He got up from the picnic and walked off the cliff to his death. His wife blamed it on their daughter’s crippling medical condition.
This was not so much a crime as a tragedy. What the coroner called “death by misadventure”, which is simply a legal phrase for “tragedy”.
It was no one’s fault, the coroner was very clear to point out. No one should blame herself. No one should spend the rest of her life crippled by guilt. God knows, she would have enough to contend with anyway. Perhaps “crippled by guilt” wasn’t the best expression he could have come up with under the circumstances.
So, death by misadventure was the coroner’s verdict. Tragedy. But not suicide. Which would have been something worse than tragedy.
Suicide could be safely ruled out for a number of reasons. In the first place, everyone who knew him testified that he was generally in good spirits – a positive, upbeat person, despite his daughter’s condition.
He was not given to depression. Quite the opposite. He was a tower of strength for the whole family. The one who cheered everyone else up, who kept everyone else going.
The last person to do something like this. Something so aberrant.
Of course, such men may sometimes harbour a secret guilt or sorrow. They’re careful to hide it from even their loved ones. But all the time, it’s eating away at them until they can bear it no longer.
Alternatively, the pressure of being the one who everyone else relies on gets too much for them.
But not him. He was a rock. Solid. Strong for them all. Strong, especially, for his little girl. Everyone who knew him said there was no way he would have done this to her. And besides, there really was no reason to consider suicide. His death was perfectly explainable without it.
The coroner spoke of a series of misadventures, which he likened to the butterfly effect. But what was the first flap of the butterfly’s wing?
Winona was thirteen years old at the time of the tragedy.
Often pink- and teary-eyed as a child, she had been dismissed by her teachers and classmates as “Weeping Winona”. It was her father who noticed that the pink eyes and the teary eyes and the sore eyes were most often there on bright sunny days.
It was her father who had insisted they take her to the optician to get her checked out. Her father who had made sure she was finally diagnosed at the age of ten with pauciarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
They were sceptical. Arthritis? But she’s just a child… This was juvenile arthritis. As the name suggested, it was a condition that comes on in childhood, usually before the age of sixteen.
Arthritis? But she doesn’t have any problem in her joints… This variant of the condition, particularly common in girls, affected the eyes as well as the joints. In fact, it usually manifested itself in the eyes first. There could be no other symptoms of the disease present.
Naturally, they asked about a cure. The specialist they were referred to spoke in terms of treatment rather than cure. The treatment, which might very well save her sight, was to take daily eye drops derived from atropa.
A waft of air moved away from the first flap of the butterfly wing.
Winona was a smart, sensible girl. She quickly got used to the drops, and didn’t mind taking them as they made her eyes better. In fact, she administered them herself without any fuss.
The only thing she had to be reminded about was putting them back in the fridge, where they had to be kept. Oh, and putting the lid back on securely.
You can probably see where this is going. Where the waft of air stirred by the butterfly wing is headed. Towards a future storm.
The eye drops she took were derived from atropa, which is another name for belladonna. A few days before the picnic, she put the bottle of drops back into the fridge, on a shelf above an open bowl of olives. When she next came to take the drops, she discovered that the bottle had been knocked over. As usual, she hadn’t secured the top, which had fallen off. The drops had leaked out.
She’d often been told off for leaving the lid off, or not putting it back on properly, so she decided to keep quiet about it, and to move on to the next bottle in her medicine store.
He was the only one in the family who ate olives. His wife couldn’t stand them and the kids wouldn’t go near them. But he loved his olives. So he transferred them from the open bowl to a Tupperware pot for the picnic.
The waft of air gathered into a cyclone.
No one knows what was going through his mind when he walked off the cliff. What he saw, or what he thought he saw, or where he thought he was. What was certain was that he was acting under the hallucinogenic influence of the belladonna he had consumed.
It’s possible he thought there was a path of gold leading through an orchard of magical fruit. One bite from an apple from this orchard would cure Winona of her condition forever. And so, we might speculate, he got up from the picnic to pick a basket of magical apples.
One thing we can be sure of. Whatever he thought he was doing, wherever he thought he was going, he would have been doing it for his little girl.