When the last dishes were washed and had been consigned to their proper places in the cupboard, she smoothed the pleats of her apron, and finally allowed herself a few moments to sit down. She could hear the soft banter from the living room and the occasional crescendo of laughter. She rested her face in her hands, softly rubbing the fatigue that rested there. She was alone, and that was alright. She had had several offers of assistance from her guests and she had denied them all. “Go, sit down and enjoy yourself” she had said. “It will only take me a few minutes and I will join you”. In truth, she did not want the help because the sooner she finished, the sooner she would have to join them.
Dan had been a good man in the beginning she thought to herself. At least on the surface. Most people liked him and as such, he had collected a large circle of friends. But they were his friends, not hers. She had always been an introvert and found entertaining almost painful. She loved her solitude and loved to read about, as opposed to living, a more extroverted life. She felt secure wrapped in a book, moving at will among the words, imposing herself upon the characters, embedding herself in the pictures. This is where she lived.
Dan was critical of her reluctance to socialize and, over time, it had become a bone of contention between them. Like this party tonight. She had asked him not to invite them over but he was insistent. “Get out and mingle” he said. “It will do you good. You are turning into a real recluse. Not at all the person I married.” That had hurt. She had always been shy and somewhat withdrawn. Dan knew that when he met her. He had even kind of liked it. She was attractive back then and he enjoyed the attention she generated when they would arrive at a party. But what she didn’t realize was it was all superficial. She was a trophy, to be trotted out when it was convenient. In truth, however, she had also liked the fact that he was so popular. In her own way, he was a trophy too.
They had married and the first few years had been good. He continued to be popular and she existed within that popularity. On the fringes perhaps, but included. But as time went on, Dan began to change and the changes became more apparent. Not just physically, but also in his demeanor. His friendships were no longer spontaneous. They were more forced. In his position in business, he had the ability to surround himself with people that felt obligated to attend. Parties were more like command performances. People stopping by long enough to be seen and finding excuses to leave early, and this did not sit well with Dan. As the evenings wore on, he became louder, and a little more belligerent, and yes, a little more intoxicated.
As she sat there reflecting, she knew what would happen when all the guests left. He would be in a foul mood and, before long, would accuse her of spoiling the party. It was never about him. She was the one causing the problem. She was the one, through her refusal to join in, that had made everyone feel unwelcome. And he would continue to drink until he got physical. She shuddered as she heard people say goodbye and when a couple of them ducked their head in the kitchen to say goodnight. It was just a matter of time now.
At last the chatter subsided and she saw Dan turning off some of the lamps, and she knew it was time. As Dan entered the kitchen, she quickly rose from her chair and told him she had a headache and was going to bed. He offered a few unkind words but stopped only long enough to pick up a liquor bottle and glass and return to the living room.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs, she quickly went to a hall closet and removed a small gun. How many times, she thought, had she wanted to use this, and had not had the courage to do so. But tonight was different. Tonight, she would act on her conviction and knew everything would be OK. She removed her clothes, putting on a ball gown and slipping under the covers. Soon she heard him on the stairs, moving unsteadily upward until he loomed in the doorway of the bedroom. “You ruined it” he said. “I’ve had enough of your bullshit. You need to be taught who is in charge here”. He lurched drunkenly forward, reaching for her as she quickly removed the gun from under the blanket and, at point blank range, fired one shot into Dan’s chest. His look of rage turned briefly to disbelief before he collapsed on the floor.
The police had cordoned off the crime scene and removed the body while they continued to search the room. “This looks like a classic domestic dispute to me”. one said. “When we find the wife, I suspect we will have found our killer”. He walked to the bed and, using a pen, picked up the small revolver and placed it in an evidence bag. He paid no attention to the open book laying next to it with a picture of a winding trail in a forest down which a lady in a ball gown ran.