Joined: Sep 2010
Location: South of the Great North Woods
Meet Francine, the first story in Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts.
Awakened by the sound of a closing door, I regained cons-ciousness just in time to hear the spring mechanism of the lock latch but not soon enough to see Francine leave. I opened my eyes, stretched, yawned, pulled off the blanket, and sat up.
As I entered the kitchen, on a quest to locate the coffee-maker, the first thing that attracted my attention was not the object of my search but a large note held on the refrigerator by my collection of fruit magnets.
Dear David, please pick up some food for the snakes. They haven’t eaten in days. I am afraid they might start attacking one another. Love, Francine.
In disbelief, I took the note off the fridge and looked at it more closely. Immediately, I was presented with two problems: First, we did not have snakes. Second, Francine was in her room.
I turned my attention to the surroundings. In the angora-wool carpet, a muddy stain outlined the imprint of whoever had placed the note on the fridge. I found my measuring tape and knelt down to investigate. It was size fourteen, men's.
Francine being a small, rather petite woman could not have left such an imprint. There was only one other person with the keys to our place—the doorman. I cursed his name, and while the words hung in the still kitchen air, I made myself a fresh pot of coffee—black, just like Francine’s hair.
After the second mug and while the third one rested com-fortably on the counter, exhausted by the futile resistance it put against my tight grip, I went to the bathroom and washed up. Today was an important day; I was going to be promoted.
Clean–shaven, deodorant under my armpits, hair brushed to the side, I took out a clean shirt, a pair of socks, shoes, a tie, and the newly pressed suit I had hung out yesterday. Ten minutes later, I was standing in front of the mirror straightening my belt. Ready in record time, I realized I had a few minutes to spare, and so I decided to say goodbye to Francine.
Making my way across the kitchen to her room, I fished my keys out of my pocket, unlocked the two oversized padlocks on her door, and unhooked them. I then gently knocked. No answer—she was probably asleep. Slowly, I opened the door and turned the light on.
The dress she adored so much laid spread on the armchair, the stereo played soft classical music (her favorite), and the bed was made.
“Today is a big day for me,” I whispered. “I am finally getting the promotion we have been hoping for.”
She didn’t respond, nor did she mention that I had been waiting for that promotion for the past eight years. I liked that about her—her ability to remain understanding, no matter what.
“When I come home, you can put on your dress, and we will celebrate. You know how much I like it when you wear nice clothes.” I pointed to the armchair. Since she remained silent, I went over and kissed her. My lips left a moist imprint on her forehead.
As usual, she looked stunning. She hasn’t changed a bit over the past fifteen years we have been together. I wished I could say the same about me, but then again, I did take better care of her than I did of myself. I kissed her again, wiped the smudge mark off the glass, and placed the picture frame back on the bedside table.
“I’ll call you if I am running late.”
She didn’t respond.
I left the room, locked the door behind me, and started on my third coffee.
Her silence was, at times, disconcerting. Nevertheless, over the years I had gotten used to it. After all, how much conversation can one expect from a woman who didn’t even know I existed, other than that one awkward encounter before I married her.
Francine was a movie star. In my mind she still is. Her acting blew me away the first time I saw her on the silver screen. Beautiful, innocent, more talented than any woman I ever knew. I had to have her. At first, she refused to return my calls and never thanked me for all the flowers I sent, but when we met face to face, she gave in. We had gotten married the next morning. Of course, since she was famous, we had to keep the ceremony private, so we exchanged our vows in my apartment and without witnesses. Only the annoying doorman heard us speak as he brought the flowers upstairs. I didn’t let him see her, but since he had his own key, I had installed the padlocks on her door. It’s really a shame that she never made another movie after that. I guess one cannot be an obedient wife and a great actress at the same time.
I finished my coffee, washed the mug, placed it on the rack to dry, checked all the switches on the various kitchen appliances, and then left.
I took the elevator to the lobby.
Passing by the doorman, I asked him what he had been doing in my apartment.
“I don’t know what you are talking about!” he said angrily.
“Oh please, you’re the only one with a key. I wish you would leave us alone. Just last week my wife complained about some olives that disappeared from our fridge. If this doesn’t stop, I will have to talk to the super.”
“Wife?” He burst out laughing. “You are still sticking to that story, eh?”
“Just leave us alone!” I turned to leave but before I had the chance to put my hand on the doorknob, I heard his sly remark.
The word was uttered softly, clearly not meant for my ears, but since the lobby was quiet, I heard it. In one swift move I slid back and punched him in the stomach before he even realized that I was still inside the building. He folded, resembling a badly scribbled question mark. Since I had to be at work, I didn’t wait for him to straighten up.
At the workplace the morning passed very quickly. After my lunch break, my boss called me to his office. He asked me to close the door and motioned me to take a seat.
“David,” he began, “you have been with us for almost eight years now, so I will cut straight to the chase.”
“Yes sir, please do.”
“As you know, since Frank retired last week, his job is available. If you want it, it’s yours.”
“Thank you sir, I’d be honored.”
“Then consider it done.” He stretched out his arm toward me and shook my hand. “You deserve it. I’ll inform payroll to take care of the paperwork.”
“Thank you sir. I won’t let you down.”
I left his office and headed back to my cubicle. The news must have traveled quickly because my co–workers already had a cake on the table. We ate it, exchanged handshakes, praises, and resumed work. After eight years, I had finally made it to Mailroom Supervisor. Francine will be so happy.
I left as soon as the clock hit five. On the way home, I stopped by the supermarket, bought a party platter and a bottle of sparkling wine. I could have done better, after all I got a raise—twenty–six cents! But Francine had expensive taste, and I was saving for her anniversary ring.
I got back home, arranged the table, lit a candle, found my keys, and was about to unlock her door when I noticed that the padlocks were broken off. Furious, I rushed into her room, only to find it in a state of complete disarray. The sheets thrown onto the floor, her expensive dresses piled up in front of the closet, and her picture frame broken. I picked it up and brushed the glass fragments off her beautiful smile. All this and she still retained her smile. She was the perfect woman. Even the words crudely scratched on the wall above the headboard—FREAK—did not seem to bother her.
I scrubbed the wall, ironed and hung up all her dresses, made the bed, and found a new picture frame in the drawer. Fortunately, the intruder had not discovered my stash of her portraits. I brought the new frame with me to the kitchen, sat down, and ate the party platter with her. She continued to smile. After cleaning up and washing the dishes (unlike me, Francine never made a mess), I brought her back to her room.
“Goodnight sweetheart,” I said before kissing her on the lips. The glass felt cold. “Oh, I got the promotion. If you’d like, I can buy you even better clothes now.”
I took her silence as a sign of approval.
I went to the garage, started my car, and noticed that I didn’t have enough gas. I’d better get some…Francine wouldn’t want me to get stranded. The gas station was nearby, so I drove there, filled up, and drove slowly back toward my building. The doorman’s shift was ending in twenty minutes.
He walked out, an air of confidence about him. Without looking left or right, he started crossing the street toward his car. I stepped on the gas. The impact knocked him down. I got out and went around to see how he was doing.
“Who gave you a license you idiot!” he screamed without realizing it was me.
The moonlight struck the shiny surface of my baseball bat.
“What the fuck are you going to do with that?” he said with a smirk, recognizing me.
I had talked more than usual throughout the day; I was tired of talking, so instead of answering, I let the bat do it for me. He didn’t even see it coming.
His skull caved in under the blow. One heavy downward stroke—that was all it took. I threw him in the trunk and drove off.
The road wound and spiraled into the distance in front of me, as if it were trying to escape the sharp light from the reflectors. I tuned in to Francine’s favorite radio station—they were playing Mozart.
An hour later, I pulled into the parking lot of the abandoned mill, turned off the lights, and shut off the engine. It was quiet. I recalled the feeling of serenity I had had the first time I came here, and I was glad that not much had changed.
The moon shone silently on me as I dug a deep grave. I ran into some ledges, so I had to break the doorman’s legs to fit him in it. Other that that, it went smoothly. With the grave filled back in, I walked to the other side of the building and sat by the flowers I had planted in the spring. Camellias—Francine loved those. I was glad to bury him on the other side—she didn’t deserve to be next to someone who didn’t share my respect for her.