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ALDA FOLLOWED the distracted young man from the bank machine to his car.
What a fine looking lad, she thought. Sorry to do this to you son, but a girl’s gotta eat.
“Ah, excuse me young man.” Alda called after him. He looked tired from probably a hard day’s work.
The man turned and seemed puzzled at the sight of a strange elderly woman inching towards him in a walker.
“Sorry to bother you dear,” Alda said. “Do you have the time? See my granddaughter is supposed to pick me up but I lost track of the time.”
The young man sighed, a relief so subtle that no one would’ve caught it, except for Alda. She was a seasoned player in this game and that flash of emotion was exactly what she was looking for. His guard was down and he walked right into her plan.
“Ya sure, of course.” He seemed eager to help. He looked down on his shiny watch, then a big smack from behind his head collapsed him onto the wet cement.
“Jesus Art! What are you trying to do . . . kill the guy?”
Alda pushed the walker aside and bent down to check on the man’s pulse. They hadn’t taken any lives thus far and she wasn’t going to let her reckless husband break the streak.
To her relief, the man was still breathing though a wet spot began to seep through the hair in the nape of his neck. Alda gave Arthur a disgusted look as she struggled to get up. If she crouched any longer, her knees would lock and not even a crowbar could ply those stubborn puppies straight.
“What?” Arthur asked, “When did you start caring . . . oh wait a sec, it’s because he’s cute isn’t it you old dirty ditz.”
“Oh shut your pie hole and be done with it.” Alda shoved Arthur down to search the man’s wallet and he found the envelop containing the money the victim had withdrawn from the machine. They didn’t have time to count but by the thickness of it, Alda knew it’d be hundreds of dollars. “Hurry up you slowpoke. I’m too old for jail.” Although the parking lot was quiet, every minute spent here was another chance of getting caught.
Arthur grunted and sped up in taking off the man’s fancy watch and expensive-looking cuff links. When it came to valuables, nothing would escape Arthur’s eyes.
After fumbling through the man’s many pockets and quickly scanning the interior of his car to make sure nothing was left behind, Alda and Arthur tore out of the crime scene in their 1992 Porsche Turbo, the only memento of their earlier days before the big scam. Alda hated the car. It was a mockery to their situation and a reminder of her husband’s incompetence and stupidity that led them to this predicament. You’d think the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation would be wise enough to not trust a scumbag who set him up and costed them not only all their fortune, but Arthur’s name in the business world.
“You know you should really get rid of this piece of junk.” Alda said as they chugged along the side streets of Rogers Park in the Windy City.
“Where’d we sleep huh woman? This car is the roof over our heads.” Arthur got offended every time Alda attacked his car.
“I’ve told you for the thousandth time it’s too flashy.” Alda said. “We can find a cheap apartment for under $600 a month and settle for a while. I happen to like Chicago.” Alda wished she could crack through that thick skull of his with a hammer. Maybe one day.
“And for the thousandth time, what little savings we have is for our future. Medicine isn’t a penny a pill you know?” Arthur replied.
“And whose fault is that? If we’d moved to Canada years ago when we had the chance, we would’ve gotten free health care. Instead, you dragged me around from city to city like a couple of refugees. It’s been 10 years Art!”
There they went again, Alda thought, blaming each other for their misfortune; Alda at Arthur for their bankruptcy and alienation of friends and relatives who might otherwise have helped, and Arthur at Alda for her constant nagging and not being able to bear a child.
The autumn moon was high in the sky when they found a good spot to park for the night and the bickering had finally stopped. First thing tomorrow, Alda would make sure that they’d deposit the cash in their separate bank accounts and sell the jewellery they had stolen. There was no way Alda would let Arthur handle her share. She’d seen what greed had done to her husband. And after 50 years, the old man still couldn’t let the infertility go.
It’s not your fault. Alda reminded herself. But it didn’t change the fact that their lives would be much easier if they had an offspring to rely on. Their kid would at least provide them with basic needs and dignity. So in a way, not being able to fulfill the duty of a woman seemed like a sin.
Beside her, Arthur snored like a pig, totally oblivious to Alda’s sulking. Despite his effort to keep reminding her that she deprived him of a child, Arthur had never left her either. He hadn’t ever laid eyes on any other women, at least as far as she could see. Money was his only mistress.
She turned to face him and the thought of his loyalty seemed to have evaporated all her anger, for now. This was one of the few moments when she didn’t want to poison him or strangle him in his sleep, an idea that Alda entertained more often than morally allowed.
Her Prince Charming was once loving and passionate, but 50 years of marriage piled on with a complete bankruptcy and a criminal record from the scam had killed the last drop of romance in him.
One fact remained though, Arthur had always prided himself in his appearance and true, at age 75, this old bastard looked like he was in his late 50s. Alda was not too shabby herself in her youth. People said women who have never given birth could retain their youth longer. What a load of crap! Alda often thought. Having an inhospitable uterus certainly did not stop the aging process for her. In fact, Mother Nature might have added salt to her injury by giving her extra saggy skin that shouldn’t belong to any human being. She was 10 years younger than Arthur, but her appearance could score the role as the evil, wrinkly witch’s mother in Snow White.
Studying Arthur’s deep-set wrinkles and bulging eye bags, Alda realized her husband had aged significantly in the past year. His appearance was finally catching up to his actual age, yet he still acted as if he was younger. For once, she was amazed and well, extremely jealous at how he could sleep so soundly in this cramped sports coupe and wake up with full range of motion the next day. Her own joints locked up by just sitting in the car, never mind trying to spend the night in it. There wasn’t enough WD-40 in the world to lubricate those stiff hinges of hers. Yet they had spent many nights curled up in their seats, hoping for this misery to end.
The loud rumbling of the car dragged Alda out of her disturbed slumber. She was glad the moving vehicle woke her from her recurring nightmare where Arthur took all their hard-earned cash and ditched her on the side of the road. Considering Arthur had been stashing extra money aside for the “maintenance of his car,” her nightmare might very well come true.
“You should try driving sometimes.” Arthur’s words washed away the remnant of her sleep.
“What, no good morning or anything?”
Arthur sighed. “You should know how to handle a car . . . you know . . . just in case —”
“Just in case you ditch me? You selfish prick.”
“WHAT? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Don’t pretend with me. I know you’re up to no good.”
This time, Arthur gave her no comeback. He just stared impassively ahead like his mind was somewhere far away from Earth.
Not offering an argument was very unlike Arthur and the thought that she might have hit the bull’s eye crushed Alda’s heart.
After a long moment of silence, Arthur asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Surprised that you care,” Alda muttered.
“I want a nice Sunday brunch.” Arthur accelerated the Porsche and began driving into downtown Chicago.
“It’s only Saturday you old fart,” Alda said.
If Arthur heard her, he didn’t show it.
After thirty minutes, Alda and Arthur were comfortably seated at Weber Grill waiting for their warm meals. Alda stole a quick glance at Arthur and saw that his brows were furrowed and lips pressed in a hard line. Then the food came, distracting both of them from their reveries.
They ate in silence. Alda would’ve welcomed the truce but not today. For some unknown reason deep inside her, she couldn’t bear to sit two feet across from her husband yet feel as if they were miles apart.
“Why the hell are you so quiet this morning?” Damn, I have to stop doing this. Alda wished she could be more gentle towards her old man, sometimes.
Arthur shrugged and swallowed a mouthful of sautéed mushrooms.
“Seriously. You’re pissing me off. Just talk.”
“Maybe I don’t want to argue today?” Arthur said. “Is that okay with you?”
Alda searched her mind for the significance of today, September 30th, 2012. Nope, not a darn thing came to mind.
“Well you can still talk to me without arguing. Is there no nice things you can say to me?”
Arthur closed his eyes for a brief moment then said, “Nope.”
Fury began to swell but Arthur put out the fire before Alda exploded.
“Jeez, I’m just kidding woman. Seriously, you need to simmer down and learn how to take a joke.”
“Or you can stop pushing my buttons,” Alda said.
“Well then my lady. How would you like it if we spend tonight at a motel?”
His words caught Alda by surprise for the cheapskate would never suggest splurging. The several times they had stayed at a motel, she practically had to drug him and drag him there.
“Don’t look so stunned. I can play nice sometimes.” Before Alda could say a word, he continued. “Besides, I’m the one who has to listen to your nagging and whining if you didn’t have a good night sleep. So there.”
Alda was about to argue but decided against it. She had never gotten her way so easily and this time she knew to shut up.
By the time they deposited the money and sold the jewellery, the sun was already on its way down the horizon. Today had shaped up to be one of their best days in years. The jeweller had given them more money than expected, as the watch turned out to be a limited edition to some fancy brand that even Arthur had never heard of. But the most pleasant of all for Alda was Arthur’s lightened mood.
When they arrived at the hotel, and yes, a nice three star hotel that Arthur picked, it was almost time for dinner.
How things have changed. Alda thought. Arthur wouldn’t even consider the possibility of staying at a three star back in the day, and now a decade later, the 400-thread count sheets felt like pure silk to him. But Arthur’s absurd behaviour was unsettling. Something was definitely brewing in that thick skull of his, but Alda was reluctant to speculate. What if her worse nightmare was coming true?
Then milk it for as long as it’s worth. If he was gonna ditch you anyway, might as well take advantage of tonight. At least she still had her share because she had secretly withdrawn all the money in her own account at the bank earlier today. Just in case.
So for dinner, Alda ordered room service and paired it with a paid movie from the oldies channel — The Millionairess starring her favourite actress Sophia Loren. Surprisingly, Arthur didn’t object and stayed awake for the entire movie. Occasionally they chuckled together and Arthur even put his arm around her, a scene they had both long forgotten.
The next morning, Alda slowly came to her senses. When she realized that her joints didn’t ache she spread her mouth in a face-splitting grin. She turned to face Arthur but found herself staring at an empty spot on the king-size bed. Alda reluctantly pushed herself up and the slip of paper on the coffee table immediately caught her attention. Fear and self-denial swept through her like a gust of chilling wind, taking her grogginess with it.
With shaky hands Alda unfolded the letter and saw the scribbled handwriting that belonged to her husband. The letter read:
My dearest Alda,
I’m sorry that I have to leave like this. I know you’d hate me for it but it needed to be done. You see, I’ve been lying to you. I saw an oncologist behind your back and it turns out I have pancreatic cancer. The prognosis is no more than a year and physical deterioration would begin very soon. Then I will become a burden. It’s a battle I cannot win, so might as well check out before I become a skeleton.
I’ve secretly purchased a life insurance plan in case this happens. I knew you’d bite my head off if you found out where the extra money went, but it’s the only way to take care of my woman after I’m gone. I’m sorry I’ve kept you in the dark.
By the time you read this letter, I’ll have taken your most “beloved” car for a spin and it will look like an accident. The one million dollar payout should last you for a while, comfortably. No more camping out in a dingy old coupe. No more worrying whether the next meal would come or not. No more old bugger pushing your buttons. Your sister has agreed to help (as long as I’m not in the picture). I’ve got you a train ticket to Miami. She’ll handle the rest when you get there. She’s family, after all.
I know I haven’t said this in a long while, but I love you Alda, my sweetheart, my soul-mate. I might have forgotten how to appreciate you for the last 10 years, but please know that you are the only one in my heart. Please forgive me for my insensitive departure. Take care of yourself and maybe one day we’ll meet again on the other side.
P.S. Burn the letter after you’re done.
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