The Sword and Dagger of Marcus Brutus

By Elisabeth Hegmann

 

It happened one day that a husband and wife embarked on a train for a holiday on the coast.  Neither enjoyed trains, nor holidays, nor even the coast, particularly bearing the penance of each other’s company.  The wife knew her husband was disposed to headaches from the smell of salty air and so had begged for a seaside vacation until her husband consented.  The wife became nauseated on trains, so the husband had specially arranged for this mode of travel.  It should not be supposed, however, that they displayed harsh manners toward each other.  Each acted toward the other with perfect courtesy in word and mien.

Both the husband and wife were quite equal in learning, though in different areas.  He perhaps knew more about the early philosophers and she about important authors, but neither was content and secure in their knowledge.  On the contrary, nothing enraged the husband more than if his wife displayed some tidbit of knowledge that he did not possess, and nothing was more of a perverse delight to the wife than watching him gnash his teeth in jealousy.  Her days were spent studiously searching for the best bon mots to flaunt before her husband hour after hour. The husband adopted a more patient approach, biding his time and blitzing the wife every few weeks with a dense philosophical speech that she could make no sense of at all.  After these attacks, she sulked for several days before her sniping started up again. 

Now, the only way that these two lived together was by barely living together at all.  They were well-off and had built a large house where he inhabited his office and she the library.  They saw each other a few minutes a day at most and this was at mealtimes.  The second course invariably brought an argument when the wife provoked the husband with her arsenal of bon mots.  It was not long before they found each other’s company too odious to be borne and stormed from the table.  Their cook soon learned to make the first two courses of the meal the most tantalizing since the rest was never eaten anyway.  The husband would not pay to have servants, so there were none that could finish the meal, nor did he keep any dogs that might have appreciated the leftover meat.  “Filthy animals,” he said, but whether he was referring to dogs or servants was rather much in question.

The woman kept nannies for the children, but only because her special talent was nanny persecution.  She stomped hard and often on the nannies’ petty foibles, complaining that they spoke improper grammar in front of the children, and threatening to terminate their employment every few days so that they were constantly nervous and couldn’t concentrate enough to improve their grammar.  Eventually she tired of this game, and of the children. The children were sent off for formal schooling.  She did hope not to have to see them again, she laughed.  Now and again she sat down with tears in her eyes and exclaimed how much she missed them, but it was difficult to say whether she meant the children or the nannies.

It happens that as the husband and wife arrived at the train station for their trip to the coast, they passed by a man named Alistair who wore a large black hat that shadowed his face.  The haughty appearance of the husband and wife caught his attention and he watched them as they waited to board the train.  The woman feigned illness and piled all of her luggage onto the bags her husband was already carrying.  He staggered for a few moments, tripped, and dropped all of the bags.  When the mess was straightened up and the luggage loaded, the husband noticed that a small dog boarding ahead of them had left a pile of doo-doo on the steps. 

“Ladies first,” he said.

“Thank you,” the wife said, and trod in the manure.

“These two are more than the human race can bear,” said the black-hatted man to himself as he watched the woman clean her shoe, “so I had better put forth my best endeavor to amend the problem.”  He boarded the train behind the couple, carrying a large black bag over his shoulder. 

Of course, the husband and wife would likely have taken separate trains except that they felt they could avoid each other adequately on this one.  There was a dining car with a fine restaurant and bar, a game car with tournaments of billiards, backgammon and chess, and even a car in which merchants peddled their wares to passengers.  The trip was twelve hours long, and the couple felt that by alternating among cars they might never find themselves in their private compartment at the same time. 

The train began its journey and it was not long before the husband found his way to the peddlers’ car, for his wife had taken over the game and dining cars with an awful high-pitched gossip and giggling.  The husband wandered from booth to booth chatting nasally with the merchants.  The last booth that he came to was in the corner and was quite dark.  Here sat Alistair in his black hat behind an empty table.  He beckoned the haughty husband to come closer, produced a curious sword from his bag, then whispered something in his ear about it.    

“The very sword that Marcus Brutus threw himself upon in suicide!” exclaimed the man.  “That is impossible!”

“I assure you, sir,” said Alistair, “that it is the genuine article.  Please take it as a gift from myself.”  He whispered something else to the man.

“Yes, my wife would be amazed . . . “ agreed the man, “And jealous!”

He snatched the sword and ran quickly to the compartment, hoping that his wife would appear there soon.  He planned to reveal the infamous sword as soon as he saw her, but then thought: “I should keep the sword hidden until some future argument with my wife, when I can produce it and turn her to her greenest color.  She will demand to know where I got such an illustrious item!”  At that, he concealed the sword above the seats in the compartment and sat back in satisfaction.

Meanwhile, his wife had wandered into the peddlers’ car.  Alistair beckoned to her and whispered something in her ear.  He produced a curious dagger from his bag. 

“The very dagger that Brutus slew Caesar with!” she exclaimed.

She took the dagger from him without a word and ran to the compartment, thinking that as soon as she saw her husband she would bring out the insidious dagger and fill him with jealous rage.  She entered the compartment and was surprised to find her husband already there.  She was about to take the dagger from her purse but then thought: “I will wait instead until an argument when I will need to seem far superior to him.  This dagger will be the coup de grace in my assault!”  She quickly composed herself and sat down.

The husband and wife sat for some minutes in perfect courtesy, satisfied with the weapons in their possession.  Occasionally they cast suspicious glances at one another, secretly wishing an argument would start.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, the black-hatted man had barred their door from the outside. This was finally discovered when the wife tried to leave the compartment for a cup of tea to sharpen her mental acuity for the anticipated battle with her husband. She sat back down and they gazed nervously at each other.  They were both too proud to pound on the door or yell for help, and they had a journey left of ten hours – a longer period of time than they had ever spent together during their twenty years of marriage. They fidgeted until finally the wife signaled the beginning of the fight. 

“It’s your fault the door won’t open,” she said. “You slammed it when you came in.”

“But you came in after I did,” the husband complained.

They proceeded to spend an entire hour arguing why the door would not open.  As the second hour commenced, they argued politics and each tried to look more dignified than the other.  The third hour was silent, but filled with indignant looks and with nose picking, nail biting and other habits that each knew annoyed the other one.  The fourth hour they disagreed about drama and literature and renounced their marriage vows.  The fifth hour was spent trying to prove which one of them had the greatest dislike for their children, and whose fault it was that they had been born.  They argued about servants, nannies and dogs in the sixth hour, and the seventh hour saw the husband begin to foam at the mouth and the wife to be sick on the empty seat.  The eighth and ninth hours were taken up with trying to kill a fly that was finally splattered upon the wall. 

Near the end of the tenth hour the wife produced the dagger of Marcus Brutus, and the husband his sword.  The wife gouged the dagger into the husband’s spine.  Though he had to unnaturally contort his dying body, the husband plunged the sword through his wife from the rear, for he, like his wife, only knew how to give a stab in the back. 

Alistair had been waiting outside, and as soon as he heard an end to the gurgling he smiled and unbarred the door.  He ungorged the sword and dagger of Brutus and put them back in his bag, where they clinked softly against Socrates’ cup of poison. 

“What a bloody shame,” said Alistair as he looked around the compartment, but it was somewhat in question whether he meant the bodies of the husband and wife or the battered fly on the wall.  

___________________________________________________________ 

Elisabeth Hegmann grew up among musicians in North Vernon, Indiana, and was active in theatre throughout her childhood.  She received her B.A. in English from IUPUI in 2007 and her M.F.A. in fiction from NCSU in 2009, studying under Nebula winner John Kessel.  Her short stories have been published in university journals and in Midnight Times, and have won the Rea Short Story Award and the Pitts Fiction Award.  She’s currently working on a series of novels set in a strange and funny place called the Apogean Islands in the Brimful Puddle.

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Published on June 27, 2009 at 11:21 am  Leave a Comment  

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