Black Purse

March 31, 2014
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Monica Stafford was tall, and voluptuous with the kind of soft, upturned, plump mouth men were thick and dim-witted about. Her brown hair was long and straight, her eyes a glassy brown, and today, she was dressed in black—a dress, a coat, and thick black furs to ward off the frosty winter air.
She was on a mission.
It was a miserable day, the air frigid and unfeeling, the sky a petulant, dreary gray. And the chill was, in actuality, getting to her. She would have to stop and take refuge somewhere warm soon.
The cold air was like water, she decided. It lapped at her, soaking into her clothes, tearing at her exposed skin, splintering inside her and sucking on her bones.
But still, her black stilettos clicked on, a staccato rhythm against the cracked gray pavement, keeping time with the large, expensive looking black purse she swung back and forth idly as she walked.
Richard would be arriving soon.
She used to love him. It wasn’t always this endless spiral of screams echoing down the hall—a struggle of unpaid bills and alcohol. Love used to be so amusing, so charming, so heady and intoxicating. But this January would be thirteen years. Thirteen years wedded.
How ironic, she thought wryly. Richard himself had always been the superstitious one, crowing about all that thirteen nonsense. For once in his life, he was right.
The nagging scent of deception started with a whisper, and became a vicious shout.
Truthfully, Monica prided herself on her housework. She was meticulous about it all, and loved nothing more than a neat, clean house, complete with clean dishes in the cupboard and laundry tumbling warmly in the dryer. Everything had a place. The plates were three finger lengths to the left inside of the cupboard, and the glasses all had to be turned to rest on their rims, three finger lengths way from the plates. Dirty shirts were pretreated, washed, dried, then ironed and starched before being hung on the second rack in the closet, collared shirts first. Beds had to be made, water wiped up from the sink, and each light switch in each room was flicked three times. Each door knob had to be turned three times, and each window sill had to be dusted three times. Monica suffered a rather severe case of OCD, and because of it, her house sparkled. It was a modest little place, with a bedroom, a small kitchen, a living room and a garage, but Monica adored it. A more important feature: a few little orange bottles of pills sitting on the bedside table. The list was long—the aforementioned OCD, coupled with depression, anxiety, paranoia—but the medication made her feel weighted down. Almost like a balloon with a fishing wieght tied to the string.
She worked much faster, cleaned better, thought neater without the bitter little pills.
It had been a Thursday, and she was sorting her husband’s shirts, looking for elusive stains hidden in the stiff white linens.
This was the whisper: Lipstick on his shirt, to be exact.
Sure enough, as simple as that, plump lip print. Just the right half, mind you, but still quite obviously a lip print. Candy apple red lips, on her husband’s white shirt. She thought back, wondering when she had kissed his collar.
If she had ever kissed his collar.
Monica had become conscious, with a sudden plummeting pit in her stomach, that even if she had, she owned no candy apple red lipstick. Candy apple red lipstick was for fast women. And there was nothing fast about soft, loyal, pretty Monica. She bit her tongue. Richard surely was not so stupid as to…cheat on her, was he, to have an affair? Richard could be messy, unfeeling, crass, awkward, and he was fond of his beer, but he was not unfaithful.
Or so she thought.
Then it had escalated, thickened. He was home much less often. He was always working late or in a meeting or perhaps at dinner with a coworker- anywhere but at home with his wife. He was less tender, less loving. He never kissed her anymore, much less anything else. When she inquired about his decreased affection, he merely said he was mentally exhausted from work or had too much to do around the house. Sometimes, when he moved quickly and stirred the air, she wondered if she was imagining the light waft of an unfamiliar floral perfume coming off his coat.
Whispers became shouts when he called her on a sleepy Friday afternoon. “Monica, I’ll need you to drop by the keys to our little apartment in Boston. I’m taking a few of my men up there for some beer and cards, a guy’s weekend. Things have been tough at the office. Could you do that?”
Monica was suspicious, but didn’t say a word. She was mild and meek, saying that yes, of course she would.
After she finished crying in the bedroom, glanced guiltily at the pills, ignored them, and fixed her makeup, she called Aaron, an acquaintance of theirs. He worked in the same office as Richard, and would surely be invited on the fishing trip.
If one existed.
“Hello, Aaron Reynolds. This is Mrs. Stafford.” Monica tried to sound jovial and soft spoken as usual.
“Hello—Monica, right? What can I do you for?” She felt a rush of affection for Aaron, so kind and accommodating at a moment’s notice. But then she remembered her reasons for calling him in the middle of a work day, and fell silent, before bursting into an explanation.
“Richard mentioned the fishing trip up to Boston. I wanted you to do me a favor and turn him down. Everything is fine of course, I just miss him. Do you think you could convince him to stay home?”
The words tumbled out, and she fell still. There was no noise on the other end of the line, save the echoes of her breathing. Her romance with Richard was calm, unruffled, and never the topic of office gossip—she wondered if Aaron even remembered who she was, what she looked like. If she could trust him.
“Monica, I’m very, uh, sorry…I think something is wrong.”
She didn’t speak. Tell me I’m wrong, Aaron. Tell me you want to go. Tell me you’re leaving tonight.
“Richard told me he was taking you up there this weekend. But I knew better even before you, well, called.”
Her heart stopped. Be joking, please. Be joking.
“I’m really sorry.” Aaron sounded abashed. “This is a bona fide bomb to drop on somebody, especially from me.”
“Say it, Aaron.” Monica didn’t recognize the whisper of her own voice. She sounded strangled.
“Her name is Josie.”
Aaron didn’t answer his phone again, not the second, third, or fourth time she called. He didn’t ask for a message the fifth, sixth, or seventh.
After the eighth, her number was unceremoniously blocked.
The next month was a flash. A flash of private investigators, stolen passwords, cameras, printed emails. There was a morbid little beast inside of her that needed to be fed. She needed the details of it all; every meeting, every single phone call, every email. The nasty occurrences turned her stomach and soured her towards her husband. There were almost too many ghastly features- several times, she had read a vulgar email and shuddered, bursting outside for some fresh air to calm her roiling stomach.
It was uncomfortable for Monica to remember, the hiding it all from Richard. Monica was naturally painstakingly addicted to detail and honesty, but delighted in the sore thrill of such a secret.

She would make him pay for this perfidy.
And so, this nippy Friday afternoon in Boston, she was walking down a busy street towards a crowded little coffee shop, clutching a letter in her gloved fingers.
“Dear Josie.
Looking forward to our meeting in Boston. Let’s meet at Best Brew, three o’clock. I’m buying! I have been missing you. Please wear that beautiful hair down and that black dress—you know which one I’m talking about. You look stunning that way. We have an entire three days to ourselves this time, before I must return to Vanilla. She’s pretty, I suppose, but awfully simple and has nothing on you. Don’t worry—only a little time until you have me all to yourself. Love you.
Anxiously waiting, Richard.”
Josie, indeed. It had taken quite some time to find ‘Josie’, since only a nickname had been given, but time and money heal all things. Her name was Josephine Woodsen. Truth be told, she was striking—long red hair, clear blue eyes, perfect, sparkling white teeth. She was fair and exquisite, all things considered—a southern belle, she had graduated from Mississippi State two years ago, and was an intern in the office suite two doors down on the floor where Richard worked. She made a decent salary, had no children, and was pleasant enough.
But Monica hated her.
Hated her for being more beautiful than she. Hated her for stealing her husband. Hated her for her hair and her lips and the fact that she knew Richard had a wife and slept with him anyway.
Oh, the ‘Vanilla’ comment had not been lost on Monica.
He drove her to do this. She did not want to hurt him, exactly, but she detested that woman. And because he was coupled with that, he too must perish. She felt such a strong bitterness that surely, she wouldn’t miss him.
And after all, a quick, clean break heals the fastest. Which is how it would be—quick and clean.
Monica faced the warm, cheerful windows of the Best Brew Café, and checked her wristwatch primly. An icy gale blew and swirled around her, leeching away the last of her warmth, just in time.
2:57 pm.
She steeled herself, fingered the cool metal of the revolver inside of her purse, and strode resolutely inside.

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