“God damn it, open this friggin’ door!” Phil Jespers yelled, “Do it right now, Maggie, or you’re done for. You know what I mean.”
Outside the bedroom, leaning up against the wall next to the door, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Jespers could feel the vibration of her husband’s pounding in her back. She could feel his anger, too. Or rage would be a better word. She knew his hatred for her by now had spilled over into uncontrollable fury, but that was too bad. Last night he’d come home at two in the morning after a night out drinking with his buddies and demanded to have sex with her. He outweighed her by over one hundred and fifty pounds and was determined, so she had no choice but to give in, knowing from past experiences that in a few minutes it’d be all over. Well, she was wrong. It was over in less than a minute and in that minute she’d made her decision. A decision she’d been thinking about for years – years of putting up with his abuse; the verbal put downs of everything from her cooking and how she cleaned the house, to how she folded his stupid pants, not to mention the ongoing physical punches, pinches and slaps and, of course, what she could easily refer to as Rape By Husband. Well, no more. She’d had it with him. Now it was time to get even.
Maggie turned and put her mouth close to the door and lightly knocked on it to get his attention. The pounding immediately stopped, and she said, “Done for, you said? What is it you’ll do to me again, Phil, I couldn’t quite hear you?”
“I said, I’ll kill you, you stupid bitch,” Phil yelled, and went off on another rant, screaming out an escalating string of profanities that even for him were obscene beyond belief. His beating on the door increased, too, with an intensity that was incredible given how horribly out of shape he was, not to mention severely hung-over. But he was on a roll, now, his physical fury shaking the entire structure of the single story rambler that they’d lived in for all of their twenty seven year marriage.
Maggie leaned back against the wall and listened, enjoying her husband’s out-of-control hysteria. She smiled to herself and said quietly, loud enough to just hear her own voice, a voice she thought of as the voice of reason and, unlike Phil’s guttural swearing, one of sanity, “That’s what I thought you’d say,” her smile mirroring the pleasure she was taking in Phil’s complete meltdown taking place only a few feet away in the bedroom. The room Maggie was now planning would be the place where Phil would eventually breathe his final breath. And when he did, that would be that; over and done with, free and clear. She could move on with her life. A life without Phil in it.
Maggie turned and made her way down the short hallway to the tiny kitchen. She filled the teapot with water, turned the gas burner of the stove up to high, and set the pot on to boil. She went to the cupboard on the wall to the right of the sink and took out her favorite mug, the one she’d bought at Olafson’s when she first started working there, what? Fifteen years ago? No, seventeen, just after Phil got laid off from his construction job. “You’ll have to get off that boney ass of yours and go to work,” he’d told her back then, literally shoving her out the door, adding, “Don’t come back until you do.”
Well, she should have taken the momentum of that shove and not only walked out the door, but she should have kept on going. She should have walked down the steps and out to the street, taken a left and walked the three blocks to the bus stop, got on the 675B and ridden away from Phil forever. That’s what she should have done. But where would she have gone? She had no family, her parents were both long dead. Her two older brothers had each moved out when they were finished with high school, and she had lost touch with them over the years. And she had no friends she could have turned to. Not a one. So she did the only thing she could have done. After two days of looking for work; two days with Phil’s stinking, dog breath literally breathing down her neck every moment while he constantly berated her for being, “A skinny, good for nothing, lazy bitch,” as he so vehemently put it, and despite the fact that she must have walked at least ten miles in those two days, doing her best to find work, she took a job at the first place that would hire her. She became a cashier at Olafson’s Grocery and Meat Shoppe, an established, well known family run business in the Long Lake area, only a ten minute walk from her home. It had worked out pretty well, too, for her. Better, in fact, than she had ever imagined, and for that, at least, Maggie was grateful.
The teapot began whistling and interrupted her thoughts. She went to the stove, turned off the burner, put a tea bag of Constant Comment (her favorite) in her mug and poured in the boiling water. She set the mug on the four person, Formica kitchen table, sat down and started paging through a magazine published in England that focused on gardening in the British Isles. She liked looking at the pictures of the beautiful flower gardens, imaging that one day, she too, would plant a garden filled to overflowing with colorful daisy’s, dahlia’s and daffodils. Flowers like purple cone flower, white phlox and yellow black-eyed Susan. Flowers that would not only be pretty to look at, but would also attack birds and butterflies and honey bees. She smiled to herself, letting her imagination run wild for a few moments, enjoying the pleasant fantasy of a life without Phil in it.
Suddenly, a loud crash from back in the bedroom shook her out of her revelry. She stood up and peered down the hallway but saw nothing out of the ordinary. It was probably just Phil falling over the nightstand in the bedroom, she thought to herself. Hopefully he hurt himself. But whatever the case, it was no big deal. She went back to the table and sat down with her magazine. In addition to the pretty pictures, there were interesting articles to read, and she read each and every one of them in order as she causally sipped her tea, ignoring Phil’s escalating ranting and raving and pounding a mere twenty feet away. It was all just background noise, now, and didn’t mean a thing. Not anymore. Not with her decision having been made.
Maggie had always been shy. Her two older brothers were not interested in including her in their rough housing around the house, or playing every kind of outdoor game or sport imaginable, not to mention the occasional foray into daredevil bike riding no handed down the steep hills near their home. For that she was grateful. Growing up, her natural inclination was to spend her time by herself, quietly reading her books (Nancy Drew Mysteries being one favorite out of many) or playing with her dolls, making up games and whiling away her time pretending her make-believe family of princes and princesses was just like her real family, a child’s foolish daydream which it wasn’t even close to reality.
Her father was a strict disciplinarian who taught English at the local junior college and demonstrated little affection to either his wife or his children, preferring to spend his free time in his study, writing, he put it, “My first novel.” Her mother was a retiring woman who, after the children were born, began to come across to all who knew her, her children included, as increasingly tired and worn out. Bedraggled would be an accurate description. She also developed a strong taste for wine of the pink variety, and by the time Maggie was in middle school, her mother had become severely alcoholic, a disease that eventually killed her when Maggie was seventeen. Her father, as it turned out, must in his own way have secretly cared for his wife, because after her death he became increasingly morose and depressed. No one could help alleviate his emotional tailspin, although Maggie certainly tried, fixing his favorite meals, and making sure the house was clean and tidy, just like he liked it. She even got her father to help her plant an oak tree near the back door in his wife’s honor. However, all of her efforts were for naught. Within a year of his wife’s death, he hung himself from a rafter in the basement of the junior college where he taught, a sad and forlorn man, never having even coming close to finishing that first novel he’d spent his entire life slaving over.
The house was left to Maggie (her brothers wanted to have nothing to do with it), and she lived there non-eventfully for five years. She was twenty-three and working at Hart’s Cafe in Wayzata, five miles east of Long Lake, when she first met Phil. Back then there was something about him that she was drawn to, namely that he made it a point to talk with her, took an interest in her and what she liked to do (read and cook and garden) and seemed to enjoy being with her. He took her to movies and out to dinner at nice restaurants. Once he even took her to a play by August Wilson at the highly regarded Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis. Most importantly, though, he took away some of her shyness, bringing out parts of her hidden away from the public eye her entire life. He encouraged her to take an evening class at the local high school on Asian Cooking. He suggested she sign up for on-line classes having to do with literature. He ever purchased a membership for the two of them for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum so they could visit and walk the lovely gardens paths together anytime they wanted. In short, he encouraged Maggie to come into bloom just like the flowers she so passionately loved. Six months after they met he asked her to marry him and she said, Yes, thinking that he was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
And he was, until the day after their marriage ceremony. Then things changed, changed horribly, and the nightmare that became her life began. When Phil moved in to her home he brought with him the other side of his personality. The side he hadn’t shown her in those hours spent going on dates, or sitting quiet cafes together, sipping tea and talking, or going for drives in the country just to be together. No, that side of his was gone and gone forever. There was another side to Phil and he had kept it hidden from Maggie and hidden well. It turned that he was a violent man – very violent, and even more troubling, he seemed to enjoy that violence; especially the act hitting his new wife and berating her and bruising her and battering her.
So instead of the life time of the happiness Maggie had been expecting, Phil turned their marriage into a unrelenting reign of terror as he meted out physical and emotional abuse on a daily basis. Eventually he destroyed the nice, young woman she had become, one learning to grow into herself and even trust and love the man who would soon be her husband. Instead, he transformed her into a woman who, the longer she was brutalized and traumatized, became more withdrawn, shell of her former self, beaten down and worn out not only by life, but by her husband. A sad story, true, made even sadder by how often it happens to so many women these day.
But it wasn’t the end of Maggie Jespers, not by a long shot. Because through it all, no matter how it bruised she looked on the outside, there was something more to her than met the eye. She had something going for her inside, deep down where Phil couldn’t touch her no matter how hard he tried. Inside she had her spirit; her will to live. She had her dreams. And she wouldn’t give in, and she wouldn’t give up. She wouldn’t let Phil’s abuse of her rule her life. She found ways to cope. She became a survivor.
Maggie took a refreshing sip of her tea, letting the liquid swirl in her mouth a moment before swallowing it down, enjoying the soothing warmth and slightly spicy flavor. Then she set the mug down, put the magazine aside and picked up the book she was reading; one by a favorite female author. She settled back in her chair and began to read, losing herself in the author’s story, one of a woman in her forties who is dissatisfied with her marriage and leaves her husband in search of a new life – a life free of the encumbrances imposed on her by the overbearing jerk she was unfortunately married to. It was a story somewhat close to home in its relevance to what Maggie had been experiencing for her long and arduous twenty seven year marriage. (Although the woman in the story wasn’t regularly beaten and traumatized, not like Maggie.)
Reading all manner of fiction had become a refuge for her as her marriage with Phil took it’s turn down the dark road that lead her to contemplate killing him. In the beginning, when she brought up buying books, he refused, telling her, “They’re nothing but a waste of friggin’ money, if you ask me. I won’t allow it.” Yet he easily justified spending grocery money on his whiskey and cigarettes, telling her, “It’s my money and I can do whatever I want with it.” Nor would he let her go back to work at the cafe, telling her she needed stay at home and take care of him; cooking his meals, cleaning up after him, giving him sex. Thank god there was a library in town.
After being laid off for a few months, Phil got lucky. He had a friend who worked for a sanitation company and the friend had been able to pull some strings, finally getting him a job driving for Lender’s Environmental Services, a company that served the western metropolitan area. “Phil’s a garbage man,” is what Maggie told her friend at work, Lettie Sanderson, when he got the job, “He hauls junk for a living.” Maggie had been working at Olafson’s for just a few months by the time Phil was hired.
“Well, someone’s got to do it,” Lettie told her, lighting up a cigarette when they were out back on a break, “From what you’ve told me about him, he’d be good at it. You know…it doesn’t required a lot of brain power.” She grinned at her joke, a grin that Maggie returned.
The two of them had hit it off early on when they’d first been introduced by Mrs. Olafson; one of those relationships that started good and got better as time went on. Maggie began to confide to Lettie that her home life wasn’t the best, something the slightly older woman was aware of, having seen the bruises on her new co-worker on a regular basis starting from the first day they’d met.
“I know…” Maggie said in response to Lettie’s garbage man comment, letting her mind wander, picturing Phil getting himself stuck in the bin in the back of the truck and getting slowly drawn into it and crushed along with all the other garbage. Now that was one pleasant thought. Lettie put her hand on Maggie’s shoulder and gave it a companionable squeeze. It was a gentle, loving touch, something Maggie was not used to receiving. No, Phil’s physical contact with his wife was anything but loving, and nine times out of ten it was accompanied by some sort of violence. Lettie’s touch was unexpectedly soothing, and Maggie unconsciously leaned toward the nice woman standing next to her, breathing in her soft scent of sandalwood and vanilla, appreciating their growing friendship more and more with each passing day.
When Phil started his new job he said, “Bitch, you keep working. We and use the extra money.” Maggie was glad he did, because she loved her job, especially her friendship with Lettie. Over the years, they became as close as two people could get, sharing a common bond of not only bad marriages, but an interest in gardening, books, and cooking. The longer they worked together, the more Lettie drew Maggie out, accepting her new friend’s shyness but also probing underneath to find the deeper person who was hidden there.
They talked all the time. They shared recipes and came up with a favorite homemade pizza all of their own. A creation made with sauce from fresh tomatoes and basil, and topped with gorgonzola cheese, fried onions and mushrooms. Lettie would cook their creations at her home and bring the food in to work for them to share during lunch. “It’s the best,” was the comment given to them when the Olafsons and other employees sampled their food. Maggie and Lettie had to agree, it was.
Their favorite book: “Too many to pick only one,” Lettie said.
“I agree,” Maggie told her, liking that she had found a friend like her, someone she could talk with and confide in without fear of being berated, beaten or worse, “But, I have to say that I am partial to women authors.”
Upon hearing her comment, Lettie smiled and gave Maggie the first high-five she’d ever received in her life, “You got that right!”
Their favorite flower: “I love roses,” Lettie said, to which Maggie replied, “Well, I have to disagree, there. I’m partial to sunflowers, they’re so cheerful. They always make me happy.” Lettie laughed good naturedly and gave her friend a hug around the shoulders. “So we agree to disagree. That works for me. I won’t even hold it against you.”
Maggie laughed, too, enjoying everything about Lettie, someone who was helping her to see that there was more to her life than just being Phi’s slave, servant and wiping girl.
When they first met, Lettie confided that she was going to get a divorce. “I’m done with him, Maggie,” she said only a few weeks after they started working together, “He’s a lazy slob who spends all his time drinking when he isn’t on my case to pick up after him and take care of him. We’ve been married for fourteen years. He’s changed from how he used to be, and, believe me, it’s not been for the better.”
So similar to my marriage, it’s kind of creepy, Maggie had thought at the time, finding herself increasingly being drawn to the straight talking, outspoken woman.
Back then Maggie guessed that Lettie might be around her age, if not a few years older and she was right, Lettie was thirty-seven and Maggie was thirty-four when they started working together. Lettie was tall and thin with nervous energy to burn, short cropped dark hair, and a propensity for wearing tight jeans and snap button cowboy shirts. Maggie was thin, too, with shoulder length brown hair. Why, other than the fact I’m six inches shorter that she is, and dress differently and wear my hair differently, we could almost be twins, is what Maggie had thought at the time, stretching their common likenesses somewhat. But she felt an immediate connection between them, something she’d never felt with anyone before in her life, certainly not another woman, and she wanted to hold on to that connection and make the most of it. In retrospect, it was certainly Lettie’s assertive nature that, over the years, fueled not only her eventual divorce, but also became the mirror image Maggie began to develop of herself: Someone who could take charge, get out of her marriage, change the direction of her life and make a new start. Trouble was, Phil wasn’t about to grant her a divorce.
“Not on your life, Bitch,” he told her the first time she broached the subject, a couple of years after she’d met Lettie. “I like things the way things are just fine,” he leaned his big fat body back in his big fat easy chair and guzzled his big fat half can of beer before letting out a big fat disgusting belch. Then he reached for the remote and turned the volume up to 100 on some mind numbing football game. Maggie got the point: End of discussion.
The problem was that she wanted to keep the house (Phil made her put it in both their names when they got married), and she would have to buy him out, something she couldn’t afford to do. On the sly she was able to save about five hundred dollars a year from her job. After seventeen years she had eighty-five hundred dollars, about ten percent of what she estimated she needed get make him an offer, a sum not even close to something he’d consider accepting (or what it was worth.) So she was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and even though she fantasized innumerable scenarios for ridding herself of Phil, she never considered acting on them. Not on your life. They were all too gruesome, even though deep down she knew he deserved whatever she could conjure up: Arsenic poisoning, a shotgun blast to the head, strangling him with her bare hands when he was passed out drunk. Even running him over with his car (he didn’t allow her one of her own.) They were all interesting and pleasurable to think about but way too risky. So for years she didn’t anything but do the best she could, which was to try and live with the fact that she was stuck in her life with Phil, and it was never going to be anything but one big fat constant horror after another.
But then there was that incident last night: His heavy, stinking, sweating body, writhing away on top of her, crushing her and making her nearly physically ill. It had finally become all too much. She’d had enough. When he finally passed out and she crawled out from underneath him, she knew that now was the right time to make her move.
Maggie looked at her empty mug, her tea long gone. She put aside her book and rose from the table and went to the sink. As she rinsed her mug she looked out the window to the little strip garden Phil had allowed her to plant in the front yard. Some bright yellow spring daffodils were flowering and their soft, buttery color brought her a fleeting moment of cheer – a moment of joy. Then it was gone as she began to focus on the matter at hand, putting an end to Phil’s abuse for now and for all time. She glanced at the calendar hanging to the left of the window. Wednesday. She looked at the clock on the wall. 10:47 in the morning. She wasn’t excepted at work until noon. She looked out the window and up and down the quiet street she lived on. All the people in the neighborhood worked, kids were in school, and the weekdays were always quiet, houses lying empty until around late afternoon when folks started returning home to prepare dinner and spend time with their families or whatever. For someone planning what she was planning you couldn’t ask for better conditions.
She was thoughtfully setting her mug into the rack to dry when a loud noise startled her. It sounded like the bedroom door had smashed against the wall. What was going on? She stepped away from the sink and looked through the kitchen and down the hall. The door to the bedroom was hanging off its hinge. Sprawled on the carpet was Phil, rolling around like a fat, slimy, over-stuffed garden slug. He turned his lunking head toward her as she took a step backward, unconsciously searching for someplace safe to escape to. But there was none. There never would be. As long as he was alive, Phil would make her life miserable. It had to stop. Stop now.
Their eyes made contact and his were burning with rage. “Stay right there, you bitch. Lock me up in my own house, huh? I’m gonna kill you for that.” He tried to get to his feet, but then lost his balance and fell back against the wall, obviously still drunk. Maggie’s mind raced. What she had originally planned for ending Phil’s life wasn’t going to work. Not with him conscious like he was. It took her only an instant to think of an alternative plan and when she did she smiled to herself. For a plan B it wasn’t all that bad. It might even be better than her original plan A.
Plan A had been this: With Phil passed out in the bedroom, she was going to open the bottle of Wild Turkey she had bought and kept hidden for just such an occasion. She was going to pour it over his body and on the sheets and even on the carpet. Then she was going to take one of his Marlboro Reds, light it with his plastic, disposable lighter, and drop it on him. Then she’d step back and watch the burning begin. (Right now, just imagining the blue and orange flames running over his body was making her inordinately happy.) Then, before the fire turned into an out-of-control conflagration, she’d run to the kitchen cupboard closet, grab her shoulder bag already packed with a change of clothes and her eight thousand five hundred dollars of savings, and leave the house. She’d walk to the metro bus stop only a few blocks away and get on the 675B to downtown Minneapolis. Once there, she’d walk to the central bus station and board the first bus she found leaving the state. She didn’t care where it went. Anywhere would be fine, because the fact of the matter would be this: She’d finally be free.
Maggie only permitted herself a moment reveling in that thought because Phil was starting to get to his feet. Time for a plan B. Maggie reached for the stove and turned all four burners up to high. She opened a drawer and reached in for a book of matches, then made her way to the cupboard door and grabbed her shoulder bag. She slung it over her shoulder and then stepped across the kitchen to the back door. In the time it took to do all over that, Phil had staggered down the hallway to the entrance to the kitchen. He was listing against the doorway, out of breath and panting, stoking himself up to attack Maggie, grab her and beat her up if not actually kill her, like he had threatened.
“What do to you think you’re doing, Bitch? Trying to escape? Not on your life! Stay right where you are,” he commanded. Then he lurched toward her, but after only two or three steps he lost his balance and stumbled into the Formica table. He crashed and fell to the floor, letting out a string of swear words.
Maggie watched as he lay drunkenly squirming on the linoleum. She glanced at the stove, imagining the gas filling the room. Good, she thought to herself, the more the better. In a minute Phil was able to turn himself around and take hold of the table to steady himself. He used both hands as he struggled to get to his feet. Maggie quickly moved from the doorway toward him. “Here, Phil, let me help you,” she said, with more than a hint of malevolence in her voice.
Phil looked at her as she stepped toward him and their eyes meet, his bloodshot red, hers full of conviction. He spoke first, “You Bitch! I’ll…”
Maggie never heard what he was going to say, although something on the order of ‘I’ll kill you,’ would have been par for the course. He’d certainly said it enough times, nearly every day of their marriage. She stepped up, grabbed the edge of the table and flipped it over, causing Phil to fall to the floor, sputtering more obscenities.
Maggie turned away and stepped back to the door. It lead from the kitchen to the side walk leading to the detached garage in the back yard. The oak tree Maggie planted with her father grew between the house and the garage. It was huge now, the trunk over three feet in diameter. If she was lucky, the tree would help protect her from the blast. If she wasn’t lucky…Well, best not to think about that.
She turned around and looked into the kitchen. Phil lay either exhausted or injured or both on the floor, legs kicking weakly. She clutched her shoulder bag to her side with her elbow and opened the book of matches. She looked at the stove. It had been on long enough. She could even smell the gas. She stood in the doorway with the matches in poised in her hand. Now was the time. Decision time. Should she stay and deal with Phil for the rest of her life? Just like she had been for the last twenty-seven years of her marriage? Or should she light the match and try to make it to safety before the blast from the explosion caught her, likely killing her? If she made it out alive, she could start a new life. One that had to be better than the one she was in now. She looked at the matches and she looked at Phil. She made her decision. She held the backdoor open and got herself ready. Then she took a deep breath, preparing herself to run. An image flashed in her mind of her living in a world different than the one she was in with Phil. A better world. A less painful world. A prettier world. Let’s do this, she thought to herself.
She let her breath out, and put her foot outside the door, holding it open with her foot, ready now to make a sprint for the safety of the oak tree. “One, two, three,” she counted out loud, poised and ready. Phil’s horrible head appeared above the table, and that’s all she needed to see. She took a step out the door and struck the match.
Carl Whittaker, the Chief of Police for Long Lake, Anders ‘Hank’ Hankinson, the Captain of the Long Lake Fire Department and Gordy Little, lead investigator, sat in Carl’s office early the next morning.
“Well, this is the shits as far as I’m concerned,” The Chief said, snapping a rubber band on his wrist, worrying it to death, “What the hell do you think happened, Hank?”
“You mean beyond the fact that the entire house blew up?”
Carl grimaced, “Don’t even bother trying to get smart with me.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Hank said, coughing and opening his file, getting down to business. He spread it open on the Chief’s desk. It wasn’t funny, what happened, that was for sure – a house completely leveled, and at least one person dead. The only saving grace was that the damage was confined to the little rambler on Lilac Way and none of the other houses nearby. “The guy was a smoker; we found the remains of packs of cigarettes and lighters all over the place. My guess is there was a gas leak, maybe at the stove. He didn’t notice it, lit up, and…” Hank expanded his hands out away from his body, signify an explosion. He didn’t bother adding, ‘Boom,’ which Gordy did in his mind, wincing as he did so, trying not to imagine Phil Jespers’ final moments and not doing a very good job of it. Hank Hankinson continued, “Let me summarize what we’ve got here.”
Gordy listened with half an ear because, one, he’d helped Hank with the report and knew everything that was in it, and, two, no matter what Hank thought, Gordy figured he had a pretty good idea what had gone down at the house Phil and Margaret Jespers had once lived in. The now non-existent house was a place he’d been called to at least a dozen times in the twenty years he’d been on the force. The one thing he knew for certain was that Phil Jespers was dead. Without a doubt. They’d found his body late yesterday afternoon after the fire had been extinguished and the scene was under investigation. The fact that Phil Jespers poor wife, Margaret, was missing and unaccounted for…well, that was something else again. Gordy and Hank and the rest of the search team had found no evidence of her anywhere, even though they’d diligently searched the house both inside and out, the yard, the garage, and all around the neighborhood. No body. She was either completely incinerated by the blast, which was the theory Hank was leaning to, or she’d escaped and maybe run off. Gordy hoped it was the later. Over the years he’d seen with his own eyes some of the things Phil Jespers had done to his poor wife. The guy was a brute who rated down with the lowest of the low on his list of repeat offenders, and Gordy wasn’t bothered in the least by the charred remains that dental records had already confirmed what everyone surmised: They were from Phil Jespers.
But Margaret, his poor wife…What happened to her? That was the question, and that’s what the Chief wanted an answer to.”You’re my best man, Gordy. I’m putting you in charge of the investigation. Find out what happened to the wife.”
“I sure will, Chief,” Gordy said, formally, fighting back an urge to salute, just to show his boss he got the message. But he kept his hands in his lap, and, instead, sat back while the Chief and the Captain talked some more, eventually turning to other department matters. Gordy tuned them out. In his mind this one thought kept circling around and around, a thought that soon turned into a hope: I hope she got away. That’s what he was thinking. I hope she survived the blast and is now long gone and on her way to living a better life. She deserves a break.
And to that end he could already see where the investigation might lead – if he had anything to do about it, which, being lead investigator, he did.
He spent the rest of the day interviewing people. By five that afternoon he’d talked everyone close to Mrs. Jespers, or Maggie, as everyone called her. The neighbors were no help, the prevailing comment being that she kept to herself. “So did the husband of hers,” Lucy Franklin, who lived next door, had told him. But she at least had the wherewithal to lean close and whisper, “He’s was a mean one, that man. Really mean.” Then after pausing for a few moments she shook her head sadly before adding, “Poor Maggie…” When Gordy asked her to elaborate, she declined, saying instead, “It’s probably better for her that he’s gone.”
Her employers, Sigurd and Ella Olafson, offered nothing more than, Mr. Olafson saying, “She was quiet, you know, but a real good, reliable employee,” and Mrs. Olafson, adding, “She was very courteous with the customers. A real nice person.”
They both seemed saddened by Maggie’s having gone missing (and presumably dead) and wanted to help, but couldn’t offer much to move his investigation along. So that was that.
Lettie Sanderson however, the employee closest to Maggie, and, it was easy to see, a close friend, painted a much fuller picture. She was the final person he interviewed. It was middle of the afternoon and they’d gone out back behind the grocery store to talk, the rail thin lady chain-smoking Lucky Strikes and telling it like it was when it came to Maggie Jespers.
“That beast of a husband of hers deserved to die a long, painful death,” was how she started out when Gordy asked her to tell him a little bit about her friend. “If there’s a Hell, I hope he’s roasting in it right now…long and slow…being par-broiled for eternity. It’s what he deserves after how he treated that poor woman.” The picture Lettie painted of Maggie’s marriage and home life didn’t get any better after that. “He beat her, he treated her like dirt, he made her life a living nightmare. He controlled every moment of her time. She couldn’t even call me on the phone! I wouldn’t be surprised if she just snapped and blew them both up.”
Mrs. Jespers blew them both up? Interesting, Gordy thought to himself. Here he was hoping she’d escaped and was maybe alive somewhere, starting life all over again, and now this. Was Lettie telling the truth or perhaps, instead, covering up for her friend, trying to throw him off the trail and point the investigation in a different direction? It wouldn’t have been the first time a friend had tried to cover for another friend. Maggie blowing herself and her husband up on purpose? He pondered some more. That was certainly a possibility, especially given how horrible her life had been. A life with no future. Maybe committing suicide and taking her no good husband with her was the only solution she thought she had.
On other hand…Gordy pursed his lips and toyed with his pencil, maybe what Maggie really did was kill her husband and make it look like she perished (although they still hadn’t found any evidence to support that supposition.) Then she took off, left town, and started life all over again. Maybe right now she was alive and well and living out the American Dream somewhere. Maybe she orchestrated a new start for herself. But if that was the case then how could she have done it? The house exploded in an instant. The blast was heard five miles away. There was no way anyone could have escaped alive. That’s what the fire department guys were saying. “It just couldn’t happen,” Hank had told Gordy yesterday while they were sifting through the rubble. “No way anyone could have lived through this.”
But Gordy was trying to keep an open mind. Maybe there was more to Mrs. Jespers than met the eye. Maybe she was capable of taking action, drastic as it was, and doing the unthinkable – taking a chance on losing her own life to get out of the life she was in with her abusive husband. Is that what she did? Did she blow up the house on purpose? Could she have escaped? Could she still be alive? And if she was still alive, shouldn’t she be held accountable for her crime, the murder of her husband?
They talked a few minutes longer, Lettie suddenly turning vague and non-committal, leaving Gordy to wonder if she really was covering up for her friend. But if she was, there was really no way of finding out. The more the two of them talked, the more he realized that Lettie had said all she had to say. Finally he accepted he had all the information he was ever going to get from her.
“Ok, Ms. Sanderson, thanks for meeting with me. If you come up with anything else that you think might be of importance in the investigation, please get in touch.” He gave her is card and said good-bye, knowing deep down the chances were excellent he’d never hear from her again.
As he walked to his car, though, Gordy couldn’t get the conversation out of his mind. There were many questions, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to find answers to them all. To try to sort through his thoughts, he drove the squad car in the opposite direction of the police station and went, instead, down to Lakeview Park, the community park over looking Long Lake. In spite of the warm spring weather, the park was nearly deserted, only a couple of kids casting lines off the public dock. He found a picnic table under a massive cottonwood tree that was just starting to leaf out and sat down. He lay his notebook on the table and looked out over the placid water, dimly aware of a sea gull squawking from somewhere. He thought about all the times he’d been called to the Jespers’ house, being alerted by the neighbors on either side as well as from across the street. Everyone in the neighborhood was aware of the brutality of Phil Jespers toward his wife. Early on in his career Gordy had come to believe what they said and the truth about what was going. In fact he talked many times privately with Margaret Jespers at the grocery store when she was on break, but he couldn’t convince her to file charges against her husband. Every time he failed to convince her, he felt like a failure, feeling like he should have been able to do more.
A red squirrel hopped up on the far end of the table and started chattering away, scolding him incessantly. Gordy waved his hand and the squirrel jumped to the ground, scampered off about ten feet and took up its chattering again. Gordy shook his head and laughed a little while watching it. Then he turned back to his notebook and looked at the notes he’d accumulated during the day. Then he stopped and looked out over the lake. Maybe he deserved to be scolded for not doing more to help Maggie Jespers, Gordy thought to himself, if not by a noisy squirrel, as least by himself.
He breathed in the fresh spring air. He loved seeing the trees leafing out and songbirds returning from the south to nest in the forests and woodlands nearby. It was a time of year for change and rebirth. Out above the lake an eagle soared on an upward thermal while nearby it’s mate flew toward it. They met in mid air and grabbed talons, twirling together in a show of their union before unlocking and flying next to each other to the east, to the far end of the lake where their nest was located. It warmed his heart to see them together, bonded with each other in a common need to procreate and raise their young – a life of purpose and meaning. He was quickly coming to the conclusion that Margaret Jespers deserved better than what she’d had. If she were still alive, why didn’t she deserve a chance at a better life? A chance to make something of herself? A chance to live without the threat of abuse from the man she married? Especially after all she’d been through. It seemed reasonable to him.
Gordy looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly six in the evening. His partner, Alan, would be home from work by now and probably preparing dinner. He taught math at the local high school and they had talked earlier that afternoon, Gordy filling him in on the investigation. Alan told him to take his time getting home – he was going to fix a nice meal of pasta, toasted French bread and a mixed greens salad with balsamic vinegar dressing; something that would keep until Gordy returned to their small, tidy bungalow, only a mile from where the blast took place. Gordy’s mouth started watering just thinking about sitting down to a good meal. Especially after today.
He sighed and got to his feet, but before he went to his car he reached into his jacket pocket for the bag of sunflower seeds he always carried to munch on. He poured a handful and tossed them back toward the squirrel, who scampered off, stopped, sniffed, and then ran back to where the seeds lay and started stuffing them into its mouth. He watched for a moment enjoying the peaceful scene. Then he headed for his car. He had to go back to the station and write up his report. Sitting in the park had helped him clarify his thinking. He’d lay out the facts as he saw them, and point out the unanswered questions as to Mrs. Jespers whereabouts. His final recommendation would be that they leave the case open. Then he’d file it away and move on to the string of robberies that had been plaguing the area since last Christmas. The Chief seemed motivated to solve the break-ins, thinking they might be gang or drug related. Gordy would suggest they focus on them, and put the case of Margaret ‘Maggie’ Jespers on the back-burner. He smiled to himself. He was pretty sure he could convince the chief to go along with it. Somebody owed the poor woman something for all the pain and suffering she’d gone through in her horrific marriage, and that somebody might as well be him. He started the car and took the most direct route back to the station that he could. He was eager to get the report written, give it to the chief, get home to Alan, and to put the case behind him.
The next day Lettie was taking her smoke break out back of the store. The springtime sun was warm on her face, the day was pleasant and the air was filled with the aroma of lilacs in full bloom. Next week was the beginning of May, and she should have felt happy about the unseasonably warm weather but she wasn’t. She was mulling over her conversation the day before with that investigator from the police department, Gordy whatever his name was. He had called her at work earlier that afternoon and asked to meet.
“I just have a few questions for you,” he’d said, “About Mrs. Jespers. I heard you and she were pretty close.”
So he’d come over to the grocery and talked to Mr. and Mrs. Olafson, and when he was done with them he met up with Lettie. “Can we go out back and talk?” she’d asked when were introduced, “I might need a cigarette or two.” Gordy readily agreed and they’d gone out back and she’d lit up the first of many Lucky Strikes. Before the cop could even start asking questions, Lettie had taken off on a non-stop rant, spewing forth a litany of observations about Maggie and Phil, and Maggie’s marriage with Phil, and how badly Phil treated Maggie, and on and on and on. She was positive she’d had the investigator reeling in a matter of moments.
She told the cop in no uncertain terms what she’d hoped had happened to the husband who had caused her friend such relentless misery, and then started in some more about Phil and what a jerk he was. But as she talked something clicked in the back of her mind. She realized she might have been sending out the wrong message, because she certainly didn’t want the cop thinking that maybe Maggie’d had something to do with causing the explosion – just to get rid of Phil for good.
So she stopped mid-sentence, took a breath to calm herself down and went on a different track, “Sorry,” she apologized, “But I’m a little upset by the whole thing, I guess. I’ve never known anyone who’d been killed before, let alone in a house that blew up.”
The investigator had put up his hand to stop her, “Whoa there, Ms. Sanderson, no one said anything about your friend being killed. We’re just starting the investigation and we’re looking at every angle.”
“Well, be that as it may, I’ve got to be honest with you. Even though I’ve known her for seventeen years, I’ve never really known her, if you know what I mean.”
Gordy nodded and took a minute making small talk to let Lettie calm down, before getting back to the matter at hand. But after about five or ten minutes of vague comments and even vaguer answers like, “I don’t really know,” and “I’m sorry, but we really weren’t that close. She was a hard person to get to know,” the cop had nodded, closed his notebook, given her his business card and left, seemingly satisfied with the fact that Lettie didn’t really have anything more to say about Maggie, or add to what little he already knew. Or at least that’s what she hoped, anyway.
And that was just fine because Lettie, of course, really had been close to Maggie. As close as they get under the circumstances, especially hampered by the fact that Phil kept her on a short leash and basically under his thumb every possible moment. But, even given Phil’s tight control of her friend, as far as Lettie was concerned there was a fifty-fifty chance that Maggie had blown up the house on purpose. She had confided to Lettie more than once that she might eventually snap and if she did, there’d be hell to pay. Maybe this was one of those times. And, who knew? If she had snapped, if she had blown up the house, maybe there was a chance she could have escaped and could now still be alive.
Lettie took a contemplative drag and blew the smoke out. She already missed her friend, but the big question was this: Could Maggie have survived the explosion? No one had found any evidence one way or the other to lead them to think she had or hadn’t. The cop seemed like a decent enough person. Maybe he’d find some clue or something that would lead to an answer. One could only hope. She snuffed out her cigarette and went back to work. One thing was certain, Lettie was going to keep all her options open, and the first and main one was this: Maggie was alive and well and living somewhere. That was what she hoped with all her heart, anyway. And it was a hope she carried deep inside, because, other than the memories of the good times they’d had together, it was all she had to hold on to.
But the days turned to weeks and then to months. Spring turned to summer, and people eventually forgot about the big explosion on Lilac Way. Well, they didn’t actually forget about it, they just talked about it less and less and got on with their lives. By the time fall rolled around, and the kids were in school, and the leaves were starting to change color, the Long Lake Police Station had moved on to other business, too, and the case of the explosion at the house on Lilac Way was indeed filed away as an open cold case that no one bothered looking at – just the outcome Inspector Gordy Little had hoped for. The Olafson’s hired a new woman to take over Maggie’s job and life went on. For nearly everyone in and around the Long Lake area the memory of Maggie Jespers grew dimmer and dimmer with each passing day.
For everyone that was but Lettie. She is out back in the late October sun, on break, having a cigarette, and thinking about her friend. She misses the quiet, shy woman who she has grown to care for and love. She misses talking about recipes they wanted to try, flowers that were in bloom and books they were reading. In fact, right now she is enjoying a mystery series by a well respected woman author set in a rural village in central England. She would love to talk with Maggie about how much she is likes the main character, a quirky female private eye. She thinks Maggie would enjoy the character, too, (as well as the books themselves).
In short, she misses the companionship and friendship. Life isn’t the same without her friend. In the early months after the explosion Lettie held out a strong hope that Maggie had actually escaped the blast – had, in fact, somehow survived and, by surviving, had gone on to build a new life for herself. A better life. And with that new and better life she would one day get in touch, and they would renew their friendship and move on with their lives together – these two old friends who were both now finally rid of the specters of their former husbands.
But Maggie has never gotten in touch. And as the days have turned to weeks and the weeks to months, Lettie has finally begun to accept the awful truth: Maggie had, indeed, died in the blast. She is dead and gone. Gone forever. She is never coming back. With that hard realization a void has been left in Lettie’s heart that is deep, numbing, and painful. And all the more painful because of the sad reality that now she, Lettie Sanderson, is truly without hope of her friend returning.
She sighs and crushes out her cigarette and makes her way back inside to work. She glances at her watch. Four more hours. Then home. Then a bite to eat. Then relaxing in her rocking chair with her book. Then bed. A life empty without her friend. Everyday more lonely than the previous one.
October in Gloucestershire in England is gorgeous. Even the locals marvel at the way the muted oranges, reds and yellows of the beech, oak and sweet chestnut trees, colorfully wash the Cotswold hills along the River Coln that flows through the village of Fairford. People who are born here may leave for a while but most always return, drawn by the beauty of the area and the slow pace of life. Others, once they discover the tapestry of rolling meadows, woodlands and fields, many bordered by low, limestone walls hundreds of years old…Well, once they set down their roots, they never leave.
Behind the counter of the Strawberry Fields Forever flower shop the owner, Kelly Newcastle, has just hung up the phone. She turns to her new employee, a thin, quiet but friendly woman with dark shoulder length hair, tinted gray, and says, “Arla, honey, would you mind watching the shop for a while? I have to go to school and get Raffe. Apparently he’s suddenly come down with the flu or other horrific malady.” Kelly rolls her eyes, suggesting her nine year old son is probably faking illness to try to get out of a math test or something .
“Sure, Kelly,” Arla says with an understanding smile, “Go right ahead and take your time. Don’t worry about the shop, I’ve got things covered.”
Yes she does. Kelly does a quick look around. She’s had the little shop for nearly ten years now. It is well stocked with cut flowers and floral arrangements and filled to overflowing with beautiful bouquets made mostly by Arla, her new employee (well, not so new. She’s worked there for nearly three months, now.) The shop has never looked better. Kelly ruminates for a moment on how Arla certainly has a way with flowers, then gets herself ready to leave.
“I know you do, honey,” Kelly says, grabbing her purse. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The tiny bell above the door tinkles as some customers come in. She skirts around them as she goes out.
Arla waves, “Say Hi to Raffe for me.” She grins at the thought of the bright, artistically inclined little boy she is developing a fondness for, then turns her attention to the twenties something couple and their two young children who have just entered, “Hi there folks, beautiful day out today, isn’t it?”
Kelly looks over her shoulder toward her shop as she hurries down the sidewalk. She knows that her new employee has issues. She knew that right off the bat by how Arla limped when she came in for her job interview, and, later, after she was hired, by how she favored her right arm when she was arranging flowers. But don’t we all, was how she looked at it at the time. And still does. From her point of view Arla is friendly, a hard worker, and exceedingly conscientious. What more could she ask for in an employee? Maybe one day maybe she will confide in her and tell her story. Until then, she is happy to let things go their own way.
Kelly turns up the street. She loves the quaint town she has called home for most of the forty-seven years of her life (except for a brief sojourn to college for a year and a half in North Umberland.) She loves the cobblestone street that winds through the little village; the one her shop is on. She loves the slow pace of life. And, above all, she loves the people who have chosen to live in Fairford. People who enjoy the beauty of the soft hills surrounding the town, the stream that meanders through it, and the quaint shops, of which hers is one. Kelly glances at her wristwatch. Just after two in the afternoon. She slows to a walk. With Arla in charge, she can take her time. She doubts Raffe is all that sick, but if he is, she’ll be happy to have him home and take care of him. For the first time in years she has an employee she can depend on to leave in charge of her shop. It’s a good feeling, being able to count on someone other than herself. A really good feeling. She slows her walk to a stroll, finding herself hoping Raffe can come home from school. She’d love to spend the afternoon with him.
Back at Strawberry Fields Forever, Maggie (aka, Arla) watches over the couple as they browse, giving them time and space, not wanting to be too pushy. She stays near the counter, leaning on it and resting her leg, ready to answer any questions. As she watches them and their two young children she again thanks her lucky stars for what seems like the millionth time for just how fortunate she has been. She loves her job. She loves the cheerful tinkling of the bell that greets people when they enter the shop. She loves working with the flowers and arranging bouquets. She loves working with Kelly, a fireball of a woman a few years younger than her, whose energy and enthusiasm is infectious and just what Maggie needs to continue her healing process.
She watches the customers and contemplates the six months that have passed since the explosion on Lilac Way. My goodness how life has changed. Among other things she found her way to the Cotswold region in south central England where she now rents a room in a two hundred year old stone cottage from a nice elderly lady by the name of Mrs. Elise Latham. It’s a perfect place for her to learn how to live without the fear and pain and abuse she received on an almost daily basis back BTE (before the explosion), as she now refers to it. Every day she gets stronger. Every day she puts the memory of her past life behind her. Every day she learns how much her new life has to offer. She doesn’t have much of a plan other than to live and to heal and to enjoy life, and that’s what she is trying to do.
But if she did have a list of things to do, next on the agenda would be to get in touch with Lettie and invite her to come for a visit. Soon, real soon. Until then she will take her time getting better, both physically and emotionally. It will take time, but that’s Ok. She’s Arla Wickensham now, and she has all the time in the world.
She glances at the clock on the side wall. Two o’clock, eight in the evening in Long Lake. Lettie will probably just be settling down in her comfortable rocking chair in her tidy living room with a book. She always liked to read for at least an hour or two before watching the news and getting ready for bed. Maggie blinks back a tear. Oh, Lettie…How you are missed.
Maggie had just moved into her room with Mrs. Latham and was giving herself a few days to get settled, thinking that she owed herself at least that much, when she happened to glance at the local paper. She saw the ad for help at Strawberry Fields Forever and decided to take a chance, limping the three blocks from the rooming house to St. Mary’s Lane, where the flower shop was located. Kelly, the owner, and Maggie hit if off right away, and she was hired on the spot, culminating a whirlwind of events in Maggie’s life.
She smiles once more at the young couple and their children, letting them enjoy looking at the pretty floral arrangements as she lets her thoughts wander back over the last six months, time she is learning to look at as LAE, ‘Life after the explosion’ because the last six months have certainly turned out unexpectedly…what?…Different? Productive? Rewarding? Maybe all three.
She still marvels at how events played out because, obviously, she survived. And Lady Luck certainly played a role, that was for sure. The wall of the house absorbed the primary energy of the blast as did that wonderful old oak tree. But, even so, she had been hurled backward into the yard where she’d lain, hurting and in shock as burning debris began to rain down on her. Her leg was injured, she knew that for sure, but she did her best to ignore her pain. She clutched her shoulder bag, forced her aching body to stand and began the painful process of limping from the backyard out to the street and down the block. She was nearly two blocks away and moving slowly (but at least she was moving) when the sirens began and the first responders started racing to the neighborhood. By then she had made her way down to the bus stop – just like in her dreams she imagined she would one day.
In looking back, she now knows that her quiet neighborhood, with everyone at work and no one around, had been her first lucky break. There had been no one to see her as she made her slow but steady progress away from the scene of her crime. Her second lucky break was catching the downtown bus so quickly. By the time the police cars and fire trucks started rolling through town, Maggie was gingerly working her way up the steps and onto the 675B bus to Minneapolis. By that first evening, when Gordy and the fire chief where finishing up sifting through the ruins of her former home, Maggie had left the bus terminal in Minneapolis and was over half way to Madison, Wisconsin. By the next day, when Gordy had finished his meeting with the Chief and Hank and was in the process of interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Olafson and Lettie, Maggie was holed up in a Days Inn near the University of Wisconsin campus. She stayed there for a week, resting, tending to her wounds and, as she started referring to it, ‘Getting my life in order.’ She found a room to rent half a mile from the campus. She found a job. And she came up with a plan. A plan that required that she obtain a passport, because she was going to England; she was going to start a new life.
She didn’t have a drivers license because Phil had refused to let her drive, and her old one from before she had met him had expired years earlier. But she did have an ID Card and that’s what she used. She worked for a few months at one of the many college eateries (just like she’d been doing when she’d first met Phil), living frugally and saving her money, adding it to her savings from Olafson’s. When she had what she estimated would be enough to get to England and get herself settled, she applied for her passport and received it six weeks later. She gave her two week notice and booked a flight to London, landing at Heathrow Airport at the end of summer. The rest was easy: A map here, a bus there, and soon she was in the quaint village of Fairford, nestled into the rolling hills of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire in south central England. She was ready to begin to live again.
“Miss, we like both of these arrangements. Which one do you like the best?” The young man asks, interrupting Maggie’s thoughts.
She shakes her head, smiling and getting her mind back to the present. “I’m sorry,” she says and laughs self-consciously, “Day dreaming I guess. Here, let’s take a closer look at them.”
She limps out from behind the counter and begins to admire the two bouquets the couple have selected. One’s colors are primarily blue, white and lavender. The other is red, orange and yellow. They are both beautiful as far as she is concerned. Especially since she made each of them herself.
“I think they’re both lovely,” she says, gently caressing the tops of the flowers, “I think either of them will work out just fine for you, because, you know, there’s nothing that brightens a day quite like a bouquet of flowers.”
The couple smile at her comment and bend their heads together, talking quietly.
What better way than this to spend the day, Maggie thinks to herself, than helping people decide what kind of flowers to buy? She is so happy! She’s working at a job she loves and she is healing and getting better. Every day. Her dream of starting over is coming true.
The couple make their decision and Maggie wraps the orange, red and yellow bouquet in soft, green, tissue paper. They pay and make their way out of the shop, but not before accepting two suckers from Maggie. “These are from me to the children, if that’s Ok with you. For being so polite,” she says. The couple (and their kids) smile their delight, saying, “Thank you, Miss,” before leaving. Maggie waves them on their way, grinning ear to ear.
Then the shop is empty and her thoughts return. Her smile fades and she becomes pensive.
She feels guilty she hasn’t contacted Lettie. She’s missed her so much. It’s been too long. She suddenly realizes how badly she wants to see her.
She glances under the counter where her shoulder bag lays. Inside is the letter she’d written a few days earlier. In it she has opened up her heart to her old friend, telling her she misses her and hopes that she understands why she did what she had to do. She’s also told Lettie that if she ever wanted to, Maggie would send her the money so she could fly to England. ‘We could have a nice long visit,’ was how she put it in the letter, ‘I’d love to show you around my new home and where I live.’ Hopefully, they could pick up where they had left off with their friendship. That would make everything perfect.
But Maggie has put off sending the letter, not quite sure if she was ready to share her heart. But she is in a good mood now, especially after helping the couple select their bouquet. Maybe now is the right time. She closes her eyes and pictures seeing Lettie getting off the bus in her quaint, little village. They smile at each other and hug and don’t let go for many minutes. Maggie breathes in Lettie’s scent of sandalwood and vanilla. Lettie hugs her tight in return and it’s as if they were never apart. Then they release their embrace and smile at each other, connected again and firm in the knowledge that their friendship has withstood them being a part for all these months. In her mind Maggie suggests they go to her favorite cafe and they stroll down the cobblestone street to the Lavender Mist where they sit down and drink tea, eat blueberry scones and lemon curd and talk and talk and catch up. Later Maggie will show Lettie the sights: the Cotswold hills, the Coln River and the stone cottage where she lives. She’ll introduced her to Elise and to Kelly. The two dear friends will be together for as long as they want to be.
She opens her eyes and sees it all so clearly. She doesn’t have to think further. She will send the letter. She wants to see her friend again. That’s the main thing. She wants to continue putting her life back together; especially the good things of her life, and Lettie will always be one of those good things. Seeing her and being with her will make her healing process complete.
Maggie leans against the counter and sighs a happy sigh. Contentment has never been a factor in her life, not until now. But now she can say that she is truly content. It’s a good feeling to have. Now she looks forward to every day and to what the future holds, come what may. Because after all is said and done, there is one thing for sure that is always paramount in Maggie’s mind these days and that is this: It’s good to be alive.
She pats her shoulder bag. The shoulder bag that is the one physical reminder of her life before the explosion. The life she is turning her back on forever. Forever that is, except for one thing. She takes out the letter and looks at the name on it. Lettie Sanderson. Long Lake, Minnesota. She has an inkling of a suspicion that Lettie will be happy to hear from her. She gently caresses the envelope and then makes her decision. She will mail it tonight. Tonight on her way home. She grins and puts the envelope back in her shoulder bag.
The shop bell rings, interrupting her thoughts, and she looks up. A few more customers are wandering in.
“Hi there, folks, welcome to Strawberry Fields Forever,” she says, smiling her greeting, “Isn’t it a lovely day today? How may I help you?”
One of the ladies smiles back and says, “We’re looking for a bouquet of flowers for a dinner party we’re having tonight. Can you help us?”
Maggie grins, steps out from behind the counter and limps toward her. “Yes, I can,” she says, pointing to an arrangement she just put together that morning, “These are especially lovely. What do you think of them?”
It’s a bouquet of yellow daffodils, bright sunflowers and white daisies. Maggie loves how cheerful they are.
The lady is impressed, “They’re absolutely gorgeous!” she exclaims, making a quick decision, “I take them.”
“That’s wonderful,” Maggie says, and lovingly takes the flowers in her hands, “Give me just a minute and I’ll wrap them up for you. Then you can take them home.”
A thought comes to Maggie as she is wrapping the bouquet. I think I’ll make up an arrangement like this for Lettie when she comes (already, in her mind assuming her friend will jump at the chance to visit and renew their friendship.) I’ll just add something to brighten up it up even more. Flowers like blue lavender, purple verbena and burgundy foxglove. Lettie would love that.
She smiles, thinking of her friend as she tapes the wrapping paper in place and hands it to the nice lady.
“Here you go. Nothing like flowers to brighten a day, is there?”
“No, there certainly, isn’t,” the lady says, “Nothing better in the whole world.”
Except having a friend to give them to, Maggie thinks, already planning for when Lettie comes to England. Because when she does make the journey to the Cotswold’s and finally arrives in Maggie’s new little village, and they met for the first time since the explosion, then Maggie will feel like she is truly healed. Then, the life is creating for herself will be complete and the life she has dreamed of having can finally begin.