Chapter 1 : Downward Spiral
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“I’m leaving,” she had told him. Her left hand was on the doorknob, and she gripped the handle of a suitcase-on-wheels in her other hand. Her posture was defiant and resigned, but her eyes glimmered with the small hope that perhaps he would try to stop her, try to keep her from going. Dudley did not catch the hesitance in her expression, as he was not wearing his glasses. His glasses were lost somewhere, probably never to be found again. He might even have sat on them by now, and broken them.
“Emma,” he replied feebly. He tried to turn his head toward her, grunting with the exhaustion of it. His neck was lost somewhere under slabs of grotesque fat, and he couldn’t force his head to crane as far as he would have been able to do forty years ago when he was a strapping young man. The years had been unkind to Dudley Dursley, and he was equally unkind to his years – they were endless, stretching, monotonous years. They were filled with bleary memories of the telly remote in one hand and a package of chocolate sweets in the other. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Em?” he repeated in a whimper. She couldn’t really have meant it. She threatened so many times, but Mrs. Dursley always sighed and killed the car engine within five minutes of trying to leave, staring through the windshield into the garage and fighting internally with herself. Dudley didn’t know that she so fiercely contemplated whether to leave or stay, as he was eternally trapped in a nest of rubbish all around his broken armchair. The springs and ancient wooden parts inside the chair had long ago collapsed under his tremendous weight, and as a result he was forced to sit rather lopsided all day.
Any minute now, Emma was going to waltz back through that door, her mouth pressed into a thin line as she surveyed what had become of her house. Dudley was not fond of cleaning up after himself – the exertion irritated his arthritis, he said – and usually only got up to use the loo. He’d suggested having a toilet installed in the corner of the sitting room so that he wouldn’t have to travel far. And his wife had shaken her head and trudged the stairs to their bedroom – a place Dudley had not visited in over three years. He couldn’t be bothered with taking the stairs, and besides, the telly was banned in the bedroom. How could he lie up there without a telly on? He had a whole schedule filled with shows he must watch.
Fifteen minutes later, Dudley grunted to himself. This was getting rather ridiculous. He was hungry again, and the tin of biscuits contained between his pudgy knees was empty. He stuck a fat pinky into it and scooped up some crumbs to tide him over until Emma returned and could go get him another tin of biscuits. Maybe he would ask her to go to the store so that he could wash it down with something fizzy to drink.
Dudley was growing uncomfortable. There were sweat stains under his arms, and he needed Emma to come and give him a sponge bath and help him change his clothes. He couldn’t possibly be expected to do it himself – his wardrobe was upstairs, after all. He glanced at the mouth of the staircase in an adjoining room, sniffing disdainfully. No matter. He supposed he didn’t need a change of clothes quite yet. It had only been two weeks that he’d been wearing this set; he’d gone much longer before.
“Emma!” he called. Where was his bell? Dudley tried to twist around to find the tarnished little bell he used to summon his wife. He sucked away the last of the biscuit crumbs from his fingers and started licking the biscuit tin. It was straining on his muscles, lifting the tin to his mouth. Everything would have been so much easier if Emma had stopped being stubborn and agreed to move the bed downstairs. She was forever complaining about sleeping alone, so wouldn’t it have been the best solution? Two birds with one stone and all that.
He felt the vibrations that signaled the garage door was opening. She wasn’t – she couldn’t – she was bluffing. Certainly, she wasn’t going to leave him in this state. She knew how helpless he was. He depended on her. She was morally obligated to stay here. And besides, she loved him.
Emma was probably just making a run to the store. She would come back.
Dudley allowed his nerves to ease as he settled back into his broken armchair. He had to go to the toilet, but he could wait a little while longer. He needed Emma to clear a path through his sweets wrappers and soda bottles before she could wriggle his walker through. He couldn’t be expected to support his own weight, after all.
He promptly got lost in a reality show. A group of C-list celebrities were herded together in the same house, and he found pleasure in their drama and wild antics. He felt as though he knew each of the contestants very well, and always asked Emma to cast in her vote on the computer as to who should be eliminated from the house next.
Dudley checked the television program, just to ensure that there would be a new episode of that show on tonight. It was his favorite show, and he’d seen several promising previews. They were very teasing, those previews. He could never be sure if they framed them to create the illusion of drama or if it was all real. Emma was always saying that it wasn’t real. But if that was so, then why was it called reality television? Emma just didn’t understand this sort of thing. She never watched television; she was always sitting at the dining room table, grading papers and mumbling under her breath that she would never be able to retire. Sometimes she would speak aloud about an essay one of her students wrote, trying to recite it to him. If it was a commercial, Dudley might turn his ear toward her and pretend to listen. If she was interrupting one of his television shows, however, he would just turn up the volume.
The temperature was reaching an uncomfortable level of cold. The heater must have kicked off again – it was always doing that. “Emma!” he shouted. Maybe she’d come back and he hadn’t heard the garage opening. She might be in the kitchen, fixing his supper. “Will you go turn the heater back on?”
“Hmph,” he grumbled. Well, maybe this wasn’t a bad thing. If she was taking so long in the grocery store, then that meant she was bringing home a massive load of food. He smiled to himself, fancying a large pan of lasagna. She knew how he liked that extra layer of parmesan cheese on top. And after dinner, he had that new episode of his show to look forward to! It was Wednesday, which meant Emma was supposed to trim his moustache. He was glad of this. There were crumbs in his moustache and she knew how he didn’t like that.
Dudley eyed a crocheted afghan draped over one end of the sofa across the room. The air was too wintry for him to ignore, and long shadows were beginning to fall across the room. It was getting so dark that everything glowed violet, except for the square patch of light on the carpet in front of the telly. Emma was out late, indeed.
“Emma!” he yelled in annoyance. It was cold, he was hungry, and he needed to use the toilet. And there were those pesky crumbs in his moustache. He needed his wife to clean him up and make him dinner. But first, of course, she needed to bring him his walker and clear the way to the loo. “Are you in there?” Dudley hollered, trying to adjust his body to face the dining room and the kitchen right on the other side. He squinted his eyes. Was that another tin of biscuits on the dining room floor? Without his glasses, everything was blurry. It was already straining on his vision to have to see six feet to the telly screen, screwing up his piggy little eyes.
The sun was on the other side of the house, glittering brightly off of something on that dining room floor. It wasn’t too far away, he supposed. Dudley could attempt it. After all, he was bordering on starving and his lazy wife was still gone. How thoughtless could she be, leaving him waiting around when she knew he needed her?
I’ll just go get the biscuits so that I have something to munch on during my show, he thought, heaving himself to the edge of his armchair. He took a short break when his bottom was scooted all the way out, halfway hanging over the edge. If his arms weren’t so heavy, he might have pressed a hand to the stitch in his ribs. This was hard work. How could Emma do this to him?
“Em?” he tried again. There was no answer, so he released a few bitter noises and rolled onto the floor.
And twisted his ankle.
“Urgghhoooomph,” he groaned. He wished his feet weren’t so far away, and so concealed from view by his mountainous belly – or else he would have clutched his injured foot. “Emma,” he moaned, closing his eyes for a moment. But when he opened his eyes again, that distorted collection of golden light on the dining room floor captured his attention once again. Biscuits.
Dudley jutted one elbow out over the rubbish-strewn carpet, crawling along on his stomach. Emma would be very sorry for this. She had reduced him to a struggling heap on the floor and owed him quite an apology. She’d better buy more salt and vinegar crisps while she was out, or he was going to be in a foul mood.
The sudden change in body position and his twisted ankle made Dudley feel rather out of breath. He felt dizzy, and cold, and his chest felt constricted when pinned to the floor, crushed under his own mass. It was a squeezing feeling, and it sent pain radiating out to his limbs. Dudley stopped for a moment, wheezing heavily. His entire left shoulder was numb.
But then he rotated, his eyes noticing that glinting object again, not too far away. The glinting was duller now, the sun moving past the window. He blinked his eyes, straining them, and continued grappling along the floor. He needed those biscuits.
Slowly, he inched forward. Dudley paused between each movement, trying to put that agonizing pain of his ankle and chest out of his mind, and wondering angrily where Emma was. Probably in the car park, chatting with the other ladies from Emma’s church. She was always taking too long when she went out, finding people to gab to. She had no consideration for Dudley, who waited impatiently for her to return so that she could brush his hair and wipe the sweat with a dishrag from between his neck folds. She knew how it bothered him to be sweaty.
And finally, he was in the dining room. Dudley rested for a moment, his many chins wobbling on the chilly wooden floorboards. It exhausted him just to lift his head, and to stretch out his arms, reaching, stretching…he could feel his fingers grasping something. It was much smaller than he expected. How could something so small be so bright?
Flashes of color popped in front of his halfway-closed eyes, tropical green and blue and yellow ripping through his line of vision. The numbness crept along his left arm, and there was a tightening in his ribcage like a snake was wrapping itself around his heart. And just before the heart attack could wholly consume his consciousness, Dudley Dursley lifted the object he had crawled all the way from the sitting room to examine. He pinched it between thumb and forefinger, his heartbeat stuttering as he realized what it was and what was happening to him.
The old, obese man’s cheek slammed against the wooden surface as his entire body fell limp. His wife’s silver wedding ring slipped out of his hand, rolling, rolling…disappearing through a thin crack in the floor.