The Other Woman

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writergrrl


The bagels were stale. Sighing, Mildred gave them a toss into the stainless steel garbage can that stood sentinel alongside the refrigerator. A twosome of past-due eggs in their brown cardboard container, along with half a tub of cottage cheese met the same fate.

With a satisfying swish a quartet of sausage rolls followed, ending the refrigerator’s weekly exorcism.

After 24 years of dealing with Howard’s parade of she-devils Mildred was a connoisseur of eliminating the past due. The unredeemable.

A sated Mildred gazed out the window. It was 6:30 and Howard would be home soon. Her gazed lingered over the freshly dug trench.

Howard’s indiscretions began with a teenage cashier at Leask’s grocery. Then a co-ed cheerleader. She was followed by a string of Elizabeth Arden-wearing-up-hair-doing-martini-swilling harlots.

But, Howard had always came home to roost.

The latest, however was different. This one somehow had broken the ties that bind. It was not just the bitch this time that goaded Mildred; it was the man’s attitude.

Howard, naturally, never brought any of dalliances home. If she happened to answer the phone when one of them called, his story was that they were just friends, or clients. He had always seemed embarrassed, by their home, their life, even her. He had made quite a success of himself. But he had forgotten who had gotten him there. She had worked at least two jobs to get him through college, then law school.

When he got a cell phone, and she could no longer listen to him make hurried, whispered plans with his lovers on the extension in her bedroom, Mildred was not deterred. While Howard may have had the leg up academically, Mildred was resourceful. Taking full advantage of the modern age, she skulked through his emails. Gleaning bits and pieces about the paramours—their address, phone numbers, where they worked.

Once she hired a private investigator. It was a tough case for her to crack. In that instance she was only able to garner a given name and phone number from the torn bits of paper at the bottom of Howard’s wire trash pail. Her stomach gurgled watching the investigator’s video. There he was eating with this woman at their favorite restaurant. The next frame showed them holding hands. Then they were kissing. There was another shot of him coming out of her house at three in the morning with his hair tousled and clothes a bit rumpled, grinning, just like a little boy.

The confrontations were not always pleasant. Most times she was able to just threaten them, or rare occasions she had to dip into the pocketbook, and two times the other women ended up in the backyard. Howard usually moped around for a bit.

But the latest inamorata was very different. Howard had begun to flaunt her. First it was spending nights at a time away. “Business trip, see you in three days,” was the standard issue excuse.

“On the weekend?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

“Mmhmm,” came the distracted reply.

She watched as he busied himself with the overnight bag.

Mildred knew that meticulous as Howard was, he did not lint-brush his dress socks.

After a few Fridays of this routine, Howard made an announcement. “I’m bringing a very important client home with me tonight. And I want you to be nice.”

“Of course, darling,” she replied. “I’ll be nice. I’ll be nice as pie,” she smiled.

“Besides, you two have a lot in common. I think you might like each other,” he added lightly.

Mildred met the other woman at the door. Silently she took her cream raincoat and led the woman into the dinning room. Howard pulled out a chair for his guest.

By the time she served the roasted chicken and steamed asparagus, Howard and the woman were lost in a debate about Nietzsche. The woman called him Howie and sat shoulder to shoulder to him at the dark-stained maple dining table.

Mildred took the other woman’s inventory. Quel surprise. Blond, hair done up. Elizabeth Arden.

Silent, Mildred ogled the couple. Convinced that, underneath the table Howard’s hand was resting on the woman’s bare knee, she spent the reminder of the meal willing the other woman to combust.

After the chocolate-swirl cheesecake, she cleared the plates, and addressed the woman. “Well, Howard has had a long day, and has to get up early tomorrow to catch the train into the city, we’ll have to say good night. Now.” She got the woman’s coat from the brass rack by the front door and waited.

“We still have some things to go over, for her case, it looks like we’ll have to put in a long night,” Howard stated, meeting her steely stare with his own.

The woman tucked a strand of brown hair over her ear and smiled.

“If you are tired, you can run along to bed. We can take care of ourselves,” Howard added.

Mildred made the pretense of going to bed. After slipping on her nightdress, she crept to the second floor landing and listened. She heard some murmuring and then the screen door slide open.

To get a good view of the backyard’s deck she crept into his room across the hall. Grinding her teeth she watched the two figures remove their clothing and slide into the hot tub. She eyed them, sipping wine, his arms around her. Then they kissed.

Mildred felt a hard lump start forming deep in her chest. Her stomach gurgled. Cold sweat left a thin trail down her sharp nose.

This morning she called the woman and invited her over for some tea and cheesecake.

Mildred and the other woman did not exchange in small talk. “It’s over,” Mildred said, as soon as the woman stepped inside. Spitting at Mildred, the woman told her to give up. That nobody would come between her and ‘Howie.’ She abated that they were soulmates that Howie had told her everything. She knew what she was like and she wasn’t going to chase her away or buy her out like the others.

Mildred’s stomach gurgled. She raised her hidden hand and brought the frying pan down on the woman’s up-do. Her stomach settled.

Long ago, before the other women, five-year-old Howard had taken her hand, looked her dead in the eye, and said “I’ll love you forever, Mommy and I’ll never leave you.”

She was going to hold him to it.
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E-mail: t_doerr[at]hotmail.com

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