Hung

Suicide, or murder? Who knows.

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The wind grabbed at my hat as I bustled down our winding front path, carelessly laid by my husband two summers previously. Once I'd passed our mailbox (and laboriously checked every last corner of it for any more messages left) I turned right, and started down my neighbour's front path.

William Douglas was the oldest man I knew, around fifty five at least, and he and Betty had lived next door to us since Hazel was born. They'd even babysat her once or twice when Albert and I went out for dinner. He was almost completely bald, except for a few wispy white feathers around the back. He had more hair growing out of his ears than anywhere else, and unfortunatly his wife wasn't faring much better. However, psychologically, Will was surviving the aging process much better than Betty; she had certainly lost something along the way.

I knocked at their door as well as ringing the bell, as it was chilly outside today and their hearing aids might be playing up. Sooner than I'd expected, William was struggling with the locks on the door, tugging it open with his weak arms. He gave me a toothless smile as I stepped inside.

"Hello, Will." I chimed.

"Hello, dear. Do come in, I've just put the kettle on. How's Hazel? Still out late at nights, I see..." He drivelled on as he shuffled towards the living room where Betty was gazing at a blank television screen.

"You know, Will, I think this is broken."

"Again?"

"One sugar, thanks." I'd become accustomed to their nonsensical conversations. Due to the fact that Betty was nearly entirely deaf and also losing her marbles a bit, she struggled to make sane conversations; not that William minded. Optimistic as ever, he headed to the kitchen to grab Betty's tea. I sat down on the sagging old couch that strangely reminded me of Betty herself, and crossed my legs under my long skirt.

"How're you today, Betty?"

"Yes, thanks, just put the cat out." She didn't look round at me, instead scowling more heavily at the television screen. Usually, her behaviour would make me almost cry with laughter, but today I had to bite my tongue to stop from sobbing. Seeing Betty and William together, the happily married couple of thirty-something years, still just as in love with each other as that very first day, make the hole in my heart scream with envy. It gaped, dangerously resembling a black hole about to suck me in. I forced a smile onto my sleep-deprived face as William re-entered the room. 

"Will?"

"Yes, dear?" 

"Did you see anyone come down our path this morning and put something on our doorstep?" 

"Hm." He handed Betty her tea, which she immediately spilled all down her floral dress which made her almost camoflauge against the floral couch cushions. "Oh, Bets." He tutted, mopping her with his handkerchief. "Old Eddy Norman was hanging around our street earlier. Right outside your gate, he was. Watching your house." 

"Edwin Norman? From down at the grocery store?" He nodded as he dabbed at Betty's lap as she promptly spilled yet more tea down herself. Edwin was a middle-aged man of about thirty, whose group of friends had been recently prosecuted for bootlegging. He was the owner of the local grocery store, but it was primarily run by his heavily pregnant wife as he went out and got absolutely canned all day every day. His business was in economical decline as more and more people opted for the major department stores slowly erecting themselves all over town, but the only thing he seemed to care about was getting so corked he was actually kicked out of speakeasies. 

"And then there was Ralph wandering about... You know, Ralph what's-his-name?" 

"Young Ralph?"

"Yeah, soldier Ralph. That's the one." Ralph was a new boy in suburbia, staying with his grandparents just down the road. He'd returned from France just last year with a million and one war stories to tell; although rumour has it, he never even made it to the front line. He was relatively attractive, about twenty now, and constantly on the make. "Thinking about it, he's been around here a lot lately."

"Thanks, Will." I was grateful to him, even if he did forget to make me tea, and spend all the time talking to me bent over Betty's lap uselessly mopping up tea. I doubt that any of it even got to her mouth, but at least her dress was brown before anyway. "I'd better be off." I stood up, and began to leave. As I reached the front door, William called out to me.

"Give my best regards to Albert, Grace." I reached for the handle as my heart slowly shattered into even more pieces than before. 

"I will." My voice shook, and I fled.

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