This story is by Jeanne Franc and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I penned the last dot on the flimsy paper, tongue clenched between my lips, fingers trembling with the effort. Rosalie, a brick hanging from the rope cinched round her waist, blew the note toward the bed where it fluttered down onto the pillow beside our handsome quarry. She smiled and said, “Success. Three nights in a row.” She leaned toward me and whispered, her breath adding heat to the fetid air around us. “Now what?”
The crowd of bruised and battered women behind us leaned forward, craning their necks to hear my reply. “Watch,” I said.
Sunlight snaked through the slats of Cedric’s blinds and he opened his eyes. He yawned and stretched before turning toward the window. Cedric screamed, his face distorted in rage when he spotted the note lying next to him. He snatched the paper off the pillow, threw off the blanket and jumped up. He tore the note to shreds, threw them on the floor and stomped on them.
“This ends tonight!” He stormed into the bathroom and we heard the shower start.
We howled like hyenas.
I swiped away tears and said, “He’s got that right.” I nodded to the mob around me. “Rest up everyone, and gather back here after he has dinner.” The ladies nodded, then disappeared into dark shadowy corners.
After I had joined the ladies two nights before, (“you’re early,” Rosalie said), I snooped through Cedric’s neat and tidy house, a sharp contrast to my last apartment. That’s when I found our obituaries in his night stand. Some yellowed and curling-edged, others still crisp with a faint inky scent; all tucked inside a small case with a happy face sticker on the lid.
I told the others.
And that night, we, roiling like thunderclouds, watched as he tenderly fondled each piece of paper. He put the notices back in the case and turned off his lamp. “Natalie’s next,” he said.
Anger swept us around the room, each of us swearing and crying until finally exhausted, we slumped on top of one another, piled in the corners like tossed laundry. Meanwhile Cedric slept on, blissfully unaware of us.
“So many times I’ve wanted to smash his face,” said Rosalie. The others bobbed their heads in agreement. “But I can’t touch him.”
I felt the young woman under me squirm. “Let me up,” she said, then we stared at each other in amazement. “I never felt that before,” she said.
The others looked over. I motioned for them to join us, then I folded all of them into me. As we merged, I felt my strength grow. And then the plan was born. Singly, we could do nothing, could not cross the barrier. But together? With collective strength? Ah, that was a different story.
As I struggled writing our first note, Rosalie told us her story. “He began with me, Natalie. The summer I was seventeen. He was my first boyfriend. I was a tall, gangly kid, shy and naive, nervous and high strung. I couldn’t believe Cedric, one of the handsomest boys at school, was interested in me.”
They dated the whole summer and into the new school year. Cedric had been so romantic with flowers and small gifts, and Rosalie yielded to him one steamy night. (The ladies moaned, and I reminded them to stay focused.)
When Rosalie cried, he gave her his class ring and swore he would marry her right after graduation.
Then came Hallowe’en. (Some of the women wailed, and my hand wobbled.)
They had planned to go to the school dance. She was already in her costume, waiting for Cedric, who was late, to pick her up. Instead, the phone rang.
Cedric was laughing. “All ready for me? All dressed up? I can picture you pacing back and forth, asking ‘Where is he?’” (Collective rage bubbled. I felt the air burn and almost dropped the pen.)
He laughed some more, then told Rosalie he was breaking up with her, and that he was taking Juanita to the dance.
“I went crazy,” Rosalie said. “Sobbing on the phone, begging him. He just kept laughing. I screamed that he was a monster, and he hung up on me.”
Shame-faced, she admitted she had tied the brick around her waist and waded into the river. “Should have seen him giggle when he read the coroner’s verdict: suicide while of unsound mind.”
It was the same story for each of us. Not the prettiest, not the smartest, not the ones asked to dances and parties. So unsure of our femininity, we were each in therapy. Then suddenly chosen by the same handsome man. None of us could believe our luck. Wooed, courted, pampered until a week before Hallowe’en, and then an unwelcome silence. No answer to our calls or texts. Nothing until a contrite message the day of Hallowe’en: Pick you up at eight. Can’t wait to see you in your costume.
But of course, he didn’t come. He called instead. Then each of them doing the unthinkable on Hallowe’en night.
Except for me.
At five o’clock I heard the front door snick open. Cedric walked in, newspaper in hand. He fixed his supper and read the paper while he ate. When he got to page three and saw the headline about my death, he sputtered, food flying across the table.
“Bitch!” He threw his plate across the room. “Now you’ve ruined my record. Supposed to die tonight!”
We retreated to our room as Cedric continued to scream. It was time to complete the last note. We linked hands and I gathered their collective strength into me. Rosalie handed me the pen and paper.
I finished it just as the last trick and treater, bulging shopping bag over her arm, sped up the dark street. Rosalie picked up the paper and floated away..
“Not yet,” I said. “Wait until he’s settled.”
We watched Cedric get a knife from the kitchen drawer then put it under the couch before he lay down on it. “Wait ‘til that sneaking asshole breaks in tonight,” we heard him mutter. “Will be the last note he leaves.” One of the ladies giggled, and, startled, Cedric looked up. I put my finger to my lips and she quieted. Normally he couldn’t hear just one of us, but together our collective strength penetrated the barrier.
Long minutes passed then Cedric’s eyelids fluttered. I nodded to Rosalie and she drifted toward him and dropped the note.
It landed on his face. Cedric screeched, and flailed at his eyes. When his fingers closed on the flimsy paper, he shot up and turned on the table lamp.
I could feel my crowd’s excitement expand as his terror grew, and it fuelled my strength.
I turned the first dot into ‘E’. Cedric’s eyes bulged.
The next dot became ‘V’. Cedric was whimpering. He dropped the paper. Rosalie shifted into me.
The next dot. ‘E’
I felt our white-hot rage peak..
The note was complete.
Cedric shrieked and rolled off the couch. We dived toward him.
We all share Cedric now, locked inside our crowd, with the reminder of what we can do together, our note: ‘HAPPY FOREVER’.