Liam McMaster pinched the skin on his forearm. He watched as it slowly relaxed back into shape, the collagen long ago depleted, his skin permanently underhydrated. He traced the raised line of the surgical scar on his elbow where the ulna had been pinned after a moped accident just before he retired, some twenty years before. The collateral ligaments had been torn apart, cartilage scraped from the bone and the triceps tendon ripped and detached. Rehabilitation had been agonising but might have gone better had Liam not been so angry with the world and made more of an effort. He was a powerful man used to commanding and being obeyed, yet his own body wouldn’t respond in same way. He was reminded of that now, every time he adjusted his position putting pressure on that damaged elbow.
The white hairs on his forearm were thicker than the darker ones of his youth. His hands lined and furrowed. His smoke stained fingers didn’t straighten completely these days. They didn’t straighten and he couldn’t close them tightly around anything, they hurt when he tried to grip something as bone scraped over bone. His fingernails now thicker, slightly arched with a yellowish tint, brittle at the tips. Unwelcome signs of old age continually emerging, confirming to any external observer the slowly ending internal processes.
Liam recognised in Fiona Muir the first time he saw her that she would be a submissive, obedient wife. He saw in her father a man like himself, she cowered when he talked to her. They married in the spring of 1958. At first Fiona was compliant with Liam’s demands, she was his wife after all. It crossed his mind if her father had had her first. As the sexual depravity stretched her boundaries he showed little hesitance in quelling her resistance, and no remorse. During the 70s domestic violence was commonplace, the topic often arose in the drinking hours of the Working Men’s club, some men even encouraged it.
Now here he sat contemplating, wondering how frailty could creep up on him making him like this, making him so incapable. He was always so strong, his frame muscular from years of working down the coal pit. It made him intimidating, he had always been used to getting his own way, physical domination of others came easily. In later years diabetes and peripheral vascular disease had ganged up on him, eventually taking his right leg above the knee and now emphysema from years of smoking and coal dust had left him chronically breathless, incapable of mobilising more than a few meters. The sofa now reserved for guests should any ever come, because if Liam sat on it he’d have to wait until someone came to help him get up again. Liam did a lot of waiting.
The sexual assault and violent murder of eight-year-old Jenny Morrison rocked the community. The police swarmed the village and interviewed everyone, questioning Liam three times. The initial flurry of investigation soon subsided when no concrete evidence was found. The case remained open. Fiona didn’t even ask if it had been him, she just packed one day and left, no words, no catharsis of 20 years of aggression, no goodbye. Ten years ago or so a letter arrived, Fiona had died in hospital, a heart attack it said. There was no signature on the letter; there was no reaction from Liam.
The amputation and breathing problems prevented him climbing the stairs to the bedroom, his bed now in the far corner of the living room where the dining table used to be, a commode in another with a sheet thrown on top to cover it. He sat on it to urinate. The arthritic hands unable to master the less than complex command of introducing his withered genitalia into a plastic bottle without spillage. It was emptied once a day when they put him to bed at night. At night! That was a joke. He was normally in bed by 8pm. In the summer it was torturous, lying there in full daylight, the noise of kids playing outside, waiting for sleep to come, finally marking the end to yet another day.
He sat now by the window looking out as the late morning sun began to lift the dew from his well-groomed lawn. The garden he had fostered and loved but could no longer enjoy, was now attended to by Jim, a neighbour. Well meaning probably but Liam wished Jim would piss off, snobbish arse that he was. These days he didn’t even ask, he just treated the garden like an extension of his own, giving Liam a patronising smile at every intrusion. The home-help were more intruders, they yanked him out of bed every morning, with a quick wash by the kitchen sink three times a week and then they sat him in the chair by the window. At midday someone else brought him a tray of lukewarm food and left him a sandwich for the evening. Liam loathed it. Detested the help that kept him alive. He closed his eyes to hide himself from his life but the images of Jenny Morrison’s bloodied body came to him. They always came to him; another torture he couldn’t escape.
The incarceration in his own home gave him time to contemplate murder and his other wrongdoings. His growing conscience bewildered him; it was that of a believer, something he had never been. A pleasureless life, a mere existence with no true meaning, he would be happy to have the power to die* but even that eluded him. Time was the enemy now, an endless entity, impossible to tackle, impossible to avoid. Reaching down to scratch a leg that was no longer there, he wondered if he really warranted this, but that was one question he had the answer to.