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Clement's Corner: Devil's Own Luck

The irony in this this tale of bad luck by Owen Clement is to be found in a broken mirror.

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Wiping off the condensation from the bathroom mirror with his hand, Ray Mercer edged closer to study his reflection. He became alarmed when it seemed as if the reflection was studying him. The more he looked, the uneasier he became at the intensity of the returned gaze.

It was not his appearance,. He had gone through all that in his youth. It seemed much deeper. Angrily he snatched up his hairbrush. The image smirked tauntingly. He smashed the hairbrush into the mirror. First one half slipped out of the frame then the other, some of the shards cutting his body on the way to the floor.

Tossing the brush onto the vanity top, he stepped back from the mess and, grabbing his towel, completed drying himself. He either did not see the smears of blood on the towel or chose to ignore them as he hung it up. Moving unsteadily into his bedroom he flopped across his unmade bed.

He began slowly rocking back and forth, and then he began to chuckle. His chuckle grew steadily until he became hysterical. Suddenly clutching at his chest he cried out as if in terrible pain. And then he was still.

A short while later the telephone rang. It rang three more times that day. Early the following morning it rang again. An hour after that Phillip Mercer pulled up in the driveway of his father’s unit and opened the door with his key calling out as he came inside, “ Dad, Dad, are you okay?”

There was no answer.

Walking into the bedroom he was stunned to see his father’s naked dead body sprawled awkwardly across the bed, a macabre grin on his face and bloody scratches all down the front of his body.

Alarmed, he immediately rang the police.

He knew not to touch anything. However, with the thought that the police would most certainly photograph the scene he discreetly pulled a corner of the sheet over his father’s hips.

Up to then, he had maintained his composure. Suddenly the shock proved too much and dropping to his knees he broke down.

That was how the police found him a short while later.

Detective Sergeant Joan Taylor gently laid her hand on Phillip’s shoulder before helping him up, “Come on son. Let’s see if we can have a cup of something while the others do their work.”

She led him into the kitchen and sat him down. Opening the refrigerator she found a half-empty carton of milk. She made instant coffee for him, adding two heaped teaspoons of sugar.

“Here, “she said gently, “drink this, I’ll be back shortly.” She watched him take a sip. Satisfied, she moved to the bedroom to check on the forensic team’s progress.

A constable informed her that the broken bathroom mirror had caused the cuts and that there appeared to be no sign of foul play. It appeared that Mr. Mercer must have suffered a fatal heart attack.

For Joan Taylor though, some aspects needed further explaining.

She made arrangements for Ray’s body to be taken away before returning to inform Phillip of what she had done, and to say that, as far as she knew, there were no suspicious circumstances concerning his father’s death.

“Phillip would you come to my office sometime soon so we can discuss this further?”

“Yes, of course.”

Joan fished out her business card and handed it to Phillip, “Call me when you’re ready.” She smiled, “I really am very sorry. It must have been a terrible shock finding your father like that.''

“Yes, it was pretty bizarre.”

Phillip closed the door after she left and stood scratching his head trying to think of where to begin. He always thought more clearly when he was busy.

He stripped the bed. Tying the bedclothes and the towel in the blanket, carried the bundle out to his car and dumped it into the boot. He then cleaned up the bathroom.

He moved on to his father’s desk to find a pad and pen to plan his course of action. Rummaging through the top drawer he discovered his father’s journal. He picked it up. plus a spiral notepad and a ballpoint pen.

Satisfied that there was little else needing his urgent attention, he closed the front door behind him and drove home dropping the soiled linen at a laundry on the way.

The day after his father’s funeral he rang Joan to arrange an appointment.

She greeted him warmly, offering him a seat. Phillip pushed the diary and his typewritten notes across the desk to her before he sat down.

“You have been busy.'' she said.

“Yes,. My notes are in chronological order.”

Joan read the notes then started to flip through the journal.

“Do you see anything weird?” Phillip asked.

“No, can’t say that I do.”

“If you notice, the first time Dad’s luck drastically changed was when his parents were killed in a car accident seven years ago. The following year he and my mother separated. The next year he was fired from his car sales job. Then he began drinking heavily and a year later he and my mother were divorced. Deeply depressed, he attempted suicide. At my insistence he saw a psychologist and seemed to improve.
"This did not last. For the next couple of years matters got progressively worse. Late last year he suffered his first heart attack. And last week, when I rang him, I could tell that he was not well and very depressed. I arranged for him to go back to the psychologist, which was to be on the day he died.”

Phillip’s lips began to quiver, then, to her surprise, he gave a short laugh, “It’s so damned ironic, don’t you think?”

Joan looked perplexed.

“Don’t you see?''

Joan shook her head, looking even more puzzled.

“One is supposed to have bad luck for seven years after breaking a mirror not before.”

© Clement 2006


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