Shirley said to Alex, “Now that Randy has moved out of the garage apartment, we’re empty-nesters.”
“Yup,” said Alex. “That’s it, then: we’re old.”
“Don’t say that!” Shirley said, furrowing her brow. “Old is a state of mind.”
“It’s also a state of body.”
Shirley thought about the shade of blonde she’d been using to touch up the little gray wisps for the last fifteen years. She’d had to start using more color lately, probably because they’d made the product weaker. Once “The Change” had done its work, she’d noticed in the mirror that her girlish figure had transformed into something with more character, an erudite carriage. Generic naproxen was working wonders on her hips and knees.
“We’re maturing,” she said. “We’re not growing old.”
“Hmph,” said Alex.
“But since you mentioned it,” she said, bending over at the waist to put some of the groceries in the fridge, “Randy and the boys were always so helpful around the house; that’s what kept me so young, no extra wear and tear with them around.”
“Good boys,” said Alex. He was looking at his iPhone, trying to send an e-mail to one of the grandkids. “How do you attach a photo?” he muttered.
“Ginny Caulfield has a girl who helps around the house.”
“What’s that? You want a servant? My state pension isn’t that flush.”
“Well, she’s not a servant, exactly,” said Shirley.
“Oh, that’s right! I know all about that,” he said. “One of those mulatto girls who doesn’t speak English. Paddy told me all about her. Squat little girl, right?”
“Dear!” said Shirley. “Mestizo, not mulatto.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” Alex said. “I don’t really know the difference.”
“It’s such a shame,” Shirley said. “We have these derogatory labels for these people, but they’re not properly called indigenous because they have European ancestry. They still need our help, though. Can’t we hire one of them?”
“What? An illegal?!?”
“It shouldn’t be illegal. I mean, they shouldn’t be called illegals. They’re undocumented. They haven’t done anything more illegal than break a law that is targeted against them.”
“Hmph,” said Alex. He stared at his phone, pushed a button, and smiled. “I think I did it right this time”
“Well?” said Shirley?
“All right, all right. I know Pastor Barb keeps harping on it during just about every one of her sermons. I’ll ask around. I don’t think you put an ad in the paper for something like this. I mean, do papers even run want ads anymore?”
“You should use Greg’s List,” said Shirley.
A few days later, Shirley answered the door to welcome a tall young man who had too much curly hair standing straight out from his head, like an afro, except he was white. His glasses were those retro thick-framed kind, and he wore a long dark gray scarf around his neck, complementing a denim jacket over a bright red t-shirt tucked neatly into a pair of skinny jeans. He wiped his Vans on the doormat before walking in.
Under his arm was a short, overweight, young woman with mottled complexion, and very dark, straight hair which hung to her shoulders.
“This is Ana Lucia,” said the young man. “She’s a teen-aged immigrant from Guatemala, ready to make a new life in the United States. This interview, as you know, is sponsored by Immigration Without Bigotry, and is intended both to make sure our patrons, such as yourself, can be comfortable with our wards, and also to make sure our wards are in a safe environment. Since the law of this land is so capricious with respect to immigrants, liability is very difficult to ascertain, so we do our best as a liaison in order that as many people are happy as possible.”
Ana Lucia rubbed her nose, which was broad and flat. She stifled a cough.
“Many of our immigrants have difficulty adjusting to our east coast climate, with the damp and the cold,” explained the young man. Shirley’s heart broke for the girl, and she loved her.
The next day, Shirley showed Ana Lucia to the garage apartment, where she immediately took up residence and called it her home from that day forward.
Several months later, Ana Lucia’s complexion had cleared to a lovely creamed-coffee color, and, because her nutrition had shifted away from stove-top fried rice and beans to fresh vegetables and lean meats, she had lost weight. Shirley kept her active with chores and work, but not so much as to strain the girl beyond what her conscience could bear, and she noticed that Ana Lucia had not only lost weight, but she had become fit and athletic, a beautiful young lady. She helped style Ana Lucia’s hair.
At her Ladies Aid quilting group at the church, which Pastor Barb did not attend, Shirley proudly explained how she and Alex were fulfilling the Lord Jesus’ own words to have mercy on the poor. It was a topic of much interest, and many of the ladies nodded with approval.
One day, she heard Alex talking to Ana Lucia. They were walking up the stairs together, where Ana would be tidying the master bath.
“Do you like working for us, Ana?” asked Alex.
“Yes, Mr. Alefson,” said Ana Lucia in her best English accent, which was still very heavily influenced by her Central American Spanish tongue.
“Oh, my,” said Alex, with a chuckle. “You shouldn’t call me Mr. Alefson. Call me Alex. Me llamo Alex. Now, do you like working for us? Do you really enjoy it?”
“Yes, Mr. Alex,” said Ana Lucia.
Alex laughed aloud, and Shirley could hear no more of the conversation, except the muffled sounds of talking wafting down the stairs. She continued reading her magazine, absorbed in the latest window treatment fashions. After a while, she looked up at her own kitchen bay window, wondering how what she was reading might apply to her east-facing breakfast nook, and she noticed that it had become very quiet in the house.
Alex sauntered down the stairs, then went to his den, where he turned on the television to watch cable news.
A few days later, a similar scene played out. Shirley was on the couch reading a magazine, poring over the pictures, comparing them to her own living room, when Alex went upstairs with Ana Lucia, asking, “Do you like working for us, Ana?”
“Yes, Mr. Alex, you know I do.”
This time Shirley listened, and she heard the sound Alex made only under very intimate circumstances. It passed away after a few seconds. Shirley thought of her quilters at church, so she returned to her magazine, telling herself, “Well, at least I’m off the hook, now. What a relief.”
She put the magazine down, went to the cabinet, and poured herself a glass of wine. Alex sauntered down the stairs and went directly to his den.
The play continued like this, monotonously, until, a few months later, Shirley heard Ana Lucia in the bathroom, weeping.
“Ana, what is troubling you?” she asked. She knew. Without being told, she knew.
“Mr. Alex is no good to me,” said Ana Lucia. “He is no good to me. I have a baby from him inside me.”
“You come with me, young woman,” said Shirley. She trundled Ana Lucia into the RX 350, and they sped away. Shirley fought back tears. “Reproductive rights,” she kept telling herself. “Violated.”
When she told Pastor Barb what had happened and what she had done, Pastor Barb held Shirley’s hands in hers, and they cried together. “You did the right thing for Ana Lucia,” she told Shirley. “It was the right thing to do. Think of what kind of trouble that would have caused the girl. You have power, now, Shirley, power to help the weak. From now on, you should supervise her so that she doesn’t fall in with any other predatory young men.”
“Do you like working for us?” Alex said. And it grew quiet, as usual. Shirley returned to her magazine, then a glass of wine, as usual, to still her conscience, which had brought her to her boundary. Alex did not saunter down the stairs and into his den as usual. Shirley waited. An hour passed. Curiosity sprang into her conscience, and then anger, fueled by a second glass of wine.
“This is brazen!” she thought.
She went to the foot of the stairs. “Should I go up?” she asked herself. When she put her hand on the banister, her pinkie finger knocked against some jingle bells she’d tied there as Christmas decorations. Her eyes followed the artificial evergreen garland and the strand of white lights reaching up to the second-floor landing. She ascended.
There, on the bed, lay her husband, Alex, his throat cut. Blood had pooled on the sheets.
“Good for you, Ana!” she exclaimed. “You deserved it, you bastard!” Her breast heaved with a mighty outcry, and she made to spit on him.
While she was still in the act of spitting on him, the same dagger cleaved her esophagus and windpipe.