In honour of Hallowe’en, here is an updated version of the first story I ever sold – way back in 1987, to the Pan Book of Horror Stories.
I watched Edna covertly as she folded, spindled and mutilated the morning paper. “The horoscopes are on page seventeen,” I said mildly. As usual, she ignored my remark. She had been ignoring my remarks for most of twenty?seven years. I sipped my cup of tea.
“Aha,” she said at last, folding the paper over on page seventeen. “Taurus. Listen, Alonzo. Take great care in the morning when disturbances will arise, but look forward to a restful afternoon. Well, that’s not very exciting. Would you like to hear yours?”
I did not, but I knew from experience she would read it anyway. I said nothing.
“Here it is ? Virgo. A great change is coming for you today. Look forward to a restful afternoon after disturbances in the morning. Why Alonzo, yours is almost the same as mine. How strange!”
For once, I did find Edna’s obssessional reading of the horoscopes of interest, but I did not answer, as a matter of principle. I always refuse to answer to the name of Alonzo, just as I refuse to call my wife Velisande. My name is Arthur. My wife’s name is Edna. No crackpot numerologist in the world is going to change that, not so far as I’m concerned.
“Edna,” I said, “your tea is getting cold.” She reproached me with a face of hurt resignation as she picked up her cup. That look was so habitual and practiced that I’m sure it had become a conditioned response to the syllables of ‘Edna’, like the saliva of Pavlov’s dogs.
“Disturbances in the morning…” she mused aloud. “Oh, I hope it doesn’t mean that awful Wilcox woman is coming to the seance. Honestly, Alonzo, just because she ruled in Atlantis thirty thousand years ago, she thinks she can push the rest of us around. And I have to say, with an aura the colour of hers, she should not be wearing that bright red coat. Did I tell you about the last time she came, when…”
Edna had told me, twice in fact, but she proceeded to tell me again. I turned my ears off and let my mind wander. What a silly woman she was! Of course, I had not always thought so, and this remains a source of sorrow and embarrassment to me now. There was a time when I found her supernatural leanings alluring, when I enjoyed the role of skeptical man?of?the?world squiring the slim young mystic from séance to UFO lecture, from fire-walk to biofeedback session . How long did it take me to realize that mystic meant fatuous, that the dreamy dark eyes were the windows of a vacant mind? Not long, not long at all, but by then it was too late.
Painful realization began to dawn on our wedding night, which I spent miserably in the armchair of our modest honeymoon suite. Edna had observed distressing portents in, of all things, the way the chicken bones were disposed on my plate after the main course of our wedding supper. She proceeded to confirm the inauspiciousness of the night by casting the I Ching while I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, tremulous with anticipation. A simple case of bridal nerves, you might say, but that night turned out to be an accurate predictor of the course of our entire marriage.
Have you any idea at all how many supernatural, holistic, New Age, spiritualistic, parapsychological, and extraterrestrial fads can come and go in the space of twenty?seven years? I lost count about a decade ago, but I know for certain that Edna picked up each and every one of them, and retained the most irritating features of each when its main vogue had ended.
The ouija board phase, for example, went on for nearly six months. It finished only when Edna left the planchette ? the little triangular plate that scuttles around the ouija board spelling out messages ? on the floor, where I stepped on it and was sent flying into the fireplace. Naturally Edna was not concerned about my broken ankle; she was too upset about her broken planchette.
She had several periods as a channeller, a sort of spiritualist medium. All of them were pretty grim, but the most wearing was the phase when her spirit guide was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh called Ramopatra, a being given to the most long-winded and vapid utterances in the history of human speech. Predictably, the fact that I could not find this pharaoh mentioned in any book of Egyptian history did not deter my Edna. I did not mind the others quite so much, and was even quite amused by a Native American known as Chief Thunderbottom, but I am still embittered by the effect of all that rapping and turning on my heirloom rosewood dining table.
Then there was the black magic phase, when Edna (who had already become Velisande) joined a local coven of Satanists devoted to the celebration of black masses. There were a few perks to this period. I am partial to chicken, for example, and she rarely came home from a sacrifice without one. When roast goat began to appear on the table, however, I drew the line. There was no telling where it would end.
I think the worst time was her conversion to a cult that practiced a combination of yoga, Vegan diet, post-modernism, and astral projection following vigorous bodily exercise, but abstained from almost anything else you could name. It was a nightmare. The eventual death of her guru from malnutrition was, I’m sure, as welcome a release for him as it was for me. Have you ever actually tasted soybean-and-quinoa hash?
Ah, the endless series of minor and major irritations! The spoon-bender who went to work on the family silver. The familiar that had kittens in my golf bag. The palmist who performed some expensive sleight?of?hand with my cheque book, the mental telepathist who sensed a cherished bottle of old brandy through two closed doors. The list goes on and on.
A gasp from Edna broke into my bitter musings. “Alonzo!” she cried, “Look! Look at the tea leaves!” She was staring at the bottom of her cup with an expression of horror and despair, her face an ugly green. “I see death in the tea leaves, Alonzo! Sudden relentless death!”
“You’re wrong, my dear,” I said calmly. “There’s nothing in the tea leaves. I put it in the sugar.”
She looked at me stupidly. Then she choked and turned an even uglier purple. Her throat rattled and she crashed onto the floor, overturning the chair and the table in her death throes. At last she was still. I sighed. It would be a busy morning ? disposing of the body, cleaning up the mess she’d just made, laying false trails for her friends and the police and so forth.
Fortunately, I could be sure of a restful afternoon.