An ancient, polished oak grandfather clock perched in the corner pointing to a mahogany table at the centre of the dimly-lit living room. The clock had just delivered nine chimes and was resuming a gentle tick-tock. A lonely old figure carefully placed a tray on the table.
'Time for tea.'
A lonely old figure poured himself a welcome cup of Earl Grey from his dark green teapot. Then he poured another cup to accompany his own.
The old timer slipped down into a suede armchair. To his left a glowing fireplace radiated light and heat. The comforting warmth prompted him to remove his slippers before lifting the cup.
'China tea. Two for tea,' he muttered to himself.
He sat for ten minutes sipping quite happily and talked to an armchair directly opposite him.
'It's alright dear. We will see our son through.'
'Don't worry. I will see to it.'
'Dear, don't you worry your head. Everything will turn out fine - just you wait and see.'
The old man paced several times around the large room and then glanced at the fire. Within its confines flaming horses writhed for attention as their fiery manes shook with frustration. He paused for a moment and thought about his wife. A familiar memory entered his thoughts.
One year ago his stepson had come home very late. He entered cautiously through the backdoor. The old man's wife, the boy's mother, was furious, ranting and raving as if cockroaches were flooding into her kitchen.
'George. I've had enough. This is the final straw I tell you...I've been waiting up since eleven,
George. What were you thinking?'
George replied, 'Mum, I got mugged on my way from The Crown. It's not my fault.'
'You bloody idiot. You trying to make a fool out of me? You were out till after midnight having fun with your friends again!'
'Mum, no. I had to walk home.'
'You liar. I am very disappointed in you, young man. There will be consequences.'
George's mother turned around to face away from her son. She turned on the radio and stared out of the window with eyes of sadness and renewed disappointment.
George was hurt by her casual rejection of his honesty. He paced backwards and forwards behind his mother but, failing to gain attention, grunted before heading up the stairs. He locked himself away in the bathroom. Self-pity, anger and loathing steadily built up inside him. Thoughts began to spike his brain. He punched the mirror and, looking down at his fist, kissed the bloodied flesh. Licking his lips, he stomped downstairs with his strong boots and under the shadow of his mother's Radio Four programme grabbed a meat cleaver and hacked straight through her back.
When the stepfather returned home from his mistress, he heard some strange sounds. He entered cautiously through the backdoor. In the kitchen he found the radio was still on. He turned it off. That night the old man did something, not out of vengeance, but out of love. He made a sacrifice for the greater good.
So this evening just after nine in his living room the man had drunk half his tea and paused. He now finished his tea before resuming the memory.
His wife lay with a ruby red pool oozing from the cradle of her fragile body. There was George sitting on a stool a few feet away swaying in silence. The old man did the only thing that could be done. He opened the middle drawer, took up a sharp pair of scissors and one, two, three....and again, four, five, six into his stepson's side. That was almost certainly enough, but just to make sure… the old man pulled the meat cleaver out of his wife's back and slice, chopped into the eighteen year old's heart, through his bloody heart's centre, like an apple, until it no longer b-b-beat or ch-chimed the way it used to...
The old man's thoughts gratefully fled back to the present. He glanced back to his precious grandfather clock. He remembered that b-b-beat and aligned it with the tick-tock. Time could appear to move fast, time could appear to move slowly, but mostly time held a man tight by the strap of his wrist.
He focused on the b-b-beat of a heart before collapsing back into the armchair.
'I'm sorry, my Maud. Oh, what have I done?'
'You left me...I had to...I...Time did not permit me to-'
The tick-tock grew to a crescendo and the b-beat of his heart grew louder and ever more percussive.
B-beat, b-beat, b-beat...
Strings of violins screeched in his mind and entangled his thoughts. He could feel a wave of anxiety coursing through him. The t-tick t-tock was forever present, the backdrop to this final scene.
A flash memory came towards him and he remembered how he had treated his stepson with such harsh words whenever he made a mistake. He had promised Maud that he would always take care of them after the grief and loss of Maud's first husband, his brother.
He took a small plastic tub from his waistcoat pocket and swallowed a handful of pills. Sighing hoarsely, he glanced across to the teacup opposite his and the figure sitting on the opposite armchair. He looked at her decomposing features and his eyes grew deeply sad.
B-beat, b-beat, b-beat, b-beat...
The old man seemed almost content in his self-loathing until several ticks of the clock later the drugs hit his system.
The final scene is as follows: on one red suede armchair sits an elderly gentlemen smiling towards the remnants of a lady sat opposite him in a similar armchair. Both parties have a cup of the finest Earl Grey tea but one has been sipped dry while the other is untouched. The two figures appear to be sitting smiling and enjoying a quiet evening together.
But this is not the final scene…
A policeman came a few days later after a tip-off from a concerned neighbour. She had knocked hard on the oak door but had had no response from the old man who was usually only too pleased to receive visitors. Strangely he would only receive such visitors in the small drawing room and not allow entry into any other room of the house. The neighbour had interpreted this as the old man being embarrassed as the rest of the house was probably in a mess and he was too old to keep more than one room clean enough for visitors.
The policeman could see that Maud and the old man had died some time apart even though their sitting positions were so close. In addition broken remains of a teenage body had been scattered under the floorboards of the living room, the stench of which had led the policeman to seek a thorough search below where the couple had been sitting. The case was dealt with efficiently and effectively. No further suspects were sought.
The funerals for the dead took place two weeks later. There was one grave for the mother and son, much loved by all, and one smaller gravestone perched next to it for the old man.
If time had permitted him, he would have taken care of both of them, Maud and George. However, the shards of ice impaled deep in his heart brought with them too much weight. After all, no one can turn back the tick-tock of time or restore the b-b-beat of ruby hearts, long gone. All that remains is to lie beside them and wait…