Alice could taste the pity. BBQ meatballs percolating in a crockpot, freshly made sandwiches with too much mustard, and Laura’s self-proclaimed famous macaroni egg salad. It made a nice compliment to Terry’s black suit when the yoke dribbled down the front making him look like the centerpiece of a child’s piece of art. That’ll be the talk of the office on Monday.
She leaned back in her chair, hidden from the circus in her house, and prayed for strength and composure. Savoring a final pull from her cigarette, she watched the embers burn out in the small dish they’d picked up on their vacation last year to Peru. She could see Jack’s eyebrows come together above his nose as they did every time he was irritated with her. She exhaled his memory from her vision and smiled.
“Alice? Alice are you in there?” A sharp rapping accompanied by a high-pitched voice which could only be Neena, shook the glass. Whether it was the rapping or the voice which shook the glass, Alice could only speculate as she pulled back the sunflower curtains, looking everywhere but at Neena, as if expecting someone to jump out in surprise.
“Alice,” Neena’s face softened and she showed a white, gummy smile. “We’re so worried about you. Why don’t you come out and sit with us, or have something to eat? You’re getting so thin, honey.”
It was hard to say no to a woman who’d practically raised her, had half a brain, and more than her share of a heart. Alice nodded and came out of the smoky den, squeezing Neena’s hand as she shut the door. “You know me better than I know myself, Neena. I probably could do with something to drink.”
She watched the older woman shuffle down the hall, her white scar trailing from ear to neck, a sharp contrast to her black dress and matching hat. What would I do if I’d lost that part of me? Sighing to herself, Alice inched her way toward the crowd which consumed her home. The snippets of conversation glorifying Jack made her want to vomit. She turned toward the bathroom.
“Alice! So good to see you out from…wherever it is you went.” Pastor Lawrence intercepted her from the kitchen and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. How does he always look so genuine? “Now Alice, this may not be the right time, but I wanted to be sure to let you know in case you get bombarded with guests. Jack is above the fireplace, right next to the photograph of you two in Peru. Is there somewhere else you’d like him?”
Peru. Their romantic getaway from hell. He’d planned it from the start, she was sure of it. That was the only reason he’d booked such a reckless excursion – he’d only wanted to get rid of her now that she knew who he really was. But it backfired, and years of him being…him had finally caught up with them and now, with no small bit of satisfaction on her part, he was silent atop the fireplace.
“Oh, yes. Pastor Lawrence, thank you. Above the fireplace is just fine.”
The light caught Pastor Lawrence just right so that Alice couldn’t quite tell if he was starting to tear up or not. His glasses reflected the light as he smiled, winked, and headed toward the living room. He must have mistaken her silence for mourning.
One by one, friends, church members, neighbors, and people Alice wasn’t sure she recognized came over to offer their condolences and encouragement. As the afternoon progressed, Alice began to feel as if she would burst with frustration. Why wouldn’t they just leave – and take their food with them? She wasn’t planning on staying here anyway, in fact her bags were already packed.
They had no idea who he really was. They had no idea how much pain he forced upon people, upon her – until they broke, gave in, gave him what he wanted. And it was always more. His was an appetite that would never be satisfied.
The house slowly emptied and the humidity heavy with body odor, casserole aroma, and flower bouquet began to subside.
“Neena, you go on home, I’ll clean up.” Alice meandered into the kitchen thinking everyone was gone only to find the older lady scraping plates and wrapping leftovers. “You’ve done so much already! How can I thank you? For everything?”
Neena smiled like a schoolgirl caught kissing in the locker room. “Oh, I don’t mind. After all,” she turned to Alice, “don’t you have a plane to catch and a new life to start?”
Alice, suddenly thankful she hadn’t had anything to eat, leaned against the kitchen table she and Jack had received as a wedding gift.
“How did you know? No one knew.”
“Oh, Alice. Who do you think killed him?” Neena smiled her sweet smile and returned to wrapping leftovers, humming as she went along.