The seventh of the 800-word stories created by author Eden Baylee and myself takes another sideways look at the way (some) people behave. (Incidentally, the choice of title also provoked a friendly debate between us about what’s known as the Oxford – or Serial – Comma).
In case you’re unfamiliar with the story series, you’ll find its background information (although nothing about that comma) here.
Prompt: She started taking up a lot of bad habits
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill
Mistakes, Lies, and Hypocrites
She started taking up a lot of bad habits after her husband died. With no more sense of duty or commitment, Laura got up late, ate whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and only showered when she could no longer stand her own stench. She hardly left the house, and their friends, most of whom had stuck by her because they loved her husband, now knew better than to show up uninvited. Ron was the one with the open-door policy when he was alive, not her.
His wheelchair sat in the corner of the living room where he’d spent his last days and nights, quietly watching television or listening to music. He went from someone who could not sit still to someone who sat still all the time.
Ron had suggested they stay the night with the Jordans after the party, but she wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed. Being the more sober of the two, she drove.
If only she had seen the flashing hazard lights sooner, she would have avoided plowing into the semi-truck parked on the shoulder of the highway, causing the accident that paralyzed and would eventually kill her husband.
It was Jill who first remarked on her transition to ‘the new Laura’. Jill the soft-spoken Christian, Jill the “I’m only saying it for your own good, dear”, Jill whose husband had left her six months into their marriage, but not until he’d slept with every other woman on the street except Deirdre.
“I know how hard it is, darling, but you must try to forgive yourself,” she’d said, “The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away”.
I wish he’d bloody take you away, thought Laura, wanting to throw the chamomile tea Jill had asked for in her face and get back to the bottle of Sauvignon she’d started at breakfast.
“Guilt’s such a self-destructive thing. Eats into your soul,” Jill continued, her smile at odds with the sanctimonious narrowing of her eyes. “It won’t let the old Laura I knew free to be who she really is.” She ended with a sigh of false sorrow.
Bugger the old Laura, Laura thought. Kow-towing to stupid old farts like you, shoving that bloody wheelchair about the place, pretending to laugh at Ron‘s crap jokes or give a shit about whether parsley root‘s a substitute for celeriac. I prefer the new me.
Laura picked up the phone and dialled a number. It went to voicemail after three rings. She hung up, pressed the redial button—voicemail again. She hit redial continuously for another ten minutes until a woman’s voice answered.
A pause lasted longer than was comfortable. Laura waited until Penny finally said, “It’s been a while. How are you?”
“Keeping to myself, you know … since Ron died.”
“I understand.” The meek voice on the other end betrayed nothing.
Laura had imagined this conversation numerous times, but she couldn’t have prepared for it. “What exactly do you understand?” she finally said.
“Ron was a good man.”
Laura bit down hard on her lip before speaking. “Cut the bullshit, I know about you and Ron, Penny.” A pause again, only this time she wasn’t waiting for a response. “You were having an affair before the accident. Ron said you were even planning to run away together, only … you can’t run away with a cripple, can you?”
“Laura, don’t be crude, please let me explain—”
“No! You listen to me. I took care of him because I put him in that wheelchair. But you … my big sister, how could you?”
“Laura. Please. I know you’re under stress…”
“You know bugger-all, Penny. You’re like the rest of them. Sick!”
She let the silence hang between them, intrigued to know how Penny would wriggle out of this one, but not really caring.
It wasn’t just about Penny and Ron anyway. Laura was sick of all the sympathy and forgiveness on offer, didn’t want it, loathed the falsity it masked. The Jordans cancelling any parties in the immediate future out of respect for Ron, and Jill’s God-given clichés being parroted by all her other consoling visitors. Christ, she’d even received a “condolences” email with kittens on it from bloody Deirdre. The truth was that the Ron whose niceness they were all celebrating had been a bastard. Like Laura, he’d despised the mendacity and corrosion beneath the various facades of their close little community, but concealed his contempt under an easily manufactured charm.
The dragging silence calmed Laura. “You know what?” she said at last, her voice drained of anger. “I’m sick of all this fucking hypocrisy.”
She gave a sharp, bitter laugh, then went on “You were fucking my husband but I’m the bad guy … Really? OK, what the hell. Deal with it.”
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