Front Desk Woman; Volume 6
“He’s dead?” Edith, the dead man’s wife, asked Pansy, Helen and Gertha.
“As a doornail,” Helen replied standing over his lifeless body.
“Helen!” injected Gertha. “You can’t say that to a woman who’s just found out her husband died… of natural causes, of course.”
“Oh,” Helen corrected. “Sorry for your unfortunate loss.” Helen said with thick sarcasm and Gertha shot her a look.
“What?” she replied.
But the wife just stood over him, watching as if waiting for him to regain his breath. She did not cry or express shock of any kind. For what seemed to be a long time, her eyes scanned his body for signs of life – a rising and falling of chest, a bubble of spittle on lips, a flinch of finger. When she finally looked up, she stared at the three women. From Pansy, to Helen, to Gertha as if taking them in totally. Memorizing them as they stood in the near darkness of their backyard.
“A captor,” she said finally. “In my own home. Mindlessly spinning my wheels to get through the torturous day and even more excruciating night. There would be no end unless I took my life.” She looked down at a patch of brown grass with heavy tears weighting down the bottom rims of her now-red eyes. “I’d planned to take my life tomorrow morning as soon as the sun peeked through that skinny slit in the oak.” She pointed. “Right there.
“When I heard your commotion, I was mixing my death at the bottom of my favorite coffee cup. The one that boasts my abilities as BEST MOM EVER,” she said, now allowing large tears to run the length of her cheeks without bothering to wipe them. “I bought that mug for myself last Mother’s Day. I deserved it. Do you believe me?”
The three riveted women all nodded, but none dared interrupt.
“Cyanide,” she continued. “Googled best way for a wife to take her own life and cyanide filled the entire first, and second, and third pages which I took as a sign. I’ve become stupid, you see? A sorry woman, as he would refer to me, trusting Google’s first three pages with the most important decision of my life. My kids would’ve suffered, that much I know.
“They would’ve taken my place as his punching bag,” she said. “As conduit, filling the void I would’ve left behind. I knew this, and still, I lined my favorite coffee cup with Google’s favorite method of death.” She glanced down at her dead husband’s corpse. “Even in death, he’s the better parent. Dead, not by his own hands, but by… something else’s. I should be laying there in his place.”
“Ok,” said Pansy, reaching out to hold Edith around the shoulders as she now cried hysterically. “Enough. How old are your kids?”
“Six and four,” Edith forced the words through blubbering teeth. “Daughters.”
“Babies, young enough to still be resilient,” said Pansy. “You’re all they have now. And that means you need to gather yourself. Straighten your back, shed any evidence of powerlessness, and be a woman. A woman is, after all, the most powerful thing a person can be, and only you can show that to your daughters.”
“Life insurance?” asked Helen.
“Helen! My goodness!” said Gertha before waiting to see what Edith’s answer was.
“Yes,” Edith replied. “Plenty.”
“Well hell, Girl,” Helen nearly shouted. “Dry your tears.”
The police sirens grew in the distance. “Who called them?”
“I did when I heard the ruckus,” Edith told them. “Oh! You need to go!” she said as if just realizing how strange their presence would look to the authorities.
“She’s right,” said Gertha who was already heading for the back gate. “Let’s get the hell out.”
Helen followed closely behind but Pansy stayed with Edith. “You need to know why he was out here so late. The police will ask. He was with…”
“I know who he was with,” Edith said knowingly. “She’s a child basically.”
“Okay,” said Pansy before hugging Edith tightly and walking toward Helen and Gertha.
“Who are you?” Edith asked after her.
Blue and red lights lit up the small home as numerous cars parked haphazardly in the front yard. Pansy thought about this for a few brief, risky moments. “I’m Front Desk Woman. I am you.”
“Well, Front Desk Woman. You saved me here tonight,” said Edith. “And my girls. From the unsaveable. I thank you. You are my hero. Now go,” she smiled. “Help the next woman.”
As Pansy left, she watched Edith walking toward the police cars waving frantically.
“Come on,” whispered Gertha. “She’ll be fine.”
“I know she will.”
And they left – Gertha and Helen drove away into the night and Pansy stepped into her home. Her own captor was waiting on the couch awkwardly holding onto their screaming infant.
“Where did you go, Bitch