Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Orphan Opening: Noir

As Helen unwrapped her solitary dinner from brown paper as greasy as the smile of the man who had taken her order the stale smell of half-cooled fish and fries filled the apartment. No welcome smells of home cooking, of mother's meatloaf and green bean casserole, for her. Not even the fresh sizzling smells of the corner tavern. But here at least she could eat in solitude, without the, "Looking for some company, sugar?" of the paunchy man in the gray suit she'd found sitting on her usual stool at the bar.

Pounding at the door. So much for solitude. She made sure the heavy chain was fastened. The old locksmith who had sunk long screws into door and frame had sworn that chain could hold a grown man, at least for the first few shoves. What recent stories might draw an unfriendly reaction? The teamster trial. The police captain whose suspect had beat and hanged himself. The city council elections. More pounding. What was the use? She undid the bolt and opened the door until the chain pulled tight.

There was a ghost on the doorstep. At least, there was Joe in a worn gray raincoat and dripping Homburg. The same Joe she had last heard from in '45, on a piece of war department stationary saying, "The Adjutant General of the Army has notified me that your husband, Cpl. Joseph F. Ward, died while on active duty with the Army. While I know that nothing I can say will lesson your loss..." It was in her file drawer now, along with the marriage certificate and the half completed paperwork for the divorce.

"They said you were dead."

"Lena. Please." The door chain went taught. His face was pale. He was leaning against the door, not trying to force it. "Please. I have to tell you."

She pushed the door closed enough to unlatch the chain, felt him stagger back, opened the door.

"All right. What do you want, Joe?"

He wavered for a moment on the threshold, then pitched forward onto the floor. The sound of his body hitting the floor was sickeningly dull, but she heard him give a long, ragged moan. She grabbed a shoulder and turned him over. He'd gained weight in the two years since the last time he'd died. His eyes were open and rolling. The smell of blood hit her first. When she pulled his coat open she saw the dark stain soaking his shirt.

"I came to tell you."

But then he didn't, even as she shook his shoulders and slapped his cheeks.

"Goddamnit, Joe." The words were unexpectedly thick in her throat. "It's like you to show up here and widow me a second time."

She went through his pockets before calling the police. Nothing. No wallet. No keys. Not so much as a laundry ticket. Someone else must have done the once over already, or he'd been concerned not to be traceable if picked up.

It was as she was on the phone with the police station she noticed the corner of white sticking out of one clenched fist. She pried his fingers open as she heard the sirens coming down the street. There was no time. They'd be at the apartment in a moment. Her purse sat on the little kitchen table, next to her cold dinner. She shoved the card between old pages of her reporters notebook and plunged it back into the purse. By the time the sergeant appeared in the doorway, stamping the wet and grime of the street off on the mat, Helen was back where a new widow belonged, next to the body.


Finicky Cat said...


Kathleen said...