Fear, focus, and the future. Here, C.M. Humphries writes about whatever.
Enjoy a quick read about two old ladies fighting & a man's 90th birthday surprise.
“I can’t believe you did all this just for me,” Garda said to her husband.
Henry said nothing in response. He was the silent yet romantic type, if there were enough men like him to make a type.
There were all sorts of charming qualities to the downstairs living room that Henry had made up for the night. There were various red candles burning ever so bright, golden charms and chains dangling from the sides of tables and a futon in couch position, and religious amulets to celebrate the purity of the evening. Henry had decorated several rooms in the house for one-on-one dinners with his wife, but this night he had gone out of way like never before to make it perfect.
“Do you like the steak?” she asked her Henry. He had barely touched it. She worried about how much his appetite had been slipping away. “Then again, you made the meal. Of course, you do.”
Garda thought she saw him nod. A nod was good enough for her. It looked as though he might enjoy the meal. She knew what he really wanted though. It was the desert he was after. She was ready for him too. Who said being married thirty-plus years meant you haven’t a little bedroom fun? Garda’s hormones were raging like a high school girl’s .
The doorbell sounded.
Quick on her feet, Garda went around the room and blew out all of the candles. She covered up her dinner dress with an old robe she had received as a wedding gift, and wandered upstairs to see who was at the door. No one ever visited anymore except for the occasional grandchild. Garda loved her grandchildren, but Henry never seemed to be around or interested in spending time with them. He never had much to say either. All in all, it worked out.
Garda traveled up the stairs as fast as she could in her brittle state and walked to the front door. Garda wasn’t healthy as a fox like Henry. She was much older too. Henry must have liked older women.
Garda opened the front door and saw a policeman standing next to the mayor of the town. She said to them both, “Hello. Well, what brings you two here?” Her voice was weak. She tried to sound old, whatever that meant.
“Uh, hello,” the mayor greeted. “We were told that your husband is celebrating his birthday today, but I’m afraid that’s not why we’re here.”
Garda looked at the cop. His badge read WAGNER. To her he said, “A relative of yours said that she had not seen Henry in a few years now, and before that he always came out to visit on his birthday. Or she and her late husband came here. They just asked that we make sure that you two are okay. It’s just a courtesy call, ma’am.”
Henry’s sister. Courtesy call, my ass, Garda thought. They tried coming over last year. I didn’t let them in. Henry and I were . . . busy.
Garda said to the cop and mayor, “Oh well, we’re perfectly fine. No need to worry.”
“Mine if we look around Misses Oriel?” the mayor asked.
“Well, right now . . . we are celebrating our longevity.”
“It’ll only take a minute,” Wagner added.
Garda said, “Let me just tell the both of you Henry didn’t want any guest. He insisted I not answer the door today.”
“Just one look inside,” the mayor insisted.
“We’re just a bunch of coach roaches, laying our backs, waiting to let time take us by. Doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy life in the meantime.”
“But, ma’am, it won’t take but a second of your time.”
“You’ve already had your second of our time,” she said. “Please, another day.”
Though unsatisfied, the mayor and the cop had to agree. For tonight. Next time they would bring some sort of warrant or whatever it took.
“If you really insist,” the mayor caved in. “But what shall we tell your relatives?”
“Just tell them that we are living the large, and Henry thanks them for any happy birthday wishes.”
The mayor and the cop tipped their hats and walked off of the porch. Garda sighed in relief. She really thought they were going to bother Henry this time around. Second time in three years they had come over to bother her. Henry really hated guests.
She thought about going downstairs to finish off the night. On her way back downstairs, the phone rang.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” she muttered. She answered the phone, asking, “Hello?” She used her pathetic tone again.
It was Henry’s sister, Elaine, again. Elaine said, “Garda? Oh, hi! I just wanted to wish Henry a happy ninetieth!”
“He appreciates that and intends to break one hundred.”
“We all hope he breaks another hundred, too! Do you mind if we stop by today?”
“Yes, we do.”
“But, this is a very important—”
Gerda’s free hand shook. She clenched it into a tight fist. “Henry has said no guest for this evening.”
“Well, missy, if you insist, Henry and I are making love tonight.”
“At your age?!”
“’Your age’ nothin’! Just don’t bother us, all right?”
Garda hanged up the phone. She couldn’t stand the nerve of Elaine sometimes. Miss eighty-year-old bitch!
Garda needed to go back to her husband and tell him goodnight. All the interruptions had put her out of the mood. Traveling as fast as she could, Garda headed downstairs.
She found Henry sitting the same position as he was when she left him.
“Sorry that took so long,” she said him.
She thought she heard him say, “No problem.” It was hard to determine what he was mumbling these days. She desperately needed to get him new dentures. His old ones were horrible when it came to allowing him to speak. They sewed his mouth shut, so to speak.
“We’ll have to do this another time,” she said to him.
“Don’t you know what today is?”
“I know today’s your birthday.”
“But . . .”
“Maybe later. Coming up stairs?”
Henry didn’t budge. Garda went upstairs anyway.
Elaine woke up feeling sore and worn-out both mentally and physically. Yesterday was her brother’s birthday and big one at that. He was only one year short of being a century old. To her, that was amazing. She doubted that she would ever live that long, but with today’s medicine, she couldn’t ever tell for sure. Maybe she’d outlive her brother. She hated thinking of things that way, but nevertheless, the thought did come to her mind.
Elaine wanted to stop by Henry’s house, but that Garda—damn her. She was always trying to control his life. Henry’s first wife wasn’t so controlling. What the hell ever happened to her anyway?
Your mother drove her away, a person known as Pauline told her.
Pauline wanted to see Henry too. Except, when Pauline would see Henry, she would want to tell him to go to Hell. She might even try to euthanize him, as it were. That was only Pauline, however; Elaine would never hurt her big brother. She loved him.
For so many years, Elaine had assumed Garda was only trying to protect Henry from Pauline, who often went everywhere Elaine went.
Elaine lived alone. Her husband had passed away many moons ago. Right around that time Pauline moved in. At first, Pauline was sensitive, caring, and gentle. It didn’t take long for Pauline to show her wicked side, though. About ten years ago, Pauline met Henry. She didn’t like him at all, which made visits difficult considering that Elaine didn’t like Garda.
At any rate, Elaine was growing very worried for Henry. It had been several years since she had seen him. Now, not even on his birthdays did he come out of the house. He had become a hermit. She hoped that he was okay.
The E-Z Mart was a simple place. It was much like the common grocery store, only it had a homey feel to it. All the selves were wooden and low rising. The average human could reach the top shelf if he or she needed to. That’s one thing Garda really appreciated about the store. She was vertically challenged compared to many others and she wasn’t as limber as she had once been.
The store also had very friendly workers, who varied from eighteen to eighty but all had the same smile and greeting. It was enough to make anyone feel valued.
One bad part of going to the store, and perhaps this was the only flaw, was that if you didn’t want to meet someone there, you probably would, anyway. Garda, of course, met Elaine.
“Oh, hey!” Elaine shouted an aisle away from Garda.
Garda faked a grin, but refused to smile. She replied, “Imagine seeing you here,” her voice monotone and sarcastic at the same time.
“So, sorry I disturbed you last night.”
“It’s no problem.”
“I just haven’t seen Henry in so long.”
“Well, he’s been busy.”
“Is he home now?” Elaine asked.
Garda thought for a moment and then answered, “No, no, he went off to work not too long ago. Wish you would have called today, though. He might’ve skipped for you.”
“I wouldn’t want him to do that! Wait, he’s out of retirement? Where does he work?”
“Oh, he—uh—works here.”
“At this E-Z Mart?” Elaine wondered.
Garda said, “Yes, right here. He might be in the back. We’ll I’ve got to be hurrying along.”
“See you around!”
“You, too, honey.”
And Garda was gone. She headed to the front of the store. Meanwhile, Elaine waited behind. She intended on sticking around and seeing Henry for the first time in years.
Elaine wasn’t paying much attention to the time and didn’t realize that she had waited well over and hour, after she checked out, to see her brother. She worried that he wasn’t coming out from the back of the store.
“Should’ve made the bitch show him to you,” Pauline said.
“I know,” Elaine told herself.
Elaine walked up to the man at the customer service desk and asked, “Do you know if Henry Oriel is here today?”
The young boy at the desk responded, “Henry who?”
“I don’t believe that I know him. Let me ask.”
To the back of the office, he asked, “Does anyone here know a Henry Oriel? Lady says works here.”
Everyone shook their heads.
The boy said, “Sorry, ma’am, he must not work here anymore. But if he does, I could relay a message to him.”
“Oh, never you mind. It’s okay. I’ll just stop by his house.”
MONDAY--NINE YEARS AGO
Something was aching. His mouth felt extremely chapped and he couldn’t seem to open it. Or his eyes. He couldn’t open his eyes either. The rest of his body also felt limp. He figured he was dreaming. Oh, but he wanted to wake up, for it was his birthday. Everybody stopped by on his birthday. And his wife always gave the best birthday gift.
But why couldn’t he wake up? It had never been so difficult before. Was this something new that came with old age? But he felt young. Always had.
Then again, he was pretty sure he wasn’t asleep. He felt awake and full of life.
A jingle from The Sound of Music played in Garda and Henry’s house. She was waking up after her second night of great peace. Someone was ringing her doorbell. She didn’t know what moron was disturbing them this early in the day.
It was Elaine.
Garda didn’t bother to open the door. After seeing Elaine through the peephole, he walked away and made sure none of the lights were on in the house. Then she made sure that all the doors and windows were locked. After she did all that, Garda headed back downstairs where Henry had moved to.
“Don’t worry,” Garda said. “Elaine will leave once she figures out that she can’t disturb you.”
Elaine paced around the front porch of the house. She tried ringing the doorbell and knocking half of a dozen times, at least. It was apparent that nobody was home. But it didn’t feel that way. She had the notion that Henry was inside; just asleep.
Elaine fidgeted with the all the doors around the house, which were all locked. Then she tried for the windows. She felt very slimy by doing this. Breaking into a house through a window seemed like something a crook would do. Breaking into a house at all seemed repulsive. She couldn’t believe she had sunken down to such a low lever. But her concern for her brother was genuine.
Alas, Elaine couldn’t find a way in.
THURSDAY--SOME TIME AGO
He felt as if he was slipping away. It was hard to feel well when you could not eat, drink, or socialize. All there was was sleep. Nothing but sleep. A new sleep would be coming soon. He realized that as he stared at the beautiful dinner before him. He could smell all the different odors from the sweet teriyaki chicken to the sweetness of a pumpkin pie. None of it could he devour. None of it. There was only sleep for him.
Elaine couldn’t find a way into the house yesterday night, but Pauline was confident that she could this night. Garda wasn’t the problem and if Elaine would have realized that, she would have continued searching for a way into the house. Pauline hypothesized that Henry was hanging out in the downstairs basement, waiting from someone to come into through a small window down there that couldn’t lock. Garda had done nothing to bother Pauline or Elaine; she was just protecting her husband from what needed to be done. Henry needed to be put out of his misery and exposed to the world.
Of course, Elaine had no idea where Pauline had come up with all these silly ideas. How in the world could she have known Henry was downstairs? How did she know about the window?
Pauline’s answer was simple: she just did. All of her speculations came from how much she had observed when she first met Henry and Garda. She remembered the house well. More specifically, Pauline knew the window was on the lower half of the south side of that house. At seven o’clock, as the sun would set, Garda would be finishing dinner with her husband. That was the time to strike.
“How do you know?” Elaine asked.
“You know it, too,” Pauline responded.
The time was right and Pauline had already convinced Elaine to drive over to Henry’s house, for Pauline did not have her license. It was revoked a long time ago for attempted manslaughter, whatever that was.
Pauline looked at the house and smiled. She knew tonight was the night. Everything that needed to happen would finally happen, and the world would move on as it should.
As it should have a long time ago, she thought.
“Are you sure about this?” Elaine asked.
“Yes,” Pauline responded.
Pauline guided Elaine to the south side of the house, and just like she predicted, there was a small window barely large enough for them to squeeze through. Pauline gave the window a small tug. It seemed affixed in one spot. Perhaps, it had never been opened. She gave it a few more pulls, finally, it did.
Carefully, Pauline and Elaine squeezed through the small gap in the window. They were surprised when they no longer had their footing and fell seven feet down to the carpet of the living room. The living room was dark.
Elaine reached around the wall for a light switch. She found one!
She tried to flick it on. When she flipped it upward, the room stayed dark. Garda must have turned off the electricity from the basement.
The darkness didn’t bother Pauline. Her eyes were great at adjusting to limited light. She could see quite well in the blackness of it all.
She walked around the room and searched. She knew Henry had to be somewhere.
She kept one hand straight, feeling around different surfaces in the living room. Then, she came across the futon. She felt someone sitting upright in the couch. The person didn’t move at her touch. Someone that nerveless and cold—it must have been Henry! All at once, she turned Henry’s stiff neck sideways and pulled out a knife, which Elaine didn’t realize she had grabbed on the way out of the kitchen in her house, and prepared herself to slit the man’s throat. She had been waiting for this moment for a long time.
Suddenly, the room irradiated with candles scattered across the room. Most of the candles were aligned along the mantle of a fireplace. Somehow, they all ignited at once. Pauline and Elaine both stopped what they were doing and stared at the stairwell.
On the very last step, illuminated by the candlelight and nothing more, was Garda’s wrinkled, contorted with age, bone-through-flesh, pale face. Her eyes gleamed red like the flames of the candles themselves.
“Leave him alone,” she said, her voice no longer frail but bold and rustic.
“It has to be this way,” Pauline said.
Elaine countered, “I just needed to know he was okay.”
“Lies!” Garda yelled. “You both tell nothing but lies! And you’re both no good little whores who just can’t keep away from Henry. He’s mine! No one can take him away!”
“What?” Elaine cried out. “Henry’s my brother, for crying out loud!”
“Not a fucking one of you can leave now,” Garda warned. “You’ve seen my Henry, which no one is allowed to do.”
Elaine realized that she hadn’t seen her brother yet and Pauline hadn’t gotten a look at his face. Both of them turned around and towards the couch. Henry was sitting their stiff and alert, only he wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t sweating. He wasn’t doing anything at all. In the radiance that was the candlelight, Henry looked sort of grayish, but in other respects, still alive. But his eyes—oh—his eyes had been sown shut. The same with this mouth. Elaine arched her back and screamed, at first because of what she was seeing, but then because of the pain in her back.
Garda struggled to remove the fire poker from Elaine’s back. Elaine, before she bled too much, grabbed Pauline’s knife from her and stabbed old Garda in the throat. Then, Pauline regained the knife and drove it into Henry’s chest. When everything settled, Garda, Elaine, and Pauline all dropped to the floor in a pool of mixed bloods.
The mayor and Officer Wagner arrived at the Oriel Residence no later than eight a.m. the next morning with a warrant at hand. They expected no trouble from Garda as much as they expected to find her dead in the downstairs living room.
Reporters had not gotten wind of what they found that morning . . . yet. Investigators, the mayor, and Officer Wagner were trying to put all the pieces together. Two elderly women dead downstairs and Henry Oriel was found on the couch, also dead. It was east to tell what had happened. Apparently, there was some sort of commotion that led to the two women stabbing each other. Henry looked as though he had been stabbed too. That was an odd thing all on its own because Henry never died from the knife wound.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.