Thursday, May 17, 2007

NO REDEMPTION

Another rejection. This time from Ellery Queen. Ho hummm.... So now I publish it here.

Catherine drove in a stupor, reflexes navigating around the other cars on the road and bringing her to a stop as needed. It was barely noon so the traffic wasn’t too bad and she was headed west, not north toward the city where most of the traffic congregated. Catherine hated traffic jams. Being stuck behind lines of cars, fumes and angry people gave her a horrible sense of being squeezed. Like a big elastic band was rapped around her chest, no air in, no air out.
She checked her watch, knowing she had to be careful. Her daughter, Maggie, was at summer camp till one, and she absolutely had to be there to pick her up. But there was more time, she could keep driving a little farther.
“This is ridicules.” Catherine told herself. “You’ll never get there and back in time for Maggie. And what will you do when you get there? Confront the woman?”
Catherine wasn’t sure she had the courage that would take. To stand there and look that woman in the eye and ask her why.
“Oh dear, can you tell my why you’re sleeping with my husband?”
Or maybe yell at her, “You whore! Stay away from my husband!” And maybe a bitch-slap, right across that perfectly made-up face.
Time to cross the Delaware and enter her state. Catherine placed a hand over the madly swirling butterflies in her stomach as she pulled to the side of the road and slowed to a stop. A horn blared as a red pickup sped past her, but Catherine didn’t even flinch. Instead she stared at the bridge in front of her. Should she cross? Would it be worth anything to her if she did? That woman was on the other side of the Delaware, over there hiding from the lives she was ruining on this side.
“This is crazy,”
Catherine put the car back in gear and pulled into traffic. She glanced at her watch; eleven thirty now, camp ends at one. She couldn’t forget to pick up Maggie. She was only five, leaving her standing outside would be something close to abandonment. No matter what else she found today, she had to be there for Maggie. Especially since her marriage was about to fall apart.
WELCOME TO PENNSYLVANIA.
“Five more minutes and I’ll go back.” She just wanted to see where this woman came from. Just to maybe understand a little about the woman her husband suddenly preferred.
Catherine wondered how she would survive a divorce. She had no skills, no education and didn’t know if she could support herself and Maggie. What if Greg fought for custody? An icy fist grabbed her heart. No, she could never lose Maggie. Ever.
“Other women do it.” Catherine said, “They do it everyday.”
But she was afraid. She lived with her parents and then Greg. Never on her own. A shiver of fear skiddled down Catherine’s spine. Just the thought of living alone was scary and she didn’t know, if it had to happen, if she could do it. To get a job that would pay enough to maintain a decent home, utility bills, car insurance? Impossible. And then there was sweet Maggie. Catherine knew she could not fail Maggie.
Driving another fifteen miles and she reached her destination. Kirkwood, Pennsylvania. A little town just the other side of the Delaware River. According to the internet this was where the she-devil lived.
Another glance at her watch and Catherine pulled her minivan into a small shopping center just inside the town limits. She pulled her cell phone from her purse and called her sister. “Susan can you do me a favor and pick up Maggie from camp?”
Catherine’s eyes scanned the parking lot, barely registering her sister’s answer. “Un-huh, One O’clock. I’m just a little tied up. I was running errands and lost track of time.” Not a total lie, Catherine thought. One of those little white ones. Not the kind that counted as a sin against your soul. No harm, no foul.
Across the street a blond got out of a red Mustang and walked into a deli. Catherine sat up straight and stared.
“I have to go, Soose. I owe you one.” Catherine’s pulse accelerated. “Call me and let me know when you have her. Or better yet, I’ll call you back in just a bit.”
That was her! The blonde bitch sleeping with Greg.
There was no sign of Greg and that was a good thing. If she saw him here, she didn’t know what she would do. Confront him? Scream at him? Catherine was beginning to sweat and kicked the air conditioning up another notch. But it was just her, the other woman. It cost forty dollars to do a search on the Internet and get an address for that license plate. It was registered to a flower shop around here somewhere. That and the bleach blond hair on top of that tight, petite body told her everything she needed to know. She had come to the right place. Rage filled her, oozing up from the tips of her toes like an Artic chill, making her legs quiver, turning her stomach to stone and then reaching her shattered heart. Catherine clasped a hand to her chest and wondered if one could have a coronary from a broken heart. It ached so bad.
Get hold of yourself, Catherine thought, you came this far, you have to confront that bitch. But not here, I don’t want to confront her here. However scoping out the enemy wouldn’t hurt either. I could use a drink. I’ll just go in and get a soda.
Catherine climbed from the car and walked over to the deli. Through the window she could see the woman standing by the counter talking to the guy who made the sandwiches. Catherine pulled open the door and stepped into the store. The frigid blast of air conditioning did nothing to cool her temper as she entered. Miss Blondie didn’t even glance in her direction as Catherine walked past her back to the soda case. A whiff of Obsession radiated off the woman and Catherine was shocked by this evil joke.
Obsession is my favorite perfume, she thought. Then another thought hit her. What if Greg gave this bitch her perfume? He said he always loved the scent. Maybe he loved it so much it didn’t matter which one of his women wore it?
Grabbing a coke Catherine pushed past the woman again and slammed the bottle down on the counter. The clerk took her money and she stormed out, drawing curious looks from the rest of the customers. Once at the car Catherine had to stop for a minute and get her bearings. Pain kneaded its way between her eyes as she felt the beginning of a migraine. She placed one hand on the hood of her minivan and held the cold soda bottle to her forehead. Damn that woman! Hatred seethed through her as she climbed in the van and started the engine. Digging two pain killers out of her bag she gulped half the soda before she was able to swallow them down. Now, she sat back and waited.
One month ago to the day, Catherine had deviated from her normal routine of going straight home after dropping Maggie off at school and decided to go shopping. Drop in to Macy’s and hit the clearance rack and then pick up a few things for dinner. No big deal. Until she spotted her husband’s blue pickup truck tucked neatly in beside this same red Mustang at the Angel Falls Motel. It was barely ten a.m.
She staked out the room for two hours before they emerged. TWO HOURS! They were going at it in there for two hours. Greg’s all time best was maybe twenty minutes and that was including foreplay. What could they possibly have been doing in there for two hours? And why?
All Catherine could think of was why he wanted this blond, all two hours worth of blond, more then he wanted his own wife? What had she done wrong?
She kept a clean house, did his laundry, cooked his meals, took good care of their daughter and did her best to be a good wife. So what had she done wrong? Their love life wasn’t spectacular, but she was always willing. Why did he need this tramp in his life?
Sitting this sweltering minivan where the air conditioning was having a losing battle with the unbearable July heat outside, Catherine wasn’t sure if it was the temperature that was making her perspire or the fact that just the sight of this woman made her blood boil. What right does this floozy have to walk into my life and take my man?
And Greg. Tears gathered in Catherine’s eyes as her throat tightened with grief. Was he ready to throw away everything for two slim thighs in high heels? Sadly, she had to admit her body wasn’t what it was before Maggie’s birth. Her hand went to her midriff and she touched the little pooch there. Her hips had gained an inch or so and the skin on her abdomen now hung slightly. No matter how many sit ups she did, that layer of flab refused to tighten. Was that her fault? The joy Maggie brought into their lives was worth way more then the perfect body she had sacrificed to deliver that beautiful baby girl.
Watching the Mustang now, she remembered the look on Greg’s face as he came out of that motel that day. How his eyes darted guiltily around for a minute before looking back to Miss Blondie and smiling. The woman touched his cheek as he kissed her goodbye, then got into the Mustang and drove off. Greg was whistling as he got into his truck.
Now, Catherine was sitting here watching Miss Blondie leave the deli with a cup of coffee and some treat in a little white bag. Before she knew what she was doing, Catherine put the minivan in gear and followed that red Mustang out of the parking lot. She looked at her watch; Maggie would be done with camp about now. Soose promised to take her to McDonald’s and have her back around four. Greg usually came in about five thirty or six.
“We’ll order a pizza tonight.” She muttered, “No way I’m going to have time to cook.”
About a mile down the road the woman pulled into another parking lot and followed it around behind the shopping center where there were a number of doors leading into the back of the shops. Catherine followed, but at what she guessed would be a safe distance. Miss Blondie parked and Catherine drove past, eyes averted. She pulled in behind a dumpster two doors down and slipped quietly from the van. Miss Blondie was just going into her shop. Above the door was painted, “FLOWERS BY LORRIANE”. Catherine edged her way over and peeked in through the screen door.
Lorraine, the dirty woman who was sleeping with her husband was named; Lorraine. The blond hair, tight ass and shapely legs that wrapped themselves around her husband’s waist were named Lorraine. How Catherine hated her.
“Do you send flowers to the marriages you ruin, Miss Lorraine-bitch?”
The door opened into some sort of a workroom and the heady scent of flowers filled the air. A large table in the center was covered with roses, pruning shears and bits of foam and wire. Catherine could hear the woman moving around in the front of the shop.
“This is ridicules, Catherine.” She whispered to herself as she eased open the door and stepped through, “What are you going to say to her? What the hell did you do in that hotel room for two hours? Are you fucking my husband?”
Catherine moved on silent sneakers across the tile floor and took a rose from the table. The blood red, fresh scent filled her head, bringing on a wave of nausea.
“Is this the scent he breaths when he’s kissing you?” Catherine said softly, “Does he smell roses in your hair with the mingle of my Obsession?” Unconsciously crushing the rose she gasped as one sharp thorn dug its way into her thumb.
The phone rang and high heels clicked against the tile, moving closer. In a moment of panic Catherine dropped the mutilated flower and ducked in beside the large glass front refrigerator just as Miss Blondie entered the room.
She watched as the woman, her back still to Catherine, reached for the phone.
“Hi, honey!” Miss Blondie cooed into the phone. “What’s up?”
She paused to listen, and then laughed. The laugh grated like sandpaper on Catherine’s already jangled nerves. She imagined Greg liked that laugh. It went along with the bleach blondiness and perfect body that held him in that room for two hours. Locked in those shapely legs and spilling his seed…
“Do you want to meet me there?” Another pause, “Okay, you got a date.”
All Catherine could think of was Greg. How he pecked her cheek as he went out to work this morning, lips barely touching her skin before drawing away. He was spending more and more time at work and not nearly enough with her and Maggie. She thought of how he smiled at Miss Blondie as they kissed goodbye in the motel parking lot, lips lingering, dipping in once, twice, three times for a taste before pulling away. Black rage welled up inside of Catherine as she pictured those full red lips touching Greg’s mouth and imagined what else they had touched. She shuddered. Now they had another “date”. Miss Hot Pants and her husband.
A woman who jumped into bed with married men, doing God knows what for TWO HOURS!
For Catherine the world took on a red haze. Heat flared up from her soul as her hands balled into fists. She started to pant.
Grabbing a large ceramic vase off the counter, she raised it high and in two quick steps brought it crashing down on top of that blond head. The woman fell forward, head bouncing off the counter before she dropped like a stone, face down on the floor and all Catherine could do was stare. Blood, bright red, pumped out of a gash on the side of Miss Blondie’s head, she twitched once, twice, and then lay still. The red stain of her blood, soaking the blonde hair as it worked its way into an ever-widening circle like some bloody angel’s halo.
A little bell chimed as someone came in the front of the shop, the sound snapped Catherine’s head around so fast the muscles in her neck strained. She could hear someone moving about the shop and that was enough to put her feet back into motion. She tried to step over the woman on the floor, but miscalculated. Her heal caught the edge of that bloody circle and she slid, split style, her one knee going down onto Miss Blondie’s back. Catherine’s breath was coming in short hitching gasps as she used the edge of the table to pull herself back up. Putting her hand right into the bits of gore and hair that stuck to the table where Blondie’s head had hit. Catherine pulled back and wiped her hand across the dead woman’s back. Gagging now, she levered up once more before the blood beneath her foot brought her down again and this time she sat down hard on the dead woman beneath her. A gaseous expulsion of air gushed out of the body and Catherine felt her breakfast move up into her throat. She fought down the vomit and panic. Not worrying about anything but getting out of there, Catherine rolled over onto her knees and then scrambled to her feet. The blood, more blood then she had ever seen before stained the legs of her jeans as she half slid, half ran to the back door.
She jumped into her van, revved the engine, and tore around the other end of the small shopping center, forcing herself to slow down as she reached the front so she could blend in with the rest of the lazy afternoon shoppers.
***
“Are you trying to get drunk?” Greg asked. “That’s your fourth glass.”
“It’s been a long day.” Catherine answered. All night she had been watching him for a sign. Did he know anything? Had he tried to call Miss Blondie’s shop? Taking a hefty swallow of wine she settled herself on the other end of the couch.
Catherine had raced home as fast as she could, stripped down in the laundry room and threw her clothes in the laundry with two cups of bleach. She gave no thought to ruining her jeans, but ran upstairs and scrubbed herself raw in the shower. When Susan and Maggie arrived home at four, Catherine was sitting at the kitchen table sipping her first glass of wine and trying to stop her hands from shaking.
Catherine was sure she could see a person’s soul through their eyes. She knew that looking into a person’s eyes could tell you secrets about them. You just had to gaze long and hard and it would be there. Secrets and sins, everything you needed to know. Now, she thought she should have turned that woman over and peered into her eyes. To see her soul or lack there of.
Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not kill….
Half of her brain told her the woman deserved what she got, but mostly Catherine was worried about her own soul. If the woman was dead would she burn in hell or was she exempt from this sin because the sin of adultery was there first? Was it still a sin to kill a sinner? No, it couldn’t be or there wouldn’t be such a thing as the death penalty, right? The law kills sinners all the time. But still…
Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not kill…
When the phone rang she nearly jumped through the roof. Greg went to the kitchen to answer it. She could barely hear his muted words as he spoke, but she knew what it was about. Her heart pounded and it seemed like forever before he came back into the family room. His face grave and she wondered if he would tell her. Would he confess to cheating now that his lover was dead? Tell her it was all an awful mistake and beg forgiveness?
A small part of her took pleasure in his pain as she drained her wine glass.
“Catherine,” he stood before her, “I have to go out.”
She tried to act indifferent and pretended to be examining the puncture mark the rose had left on her thumb.
“Oh?”
“The girl in my office,” he hesitated, “her mother was murdered today. She owned this little flower shop and they think she might have walked in on a robbery. Tracy is upset and…”
Tracy.
Catherine’s blood ran cold. She rubbed her sore thumb.
Tracy is upset.
Greg continued to talk, but she couldn’t hear him over the rushing sound in her ears. “Her mother was murdered today.” I murdered her today. Not a robber, me. She had killed an innocent woman. She was going to burn in hell now. Lost in the limbo of fire for all eternity. Thou shalt not kill.
Greg gathered his coat and keys and Catherine watched him go out the door to her.

2 comments:

Milan Loka said...

Hey Jeannie,
Who is Eller, whatevr? Is that a short story publisher?
I like it. Are you shooting for the right market? Sometimes they just reject if it's not aimed at the right market. Good luck and I'll see you soon!
<3Nisha

Anonymous said...

You should check out www.duotrope.com.

There are a lot of markets out there, both print and online, that would be worth considering. (It once took me four years to find a home for a short story of mine. But I found one! And I got paid!)

But now that your story has appeared on your blog, I'm not sure if it's considered "published."

Don't give up so easily.