by Victoria Briggs
“Gout,” said the doctor, prodding Henry’s big toe with blue latex fingers.
Henry stared down at his swollen toe joint, suddenly transformed by a medical pronouncement: no longer old bones but regal feet. The doctor confirming what Henry had already suspected, that the gout — the tenderness, the scarlet skin — was but an outward sign of inward glory.
“Diet and exercise,” droned the doctor, but all Henry heard was trumpeters. A coronation anthem was playing in his head and he swayed his unshod foot to its pomp and beat.
Arriving home he strode up the driveway, his arthritic hobble ennobled by power.
“We should divorce,” he told his wife as he entered the kitchen. She was making dinner, but with her deaf ear turned towards him and heard only the roar of the flames as the hob jets ignited.
Henry had a fitful night. His big toe throbbed with dark unease. His wife had seemed impervious to the news of their impending split. He suspected interference from Rome, a papist plot. In the morning, he would set off to town in search of another wife, a younger model: destiny had prescribed an “Anne.”
At breakfast, Henry tried to raise the matter again. If they could settle the issue between themselves amicably, he might allow her to keep her head.
This time his wife had her good ear primed. “After all these years,” she said, upsetting the breakfast spread with tears and recriminations, hurling triangles of toast and upending his cereal bowl all over him, bestowing his head with a cornflake crown.
Victoria Briggs is a writer whose work has been published in UK and US literary journals, anthologies and websites. She lives in London and once won the Asham Award for women writers. You can find her on Twitter @vicbriggs or blogging at motherpussbucket.wordpress.com.