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Adelaide B. Shaw
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Adelaide B. Shaw


Adelaide B. Shaw lives in Millbrook, NY with her husband. She has three children and six grandchildren. Her stories have been published in several literary journals, including By-Line, The Country and Abroad, Bartleby Snopes, Loch Raven Review, American Literary Review, The Writers’ Journal, SN Review, Bewildering Stories and Storyteller. In addition to writing fiction, Adelaide writes haiku and other Japanese poetic forms, such as tanka, haibun, and photo haiga and has been published widely. Her award winning collection of haiku, An Unknown Road is available at www.modernenglishtankapress.com. Examples of her poetry may be seen at www.adelaide-whitepetals.blogspot.com

The following work is copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.


The Cottage and the Fool

            Harry insisted that there had been no infidelity and that I was a fool to think so. Some people in the town of Deerhill, (population 4,790), agreed with him. Others agreed with me, that he was the fool. There were no opinion polls, no surveys taken, but I sensed a taking of sides as I went about my business in town. I was greeted with either a cheerful friendliness or a cool, reserved one. The former included a sympathetic pat on the arm, even a hug, the latter, a raised eyebrow and wrinkled forehead. Deerhill has always been a friendly town; only the degree of friendliness varies.

            The second love of my life, Harry having been the first, had been The Cottage. Now they have both been downgraded considerably. Although we called the house The Cottage, it was a ten room colonial built in 1900. The house needed extensive work, but I was attracted to the wisteria vines twisting around the slender columns in front. I admit The Cottage had been my passion, not Harry's. Harry, commuting into Manhattan every day, didn't have the time, nor the money for a big fixer-upper. So it was mostly I who put it into shape with the usual blood, sweat and tears in lieu of money - sanding, polishing, painting and waxing until my hands looked like lobster claws. Harry was pleased with the result, and we began our "lived happily ever after" sojourn. In actuality it became "lived happily 30 Years." Genevieve had spoiled the "ever after."

             Glamorous, sophisticated and dazzling Genevieve Paget. No one would admit it openly, but every male in Deerhill lusted after her. You saw it in their faces and body language, the athletic young men flexing their muscles, the middle-aged men sucking in paunchy stomachs, the wrinkled seniors tuning up hearing aids, and the pubescent teenagers, strutting like peacocks.

            "I think I'm going to need an attorney," Genevieve said the first time she walked into Harry's law office.

            Harry had retired three years earlier from the firm in Manhattan and had opened a small office in Deerhill. I helped out with the typing and filing. It was a quiet country practice with Harry working only part-time. Just to keep his mind occupied, he said. No one was prepared for the onslaught of activity Genevieve's appearance brought. Not just to Harry's office, but to the town. 

            Genevieve stood in the office doorway, that early wet September morning, letting the wind and rain blow in through the open door, and spoke in soft cultured tones. Obviously Manhattan, upper East Side, I thought, scrutinizing the Burberry raincoat thrown casually over her shoulders, the designer gray linen dress and matching Italian shoes. I stopped slouching, rearranged a few wayward strands of hair and assumed my best office manner, the one I used when greeting new clients who sometimes were bewildered and anxious when they first dealt with an attorney.  

 

               "I hope Mr. Farrell can see me without an appointment," Genevieve said. "Caroline Moody was my great-aunt. I came up to Deerhill as soon as I learned she died."

            Caroline Moody had been close-mouthed about her family. It was only after she had suddenly become ill that she told her doctor about a will and a great-niece who should be notified. After she said that she had lapsed into a coma, and the town began speculating about this great-niece, where she was, and how much money old Caroline had in addition to her house and barn and the l65 acres out on Rt. 52 where she had lived.

            While Caroline's body lay in Philips Mortuary, the police searched Caroline's house for information. They were none too quick about it, and it had been two days after she died before they found Genevieve's address in Manhattan.

            Genevieve lowered herself into a black imitation leather chair and picked up a magazine, appearing to be not the least impressed by the weight of the New York Sups, McKinney's, Fed. Income and Estate Taxation and several other series lining the walls in the outer room which served as a reception area and library.

            Frank Philips ran the mortuary next door, and he had sent Genevieve to Harry's office. He often sent Harry referral business. The bereaved left Frank teary eyed and confused, and Harry held their hands and counseled them on filing for probate and collecting the assets. They went away comforted and returned with new business--new wills when they felt mortal and entertained thoughts of dying, new torts when they felt litigious and had grievances against their neighbors, new separation and divorce agreements when they felt the urge to be free.

            "Dr. Stolzer said that Aunt Caroline left a will, but I don't know where it is," Genevieve said while waiting for Harry's other client to leave. "...and I don't know how to proceed."

            Harry opened his office door and interrupted his goodbyes to Jack Coleman to say "Hello" to Genevieve, not waiting for me to make an introduction and stepping on Jack Coleman's foot in the process. Jack, just as ga-ga as Harry, didn't seem notice he was limping when he left.

            "So you're Caroline Moody's great-niece," Harry said as he steered her by her elbow into his office. "I don't remember seeing you here in Deerhill before."

            "I visited Aunt Caroline briefly two summers ago, but I've lived abroad most of my life. I returned to New York last June to manage the Simpson Art Gallery on ..."  I couldn't hear anymore with the door shut. No matter. I would learn it later when I typed the probate papers.

***

            Genevieve Paget was the daughter of Caroline Moody's niece Georgina Cranston Paget who was the daughter of Thomas Cranston, Caroline's brother. I typed it all in the affidavit of heirship, who was married to whom, who begot whom, and who was still alive. There were several great-nieces and great-nephews living, but only Genevieve was mentioned in the will which was found in a bank safe deposit box.

            The will, a simple one page document, was the type found in "How To" books. It had been drafted without an attorney, but was properly signed and witnessed and properly notarized. Genevieve was named as executrix, and, except for a few charities, she would inherit almost three million dollars.

            "You've been so helpful, Harry, both you and Velma," Genevieve said three days after the funeral, giving me a soon to be two million dollar smile. "I can return to New York knowing that my aunt's estate will be...." 

            "Will be in wonderful hands," I cooed to the water cooler when the door closed, mimicking Genevieve's saccharine tones. "Oh, Harry, I don't know a thing about being an executrix, but with you to handle matters there's no need to worry."

            Genevieve had been in the office every day, and Harry had stayed way beyond four o'clock, his usual quitting time in case she called with another question or dropped by with more of Caroline's personal papers. It was after four-thirty, and, although I usually left by two, I stayed. Harry needed watching. He had resumed wearing a tie and sticking a white handkerchief in his jacket pocket. He stood taller, extending his six feet two inches their full height. I even caught him eyeing the Grecian hair coloring formula for men in the drug store.

            We were a stalwart couple. Everyone said so. Harry and Velma. Hard workers, faithful, honest people, salt-of-the-earth. I could still say the same for myself, but I was beginning to worry about Harry since he met Genevieve.

            No slouch in the looks department when I was younger, I could still pass for early forty something. I had my figure, and with a little help from Clarissa at the Nu Wave Beauty Salon, my dark brown hair. But Genevieve made every woman in Deerhill feel dowdy and fat, old and clumsy and completely inadequate. She seemed to promise unknown delights with her violet eyes, with the gentle sway of her hips, with her full red mouth which was always set in a secret Mona Lisa smile, her lips slightly parted and revealing a glimpse of her perfect teeth.

            When she walked or moved her head, her wavy auburn hair bounced and glistened. When she spoke, her voice stroked you, soothed you, lulled you into believing anything was possible. If it were 100 degrees outside or only 10 and she said, "Isn't it a lovely day?" you believed her. Within just a few days the men loved her and sang her praises, and soon the women did also, adopting an "if you can't lick 'em join 'em" attitude.

            I kicked the water cooler and felt a tad better until Harry popped his head out the office door. "You don't have to stay," he said, scowling and waving his hand like he was shaking off some dust. "You can type these papers tomorrow."

            "I'll stay," I said, not that easy to be blown away. Harry and Genevieve needed a lot of watching, but I wasn't able to watch them all the time.

            The probate was a complicated one, thrilling Harry and irritating Genevieve. Caroline Moody, a childless widow, had kept to herself, and the many distant relatives were difficult to locate. Harry had to publish notices in newspapers in Manhattan and in several neighboring cities. Letters were sent which were returned and sent out again to other addresses.

            "Why do these relatives have to be notified?" Genevieve complained in a slightly petulant tone. "They don't inherit anything."

            "They are the legal distributees, along with you," I said. "If there were no will, all of you would inherit, and the law says that they have to be notified in case they might object to the will." I loved explaining the intricacies of the state probate law and could do so with more clarity than Harry. Genevieve wasn't that interested in the fine points of probate law. She tapped her long painted nails on the edge of the desk.

            "Is there any way Harry can hurry this along? He's so capable, I'm sure he can do something so I can get some of the money now."

            "Why didn't you tell me Genevieve was out here?" Harry asked, quickly changing the frown he had shown to me to a smile for Genevieve. His facial muscles twitched and twisted themselves around like a rubber pretzel.

            "Harry, will they object to do think? Those other relatives?"

            "If they do, then we'll deal with it."

            The old fool. Harry had hardly done any other work for a month and now was keeping evening hours just to accommodate Genevieve who had sub-let her New York apartment, moved into Caroline's house, and began commuting to her job.

            Harry filed a petition with the court for Genevieve to be appointed preliminary executrix which enabled her to collect the assets and get at some of Caroline's money to repair the house, but none for herself. Disappointed that she was restricted in her spending, she nevertheless enjoyed spending whatever money she could get and began renovating the old farmhouse.

            Every carpenter, painter, plumber and electrician in Deerhill and the nearby towns wanted the work. And of course, Genevieve depended upon Harry for advice on everything.

            Five relatives surfaced, and they all objected to the will. It was not properly drafted, they said. Genevieve must have exerted "undue influence and coercion." They were all equally distant, they said, and Genevieve had no more legal claim to Caroline's money then they. It was the talk of Deerhill. The size of the estate would have been talk enough, but to have the will contested provided gossip for many a church supper, lodge meeting and afternoon coffee.

            "What do you think the estate is really worth?" Anita Coleman, my best friend in Deerhill, asked me.

            "Caroline must have had accounts in every bank in two counties,” I said. Nearly every day more assets were discovered, bank account passbooks hidden in cookie jars, jewelry stashed behind the linens.       

            "Yes, but how much was she worth?"
            "I'm not allowed to discuss it".

             Anita looked hurt that I wouldn't talk more about the estate when I had often talked freely about other office matters.  Harry, that very morning, had told me not to "blab", that Genevieve was embarrassed to be the subject of so much gossip, and that he would be working with her late. I did tell that much to Anita.

            "Jack drools when he sees Genevieve in the street,” Anita confided. “All the men do, and I wouldn't trust Jack alone with her for five minutes. Do you trust Harry?"

            I replied the usual suspicious wife's reply. "I trust my husband implicitly. Harry is just working. Nothing is going on."

            Harry sent me home early that afternoon, fanning me away with his hand like he would a fly. He had a late appointment with the Temptress. The old fool, I thought as I cleaned the house that night and every night that Harry had an appointment with Genevieve. The house soon became very, very clean. The big fee Harry expected to get didn’t placate me.

            "I haven't had a case this complex or this interesting since I left Manhattan," Harry said when he came home after ten. "This case will demonstrate to the people here that I haven't lost my touch."

            "And what touch is that?" I asked, kneeling in my too tight old jeans as I applied new wax to the floors. "And more to the point, just where is that touch being demonstrated? There in your office, late at night? Is that where?"

            "You're imagining things," Harry replied going to his study, ignoring my swinging buttocks. Those buttocks, admittedly not as firm as they used to be, still used to elicit a playful slap or a caress on occasion. Genevieve's tight end was obviously more enticing.

            That night I buffed the floors, and the next morning, when Harry said he had a breakfast meeting with Genevieve, I buffed them again.

            Over the months the lawsuit dragged on. The attorney for three of the contesting relatives was in Queens, requiring Harry to make several trips to the city for conferences. Genevieve was seeing him every day: meetings in the City, at the office, at the county courthouse. 

            "She’s always with you,” I said to Harry. “Doesn't she have to work at that gallery?" 

            "She wants to know what's happening and it's easier to show than to tell."

            "I'll just bet it is."
            ‘‘Velma, she’s a client.”

             “And you’re an old fool.”

            I hadn't been to the office in days as I cleaned my way through the house. I thought the vigorous cleaning would keep me too tired to think of Harry and Genevieve together.

            On the day the unpredicted blizzard hit in late February Harry was in Manhattan. After he called to say the trains weren't running, I painted the living room, using an assortment of partial gallons of paint I found in the basement. As I stirred the mixture of cream beige, soft white and ivory satin I imagined Harry stirring his drink in a hotel bar in a tight booth, hip to hip with Genevieve. As I draped sheets over the furniture I imagined Harry between the sheets in a hotel bed, hip to hip with Genevieve. As I washed the brushes under the running water I imagined Harry showering with Genevieve, still joined at the hip.

           "The old, stupid fool," I said to a clear dawn and a freshly painted living room.

            Harry said little about his night in New York when he returned later in the day, except that the hotels were crowded. I examined his face and listened carefully to the tone of his voice, trying to decipher hidden meanings. "You seem different. Did something happen?"

            "We're working on a deal," he said. "Maybe the contesting vultures will settle. We've offered each $25,000 as a start."

            When Harry was tied up with a real estate closing the following week, I journeyed to Queens to pick up some documents. The house was spotless, not that Harry noticed, and my energy was spent, but not my annoyance or suspicions. I wanted, as much as Genevieve, to speed up the settlement and get her out of Deerhill.

             When I returned that evening I went directly home. I heard Genevieve's laugh when I opened the back door and clumped straight into the living room without removing my wet snow boots.

            "Oh, hello Velma," Genevieve called from the floor in front of the coffee table which had been moved closer to the stone fireplace. She was sitting on the petit point pillows I had stitched, pouring tea from my Delft teapot. Chopin piano music played  in the background as Harry crouched in front of the hearth, feeding the flames, a pillow from the couch lying near his feet. He bolted up straight, surprisingly agile for such an old fool, I thought.

            "We weren't expecting you back so soon. Have some tea," he said, brandishing a piece of kindling in each hand. "You must be cold."

            I laughed at him, standing there in his Quixotic pose and guilty look. Then I raced up to the bedroom. They wouldn't dare do it in the house. Not my clean house!  Not The Cottage!

             The blue chenille bedspread wasn't smooth, not the taut smoothness I had learned to achieve at girls' camp. The bed had obviously been slept in and hastily remade. I whirled around the room, looking for other signs.  The bathroom. One towel was damp, the items on the vanity disturbed. I ran back downstairs.

            "Why are you here?" I asked, still in my wet boots and heavy coat.

            They spoke at once, both ready with answers.
            "I took time off... supervise painting..."

            "...feeling sick from paint smell...... called Harry."

            "...brought Genevieve here to lie down."
            "... sorry... was sick in your bed."
            "... washing the sheets now."

            That’s what I heard in the background. The washing machine’s rumble. The evidence going down the drain.

            "Is that it? Is that what really happened here, Harry?"

            "Yes, Velma," Genevieve said, effortlessly unwinding her long legs and slowly rising from the floor like a cobra. "You don't think..." 

            I ignored Genevieve's protestations and concentrated on Harry's face. He had remained standing and was making noises in his throat, a croaking sound like a bull frog in heat.

            "I want Harry to tell me." 

            Harry's voice was hoarse and raspy. "Just what are you getting at, Velma?"

            I turned towards the kitchen without answering. "I presume she's not staying for dinner," I said just before swinging the door closed.

            "You're crazy," Harry said after he had driven Genevieve home. "You're imagining things again."

             By then, I had already moved into the flowered chintz sewing room, my sanctuary, a balance to the plaid and brass study downstairs. I opened the folding bed and made room for it under the window.

            "Your face said it all, Harry. And your voice. I know what's been going on between you two. I didn't think you would do it in our house, in The Cottage."

            "That was shock and embarrassment at you, not guilt."

             “You have a weak case, counselor. The evidence points against you."

            Harry's story was an elaborate concoction. Truth is simple, I insisted, and the simple truth was that Harry and Genevieve had an affair and stupidly got caught.

            "Harry certainly has changed since Genevieve came to town," Anita said over lunch a few days later. "He seems more sprightly and animated, like ...like a teenager in love."

            Anita's observation confirmed what I had believed all along. "Like a teenager in lust, you mean," I said.

            "I know all the men in town act like Tom cats around Genevieve, but mostly they're all bluff. “I think I would kill Jack if he had an affair with her."

            I had been thinking of killing Harry, too, several times and in several ways. I had fantasies of holding a pillow over his face while he slept, or of pointing a gun at the back of his gray head while he worked in his study. I thought of rat poison and planned elaborate meals with fancy sauces to fool his finely attuned taste buds. And I had visions of stabbing him or bashing him on the head with a baseball bat. But the dead don't suffer, and I wanted Harry to suffer.  In truth, murder was only a fantasy, not a viable option, but I had sucked nourishment from that idea for weeks.

            The Cottage and the marriage had both been sullied by Genevieve, and I wanted no part of either. Our lives would never be the same again. I confined myself to the sewing room, the kitchen and a tiny bathroom at the end of the upstairs hall, satisfied that these areas had not been fouled by Genevieve's presence. 

            The talk about Harry and Genevieve quickly spread throughout Deerhill like a virulent flu. Sides were drawn. Harry discontinued his evening hours, (a sure sign of guilt, I thought), and Genevieve had to make her appointments during the day, missing work like every other client. I continued to work as Harry's secretary and even gave myself a substantial raise. 

            The relatives, after more haggling, accepted a settlement of $35,000 each, and the will was finally probated. The remaining assets were collected, and the Federal and state estate taxes were computed and paid. And, lastly, the house and l65 acres were sold to developers, making Genevieve a very wealthy woman.

            Genevieve left Deerhill (population 4,789) just after the first parcel of land was sold. She paid Harry his legal fee and even thanked me. I had to admire Genevieve's nerve, her ability to walk into the office and say with a stitched on smile, "Thanks so much, Velma. You've been a wonderful help all through this."

            Harry thanked me also for all my assistance, acting as if there had been no affair. There were so much thanks, so much hand shaking and gestures of convivial warmth by her and Harry to each other and to me I expected the air conditioning to kick on. I was neither moved nor deceived. Harry walked her to her car, steering her by the elbow as he had done when they first had met.  A kiss on the cheek, he to her and she to him, a final embrace, a wave as her BMW turned the corner.

            Now it was time for me to leave as well. I had stayed in the house only to see Caroline Moody's estate to its completion. Half the fee was rightly mine, and I took my share. The rest of our money could be decided later. This I wanted now, up front. I had earned it. Harry, the old fool, could have the house and everything in it. I was taking just my own personal items, my clothes and books, pictures of the children. 

             I made a final walk through The Cottage. Genevieve's presence still lingered in the rooms. I would always see her with the light from the fireplace reflected in her auburn hair and graciously pouring tea as if she belonged there and would always imagine her in our bed. Her smell was there in the couch pillows where she had sat, in the carpets where she had walked, in the bed where she had lain. It rose up like a noxious gas. If only Harry hadn't brought her home, I could have forgiven him. He just didn't understand.

     I removed the house keys from my key chain, one for the back door and another for the front, and placed them on the hall table. Closing the door firmly, I briskly strode down the flagstone path to my car in the driveway, got in and, without once looking back, left Deerhill, (population 4,788).