By James Hold
[Copyright 2016 James Roy Hold
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THE HEART OF THE MATTER
“I think it’s about forgiveness.”
They were at dinner in the patio garden of the new Galleria Hotel when the call came. The hotel was several weeks into its grand re-opening following renovations brought about by last season’s hurricane and the food court had raised not only its new marble walls but its prices as well. Rosie felt it was much too expensive, but the girls at work insisted on treating her, knowing well the difficult times she had gone through in getting back on her feet following her husband deserting her.
Rosie accepted the invitation graciously, well aware that beggars cannot be choosers. In many ways she was still a beggar. It had taken a long time to recover her health and her sanity after what she had gone through. Fortunately her folks were able to take care of the kids during the week while she eked out an existence in a cheap efficiency apartment and commuted by bus to her job near the Galleria. She had been fortunate there as well. Her employer gave her a leave of absence and took her back when she was better. Still she was quite the mess. Her wardrobe was shabby and she was much too thin thanks to the stress she had undergone. But she had friends who understood and day by day her health, her mind, and her outlook were improving.
And then came the phone call. That damn phone call. Rosie hesitated to answer it at first, knowing it could only be from her parents, or from… him.
“Hello?” she answered hesitantly.
It was him.
“Rosie? It’s me Don.”
She sighed, sad to discover he was not dead.
“Rosie, listen, please. I need to talk to you. I know I was bad but honestly I’ve changed and…”
She tuned him out as she got up from the table and went to a corner. All the pain came flooding back. The spending, the gambling, the drugs, the cheating. The times the bills were due and there was no money to pay them. The times he forgot to pick up the kids from school while she worked extra hours to keep a roof over their heads. The times she found him passed out on the floor with powder rimming his nose. And worse, the times she came home and found him in their bed with skinny teenage crack whores while the children sat hungry in the next room. Skinny crack whores? Hell, by that point she was practically a skeleton herself from stress, anxiety, and going without food so her own kids could eat. Until the day he finally moved out, taking what little was left in their account, and leaving her to fend for herself.
Yes, Don, she told herself, you were definitely bad. And it was only by the grace of her parents taking in the kids, and a women’s shelter giving her a cot on which to sleep that she somehow pulled herself together, recovered her health enough to return to work, and found a cheap place to live. And now, just when things were starting to look up…
She gave her attention back to the phone where Don was still babbling.
“But then when I was down and out, I met a man who told me all about Jesus and how God forgives…”
Blah, blah, blah, on he went. The Grace of God had washed free his sins and he was reborn and he wanted to come back and have them be a family again.
“After all, we’re still married, and you are my wife.”
True, Rosie reflected bitterly, we are still married, and I’m still your wife. But there are two reasons for that. One, I cannot afford to get a divorce. And two, there’s still that insurance policy on you. And the hope that someday the police will come and tell me they found you dead and you will finally prove to be worth something in death that you never were in all your miserable life.
And there was something in the way he said “my wife” that did not sit well with her. Some scars take a long time to heal. And others never do.
“So I was hoping we could get together and…”
“Where?” she said at last.
“Where would you like to meet?”
Don hemmed and hawed a bit. She would have to come see him. He did not have transportation. He was using his last quarter to call her on the payphone outside the Y. Maybe they could meet in the park across from it?
Rosie thought it over a few minutes, so long that Don worried she might have hung up on him.
“Rosie?” he asked desperately. “Are you still there?”
“Wait for me,” she told him. “I may be an hour or more but wait for me.” Then she hung up.
Are you okay? the girls asked when she returned to the table. She told them yes but she was a little tired and would they mind if she left early? She asked for the remainder of her food in a take-out box and left, thanking them for all they had done.
Outside she stopped to look around. Across the street was a car rental agency. Her parents had given her a debit card with a small balance to be used only in emergencies. This to Rosie qualified as an emergency. An hour later she pulled up by the crosstown Y and glanced around. It was the sort of neighborhood where a person could get mugged anytime. Across the street was the park. Overgrown, unkempt, rundown, just like the dregs who haunted it. Rosie got out of the car and walked toward it. Several drunks lurched in her direction but she avoided them with sharp blows from her purse. Inside was darker than out. There were light posts but they had been busted by vandals and never repaired. In the dim light by a bench someone stood up.
“Rosie?” he called.
“Rosie?” He came closer. It was him. Don. He looked different. Dirty. Disheveled. Unshaven. Thin and wasted. Of course, she did not look much better herself and could easily have blended with any bum around her.
“Rosie!” He cried again and rushed forward, arms outspread, ready to take her in his embrace. “Oh, Rosie, darling, I just knew you’d come.”
She stood there silently and let him approach. Waited until he was inches from her before reaching into her purse and pulling out the steak knife she had removed from the diner along with her take-out bag. Taking the steak knife and plunging it into his selfish rotten heart, not once, not twice, but enough times for him to slump to the ground with a questioning stare in his dead eyes.
“Well, Don,” she spoke over his corpse. “All the time you were asking God to forgive you, you forgot to ask whether I would. But I think you know now what my answer would have been.”
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