My Wife Killed a Man and Stuffed Him in with the Linens
Tamar, my wife, an artist, is, nonetheless, a down-to-earth sort so when, last night at our little retro-theater about a third of the way through Elvira Madigan (1967, then proffered as “Perhaps The Most Beautiful Film Ever Made”) she mentioned quietly that she’d killed a man that afternoon, folded and stuffed him in with the linens, I was surprised. She looked down and bit a Butterfingers.
This was not like her at all. My first thought was–
This could’ve happened.
I’d been gone since mid-morning and we’d met to share insalata caprese, mussels in garlic broth, and eggplant parmesan at Portino’s, before the film.
I had hated Elvira Madigan ever since I first saw it with my then girlfriend. I never could stand Elvira Madigan and I had wanted Elvira and her AWOL army officer lover Sixten to kill themselves, or to be killed (by pursuing military police, or even by a rabid squirrel) much sooner than they did actually kill themselves in that dreadful, sappy film.
I gave Tamar a sideways look and saw her lovely profile: a soft, hazel-brown eye, full peach-colored lips, and a sweet, sweet nose under long blond hair hanging in bangs. I admired how saucily she wore her J.Jill midnight-blue cotton slub hoodie and canary capris. (An earlier generation of women called them pedal-pushers.) She had chomped her Butterfingers now nearly to death and added (her hand on my knee) “It’s alright, Jon. I didn’t know the man. Luis, from Maintenance? He’s got it covered.”
In the end, Elvira Madigan turned out alright.
Tamar, as is her custom, insisted on staying for the credits. They seemed to me to roll more slowly than usual. When we emerged into the night’s pitch she said,” I adore that film. It uplifts me.” I want to say quickly that she isn’t moved by every screen rendition of literary lovers’ mortality; after all, she, like every sober person disliked The English Patient intensely. She had asked me, when we’d left the theater that ancient evening, why I had allowed her to stay for the credits and if I had had a soso-immense crush on Willem Dafoe. (I did and I do.) But still, the film is nearly unwatchable, about as much so as the one we hadn’t escaped this night, Elvira Madigan.
In the Volvo Tamar said with some anticipation (and I admit freely that my own was apeak–there was, she’d promised after all, a body of a man she’d killed and stuffed in with the linens waiting at the apartment–“Jon, let’s drive along Route 7; it’s twisty-turny; you know how I like that.”
I knew what that meant. She wanted a stop at The Golden Scoop. “I need a Golden Opulence Sundae before we meet Luis and Zuila.”
“Zuila. His niece. You know her, Jon. She cleans our place? Tuesdays? You’ve met her.” I thought, and realised that I had met Zuila. I hadn’t known she was a niece. “She’s back from her prom and willing to help. I told her to change into flats when I called from the rest room at the theater. They’ve got it in hand. Please relax.”
“Look! There’s The Scoop!” I slowed the Volvo and turned into the lot.
“You know, of course,” I said as we stepped into the ice cream shop, “the sundae’s a knock-off. There’s no shot this one’s like the New York thousand dollar one with the edible gold-leaf spoon.”
“You say that every time. Are you trying to be mean? It’s my only knock-off. Don’t be mean.”
At the table Tamar put quarters in the Juke, punched the square buttons unnecessarily hard, treating the searingly bright 50’s-retro decor to six or seven spins of Frank crooning. She sang along in a variety of pitches and keys. “Fairy Tales Can Come True…They Can Happen To You…When You’re Young At Heart….”
“Tamar, who’s the man?” My voice was firm.
“Jon, do you think we could concentrate on what to get little Isaac and Audrey for Hannukah? I was thinking of those gyro-yo-yos they have at Toys-Elite, in the Village? Drive me there tomorrow, alright? Don’t you think they’ll be a smash on their dorm quads?” I realised I had never been this nervous over ice cream.
I drove home in anxious silence, my hand playing the stick head like bongos. I turned into the building’s valet parking lane. Mohammed took the Volvo.
Luis and Zuila stood just inside the revolving doors. The mahogany and grey granite lobby was empty save Akela, our semi-mute night desk-person. Luis was beaming. Zuila was a vision in her sea-foam prom gown and understated emerald necklace. She wore low, grey deck sneakers. I inspected them for blood and tissue and, seeing none, let out a relieved sigh.
Tamar greeted Luis. “Luis,” she said.
“Miss Tamar? Mr. Jon? You may go to your apartment even right now. Everything is very well and it is under excellence control.”
Tamar shot me a look that said, See?
3- Tamar graced Luis with a smile that said Lead The Way. She glanced left toward semi-mute Akela at the desk who shook her head once–no more packages, not, at least, until tomorrow. I knew there had to be a few upstairs as it seems as if sometimes not a day goes by without at least one arrival. Saks. J.Jill. Chico’s. Coldwater Creek. The irony of the tasteless old saw about the only gift a woman like Tamar needs is More Closet Space smacked me now a Dutch angle punch to the chin and my head snapped back.
Zuila gently touched my elbow and we moved through the mahogany and grey granite arched lobby, past an enormous bouquet of wild ginger and roses–it is odd what a person notices in moments of stress: these were reminiscent of the arrangements in a happier scene from Elvira Madigan–we moved past them and to the hall and, as a group, made a right past the Piano Room toward our elevators. Luis reached into a pocket and pulled an enormous tangle of keys which he now shook to a beat as if they were maracas.
Luis said, “Mr. Jon. Elevators two and four? They are out. We will must be patient. My men are working on this now and tomorrow. Everything will be perfecting. If anything will be happening I have these keys.”
We continued past small, pink glass sculptures on tall, thin, black marble stands, and colorful wall-hangings, some weavings, some batiks. Tamar had donated the latter; they were hers, she had painted them. I looked at them now, blue, yellow, red, magenta floral abstracts, as if for the first time, and I looked ahead at her. She and Luis were speaking, heads slightly bent toward one another. When we arrived at our bank of elevators she looked up, turned, and smiled.
Our car, we could see, was on its way down, but not too swiftly. Even given the hour and with two cars out, they moved slowly. When we stepped in, four others, behind us down the hall, were now at our backs. I recognised a woman among them, an old Russian emigre, a large woman I disliked intensely. She was far too bubbly and she was a sneak-thief. She had twice, the tale went, been threatened with eviction for having been caught attempting to take, in a wide-mouth plastic green bag she wore on an arm like a sagging appendage, fourteen Everything-Bagels from the coffee and bagels and donuts service in the Piano Room, along with over twenty tiny cream cheese tins.
As the elevator began to lift, three slim young men whom I didn’t recognise, in nearly identical dark business suits and implausibly white shirts that told me they were junior executives and doomed forever to remain so, hit number 7. The Russian punched 9. Luis pressed 19, our floor. The lift came to a stop at 7, the doomed junior executives departed, and Tamar began to sing.
Fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you…and Luis began to sing and Zuila with him…
Los cuentos de hadad pueden hacerse recidad se
puede pasar a ti, si eres joven de corazon…
If you’re young at heart…
I was becoming anxious and I felt confident that were the Russian woman to break into song I’d rip her prosthetic bagel-theiving green plastic oversized handbag from her bulbous, sneaky wrist. She didn’t and left the lift in a hurried waddle as soon as the door opened at 9. Dasvidaniya. The singing reached full pitch by 17 but when our carriage stopped once more so did the spontaneous Acapella-Homage.
Our apartment, in the middle of the hall on the right, the same side of the hall as the elevator bank and the fire escapes, was, open. “Mr. Jon,” soothed Luis when he saw my alarmed expression, “I myself opened your door to your apartment with Miss Tamar’s expressive permitting because I have left Gregor, the deli-man’s son from the Village? for to keep his watch out for you. He has been your ears and he has been your eyes while I myself with my Zuila have been gone, waiting for you in the lobby.”
We no sooner stepped into the apartment when Ms. Miryam Gumdrops, my athletic tabby, having heard us from the hall, as is her wont, trilled three times and leapt to my back and curled herself about my shoulders, purring. Tall, bearded Gregor greeted us with an outstretched arm. I dimly recognized him. I shook his hard hand. He was an enormous man, a sequoia. “I, I am sure, you can remember, me, Mr. W., sir. I have waited on you and your lovely wife in the deli restaurant that is my father’s. Many times.” I was beginning to recall his bushy face as we stepped from the foyer past the kitchen to the living room. Tamar motioned for us all to sit down on our red couches beneath more floral batiks. I sat beneath petunias. “You like your coffee with lots of cream and your wife has the lox eggs salty always scrambled,” Gregor promted.
“Well!” Tamar smiled. “Thank you. Thank you.” She stood and I knew this meant she was about to offer our guests coffee. I realized, in fact, that I had been smelling the De Longhi working from the moment we stood inside our foyer. She had asked Luis, or Zuila, or Gregor to have coffee brewed and waiting.
I said, “I’m very grateful to you all. We both are. And I am very tired and I must speak with Tamar.”
Luis, Zuila, and Gregor stood. Luis said, “Mr. Jon, you are right. It is past twelve and we must to go. In a moment. The man…everything is tooken care.” I started to ask a question but Luis raised a hand. “We understand, Mr. Jon, sir. Just you must know that your wife, Miss Tamar, she is a very brave girl and on her feet very quick thinking.” Tamar motioned for us all to come into the kitchen.
“Jon. See this?” Tamar lifted a large, nearly filled pie tin. A peanut butter pie.
“I’m sorry. What?”
“How I killed him, Jon.”
She looked at me with an expression that didn’t quite know why I hadn’t instantly understood.
Her voice was even. “The man, Jon. The man. I don’t know how he got in the building and I don’t know how he got past the desk or how he got onto our floor or why he chose this door our door or why he hit me and shoved me back soon as I opened it to leave. The man…before I hit him in his fucking, fucking face with what I could reach, before he swallowed and choked and before he fell and before I dragged him and dragged him and shoved him in with the linens. Before I had to change my clothes. Before I called Luis and before Luis and Zuila came and Gregor and took him off. Before I met you at the film.”
The film. AWOL. The MPs.
Luis saw my unstated query. “Is better for her this way, no? And as for that man, I promise for you, Mr. Jon, as for that hijo de puta, no one will miss…”
Tamar’s eyes were moist and defiant.
I held my wife. She was strong in my arms.
After a moment I asked, “How do you kill a man with a peanut butter pie?”
Tamar opened her mouth but Zuila spoke “The peanut butter pie killed him. He musta been allergic. Wait…anaphylatic. Anaphylactic shock.”
We said our good-byes.
I held her all night long. In the morning, upon waking, she sat up smartly, smiled brightly: “It’s Saturday, Jon. Let’s go–some for us, too–let’s go get those gyroscope yo-yos. And later, a film.”
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