Her Widow Excerpt 21Published October 29, 2018
We are in a drought in spite of the recent rains, and are not allowed to water our lawns.
I received a call three days ago from the New York City Police.
Last month Allyson died alone in her condo of a brain hemorrhage and the city has been looking since for someone to identify her body. I just return from doing that.
Apparently, Allyson lay on the floor of her condo for more than a week, until her body began to decompose and a neighbor complained of the smell. It was not surprising to me that Allyson’s absence went unnoticed. She led a solitary life after we broke up.
As a result of Allyson’s body being undiscovered for days, her face was grossly swollen and her flesh nearly black in color.
Her body lay on a slab in the morgue, wrapped in a white sheet that hid everything but her head. It crushed me to see her so damaged and forsaken. I had taken your scapular down with me to be buried with her. Lifting her head to place the scapular around her neck, I saw a purple pool of blood like a gel where her head had been resting.
The Allyson I knew from my experience of her was an avid reader, a critical thinker, and a kind and generous woman. I knew nothing about her life before me except the stories she told me which turned out to be false: an aristocratic family from Maryland, a father who had been a prisoner of war in the Pacific, and her college years at Sweet Briar. The explanation Allyson eventually gave me for her lies was that she was covering the five years that she had been in prison for passing bad checks, but it wasn’t reasonable those years required an entirely made up life and Allyson never showed me any evidence that the new story was true.
You were the only one in my life who didn’t advise me to hire a private detective to find out who Allyson was.
Allyson knew her deceptions and denials eroded my trust in her, yet she chose never to show me evidence of her past: no letters, no legal documents, no snapshots of family or friends from her past. It was an extraordinary cover-up but there was nothing threatening about Allyson.
After my trip to the morgue, the police let me into Allyson’s condo so I could set a compassionate trap for her cat. Before we entered, I was warned that I might be shocked by what I saw.
The door was difficult to open because behind it was a shopping cart heaped with cans of food. The hallway on the other side of that was a foot deep in clothes, some in cleaners’ plastic bags and some never worn with original price tags. Below my feet where I stood in Allyson’s hallway was a coat on top of a pantsuit on top of a dress, creating a thick rug of personal clothes. The police sergeant and I had to walk down the hall on this “rug” to the kitchen.
We found the room that had been Allyson’s kitchen packed, floor to ceiling, with large black plastic garbage bags filled with who knew what, obstructing cabinets, stove, refrigerator, and sink. Among the fifty or so bags were a vacuum cleaner and a tall ladder.
The sergeant and I hobbled on toward the room at the end of the hall, a combined living room/dining room. Lining the walls of that room, floor to ceiling, were books, magazines, newspapers, and records shrinking the room to half its size and leaving a jumble of furniture with rugs, pillows, blankets, and towels, some never used with price tags still on them, others tattered and stained. A black lacquer dining table stood apart from the jumble but had a jumble of its own on top of it: a hoard of keys and coins, dishes and silverware, jewelry and mail—bills that had never been opened.
The sergeant told me it would be all right if I touched something, but I was not to remove anything. Then, having said that, he contradicted himself.
“Except that,” he said, pointing to a tiny gold object on the corner of the lacquer table. “You can have that,” he said, but I had moved on, pulling my shirttail out of my pants so I could lift my collar up and over my nose and mouth. The sickening sweet odor in the condo reminded me of anatomy lab in college where the drums holding our cadaver cats were located.
The sergeant was waiting for me to acknowledge the piece of jewelry, and the good girl I can be in intimidating circumstances took a step back to the table, lifted the object he was pointing at, and dropped it in the pocket of my jeans without examining it.
A patch of floor in the bedroom beyond was stained with Allyson’s dried blood. Near that was a bed stacked with furniture to the ceiling. The sergeant recommended that I leave the compassionate cat trap in this room because it was clear that Allyson and her cat had been living in the small space she had hollowed out for a recliner, a small refrigerator, and a litter box.
The condo had another bedroom and bath, but I didn’t want to see more. I placed an open can of cat food in the trap and headed out, giving the officer a number to call me when the cat was rescued.
Three hours later, back in Catskill, I emptied my pockets. In my left was the sergeant’s business card. In my right pocket the tiny piece of gold from the black lacquer table.
At last, Catherine, I looked closely at the object. It was the gold crucifix I gave to you one Easter and you asked me to give to Allyson when you died.
Only weeks before you died, you and I sat together in bed with your leather box of jewelry between us that contained one watch, three rings, some bangle bracelets, several pairs of gold earrings, a pair of pearl earrings I gave you one Christmas, and the gold chain with the crucifix. You slipped the crucifix off the gold chain, put the cross in a small white envelope and the gold chain around my neck, saying, “Allyson will like having something you gave me.”
At home after your service, I gave Allyson and the others your mementos. Allyson’s eyes welled up with tears when she opened the white envelope, read your note and saw the crucifix.
How and why that tiny gold crucifix was chosen by the police officer, who knew none of us nor our relationships to each other, remains a mystery. How and why he broke his rule and selected something from the table cluttered with jewelry for me to take, remains a mystery.
Who whispered in the sergeant’s ear, Give that to Joan, could only have been you.
Dear Readers: This is the last excerpt from Her Widow that I will be writing. The book will be available for purchase on November 15th from this website, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and all fine book stores.
I hope you will continue to seek out my blog. I will advise you of readings I am doing. Should you belong to a group that would be interested in a reading from Her Widow, please contact me by email at: email@example.com. Thank you for your interest these weeks. If you are a fan of Her Widow, I would appreciate your saying so in a reader review on Amazon.com