published in Volume 6, Issue 2 on June 1st, 1999 The warm, reddish sunlight of late afternoon thrusts through the windows and pools on the immaculate, stone tiled floor. It is a marked contrast to the cool blue tones, the gleaming steel and the faint odor of antiseptic that hangs in the kitchen. The woman paces back and forth through the puddle of sunlight, an agitated look in her eyes. She stops, leaning against the counter, and taps manicured nails on the marble surface while she thinks. The prettiness she possessed in her youth has been replaced by the well-groomed look of a spoiled pet. Her hair is masterfully cut in the latest style; her flawless makeup masks the heavy frown lines forming in the corners of her mouth. Her expensive clothes are perfectly tailored to hide the places on her body where fat is starting to intrude. She pushes herself off the counter, and throws open a cupboard opposite her. There are a few dusty bottles of wine inside, nothing else. A bitter laugh escapes her reddened lips. She rolls swearwords silently over her tongue, afraid her husband may overhear. He does not approve of women swearing, he says it is unladylike. She is having a dilemma. Over the past year they have spent every second and fourth weekend in this damned place, and this is a first. They have no food. Hours spent running all over town for the gourmet goodies she would need to feed her picky husband, all in vain. The two bags of groceries are probably still sitting in their garage, the pate spoiling and the hand made ice cream melting. Before they left the city, her husband had grunted assent when asked if the groceries were in the trunk. He wasnt paying attention to her, as usual. Now she doesnt know what to do. Her husband demands that the household is a smoothly run one, and this would not go over well. Though this mess is entirely his fault, she can hardly lay the blame on his shoulders. Not out loud, anyway. The verbal blows and stabs that would befall her dont make it worthwhile to say anything. He doesnt like to hear about mistakes he has made. She wallows in helpless anger for a time, before settling on a scapegoat. The kitchen staff should have noticed the bags of groceries, those lazy slackers. Theyre probably stuffing themselves full of her food and wine right now. Well, actually her husbands food and wine. Anyway, she will put an end to their merriment very quickly. She considers phoning home, then decides to save this small pleasure until she can do it in person. An ugly grin smears itself across her face as she savors the only power she possesses, the power to punish her staff. She relishes the chance to berate the help for the feeling of control it affords her, and keeps a sharp eye peeled for any mistakes. If her husband takes out a particularly bad mood on her, she makes up something to yell at them for. When they were first married, she just couldnt rebuke the staff, no matter how he raged at her. It wasnt in her nature. At least, it wasnt until her husband said the employees all laughed at her for being so weak. She still remembers how terribly hurt and angry she was. She tore furiously into them after that. The original help have long since been replaced, so no one except her husband remembers what she used to be like. Now the help are more afraid of her than of her husband. She often suspects that what he told her was a lie, the betrayed looks on their faces when she yelled at them that first time haunt her. But she will not give up her petty power now, she has become too dependent on it. And this little mishap, though hardly the fault of the kitchen staffs, gives her another opening. She rehearses what she will say, and whom she will select for punishment. She has the feeling she will need this small release after the weekend is over. They are paid so well, it should be a job requirement to take what she dishes out, or so she tries to tell herself.
She roots through the pantry in search of salvation, knowing its in vain. They dont keep much of a personal nature at their island home, much less food. What keeps for two weeks that her finicky husband would actually eat? He is so snobby in everything, including his taste in food. Take these twice-monthly visits to this place. Why do they do it? Because, according to her husband, wealthy people ALWAYS own a country home. Each member of her husbands family have what they call "cottages", although they are usually two or three floors, and almost as ostentatious as the city abodes. So do all their friends. Where would they possibly be in the scheme of things if he didnt own a second home in the country? So they bought this extravagantly priced "cottage" and use it twice a month. Her husband is excited, because this Christmas it is his turn to have his family over. Early every December, his family wages battle over whose cottage they would all spend the holidays in. This year, he won. Another year with no chance of her going home to spend Christmas with her family. She knows they dont buy the feeble excuses she serves up each year. There is nothing she can do, her husband requires her presence at these family gatherings of his. He says the same thing every year when she asks to go home for Christmas. He accuses her of trying to make him look bad in front of his family, and tells her maybe next year. Every year she hopes it is time, but it never is. She sighs, and closes the pantry door.
She glances at the refrigerator hopefully. Maybe they left something edible last time they were here. She pulls the fridge door open, her fingers crossed. Ah, the horn of plenty overflows. Three measly items to choose from. There is a container of cream cheese, some kiwis that have gone bad, and a squeeze bottle of Frenchs Mustard? She didnt buy this, did she? Her husband would sooner swallow bleach then put the cheap yellow liquid on anything. He would be absolutely mortified to find such a low class substance in his fridge, so it certainly wasnt his purchase. Whole grain mustard, maybe. So how did this get here? Still wondering, she walks over to the sink, unscrews the lurid yellow top, and begins emptying it into the drain. The tangy aroma of mustard wafts up from the sink. The smell brings flashes of younger days, and she allows herself to be carried upon the wave of memories.
She and her friends used to scrape together their allowances to buy hotdogs from the street vendors. There was nothing tastier to her when she was younger. She would drench her hotdog in mustard, and pile it as high as she could with the onions, cheese and hot peppers offered as toppings. They would take their hotdogs to the park, sprawling lazily in the grass. Hours passed as she lay there, letting the sun beat mercilessly against her face while they talked about everything and nothing. She wasnt worried about wrinkles, lines or skin cancer back then. She would pull off shoes and socks, and clutch the grass between her naked toes, crushing it to inhale its sweet fragrance. On a day like that she could pretend that September would never come, summer would just stretch away endlessly until Christmas. Lying on her back, watching the clouds roll by, she had believed that anything was possible. Anything. Belief is a sort of magic, transforming whoever is lucky enough to possess it. That belief had vanished for her somewhere along the way, and she had ended up in a place unimaginable to her when she had it. She has tried drugs, alcohol, ski trips in Aspen, and hour long massages at her spa. None of it gives her that easy feeling of well being she once had. It is beyond her, now, except in memories.
She breathes in one last whiff of the container. Angry with herself for indulging in such a weak, sentimental moment, she hurls the container into the garbage. She doesnt want her husband to see it, anyway. She has no idea how it got there, but she isnt about to get blamed for the mistake. It would irritate him, as other peoples mistakes always did. And he seemed especially testy on these "downsized weekends", as her husband likes to call them. That is part of the reason she doesnt like them. To be honest, she downright loathes them. He spends most of his time shut in the study with the newspapers and the t.v. on, only coming out at meal times. This invariably means she tries to pass time by reading a book or wandering about the house, bored, trying to be quiet and having nowhere to go if he emerges from hiding in a bad mood. They dont know anyone on the island and he doesnt allow her to bring the cook, or any of the other household help. He says they impair his ability to relax. At home, the hired help make the decisions and take the responsibility off her shoulders. Out here she is on her own. This means menial tasks fall to her, as well as the cooking of meals. God, she just dreads the meals. It isnt that she minds cooking, in fact she used to love cooking for friends and family, as well as for herself when she was single. She comes from a very middle class family, though. Her price range for recipes was always limited to the under twenty dollars category. The most gourmet dinner she knew how to make was beef stroganoff. So when her husband informed her that she would be cooking their meals while on the island, she hadnt thought much about it. Figuring that he would want something simple for a change, she fell back upon her old favorites. That first weekend out here had been absolute hell. Dinner is a dangerous time, anyway, since they are forced to be in each others company. Everything she cooked, her husband completely hated, and he spared no effort to make her aware of the fact. After meals she could hear him stalking about his den, muttering. Since then she has made sure to be prepared. She subscribes to every gourmet-cooking magazine and raids the finest stores for supplies before these country weekends. Mindful that these meals are the weakest point in her defense, so to speak, she feels her stomach tense and her breath begin to shorten when he picks up his fork for that first bite. Of course, if he has had a rough week, hell start in on her no matter how good the food is. There is no winning in these instances. If she says he enjoyed the recipe last time she made it, he will say she must have screwed it up this time. And how can she argue? Even if she knows he likes it, she cant prove it. Its a losing situation, and one that is a continual stress to her.
She slams every cupboard and drawer in the kitchen out of frustration, albeit quietly. There really isnt a damn thing to eat in this house. Shoulders slumping, she realizes she must go into the town and pick up some supplies that her husband will approve of. She has never been in town before, although they have been on the island many times. Her stomach sinks as she remembers jeering at the local supermarkets tiny size as they drove by from the ferry. Her husband made some local yokel joke, and they both laughed. She winces at the thought of going there to shop. Her doubts on the stores contents aside, they will know she is a stranger, and a city person besides. She is conscious of the looks their brand new truck gets as they drive through the town. She has heard the curses hurled after them as her husband drives by a hitchhiker in the pouring rain on an island where hitchhiking is the public transit. She quails at the thought of walking among them without her husbands protective presence, her body laid bare to their curious glances. And she is painfully aware that people just dont like her anymore. Years of living under her husbands sharp tongue have corroded her self-confidence. Anything she says now is echoed back inside her head in his mocking tones, making it sound moronic to her. This is ruining her social skills. She has a tendency to aim suspicious stares at whomever she is speaking with, trying to figure out if they are laughing at her. While speaking, she is braced for a putdown, giving her voice a defensive, angry whine. Her conversations now have a brittle, sharp feel to them. Talking to her is like lightly touching broken glass. Press down just a little, and you will walk away cut. The other day she screamed at the barista in the café she frequents because he asked her if she wanted her latte lowfat, surreptitiously peeking at her stomach. Now she is ashamed to go in there, and slinks by every time she passes that way. Social contact with strangers has become loathsome to her, and she tends to spend most of her time inside. She never used to be this way, and it frightens her. When she was younger she always had plenty of friends, she was very easygoing with people. She has been avoided all encounters for weeks, and she is not prepared for one now. She must, though. There is no way her husband will go. The way he always scoffs at the locals makes her think he might actually be scared of them as well. If she asks him to go, he will just be angry, and she will end up having to go, anyway. Resigned, she plays with the key rack, trying to decide which car to take. She is definitely not taking the Durango. The shining newness of the truck bespeaks wealth playacting at being a regular joe. She is embarrassed for her husband every time he gets into it. The truck just doesnt suit him. She grabs the keys to the Mercedes. She has decided to play rich bitch. She puts on her fur coat, and girds herself for battle. A feeling of superiority settles around her like a well-worn suit of armor. Although this does not work with her husband, she generally feels more secure around other people when she assumes her high and mighty attitude. May as well try to impress people if she has to deal with them. She will use her platinum card and nice clothes as weapons. The door swings gently shut behind her.
The ordeal is nearly over, and without incident so far. The selection wasnt as bad as she had feared, she has her groceries, now she just wants to get the hell out of here. Waiting impatiently in the checkout line, she taps her fingers against the steel rail, and looks disgruntled. There is only one teenage cashier working, and she is busy chatting to a customer buying cigarettes. Christ. Some sort of gabble about a hockey team, which she has no interest in. She checks her watch three times in a row, sighing audibly between each glance. This at least gets the cashiers attention, who proceeds to ring her groceries through while continuing the conversation with the local clodhopper. He eventually wanders off, and the cashier gives her the total. Presenting her credit card with a flourish, she watches the cashiers face to see if she looks impressed. The cashier (with a hint of condensation?) asks her for I.D, as she isnt a "regular". Right. This is small town nosiness or small town distrust, one of the two. Anyway, just what she had expected. Out to give her a hard time, punishment for not being local. She snorts and rolls her eyes, hoping the cashier notices. She scrambles to think up some indignant retorts as the cashier looks searchingly at her.
"Hey, are you any relation to the Bergers that live here? Natalie and John?"
Taken aback, she giggles at this unexpected turn in the conversation. Another couple on this tiny island with the same name as her husband? He would HAVE to find this amusing. Unexpectedly, she is happy. She has a story to break the tension of dinner. Okay, but she must play this out in full, so she can have a good tale to tell.
"Why yes, I am related. John is my husbands brother."
"I knew it," the cashier bubbles happily. "I didnt think you and Natalie were related, you look a fair bit older than she is. She and John are a very happy couple, and such good people, dont you think?"
"Sure," she replies, rather roughly. Just as suddenly as her good mood washed over her, it is wiped away. Shes highly sensitive about her apparent age. Only thirty-four, new acquaintances often mistake her for a women in her forties, much to their mutual chagrin. Spending life under the kind of stress she lives with will age a person immeasurably. To rub salt in her wounds, her husband doesnt look a day older than when they were first married. She doesnt like being reminded of her vanished looks, especially by some dumb hick. The cashier babbles on about the wonderful deeds of the alternate Bergers, blissfully unaware of the sudden mood change.
She wonders when this torture will end. Who are these hicks, anyhow? She used to volunteer her time constantly, and no one sung her praises. Of course, she hasnt done anything since she married; her husband disapproves. He never donates money for any other reason than a tax deduction. He thinks all that stuff about the homeless and needy is drivel, a scam to get money out of suckers. As far as hes concerned, anyone who gets fooled by that bit is soft and weak minded. She didnt want to give him a chance to heap that same scorn upon her head, so she gave it up. But she misses helping people, she misses it terribly. This is when she actually hates her husband. Not for the choices he forced her to make, but for the choices she made voluntarily, to protect herself. She has given up a career, children and various little things, like the chance to do community work, and for what? Shes miserable. Ugh, why does she even waste energy thinking like this? She has made her bed, etc. Now she just has to live her life, such that it is, and stop thinking so much. She is furious with the cashier for her part in this ordeal, and with the stupid Bergers as well. She reaches for her groceries, determined to flee, when something the cashier says catches her attention.
"Of course, if you are picking up these groceries for the Bergers, you may as well put it on their tab sheet, instead of ringing up your credit card. It would be easier."
Her eyes flash wickedly at the chance for a little retribution. Indirectly these people have been responsible for her misery, and she wants them to pay for it. As a bonus, it would be a pleasing ending to the story, her husband would heartily approve. She would, of course, leave out the age comment.
"I am picking up some things for them, actually. They must have forgotten to tell me to put it on their tab."
"No problem, maam. Say hi to them for me, will you?"
"Ill make a point of it, dont you worry." She scurries out of the store, sniggering to herself. This little piece of revenge has made her feel a heap better. The alternate Bergers are no match for her. She wonders how she could have let these idiots worry her. Look how easy simple it is to fool them. Easy marks, her husband would say. She just wishes she could be around next time they check their tab. Maybe the cashier would get in trouble too, for authorizing the transaction. She throws her ill-gotten gains into the passenger seat of the Mercedes, and speeds away.
She relates her story over the dinner table, but her husband isnt in the mood for her excited chatter. He merely looks at her before shrugging indifferently and returning attention to his plate of food. He gets up and leaves without a word as soon as dinner is finished. Her excitement deflates, and lies limp inside her. Damn those pathetic goody goodies. Not only did they ruin her afternoon, but they dont even make good story material. She vows to go back to the store tomorrow and put the most expensive items she can find on their tab. Even better, shell throw it all away as soon as shes out the door. Feeling miserable, she kicks a cupboard while walking through the kitchen. It flies open, striking her in the leg. She falls, and stays sitting on the floor, clutching her leg and weeping tears of self-pity. Her watering eyes alight on a flash of red at the back of the open cupboard. It is a glass vase full of dried roses, something her husband has never given her. The beautiful flowers taunt her, as her mind follows the only logical thought to its conclusion. Her husband is having an affair, damn him. She feels half as attractive as she did thirty seconds ago, which isnt saying much. He may be dallying with his mistress here during the week. She grinds the fragile flowers beneath her heel, and feels a little better. She has been expecting something of the sort for a while, but expecting and knowing are two different things. What the hell is she going to do? Any womens magazine would tell her to confront him, but she feels physically nauseous at the thought. Her head swimming, she isnt sure shes strong enough. She wonders what the mistress looks like, how young and thin she is. Bitch. She runs her hands over her body. The flesh that was once lean feels soft and doughy under her probing fingers. She swears she will go to the gym more often, and lose at least ten pounds. God, with her body looking like this, its no wonder he has a mistress. Is confronting him about this worth the quiet war it would start in her home? After all, how does it really affect her? They are not exactly affectionate. Sex? He hasnt touched her in years, and she tells herself no loss. She decides to explore the house tomorrow to try to gather more evidence. She is rationalizing, and hates herself for it.
She ascends the stairs to the only place that she loves in this house. Her bedroom. She designed it herself, with the help of a decorator. Its warm colors, comfy furniture, and beautiful art are a marked contrast to the icy blues and stern browns of her husbands bedroom. It is always cool in there, even in the middle of summer, and the furniture is so heavy, so dark, and so immovable. The room makes her uncomfortable. Her bedroom makes her feel safe. It is the room of a happy little girl, or a lovers cozy nest. It is entirely hers. He never sets foot in this room, and she never thinks about him here, unless she hears him. The room softens her, she is a better person while she is inside. She often wishes she could bring people here to talk, she would get along with them so much easier.
She kicks off her shoes, and crosses the deep plush carpet in her bare feet. She picks a book from out of her bookshelf, and hunkers down in front of her dresser. She opens the bottom drawer, searching for a comfy nightgown to wear to bed. One catches her eye, particularly soft and lacy. She doesnt remember buying it, but her husband paid someone to stock the house with everything they would need, so she doesnt find this unusual. She wishes he had let her do it, she had wanted to. Not just because she was bored, but she found this house such an impersonal place to live. She would have liked to breathe a little life into it. She draws out the gown, and runs her fingers over it, enjoying the feel of the soft fabric. Something crackles under her fingers. It is a piece of folded thick paper in one of the pockets. She pulls it out. On the outside half there is a drawing of a bed, with a naked girl perched on it, knees tucked modestly up under her chin, covering her. With a creeping sense of unease, she realizes the bed looks exactly like hers. She opens the paper, and reads the words printed on the inside.
"I love you with all my heart, my sweetest girl. When I breathe, I smell your hair, when I close my eyes, your image burns there. Your voice in my ears is the night cries of sleeping birds. Every night I pray we will be together, forever. Your Love."
The air whooshes out of her in a sharp exhale; she sits on the bed with a heavy thump. Her jaw clenches as she crushes the card between bunched fists. Enraged, she isnt sure by which fact the most.
Her husband actually being in love with the little thing, or that they have violated her room, the only thing that is still hers, that she cares about. Damn him, why in here? He hasnt even seen the inside of her room before, why would he bring his mistress in here. Furious tears stream down her face and fall into the folds of the nightgown. She tears the lacy cloth into pieces, then reads the card again. Betrayal by sex she could handle. If he hasnt dallied with some sexy young thing before now, its only because hes been too busy to bother. But the passion this card is infused with flays open her heart, and delivers a mortal blow to her self-esteem. The only way she has managed to keep herself intact all these years, the only comfort she had is the knowledge that her husband is incapable of being any other way. She has put up with his jibes, knowing he would do the same thing to any other woman he was married to. A man of granite, his personality so hardened it would dash her to pieces if she challenged herself against it. This card proves her wrong. Now to find out that it IS her, that another woman is capable of eliciting this kind of sweet emotion from him, is a bigger blow than anything he has ever said to her. She smoothes out the crumpled card, and reads it again, trying to find where she failed in the lovely lines. Her brow wrinkles in thought and it hits her. This isnt written by her husband. He has absolutely no gift of expression. His sentences fall on the ears like a boy dropping rocks off a bridge. Chunk. There is one sentence. Thunk. There goes another. The verses in the card are light and flowing. And she knows he doesnt draw. This card is sketched with great love and a skilled hand. She doubts somehow that her husband has the capacity to produce something like this, even when madly in love. So he isnt the creator of the card. The cement blocks tied to the feet of her selfworth are lifted as unexpectedly as they were put there. The inevitable question arose. Whose handiwork was it then? Did the mistress have a young lover? Was her doublecrossing husband being doublecrossed? All these unanswered question gnaw at her. She hates this stupid island. She wants to go home, where at least she has some friends to mull this situation over with. Although it may not be worth it to tell them, they will probably make fun of her behind her back. They are all wives of her husbands friends, and not her first choice of people to spend time with. To tell the truth, she wouldnt put it past them to already know about the affair, and not to have told her. Some friends. She lies down on her bed, exhausted by the rollercoaster ride she has been thrust on. Sleep doesnt come easily, though. She needs some answers, she needs at least to know if her husband has desecrated her room. She has already sullied it with thought of him, and her sense of safety here has vanished for now. She stares at the ceiling late into the night before finally dropping into an uneasy rest.
The sound of a car driving away wakes her. Great. This will free her to search the house for some answers, and she wont have to face him with the question in her eyes. Shes left with the difficult task of discerning whats amiss in a house decorated by strangers that she spends two weekends a month in. She hasnt paid too much attention to the rest of the house, anyway. Most of her time is spent in the kitchen or her bedroom. The house is too new; full of glass and white rooms with little to break the monotony of the walls. The stiff furniture is uncomfortable to sit on, and the ceilings are so high that it gives the house a chilled feel. She enters room after room, certain that something is different, but unable to put her finger on what. She stops in front of an object, unsure if it is new, or she simply never noticed it before. She thinks she can sense the faint echo of another personality, but she has nothing to substantiate it. Nothing that would stand up in court, as her husband would say. Frustrated, she puts a hold on the search in favor of breakfast.
She stands at the kitchen counter, watching the coffee water boil. She assembles her breakfast of grapefruit and unbuttered toast, the repast of suffering dieters everywhere. Seating herself in the breakfast nook, she closes her eyes and lets the sunlight play over her face. While enjoying the warmth, she lets her mind wander. An unforeseen revelation takes her by surprise. She isnt putting herself on a diet for her husbands sake, but for her own. In fact, she doesnt care what her husband thinks of her looks, or what he has been up to. Sometime in the night it ceased to matter.
"Let him do whatever it is he does," she thinks. "Maybe it will keep him out of my hair for awhile!"
She laughs at how brave she sounds, at least in her head. The discovery does wonders, making her stronger in places she desperately needs strength. She decides she is even going to tell him to stay out of her room, no matter what he says to her. After all, the are just words. She is the one who gives them the power to wound, and she isnt going to give them that power anymore. She smiles, a peaceful, easy smile. It is the first she has shown in a long, long time. The smile transforms her. She is achingly lovely is the warm sun, and she doesnt even realize it. No one is around to gaze upon her in her fleeting moment of beauty. With the ring of the doorbell it is gone, as so many beautiful things are, unwitnessed. Her usual expression sets in, that unattractive blend of bitterness and petulance. Frowning, she gets up to answer it, carrying her untouched cup of coffee with her.
An older woman, graying hair pulled down her back in a long French braid, stands on her doorstep.
"Uh, hi there. Are you a relative of the Bergers?"
Irritation floods her body. These people are going to ruin her day again, why wont they just leave her alone? She is getting damn sick of this question. Trapped by the fear that this woman has spoken to the cashier in the supermarket (she knows how these small towns work) she is forced to renew a lie begun to impress her indifferent husband. Feeling guilty, she replies rather tersely, "Yes. Why?"
"Well, I was hoping to speak with Natalie or John. Are either of them here?"
She is being drawn into lying in detail. She is growing more and more uncomfortable. "No, they are not. Can I help you?" she reluctantly asks.
"Sure, just give them this envelope, will you? Its the notes on last weeks town meeting."
Of course it is. The annoying do good Bergers. It will be her pleasure to give this envelope to the garbage, after she has pilfered its contents.
"It would be my pleasure," she smirks.
As she reaches out for the envelope, her mug of coffee slips from her fingers, splashing the pristine white rug in front of the door. She screams numerous blasphemies into the unsuspecting face of the woman before running to get a cloth. If her husband sees that spill, she will hear about it for the rest of eternity. Embarrassed by her outburst, she avoids the other womans eyes when she returns to the doorway, cloth in hand.
"Sorry about that, I just didnt want the rug to be stained," she says as she kneels on the carpet.
The older woman smiles kindly down at her. "Here, let me help." She takes a section of cloth and begins scrubbing. "No need to apologize, this isnt Natalies house, so I can see why you are getting frantic."
Not Natalies house? Of course this wasnt Natalies house. She peers suspiciously at the woman, searching for signs of senility. Maybe she wandered from house to house, plaguing the inhabitants. All the locals know her, so they dont answer the door. Caught by in her own ignorance. The old woman looks pretty together, though.
"The one time Natalie and John had me over, they were absolutely fanatical about the use of coasters, and they kept eyeing my wineglass every time I walked over the Persian rug. They are usually so easygoing, I was surprised they were actually making me feel uncomfortable. They told me how they housesit for this rich couple, and they wouldnt want anything irresponsible to happen to the house. I admire the respect they show for another persons property. Anyway, Im sure you have seen that gorgeous teal blue and cream Persian rug in the living room. I wouldnt want anything to happen to that, whether it was mine or not."
Her jaw drops at the older womans statement. They have a teal blue and cream Persian rug in their living room.
"Well, Id better go. When they get home, tell them Im sorry I missed them. If you cant get that stain out, Im sure Natalie has something lying around the house to get it out. Nice meeting you."
The woman strides off down the driveway. She stands in the doorway, mouth still open. With a flash of insight, she runs to the garage and checks the Durangos cab. Sand. From the sandbags during the flood. With an almost audible click, the pieces all fall together. There was no other woman. There are only other Bergers. They live here. They LIVE here. She is astounded at the risk these Bergers have run. They must stay here during the week, knowing that their counterparts only came in every second weekend. As an off thought, she wonders where they were right this second. They must camp out somewhere and wait. Unbelievable. They must have watched the house for weeks to make sure that it was safe. A deep blush begins to spread across her cheeks. How routine their life must have looked to the hidden watchers. She feels humiliated by the fact that they had decided breaking and entering was a safe risk. Her shock erodes into anger. How dare they? House sitting for a rich couple. They havent just subverted the car and house, either. Some girl has taken her name, taken her identity and lived it better than she could. They have fulfilling, helpful lives, while she has nothing. Her little piece of revenge at the grocery store doesnt seem like much to charge for use of her life. Well, she will put a stop to it right now. Furious, she storms into the house and begins searching for a phone book. The police will handle this. Her husband will be enraged and mortified, he will prosecute the "Bergers" to the fullest extent. He will make sure they spend a long time in jail, she doubts they will be "together forever" now. The sweet words in the love letter spring to her mind, and she feels a pang of pity for the young imposters. Anyone that much in love will find jail a waking nightmare. Now, if she is going to be truthful with herself, the only reason why she is so incensed is because she is jealous of the young couple, and the love they have. She actually admires the gutsiness of the stunt these two have pulled for so many months, and the fact that they have become upstanding members of a small community without anybody ever suspecting. They must have studied their counterparts very carefully to know that she and her husband have no interaction with the other islanders. They have certainly taken care of their home, she has never suspected a thing until this weekend, and her husband still doesnt. The humor of the situation strikes her, and she begins chuckling. As a matter of fact, she would love to meet these young ruffians. Her face falls as she realizes the circumstances she will probably meet them under. Her husband will not see the humor in this, nor will he recognize that there was no harm done. As far as he goes, the "Bergers" picked the worst home possible to pull this stunt in. Speak of the devil, she hears his car pulling in. Those poor kids.
All their leftover groceries are loaded into the car. It is the end of the second weekend of the month. She fusses around the counters, postponing the moment of departure. Her husband glares restlessly about him.
"Move it, lets get going," he snaps at her.
She levels a long, hard look at him, saying nothing. He tries to meet her stare, fidgeting. Finally he looks down, and walks out of the house, grumbling. He slams the door shut behind him. She takes a last look around, then puts an envelope on the kitchen table. She shuts off the lights, and closes the door gently behind her. The envelope lies gleaming on the table, caught by the afternoon sunlight. The front of the envelope is marked with a looping, childish hand. It says "The Bergers." It is the envelope the older woman left behind. On the back is written, in the same childish hand, "Thanks for the good name. I hope to see you soon. Regards, Laura Berger."
The car churns up dust as it speeds down the country road. Carried away inside it, she grins. It seems like such a waste to have something so expensive only used twice a month. Her husband wont catch on, he never notices anything. Besides, she they are the first people she has wanted to be friends with in a very long time. Laura Berger takes a deep breath, and begins to sing.