Read part 1: Vodka is the only thing that gets the hurt out
Jim’s last day began like the quiet before the storm: shower, a shave, breakfast, and then off to work. He was late going to work because he was late coming home. Some story about working or something. I tune those excuses out now.
Later, Jim would arrive at Monica’s for dinner. He’d have a drink—aged bourbon in a high ball glass dotted with ice cubes. By midnight, his corpse would be shoved in the back of a Uhaul on the way to his final resting place, the belly of a south Louisiana gator.
Driving around Shreveport, I made my daily rounds as a kept woman. Visited gossipy girlfriends. Window shopped. Picked up groceries. Kept my hair dressing appointment. That’s when Monica’s nerves impaired her judgment forcing her to call my cell phone.
“What the hell is your problem? I told you not this phone. The pre-paid phone! That’s the black one I bought you.”
My hair dripped with leave-in conditioner when I ran outside to take the call.
“I can’t do it.” Monica’s voice quivered as did my stomach.
See, once you make a resolution to commit murder, sign-on your accomplice, and make plans, it’s rude to not follow through with them. Seriously, what kind of person are you if you can’t keep a promise, especially to your partner in crime. Emily Post should craft a book on accomplice etiquette.
“What do you mean you can’t do it? Monica, we talked about this.”
“I know. It’s just that, it’s just that, that…”
Sigh. “It’s just that you love him, right?”
Her silence confirmed my suspicion. Of course she loved him.
What else would make her hesitate, life in prison? If a legally binding contract between two consenting adults didn’t scare her off, sitting in a jail cell and being Big Mona’s new girlfrrrr—.
Now, I saw her hesitation.
“I love him too, Moncia.” The conditioner dripped in fat, opaque drops on the cement. It slowed a bit since the beginning of the conversation. The sight of me was a ridiculous spectacle—a woman with wet hair, in a towel, telling at her husband’s mistress on the phone because of her cold feet in a murder plot. It was enough to drive any woman to insanity. But I was use to Monica making a ridiculous spectacle of me.
I continued. “And it’s hard to harm someone you love. But when someone says they love you and they forget your birthday, how does that make you feel?”
“He made it up to me,” she said in her puppy dog way.
“Yes, but only after you told him. And how about when he doesn’t call for weeks? Do you still feel loved then?”
“He’s just been working hard.”
“Do you believe that? You have smelled the perfume on his clothes, right?”
More silence and a whimper.
“Don’t forget the pictures, Monica. He’s lied to me with you and now he’s doing it again. Does someone who loves you hurt you that way?”
“Who are you going to believe, an adulterous liar or his wife? I’m only looking out for your best interest. We’re friends aren’t we?”
A soft sob came over the phone. I wanted to reach through the receiver and slap some sense into her but, alas, the limitations of technology.
“Monica,” I said softly. “Don’t worry about getting the Uhaul. We’ll use the Tahoe he gave you, all right. Just get yourself together for tonight. I’ll be right there with you. Trust me. It’ll be okay.”
“And Monica. Don’t call me on my cell phone again. Use the other number.”
I clicked off the phone and rushed in before the conditioner dried.
A gnawing ravaged my insides like termites to wood. Despite the reassurance from Monica, I couldn’t help to think that the plan would have some hiccups. And at this late date, I couldn’t afford them. But was it took late for a contingency plan?
Sometimes planning for things to go wrong is just as important as planning for things to go right.
Jim was an hour late for dinner at Monica’s when my patience with the tart wore thin.
“He was supposed to be here. I don’t know where he is!” she yelled batting her eyes.
I had to hand it to the still nervous Monica, she looked the part of a seductress. Her painted on scarlet dress stretched over her ample breasts and if it wasn’t for the spaghetti straps holding the top of the dress, it probably would roll down to her waist every time she bended. That was if she could bend without ripping the taxed cloth at the seams. Compared to my blue jeans and t-shirt, I felt underdressed for this murder.
“So do you own a pair of jeans, some tennis shoes? Underwear?”
“Jim bought me this for our last anniversary. It’s his favorite.”
I bet it was.
Monica continued. “I figure that he should be surrounded by the things he loves before he, you know.”
“Before he dies a quick and painful death as punishment for cheating on his wife and mistress who has put up with his shit for years.” I smiled at her.
“Yeah. That.” She hugged herself and looked down at the carpet.
“Just trying to keep you focused.” Her curly blonde head didn’t look up. I snapped my fingers at her. “Hey! Focus, Monica! He’s going to be here and you’re going to see him and you’re going to have all these feelings rush at you. Your judgment is going to be clouded. Don’t let that happen. He’s just a liar who has decided to toss you aside and you’ll have nothing and no one will want you again.”
She looked at me.
“Why are you helping me? We’ve never been friends.”
“Oh but we are, Monica,” I said placing my arms around her shoulders. “I’m the most devoted friend you have right now, a woman who knows exactly what you’re going through. Solitary sister. Women have to stick together.”
She nodded her pretty little head and smiled at me.
“That’s my girl. Now go put some more lip gloss on. You don’t want Jim to see you unprepared, do you?”
Monica ran to the bathroom. Hell, she almost skipped.
Her small apartment was not what I pictured as Jim’s other lair to be like. I guessed since he was footing the bills, it would be extravagant. I expected high ceilings, hardwood floors, and a huge tub. But before my eyes was cotton candy pink shag carpeting on everything standing still and a bathroom smaller than my first apartment after college. So this was the place where Jim cheated. This was the place he called from to say he was working late. He was sat in that fuzzy couch with the heart throw pillows. He probably drank his nightcap from the faux wood wet bar and he and Monica laughed at the lovely dotting wife worried at home. He laid in her bed when I called him five times after hearing there had been a break-in in the bank. I was worried sick until he returned reeking of her tawdry department store perfume. She bathed in it.
He probably made her eyes roll to the back of her head that time he was late for my surprise birthday party last year.
This place and this woman replaced me? My home, our home, which was not decorated by an exiled Muppet, wasn’t good enough for him?
If I wasn’t already killing him, I’d fire a bullet through his skull.
“Did you call him?” I yelled toward the bathroom.
“He didn’t answer!” Monica replied as she walked into the living room.
After the earlier phone call, I considered postponing. With a nervous accomplice, too many things could go wrong. Most especially if that partner was a nerve-shot, soon-to-be former mistress who still dotted the “I” in her name with a heart.
“Call him again! He’s with her have no doubt about that, sugar.”
An anxious Monica raced for the pre-paid cell phone. Shit.
“No! Monica, your phone. Call him from YOUR phone!”
Her baby blues were lost as if her brain didn’t quite understand. She froze frozen, phone at the ready.
“I know you’re scared but he’s not going to recognize that number if you call him from it. Remember, that’s just to make phone calls to me!”
“Stop yelling at me! I, I, I don’t know what I’m doing,” she stuttered. “I’m so scared!”
Why must I always do everything! One glance at her reaction and I knew what to do. I leaned over the wet bar and reached for the first thing I could grab, a half empty bottle of Old Wellers Bourbon. Must have been Jim’s for sure. Bourbon was his favorite and the 107 proof of Old Wellers was an indulgence at our house but perfect for the place without a wife watching over his health.
I felt around for a glass and filled it a third of the way up with the warm, brown liquid.
“It’ll go straight to my head.”
“I’m not asking. Take it.”
With a slow, shaky hand, Monica reached for the glass and took a sip. Her face wrinkled before she coughed. She tried to hand it back but I stared at her like a mother forcing her child to take the medicine. I stood there, one hand on my hip and my other hand grasping the bottle’s slender neck. With her second Monica sip she wrinkled her nose in disgust. At her third attempt, I tipped the bottom of the glass, forcing the drink down her gullet.
“BLAAAAAA!” She gasped. “What did you do that for?”
“We don’t have time to baby sit a drink.”
Monica coughed as one manicured hand covered her mouth and the other still held the glass, now with bright pink lipstick smudges along the rim.
“I’m not much of a drinker.”
“Start.” I grabbed the glass from her hand. “Call him again. From your phone. I’ll be in the kitchen finishing dinner.”
Monica recovered from the bourbon’s burn and by the time I reached the kitchen door, she was rummaging through her purse. After washing the glass, I checked on the marinara sauce—bubbling and hot and perfect. I grabbed the special ingredient—the special ingredient for the sauce. With care, I slipped on my gloves and held the small, plastic pepper shaker up to the kitchen light. My mouth dropped open in amazement at how grounded up white oleander, jimson weed, monkshood and lily of the valley—plants so toxic that the poison could be absorbed through the skin—resembled oregano. Or perhaps my amazement was about an ordinary coffee grinder’s strength to transform things without changing its potency. Or maybe my astonishment was really about how easy it is to order the grinder and the plants online, have them shipped to a post office box I rented six months ago in the name of Monica Stevens.
Jim’s death would be quick but painful. Almost immediately he should start sweating and breathing heavy. His heart rate will increase. He’ll vomit, have hot flashes but feel cold as ice, a bit of vertigo, blurred vision, convulsions. His blood pressure will drop quicker than a stock market crash. And then, right at the end, his body will numb, he’ll be paralyzed and all that heavy breathing will slow. He’ll breathe slower and slower and slower until his last breath leaves his body.
His death will take less than five minutes. Mine took years.
I sprinkled the entire container into the sauce, stirred and lowered the temperature. The container and the gloves were safely in the garbage can before Monica rushed in, almost barreling into me.
“Oh my God, he’s parking the car.”
Monica flapped her hands around as if she was about to fly.
“Okay, deep breath. This is easy. I’ve already taken care of everything. All you have to do is sit him down at the dinner table out there and hand him his food. That’s it.”
“Okay,” Monica said between breaths. “Okay. Okay.”
She closed her eyes and then opened them in a flash. “What if he knows?”
“Did you tell him?”
“Then he doesn’t know. Monica, this will be over in a couple of hours. By tomorrow, you will be set for life and will be able to do anything you want.”
She nodded and I could tell that this time she understood what I was saying.
We heard a jingle of keys and the front door opening. Of course, he would have keys to his love nest.
“Monica! Sweatheart! Daddy’s home!”
Daddy’s home? That’s so disgusting.
“He’s here!” Monica whispered.
“You’re on kid. Good luck.” Winking, I turned her around and give her a gentle push toward the door. Before walking through, she adjusted her barely there dress and flipped her curly hair. My stomach flip-flopped and now I was the one who needed to do some heavy breathing. Was my accomplice up to the challenge? Did I plan for it all? Only one way to find out. I ran for the empty glass in the sink and the bottle of Wellers, poured, gulped and sprang for the door.
Pressing my ear to the panel, I had to be ready. If Nervous Nancy over there couldn’t seal the deal, I needed to prepare myself in case things got messy. Of course I preferred that they didn’t but if they did, if Monica couldn’t do it, if he caught on, this whole plan would fall to pieces and I really would have to put a bullet in his head, and hers.
“Babe! I missed you.” Her voice was chipper and high like a bird’s.
“I can tell you missed your man. Come here and show me.”
I should have thrown up or rolled my eyes or even just have shot him right there. But my fragile heartfelt nostalgic remembering the times he said that very phrase to me—when we were first married. Before we had a house, a car, and a care, we had each other. At that point of our lives that’s all we needed and we were content with that. We were just two optimistic kids wanting to set the world on fire. That was how our marriage started.
I don’t remember when it all changed—from us, to him and me, to him vs me. It just did. It became dysfunctional and we became comfortable with it until it defined us.
“Not so fast,” Monica reproached. A tinge of rancor oozed in her voice. “Do I smell perfume on your collar? Who is she?”
Sweet Mary! This buffoon is going to blow this entire thing. I knew it.
“What are you talking about, sweetness?”
“I smell her on you! I smell! I smell!”
Now she decides to confront him? I might have created a monster.
“Have you been drinking? Is that bourdon on your breath?”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t change the subjects.”
“Your pupils are dilated. How much did you drink?” Jim’s question sounded sincere.
Of course it would be sincere. They’ve been together for most of our marriage. Obviously, if he didn’t love me he loved her. A man has to love somebody, right?
If a man didn’t love his wife, then he loved his mistress.
“I’m not drunk, I’m upset!” Monica sobbed. “You’re the only man I’ve ever loved. And you’re cheating on me.”
“Sweetness, I would never cheat on you. Don’t you know you’re the only one that matters in my life?”
That sentence hit me like a bullet, hard and direct. I wiped away a rolling tear and poured myself more bourbon. I’ve learned over the years that pain is one of those things that can’t be treated; only the symptoms can be addressed. Shortness of breath, ear ringing, and a hallow feeling like being scraped clean by a melon ball scooper, are all symptoms of pain. While Vodka gets the hurt out, it has never erased the harsh reality of moments like this. He’s in love with Monica. Did he ever…love me? I loved him. I swear I did. And I think I still do. I must since the pain won’t go away.
I guess they can have each other. We can divorce, I’ll get half. And then what? Start over while they walk away into the sunset like some damned movie? Where is my sunset? My happy ending? It’s in the next room, poking its peter into 120 pounds of bimbo and silicone.
I pressed my ear to the door again. The voices had ceased, giving way to the smacking of lips and the moans of lust as I finished my second glass.