Gerald was always a blunt talker. “He calls a spade a spade,” I used to tell people. I said it so often, we turned it into a joke. “Spade,” he’d say with a grin on his face as we wandered past an allotment. “Spade,” he’d chuckle as we drove past some men digging up the road.
But at some point, as we got older, it stopped being a joke and became a compulsion. We went to the beach one day, and he couldn’t stop himself saying “spade” every time we saw a child building sandcastles. And part of this compulsion was a need to stop and point, in a way that caused consternation to many parents. What’s more, it took so long to walk across the shore that we missed the end of the pier show, and Cannon and Ball had been on that day.
One morning I was stupid enough to take him to the garden centre, and we were there until closing time.
Eventually, “spade” became the only thing he could say at all. He’d gone from chatting about everything and anything to only speaking up when he saw a certain gardening implement. It broke my heart to see him that way.
Yesterday I went into the back yard to hang out the washing, and found him digging like mad, soil piling up around his ankles. “What are you doing, Gerald?” I asked.
“Spade,” he said.
“You’ll give yourself a funny turn, digging like that in this hot weather.”
I left him to it. What else could I do? I pegged the washing on the line, pottered around the flowerbeds a little, and then went inside for a while.
When I came back out, Gerald was lying in a big hole. About six feet deep, it was. “Gerald?” I said.
He gestured upwards towards the spade, which he’d left at the top of the hole next to the huge pile of dug-up dirt.
“Spade,” he said. He made shovelling gestures.
It took me a couple of seconds, but then it clicked. “Gerald, no!” I said. “We can get you help! You can’t want to end it like ?”
“Stop being silly. Get out of that hole at once!”
More shovelling gestures. Then, seeing that I was continuing to protest, he grabbed clods of soil from within the makeshift grave and began to cover himself with them, starting with his face.
“Spade!” I heard, muffled, somewhere beneath the earth.
I looked at my husband, already half-buried. Then I looked at the spade. With tears in my eyes, I picked it up and began shovelling.
Originally published at Spelk.