d dried up nicely in the bag. I used that old pestle and mortar that his mother bought us as a wedding present. I’d always hated the marble monstrosity so it seemed only fitting to utilise it for such an event.
Green Onions by Booker T, was playing on the wireless as I covered the crushed foliage with some foil and I found myself dancing along whilst I prepared Harry’s favourite ‘garlic-soaked whelks’ He’s always been a bit sentimental about them, you know, since the incident. He likes a lot of garlic too, does Harry, which is fortunate as the smell coming from the mortar is a combination of mouse dropping and parsnip.
Harry certainly didn’t notice as he wheeled himself in on his electric wheelchair, complete with the faux fox tail which he’d salvaged off his Vespa and a couple of the old chrome wing mirrors.
‘Is that my favourite I can smell love?.’ he said to me as he clipped my ankle with one of the wheels.
‘What a treat, I hope you’ve put loads of garlic in.’
‘I have pet.’ I said.
I tried to listen to him telling me about a new guitar strap he had his eyes on, but I couldn’t concentrate. I just focused on his face.
I’ve got to be honest, it happened a lot quicker than I imagined.
He’d only had a few bites when his eyes started to glaze over and when he asked me why I wasn’t eating mine, I noticed his fingers weren’t gripping the fork quite as tightly.
I suppose he was about half way through when his knife fell from his hand and he started staring blankly ahead. I’d concentrated the ‘conium’ on his portion see. I thought I’d disguised it well, it just looked like I’d over done the basil.
The strange think about ‘conium’ or ‘hemlock’ as you non-chemists might like to refer to it, is the clever way it causes paralysis of the body and yet still allows the mind to function perfectly, albeit just briefly.
Course I couldn’t help but point out the irony of the situation to poor Harry as the frothy dribble traced a line down his wrinkled chin. After all, we’d met as he cleverly helped to remove the whelk from my choking throat and here I was watching the same treacherous morsel slowly shut down poor Harry’s respiratory system.
Jules Garvey Welch for Pf Magazine