The Last Straw
‘We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’
The mourners shivered as they stood, heads bowed, around the open grave listening to the Minister as, with the time honoured, poetic words of the funeral service he committed my brother to his final rest.
A biting cold north wind with a cutting edge shook and bent the dark cedar trees silhouetted against the lowering February sky. The grey, frost covered, time worn gravestones and monuments with their fading inscriptions stood in the little graveyard as vain testimony to the memory of so many lives, once vibrant, now remembered by few or completely forgotten in the mists of time.
After the service had ended I stood looking down at the polished oak coffin with its shiny brass plate and the handfuls of earth scattered upon it. I could hear the crunch of the departing footsteps on the gravel as the others returned to the warmth of the funeral cars and their normal lives.
Henry and I were identical twins and as is often the case, Henry, who was the first born, was the more dominant.
As children it was Henry who decided which game to play and was the instigator of much of the mischief and many of the scrapes we were involved in. Although, when it came to retribution, by some strange chance I was the one who always seemed to get it in the neck.
Henry was the apple of my parent’s eye and could do no wrong,. My parents were always kind and considerate towards me and I think they loved me as I loved them, but Henry they idolised.
Leader of the gang, charismatic, at school he had to fight off the female admirers.
I still remember the girls ogling me and their disappointment when they realised they had the wrong twin. They very quickly disappeared.
Academically Henry was brilliant. He sailed through the exams and was readily offered a place at Oxford where he achieved Firsts with Honours, going on to acquire his doctorate.
I managed to struggle through to qualify. As Henry’s twin Oxford accepted my application so that we would not be separated.. I don’t think they would have done so otherwise.
At sports and games Henry was a natural. Whatever he tried he excelled in. The shelves of the sideboard groaned under his trophies.
He was soon appointed captain of the Cricket first eleven. He was stroke in the Rowing eights Top try scorer in Rugby, a very skilled Tennis player, Chess master, Black Belt at Judo and holder of the silver tankard presented by the O,R.S.D.S (The Oxford Ratarsed Drinking Society) for consuming the most alcoholic liquor and walking home afterwards.’
No one could better him.
I narrowly avoided being sent down when Henry devised a a scheme to smuggle a life sized blow-up sex doll into the Master’s quarters and leave it propped against a window overlooking the quad. I don’t know what the Master had done to upset him.
Needless to say the assistant at the sex shop soon identified me as the purchaser and Henry had a water tight alibi thanks to his cronies.
It was only the twin thing that saved me from expulsion.
On the death of my father Henry became head of the family business and very soon transformed it from a struggling minor company to a multi-national conglomerate.
As a business mogul he quickly acquired the wealth, the knighthood and all the other trappings of his exulted status..
My position in the Company was rather more mundane. Although I sat on the board as a director little notice was taken of my opinion on any matter. I was classified as Chief Administrator. A fancy title but in practice I discovered there was very little I was allowed to administer.
One of my responsibilities was re-organising the filing system. I circulated a departmental memo on instructing staff as to which colour folder to use for different documents. This instruction was promptly countermanded by the MD. ‘C’est la vie’ but although a fairly placid chap I must admit that this did rather get under my skin.
Henry always enjoyed robust health, but like all of us he was growing older. The Company Dinners and the stress of work began to take its toll and he was diagnosed with a minor heart flutter and mild Angina.
A great fuss was made about this and he had doctors and nurses flying everywhere.
No-body bothered that I was rattling as I walked with the medication I was taking for my low Cholesterol, high blood Pressure, asthma and diabetes. Not to mention my ingrowing toenail.
His condition worsened and the heart problems became more frequent culminating in a minor heart attack from which he recovered. Therefore it came as a shock but no surprise when his private secretary walked into his office one morning to discover him slumped across his desk. He was dead.
Because of his recent medical history his doctors diagnosed myocardial Infarction. A heart attack. There was no post mortem.
I looked up. The gravediggers were waiting to fill in the hole.
While no-one was watching I took the small brown bottle labelled ‘Digitalis’ from my pocket. The symptoms of digitalis poisoning resemble very closely those of a heart attack. It is amazing the effect of a drop in one’s morning coffee and if you increase the dose…..
Concealing the bottle in a ball of muddy earth I threw it deep into the grave
. ‘I hope you can still hear me Henry’ I said. ‘I have decided my first job when I get back to the office will be to have my instructions regarding the file covers re-instated. I hope you don’t mind. Goodbye dear brother.’
I turned and walked back to where James the chauffeur in his smart dove grey uniform and peaked cap was waiting patiently by the gleaming black Rolls Royce Phantom limousine, the Managing Director’s company car.
I settled down in the pleasantly warm leather upholstered rear seat. James secured my seat belt and quietly closed the door.
Taking his place behind the wheel he enquired ‘Where to Sir?’
“Home James.” I replied.