By: Michael C. Keith
Ah Love! Could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire.
–– Edward Fitzgerald
Sixty-eight wasn’t really old by 2014’s standards. In fact, some people said it was the new fifty-eight. Of course, that was bullshit, thought Ed Bentley. The way he felt, sixty-eight was the new seventy-eight. His joints throbbed and ached, and he was convinced the harsh Maine weather was the major cause of his bodily woes. As he saw it, the only remedy to his failing health was a dramatic geographical change––a move south.
“I’ll die if I stay up here,” he’d complain to his wife. To which she would invariably respond, “And I’ll die if I leave here.” A tense stalemate had continued over the issue.
Both Bentleys were native Bangorites but while Edith remained content and happy with her birthplace, Ed had long ago lost his affection for the small central Maine city, largely because of his declining health. So the war of words continued as Ed felt steadily worse.
“There are other places on earth, you know. This is not the only place to live, Edie.”
“Well, it’s the only place I want to live. Stop complaining. This is where we belong. It’s our hometown.”
“Let’s at least spend the winters down in nice warm Florida. It would sure help with my arthritis. We could get a little condo. Real estate is cheap right now, and mortgage rates are low, too.”
“But I love the winters here. You know that. And I’m the president of the Blue Hat Ice Skating Club. I’m not going to give that up.”
“How about a little consideration for how I feel. You know I’m in pain, especially when it gets really cold,” complained Ed, his frustration compounding.
“You have meds. Besides, I think it’s mostly in your head, Ed. You look fine. Lord, you even did cross country last winter.”
“Just that once, and I paid the price, too. Haven’t fully recovered yet. Look, can’t we at least go down to Florida and check out places?”
“I don’t like it down there. I told you that after we went to Disney World.”
“That was fifteen years ago, and we only stayed in the park. You really didn’t see the state. There are some beautiful places there.”
“It’s beautiful here, Ed, and we don’t have all those bugs. Remember those flying cockroaches?”
“Palmetto bugs. They’re tropical and they don’t bother people. Besides, everyone uses an exterminator and that takes care of it. You’re just looking for things to complain about. Half the people we know have retired down to Florida, and they love it.”
“No, not all of them. I spoke with Millie Carter the other day, and she says she can’t stand the heat and humidity there and wishes they never moved away.”
“Her husband loves it there. Says he feels better than he has in ages. Millie is always griping about something. She did that when they were up here. You know that, Edie. You even said so.”
“I did not. Can we stop talking about this? I’m not moving south, and that’s final!” said Edie, in a tone Ed knew all too well and resented.
Bitch! I don’t know why I stay married to you, Ed brooded, as his wife left the room. A moment later, he went over to his good friend’s house to vent. He had done so on many occasions.
* * *
“Same old argument, right?” asked Duke Stefan, inviting his neighbor into his house.
The widowed horror writer had lived across from the Bentleys for two years, and they had become well acquainted with him. Ed had become closer to Duke because he had found he was someone he could confide in, especially regarding his issue with Edie.
“She’s so goddamn hard-headed. Won’t even consider my feelings. I’ve had it,” grumbled Ed.
“You’ve said that before.”
“Well, this time I mean it. She won’t give an inch. Here I am literally dying by degrees because of the miserable winters up here, and she won’t even consider spending a few lousy months away from her beloved Bangor. She just thinks about herself. Thirty-eight years of marriage and she won’t compromise for my sake.”
“Just leave her. Go to Florida yourself. That will end the impasse once and for all.”
“I would, but . . .”
“Well, to be frank about it, she has all the money. Inheritances from her family. My retirement savings are pretty small.”
“So, you said Florida was cheap to live.”
“But we could live really well only if she’d agreed to move there, too.”
“You can’t have it all, Ed.”
“But I want it all, and I deserve it after all these years with her.”
“Well, there seems only one remedy to your dilemma.”
“Get rid of her.”
“What?. Just like they do in your novels?”
“There are times when it’s the only way to fix an impossible situation.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Not at all. You want something from her that she’s unwilling to give you, and without it you say you’re going to die. So what other answer is there? It’s really kind of a self defense.”
Ed looked out the window to his shuttered Cape and thought about all the years he had devoted to making his wife comfortable and happy. She doesn’t care how I feel. She knows I’m getting worse with this arthritis, but she won’t make any effort to help me out. She’s only concerned with herself, and it’s never going to change, unless . . .
“How could I get rid of her? Nothing grotesque, like in your books. I don’t want her to suffer.”
“She doesn’t have to suffer.”
“Things aren’t great, but we did have a lot of good, or at least, decent years together.”
“Of course you did. But that’s behind you, right? Now you’re unhappy and she doesn’t care.”
“This is really crazy. I’d never get away with it.”
“Are you kidding? The statistics show that the majority of homicides are never solved. It’s all in the way you do it.”
“Make it look like an accident? Maybe she falls down the stairs. Impossible to tell if she was pushed.”
“I’ve got to go. This is crazy. I can’t believe we’re even talking about this,” said Ed, suddenly feeling unnerved.
“So stop complaining and accept the situation, Ed.”
“Hard to accept anything when you’re in almost constant pain,” replied Ed, displaying the swollen joints in his hands.
“Your decision, my friend. It’s you or her. Winter is on its way, and it’s crippling you.”
* * *
Ed decided to make one more desperate plea to Edie in the hope that she might finally come around to the idea of spending at least some of the cold months down south, but he found her as unyielding as ever on the subject.
“Stop badgering me about moving. This is our home, my home, and I have no intention of leaving just because you have a little arthritis. Enough already!”
I’ll have to do it. I’ll kill her, thought Ed, his mind made up. Push her down the stairs. Make it look like a freak accident.
“I’m going to replace the stair runner. It’s all stained and faded,” said Ed, initiating his plan.
“Good idea. Do something. Get our mind off your little problems. Let me know when you get it removed. We’ll go to Carpet Mart and find another runner. I’ll be in my sewing room.”
Ed got some tools and began removing the carpet in order to expose the hard wood steps beneath it. If she falls down these, she won’t be around to talk about it, he thought, feeling better about his future prospects. A little push, and Florida here I come.
When he had removed the runner, he stood at the top of the second floor stairs and called for his wife. The second he did, however, he sensed someone behind him and suddenly he was falling. As his head slammed against the oak steps, his neck snapped. Edie stood at the top of the stairs and smiled. A moment later, the doorbell rang, and she answered it, climbing over her husband’s body.
“Done,” she said to the person standing before her.
“Best damn plot I ever came up with,” observed Duke, embracing her.
* * *
(Michael C. Keith writes fiction and teaches college. http://www.michaelckeith.com)