by S. Phillip Lenski
This story has never been published. Trigger warning for suicide.
Bonnie sat at her dressing table staring into the mirror as she tried to insert an earring into her pierced lobe. It was a silver drop earring with round, rich purple, amethyst stones. Her favorite color. Bill gave the pair to her as a “just because” present.
“Just because I love you,” Bill said, as she plucked them from the gift box and tried them on. “They look great on your adorable little earlobes. So much sexier than flappy free ones.” Bonnie giggled and gently nudged him away. Bill faced her and whispered, “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world.” He kissed her passionately, then she pulled away.
“No, I’m not,” she retorted. “I’m boney, flat-chested, and I’ve got dull brown eyes. I’m not even close to the most beautiful woman in the world.”
“No. You’re petite and graceful, your breasts are perfect, and your sparkling brown eyes are the kindest and most joyful I’ve ever seen. Your auburn hair is gorgeous, and your smile steals my breath. You’re the most beautiful woman in my world. And that’s the only world that matters.”
Bonnie shook her head, knocking the memory from her mind. She avoided making contact with her own eyes in the mirror. She could not stand to look at the woman who – more than anyone – was responsible for the death of the man whose funeral she was dressing for.
Bonnie and Bill were a couple for two and one-half years. After meeting through a mutual acquaintance, they were instantly attracted to one another. Their physical passion matured into a deep, committed love that flowed between them like an invisible force. After the first year, Bonnie wanted to get married. However, Bill felt that Matt, his teenage son from his first marriage, would suffer if they were to marry while Matt was still in high school and living at home.
“Let’s wait until Matt goes off to college,” pleaded Bill. “He’s fragile. His mother’s alcoholism took a toll on him, and he needs stability. He likes you, Bonnie. A lot. But if we marry and move in together, he’ll feel like I’m abandoning him just like his mother did when he was twelve. And I’m afraid that will set him back after all of the progress we’ve made on his recovery.” Bill took Bonnie’s hands into his and looked earnestly into her eyes. “Two years. I promise. Two years, and Matt graduates. Then, when he goes off to college and dorm life, we’ll do it. I’ll marry you and we’ll honeymoon in Spain!” Then he kissed her forehead and she smiled and nodded.
For a year she went along with the plan. She saw Bill as much as possible. They had lunch, went out to dinner and events, and spent many evenings at home with Matt. But they rarely slept together; only when Matt went to a friend’s house for a sleepover, or left to visit family in Cincinnati. Instead, they had to sneak in moments of passion. Taking two-hour lunch breaks to make love at her house, or quickly fulfilling their desire on Bill’s couch or his bed in the early evening before Matt came home from baseball or football practice.
“I know it’s not perfect,” offered Bill one night as they climbed out of bed and quickly dressed in anticipation of his son’s return from baseball practice. “I love you with all of my heart, Bonnie. I’m trying the best I can to show that to you, while at the same time protecting Matt from any more trauma. When his mom chose the bottle over him and us, I honestly thought I was going to lose him.” Bill stopped buttoning his shirt, wrapped his arms around Bonnie’s waist, and pressed her body into his. “Thank you for your patience. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you in my life.”
Bonnie buried her face in his chest and clamped her teeth shut, imprisoning the words trying to claw out of her mouth. I’m tired of always being second in your life. I can’t do this much longer, Bill. This isn’t enough.
Eventually, Bonnie’s need for more overcame her will to wait, and Bill’s colleague, Clark, was more than willing to satisfy her need. Clark was the antithesis of Bill. Loud where Bill was soft. Flamboyant where Bill was understated. Aggressive where Bill was sensitive. And hairy where Bill was clean-shaven. Bill’s secret nickname for Clark was “the mustached jackass,” and while they practiced at the same firm and tried many cases together, Bill had little respect for his mouthy partner. But Clark was movie-star handsome, flirtatious, and treated Bonnie like his queen. After a few clandestine lunch meetings, she started sleeping with him.
After six months of maintaining her double life, Bonnie ended things with Bill. Her anxiety and fear of seeing him hurt caused her to break up with him over the telephone, rather than in person. Bill pleaded to meet with her, to talk with her, to give him another chance. “Let’s get married now,” he implored. “I’ll work with Matt. Get him to understand. I love you, Bonnie. Please don’t do this.”
But Bonnie held firm. “I’m moving on, Bill,” she said, flatly. Then she lied and said she needed time alone to sort through things.
To say that Bonnie thought Bill would get over her and move on easily would be untrue. But she hoped he would. And she hoped Clark would have the maturity and wisdom to let some time pass before announcing their relationship. However, within a week of the break-up, Clark was spreading news at the firm that he and Bonnie were a couple, and he brazenly drove to her house after work most evenings. When Bill became aware that Bonnie and Clark were dating, he quickly surmised that everything Bonnie told him was a lie. He fell into a deep depression, and for the remainder of Matt’s senior year, did nothing but work and take care of his son.
In August, Matt left for college. By then, Bonnie and Clark were living together in Clark’s house. Clark kept promising he would put a ring on her finger, but by late October, they were still “living in sin,” as her mother used to say.
“Of course we’re going to get married, baby,” cooed Clark, as he pressed himself against Bonnie and pawed her breasts. “Just let me get through these two upcoming trials, then we’ll talk about a date, okay? Meantime, how ‘bout a little sugar?” He reached back to unfasten her bra.
On October 27th, the third anniversary of Bonnie and Bill’s first date, Bill took his life. Clark told Bonnie when he came home from the office. The news snatched the breath from her lungs, and her heart felt heavy as a stone. She tried to speak, to utter a sound, but her mouth just froze in the shape of an egg.
“They say he left behind a note addressed only to his son. I wonder what the hell was in it?” mused Clark, as he sat in his den sipping a beer and staring at Bonnie. She rose from her seat and went into their bedroom, locking the door behind her. She did not come out until morning.
Everyone speculated about what drove Bill to kill himself. But Bill’s friends knew that Bonnie’s jilting of him, and her deceitful affair with Clark, had broken his heart, his spirit, and his will to live. All of them blamed her, and she knew none of them would speak to her again.
With this thought, Bonnie stood and adjusted her black dress and straightened her hair before the mirror. She donned her waist-length black and white checkered jacket, then adjusted the David Yurman twisted cable silver bracelet on her wrist. Another gift from Bill for her birthday. Bill would have told her that she looked elegant and beautiful.
“Damn, baby, if you don’t look doable!” She turned to see Clark standing in the bedroom doorway, leering. Over his chiseled frame, he wore a grey suit, white shirt, and a victory red tie. As if advertising that the best man won the prize. “That black dress is sexy as hell. Appropriate enough for this funeral, but you could also wear it out tonight to a party. You know, since it’s Halloween.” Sensing his effort at humor was failing, Clark switched gears. “Listen, do you want to just grab an early dinner after the funeral? I’ve been told it might not be a good idea to show up at our firm’s reception afterwards. Bill’s friends will be there. Too much bad blood. So, I think maybe we should just skip that and get a bite in town before we head home. What do you think?”
Bonnie stared at Clark incredulously. How could he be thinking about his stomach at such a time? Grief and guilt overwhelmed her. Her head ached, every muscle in her body was sore, and she felt a giant weight pressing on her.
“Geez, Clark. I can’t think about that right now.” She regarded him, then turned away in revulsion. “If you want to get some take-out on the way home, that’s fine. But I’m not hungry, and I’m damned sure not going to sit in a restaurant with you today.”
“Dammit, Bonnie! Fine! Be that way!” hissed Clark. Then he exhaled, calmed himself, and continued. “Of course, this is a tragedy. So sad. Especially for poor Matt. But damnit, Bonnie! Bill was indecisive and weak. That’s why he couldn’t make the move to marry you. That’s why you left him. And that’s why he chickened out and killed himself.” Clark stared at Bonnie, and with a self-satisfied grin, stroked his neatly coiffed mustache.
“You don’t know anything, Clark,” answered Bonnie. “Bill wasn’t weak. He was a wonderful father, and a good man. He loved me very much. We just weren’t on the same page at the same time.” Bonnie squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back tears. “I handled everything so badly. I betrayed him. I hurt him deeply.”
“Oh, don’t start that crap again,” moaned Clark. “The past is behind you. What’s done is done. Maybe you could have handled things a little better, but you didn’t. And now you’re with me. And Bill’s gone. So, let’s go pay our respects to the loser and move on with our lives, shall we?”
Clark left the bedroom and headed towards the front door. Bonnie shook her head in disgust.
It was time to go. Bonnie crossed the bedroom, snatching her black leather clutch purse off the bed. As she passed her dresser, she suddenly stopped, opened her underwear drawer, and removed the letter she had hidden in the bottom.
It was from Bill, and it arrived the day after his death. When she pulled it out of the mailbox, it scared her. Like a macabre voice from the grave, Bill had returned to haunt her. She waited all evening to open it, until Clark lumbered off to bed. Then, nearly panting with anxiety, she slit the envelope and pulled out the letter. It was a plain white piece of paper with a single word written in Bill’s handwriting.
She stared at the word. What was monstrous? Bill’s grief? Her betrayal? All of it? She flicked open the clasp of her clutch and stuffed the envelope inside. Clicking the purse shut, she questioned why she was bringing the letter along. Shaking her head, she headed for the door.
In the garage, she found Clark behind the wheel of his green Dodge Charger Hellcat. He regarded her with an impatient grimace. She quickly opened her door and squeezed into the passenger seat. She hated his car. So much different from Bill’s comfortable Explorer. Clark fired up the massive engine and backed into and down the driveway. Then he shifted into drive and roared off.
Racing down the boulevard toward the church, Clark weaved between the lanes, rushing by slower moving vehicles like they were obstacles to be overcome. Bonnie grimaced and her body went tense, as it always did during rides with Clark. She squeezed the door panel’s handlebar until the knuckles on her right hand turned white. On the radio, AC/DC’s hit song, “Highway to Hell” blared through the Charger’s door speakers. Suddenly, Clark yelled, “What the hell?”
A bulky white Ford Transit Cargo Van swerved into the lane just ahead of them. Its driver, an older man with bushy white hair, swayed in his seat as the van chugged along. Clark slammed on the Charger’s brakes, jerked the black steering wheel to the right, and the car squealed and swerved into the other lane, narrowly missing the van. As Clark barreled by, Bonnie looked at the transit van’s red lettering on its side-walls and grinned with knowing recognition.
One of Bill’s more memorable cases was a pro bono matter he handled involving an older homeless man named Tal Eisman, a former short-order cook who had gotten off track with a meth addiction. Accused of possession of a controlled substance and larceny of steaks from an upscale hotel restaurant’s kitchen, Tal told Bill that one morning he was rummaging through dumpsters in an alley and found the back door to the hotel ajar. He decided to go in with a trash bag and help himself to whatever he could grab. By the time he was detained by hotel security, Tal had discovered the restaurant’s meat locker and had tossed thirty pounds of sirloin and T-bone steaks into his Hefty bag. The subsequent search after his arrest yielded an ounce of meth in his pocket.
Bill was able to negotiate a favorable deal for Tal, who spent only two months in jail, then was released to a halfway house. During his residency there, Tal befriended another ex-con, and the pair, both former cooks, decided to get back into the culinary business. Bill helped the two men secure a small grant from a local charity, and with the money, they formed a pastry delivery and catering business. Surprisingly, the operation was a success, and soon the two were able to purchase a used refrigerated transit van to transport their desserts and pastries to parties, office functions, and church get-togethers around town. A self-proclaimed detailer, Tal took a can of cherry red paint and stenciled the name of their pastry business on the van’s side-walls. Just Deserts. When Bill saw the van, he stifled a chuckle. He didn’t have the will to tell his client that he had misspelled the name of his business. “Besides,” quipped Bill, “the double entendre is precious.”
On the day Tal and his partner opened their business, Bill and Bonnie stopped by to wish them good luck. Tal was elated that Bill came to see him, and he filled a paper bag with fresh baked pastries that he handed to Bonnie.
“My treat. I hope you like them.” Then, to Bill, Tal said, “You’re the greatest. I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me, counselor. I owe you big time. So, if you ever need a favor – and I mean anything – just ask me, and it will be done.” Tal took Bill’s hand and shook it vigorously.
“Oh, Tal. You owe me nothing,” responded Bill. Then he added, “But I’ll keep your offer in mind. After all, it’s possible I might need a favor someday.”
Tal’s misspelled van, with the crazy-haired proprietor behind the wheel, was the source of Clark’s profane exclamation. As Bonnie watched the van shrink in the Charger’s side view mirror, she thought she saw Tal lift his right arm from the steering wheel and aim his index finger like a gun in her direction. She turned away from the mirror, trying not to wonder why Tal was pointing at her.
They arrived with just enough time to sign the guest book in the vestibule and duck into a pew at the back of the church. The service was brief but sublime. Bill’s son and his brother read Bible passages, a cello and violin duo played beautifully, and the minister, a longtime friend of Bill’s, honored him with a thoughtful eulogy. Clark sat back in the pew, both arms stretched across the seatback, taking in the event without the slightest hint of sorrow or remorse. At one point, Bonnie swore he was making eyes at the blonde-haired daughter of one of the attending circuit court judges.
Bonnie struggled to pay attention to the minister. Between wrestling with her guilt and avoiding the nearly constant stink-eye looks she received from Bill’s family and friends, she barely captured the essence of his remarks. That Bill was beloved by everyone. That he was respected by all. That he suffered an insurmountable loss, from which he could not recover. And that, hopefully, God would have mercy on his soul and welcome him into the everlasting light where he would finally be at peace.
After the service, Clark escorted Bonnie to the vestibule, where he unsuccessfully attempted to initiate small-talk with his grieving law partners, who ignored him. Bonnie stood pressed against the back wall as Bill’s casket was wheeled out the door to the waiting hearse. She watched Matt exit the sanctuary. She smiled and prepared to offer her condolences, but Matt passed by without looking her way. His snub sliced her open as cleanly as a stiletto blade, and she felt her throat tighten as she fought off sobs. While coughing to regain her breath, she heard one of Bill’s friends muttering.
“Yeah. Matt set this whole funeral up. Apparently, Bill’s letter to him gave specific instructions. He wanted the funeral conducted today. On Halloween. And he pre-selected the Bible readings and the music. And then, I heard there was a separate envelope inside Matt’s note addressed to one of Bill’s old clients. Some guy named Eisman. Matt’s letter instructed him to deliver Eisman’s envelope immediately.” Bonnie pushed off the wall and quick-stepped over to the chatty Clark.
“Let’s go,” she whispered into his ear. He regarded her, then returned to his effort to engage his senior partner. Bonnie tugged at Clark’s sleeve, and spoke emphatically. “I said, let’s go!”
Clark broke away from his failing effort to capture his boss’ attention and glared at Bonnie. “In a minute, okay?”
“No. Not okay. Now!” Bonnie returned his irritated look with a much angrier one of her own.
Sighing, Clark turned, grabbed Bonnie’s arm, and together they exited the church.
As they marched toward his muscle car, Clark scolded, “Didn’t you see I was trying to talk to the big guy?”
“Yeah. I saw. And the big guy wasn’t having anything to do with you. None of those people were having anything to do with either of us. We weren’t welcome, Clark!” Bonnie’s chest was as tight as a drum-head, and she felt like she might faint. “Between my own guilt and sorrow, and those people’s judgmental looks and behavior, I couldn’t stand it anymore! You need to take me home. Now!”
“Sure. But I’m stopping for some take-out on the way. I’m hungry.”
Clark started the car, then raced out of the parking lot. They flew down the wide, busy street, with Clark dodging and weaving through traffic. Bonnie closed her eyes and concentrated on calming down. Her chest gradually began to loosen and her breathing became less labored. On the radio, Richard Marx sang, “Should’ve Known Better,” melodically admonishing her. Clark muscled his way through traffic, jerking the wheel and cursing cars he passed.
“Get out of the way, idiot! Don’t change lanes now, moron! Don’t even think about cutting me off, you bastard!”
He really is a mustached jackass. What have I gotten myself into? What am I going to do? How could I have done what I did to the one man who loved me more than anyone ever has? Lost in these thoughts, Bonnie barely heard Clark bellow, “What the hell?”
Glancing right, Bonnie saw the Just Deserts van through the passenger window just before it T-boned Clark’s Charger. The jarring impact, followed by shattering glass and crumpling metal, ended her thoughts.
Read in tandem, the police and medical examiner’s reports of the fatal traffic incident that day indicated the following: Tal Eisman did not suffer any kind of medical emergency while operating his refrigerated transit van in an eastbound direction on Devine Street before he swerved across two lanes of traffic and into the westbound lanes. Inexplicably, the van darted between two cars, then t-boned a green Dodge Charger which was moving at a speed in excess of fifty miles per hour. The impact killed Mr. Eisman. The driver of the Charger was crushed to death, along with a female passenger.
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