–previously published in Chiron Review, issue #96
Betty Sodermeier stood apart from the other ladies, though they tried to surround her. She didn’t want sympathies, did not feel like crying; she had at first, when she knew her marriage was over. All she could see was the ugly brown couch. Stan’s couch, her late husband. Her stiff navy suit itched in the close, cramped, stuffy room. Susan Moreno inched close, managing to press her large frame into the relatively tight space between the table-end and the wall. A place where only one person fit.
“I am truly sorry.” Susan reached out and grasped Betty’s arm in what she assumed was sympathy. “Stan was a relatively young man.”
Her ex-best friend Julianne Parker had confessed, the woman he was in bed with when he died. “Yes, he was.” She had thrown a few dishes after the confession he’d made. How he planned to continue.
“Come now,” Susan said, gently trying to lead her. “No matter how you may be feeling, we need to get you something to eat.”
She wanted to say, I’m not hungry. “Okay,” gushed out instead. ‘Death by cheating,’ how apropos. She’d told him not to take any of his little blue pills, yet he did anyway.
Women babbled around her, weaving through the furniture crowed space. She didn’t care to look at faces, let alone place them. Soon a plate laden with casserole globs was shoved into her hands. The last thing she wanted to do was eat. Stray plastic fibers poked her mouth. The fork met her mouth and she chewed. Only to shut them up.
“The service was nice; a little bit warm out, don’t you think?; Ali, I simply must have this recipe;” and, “poor thing looks shell-shocked,” bubbled around her, popping with monstrous frivolity. Her hands full of casserole and a mouthful of food, she could not order them out.
The front door opened, and shut, like the person did not wish to intrude. A hush fell over the hens as the newcomer was observed. Greetings rang like bells, the birds actively recognizing their own. Betty did not pay attention, lifting fork to mouth. Remember to swallow.
The woman appeared as an illusion at first. Julianne stood before her, a screen of women between them. Julianne’s face peppered with bits of broccoli and cheese. A paper plate whispered to the floor, her arm falling to her side. “How dare you show up here.” None of the women really knew what had caused their falling out; Betty did not offer any information, nor Julianne.
When Betty realized the plate and voice belonged to her she stopped. She caught up with her actions, and shook herself. She took a step closer, eying Julianne. Her beautiful, curly blonde hair framed her attractive face, even at fifty-five. Betty could not believe her anger. “After all I’ve done for you, this is what happens? You have nerve.”
All the mothers and grandmothers and ladies froze. Betty felt all their eyes on her, watching like chickens do corn. Julianne brushed the casserole from her face, and someone offered her a napkin. “I don’t want anything from your life.” Julianne pressed the napkin together and held it out. Susan took it. “Stan and I… I came here hoping to make amends.”
“You are not welcome here.” Betty crossed her arms. “Get out.”
“I’ll leave this to you then.” Julianne produced a small letter from her black purse. Betty snatched it. The door shut; she felt eyes bore into her as she unfolded the paper.
Stan must have written the letter, his child-like scrawl filled the page. I know what you have done, and I loved you once stood out. She had dedicated her life and limb to the man, raised his sons, put up with his incessant demands for sex, even after he’d grown fat and ugly and could no longer take her without help from Pfizer. She had done her duty. She let the letter drop. Susan picked up, that traitorous woman. She did not care if anyone found out the truth anymore.
The hens pecked and clacked. Betty sat down on the ugly brown couch. Someone read the letter aloud, reaching the part where she’s poisoned him. The pitch and intensity of the conversation grew. “Betty? I never would have imagined; I can’t believe; She really said that?;” and “Lord, is this all true?” infiltrated her mind.
“Yes.” Betty’s voice cut through the crowd. “Every word. I wish to be left in peace.”
A few ladies turned to each other and shuffled out. Susan remained a moment longer. She shook her head, mumbling something. Betty did not look her in the eye. “I knew very well, where he went. Just a touch of it to his pill. I knew what would happen.” Betty pointed to the door. “Go.” Susan closed the front door softly.
Betty knew how this would end. Her sons were grown, and they would know soon. They’d been spared this scene thanks to their duties in the armed forces. If it came to it, prison would be more welcome than Stan. She’d mourned her husband years ago, and now she would enjoy the rest of her days blissfully without him.