This is a short story of 1,110 words. It was prompted by the above photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.
“More tea, Scott?”
She leaned forward with the teapot, ignoring the shake of my head that indicated I didn’t want any more. Joe had told me to contact her, said it would be a human interest story, and lapped up by our readers. I hadn’t expected her to agree to see me, especially as the news of the body being found had only been on last night’s telly news. But when she answered the phone, her voice went all silly and girly.
“The Herald you say? Oh yes, I would be happy to give you an interview, everybody around here reads our local newspaper. Shall we say two in the afternoon tomorrow? That will give me time to make myself presentable”.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wouldn’t be bringing a photographer, though I did ask if she could find a recent picture of her husband we could use.
She had crossed and recrossed her legs so many times, I was now presented with a ridden-up skirt and an unwanted view of far too much leg, given her age. When I had asked her age for the piece, she had adopted a strangely coquettish expression.
“My, you journalists have to always add someone’s age, don’t you? Well I am happy for you to put down that I am sixty-two, as long as you don’t want to see my birth certificate”.
She smiled so wide when she said that, the wrinkles each side of her mouth formed visible cracks in the powdery make-up covering her face. It reminded me of ice inside the windscreen of my car in the winter. I pushed on with the interview, asking her why she had waited so long to report her husband missing.
“I wasn’t expecting him home at any given time, Scott. He had planned his trip meticulously, Justin was a very meticulous man. He had said that he would walk the whole of the first day, then stop at a bed and breakfast before completing the rest of the forest walk the next day. He might even stay a second night, if it got too late to get a bus home. He didn’t drive you see, he had never learned how to. He said he didn’t have a lot of time for cars, though he seemed happy enough for me to use one to get our shopping from Sainsbury’s. So I went to see my friend Rosemary, and stayed over after we had too much wine. When he didn’t come home the second night, I wasn’t concerned. I didn’t call the police until he didn’t show up for dinner the next evening”.
I asked how long they had been married, ignoring the fact that she had slipped off one of her shoes, and was casually adjusting the nylon covering her toes as she looked across at me as if she would like to eat me for breakfast. Could this woman really be flirting with me so blatantly? She was much older than my own mother.
“Seven years, Scott. It would have been eight in June. We married late, you see. I had been married before, but Justin had never married. I think he wanted company after his mother died. He never showed any interest in me in THAT way, if you get my meaning”.
I got her meaning, and she continued.
“He was my third husband, Scott. My marriages seem to have been blighted by tragedy. Andrew was my first. The brakes failed on his MG sports car one afternoon. I used to tell him he should never have done his own car maintenace. Then Stephen, oh poor Stephen. He insisted on using that old ladder to fix up a new television aerial. I warned him it wasn’t safe, and said we should get someone in to do the job. But he wouldn’t be told”. And now Justin. How was I to know he would fall over a tree root, and fracture his skull? Lying there for almost four days until he died of exposure. So awful”.
She adopted a stylised expression of grief, looking much like a bad actress in an amateur dramatic group performing in a village hall.
“Things were fine until he retired. Then he became obsessed with keeping fit, as if he wanted to live forever. Hiking, power-walking, woodland walks, he was hardly ever here. And he became extravagant too, which was most unlike him. Four hundred pounds for a pair of binoculars that hung around his neck. I don’t think he ever even looked through them. Then two hundred dollars for a small red backpack that came all the way from America. One hundred and seventy for special hiking shoes, then almost three hundred for hiking boots needed for bad weather, or so he said. His last big purchase was his high-visibility walking outfit, bought to replace his old camouflage gear. That cost over five hundred pounds. Can you believe that, Scott?”
I checked my notes, and asked her why he wasn’t wearing the high visibility clothing when they found his body. It occured to me that the search and rescue helicopter might have spotted him earlier, if he hadn’t been wearing camouflage clothing and lying on top of his red backpack.
“Well he had tried it out the day before in Beulah Woods, you know, just up the road from here. But when he got home I noticed mud splashes on the trousers, so of course I threw the whole outfit into the washing machine. He was none too pleased when it wasn’t dry the next morning. So ungrateful”.
She leaned forward and placed a hand on my thigh. This woman had no concept of invading personal space.
“Now how about a slice of cake? I made it myself, a delicious Victoria sponge”.
I declined her offer of cake, but she left her hand on my leg, I could feel the heat coming from it through my trousers. I asked for the recent photo, and she gave me one taken at their wedding. I guessed that seven year old picture would have to do, and stood up, telling her I had everything I needed. I was never so pleased to get out of a house, I can tell you, and by the time I got to my car, I had started to wonder if she had put anything in the tea.
On the drive back to the paper, I wondered what Joe would think if I asked for a front page feature, and a big headline.
I thought ‘The Black Widow’ sounded about right.