by Elizabeth Hill © 1999
"Are you ready to go, Hon," he asks, walking into the living room. He lays his suit coat across the back of the armchair.
"In a minute, dear," she says. "I just want to go through my purse one more time."
"Sure," he says. "Whenever you're ready."
He smiles at his wife. She is wearing her nicest dress. He goes into the kitchen. She watches him walk and wonders at how lucky she is to have been with this man these many years. She shakes her head slightly, sighs, and returns to her purse.
She picks out the makeup compact her husband had given her for their first anniversary. "He was so thoughful," she thinks, closing her eyes and remembers.
When she had opened the gift-wrapped box she was filled with delight. In the box was silky paper around an expensive cosmetic compact. He held up a finger and had said jokingly, "Not that you'll ever need it. I just thought…" but he could not continue because she began covering his face with kisses.
She is squeezing the compact in her tired hands trying to make the memory last longer. The past ends. She opens her eyes and looks at the compact, but does not open it. She knows it is empty.
She places the compact back in the purse and feels a hard edge. She grasps the object. In her hand she is holding an award medal with the word "Drama" in large script lettering . Her thumb rubs carefully across the image of the letters sitting on a stage and surrounded by curtains. The attached ribbon is a faded red with white trim.
She had wanted to give the award medal to her daughter, or to her son, when they were old enough to know how much the award meant to her. She would have told them of the long, difficult, but rewarding, hours of practice. But for whatever reason the cherished event had never happened.
She and her husband had tried all throughout their young marriage to have a child. And then, when older, tried adoption. But reading the thick folders of application papers made both her head and her heart hurt. Although her husband always encouraged her, she was never able to finish.
She remembered hearing stories when she was a girl. They said that back in the old days there were baskets with a baby inside that were sometimes left on a door step. Every morning for many of her middle years she would open the front door of their little yellow house and look out on the door step. And every morning the disappointment increased until one day she needed to go to the hospital for a while. Now she was on medication.
She holds an empty prescription bottle in her hand and tries to read the label. She removes her eye glasses from the protector she made from an old pillow case. It has a hand sewn pattern of small colorful beads. She tries to focus on the bottle's printed directions with the glasses she bought many years ago at the supermarket.
After a few moments her eyes begin to hurt so she stops trying. She drops the prescription bottle into her purse and places the glasses in their case. She slips the case into the inside pocket where she has always kept them.
Inside the pocket she finds three papers. One is white, one is pink and the last is yellow. Without reading she knows the white paper is a form letter telling of a discontinuation of her husband's disability checks. The pink paper is an eviction notice from the state for non-payment of taxes. She holds the yellow paper above the others.
The bold type is easy for her to read. It is her wedding announcement from the newspaper. There is a photo. There are some words. In her mind the picture of the happy couple is as crisp as today's newspaper. The words she has memorized. She now closes her eyes and recites each line to herself.
She smiles remembering that she was the only girl in her neighborhood to be married before the wedding announcement was in the newspaper. Neither family approved of the wedding. But one night she and her then boyfriend drove across the state line and were married anyway. The small chapel ceremony, she thought, was beautiful.
Her eyes open and she is taking a deep breath. She is holding the papers in her hands like playing cards. She picks one paper and move it to the front and then moves another to cover the first and then the other and then back again. But the papers do not change.
Her husband enters the room and bends down to kiss the top of her head. She holds out her hand and he takes it. With difficulty he bends down on one knee and presses the back of her hand against his cheek and kisses her wrist.
"You're so sweet," she says.
They rise together.
"I'm ready now, dear," she says and places her hands on his shoulders. She looks into his eyes and, closing hers, rises up on her toes to kiss him on the lips. She then steps back and turns around. She looks at the sofa and then at her feet. She takes a half-step forward.
"Good-bye," she says. "I love you."
"Good-bye," he says, tears in his voice. "I love you, too."
There is a deafening sound, the kind which comes from the discharge of a large caliber revolver. And then, although she cannot hear it, there is another.
* * *
The Globe Times, Evening Edition, Page 23 (excerpt)
. . . apparent murder-suicide earlier this afternoon has authorities puzzled. Local residents of this quiet neighborhood near downtown are bewildered, saying the deceased couple were friendly but generally kept to themselves. Neighbors claim no knowledge of any dispute between victim and murderer.
Detectives have suggested, but will not confirm, that this may have been a bizarre lover's death pact. The seedy yellow bungalow, located at the intersection of Starr and Crawst Avenues, was the lovers only known address . . .
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