SYBIL

A macrabre tale that came to me in a flash.

MY SECRET LOCKDOWN DIARY: Day 41

Sybil has been behaving really oddly of late. She wanders from room to room without a sound. 

She ignores me whenever I speak. 

She has been getting like this more and more each day. Totally unresponsive.

It’s true we have had little to say to each other during these long lockdown days. I suppose we have been together so long little needs to be said,]. But when she looks at me these days, her eyes are full of reproach. I have no idea what I have done to annoy her.  We have gone through days without really communicating at all.

We have taken to eating separately. I cannot stand the silence. I take my food into my study and watch a film on my computer, or to the living room where I can watch the news or some rubbishy daytime TV. She stays in the kitchen.

Sometimes I find an old film to watch on the Talking Pictures channel. It brings back memories of happier days, even though the black and white films remind me that we are both getting old.

Once we would have watched films together, all snuggled up on the couch. She doesn’t even sit with me now. She seems happier alone, and I have to say, so do I, but it doesn’t seem right.

Day 42:

Sybil was up before me today. She had left the bedroom by the time I woke up, and when I got downstairs to the kitchen she was just finishing her breakfast. As I greeted her, she turned and gave me a withering look as if I had insulted her, then scurried outside and sat on one of the patio chairs, staring at the bushes. I have no idea what is upsetting her so much, but I am not brave enough to dare to ask any more.

Yet it is the silence that is crushing me.

‘Sending someone to Coventry’ they call it. I had no idea how psychologically damaging it could be. But then so is the boredom of this lockdown.

We have had no-one but each other’s company for six weeks now. We get one food delivery a week and Sybil always seems delighted to see that I have ordered the things she likes most. But she still doesn’t speak. Not a word.

She was lying on the bed when I came upstairs after watching a movie this evening, curled up on her side. I could tell she wasn’t really asleep but she ignored my attempt to talk about the film, and flinched when I touched her. Her technique is a form of torture. Sometime I think I could throttle her.

Day 43

I made sure I got up early today, and slipped out of the room before she stirred, but by the time I got out of the bathroom Sybil was already downstairs, eating, In silence. Her back to me.

“How long have we been together “ I asked her. It must have sounded pathetic, because she just gave me ‘that’ look and headed towards the back door.

“Sybil, wait” I shouted “I am talking to you. Answer me. How long have we been together?”

She went out into the garden without giving me a second glance.

“14 years,” I said, plaintively, to myself. “What have I done to you in all those 14 years to deserve this?’

I was close to tears. I went to the bread bin, absentmindedly, to cut myself a slice of bread and stood there, staring at the wall, the bread knife poised in my hand. A horrid thought came into my mind. I dropped the knife on the breadboard and sat down, defeated, at the kitchen table. I put my head in my hands and sobbed. Had lockdown brought us to this?

After a while  I sat up and looked out the window. Sybil had gone from the patio and was wandering around the garden. She disappeared from view behind the shrubbery that separates the two halves of the garden.

I made myself a cup of tea and a slice of toast then shut myself in the study for the rest of the day. When I emerged in the early evening there was no sign of her. I opened a tin of tuna and made myself a sandwich with some salad and mayonnaise. I left half the tin for her, then shuffled off back into the study ‘til bedtime.  

There was no sign of her when I went up to bed. I could not bring myself to go looking for her. My emotions had drained me but I found it difficult to sleep. Horrid fantasies flooded my brain. Had she gone out never to return? Had she had an accident?  It was hard to admit that these thought were threaded less with anxiety, and more with a sort of a comfort. She had not come in by the time I drifted off to sleep secretly relieved that she might be out my life for good.

Day 44

She was there, of course, when I woke. It was early and once again I got down stairs without disturbing her. I had a quick breakfast and went out into the garden before she emerged. This time I would make it my domain. My waking dream that she had gone and my ‘moment’ with the breadknife had unnerved me. I wanted to exorcise the thoughts with some physical activity.

The rotting stump of an old magnolia tree, though hidden behind the shrubs, had been waiting a long time to be dug up, so I set about it with a vengeance.  At first it seemed an easy task but the roots on one side went a long way down.  By the time I had unearthed it I had created a substantial trench.

As I began to saw up what remained of the trunk and the roots I realised that my murderous thoughts were returning, unbidden. Lockdown can do strange things to you. 

I had not realised just how much it had affected me.

But it was her really. Sybil’s stubborn silence was driving me to desperation.

She has grown heavy in recent years, and since lockdown she had ceased to care much about her appearance. When I thought about it, she had not been herself since much earlier in the lockdown. To be honest I had suspected she was unwell though she had said nothing herself. I had made a call about it but these telephone consultations are worse than useless when the patient won’t speak for herself. Nonetheless for a while I was careful with her diet and kept an eye open for signs of what might be the cause of the changes in her behaviour. I still made sure she took her vitamin tablets, but it was the least and the most I could do. 

She showed no interest in socialising or keeping the place tidy. That was how the isolation had affected her, I had surmised and while I did try to talk to her about it, I also made it my business to do all the necessary house work. And I cooked for is both when the occasion arose.  But she had continued to give me such grief. It was as if somehow I had brought this situation upon us. My resentment was now palpable. The cavity the cavity behind the bushes mirrored my depression. 

I might have expected some gratitude at a time like this. After all I had rescued her from a previous abusive relationship, and while we had met in our later years and in unusual circumstances we had been happy enough with each other’s company for more than a decade. We had had a nice life in my neat little country cottage, She had always spent hours in its extensive garden. So why now this sudden change of attitude towards me?

All sorts of things went through my mind as I stared down into the hole I had dug. It was as if I were standing over her grave remembering our life together. It took me a while to pull myself together. I was glad there was not sign of her when I went in to clean up. She was sound asleep by the time I got into bed.  

Day 45

She’s driving me mad. Every time I try to talk to her, she ignores me, tosses her head and leaves the room. I have heard of stir crazy, but this is beyond anything I could imagine.

I have no-one to talk to about it. We are both the last living remnants of our original families, and we have been so contented all this years that we no longer have close friends. Just the two of us. And now this dreadful, terrifying silence.

I don’t know how much longer I can stand it. This morning she just pushed past to get out the back door before me, as if to say “You had your turn in the garden yesterday, now it’s mine.”

She is back on the patio just staring into space.

I retired to my study and tried to read, but I could not concentrate. When I closed my eyes, all I kept seeing was the gaping hole in the garden. It was as if it was telling me something. “No-one would know.”

We live at the end of quiet cul-de-. People keep to themselves. We do not see or speak to anyone from one end of the week to the other. Only two people up at the top end came out to clap for the NHS. No-one else bothered, and nor did we after we saw the neighbours’ lack of enthusiasm. I couldn’t tell you who lives where in the street, and I doubt they could say who lives here. Most of us are of an age when we need to shield anyway.

Who knows how much longer we have to stay inside. And how much longer I can put up with the interminable silence and the gloom that has descended on this house.

Day 47

I spend the whole of yesterday alone, brooding on what has to be done.  And this morning I did it. 

I woke very early. Cautiously, so as not to wake her, I pulled the pillow from behind me and, in an instant, pushed it down on her head and flung my body onto hers. She may have been asleep but she struggled and tried to claw at me, but the element of surprise and my weight and determination saw me through.

But even after she had gone limp, I kept the pillow pressed down hard, my torso forcing her body down into the mattress. And I wept  

I don’t know how long I stayed like that but the sound of my sobs seemed to fill the room. It was as if I wanted to obliterate this new silence with sound.

I clambered over her body onto her side of the bed and looked out the window. It was still dark. I took myself carefully through what had to be done next. I could not look at her. I went to the bathroom and prepared as if for any other day. I even managed to go downstairs and make myself a cup of tea and a piece of toast. The comforting tastes and smells calmed me down. I armed myself with the implements I would need to dispose of the body so no trace of her would remain. Some kitchen gloves and some twine. 

I was surprised at how calm I felt as I lifted her still warm cadaver. I tried to imagine she was asleep and treated her with great care. She seemed lighter than I had expected and I had no problem wrapping her gently in the counterpane so I no longer had to look at her lifeless form.

I carried her downstairs then paused in the kitchen to adjust my grip. It was as if I was hugging her, and I found myself talking quietly to her as once I had done in our happier days.  

“Don’t worry, my dear, deae Sybil. Everything will be all right. You don’t have to be sad anymore. We have had a lovely life together, but something has gone sour. It is such a pity it has to end this way, but this is better for the both of us.”

It almost felt like a funeral as I carried her out into the garden and across the lawn. Dawn had just broken. No-one overlooks our garden so I felt quite safe as I pushed past the shrubbery.

I had left the spade beside the hole and it took no time to fill it in. With the root gone and Sybil replacing it, there was no indication that anything was buried there.  I stood for a while contemplating what I had done, and the love I had lost. But I was getting cold. Perhaps the enormity of what I had done was causing me to shiver. I left the spade as a crude headstone for the moment, and hurried back inside, dropping my soiled gloves in wheelie bin outside the door.

As I reached the warmth of the kltchen for some unearthly reason the image of that woman who dumped a cat in a wheelie bin came into my head. At least, I comforted myself, the departure of my feline friend had been more dignified than that.

3 Comments

    1. Oh dear. Sorry to hear that Marj. This was not an anti cat story. It just came to me now morning – complete with a cat called Cymbelline – and references back to my digging out a Magnolia root earlier in lockdown.

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