It was a hot afternoon in the small town of St. Patrick’s. Every class of people resided here; one such ordinary man was the coffin-maker Alex Riley Brookes. He lived in a wooden cottage by the small shop owned by old bloke Charles Smith. Alex was very hard working, but a lowbred old man. He kept to his work and seldom spoke. Charles kept him because nobody else would agree to work this hard for a meager pay. Alex wore old sordid clothes and probably didn’t bother washing them. Something about him made him arrogant, rude and bitter.
‘You have three orders Alex’ Charles confirmed excitedly as the business of coffin making was not the one for fast money. Alex didn’t bother to respond but continued working on the coffins, chipping, sawing, and splintering the wood. Charles was used to this kind of response so he didn’t wait for a reply and turned away. ‘I’ll be gone for now, just finish everything and…’ Charles probably thought ‘what’s the point of telling him anything’ and he left. Alex’s small blue eyes were strenuously working in the dim candle-lit room but he wasn’t complaining. He spent the rest of the day painting, polishing and varnishing the coffins one by one.
Alex stayed alone in his small messy room close by the shop. He had no family living with him. Did that make him grumpy? He would pick up all the leftover wood and use it in his room to light a fire. He ate very little and that could be easily told by his frame. He lay by the fireplace on his easy chair, which he built himself and soon fell fast asleep….
It’s around midnight, the woods are dark and quiet but there is a loud hustle and bustle in the cottage of Alex Brookes ‘How could you! How could you do this?’ a young boy was screaming and crying frantically.
Alex stood frozen on the ground by the dead body of a woman. A bottle of alcohol had rolled away from the dead body and blood oozing out of Laura’s head, which clearly was the reason for her death. ‘You killed my mother’ Jonathan was vigorously shaking the body of his mother but she won’t move.
‘I-I-It was an accident son’ Alex stammered finally admitting to his crime.
‘NO!! You killed her on purpose, you beat her every day, and I know that, I’ve seen you. Mom never complained but I’ve seen you beat her like an animal and today, you killed her?’ the boy was exasperated.
Alex was ashamed and was equally shocked. His alcohol addiction was the culprit here and he gave way for it. ‘S-Son!!’ Alex tried moving close to Jonathan trying to console him but he jerked his hand off his shoulder.’ I-I-I agree my alcohol addiction was the p-problem but believe me son, I loved your mother. I know I don’t deserve your pardon, but please don’t call me a murderer, it was an a-accident’ Alex tried to touch Jonathan’s head but…
‘Back off!! I don’t want to live with a vicious murderer like you. I hate calling you my father’.
Jonathan got up to leave trying to frisk his father’s hands off him. Jonathan managed to reach the door of the small house with Alex just behind him trying to prevent him from leaving. ‘P-please Johnny, p-p-please don’t do this to me’ as much as he is trying to convince Jonathan to stay back the more Jonathan adamantly ran out of the door. Alex was weakened at his knees and he barely managed to stand up and he was crying out loud seeing his wife’s dead body on the floor.
But, he had to put the body away to avoid drawing attention and neighbors quizzing him about Laura. He quickly regained his senses and strength and got up. He checked outside for any passerby. He dragged the body and put her in a coffin which he had made to be delivered to someone else. He dragged the heavy coffin and silently started digging for the hole by the Elm tree. He lifted the edge of the coffin and dragged it down into the hole and he climbed out of the hole. He covered back the coffin and put a cross on the mud. Whilst he was doing this, tear kept rolling out of his eyes and guilt played in his mind. He couldn’t bear the pain living in the cottage with no wife and son to live for. So, he left the woods and moved up town into St. Patrick’s.
It’s been nearly 20 years and even today, Alex gets up every day following the nightmares of that gloomy night of the murder he committed.
The town was also home to certain affluent families, one such family was of Alvin Rolland Bryant. He was one of the most respected and elite industrialists in St. Patrick’s. His plush villa was a landmark in its own kind. Not that there were many, but his was way exquisite, opulent and palatial. Every Towner at St. Patrick’s wanted to be Mr. Bryant. Not just for his wealth but also for his benevolence. He was warm and no sense of arrogance or pride which made him the favorite amongst the crowd. He was a tall man, with charm just blazing out of him and not to mention extremely handsome. He must have been a very dashing youth those days. His was a very idealistic life which everybody desired to have.
Every evening Mr. Bryant would take a stroll around the town meeting and greeting people politely as he passed by them. He always loved children and would lovingly smile at any child waving admiringly at him. He goes back to his villa after a stroll and is served tea by his maid Susan. He was always appreciative for her dedication.
‘Mr. Bryant, Mr. David would like to see you’ she said as she gave him the tea.
Mr. Bryant nodded sipping his tea.
‘Your food is on the table Mr. Bryant. May I take your leave?’ she asked politely.
‘Certainly Susan’ he said cheerfully.
David Werner was Mr. Bryant’s friend, philosopher, guide and confidant. ‘Evening David’ Mr. Bryant said blithely. David grabbed a chair and looked worried.
‘Alright there Al?’ David looked concerned.
‘Only you know that Dave’ Mr. Bryant blinked an eye.
‘What is this absurdity Al, you still want to stick to your plans to commit suicide? What good is going to do to you? How is it going to bring Abner back? What madness is this?’ David asked desperately.
‘I told you Dave, this might be my only chance to tell Ab that I love him so much and how I have been longing to be with him. But since he does not wish to see me ever, this might be a chance to make him get to see me.’ Mr. Bryant said casually. ‘I still remember that day’ Mr. Bryant said looking at the ceiling recollecting moments.
“Mr. Bryant was a very handsome yet impoverished youth but held great ambitions to become rich and famous. He worked for Mr. Richardson who owned the chain of industries in the city. He was hard working but wanted quick money. He convinced Mr. Richardson to get him married to his not so beautiful daughter Elle. Within no time, according to his plans Alvin became the intelligent businessman who went ahead to acquire the Richardson Empire. He was so involved in chasing his dreams and desire to proliferate wealth that he no longer was remained the husband he had promised Mr. Richardson to be. Elle came to know of her plight and Alvin’s intentions, and that she was merely his route to his dreams. She slowly gave into depression. Their only son Abner knew of his mother’s degenerative condition. He was always by his mother to comfort and take care of her.it was not very long that Elle perished under her depression and finally died.
On the day of Elle’s funeral Abner and Alvin had a heated debate where Abner accused his father of being selfish and conniving who hopelessly intrigued his mother to procure her wealth.
‘That’s not true’ said Mr. Bryant fiercely.
‘Yes you did, she drove to insanity because of you. You never loved or cared about her’ Abner said furiously tears rolling out of his eyes.
‘I might have gotten carried away a little, but….’ Mr. Bryant tried to justify
‘a little, ha!’ Abner said sarcastically.’ You’ve got what you always wanted DAD! No more insane wife, all the wealth for yourself and… a childless lame old man’ Abner added grudgingly.
‘Whatt?’ Mr. Bryant was shocked but tried to keep the tone low to avoid unwanted attention ‘you are not telling me you are….’ he was shell shocked
‘yes, I’m leaving you, this house, your empire, everything.’ Mr. Bryant couldn’t prevent Abner from leaving as he was also conscious of being followed by curious stares. Abner stormed out of the room and his mansion, Mr. Bryant looked through the window and never saw him again.”
‘That wasn’t your fault there Al, stop blaming yourself for her death and your son’s action. Look you…’ David tried convincing Mr. Bryant, ‘you are speaking as my friend David not as a guide.’
‘Well !! I’m sorry, I can’t be a party to your insanity Al; I’m still warning you it’s not going to do any good.’ Mr. Werner added.
But Mr. Bryant was determined that the only way to apologize to his son and his wife is by committing suicide. David spoke no more and got up to leave.
The following day went as usual, by evening Mr. Bryant took his usual walk, suddenly something struck him and he took a little detour to Charles’ coffin shop. Charles was so excited to see Mr. Bryant by his shop that he flung from his chair to greet him ‘Mr. Bryant, what a pleasure sire, what can I do for you?’ Charles shook Mr. Bryant’s hand enthusiastically.
‘Well! I’m here to buy a coffin Mr..?’ responding back courteously. ‘Charles sir’ bowing his head down.
‘Let me show you the world class coffin I make, this way sir’ Charles swaggered. The small dimly lit room smelled strongly of freshly cut wood. Mr. Bryant took a scan around.
‘Eh Brookes! Attend to Mr. Bryant’s needs well, he mustn’t go disappointed’ Charles gave out a big fake smile.
Mr. Bryant looked around for a while and froze in front of an emerald-colored coffin with eyes wide open.
‘I want this one’ he said out loud. Alex crankily got up and walked towards Mr. Bryant who still stood benumbed. The coffin was not the kind Mr. Bryant would go for. Alex was stunned when he saw the coffin Mr. Bryant had selected.
The coffin had letters “A R B” emblazed on it. The coffin was custom – made for a tall man like him. It was perfectly constructed and Mr. Bryant desired it so much. ‘I-I want this one’ Mr. Bryant again said.
Alex turned away mumbling ‘it’s not for sale’.
Mr. Bryant insisted ‘I’ll pay you a good price I want this’. Mr. Bryant couldn’t take his eyes off the coffin. It was as if this was the coffin waiting for him and it was calling for him.
‘No! Seriously, I insist please. Name your price and let me have it’ Alvin tried alluring Alex but he won’t budge.
He turned towards him and sounded equally desperate ‘please try and understand Mr. Bryant, this is not for sale. You can have a look at other coffins. Not this one’.
Alvin wanted it so much that he tried coaxing him with lots of money and when that didn’t work; he knew Charles would be easily convinced.
He tried speaking loud so that Charles would come for his aid but before that Alex spoke and looked impulsive and helpless.
‘Alright! Mr. Bryant you want to know why I don’t want to sell this’ Alex pressed. ‘l killed my wife influenced by alcohol; I deserve death for killing Laura. My son abandoned me calling me a murderer. You see this coffin; it’s made out of Elm wood, I buried Laura back down in the woods in front of this very tree. And I’m just counting my days hoping that one day my boy will forgive me and by the time I die, I want my Johnny to lay me to rest in this coffin. I want his touch one last time. You see this’ Alex madly pointed on the door, the gold embellishment ‘ARB, stands for Alex Riley Brookes, and that’s me’ he pointed thrice to his chest stressing every word.
Mr. Bryant patiently heard his story with a strange jolt in his stomach. He couldn’t believe his ears. He quickly recovered and said ‘or it could also mean Alvin Rolland Bryant, me’ he looked at Alex hopefully.
‘At least you hope to see your son before you die. My son won’t see my face at least till I’m alive. I have a past similar to yours Alex. Only, that I feel more pathetic than you. Yours was an honest mistake. Mine was criminal. All my life I ran behind fame, money, wealth but I couldn’t be a family man. I used Elle for fortune. My son despises me that I drove Elle to insanity and that killed her eventually. But I want my son, I want his forgiveness.’ Mr. Bryant had tears in his eyes and also relieved that he found somebody who is in same situation as he is and he could speak the truth to somebody. Both were desperate. When he saw Alex was quietly listening he just tapped Alex’s shoulder and left in despair. He gave one final teary look at Alex and left quietly.
Days passed, Mr. Bryant stopped going around the town. He could not stop thinking about that coffin. Everybody was talking about him. There were ample number of visitors for Mr. Bryant everyday but he refused to meet anyone. One fine day Mr. Bryant received a letter without envelope or stamp. Somebody had left it by his door.
“Mr. Bryant, I am neither rich nor ambitious and I don’t care about them even today, so I don’t want your money. I had a wonderful wife and son whom I lost because of my alcohol addiction’ by now Mr. Bryant understood whom it was from. ‘I deserve being lonely because I’m not a good man. I thought about your past and laughed. I was pleased and surprised to know how richly poor you are. I realized that you are just in the same boat as I am. Equally needy and floating in guilt. I also didn’t understand who is more insane? Me, who is waiting hopelessly to get a glimpse of my son hoping that may be he has forgiven me and will put me to rest in this coffin or you who is giving up everything for which you virtually killed your wife to tell your son that you are sorry. And I decided it’s you. I don’t have any mode of communicating with my lost son to tell him how much I love him. But I found your idea quiet bizarre and funny. Anyway, I don’t think two of our kind should exist in this world. Nobody cares about me, but you are more important. So I’ll let you have the coffin I never wanted to give.
P.S please don’t try to thank me or repay me. You won’t find me. I’m just as dead as you are. Today you have become poorer than me. And I’m glad you made me do it today. I kind of feel relieved. The coffin is in my house.”
Mr. Bryant was happy and thanked Alex in his mind. Without wasting much time Mr. Bryant called up Charles to find the coffin in Alex’s house and ordered him to bring it to his villa. Charles was rewarded handsomely but was not aware of Mr. Bryant’s idea. The following afternoon Mr. Bryant was in his villa all alone. He wrote his final suicide note addressed to his son clenched tightly in his hands. He committed suicide by consuming poison. The following morning his maid Susan was the first to spot him dead, she quickly called David. He rushed to Alvin’s villa and read his final confession and apology to his son. As David already knew of his intent he wasn’t appalled. He did exactly what Mr. Bryant had asked him to do.
The whole town mourned in silence for Mr. Bryant, the news of the reason behind his suicide spread like a wildfire. A grand funeral was arranged by David where his body was laid to rest in the coffin. As Alvin wished, his obituary with the suicide note was published in all newspapers hoping that Abner will read and come and pay his last respects to Mr. Bryant.
I have not been the best husband or a regarded father. Wealth gave me all the luxuries I dreamed of but took Elle & you away. I still regret my self-centeredness. I wish to convey to you that I regret my deeds deeply. I am not the one to be forgiven, but all I want is to tell you that you meant the world to me and I could never say it out in my physical presence. This suicide may not be the best option, I was able to take this step because I met someone just like me & both wanted to get rid of the burden off our chest. I can’t thank him enough for what he has done for me. I only wished that you see me once and just a pinch of hope that you will forgive me someday.
But, Was Mr. Bryant’s intentions fulfilled? Abner read the note & chose to forgive…