Tales from the Heart

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Very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am. The tension in the household gradually increased until I had no alternative but to kill him. My anxiety made me cautious up until the very end. The disease had sharpened my senses, and I felt every variation in my body’s normal function until I might have grown mad. Despite this agitation, you should have seen how wisely I proceeded, with such foresight I went to work! You have to understand: I could feel the old man slowly killing me with his demands until I had to kill him in self-defense.

I took the position as his caretaker due to my sensitive disposition, but soon realized that I’d chosen the wrong line of work. His demands began to increase in frequency, and each time he barked out an order I could feel my heart rate increase. The hairs on my neck and arms stood at attention. Unfortunately, I had signed a long-term contract and could see no way out of it. Not only would I owe more money than I had ever made if I left, I would have to find both a job and a place to live. In the beginning I resolved to tough it out.

I researched panic attacks and heart attacks, convinced that I was mere moments away from being struck dead by the old man’s constant needs. I began to wear a heart monitor, actually an app on my phone, and configured the watch associated with my phone to call emergency in every possible way, just in case. I was convinced if I died in my sleep, the old man would take days to notice. I had no one else to turn to and had to rely on myself.

Each day he irritated me more. His rheumy eyes swam in their red tinged holders, but despite their filmy blue cataracts they seemed to pierce through to my heart. He was wealthy, with no one to inherit, and I would try to convince myself that if I did a good enough job I might be rewarded upon his death. I began to pray for my freedom. Over time, as my panic attacks increased, I gave up on prayer.

Finally I decided that I had no alternative: it was either him or me. If I continued in my job, he would certainly kill me with his endless nattering and soul-sucking needs, but I was unable to leave. It wasn’t as though it would even be a loss, really. No one would miss the ornery old fool. No relatives to mourn. Not even the neighbors seemed to care if anyone lived in the dreary old decrepit home. I began to carefully plan for every eventuality.

I would go into his room at night to check on him in his sleep, as was required by my contract. I would sneak over to his bed and use one of the many, many pillows he insisted he might need to suffocate him. He was subject to any number of causes of death, ranging from lung disease to heart problems, so dying in his sleep would cause no one any concern. I was reasonably certain I’d be able to overpower him so long as I had the element of surprise on my side. If he were to call out, it was unlikely any neighbors would hear him, but if, on the off chance someone were to hear, I would have a story prepared for anyone who might check on us.

I was well known for my nervousness in the neighborhood, so no one would think it curious if I were to call out from a nightmare. Of course, the old man could not be found coincidentally dead at the same time, so I might have to hide the body, temporarily, and claim he was visiting some distant relation. No one knew the man better than I, so I doubted I would have much trouble should the authorities become involved.

My plan was flawless, and I saw no reason to delay. When the night finally came, I slowly crept into the old man’s room. He was snoring loudly, and his wheezing easily covered up the squeaking floorboards that signaled my approach. I was able to gently lift a pillow from the bed without disturbing him. Finally, it was time. My freedom was at hand. I was so excited at the idea of never having to see the old man’s awful eyes, hear his braying demands or whining, I thought my heart would burst.

It was at that moment the heart monitor on my watch began to alert. I had exceeded the heart rate I specified and an alarm began to sound. The old man instantly awoke, and, seeing me leaning over him with the pillow in my hands, quickly perceived his mortal danger. He grabbed both my wrists with the strength of a dying man’s adrenaline rush, and I struggled to free myself. “Siri,” he yelled, “Call the police!”

As I fought to free my hands and cancel the call, the old man’s grip grew stronger. His hands clasped my wrists like iron shackles as I saw the watch countdown, and then, even more horrifically, the call initiate. I was too shocked by how terribly things had gone to speak. Could I have cancelled the call by voice? I don’t know. I was obsessed with trying to free myself.

You must understand that was all I ever wanted, to be free.

The rest you know. You’ve heard the call between emergency operator and the old man screaming for help. You’ve heard the arresting officers testify, and the old man explain his side. You’ve even heard the neighbors discussing my character.

I can only try to assure you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how sincerely I mean this: It was truly a case of him or me. If I hadn’t tried to kill him, I would have died there, sooner or later.

Also published on Medium.