This story is by Julie Mast and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Evelyn stared out the window overlooking her backyard. Her forehead fell forward and was pressed firmly against the glass, her eyes closed. The cold pane touched her skin and her reality sank deep leaving her body void and gray. She wanted to release the pain through tears, but fear and anger had squelched her ability to let them flow. The last couple of months played in her mind, starting with when she met Clark.
She had saved up money to take herself out to lunch and a matinee to celebrate her first week of retirement. She sat outside on the patio waiting for her iced tea and listening to a table of young women discuss their dating lives. Evelyn peeked over and realized she was conspicuous without her sunglasses. She reached down to grab them from her purse and an older gentlemen placed his hand on her shoulder. His voice was rich and steady, “Excuse me, may I borrow your chair?”
As she straightened up and looked at his face she saw tanned skin, a white grin and twinkling blue eyes. Although he was probably fifteen years her elder, she found herself caught off guard by his confident, square shoulders. When she nodded, he took the chair away and his expensive cologne hung in the air.
When Evelyn got up to leave Clark showed up behind her at the perfect time to help her with her chair. He asked her to go to dinner with him the next night and before she knew it his charm and ease somehow had her saying yes to a date before she could muster an excuse. Her first date in over twenty-five years.
She moved her head off of the window pane and looked down at her wrinkled, veiny left hand and noticed her wedding band. Clark had told her it was platinum with a perfect one carat diamond. It was silver plated with a cubic zirconia.
Her memory returned to her first marriage. She was standing waiting to walk down the aisle with her dad’s hand cupped around her delicate elbow. Evelyn remembered how she nervously rubbed her mom’s pearl necklace. She stared down at her Frank, her whole life was paved in front her—a beautiful home, two children and many friends to share their lives with. It all fell suddenly and achingly apart when Frank decided to leave her for another woman at work after six years of marriage. Evelyn never recovered. She was left with the house in the divorce settlement and thanks to her inept attorney, was given little else. Life became a struggle as a single mother working to make her house payments.
And now she had managed to marry yet another man that made her life implode. She got up from the window and splashed her face with cold water. She looked in the mirror and realized shame had painted gray circles under her eyes. Her kids were skeptical from the beginning. He was much older and Evelyn and Clark were discussing marriage after just a few weeks of dating long distance.
“Well Mom,” Henry said as he held the door for her, “he seems like a nice guy.” He followed her quick nervous steps to find a table in the coffee shop. He sat down with a heavy sigh. He put his elbows on the edge of the table and rested his chin on his hands. He paused and then said, “I’m just afraid he’s looking for someone to take care of him. You’ve spent your whole life working and taking care of us. Now you’re finally retired and have the freedom you’ve waited for.” Her face twitched as she started to speak, but her words had no air behind them. She paused and took a deep breathe. She began again slowly, “Henry, I know you are concerned. But I need this. I married your father with great hopes of a beautiful life and now I finally have found someone that just wants to spoil me. His wedding present is going to be a new BMW! I will love our life together.”
“Mom, I don’t have to tell you this. You need to love him.”
“Do I? I don’t know. I think I do love him. I fell for the love story before with your dad and it was well…crushing. I want a marriage that promises security and friendship. Clark never wants me to worry about money again. How can I say no to that?” She rubbed at her eyes to keep them from twitching and took a long sip of coffee.
The day after the wedding Clark surprised her by telling her they were going to move into a smaller temporary home. He explained, “Now that we have found each other and we are going to travel the world, why be tied down to a large estate?”
Evelyn answered, “You have been coming here to visit me and I wanted to go see where you lived..and meet some people from your life there.”
The day after the wedding Clark told her to get in the car with a suitcase. She thought he was whisking her away but instead they drove into a modest Mennonite village. Small homes were neatly kept with identical landscapes. Large bark chips and perfectly trimmed bushes. He pulled into one of these homes and pushed the garage door opener that was tucked above his visor. The garage door opened and Evelyn saw an old lawn mower, rakes and storage boxes.
She looked at him with wide eyes and her throat went dry.“Do you live here?”
“This is my other property. I used to rent it but now I live here when I’m visiting. I ended up selling my estate a few weeks ago. All the money I made will go into funding our world travels.”
Evelyn felt instantly unsteady in her life. Her children’s words floated through her head. Words of warning not to sell all of her things, not to marry Clark right away, not to let him take care of her retirement accounts.
She shook her head and walked down the hallway from the bathroom into the kitchen. Why hadn’t she seen the warning signs? Memories came flooding in from the day she met the neighbors. Clark left to get the paper and she decided to introduce herself to the neighbor next door. She stepped up to the door and knocked. The blinds shifted in the bay window that overlooked the porch and overheard concerned and muffled conversations. Finally, a woman in her fifties with a very tight and well planned bun answered the door. She adjusted her thin wire framed glasses and said, “Hello Sister Evelyn.”
Evelyn studied her for a moment. She was silent for so long, she realized she looked foolish. She cleared her throat and muttered, “Hello there. I’m Clark’s wife and I wanted to introduce myself..but it seems you know me already.”
The neighbor face creased with concern. She said, “Oh dear, are you alone? Do you need help? You know you are supposed to stay in the house, right?”
“Stay in the house? I know Clark doesn’t live here all the time. Did you know we got married?” She was beginning to sound desperate as she was trying to convince the neighbor of the truth.
The woman at the door whispered back to the man who was staring at Evelyn through the window, “She’s escaped. Clark said she’s mentally ill. He saved her from being put into a home by their older sister.” The neighbor then looked at Evelyn who seemed to be getting hysterical. “Oh sister. Come on inside until your brother gets home.”
“What? My brother? He is my husband!” Evelyn said as she started running backwards towards Clark’s house. She found him just getting out of his car.
“What is going on here?” Evelyn’s words lurched out of her mouth in a loud scream.
Clark looked puzzled as the neighbor walked up behind Evelyn. The neighbor looked at Clark and whispered as if Evelyn couldn’t hear, “She escaped and told us she was your wife.”
Evelyn ran into the house and scrambled through her purse to find her phone. Clark walked in and locked the door behind him with a key. “You won’t find your phone… or your money for that matter. I have always lived here and you didn’t marry a millionaire. You are now my sister that I have saved from a mental institution. You will stay here to cook and clean for me. You were just so desperate for a glamorous life,” Clark said as he looked calmly into her eyes.
All the memories of that day came to rest heavy in her body. Evelyn shrank. She turned to steady herself at the counter and began to sob silently into herself. She had married a monster.