Mind Over Matter - Short Story
Daniel died at age fifty-five. He had a bad heart. Everyone knew it. At his funeral his wife, Dinah, seventeen years his junior, sat in the front pew with their three-year old daughter on her lap. She didn’t hear a single word anyone said not even the words that came out of her own mouth. After they had buried him, she wanted to leave, quickly. Maria needed a nap, and she wanted to be alone. As she was trying to make it to her car, she felt someone tug at her sleeve. She could feel her before she had even turned around. It was Caroline. Of course, it was. She thought about ignoring her; walking forward like she only felt the breeze, but she turned around.
“What do you want?” she was exhausted and looking into the big round eyes of Daniel’s ex-wife only made her more so.
“I loved him for twenty- five years. I gave him my whole youth. What do I have now? Nothing. Not even pity. That’s all yours too. The house, the baby, the last name, the pity. All I have is a whole in my heart that is going to suck me in,” she spat the word ‘pity’ in Dinah’s face.
“I am not going to stand her and fight over who loved him more, Caroline,” she would’ve cried if she had a tear left. She wasn’t even surprised to see her here, or that this was how she was acting.
“I did! There is no fight. You didn’t know him like I did. You couldn’t possibly have. But you get to sit right in the front pew with his baby and play the grieving widow and-”
“I am the grieving widow. I was his wife. He died in our bed, and now I have to raise our baby alone. So, just tell me what you want from me and leave,” she could feel all the anger she’d been holding back at Caroline bubbling up. She had met Daniel after they’d divorced, but that didn’t matter to Caroline.
“That little homewrecker. I was married to him for twenty years! And we were together for five before that! I gave him my whole youth and he just trades me in like it’s nothing,” that’s what she would always say. She had the speech rehearsed. She’d tell it any chance she could to anyone who would listen.
“Don’t worry about her,” Daniel would tell Dinah and he’d crinkle his nose, push up his glasses, and go back to working on a case like he always did in the afternoons. Dinah would sit in the chair in his home office and read while he worked. She liked to keep him company, and he would look up and smile every now and again. That was all Dinah needed. She was never a talker. She didn’t need grand displays of affection. She didn’t think she would get married at all, and once they got married neither of them thought they would have any children. They had a way of surprising each other, but she guessed that was what happened if you said you loved someone and meant it.
But, here Dinah was. Right in front of Caroline without Daniel in between them. She was still holding Maria even though her arms were growing tired. She didn’t ever want to put her down.
“I want his shoes.
“Yes. I bought them for him. Every pair.”
“Caroline, he’s bought new shoes since then,” Dinah couldn’t believe how ridiculous she could be. Then, Caroline started to wail. People turned around to see who was causing such a fit, and Maria began to cry in response. Dinah had just buried the love of her life, and now she was fighting with his ex-wife about shoes in the cemetery.
“Okay, okay. You can have his shoes. All of them,” she just wanted her to stop, “Why don’t you come by next week and you can pick them up?” Caroline agreed to this and let her go. Dinah immediately packed up his shoes when she got home and went to sleep.
The next week, Caroline came by the house. Dinah wanted to give her the bag and that be it, but it wasn’t.
“Can’t we have a cup of coffee?” she asked.
“You want to have coffee? We have never had a civil conversation, and you want to sit in my living room and have coffee?” Dinah was again blown away by Caroline’s brazenness.
“I think Daniel would’ve wanted us to support each other,” she looked at Dinah with those big eyes that made her look younger than she was.
“Fine, come in,” she replied with reluctance.
“You know, if you painted the living room a shade or two brighter blue, it would bring more light into the house,” she craned her neck up at the window and twisted it to look around the room. She loved acting like she knew things.
“Thanks. I’ll consider it,” she turned on the coffee maker and stared at Caroline on her couch.
“It was a heart attack?” Caroline was perched at the edge of the couch.
“You know it was a heart attack.” Dinah’s voice came out soft.
“Right, of course,” Caroline stared at the floor as Dinah brought in two cups.
“I don’t have any milk. I haven’t been to the store.”
“You don’t want to show your face, do you?”
“Excuse me?” she almost choked on her words.
“I just meant, you don’t want to be around people yet. Have them come up to you and tell you ‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’” she took a sip, “They don’t understand. They didn’t know him. Not like we did.” Dinah snapped her head around at ‘we.’
“We are not friends. We loved a man and now he’s dead and one of us has been trying to bring the other down for ten years.”
“And I feel awful about that, Dinah, really, I do,” she reached for Dinah’s hand, but she pulled back, “We are connected in a way that neither of us wanted, but there isn’t a thing we can do about it. I am never going to judge your grief. Don’t you see that? I know I’ve been hateful, and I am ashamed of how I acted at Daniel’s funeral, but I want to help you.”
Dinah didn’t know what to say. She felt like she was being tricked. She had spent all this time hating Caroline, being afraid of her, but she was right. They had a bond that was strong whether they liked it or not. Caroline started coming over every week for coffee. Sometimes, they didn’t say anything at all. It was comforting to be with someone who understood what you were going through without having to say it. However, it wasn’t long before Dinah felt the pressure of Caroline’s kinship. She had lost all sense of boundaries, or maybe she never had them to begin with, but she would show up at all hours in tears. She would catch her in Daniel’s office, looking for things of his. Dinah knew it was grief. She felt it too, but it felt like Caroline’s grief sucked all the air out of the room. Dinah couldn’t be like that. She had Maria who was still a baby. Caroline had no one.
After a few months, Dinah got a call from the police station.
“Hello, is this Dinah Haze?” a voice she recognized asked.
“Hey, Dinah, it’s Markus from the sheriff’s department?”
“Of course, how are you?” Dinah had gone to school with Markus.
“I’m fine. Listen, I won’t keep you long, but I am calling out of courtesy. Caroline Haze came in to my office yesterday and told a wild tale of how you killed your husband. Now, we don’t believe a single word she said, but I wanted you to know. I think it might be a good idea to file a restraining order because she had some things from your house as ‘evidence’,” Dinah nearly dropped her phone.
“Thank you for calling me. Can I come by the station tomorrow to talk about a restraining order?”
“I will be expecting you. And I am so sorry for bringing all this up again. I know it’s been hard enough on you.”
“Yes, thank you. I’ll see you soon,” she hung up and sank down onto the floor. How could she? After Dinah had extended her every kindness, granted her every request? She wanted to see the good in Caroline that Daniel always had. He would never lose the sweet spot he had for her, and Dinah was fine with that. She knew he loved her. How could she?
“How could she?” Dinah said out loud as she drove to Caroline’s house. She had to confront her. She wanted Caroline to tell her to her face how she thought she killed Daniel. She wanted to know how she thought she did it. Why she did it. What evidence did Caroline find in the home they shared together?
“Don’t worry about her,” that’s what Daniel would tell her. She could see him now, wrinkling his nose, pushing up his glasses. She could hear him telling her that he loved her. She could hear his terrible singing. She could hear the noise he made when he read something he didn’t agree with, and the scoff when he had thought of something clever before he shared it with her. She smelled the cologne he wore, like sea salt and Sunday mornings. When they got in their one big fight, when she told him that she thought he was embarrassed to be seen with her, he cried all night. He told her he loved her, and that he would scream it from the rooftops even if it gave him heart palpitations. This made her laugh and she caught herself laughing again in the car. She did not want to remember Caroline’s version of him. The version of him that was status, that was property.
She parked across the street and walked across, without looking, and pounded on the door.
“Dinah, what a surprise,” Caroline smiled and Dinah wanted to slap her across her smug face.
“Did you tell the police I killed Daniel?”
“Dinah, where would you get an idea like that?”
“Don’t lie to me, Caroline, did you tell the police that I killed him?”
“Didn’t you?” and with that Dinah could see the delusion. She could see the madness in her eyes. She wasn’t sad, she was insane. She had been driven crazy by love or jealousy, and she could not stand to not be the only Mrs. Haze. The Mrs. Haze who received the ‘I’m sorries’ and the sad looks. She wanted to play the grieving widow, but Dinah had taken that from her just as she thought she had taken her husband.
“You can have everything that he owned, Caroline, all of it. You can live in our house for all I care. I’m leaving. I’m going to go live with my sister. I am going to raise Maria. I am going to tell her all about her father, but you, you can keep all the stuff. You can have the image, you can be his wife if you want. I don’t care! I don’t care about any of it! He’s dead, and none of it matters! In some sick way, being near you made me feel like he was still alive. If you still hated me over him then he was still here. But I don’t want to keep him alive that way.”
“I don’t need your charity. I don’t need to tell me I am his wife because I always was. I always will be. He was in perfectly good health until he met you and I just know-”
Dinah slapped her. Right across the face. She shocked herself by it and Caroline’s eyes widened, taking up the part of her face that wasn’t her gaping mouth.
“Don’t say another word. I don’t ever want to hear you speak again,” Dinah walked backwards to the sidewalk, looking Caroline in the eyes until she reached her car.
She drove back home and picked up Maria from the neighbors.
“Do you want to go see a movie tonight, sweetheart?” she cooed as she carried Maria inside. Maria shook her head and buried it into her mother’s arm. “Okay, we will see a movie tonight, and tomorrow we will call your Aunt Katherine,” she knew she was talking to herself. She turned on the light and the living room and looked at the remnants of her life. She started putting pictures in boxes. She would keep those. She would keep his favorite tie and his encyclopedias. She found his glasses in a drawer and cried for forty-five minutes straight.
“It’s just a thing,” she told herself. But she slept with the glasses pressed against her chest.
She would keep those too.