Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Death of Vernon Dursley

“...and I saw multitudes
to every side of me; their howls were loud
while, wheeling weights, they use their chest to push
They struck against each other; at that point,
each turned around and, wheeling back those weights,
cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?”
-Dante’s Inferno, Canto VII

The Death of Vernon Dursley

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive woke with a start. His heart was pounding a tattoo in his massive chest as it rose and set with fury. He rolled over slowly, like some kind of landed manatee, swinging his fat feet to the floor with a meaty slap.

“Petunia. Oh, Petunia I had the most terrible dream. You had left and you’d taken our Dudders with you.” He turned to face a cold and empty bed beside him.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive leaned his mammoth form forward and buried his small fat face in his meaty hands. And he began to cry. It had been no dream. This had all really happened to him. He was all alone now. All alone in Number Four, Privet Drive.

The shopping cart wheel squeaked laboriously, as if trying to make as much sound as possible as the wheel went round and round on the rusty axel. The fluorescent lights above the grocery store aisles flickered in time to the circular squeaking. He made the shopping cart seem small beside his massive form as he leaned his tweed jacketed arms against it for support.

“Now. Now, then. Let’s see here.” He stammered as he walked and talked to himself. He had no one else to talk to anymore. Not since Petunia and Dudley had left. He tried not to think of that morning when Petunia had stormed out of the house, Dudley in tow. Dudders would be fine. He was a big boy and he’d be sure to find a job in the mines up north. Vernon had. And he had been younger at that time.

“Excuse me, sir. But do you know where the peas are?”

Vernon recoiled from the old, shaking woman who had interrupted his thoughts. Right into the rickety cart. There was a moment of tipping, when the cart was balanced on just two wheels. He saw it as if time had slowed down. He tried to reach out, to grab it, but it was as if he was moving in slow motion with the falling cart. Dancing some strange, treacly dance. It was just a bit too far, a fraction out of his reach.

Then there was the cacophony of broken jars, battered containers, and beans spilling out across the floor and skittling along the tiles. He was breathing hard, his face must have been the color of a ripe tomato, he thought as he seethed towards the old woman. But where the old Vernon would have began yelling, cursing, telling her to watch where she was going, blaming her for sneaking up on him, he suddenly felt the anger turn to something else. Something worse.

His chest tightened, he couldn’t breathe. He felt like the walls were warping and twisting and towering over him, as if the ceiling and the fluorescent lights were slowly descending, coming to crush him. He wheezed and cursed and his eyes watered as he clenched them shut tightly. The panic beat furiously at the darkness behind his eyelids. It filled him, consumed him, coursed like ice through his veins and made his prodigious stomach shudder and convulse. He wanted to throw up.

Instead, he opened his eyes slowly. He saw the old woman standing with her hand covering her quivering mouth. She was saying something. Asking him something. But Vernon could not place meaning on the words “are you alright” or “do you need me to call an ambulance”. And then it passed. The entire episode had lasted no more than a few seconds even though it had felt like an hour of agony.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive was shaking as he stood. Damn, this was the reason why Petunia had left and why Dudley had left and why everyone now pretended not to know or remember he existed. He walked down the aisle like he was in a trance ignoring the wraith figure of the old woman hovering at the background of the aisle and the tipped cart and its scattered contents. Maybe he was in a trance. Maybe it had been that Potter boy’s doing.

It was always the same thing, over and over again. First the owls, then the flying Ford Anglia, then the wizards. Every time something had upset his life it always, always, always came back down to that boy! The boy who lived, they called him. Many a night had Vernon prayed, to no particular god or deity, that the boy had died instead. He could still have his life. His sanity. His wife and son. Every good thing had left his life when the Potter boy had shown up. Some of it had just taken longer.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive left the store empty handed and went back to his tomblike house on Privet Drive. The rooms were cold and smelled of the stark emptiness that hotel rooms reeked of. The surfaces felt wrong, the walls oily and greasy with dust. The floorboards creaked with menace that their slumber should be disturbed. The house felt wrong without Petunia there baking a cake or Dudley eating it. Now it was just him. He sunk into the couch. Willing his form to merge with it, for it to swallow him. Encase him.  He turned the telie on, but there was only commercials for Sunbright, liquid pine cleaner on. Sunbright, add a dash of sunshine to your home. And no matter which channel he put on, no matter how long he stayed on that channel it was only commercials. Only ever commercials for Sunbright, liquid pine cleaner. Add a dash of sunshine to your home.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive couldn’t sleep. He paced the round mat that covered the wooden floor of his bedroom. His bedroom. Not theirs anymore. Round and round the mat he went as he paced and thought and muttered and tried to remember what he had been trying to do. Like some monk in deep meditation while walking the labyrinth on the floor of a cathedral. He’d been trying to sleep. That’s right. That’s right. Sleep. He lowered his hefty frame onto the protesting, squeaking bedframe and willed himself to sleep. Willed himself not to dream. Not again.

Mr Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive woke with a start. His face was covered in sweat and maybe tears. He rolled over slowly, grunting with the effort to face the other side of the bed.

“Petunia. Petunia I had the most terrible dream. You had left and you’d taken our Dudders with you. And I was alone in the house and there was only one commercial on the telie.” He turned to face a cold and empty bed beside him again.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive buried his face in the warm, soaked pillow and bit into the fabric as he groaned in agony. And he began to sob big, warm tears. It had been no dream. This had all really happened to him. He was all alone now. All alone in Number Four, Privet Drive.

The wheel on the shopping cart squeaked even more in protest as it attempted to turn on the axle that was bent out of shape. He pushed onward anyway, trying to force his way down the aisle against the agonized wail of the cart’s wheel. He was focused. Determined. He would be indomitable. He pushed through the aisle, secretly glad to see that there was no people. He was not certain what he would have done had there been any. He furtively checked behind him every few second though, just in case.

It was not that he had ever had a problem with people. They all simply had problems with him and that had been their own fault and their own business to deal with. No, this was new and different and unwelcome. Since the first day that redheaded wizard had blown up his fireplace he had been haunted. Haunted by how normal the wizard man had looked. Old men in beards and robes and hags with warts and pointy hats he could stand against. He could resist. But that redheaded wizard man had looked like any one of the gents at the pub. If he hadn’t just materialized out of a fireplace, Vernon would not even have suspected him of being a wizard.

And there was the problem. And Vernon groaned audibly with a slight shudder of terror as he saw another cart begin to nose around the edge of the aisle. The young boy and his mother came into view and Vernon tried to keep moving but found, suddenly, that he couldn’t. He was frozen, like some deer in the headlights of an oncoming lorie, all he could do was stare wide, bulging eyed at them.

Maybe the mother decided she didn’t need to buy any melons today. Or more likely she noticed the strange man glaring at her and her son standing next to the melons. Either way they didn’t turn down the aisle and instead continued past Vernon’s line of sight. As the last trace of other person disappeared, Vernon finally let out a breath and leaned against the cart. That was the problem.

If Vernon couldn’t tell witches and wizards apart from normal people then how could he tell who was who. Anyone could be a witch or a wizard. That woman pushing the cart, or even just the boy. Hadn’t Petunia’s own sister been a freak like that. A perfectly normal family. Nothing strange or out of the ordinary until one day the little freak just started spouting magic and making problems and owls started arriving and things went amok. Anyone could be one of them. Waiting. Just waiting.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive glanced over his shoulder nervously again as he stood in line to pay for his groceries. A bag of peanuts. A cherry pie. A container of Sunbright liquid pine cleaner. Add a touch of sunshine to your home. He licked his salty lips nervously as he watched the cashier finish ringing up the people in front of him. His nervous gaze flicked back and forth between the woman and her son walking out, and the cashier behind the register. A blond haired boy with a speckling of acne across his cheeks and chin. He smiled a metallic grin at Vernon that spoke nothing of friendliness and everything of boredom.

“How are you today then, sir? Find everything alright?”

This is the part where I speak. This is the part where I answer, Vernon thought as he felt himself begin to sweat. He felt his tongue like a lead weight in his mouth, forcing his mouth to gape open but not moving to form any words. His throat was constricting, getting smaller and smaller as his lungs began beating at his chest to try and squeeze more air through his constricted windpipe.

“Sir? Is anything the matter?” Metal mouth was looking scared as he stepped towards Mr. Dursley’s shaking form and touched his arm.

“Ghwa!” Vernon stuttered and groaned, “What are you doing to me?!”

“Nothing, sir. I just wanted to make sure you were al––” But the boy couldn’t say anything further.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t you touch me! You filthy, disgusting, wizard! Don’t think I don’t know!” Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive shrieked as he backed away from the cashier, inching towards the door. “You think you’re some big secret, that none of us know! Well, I do! I know! I know! And I’m telling you right now, that no one pulls one over Vernon Dursley, no they do not!”

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive was panting heavily and out of breath as he slammed the door to Number Four, Privet Drive, cracking the glass set in it, and leaned his bulky frame against it. The inside of the house was dark and cold. It reminded him of his boyhood. When he and his sister had been taken to an old castle on summer holiday. How they had found the cemetery and an old sepulcher belonging to some ancient and long dead family. They had gone in and the air had tasted stale and cold and the deep darkness had not left their souls even after they had left the old tomb. The darkness in Number Four, Privet Drive felt exactly the same–– deep.

“Damn, wizards!” He cursed as he stomped through the house, strangely invigorated and roused by his escape from the cashier in the grocery store. “Thought they’d get me, did they! Well, I know a thing or two about their kind, I do! For one, I know that they exist! So they can’t cheat me or trick me into thinking I’m going mad! Its all just a trick. It’s a trick and the only defense is not to give ‘em any ground, it is! That it is! That it is!”

Number Four, Privet Drive was silent in answer to his roaring at the rafters. He seemed to calm a bit, tucked in his shirt and took of his tweed jacket. The kitchen had always been Petunia’s realm. Vernon had been very kind and generous to give up this as his wife’s territory. But now he was lord of all again. And so he threw his jacket on the counter, and swung open the pantry door.

There was an old wheel of cheese, a round cask of ale, and a single shriveled onion. He opened the fridge but found it bare and empty, reminding him of his grocery store fiascos and why he’d have to return there again the next day. Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive did not need reminding of that, and shut the fridge. He took out the wheel of cheese, the cask of ale, and the onion.

A match was lit in the growing gloom of the blue twilight that seeped through the windows. The candle sputtered to life and glowed faintly. Very faintly, a halo of warmth and comfort. The table was set for one, with the best bone china and sterling silver cutlery. A round goblet, some old family heirloom was filled to the brim with the warm ale. On the plate, round circles of raw onion sat next to cheese riddled with holes.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive surveyed his work with pride. He did not need Petunia. He had prepared a fine meal, a damn fine meal, all on his own. He sat and cut into the onion. It bit his tongue and watered his eyes and burned around the edges of his mouth. The cheese was sharp and tangy but offered little as far as flavor went, coating the inside of his mouth with thick, fatty warmth. The ale washed it all down and sat like a smouldering log in his stomach. The silver on the china made a soft clinking sound, like hail on a window pane, in the cavernous silence inside Number Four, Privet Drive.

Perhaps it was the food, since it had been almost two days since he had eaten last. Or perhaps it was the ale, the alcohol slowly numbing his sense and dulling the throbbing migraine at the back of his head. Or perhaps it was the candlelight, like a small spark of hope in the inky darkness of despair that surrounded him. But for some reason, a flush of warmth glowed through Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive and he felt that maybe, just maybe, even with Petunia and Dudley gone, everything was going to be fine.

And then that warmth grew warmer. Like a coal being blown on, it glowed just a bit too much, just bordering on discomfort. He kept eating, throwing the cheese and the onion slices and the ale back as fast as he could, trying to bring the gentle warmth back. But it just got worse. The coal had solidified in his stomach into a burning lance of hot white, pain. He clutched the table, his face turning red, the room growing smaller, the pain getting hotter and hotter. And then everything started spinning.

He pulled the tablecloth with him as he fell to the floor, trying to find something solid, something he could anchor himself to. He opened his mouth to curse but instead the cheese and onion and ale began to come up, waves of vomit and sick all over the floor, down his shirt. He stumbled down the hallway and up the stairs, leaving a trail of cheesy, oniony, ale behind him. He threw open the bathroom door and launched himself against the porcelain bowl. He pressed his face through it and heaved over and over again, feeling his body convulse and shake, his eyes water, his lungs quake for a breath in between the waves of sickness. The round bowl shook under his straining fists that held the sides. Time slipped away from him as he lay there, covered in his vomit and the stale taste of the ale in his mouth.

Mr. Vernon Dursley did not even try to change. His shirt had lost buttons in the mad dash to the bathroom. He simply fell on the bed and closed his eyes. No pacing the mat tonight. No trying to go to sleep. His body quivered with the expectation of rest. He let the obsidian blackness of the room take him.

He woke with a start. The room was dark and smelled faintly of an odor he could not place. Sweet but cloying. He had had the strangest dream. More of a nightmare. But then the horrid thought occurred to him that it hadn’t been a dream. That Petunia and Dudley were actually gone.

“Gone.” He whimpered to the darkness.

“What?” came the groan from next to him.

He turned his bulky frame to face the thin woman in the bed next to him. He felt tears well up in his eyes. It had all been a nightmare. Some terrible twisted dream! He reached for Petunia and she smiled at him groggily. Then Petunia was gone. Just a horrible skeleton in her place, with smoke pouring from her round, eye sockets. The smoke reached out long hands into his mouth and filled his throat. He tried to cough, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t breathe.  

Mr Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive woke with a start. He coughed again as he got a mouth-full of smoke. His room was filled with it. He jumped up yelling as he did.

“Petunia. Wake up! There’s something wrong! Dudders must have set fireworks off in the house again!” She wasn’t there. Again. Just the empty bed beside him. He followed the trail of sick down the stairs to the smoldering tablecloth and the small fire licking at the side of the table. The candle from last night, he thought.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive buried his sooty face in his greasy hands. He would take care of the fire in a moment. It wasn’t going anywhere. For a moment. For a moment he had truly thought that maybe it had all been a dream. That maybe Petunia had never left. That maybe his life wasn’t falling apart. Now the grey emptiness took him and he couldn’t even find tears. He just sat there. Maybe he’d let the fire burn him up. Maybe he’d never move from that spot again.

People moved away from Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive as he shuffled down the sidewalk. His bedraggled appearance ––his unbottoned shirt, his messy hair, the trail of caked sick over his front–– was not nearly as unsettling as the dull, watery grey of his red-rimmed eyes that did not seem to blink. He walked down the aisle of the grocery store and he heard the squeaking whine again of a grocery cart wheel. He turned but there was no cart in sight.

He kept walking, another whining wheel joining the first one, and then another and another and another until the cacophony of whining, screeching, squeaking wheels pounded through his head reverberated through his faintly chattering teeth. And then the noise all turned to harmony as he saw the Sunbright cleaner. Of course, of course. That’s why he had seen the commercials over and over again. The universe was trying to tell him. The way that he could have his life back. Add a touch of sunshine to your home! Of course!

His hands were shaking as he grabbed the bottle and started walking towards the door. The acne faced teen from before tried to step in front of him, his metal words forming slowly in Vernon’s mind.

“I’m sorry sir, but you have to pay for that first.”

And then the boy was on the ground. And he was holding his stomach and he was crying. Crying and crying. Vernon realized he was holding his father’s revolver in his hand. But that couldn’t be right. The revolver was back at Number Four, Privet Drive, under his mattress. Petunia had insisted that he keep it there. He couldn’t be holding it.

He puzzled over the mysterious revolver as he stepped over the bleeding boy on the floor and out of the door. He continued down the street with his bottle of Sunbright, add a touch of sunshine to your home, when he heard the distant sirens through the haze of squeaking wheels in his mind. And then he realized.

“Those damn wizards!” He cursed to passerby’s in the street. “They did this! They killed the boy in the store and then put my father’s gun in my hand so they’d think I did it! But they don’t know that I know that they know! I still have it! I still have the element of surprise! And now I have the Sunbright too!”

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive was home. He slammed the door behind him but it just hung loosely from the hinge. He uncorked the Sunbright liquid pine cleaner–– add a touch of sunshine to your house–– and began splattering it in archs of bright orange across the walls and tables and chairs and carpet and ceiling and lamps and kitchen and everything else. He ran up the stairs, smearing the walls with the orange cleaner as he went, pouring it on the carpet.

And when he reached his small bedroom, he poured the last of the bottle over the bed and spread the soapy-sick mess around and around, building up a sticky white lather on the sheets, going round and round, digging his nails into the bedsheets until they started catching, tearing of one after another. Maybe that was what did it. Maybe that was what snapped him back. The stabs of pain coming from his bloodied fingers.

Realization dawned. The black streaks of sooty smoke against the wallpaper. The trail of crusted vomit in the carpet. The pink soapy-bloody suds on the bed. The cool press of the revolver in the pocket of his tweed jacket.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive took of his jacket and took out the revolver. He walked into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror over the crusted and dirty sink. His eyes were red and wide and watery. Thick purple bags hung under them, crusted with dried vomit. His face was showing the prickles of a beard after two days of not shaving, also smeared with sick. He looked into those eyes and knew everything was over. No one would believe him. Those wizards had won. They had out thought him and trapped him and now the police would come and he couldn’t tell them about the wizards because of course no one would believe Vernon. But there was still something he could do.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive placed the cold barrel of the revolver in his mouth. He looked at himself in the mirror as his thoughts raced through his head. He would do it. He would rob them of their goal. He would take himself out of the equation. He would make sure no bloody wizard got the better of him in the end.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive’s thoughts kept racing. It would be simple. Easy even. Probably painless. Maybe a moment but that would be it. He would do it. Just pull the trigger, Vernon. Come on, man up! Just pull the damn trigger and be done with all this! Put it all behind you! Come on, Vernon, do it! Do it! Don’t be such a coward, you piece of filth! You want those wizards to win! This is what they want! Don’t give it to them! Do it!

For a moment the face in the mirror changed to a dull grey face with deep black eyes. Mr. Vernon Dursley looked into the face of Despair. And he knew. He could feel it twisting at his heart, making his stomach heave dryly, that he couldn’t do it. He could never be brave enough to end it now. He let the revolver slump out of his mouth. He slumped to the floor and folded himself over, his forehead pressed against the bathroom tile.

Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive sobbed into the moldy grate of the grimey tiles. Not sure of what would happen now. Not sure of whether he’d ever see Petunia and Dudley again. Not sure if this was all just some sick form of hell and he was just being tortured by wizards or devils over and over again. Not sure if this was all just a nightmare and if he’d wake up again and again and again. But one thing he was sure of. If this was a nightmare and if he, Mr. Vernon Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive, did wake up with a start again, he would not turn and call to Petunia. He could not bare it. Could not bare to feel the cold and empty bed next to him again. Again. Again.


  1. You're as good as Rowling is herself. This was great, loved it. :)

  2. I'm not so sure I'm anywhere near as good as her yet but thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement. I'm glad you enjoyed it.