"I killed your mother."
The statement was made between wheezed breaths. Little more than a whisper sibilantly hissed through parched lips. He lay back against the white pillow exhausted by the physical and mental demands that getting the confession out had wrought upon him.
"I know." she said. Well she didn't know, not really, she only suspected, but in her own mind she was convinced of the truth.
"Drowned her in a fit of temper." he managed, stopping half way to cough a wad of black clotted blood from his stomach into a stainless steel kidney bowl.
"I know." she repeated. She had known for sometime now. It was, she knew, more than a suspicion; it was a conviction.
He had been arrested of course, briefly treated like a common criminal; he didn't much like that. But he had the last laugh, insufficient evidence they said. Innocent until proven guilty. The town held their own private kangaroo court and found him guilty. It broke him; he lost the business and spent his final, ruined years in a run down council house on the top estate.
"Can you forgive me for what I've done?"
"No," she answered truthfully. "I'll never forgive you as long as I've got a hole in my arse."
She said this in a cold matter of fact manner, true to herself even in this impersonal sterile hospital side ward. There was no hatred in her voice, that had passed years before.
"I'll never forgive you, so if you are looking for absolution, I can't give it to you. By even asking me to forgive you so that you can die to some degree cleansed, you are once again abusing me. I can't let you go in peace, but I can tell you that I no longer bear you any malice. I no longer want you to rot in hell. I will never understand you, but I hope that your God does. I wish you well."
She got up to leave. The morphine would do over the next twelve hours or so what she had wanted to do to him herself for many years.
At the door, she turned back towards the frail old man on the only bed in the room.
"Goodbye Dad." He didn't answer, it had all been said.
They had tried to call her at two minutes past three the next morning to tell her that he had passed. They made it sound as though he'd just taken his driving test or something. She had turned her phone off, not wanting to be disturbed with the information through the night. She knew they'd ring again later. They did.
Cardiac shock was the cause of death listed on the certificate.
It puzzled her, that expression. Cardiac shock. She was left to ponder what could 'shock' a heart into stopping.
He was tugged into consciousness, well a form of consciousness at any rate. He knew he was dead. He felt different. He felt like a non human being now. His memory had almost gone, his former life having all but left him, the last memory he had that of being terrified beyond endurance in those last seconds. But what had frightened him so?
A woman was tugging at his hand impatiently; it must have been that which brought him round to this new existence, whatever it may be. She had her back to him. He couldn't see her very well; she was indistinct, clinging to the shadows of this strange, new world. She wore a floor length white frock thing. Corny, that she should be dressed all in white like some mythical guardian angel, just as he would expect, he felt almost disappointed at the predictability of death. Nothing new here then.
She reached a door, a regular, earthy type door and put her arm out to open it.
She turned towards him, her hair hanging with tendrils of seaweed. And she smiled at him, but the smile was devoid of all warmth. The smile of a satisfied cat when it's mouse is finally cornered. She had waited a long time for this moment.
And he remembered what had scared him to death.