The last thing Geoff expected to hear was the sound of his wife exploding. But that was, quite distinctly, what he had heard.
He ran up the stairs, taking them three at a time, and plunged breathlessly into the bedroom. The sight of what was there was enough to send him stumbling back into the hallway, his body convulsing and emptying the breakfast she had cooked him barely an hour before over the banister and on to the carpet she had chosen last week.
Once Sandra had been a composite of a thousand different pieces, a beautiful, sexy, intelligent composite but a composite nonetheless, of heart, lungs, skin, bone. Now she had returned to those individual pieces. The wallpaper (her choice, naturally) was sodden with her bright arterial blood. The picture of her smiling face, looking down from its place of pride on the wall, was obscured by what looked like a large chunk of kidney. As Geoff watched, wiping the vomit from his mouth with the back of his hand, the mottled dark slab slid bloodily down the glass covering of the picture and slopped wetly onto the carpet.
“Sandra,” he whispered, looking into her eyes for the last time. It took all his mastery of peripheral vision to look into both at once. “I can’t believe it happened to you too…”
The police took some convincing, of course. A man whose wife explodes spontaneously can be considered deeply unlucky. A man whose second wife also explodes without apparent natural cause could, and maybe should, be considered rather suspicious. But eventually the CID Sergeant and the Forensics Inspector came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of foul play. There were no traces of any explosive in the woman’s insides (though it was extremely hard to tell, as her internal organs had become external organs with frightening rapidity). The damage to poor Sandra Tugboat was entirely commensurate with the phenomena of Spontaneous Human Explosion, discovered a year before when Mrs Janet Tugboat had introduced it to the world of science during a school theatre performance of “Hello Dolly”.
For Geoff, though the pressure was now off in the legal sense, things didn’t get any easier. His friends rallied around, of course, but they couldn’t even begin to dull his pain. He seemed to inhabit a half world, one of endless sorrow. He had loved only two women in his life. One had ended her days as a nasty surprise redecoration, the other as an unexpected stage prop special effect.
He took to drinking heavily. He had briefly dallied with the bottle after Janet had died, but Sandra had been on hand to help him and their friendship had quickly developed into love. But with Sandra gone, there was no soft voice to pull him back from the brink, to steer him clear of the bottle or even to clean the toilet. His life became an endless circle of smoky pubs and foul-stinking khazis.
And then he met Claire.
It wasn’t the first time they had met. She came across to him early one night, when the double vodkas had only just begun to effect his faculties, and introduced herself. She recognised him from school, where she had been in the year below him and had, she admitted with a shy but almost coquettish shake of her lovely head, always had a crush on him. Geoff was pretty sure she knew all about Janet and Sandra, but she diplomatically chose not to mention it, and he quickly found himself falling in love.
It was a love he couldn’t show for some time, at least in the physical sense, as his old fellow had rather given up on getting any exercise and instead had adopted the drowsy weasel position at lights out. But she persevered, weaning him off the alcohol, helping him to like himself and his world once again, until finally he was ready to rattle her fillings with an inspired back-scuttling. Afterwards, they lay together on sheets that bore only the faintest Sandra stains now, murmuring sweet nothings to each other.
“I never thought I could be this happy again,” he told her. She smiled at him, gently running her fingers through his hair.
“I love you, Geoff,” she replied softly.
He felt suddenly guilty, and looking into her eyes he whispered “there’s something I have to tell you.”
“Sssh,” she said, “what’s happened has happened. It’s in the past. We’re here together now, and that’s all that matters.” With that she stood, smiling down at him, and walked into the bathroom.
Geoff lay back on the bed, his hands locked together behind his head, and looked up at the ceiling. For the first time in months it seemed completely white. He smiled, and knew that he was happy again. He never thought he could find love again, not like this, with a woman who was beautiful and funny and intelligent and loving and understanding. They would be together forever, he somehow knew, just as he knew she would soon accept his proposal and become the new Mrs Geoff Tugboat, and nothing could tear them apart, not even if the world fell apart and the skies came crashing down. Happiness was his, eternal happiness.
From the bathroom there came a muffled exclamation of surprise, drowned out almost instantly by an ear-splittingly loud bang, and then a sort of wet splashing sound.
Geoff sighed, took a swig of sweet, sweet vodka, and wandered downstairs to call the emergency services and find a mop.