fiction

The Lamentations of Lois Arburthy

The Lamentations of Lois Arburthy

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My name is Lois Arburthy. I have been old longer than I have been young. At the age of 87, I feel the years pulling at my skin and gnawing at my bones. I was born to be old and alone, I’ve always known it, life is funny that way. The friends I liked have died and the ones I don’t cling to me like cataracts do to my corneas. If I managed to remember the password to my voicemail, and get the phone to reach a decibel that my hearing aids could actually pick up, I would hear a longwinded monologue plagued with assisted living gossip, grandkids, and arthritis.

I’ve lived alone in a small trailer tucked in a senior community for the past fourteen years. It’s tucked in the canyon, where the cold can’t freeze our joints and the where the sun can’t turn our skin into patches of melanoma. It’s called the Terrace, and overlooks the city, it’s quaint and there aren’t children, so I have no compalints. My trailer is pretty standard. I’m a clean person and don’t have the patience for upkeep, my floral wallpaper has peeled at the corners and the smell of stale gardenias has sunk into the pores of my wood paneling. My house is clean and sterile, and isn’t cluttered with pictures or knick knacks. I used to love figurines, porcelain fairies wearing petals or butterflies painted on stain glass, but I had left those behind fourteen years ago when I moved from my husband’s home.

I had loved William, and our life together. We had been married exactly 50 years when he left me for Margaret Wolfe. I hated Margaret from the moment she moved into Sherwood Hills. Sherwood was a lovely place, my absolute favorite home in my life time. A town with real white picket fences and freshly cut lawns. When the sun would start to set the smell of honeysuckles would filter through your screen and the sound of june bugs humming and crackling in the bug zapper. Margaret was the baby mesquito that flew past the zapper and fit it’s way through the screen before it grew into the disease caring insect that it was.

She reportedly moved in next door to take care of her ailing mother but if you asked me, she moved in in order to enhance her free lance stripper portfolio. She spent more time parading herself across her yard and flashing her 45 year old cleavage at my dear husband. It wasn’t long before I figured out that he already knew her. She’d been his part time secretary for the last 25 years. William worked 60 hours a week with frequent business trips. I didn’t realize that taking care of a whore counted as clocking in hours. Margaret was fairly plain. Nothing special or newly scandalous about her. A whore is a whore. He was but a simple man, and I wasn’t surprised that a spandex wrapped strumpet would catch and hold his attention. I let him keep the house and his retirement, that lucky bastard. I could have sucked him dry, left him penniless and living off of his ex-stripper girlfriend’s disability but I didn’t. I had more class than that. When I caught her on top of him, on top of the quilt I made him for our anniversary, I didn’t scream, curse, or burn her house down. I simply slammed the door and knelt on my knees, and sent a prayer to God:

I know you tell us quite clearly not to seek revenge and I see the reason in this, it swallows you whole and consumes your soul. Revenge always has a price that most are not willing to pay but my Lord and Savior, I assure you, I am ready and willing. As a good Christian I have been taught that you are just God, and I have found this to be true. I have faith in you Father that you will condemn Margaret for her sins but I ask that you will allow me to see your wrath filled justice. Before I die I want her to pay for what she has done. For I will forgive her and I beg you to forgive William, for he does not know hat he does, he was but a man tempted by flesh and the sweet whisper of a devilish democratic harlot sent by the devil himself. He has lost his way and his bible. I take responsibility for that and I admit that I  have failed him. I never provided children and I let him stray from your word. I do not deserve this and I will wait patiently for the day that the final fire and brimstone falls upon that wretched lady of the night. Amen. 

After I said my prayer, I grabbed my bible and left. It wasn’t long before the divorce papers arrived. William Arburthy had been signed by the designated tabs. Mr. Hanson, beloved family friend and slimy attorney at law, looked at me with a frown on his swollen skin,for a second I thought a tear was being summoned to his eyes but then I remembered that reptiles can’t cry.

I didn’t hear from William until after I had ordered my newspaper at my new home. The paper boy was a disappointment. He was 22 and threw papers at my roof from his 1996 Toyota Corolla. The exhaust would get sucked into my air conditioner and turned my egg shell carpet black, along with my lungs. It took me four weeks to get a newspaper I could actually read. And it never did come from that delinquent. After two weeks of papers collecting on my roof, I called the police. I knew they police couldn’t do anything about papers being thrown poorly but they would have to react to multiple reports of suspicious activity and suspected drug distribution in trailer parks. I never saw that boy again.

Anyway a month after the divorce had been final, I read the paper and found their wedding announcement. There my husband of fifty years, stood with a stupid look on his face and a middle aged prostitute clinging to his torso. Her unhinged smile revealed her gapped horse teeth and silver fillings. Her skin was tainted with freckles yet still held on to the majority of its elasticity. A rightfully ivory corset attempted to cover her breasts. Under the picture was a title, “AGE IS BUT A NUMBER, NEVER TOO OLD TO TIE THE KNOT”. I remember dry heaving, but despite my disgust I wasn’t surprised, awful people do awful things. I simply prayed:

Dear Lord, I know you have the decency enough to not recognize this unholy union but I have yet the same request. They have sinned against me again and their actions weigh heavy on my heart. I can hear the horrid blood curdling screams of demons as the hells rejoice for this evil joining. They dance in the blood of innocents to show support for the mother of  sin. As a God-fearing woman, I am awaiting their damnation and for the fiery gates of hell to open and welcome the mistress of darkness herself. Let the demon’s have their queen. Let they anoint her with filleted flesh and the bile of Cerberus. Lord I beg of you to let me wave to her as the gates of the damned close and the demons feast on her carcass. Amen. 

The next time I heard about the couple was about two years later, once again from the newspaper. In recent years I have made a habit to check the obituaries. I would either find out that a dear friend or servant of the Lord had passed or I would be lucky enough for someone evil to die. One morning in April, I was sipping coffee when I saw my husband’s face on page F8. Beneath it an article detailing his death:

William Taylor Arburthy died at the age of 76 on Friday, March twenty-ninth. He left behind his newly wedded wife, Margaret Arburthy and two toy poodles, Poncho and Maurice. The ceremony is going to be held at the end of April, and due to the wishes of the late William his body has been cremated.

William knew how I felt about cremation. It was wrong no matter how frugal, ashes were of the devil. Although, I found out later that he died from syphilis, so it was probably best his earthly body be destroyed. I found out about his disease that April when I attended my husband’s funeral.

The church was small,hot, and full. William was well liked, so I found myself rubbing elbows with people I had used to rub elbows with. I arrived early and sat in the second row on the left. When my former friends and family entered I felt their eyes widen as they peered into the back of my head, there thoughts were so loud my eardrums were vibrating:I cant believe she came. I thought she was dead. Have you seen her? Is she going to speak? Cause a scene? I stared ahead until I smelled the gardenia of my perfume mixed with the sweat of a whore.

Margaret was wearing a black low cut dress and a black bird cage veil. Black gloves covered her harpy talons and black pumps hid her cloven feet. She didn’t make eye contact, which was probably in my best interest for I would have surely turned to stone. The two poodles wore black bow ties and remained a few paces behind her, their painted nails dragging on the hard wood floor as they were being pulled through the procession. The witch sat in front of me. My former sister in law sat besides Margaret, no doubt sharing the secrets of evading death and the art of abysmal negotiation. The two women held each other as my priest gave his sermon.

Father Nicholas had been a family friend for years, frequenting our home for dinner and holiday events. He was an odd little man but he loved the Lord and the Lord loved him. The stories he told of William were all from my marriage yet Margaret nodded and sobbed like she was there. That’s when my beloved Nicholas informed me that she was, along with her son, William Junior. I saw a young hand, not older than twenty-five, grace Margaret’s back. Nicolas explained the existence of Margaret and William Junior as William’s quest for family. He stated that William’s sin was that his heart was far too big and he would get lost and forget all sense of right and wrong. My priest and shepherd did not make eye contact with me, either not to shame me or to not shame himself. The church had gone quiet with scandal, as it always does before a storm of congregational gossip and backlash. I looked ahead at the cross until my priest began to pray, but I said my own prayer:

My God, why have you shamed me in your own house? Shouldnt a diligent servant find refuge kneeling before God in his blessed palace? You allow her to walk into a place of worship without smiting her where she stands? Lord I seek understanding and acceptance as well as merciless justice. My God,I will let you crucify me but I plead that I will get to watch the angel of darkness drive a stake into her still beating heart. I want to smell the turpentine and blood flood from the gaping hole in her chest. I want to watch her skin rot and fill with the creatures from the earth. I want to watch the worms bite through her skin and lay eggs in the beating ventricles of her heart. Her skin swelling with wriggling due to the rising amounts of bugs and fluids. I want to watch her eyes bulge from their sockets and her nails  crack from clenching to the earth.  Amen. 

I stood to take communion. I watched as my husband’s wife open her mouth for the heavenly body, I looked to the heavens but she did not burst into flames. When she turned away from the priest she saw me. Her eyes bulged and her lips pressed together to form a thin line. Her shoulders shrugged inward and she stood still.

“Hello Margaret, I’m sorry for your loss,” My words hung in the air like bells in a steeple. They resonated with every in ear in the holy house. Her reptilian eyes winced at the sound of my voice but she continued to look me over. She stared at the grays in my hair and the crows feet near my eyes and the natural yellowing of my teeth. They darted across the collar of my blouse and reflected in the emerald of my broach. I looked her in her marbled eyes and said,

“Oh yes, William gave this to me twenty-seven years ago, around the same time he was committing adultery with his secretary, I always thought it was an oddly expensive for a ‘just because” gift but now I imagine it was his guilt.”

I didn’t turn to see her reaction or her forked tongue escape from her lips. I simply went home and checked my messages. My voicemail was filled:

“Hey Lois, this is Marie, we haven’t talked in a while, hope you’re doing ok, I know there’s a lot going on. Let’s have lunch! Talk to you soon. Bye Bye.”

“Lois! Oh my goodness! Call me! Oh this is Hazel Call me back! Bye!”

“This is Abby, and you haven’t been calling me back so I think I’m just going to stop by. It’s been so long, it would be nice to catch up!”

Each message was the same. I got three or four every day until finally I decided to throw a luncheon. I had eighteen old women in my house that day. Each with a series of depressing stories told to make me feel less victimized but in reality they just made me feel worse. But they were only focused on my tragedy for about ten minutes before they lost interest and started chatting about themselves. These luncheons happened every week for years with little to no change. We would alternate houses, except to those who had cats because I had told a fib once that I was allergic and had to follow through. The only thing more jarring than a lie is finding out the truth. Sometimes we would go to parks or restaurants. It didn’t matter the location the conversations were the same, it would always start about me because my story always remained the most scandalous. “So my doctor told me he could have had syphilis for years,” one blue hair would say to the other or “I saw Margaret and William Jr. at the mall the other day.” I didn’t mind the generalized statement but the direct questions never sat right with me, it didn’t help that they were always whispered, “Lois, did you get tested? My doctor said you should get tested.” I shook my head no. If small fibs send me to hell then I shudder at the thought of the place God is sending Margaret. Their eyes would open wide as they shook their heads back at me, the golden beads on their ear lobes dangling disapprovingly in my direction. This question would come back every couple weeks. Age had eaten at the section of the brain that determined what was appropriate to ask, what was appropriate to ask once, and what was appropriate to repeat. No question ever truly bothered me until a few years into our luncheons.“So Lois, what do you think about Margaret moving into Beth’s old trailer?”

“Excuse me?”

“Margaret Arburthy, William’s wife, she’s moving to Terrace in a couple weeks, my son is selling your old house.”

“She’s moving here?”

“Yes, right across the way, at Beth’s old place.”

“She knows I never remarried?”

“Lois, I don’t talk to her, why?”

“I just don’t have another husband for her to steal.”

“I guess “Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s husband” didn’t make the latest translation”

Mid laugh Abby interjected, “I doubt THAT woman has a bible!”

“Let alone read it”

“Since when do hookers know how to read?”

The last bit hit them wrong, I guess hooker was too much of a crass word for these old hens. But she was a hooker, in more ways then one, she was enticing. My friends and neighbors learned that for themselves when Margaret moved into the Terrace.  It was a humid July morning when she arrived. Her young son was with her and helping her move. She wore a white brimmed hat to cover her horns and wide round sunglasses to shield her gorgon eyes. She held my crystal platter from my wedding with one hand the other hand rested on her adulterous hip. At her side were her hounds of hell. Their fur was gray and their movement crippled. Being in an aura of evil so strong has these effects. Within minutes my friends had flocked to her like worms to a corpse. They had wriggled all over her and knew her inside and out before a single box had left the truck. I should have been hurt but I wasn’t surprised, instead I prayed:

Lord I have asked you to deliver me from evil but instead you deliver her to my doorstep. The slithering seductress waits for me outside. Lord I will believe that you have brought her to me so I can watch her suffer under your foot. You are answering my prayers and the end is almost near. I can smell the sulfur at her feet, waiting for the command. She will be sucked into hell and her body will hit every root and rock, all the way down. Phosphorus will leak from her pores and her scales will burst and organs will scrape against the obsidian.Her forked tongue with split her lips and her eyes will glaze over as her soul is ripped past purgatory and lost in misery among the annals of abysmal destruction. Amen. 

It wasn’t long before I was seeing my friends less and less. I was no longer a priority. When they did stroll into my house their noses were upturned and their eyes were deliberate, spies and nothing more, but admittedly I still desired their company. I did not need God to spell it out for me, I was meant to be alone but sometimes they would forget their new allegiances and tell me things, like she was starting to wrinkle and that she had all my figurines in her trailer. I never asked questions, a faucet becomes fixed if you draw attention to it.

Three weeks after she moved in I was invited to the weekly luncheon. The invitation came on late Thursday afternoon. It was going to be held in West Fork, a camp ground up the canyon. Transportation would be provided. The invitation was covered in hand painted mallards and loose and heavy handwriting. A nine digit number was etched on the bottom beneath a signature, Margaret Arburthy. I knew all my neighbors had watched Margaret place the invitation in my mailbox. All of their windows had pinched blinds from the weight of a heavy index finger and perpetual nosiness. I was still standing at my mailbox when I finished reading the invitation. I looked up and smiled. I felt my face flush but I would not acknowledge the embarrassment, I would be there on Saturday, before I entered my house I prayed for strength:

Give me strength as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Let me act in godliness and not strike down the snake while she is within my reach. Do not let me fall victim to the treachery that leaks from the mouth of Jezebel. Let me have faith that my God will push her from her window into the open jaws of ravenous dogs. If just for a moment,Dear god let me see through the eyes of the hound let me feel the tendons writhe between my incisors. Let me drag her corpse through town and the popping of her sinews match the rhythm of my step.I want to taste her blood in my mouth. Let it pull through my teeth. I want to feel the last pulse of her throat, feel the echo in my own heart. I want to drag her to the gates and let her exposed bone scrape on the damned earth. With each struggle she will loose hope and horns will rip through her scalp. She will take her place among the demons, feeling this pain for all of eternity. But of course only as you see fit. For I am but your patient servant. I thank you for that virtue. My Lord, be my guide and deliver me from my transgressions. Amen. 

Saturday morning came quickly enough. By eleven I was dressed in my black collared shirt and trousers. I wore hiking shoes in case the path was uneven. I sat in my arm chair until I heard a knock on my door. I pushed the blue chiffon curtains out of the way and my gaze was met by William Jr. He was smiling wide which made his feminine features appear even more slight and fair. He looked like my William or maybe that was just the oblivious look on his face. I answered the door.

“Good Morning! I am going to be your driver today Ms.,” he looked down at a piece of stationary. His brow furrowed and he looked up again and smiled, “I’m sorry, I’m going to be your driver today Ms. Aburthy. It’s an odd day when you meet another Aburthy!”

“Oh yes imagine that.”

The boy led me to a van that seated eight. He was well mannered his only flaws were talking to us old birds like we were children and not knowing that his mother was a home wrecker. The back door was ajar and I could already hear the clucking of my five friends. In the front sat Margaret. She wore a printed dress and a cropped jacket, no doubt to flatten out the bat wings that grew from her shoulders and the horned tail that sprouted from her spine. She looked ahead and began to speak to Abby.I had never heard her talk. I’ve heard a few gasps and grunts but her overall tone was far less guttural than I had imagined. I turned up my hearing aid to follow its patterns. It was a deeper voice, but almost soothing except for the occasional scratch and crack. I’m assuming the harpy placed her withering dogs in my seat as some sort of insult. They were missing most of their teeth and their eyes were shining with cataracts. The van was filled with mild chatter but William Jr. interrupted, “So Mom did you know that Lois last name was Arburthy too? Maybe she’s a cousin of Dad’s?” he smiled and winked. I watched her leathery skin go rigid, as she turned to look at me I was already speaking,

“Well, for your father’s sake I hope thats not true.”

“ I don’t know what you’re talking about Lois you are lovely for your age!”, he laughed.

“I’m afraid looks don’t have anything to do with it, well I’m sure if you ask your mother she’ll say differently.”

“ I’m sure Mother doesn’t have anything bad to say about you.”

“ Oh dear, I am your father’s first wife.”

He turned to look at his mother. I could here her exhale from the back seat.

“We’ll talk about it later.”

I found int interesting that Margaret was able to keep my existence a secret from William Jr. I suppose the “business trip” lie worked both ways. The car ride was about twenty minutes long. The campground was clean and empty. The pine trees and white oaks stood tall reaching for light in the canyon. The visitor area was littered with signs: “Do Not Litter,”“Closes at Sun Down” “Beware of Mountain Lions,”“Watch Out for Sliding Rocks,”“Hazardous Trees” as well as detailed maps of day use areas and hiking trails. The angled sheeted rock was smooth and a rich blend of autumn colors that created shade where the trees did not. It smelled of wet dirt and snow melt. There was a concrete table that had been clothed with a powder blue linen and white vinyl. Outdoor cushions sat on the benches and a small vase of flowers centered among the dishes. I recognized the dishes instantly as my wedding china. William Jr. and his mother carried multiple picnic baskets. I took a seat in the shade and waited for my lunch to be served. After the baskets were placed William waved and excused himself.

For the first time Margaret addressed me,

“Lois Dear, would you mind switching me places? Even with my visor my skin is too exposed to the sunlight. My dermatologist told me last week that I have to stay out of sun because if I don’t my Melanoma scars wont heal right.”

For the first time I looked at her face and noticed a couple of small bandages.

“Did you get some biopsies done?”

“Yes, All positive.”

The other women gasped and grabbed at her hands for comfort, I suppressed a smile.

“That’s too bad.”

Me, being a woman of God, traded spots. The sun was warm on my face and I could feel the presence of the trees looming behind me. The trees not providing any shade They bent strangely searching for life, growing at odd angles in order to achieve their purpose.  I looked at her and let out a small smile. At that moment she started to cry. I watched the pity swell in the decaying lungs of my neighbors. Margaret’s voice got shrill and she started to blubber and wail while she spoke,

“It’s been such a hard month. I had to sell my home. William left behind so much debt and hospital bills. And the funeral costs. He didn’t have a cent left to his name. It’s just been so hard. The way he left me! Syphilis? He had syphilis? It got into his brain and by the time we found it, it was too late, he had already given it to me! And now I can’t get on my insurance plan because I have too many ailments. Too many ailments? How is that fair especially when it happened to me! It’s treatable too! And don’t even let me start on what William Junior has been putting me through!”

Her voice continued to drone on. I had to swallow a smile. I had gotten syphilis over sixty years ago. My failure to treat it on time left me too scarred to have children. I never thought to tell William. It was my business anyway. He didn’t need to know why I was barren. And through the will of God he was kept in the dark. I felt the Lord’s peace swell inside of me like a fiery storm.

I no longer craved the misery and evil that spewed from the witch’s mouth. As I turned down my hearing aid I heard her say how she would never have grandchildren because of her son’s “preferences” but I didn’t care. The other women listened in with morbid curiosity. I abandoned sound and absorbed the serenity of my surroundings. The stillness of the air and the light reflecting through the leaves. Margaret’s Judgement Day was today as was mine. I closed my eyes to enjoy the sun on my face and the taste of cucumber sandwich on my tongue. The cream cheese danced on my tongue and the warmth of the sun brushed my face. The creaminess of the flavor filled my mouth and allowed me to exhale in complete relaxaction. The crunch and coolness of the cucumber was a welcome and pleasant surprise, it was refreshing and put an end to the drought that had been plaguing my mouth. I was so absorbed in my free lunch I missed the violent cracking of branches and the thunderous roll of rocks sliding down slate. I missed the terrorized screams being released from petrified faces and the uneven scrapes of canes and sandals fleeing from the table. In fact I never even saw the tree coming and neither did Margaret. The blessed tree had fallen on the opposite side of the table, destroying all the evils that lay underneath it. I took another bite of my sandwich, looked to the heavens, and whispered “Thank you.”

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