” The Man Who Loved Margaret”
A Short Story by “Lobo Silverwolf”
I am a murderer. I lay awake at night and think about it, over and over. I killed a man, although I know they’ll never come to arrest me. But I did it nevertheless.
I first noticed Judson a few years back, when he moved into the neighborhood with his good lady. One day I ran into Ted Bagley at the hardware store, and he told me that the property next to his had been sold, down at the end of the cul-de-sac where it hits the old abandoned City Park, and than the Judsons had bought it. Ted told me they were Rosicrusians, a sect I recalled had placed ads in most of the magazines I’d read as a teenager. “Send 10 cents for the answer to Eternity.” I didn’t think there were any Rosicrusians left by now.
What impressed me about Judson when he drove past was how spotless his truck always was, and, when curiosity sent me on a hike down to the old Park in the middle of winter, how immaculately kept his house and lawn were. There, in the midst of the pine forest, was a uniformly emerald-green lawn, with a home to match, right out of the San Fernando Valley. Not a twig was on the lawn, and those that had been were placed neatly in a stack, awaiting burning. The roof and gutters were spotless.
About a year later, it suddenly struck me that recently, when I’d seen Judson’s truck pass, he was always in it alone. Then I ran into Ted Bagley at the Senior Thrift Shop. He mentioned that the Judsons had gotten divorced, and that Clem Judson was living there alone.
I figured it must be pretty rough for a guy used to living with a wife to suddenly be on his own. Men like Ted Bagley and I were used to it, but for a man who was used to having a woman around all the time, it must have been hard.
My studies having completely absorbed me at that time, I don’t think I gave another thought to Judson for months. Then suddenly it struck me that I hadn’t seen Judson for quite a while. So, the next fine early spring day, I took old Madge Newgate’s two dogs out for a stroll to the old Park, knowing that it would score some points with Madge, since she can’t take them until she has her hip surgery, and she wouldn’t forget me when her trees started to rain apples in the fall. I figured that by walking Truman (Madge is a Democrat) and Izzy, I could get on Madge’s good side while seeing if Judson was still around.
When I got there, his truck was there sure enough, but it was caked with mud, and the windows looked dirty. Then I noticed that the roof of his house had a large patch of moss growing where the sun hit it; he’d have bear claws if he didn’t get up there soon. And the lawn was no longer green, but mottled with large brown patches, and covered in twigs and branches.
I smiled to myself: now that Judson no longer had to please his good lady, he’d let all that busy-work go by the wayside, and his place would gradually assume the well-worn look of a comfortable old shoe, like Ted Bagley’s place and my own.
Still, it bothered me a bit that Judson had let the place go like that so soon after his wife left. Had it all been her ship-shape insistence that kept the stead so immaculate, or was something else going on?
A few days later, curiosity sent me out once again to the old Park, not for the walk so much, but because I wondered how Judson was managing. I’d never spoken to him, other than the time he’d offered me a ride to town when the pump went out, having seen me walking down the street to Madge’s carrying several empty water bottles. I’d thanked him, but explained that I just had to go a block, and that had been the limit of our history of conversation.
As I passed the house, everything seemed the same. I went on, and was almost past his driveway, when I suddenly heard a yell.
“Hey neighbor!”. I turned to see Judson running down his driveway towards me. I could make out a big grin on his face, and as he approached, he had a look of pure joy on his visage.
He came up, extended his arm, and shook my hand vigorously, putting his other hand over it, like some long-lost friend. What struck me about him was the wild tousled appearance of his hair, which was greasy and matted, and plastered all over his head in clumps, as if it hadn’t been washed for weeks. A fetid odor of animal sweat hit my nostrils, such as I’d only experienced at a zoo.
He looked right at me, with a wild, joyous gleam in his eyes.
“Guess what, friend! I’m getting married! And to the most wonderful girl in the world!”
I mumbled a congratulations, but he kept on talking over me.
“I’m so glad you are the first to hear about it. So glad.” He suddenly seemed moved almost to tears, and his voice cracked a little. “You don’t know what old friends like you mean to me.” Then he brightened right up.
“I just got the news. Pa called and said that he and Ma have decided to give their approval. So now I can marry Margaret!” Judson clapped his hands together in joy, like a little kid. Since Judson appeared to be in his late 50s, I wondered how old his parents must be. “But you’ve got to come see a photo of her. Come on up to the house, and I’ll show her to you.”
The look in Judson’s eye told me that somehow it would be a mistake not to go along, so I said “Sure, I’d love to see it.”
When we got to the house, I was struck by the huge mound of plastic garbage that lay just outside Judson’s kitchen door, as if he’d just been throwing out whatever used packaging he’d finished with. He led me into the living room, which seemed to carry the same, stale smell of sweat that emanated from Judson, and sat me down on an old sofa, in front of a computer and screen.
“Now look at this. This was taken a little while back, but my fiancee hasn’t changed a bit. Watch!”
A huge grin filled Judson’s face as he clicked the play icon. On the screen I saw an old black-and-white newsreel film. Horses were being led into a paddock, while well-dressed men stood around and talked. Then the horses were at a starting gate, and the camera showed a panorama of a large crowd watching the start of a race, and the racetrack.
The race began, and suddenly the camera shifted to several spectators in a reserved box. I thought I recognized the old Queen of England, the one before the current one.
“There she is,” yelled out Judson, so suddenly that I started for a moment. “There!” He put his finger on the screen, on the figure of a young Princess Margaret, standing beside the Queen. “Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she the most wonderful girl you’ve ever seen!” Judson was almost raving. “I tell you, neighbor, I can’t wait to hold her in my arms and call her my own.”
Then he looked hard at me. “Well, what do you think of her?”
“She’s charming”, I said. I noticed Judson suddenly looked at me suspiciously, and the start of a scowl crossed his face. But then he grinned broadly. “Yes, you’re right. Charming is the word. Now look at this.”
Judson let the clip play on. It showed “Monaveen” winning the race, and Princess Margaret clapping wildly, jumping up and down a little, and generally showing the camera that she was very, very pleased.
“Boy, am I glad it’s you I first get to tell the happy news to, at least in this neighborhood. But, the news is spreading fast, and the joy of my bride’s friends knows no limits. Look!”
He clicked on another clip, which showed the streets of a British town thronged with wellwishers, waving their hankies at Princess Margaret and smiling broadly. The commentator told of the Princess’ visit to Lancashire, and Judson mentioned that his bride was so well-liked by everyone she met, that she was known as a “Princess”. I tried to react normally, but by now I was deeply disturbed by Judson’s mental degeneration. The man was obviously a raving lunatic.
Finally, he put on another clip. It showed the Princess tapping a giant block of stone with two light fairy taps of a malet, and saying, “I now declare this stone well and truly laid,” which was followed by general polite applause.
“Doesn’t she have the most wonderful voice you’ve ever heard?”, he asked me. I decided, in light of his glare after my “charming” comment, that it was safer to just go “Umhumm”. This did not produce a glare. And he went on, “It’s the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard. I can’t live without it.”
Suddenly Judson stood up and said, in a most formal manner. “I’m afraid there is a great deal to do before the wedding, so if you’ll kindly excuse me.” He didn’t look at me, but strangely straight ahead as he said this. He wore a hangdog expression, as if he were so exhausted, he couldn’t move the muscles of his face.
“Of course, there must be loads to do, and I really should be getting back,” I said. “Congratulations once again, and I am sure you’ll both be very happy.” He looked at me suddenly as if I were a stranger, and I walked out of the house and up the drive as quickly as I could without it looking unnatural.
“The poor fellow” I said to myself, as I returned to my “old shoe”. Judson had obviously completely lost his mind since his wife left. It bothered me immensely, and I found Judson coming into my mind all evening, as I tried to concentrate on my studies. What could I do for the poor soul?
That night, I awoke after a good sleep, and found myself immediately thinking of what I could do to snap Judson out of his delusions. I was ranging around for solutions in my mind, when I recalled a book I’d read perhaps decades earlier, in which a psychiatrist was mentioning that, with certain patients, he used an approach of telling them to their face that their delusions were pure drivel, and that they had fully the capacity to be sane if they wanted to be. He would then prove to the patient beyond any doubt that they could not possibly fly through a window as they claimed they could, or be Napoleon, or signal to a passing aeroplane pilot that they had been kidnapped by Martians and needed help. He claimed a very high success rate without long drawnout analysis with his “cold bath of reality” technique.
The next morning, while putting out the cat food, a plan came to me. I would download and print out a copy of Princess Margaret’s obituary, and send it anonymously to Judson, even driving the 30 miles up to Wedmore to post the letter there, so the postmark would not look local. I couldn’t let Judson know it was I who’d sent it.
Driving back from Wedmore after posting the letter, I felt like I’d done another good deed, like walking Madge Newgate’s dogs. Judson would be very disappointed when he’d read of his bride-to-be’s death, but the shock just might bring him around from his delusions.
I figured it would take a day or two for the letter to be delivered, and on the third day, after the mail had come, I walked down to the old Park to see if I could see Judson around his place. But when I passed the house all seemed quiet. His truck still stood in the same spot, and all was silent. Then I saw Judson in the distance, on the far side of his lot, gathering pine twigs. He seemed alright, and a hope sprang up in me that somehow he’d snapped out of his condition.
That night, about 3a.m., I was awakened by the noise of a diesel truck passing, and as I awoke, another truck passed. My bedroom walls were suddenly filled with flashing red lights and dots which swirled around the walls, and which then quickly subsided as the noise of the motor began to fade. I wondered if yet another drunken teenager had slammed himself and his girlfriend into a bloody pulp against a tree, as they raced down to the old Park for some teenage hanky-panky on a Friday night. It seemed to happen about once a year, year in year out. Then my mind drifted back to my studies, and what I must accomplish the following day, and then I was out again in the outer blackness of sleep.
I was awakened early at 7 by the phone. When I answered it, it was Ted Bagley.
“I hope I didn’t call too early, but I thought you ought to know. Clem Judson shot himself last night. He’s dead. I was out at Clarendon last night, fixing a pump, but got back around 2:30. Suddenly I heard a shot, and figured it was a deer poacher, but it sure sounded close. Then half an hour later two ambulances from the fire department showed up. They’d gotten a call from someone who kept moaning that “Margaret’s dead. I can’t go on living without her. I’m gonna kill myself, so please come and pick up my body. You can find it at…” and he gave his address in a clear, calm, voice, and signed off with a “Have a nice day”. The 911 dispatcher figured it was probably one of those goofy calls they get on the weekends from someone whose had a little too much, or some mischievous kid, — you know what this valley is like —but they know the County’ll get sued if they don’t respond and it’s genuine. They found Judson with half his head blowed out.”
I was too shocked to correct Ted’s grammar, and, thanking him for telling me, I rang off.
I sat stock still in the living room for perhaps half-an-hour, thinking to myself over and over, “I killed Judson. I killed him just as surely as if I’d taken the gun and put it to his head myself. I murdered a man, another human being. I’m a killer.”
So what can I do except tell you, and tell the world. I have committed the one crime that can never be expiated. I killed a man.
Hoooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! — Silverwolf