Authors: Keith Thomas Walker
“He's picking someone up,” Melanie said softly, and there was a long pause.
Claire's eyes blurred over before she could get the question out: “Who, who is it, Melanie?”
Melanie sighed loudly into the phone. “It's a
, Claire, about your age. She's wearing a business suit. She's smiling, getting in on the passenger side.”
Claire felt like a punctured balloon; she exhaled hot breath and really didn't want to take another one in. She felt light-headed. Streams of gray and black flowed in her peripheral vision. Her sick heart struggled for one pitiful beat, and then another, and Claire realized she wasn't going to die. And that was a shame. Moisture leaked from her eyes and nose like acid rain.
Becky pulled into the Stop 'N Go on Crowley Avenue and reached in her purse for a tissue. She had plenty. There were more in the glove compartment and another box under the driver's seat, just in case.
* * *
The rest of the evening didn't make a lot of sense to Claire. She felt like she was intoxicated, watching someone else's life crumble before her tear-filled eyes.
George and his unidentified passenger exited the dealership with Melanie still on their tail. Claire wasn't much good with the phone anymore, so Melanie started giving her directions to Becky. They got back on the freeway headed east, and George didn't exit again until they were near the Six Flags Mall.
He pulled into the parking lot of a Saltgrass Steak House and Melanie did the same. She got there in time to see him get out with his date, but by the time Becky made it, the adulterers were already in the safe confines of the restaurant.
Melanie got out of her car and came to sit in the truck with Becky and Claire, but they were without a leader by then. Claire was more distraught than they had ever seen her. No amount of consoling or promises of revenge could dry her eyes.
For a while Claire could barely speak. Her sorrow brought Becky to tears as well, but Melanie's heart became more cold and calloused by the minute. She wanted to vent her anger on George's vehicle. She wanted to go into the restaurant and attack George's tramp as well, but Claire wouldn't condone it.
Claire didn't have any alternatives in mind, but she knew she didn't want to confront
with snot running from her nose. The most obscure reference saved her from a hasty decision she might later regret: Her no-good husband once told her, “
If you're not sure what to do, then sit your fool ass down and don't do anything. Never run in half-cocked, and
breach a perimeter unless you have a game plan
“Take me home,” she told Becky between sniffles.
Melanie thought that was asinine. “
, Claire? We're
! She's in there
! Don't you want to wait so you can see what she looks like? Don't you want to confront your husband? I know you're not going to let that
get away with this.”
“I'm not,” Claire sobbed, “but I'm not right. I'm no good right now.”
“It's all right,” Claire assured her friend. “I'm going to take care of it. I promise. I appreciate what you did for me, but this is as far as I can go. Take me home,” she told Becky again.
Melanie looked defeated, but then her eyes narrowed. Fire burned behind her pupils. “I'm not leaving,” she said abruptly. “You're not mad right now, but I'm gonna be mad for you. I'ma wait for them to get out, then I'm gonna follow them some more and find out where that bitch lives.”
“Don't say anything to them,” Claire pleaded.
Melanie sneered at her. “Why are you taking up for them? I can't believe you're gonna let them do you like this. We got they ass
going to get them
!” Claire growled, and everyone within earshot knew she meant it. “This is
deal,” she said, “and
going to handle it
. They're not going to get away, Melanie. I swear to God they're not.”
Melanie stared into her eyes for a second, and then she nodded. “All right, Claire. We'll do it your way.”
* * *
Melanie got back in her husband's car and continued her stake out, and Becky left the restaurant without incident. Halfway home, Claire forced herself to stop crying. She refused to show this
in front of the kidsâno matter how bad she felt.
And Claire knew she would have to wear a mask for George, too. He would come home from his bullshit poker night around one, and Claire wouldn't let on that she knew he was a low-down, dirty, two-timing, adulterer asshole.
She went over a few scenarios in her head as she stared out at the crowded freeway. She knew she wasn't strong enough to hold a pillow over George's face, but she figured she could drop a radio in the tub while he bathed. Stuff like that happened all the time, and she wouldn't even have to explain why her fingerprints were on the murder weapon.
DADDY TOLD ME
Claire found it virtually impossible to feign sleep when George climbed into bed at 1:30 that morning.
It was even harder to keep her composure five and a half hours later at breakfast.
George usually worked six days a week, but occasionally he stayed home and enjoyed a lazy Saturday morning with his family. Any other time Claire would have been thrilled with his company and the sense of family
, but she hated everything about her husband today.
Claire labored at the stove, tending to a hot skillet crackling with bacon. The grease from the shrinking meat bubbled and popped, and for the life of her Claire couldn't think of
one good reason
why she shouldn't dump the contents of the pan on Mr. Hudgens's head. In a pleasant daydream, she imagined what the burns would look like on his bald dome, pink and blistering, maroon and painful.
George sat at the table behind her with his newspaper and the cup of coffee she made for him. Much to Claire's chagrin, there were no crushed pills in his coffee and no anthrax on his newspaper.
George wore sand-colored canvas shorts with a blue tank top. He sipped pleasantly and smiled at his wife every-so-often when they made eye contact. He was done with his morning push-ups, and all of the muscles involved were perky and swollen, especially in his neck and arms.
George looked like he was ready for a body-building competition. Seeing him like that usually ignited within Claire a sense of
She would want to stop whatever she was doing so she could rub him down as if applying sun screen.
But she felt nothing like that now.
Instead Claire imagined walking up behind him with the skillet in hand. She thought maybe she could trip over her own feet and stumble towards him. That wasn't
inconceivable, was it? Surely people spilled pans of scalding grease every now and then.
And if she fell particularly
, she could swing her arm out and bang him behind the ear with the hard metal as well. He probably wouldn't die, but the suffering would be memorable. It would be
even. It might not alleviate the pain she felt, but it would be a start.
Of course there were the kids to consider. They were already awake and soon they'd come downstairs, lured by the smell of Mama's cooking. They would wonder if their father was home, and when they saw him, they would be excited about the opportunity to smile at him and eat with him and tell him about their week at school. Claire loved her children immensely, and she knew they deserved to have those precious moments.
They did not deserve to run down in a panic, lured by Daddy's horrific screams as bacon grease melted his skin like water on cotton candy. No, that was the stuff repressed childhood memories are made of.
So Claire poured the bubbling grease in an old jelly jar instead. “Did you have fun with the boys last night?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Yeah, baby. It was nice.”
Claire stared at the clock on the back of the oven rather than turn to face him. “Do y'all still play at Murray's?” she asked.
“Yeah. Sometimes we play at Sherman's house.”
Murray was a longtime friend from the Air Force. George met Sherman when he went to college on the G.I. Bill.
Claire scooped the bacon out with a metal spatula and went to the fridge to get milk for the children's oatmeal. On the way back to the stove, she glanced over at George, who was still deep in his black-and-white world of current affairs. Maybe the United States was going to repair volatile relations with Iran, but that wasn't the
Claire was interested in.
She sighed heavily and thought about the mystery woman her husband was with yesterday. Claire never saw George's date for the evening personally, but she did see his Navigator at the restaurant. Plus Melanie gave her a pretty good description later on, after Claire got the kids in bed for the night. According to Melanie, George's slut was tall, like his wife, and she had long hair like Claire as well. There weren't many similarities after that.
Melanie said she was light-skinned and thinner than Claire. Melanie said she dressed
, and wore make-up. Melanie thought she was very attractive. She didn't go as far as saying George's tramp was prettier than Claire, but she didn't say she wasn't, either.
They would have had more information, but Melanie didn't follow George again when he left the restaurant like she said she would. George and his date were still dining an hour and a half after Becky took Claire home, and Melanie found the stakeout to be a little tedious without her girlfriends around.
“What time did you get home?” Claire asked, her back to George again.
That was the truth, but Claire suspected it was the only one she'd get.
“How'd you do?” she queried.
“What does â
mean? Did you turn a profit?”
“I came out about even.”
“Do you eat a sensible dinner there,” Claire asked. “or do you eat hot wings all night?”
George chuckled. “Hot wings, mostly. And chips, and beerâ¦”
Damn, you lying bastard.
Claire gritted her teeth and stared up at the ceiling. How could he sit right there and not have any guilt at all? She wished she had the strength to overpower him. She'd knock him to the floor and get on top and ask,
What the hell were you thinking?
as she bashed his head into the floor.
Why are you lying to me?
How the hell could you do this to me? How could you do this to us?
The only saving grace Claire could cling to was the fact that he didn't know she knew yet. That had to put her in a situation of advantage, even though it didn't feel like at the present moment.
“Why don't y'all ever have your poker games
?” she asked. “I could make fajitas or burgers when you get hungry.”
“Most of the guys smoke cigars,” George said. “I don't want that in here with the kids. You know that.”
That was probably true, but given how there was no freaking poker night, Claire still counted that one as a
. She added milk and cinnamon to the oatmeal, and then she heard footsteps behind her. Before she could turn, she felt George's hands on her waist. He stepped close to her and pressed his chest against her back. He wrapped her up in a hug and kissed the side of her neck.
“Do you miss me much when I play cards?”
His touch was
. Claire didn't know how that was possible. She wanted him to hold her,
it, in fact, but it still wasn't right. She knew it would never be right.
“I miss you all the time,” she said. She stared at the oven dial again, and her eyes glossed over with tears. How screwed up was this? How can you hate someone yet love them so much at the same time?
Claire wondered if she would stay with him if he came clean and promised to give up his secret lover. If someone asked her that a month ago, she would have responded with a resounding,
, but now she wasn't so sure.
“It's going to get better,” he promised. “Next year I won't have to work on the weekends at all.”
What does that mean?
You get more time with me or more time with your bitch?
“Oh,” she said.
“We can go to the lake house when the kids get out for summer,” George offered. “Spend a whole week there if you want.”
“That would be nice,” Claire said. “But what about all the hours you work
during the week
? When is that going to slow down?”
“Not as long as we've got war-hungry politicians in office,” he said jokingly, or seriouslyâClaire couldn't tell. “But this is
, baby. Trust me. It may not seem like it now, but it will in the long run.”
In the long run for who, me or that bitch you're seeing?
Claire's eyes narrowed and she wondered just how long her husband's affair had been going on. Maybe he cared enough about his other woman to leave her something in his will. That was reason enough to kill him while he was still young and unsuspecting.
“What are you doing today?” she asked.
“I'm going riding with the guys,” he said. “We're going down to Houston.”
Next to hard work (and adultery), George's souped-up Harley was his other favorite pastime. Unless his new broad was a biker chick, Claire figured he was probably telling the truth about today's agenda.
“Are you going to be home for dinner?” she asked. Houston was a good four hours away. Depending on what they did there, it was possible.
“We'll see,” George said. He slapped her on the bottom and then headed back to the table. “We'll see.”
* * *
Becky called an hour later while Claire and George Jr. were clearing the table.
“It's me. What's up?”
“What are you doing?” Becky asked.
“We just finished breakfast. I'm about to wash dishes.”
“Um, what about
“What about him?”
“Is he, he's all right?
he all right
Claire looked down at the top of George Jr.'s big head and sighed. “He's fine,” she said. “
“I was thinking about you
. Claire, I'm
. You're a great person. I can't believe this is happening to you.”
“It's still pretty hard for me to believe, too,” Claire admitted.
“You're not really going to do something to George, are you?”
Claire looked down at her son again. George Jr. brought the last few glasses from the table and set them on the counter. He grinned at his mother, and she smiled back at him, and then she shooed him up the stairs.
“He deserves it,” Claire said, “but the kids don't.”
Becky sighed. “I'm glad you said that. You know,
don't deserve that either. You don't want to end up in jail, right?”
Claire didn't think prison could be any worse than the hell she was currently simmering in.
“I let myself get fat,” she said abruptly.
“Stop right there,” Becky said. “You're
the perfect woman,
I know you want to blame yourself and try to figure out what's wrong with
, but it's not
, and he doesn't realize what he's got.
“When Brent cheated on me, I started thinking I was ugly, and
, and not hot anymore. My self-esteem was shot. I was thirty-seven years old, thinking my whole life was over. Who's gonna want an old divorced lady with two kids?”
“You don't want to fall into that kind of depression,” Becky warned. “Plus you really do look good, Claire. The mailman was hitting on you just yesterday.”
Claire chuckled. “Maybe I shouldn't have been so hard on him,” she mused.
“That's the spirit! Get right back on that horse.”
“I was kidding.”
“Hey, let me call you back later.”
“You didn't still want to go to the Omni, did you?” Becky asked. “I can understand if you don't.”
Claire forgot all about those plans. “Was that today?”
“It's okay,” Becky said. “I know you've got a lot of other things on your mind.”
“No,” Claire said. “We might as well go. George isn't going to be here, and that damned office has been calling me. I'm going to tear that room up if I stay here all day.”
look in there,” Becky suggested. “Your suspicions aren't going to go away. Whether you find anything else or not, at least you'll have closure.”
“Not today,” Claire said. “I'm starting to think ignorance really is bliss.”
* * *
The Overbrook Museum of Science and History was one of the best places in the city for learning and adventure. The most stand-out feature was the Omni Theatre. Enjoying a movie there was really not comparable to any other cinema.