Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine Special - Sophie Littlefield

RIVAL PASSIONS

Charlotte Klipsinger couldn’t believe it had come to this – on Valentine’s Day, in her favorite room in the house, the little sunroom where she had spent so many stolen afternoons with Bertrand.

Who could have guessed that, having never deviated from his accustomed schedule in thirty-two years of marriage, Ned would think to come home on the four o’clock train, with a six-dollar bunch of flowers and a plan to take her to Red Robin for the early-bird dinner special?

And now Ned’s hands were closed around Bertrand’s throat, squeezing the last of the life out of him. Bertrand’s eyes were beginning to bulge from his head and his tongue protruded from his mouth and he was no longer making any sounds at all. Charlotte knew she couldn’t stop Ned – him of the Georgia Bulldogs defensive line, of the decades of pot roast and buttered potatoes – not with her rheumatoid arthritis and weak shoulders. Not without a weapon. Frantically she scrabbled at the desk behind her, keeping her eyes fixed on Ned, willing him not to notice.

Her hands found the letter opener.

“I warned you, Charlotte,” Ned shouted. Spittle collected at the corners of his mouth. “I told you if it happened again, I’d kill him! I just wish now I’d killed Glover, too.”

Charlotte let out a wail of frustration. “You’ve never understood! All these years you’ve been so distant, all the travel, the late nights, and then you come home and it’s nothing but your sports and your ESPN! I needed warmth, Ned, I needed someone to hold, and you – you were as cold as a man could be –“

“It’s no excuse!” Ned roared. “You know what it does to me. Just thinking about it, Charlotte – I can’t even breathe. It practically killed me the last time. Or was that your plan? Was it?”

Charlotte’s hand closed on the porcelain handle of the letter opener. It was a pretty thing, painted with a garland of roses – how she loved her pretty things. She adored this room, her sanctuary, the one place - with the needlepoint cushions and the chintz drapes, the silk flowers and the Limoges teacups in the curio cabinet – that Ned never entered.

But Bertrand loved this room.

“What I don’t understand is how you could have thought you’d get away with it,” Ned snarled.

But she’d been so careful. They’d stuck to the arrangement, Bertrand coming to the back door at the appointed hour, then making his way silently out into the darkening evening before Ned came home, giving Charlotte time to straighten her clothes, plump the pillows, and start dinner. It had been so perfect.

Until today. “If you could have just left it alone,” she sobbed. “You never had to know.”

“But I would have found out!” Ned said. “I can’t believe you could be so stupid. You can never get rid of all the traces. Never.”

Even now she saw his eyes, swollen an angry red; heard how his voice had gone hoarse and raw. Deep down, she knew Ned was right. It had been crazy to think she could keep her secret. But she hadn’t been able to resist – not when she first saw Bertrand, with his brooding dark eyes and his lithe, strong body. And if she had lost the luster of her early years – if her own body had sagged and pillowed, if her hair was thin and gray, if her fingers were twisted by the ravages of the arthritis – well, dear Bertrand had never cared. He had loved her as passionately as she loved him.

The pain in her hand was excruciating, but she forced her fingers tight around the letter opener and drew it to her side, concealing it in the folds of her skirt. “I’ll kill you,” she whispered.

“Hah,” Ned said. “You crazy bitch, you would, wouldn’t you? You’d go to jail, over this – this worthless sack of -“

Charlotte sprung at him then, the wicked blade held straight in front of her, screaming a banshee wail as she drove it home, never hesitating as it sunk deep into her husband’s chest.

For a moment they both stared down at the handle, and then Ned’s expression changed to one of wonder, and at last he let go of Bertrand. His hands went to the weapon, as if to pull it out.

But it was too late. Too late for Ned, and, Charlotte saw with a seizing horror, too late for Bertrand as well, for as her husband crumpled to the floor, gasping and twitching, Bertrand lay limp upon the antique game table.

The light had left her beloved cat’s eyes forever.

4 comments:

Gerald So said...

As I scanned Powder Burn today, I saw your last line, and it took nothing away from the payoff when I read the full story. Terrific setup.

Sophie said...

Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. Happy VDay...Sophie

pattinase (abbott) said...

Ditto to what Gerald said, Sophie. Thanks for giving us this little gem.

Patricia J. Hale said...

Wow. Captured generation, interests, relationships, tastes, story - everything - of Charlotte in a condensed valentine. "It was a pretty thing..." Haunting!