Dorothy Cannell: I recently told my husband Julian that I was turning into Miss Marple.
“An urge to sit knitting something white?” he asked.
“No. My wild knitting days are long behind me. I’m talking about seeing wickedness at every turn.”
He looked nervous. “What have I done? Left my socks on the floor?”
“Nothing to do with you. It’s that TV commercial, the one about being alert to the warning signs of Alzheimer’s. One of which is leaving objects in peculiar places.”
“I haven’t seen it.”
“You wouldn’t have.” Julian has an uncanny ability to nap through commercials and snap awake the second the program we are watching resumes. “It goes like this,” I said. “A man looking to be in his sixties to seventies is seated on a sofa reading a newspaper. A female voice is heard in the background exclaiming quaveringly, ‘I don’t understand it.’ Man on sofa: ‘Have you lost your keys again?’ Emphasis on the again. That was enough to make me dislike him.”
Julian: “He’s an actor in a commercial.”
“If he were a character in a book I could dislike him the moment he opened his mouth.”
“What next in this tension packed mini-drama?”
“He lowers the newspaper reluctantly and says, ‘I’ll help you look.’ But does he do so? No! He pours himself a cup of coffee. Opens the refrigeration picks up a carton, we’ll assume from the size it’s half and half, and low and behold there are the keys. He’s staring at them, shaking his head when the woman comes into the room looking utterly bewildered. Their eyes meet, hers glazed with fear. ‘It’s alright baby,’ he says’ his tone making clear that it’s anything but.
“Not so very odd if you think about it. Picture yourself coming into the house with the keys in one hand and the carton of half and half you’d just driven to the store for when something jolts your attention somewhere else. The phone rings, a picture falls off the wall and lands with an almighty crash, you hear the cat scream from outside letting you know it’s in a fight with that nasty feline from next door. The keys drop from you hand onto the refrigerator shelf. Now if the husband had found them in the flour canister or hung on the Christmas tree that would be worrisome.”
“So where’s wickedness? Julian asked. “Pharmaceutical companies running commercials that unnecessarily panic older people?”
“I’d prefer they took a more circumspect approach, but no, the evil emanates from the husband. The first time I watched I took him for an insensitive clod. On further reflection it came to me that the Gaslight syndrome was afoot here. He put the keys behind the carton. He had for some time been misplacing them and other objects.
“He’s been wanting her dead since he fell madly in love with his Swedish massage therapist thirty years his junior. Oh, you can well believe he’s been spreading the word that his wife’s mental capacities are rapidly declining, and those spending time in her frazzled presence will see the signs. When she‘s found drowned in a local lake it will be taken for granted she wandered away from home during the night.”
“It’s a commercial, Dorothy.”
“I know that. And thanks for never having called me ‘baby’ His use that term when speaking to her underlined his determination to crush any self-esteemed he’d left her with.”
“I’m all for husbands,” said Julian, “but I hope he doesn’t get away with it. Being married to a writer takes its toll.”
“I won’t let him, because I’m going to write the rest, but not until I’ve reread a Miss Marple. Such an inspiration at age 130 as she must have been towards the end of her appearances. She was still a whiz at ferreting out evil. A life fully lived, focused on the now, not what may or may not happen down the road. Isn’t what we should all hope for?”