by Gail Farrelly
The Kindle Did It, is one of 19 stories in the 2009 trade paperback, The Gift of Murder, a holiday anthology of crime stories, edited by John M. Floyd and published in 2009 by Wolfmont Press to benefit the Toys for Tots Foundation.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I’m thinking this New Year’s Eve, as I hear “Auld Lang Syne” for about the tenth time. Out with the old. Midnight, just about an hour from now, will mark the official start of my new life.
It’s time to focus on the future and forget about the past. Except, that is, the part of my past that may actually lead me back to being happy. It’s been a long time since I’ve been happy. When I was a kid, though, I had lots of happy times, especially at amusement parks. Nothing like those carefree days of excitement and fun. Especially riding the carousel, watching for the ring holder on the sidelines, then stretching and reaching for the brass ring. I rarely got it. Sometimes I didn’t stretch far enough and got no ring at all; other times I got a ring, but it was a useless one made of steel. No matter. I was always convinced that I’d score a brass one the next time around.
When I was 28 and chose a wife, I was blissfully in love and felt that I had found the brass ring and made it mine forever. But brass rings tarnish.
I really loved my wife when I married her. Maybe that was the problem. I think it was Oscar Wilde who once remarked, “A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her.” But then, Wilde wasn’t much of an authority on being happy with any woman, was he?
The peaceful, beautifully steady rhythm of a carousel was not an accurate way to describe my marriage. No, living with my wife was more like experiencing “The Whip,” another amusement park ride. You know the one. It’s on a rectangular course, and you’re riding along in a little car quite smoothly until you reach the end of the rectangle and then—crack!—the car speeds up and whips you around the corner.
Just a week ago, on Christmas Eve, my wife of 27 years, “The Whip,” had an accident and died. Of course she never knew about that secret nickname I gave her; but take it from me, it was accurate.
Don’t look at me. I had nothing to do with her death.
Okay, okay, I admit I was tempted once or twice to get rid of her, but I didn’t give in. In my 55 years of life, I must have said the Lord’s Prayer thousands of times. The “lead us not into temptation” plea has gone unanswered. Lots of temptation. But then there’s the “deliver us from evil” part of the prayer. That part was answered. I’ve never—well, almost never—acted on a temptation to do anything horrendous.
Which is actually kind of amazing, considering how exasperating my wife could be. For the first few years of our marriage we had been happy. After that, it was all downhill. I tried to please her, really I did, but all my efforts fell short. Everything I did was criticized; everything I didn’t do was cited as neglect.
Once, last year, on the spur of the moment, I brought home from work a dozen red roses for her. She had always loved red roses. But when I gave them to her she said she liked pink ones better; red ones just didn’t do it for her anymore. I bought her a robe for her birthday; she brought it back to the store, saying it was the wrong size and she didn’t like the style.
For our last anniversary, I took her for a surprise weekend to Foxwoods, a casino resort in Connecticut, a drive of only a few hours from our New York City home. She admitted she had an okay time, but whined that her friend had been taken to Vegas for her anniversary. You get the picture. Everything I tried was either not good or not good enough.
Her behavior was really over the top three weeks ago when we had a big Christmas party at our place. The wife had everything catered, but I insisted on making my jellied holiday jubilee for the occasion. I’m not very handy in the kitchen, but this was a very special and easy recipe involving cherry Jell-O, whipped cream, fresh fruit, marshmallows, and a touch of rum. It looked and tasted great. When our guests dug into the dessert and proclaimed it excellent, my wife said it was good but it would have been better made with lime Jell-O rather than cherry. Typical.
Later that night, determined to forget the incident, I settled myself on the couch with my Kindle. That little electronic reading device, which I had bought myself just a few months before, was my salvation. A temporary escape into the wonderful world of books, leaving my unhappy real world behind. I started to read another chapter of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a new book that introduces a different kind of Bennet family, sisters skilled in zombie busting. Just what I needed to take my mind off my troubles. And when Elizabeth Bennet kicked the heads of the creatures, I could pretend that she was kicking my wife’s head instead. You take your pleasure where you can.
But when my wife saw me, probably with a big smile on my face, relaxing with my Kindle, she went into her mock sympathy mode, saying that it was too bad that I didn’t have the very latest version of the Kindle, the one with a bigger screen that had just been released the week before. Oh, and she criticized my plan to buy a beautiful, ruby red, hand-woven patent leather cover for my Kindle, a plan that I had been foolish enough to mention the day before. “What does it need?” she harped, pointing at the poor little Kindle. “A different outfit for every day of the week? That black leather cover you bought it is horribly boring, but it’s good enough.” Good grief. It was bad enough that she had criticized my clothes over the years, but now she didn’t even like what my Kindle was wearing.
“That woman is unbelievable,” I muttered to myself, as my wife headed off to bed, and I returned my attention to the Kindle screen. I felt my poor little electronic reader shudder a few times. From rage, I guessed. And I didn’t blame her.
A few minutes later it happened. I had been reading my book when suddenly the screen on my Kindle blinked twice; the book was gone and—presto—in its place a newspaper article magically appeared. The title of the article? “Man Accused of Killing Wife with Lime Jell-O Laced with Antifreeze.” Huh? My eyes were riveted to the screen, and of course I read the article. I couldn’t help but think about my pesty wife in the bedroom, the antifreeze in the garage, and the packages of lime Jell-O in the kitchen. Hmm. And she had said she liked lime Jell-O.
I had to stop this line of thinking so I pressed the “Home” button on my Kindle and soon I was peacefully reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies again. But it didn’t last. After a few minutes, the screen blinked twice, and once again the book page was gone. This time the newspaper headline that appeared was
“Husband Tosses Live Hairdryer into Jacuzzi, Kills Wife.” Ironic, because, next to my Kindle, the Jacuzzi is my favorite thing in the house. Of course I had to read the story, even though it creeped me out. I turned off the Kindle and headed for bed. Making my way up the stairs, I prayed, “Deliver us from evil.” Indeed.
All was quiet for the next two weeks. My Kindle behaved herself, as did I. I struggled to conquer my demons and not think the unthinkable. But guess what? The whole thing became moot on Christmas Eve when I came home from a long morning walk to find my wife dead in the living room at the bottom of the stairs. I called the police, of course, and investigation showed that she had slipped on the second step from the top, tumbled down the rest, and died from a broken neck. But this is the amazing part. After days of crime scene analysis, the police have concluded that she slipped on my uncovered Kindle, which they claim was left on the second step from the top of the staircase. Impossible. I have always taken excellent care of my Kindle and always leave her on my desk in exactly the same spot. And she always has the black leather cover on. I would never leave her naked; she’s susceptible to a chill, you see. I don’t believe for a minute that it was an accident. Just as I know for sure who the perp is.
The clock ticks down the minutes to midnight as I stare at my Kindle. Amazingly, she came through the incident with only two minor scratches, neither of which affects her working mechanism. She’s silent right now, although in the last week, she’s taken to turning herself on, and reading aloud to me. That text-to-speech ability of the Kindle is a big pain. For me, it’s a liability, not an asset. I blame Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for including this feature. What was he thinking? Maybe he doesn’t know what it’s like to live with a talky woman.
Why can’t my Kindle just shut up? What does she read, you ask? Well, so far not much variety. It’s either Twilight by Stephenie Meyer or Bag of Bones by Stephen King. With just the two choices, I’m reminded of what the late Victor Borge once said about the only two pieces he knew: “One is ‘Clair de Lune’ and the other one isn’t.” Regarding Meyer and King, I have the feeling that my Kindle plans to weigh in with her own verdict on a recent controversy involving the two writers. You know the one. Was King correct when he proclaimed to the world that “Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn”? Meyer can’t write? Is he qualified to make that evaluation? I can’t help but reluctantly admire my Kindle for doing independent research on this earth shattering issue.
As I continue staring down at her, the clock strikes twelve, and my Kindle suddenly blinks twice. There’s another spontaneous transmission, the first of the new year. Just like the articles about the antifreeze poisoning and the Jacuzzi murder, it seemingly comes from nowhere. But this time it’s something entirely different. An ad for the patent leather, ruby red cover I was thinking about buying for her a few weeks ago. I had forgotten all about it. Suddenly another double blink and a second ad. This one for a decorative “skin” with a bookshelf design for the back of the Kindle. I’m taking her to a get-together next month with other Kindles and their owners at a local coffee shop. I guess she feels she needs something special to wear. Just my luck, I’m stuck with a Kindle clotheshorse. I have to admit that she has good taste, though. I’m thinking of the words of the late retailer Stanley Marcus: “I have the simplest taste; I am always satisfied with the best.”
I sigh and head over to my computer. I had better order her that decorative skin and new cover because, as she’s indicated, there’s no stopping her when she’s angry. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. It’s not nice to fool your Kindle either.
My greatest fear is that she’ll soon be demanding a big brother. That latest version of the Kindle that my wife had mentioned, the one with the much larger screen, has been getting more and more publicity. Not at my house, though. I immediately turn off the television or radio when it’s mentioned. Little pitchers have big ears.
So the short of it is, as I begin the new year, I’m left with a female companion who likes to spend a lot of money on clothes and yaks a lot. Not that different from other female companions I’ve had over the years. But at least she doesn’t criticize everything I do. At least not yet.
I glance at the Kindle with some affection. And yes, with just a tiny bit of fear.
Exactly how my wife’s accident “happened” I’ll never know. But, for sure, the Kindle did it. I can live with that. Hopefully. She wouldn’t murder again, would she?