They had been driving for a couple of hours. The radio was on, tuned into the local station and the interstate had been left behind half an hour ago. They were now bumping along on little more than a well-kept track, which should see them at their destination in six or seven minutes. Tony tried to remember when they had been here last - must be three or more years ago. They had spent a lot of anniversaries up here once the kids had grown old enough to be left on their own, monitored by the neighbors next door. It was an opportunity to relive and remember the first ever time they had spent the night together as twenty somethings in Tony’s grandfathers old log cabin. Most would probably have abandoned it after the old man died. Nobody would buy it, that was for sure, and little had been done to change or improve it over the years, but that’s the way that Tony wanted it. He paid a local woman to come in every few weeks to check on the place, light a fire in the winter to keep the damp out, clean the cobwebs away and check that the one modern convenience –an outside toilet, still flushed and had water flowing into it. Peace and tranquillity were guaranteed when they stayed there. There were no neighbors, postmen, passing traffic, TV or phones; nothing but nature in its various guises, all the way from beauty to destruction; but the cabin had survived through it all, still going strong a hundred years later.
It had been a long three years. Three years that Tony hoped he would never have to endure again. The pain still hadn’t gone and most likely wouldn’t ever go. He looked across at Jenny, her legs curled up on the seat, staring out the passenger window at the breath taking untamed scenery which had appeared as soon as they started to wind their way up and around the mountain, the sheer drop below them increasing with every metre they climbed. She used to be terrified of them hurtling to their death, forced off the road by some demented lunatic like you would see on a horror film, despite them never having seen a vehicle up here before. Tony could see a tear in the corner of her eye and he wiped it gently with one of his fingers.
“Are you okay Jen”? he asked “We can go back if you want”.
She turned her head and smiled delicately. “No. I don’t want us to change our plans. I’ll be fine, promise”. She turned to look out the window again, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
Tony was used to seeing his wife crying; he often did so himself, something that had become a fact of life for them following the murder of their oldest son, Daniel. Only eighteen, minding his own business by all accounts, hit in crossfire from a drug dealing gang members drive by shooting. Of all the people in that street at five pm on a Friday evening, only Daniel was struck, and so severely he died instantly. How can that be?
Tony had asked himself the question a million times, and others like it. How can an innocent boy leaving a library after studying be shot dead? If he had left ten seconds earlier or ten seconds later he’d still be with them today. How can someone so young and so beautiful in so many different ways, have such bad luck? Tony felt himself welling up. He gritted his teeth, took a deep breath and stopped this train of thought. He didn’t want to be upset in front of Jenny and cause her any more stress. Tony looked across at her again. The recent years had taken their toll on her, on both of them. She had aged more in three years than in the previous fifteen. It was amazing they were still a couple. If it hadn’t been for the other kids, perhaps they wouldn’t. Through all the guilt and anguish, tears and tantrums, anti-depressants and sleeping tablets, they still had to care for Daniel’s younger siblings, the only thing that kept Tony and Jenny human and probably kept them together, although it was touch and go on many occasions. Tony would never have walked out. What would be the point living with all that pain on his own; but there were other ways out, which he had often considered.
After the burial and the passing of a year, some sort of false semi-normality returned to their lives, enough to get them through most days. That changed when their dedicated family liaison detective told them that a man had been arrested for Daniel’s murder. A gun he had been found in possession of forensically matched that used to kill their son. It was news that Tony had been praying for - justice for his son, but he also knew that the following weeks, including the trial, would be traumatic; having to relive Daniel’s last moments, and sit in the same room as his killer; who in this case wasn’t much older than Daniel had been. A more stereotypical “gangsta” you couldn’t find; covered in tattoos, skinny like druggies are, with a shaved head, slouching in his chair looking no more interested or bothered than if he was sitting in line for a doctor’s appointment. Tony spent each day in the court room praying for the opportunity to inflict justice on him. If Tony sprung from the chair how long would it be before security pulled him off? Could he smuggle a gun in?
Jen simply spent each day crying. Worse was to come when the judge decided that the trial would have to be abandoned because of a technicality, justice would not be done. It almost done for Jenny as well. She took to her bed for three months, pumped full of medication, a zombie. Tony had been afraid to leave her, even just to go to the shops, because he wasn’t convinced she would still be alive when he returned. At times he thought this would be the best thing for her, free of her pain and torment, but somehow they eventually saw it through. Jenny had found the strength from somewhere to live a life again, not her life, but some sort of a life, as the different person she had now become. She came downstairs one morning washed and dressed, coherent, resembling his wife and the kid’s mother, to the delight and surprise of them all. After the kids had gone to school Jenny and Tony spoke for the first time in a long time, the trip was planned and here they now were.
Tony almost drove past the spot he always stopped at on the way to the cabin. He refocused his mind and pulled off the road into a space that was only big enough for one car, parking directly facing the drop below. What was it the counsellor used to say? Stop looking backwards, move forwards. You can remember the past, but must live the present and look towards the future. He had been told a thousand such clichés. But maybe clichés are used so often because they do make sense? He turned the engine off and they both looked out at the valley in front of them. Dusk was falling but you could still just about see the forest floor below, a sheer drop, hundreds of feet down, their miniature version of the Grand Canyon. It had become tradition to stop here, to leave the car for a few minutes and stare at the simple wondrous beauty. They both got out and Tony walked round to Jenny, standing behind her as he always had, his arms wrapped around her, his cheek to hers.
Jenny held his hands and whispered to him. “Are you ready”?
Tony didn’t reply. He unwrapped himself, walked to the trunk of the car and reached into it, struggling as he pulled the heavily drugged, unconscious, gang banging murderer of their son onto the road. The sleeping tablets had worked well, slipped into his drink hours earlier, now trussed up in a camouflage sleeping bag. It would blend in well with his new surroundings. Tony pulled it towards Jenny and dropped it in front of the car onto the ground between the two of them. They looked at each other, nodded and bent down together, each picking up an end of the bag. They swung the murderer backwards and forwards, getting higher and higher, a bit like they had done when playing with their own children years ago, except this time it was on the edge of a mountain, and when they reached the count of five they let go, flinging the soon to be body of the killer down to the valley far below. It seemed ages before he struck the bottom, not hitting anything on the way, but in reality it could only have been a few seconds, and made only as much noise as a nocturnal animal stealthily carving a path through the foliage.
They stood there staring down and found each other’s hands.
“Do you think he’s definitely dead”? Jenny asked.
“I’d give good odds on it” Tony replied. He wasn’t sure how he felt –relieved certainly, justified, but not happy to any great degree. He had wanted the killer to experience his own death, to be fully conscious when they threw him over, but Jenny had said it would be best and easiest if he wasn’t –and what did it really matter? He would be dead. Jenny was good like that. She was always able to provide a balanced, sensible overview and opinion.
“On to the cabin”? Tony asked.
Jenny smiled. There actually seemed to be a small trace of genuine happiness in that smile.
“Yes, and happy anniversary. Thanks for my present. I’ll never forget it”
Bio: Currently living in Essex, UK, but originally from Ireland, Fergus has had short stories and articles published in Ireland's Own, in an anthology by First Bus and in Short-story.me