By Melissa Triol
Eglantine turned the pocket watch over and over in her hand. Though the silver was badly tarnished, she could just make out his initials. She took a deep breath. Her eyes flicked up to meet Bernhardt’s as he fidgeted in his seat across from her.
“How long have you had this?” The faintest of tremors was woven into her voice.
Bernhardt downed the remainder of his brandy before answering.
“Since the War.”
“And how did it come to be in your possession?”
“I…” Bernhardt thought over his next words, if he had told her in the beginning perhaps he could have found gentler way to explain. They were far beyond that now.
“I killed the British soldier that carried it.”
As Eglantine continued turning and caressing the pocket watch, she caught a glimpse of the gold band that encircled her left ring finger. He knew.
“We’ve known each other for fifteen years. We’ve been married for ten of those years… you hadn’t thought to tell me a damn thing.”
The German sighed and relented.
“I found a British captain in one of the trenches we had overtaken. He was wounded, blinded by the mustard gas. He was so calm when I first approached him. He only began to panic when he realized that he had dropped the watch. He breathed your name just once… before I…”
Eglantine uttered something between a gasp and a sob. A lone tear dribbled down the side of her nose.
Bernhardt continued, “When we first met, I recognized you from the photographs he carried and the descriptions in his letters.”
“You’ve read our letters?”
Bernhardt’s courage seemed to falter for a moment. He dropped his gaze to his hands, still clasping the brandy snifter. He nodded.
“Yes. I had thought to return the letters to you after the war, but…”
Eglantine’s eyes softened.
“You’ve had fifteen years to say something. Why didn’t you?”
“At first, it was my curiosity.”
Eglantine furrowed her brow, but allowed her husband to continue.
“What manner of woman could inspire such devotion from a dying man? By the time I found my answer, I had fallen for you myself. I could not bear the thought of you hating me if I told you.”
She allowed his words to sink in. She had never lied to Bernhardt about her feelings toward him and how, though she had grown to care for him, they would never match the depth of love she still felt for Matthew. Bernhardt understood this. She wished that she could bring herself to scream or curse. A reaction of any sort would have been better than just sitting there. She inhaled, held the breath for a moment, then exhaled. Not yet.
When next she spoke, her words were slow and deliberate.
“Did you stab him, or shoot him?”
“Eglantine, please…” His voice cracked.
“I… I shot him,” Bernhardt admitted, “in the back of the head. He would have felt nothing.”
As suddenly as the lightning flashed outside, Eglantine lunged for the candlestick in the middle of the table. Clutching it in her hand, she thrust the lit candle in the Bernhardt’s face, dousing the wax taper and embedding it within his eye socket. He jerked away, howling in agony. The candle broke in two.
With one hand clasped tightly to his injured eye, Bernhardt swung out his other arm, clipping Eglantine across the face. She reeled back against the kitchen table and dropped the candlestick. While she recovered, Bernhardt had turned away from her, head bowed, hands clutching at it in pain. She used his weakened state to her advantage when she threw all of her weight against him and tackled him to the ground. The two struggled for a bit, Bernhardt mustering enough strength to force Eglantine beneath him and take hold of her throat with both hands.
Eglantine clawed at her husband’s tightening fingers with one hand while straining to reach the fallen candlestick with the other. Her vision was beginning to blur when her fingers curled around the narrow end of the solid object. Wielding it like a club, Eglantine gathered her strength and swung her weapon of choice until it met the side of Bernhardt’s head. His grip slackened and he fell to the side. Eglantine coughed and took a few deep breaths but her fury did not abate. She mounted her victim, straddling his waist, and continued to bludgeon him.
Once. Blood invaded her senses. She smelled its metallic tang, tasted it as it misted her lips. She felt the heat of it as rivulets streamed down her face.
Twice. She felt his skull give way.
She only stopped when she finally lost count and her husband’s blood and brain matter stained everything in sight. Sobbing, she tossed the candlestick aside.
Her mind cleared for a moment. She blinked. Something wasn’t right. Something was missing. The watch. Her gaze flitted about the room. Where was it? Her wide eyes settled on the tarnished trinket lying a few feet away. It had landed on the floor when the scuffle first began. The watch had broken open. Springs and gears littered the surrounding area, a crack across the watch’s face distorted the time, now frozen at half past midnight. Eglantine scrambled forward and snatched it away from the puddle of blood that crept toward it.
Cradling it in both hands, she examined it. Her eyes fell upon the photograph in the watch’s cover. It was a photograph of her and Matthew together. She noticed a few specks of blood staining Matthew’s cheek.
“I’m sorry Matthew.” her voice was raw, her breaths ragged.
Eglantine swiped her thumb across the photograph, hoping to clear away the blood. The gesture only smeared the blood across both their faces.
“I’m so sorry, my Love.”
Eglantine’s shoulders shuddered as she began to weep once again, and continued until she collapsed in an exhausted heap on the floor, her fingers clenched around the pocket watch.
Melissa Triol has a Bachelor of Arts in English from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania and has previously published a short story in the ESU literary magazine (The Calliope) and an article in the campus newspaper (The Stroud Courier). She currently resides in the Bucks County area.