An Untitled Finale
An odd scent of rotten meat and roses hung in the air.
It was perfectly obvious that the woman was terrified.
She had all of the symptoms of pure terror: the feverish sweat, the cold chills, the bulging eyes, and the shaking hands. She was hiding from something. Something she despised, hated, loathed with all of her being.
She thought she was going to die.
She was running. Trying to distance herself from her enemy, I assume. Ducking into another room, she resumed hiding. Her trembling hand was raised to her mouth; as if trying to muffle the sound of her own breath… or a desperate attempt to suppress the rising panic; made all the more desperate because she knew it was futile.
It’s all futile. With each step she became a step closer to the inevitable confrontation, the looming confrontation with her enemy, this monster, and her own mortality.
Even seeing this grotesque terror, I still feel no pity.
The woman was everything I hated in mankind. Ignorant, self-centered, and arrogant; the type responsible for the moral stagnation of our world.
I vaguely remember when I first met her. Sitting in the park, I was calmly writing in my leather-bound notebook, barely aware of my surroundings. Then I saw her. Attractive, for an older woman. She was jogging in the park with another around the same age. Clad in out-of-date running suits and cheap perfume, chatting about idle gossip, they passed me without notice. I too, paid them no mind. Ten minutes later, I heard an angry voice blare- interrupting my daze, and drawing my attention to the nearby street. She was screaming at a bicyclist, for reasons unknown to me. Again, it did not seem worthy of my attention. I resumed my usual activity, enjoying the simple pleasures. The warmth of the sun, the companionship of nature’s little creatures, simple things I enjoy. I scattered feed for the birds and squirrels as I chuckled at the unfortunate woman. An inability to appreciate such things must make life bleak. I resumed writing.
Things became different within the next few months. I began to notice her more during my weekend strolls, and began to become irritated with her. Every day, somehow, she would disrupt the peace I had grown to enjoy. I could no longer walk through the trees, contemplating life’s questions, without a cackling laughter somewhere nearby. I could no longer watch the birds and squirrels hunt for their midday meal; instead, I watched her attempts at stoning the little “vermin.”
However, my irritation had not grown to the point of a confrontation. I would call myself a very mild-mannered man, or at the very least, passive. I had doubted she was aware of my existence, and at any rate, my English wasn’t good enough for a proper conversation. Not yet.
Again, months began to pass. I swallowed my anger, and resumed my strolls, simply avoiding the obnoxious woman. It had now been two years since I had come to this country, my speech had improved, and I sought employment.
I no longer had the time for all-day strolls in the park, and my irritation grew to anger when the woman ruined the short ones I could manage. Several times I contemplated confronting her, but the voice of reason won out in the end. An altercation with a citizen was the last thing I needed. I’d be sent back home.
At work, my superiors were quick to find out that while my English was lacking, I wasn’t a fool. I was promoted quickly, and soon I was ordered to switch buildings. I was now employed at the office directly across from the warehouse, helping the accountants measure profits. This suited me. I was finally on equal terms as my fellow workers, as mathematics is the same in every language. I met Bailey, a charming young girl in my department. Little did I know, she would soon be my everything. This, with the peace and quiet of my workplace, was the best thing to happen to me since I arrived in this country.
I grew excited. An important presentation was due soon, and Bailey and I were on it together. Within the next few days, we grew even closer. She was my only vice. I slowly became aware I was falling in love with her; it was impossible not to. She had that independent American charm, yet was soft-spoken. She found me fascinating, and helped me with my English—the only one not alienated enough by me to do so.
My career was perfect, she was perfect, and everything was simple. And quiet. I began to abandon the park, in favor of my new location.
As with the park, my excitement in my new secluded career was soon destroyed. After six months, at lunch, I heard a familiar cackle, and caught the scent of cheap perfume and cherry lip balm. My heart sank. I feared my days of peaceful quiet were over.
I wasn’t far off.
It took a while to actually come in contact with the woman, but her voice haunted me like my own personal poltergeist. The sound sent chills up and down my spine, and caused convulsions making it hard to breathe.
The anticipation weighed like lead on my chest.
Bailey had told me her experiences with the woman, and she sounded more unpleasant than I had imagined. The Americans use the word snotty, although I think it makes no sense. Bailey uncomfortably told me that the woman already despised me, even without my doing anything. However, Bailey wouldn’t tell me why.
My first direct conflict with the woman was at my desk. Ralph, the local mailman, had stopped by to drop off forms necessary for my presentation the next week. He was a kind, sympathetic man, and would always point out where I needed to sign before I could read English well. He had complimented my quick mastery of the language.
Nowadays he didn’t bother pointing anything out, as I could read the entire page.
I grabbed my pen with a smile, and reached for the clipboard.
“Greetings, Ralph. How have you been?” My accent was still thick then.
“Same as always. Working, paying bills, trying to stay out of the rain. It makes my bald head even shinier.” He grinned. “We aren’t all blessed with locks like yours.”
I laughed. My hair was the only thing I didn’t change when I came to America; it was still long, pulled back tightly. Apparently not a very popular style for men here.
Ralph dug through his bag, pulling out my envelope. “Here you go, don’t work yourself to death. I swear, you’re always here.”
I shrugged. “It happens. Have to make money somehow.” I took the envelope, only to have it snatched out of my hands.
“Ralph, honey, why are you giving this boy the mail?”
Ralph responded hesitantly. “Because it’s his, ma’am.”
The woman whispered in Ralph’s ear. I began to feel uncomfortable. The overwhelming cloud of hairspray and cheap perfume made it difficult to breathe.
She turned to face me. “Here you go.” She was speaking slowly, with a smirk, and a horrid southern drawl. “Do you need help reading?” I heard laughing behind me. “Do- you- un-der-stand?”
I scowled, and took the envelope. “I can speak English fluently, ma’am. And I read well.” My accent was still thick though, and I knew she would notice.
She smiled. It was ghastly. One of the managers began calling for her in his office. The woman turned, bid Ralph farewell, and, ignoring me, sauntered off to the manager’s door.
That’s how I learned the name of my own personal demon.
Bailey had not had the heart to tell me Susanne’s problem, but after that day it had become painfully obvious. I was foreign, and therefore inferior. I wasn’t special, she thought she superior to everyone else here. She referred to Bailey as “girl,” and talked to many as if they were unintelligent. Especially me. Apparently my English fluency was unfathomable. In every conversation we held, she would talk half speed, or slower. Her small “clique” at work had taken to doing it too. This continued for months upon months, driving me mad.
Again, only Bailey could preserve my sanity. Every time Susanne would cause my blood to boil, Bailey would somehow always be nearby, with a calming hand on my shoulder. The diamond on her left ring finger would shine, and her encouraging smile would keep me going. She was mine forever, and that’s all I needed.
Susanne was promoted within two months of our meeting, and much to my dismay, was now my superior’s assistant, and directly over Bailey. I slowly watched Bailey become more and more unhappy, and I was unable to do anything about it. Helpless, I sulked every day.
Nevertheless, my life continued. Bailey and I had a wedding to plan, and she was set on living together. Not that I minded, it felt like it should be that way. It didn’t take long for her to find a place. Soon she had her heart set on a small cozy log house, near the park I had used to frequent all those months ago.
I recall it was expensive; but I would have given Bailey the world, had I the chance. I appealed to my manager, who with a smile, promoted me, and wished Bailey and I luck. The house was ours, and Bailey’s warm smile was always mine to cherish. Susanne still made work miserable, but it didn’t matter anymore. We were happy.
Months passed. Soon we were wed, and Bailey’s younger sister would come to stay with us on weekends. Sometimes her younger brother would as well. He was interested in my home country, and some days I would tell stories of my childhood. Other than Bailey and Ralph, he was the only one interested.
Our happiness was interrupted by a blessing from above. Three months into our marriage, Bailey was expecting. I was nervous, but Bailey glowed with enthusiasm. It was all she talked about, all she thought about, and she beamed at me every time I walked by. She would say that she wished the baby would have my hair, and I would laugh.
Soon it was time for the doctor visits to become more frequent, and the two of us started to rely on her parents more and more. Bailey began to grow scared as her body began to change, we agreed her parents should stay with us a while. I hadn’t gotten to know them that well yet, but soon, I earned her father’s approval. He considered me a son. Her mother turned out to be just like her, quiet, and caring. I didn’t mind their extended visit; their company was enjoyable, even if Bailey and I moved into the smaller bedroom.
I was happy.
The pregnancy seemed to rush by. We were having a little girl, and Bailey was going with her mother to get her final ultrasound. She was due soon.
I, however, was at work. My manager had promoted me again, and I requested more hours to cover everything. I was exhausted constantly, but we were able to get by.
Work was as normal as ever. Susanne was still obnoxious, Ralph was still cracking jokes, and my manager was constantly asking about Bailey and our soon-to-be child. She seemed a little put off today, and I couldn’t place why.
“Ms. Clark, is something bothering you?” I had asked.
“It’s nothing important, dear. Just have a bad feeling today. Are you not feeling well?” She asked, seeming legitimately concerned.
I was puzzled. I had been happier than I had been in a long time, and at the peak of health. “No, not at all, ma’am. I feel great. A little slow, but just tired.”
She paused. “How is Bailey?”
“Great. Her ultrasound was today at the health center down the street.”
She frowned. “Well then, boy, what are you doing here?”
I laughed. “Work. Work. Work. Have to make the money somehow, or the girl won’t be able to eat.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to go home?”
“Its fine, ma’am. We’re understaffed as it is.”
She smiled. “You sir, are a saint. I’m sure that little girl will be an angel.”
I beamed. “Thank you, ma’am.” I noticed Susanne scowling at me, and I chuckled.
My manager walked away, and I resumed work. Susanne still glared, and I laughed aloud. She thought I would be taking her job. I prayed to God I would be.
My work was going smoothly that day; I was on schedule, and chugging along without a hitch. I looked at the clock. To my excitement, I only had two hours left.
Suddenly Ms. Clark came rushing out of her office. She trotted over to my desk, trying to appear calm.
“Dear, I think you need to go home.”
I was caught off guard. “What, why?!”
“Trust me on this, child, go home.”
I remember running out of the building, going home as quickly as possible. Her nervousness had frightened me, and I could think only of Bailey.
The rest of the day was a blur. I could remember nothing else of that day, only pain. I cannot even recall who it was that told me the news, or my immediate reaction. For weeks, I sulked, not thinking of anything but my own misery. Bailey’s father tried to console me, but how could he, when he was grieving himself? I wondered if his pain was as great as mine. He had after all, lost both a wife and a daughter.
But then again, so did I.
Despite the fact that they had died at the same time, Bailey and her mother had separate funerals.
Her mother’s was first, and Bailey’s father, brother, sister, and I sat in the first row alone. I had no idea how to act, what to say. I was clueless, and miserable.
That was nowhere near as bad as what was to come.
I was late to Bailey’s funeral.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the car crash. How I could have been there. In one second, three lives were taken. All three dear to me.
I sat in front of a mirror for a while that day, staring at the gold band on my hand, and the one now on a chain around my neck.
It just wasn’t fair.
The funeral went as funerals do. Most of my co-workers were there, as well as Susanne. Not even she could make my day worse. The smell of cheap perfume and lilacs burned my nose. I sat in the first row and stared forward the whole day, an empty shell to the rest of the world. Or rather, until Ms. Clark arrived. I offered her a seat in the first row with myself and my father-in-law. She was the only one in this country to ever show me kindness. Other than Bailey.
I didn’t go to work for a while. Ms. Clark understood. She was a widow herself. I didn’t know what to do. The house was empty. Nothing could fill the void. Ralph took me drinking a few times, and offered to let me stay at his house, to get away from it all. I gladly took the offer.
Eventually, work was necessary. I could only sulk for so long.
My first day back was awful. Staring and pitiful glances drove me insane, and Bailey not being there to calm me down was unknown to me.
I had still not realized that she wouldn’t be here.
Ralph was surprised to see me back, and brought fast food for lunch. As we sat to eat, I heard a chorus of familiar voices.
“It’s absolutely tragic. I don’t see why it had to happen. A plain, good, American girl, gone. Just like that.”
I winced. Ralph glared.
“She was one of my best friends! I will miss that girl terribly.” Said a familiar voice. The woman moved her hair and cheap perfume slapped me across the face.
The audacity of that statement astounded me. These were the same women that completely ignored her, made her feel like an outcast.
“Truly! We should plan a memorial dinner!” exclaimed one of the women.
I didn’t know how to react. Here, it seems knowing the dead is fashionable. A sad truth.
“I can tell you why it happened,” said the familiar voice. “She married a foreigner. It was God’s punishment.” I began to shake. I could feel the anger begin to grow. Ralph noticed.
“Inter-breeding. It’s sin. She was a sinner. Plain and simple. The devil-spawn was cut down before it could even be born. A good thing, if you ask me.”
The rest of the women muttered amongst themselves. Ralph shoved me out of the room, before the inevitable explosion of anger.
His hands were on my shoulders. I was shaking, reeling to re-enter the room. I had never wanted to strike a woman, not until now.
Ralph escorted me to Ms. Clark’s office. She promptly sent me home.
Ralph and I had another night of shots with his friends, and afterwards, Bailey haunted my dreams.
The next day I returned to work. Calmed down by my nightmarish hangover, I worked all day, refusing to look up. No one spoke to me. It was better that way. Luckily, Susanne wasn’t there.
I was itching for a confrontation, and the next day, I would have it.
I was working diligently when Ralph arrived with the mail. I watched him scan the room immediately upon entering, and saw him freeze when his eyes fall on the left corner of the office. I knew that was Susanne’s desk. I assumed she was there.
Ralph handed me the mail and the clipboard as always. As always, we had our customary short conversation, and we went on about our day. I didn’t care.
On my way to lunch, I was taken by surprise. Someone was beckoning to me from the middle of the room. I identified her as one of the women from Susanne’s clique. Immediately after, Susanne confronted me herself.
“Oh I’m so sorry about everything, dear boy. I heard how you lost your wife, it’s simply terrible. And she was eight and a half months along? I can’t imagine your pain right now.” Her speech was loaded with sincerity, sincerity I knew to be false.
I stared Susanne down. I finally understood. It was all a ploy, a ploy not to make amends, but to apotheosize herself. She had backed me into a corner, however. To voice my hatred for her now would only come down on me. Instead, I let the hatred show only on my face, and remained silent. She had always assumed I couldn’t speak English anyway. Bowing slightly as a sign of false thanks, I left the room. Her cheap perfume followed me out. I finally recognized the scent. Roses.
She was everything I hated. I loathed this woman. Watching her run for her life, I felt no different. I wonder if she thought about everything is this life she’s done wrong? The people she’s hurt?
Of course not.
She was too consumed with panic for remorse or rational thought. Her only wish was to escape this fate—to inflict this curse upon anyone else. Throwing anyone between her and this monster was all she could think of.
Even in her fear induced delirium, she had to realize it was hopeless. She was running out of places to hide. She had finally hit a dead end, and the only thing to hide in was a used meat locker. The smell must have been horrendous. But, desperate people do desperate things.
Slowly, she heard the footsteps of the monster getting closer. Her own personal demon was just outside the door.
She began shaking even worse now, her doom was sealed. Slowly, the door opened.
And there I stood.