Judith, I fled. It was too much for me—more than I had bargained for. I couldn’t sit in public and listen to this insane—or frighteningly sane—woman tell me she knew about my curse. I couldn’t hear Gina Tree say she knew about the teenage sadist who died from our New Year’s Eve brush. I could not bear to hear she found me through this teenager’s own mother! It was like being in a bad European film for the last two decades and, suddenly, half way through, a Quentin Tarantino wanna-be took over writing the script!
What the fuck?
A week passed before the phone call came. “I’m sure I have upset you, and I am sorry,” Gina spoke into my voicemail. “I never intended for that. Please, call me. I would like to talk to you, and of course we do still need to make plans for New Year’s.”
What I was I to do with this? Had anyone before ever been so hounded by a victim who wanted to die? Years of hiding from people, trying to protect them from my curse—and, now, this? I started wondering if it would even work if the person on the receiving end knew and wanted to die. I had never thought of such a scenario beforehand. Would she demand her money back should it not work? If I offered to return the contractual fee, would she accept it?
Most of all, I couldn’t stop the question reel in my head: What kind of mother hires out the death of her own teenaged son?
A desperate one—that’s who.
I felt terrible every time I saw Barbara over the last 10 years. With each accidental encounter, I plunged into self-doubt and guilt-infused alcholic rage spirals. Now, somehow, I felt even worse—worse in a way that a drink wouldn‘t mask. Barbara was a smart, professional woman, whom I respected—and, to be honest, feared. I only realized now the trap she must have been living in all these years.
Being a vet—patching up the tormented, burying the dead—was hard enough when the victims were animals. I guess when it was her other child…
I wandered around in a daze, feeling like Raskolnikov, doubting religious salvation would find me. Like every year for most of my adult life I spent both Thanksgiving and the holidays thereafter alone. Leftover Mexican food featured heavily on the menus for both meals. I stopped even noticing Hannukah years ago.
My parents’ birthdays—and Frank’s—came and passed. The days were short; it was colder. We were doing the “Top Ten Year-End” stuff we do at the paper every last week of December to mark the beginning of the New Year.
Gina’s priority mail envelopes were still on the kitchen table; I hadn’t been able to move them. The cash sat in the cardboard envelopes, clearly visable. If anyone had broken into my apartment during those two months, it would have been quite a haul. How often does breaking and entering yield $50,000 cash? And I would have gladly let it go.
New Year’s rolled around, and Gina’s messages on my voicemail were building in an increasingly frantic crescendo. I wouldn’t take her calls or call her back. I was settling in for a New Year’s Eve alone: bottle of wine, sleeping pills, a baguette and some goat cheese. Sleep beckoned by 8 p.m. on my agenda. At 6 o’clock, a knock came at my door. Surprised, I opened without asking who it was or looking through the spy hole.
“Oh! I am so glad you’re home!” Gina panted. She carried shopping bags stuffed with food, wines and champagne. She leaned against the door so I couldn’t close it. “I was worried I’d miss you.”
Before I knew what happened, she walked right into the apartment, through the living room. She began setting up in the kitchen. “What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“We are supposed to spend New Year’s Eve together, remember? We have a date!”
She smiled at me, punctuating her sentence with the baguette in her hand.
“Now I brought all kinds of things: I wasn’t sure what you liked or what you had—or we can go out if you would rather?”
She opened and closed cabinets, “Where do you keep your wine glasses?”
“Next one over to the left,” I sputtered.
“Thank you—ah! Here we go. Now, as I was saying: We could go out if you want; though, I don’t know if we are going to need to have reservations on New Year’s. It might be too late to get a good table or tickets somewhere. Chardonnay?”
She held out a glass for me.
Ms. Gwenyfar Rohler is the author of “The Contract Killer,” which runs every other week in encore through 2013.