The Young Wife and an Age Old Dilemma
[a short story by ~Sha’Tara~ ]
The air is warm, the wind but a gentle sigh through branches and foliage. Down-turned flowers reflect as washed water colours upon the otherwise unbroken grey surface of the slow-moving river below a shrub-covered bank. A soft grey rain falls steadily, sweeping over the river in misty sheets.
From an observatory of heavy stones protruding over the edge of the river, a young woman holding a colourful umbrella stands perfectly still. Her patterned kimono blends easily with the near-by foliage. She looks intently over the river to a distant foot bridge. Two grey silhouettes, two people, a man and a woman, young and certainly in love, stand facing each other near the center of that bridge, their umbrellas touching, their free hands firmly clasped together. In their mutually worshipful stance they remain oblivious to anything around them.
An idyllic image.
But how often on this world does beauty hide death?
The woman standing alone remains unmoving. Only her facial features reveal the powerful emotions that are running through her mind at this instant. Her lips are pulled tight together and her jaws clenched. She stares more intensely at the couple across from her. She knows they are completely unaware of her presence; unaware they are being not only observed but scrutinized.
In the distance a bell tolls the hour. The couple disengages and separates, he turning to the city offices lining the river and she, to a barely visible villa partially hidden by a small rolling hill and dark bushes on the opposite side of the river.
The rain continues to fall unabated.
The observer now moves. She heads into the city proper, walking along the wet walkways as if in a trance until she finds what she was searching for. She enters a small second hand store that offers practically anything for sale. Casually taking off a fine silver bracelet, she places it on the counter to be examined by an obese man in a dirty t-shirt and wearing a drooping hat on his bald head. He slowly rolls a dead cigar between two protruding fat lips and examines the proffered item.
He names a price, the offer is accepted and the woman, taking her money, proceeds to walk through the ramshackle assortment of hardware. She scans a dusty glass shelf on which, among unrelated items, a small dagger in an imitation leather and gem case reposes. She picks it up, brushes some dust off of its handle and pulls it out of its scabbard. She tests its blade against the unblemished skin of her left ring finger. It leaves a thin crimson line. She sighs, expressing a bitter smile and returns to the counter to pay for her find.
Having returned to the street, she tucks the knife in a fold of her kimono’s ample sleeves, opens her umbrella and proceeds to walk away from the lower shops near the river, pushing deeper into the city’s noisy streets. She is quickly absorbed by the hundreds of shoppers and pedestrians crowding the narrow sidewalks, disappearing among them.
Two days go by. The storm passes and the rain ends. The city’s ugly stain continues to mar the landscape. Everything is the same.
It’s early morning and the sun has broken through the mist to reveal a classic landscape of flowering shrubs in a liberal avalanche of colours. From the second-floor balcony of an apartment, a door opens and a man in white shirt and pants steps out, standing to look at the scenery, listening to the excited calls of mating birds and inhaling the freshness of the morning air. His face bears and air of satisfaction and anticipation. A smile plays on the edge of his lips and he seems to be imagining something very attractive to him.
He takes a towel hanging from his arm and casually wipes a small glass table and two chairs. On the now dry table he drops his morning paper and goes back into the house for his tea and toast which are in turn placed on the small table. He sits, sips his tea, eats part of a toast and proceeds to scan through his paper.
A woman in an azure kimono now steps upon the patio. She is young, tall and very slim with almost translucent skin, a small round face and piercing black eyes. Her thick, straight dark-brown hair hangs freely down her back past her waist. After standing by the door for a few moments to take in some of the morning’s scenery, she in turn sits at the table. For a few moments she looks at the man reading his paper with an inscrutable Mona Lisa smile, then places her face in her hands, saying not a word. The man shakes the paper to spread the pages and continues his reading as if unaware of her presence.
The birds in surrounding trees continue their trills and bickering as the sun slowly but inexorably rises above dissipating morning mists, colouring tree tops and blushing hedgerows. Shadows shorten, the air growing humid and heavy.
As far as nature is concerned, this day is just another day.
Why shouldn’t it be?
Only in the heart of man can the answer to that be found.
A bell tolls in the distance, announcing the hour. The man briefly looks over his paper, taking stock of his surroundings by glancing over his round-rimmed glasses. He deftly turns a page and starts reading again. The woman sighs but does not move. It is as if she is made of polished bronze or fine marble, a graceful statue of inscrutable mien, fit for a palace drawing room.
“Ah!” The sound barely escapes the man’s lips. He folds the paper and bends his head to read. His face goes through several masks as he seeks to control his emotions. “Ah!” escapes again.
“What is troubling you, darling?” says the woman in a dulcet tone, raising her head and turning to him. “Unsavory news?”
“Oh… it’s… it’s nothing, nothing personal. Just that a woman who worked in our offices was found murdered yesterday in her villa. She had her throat slit. Excuse me, I have to get ready for work.” The man gets up obviously shaken and, bent over, enters the house and heads for the bathroom.
After another heavy sigh, the young wife stands and with a sudden turn her Mona Lisa smile vanishes. She walks slowly to the balcony’s metal railing and grasping it firmly with both hands, she stares across the river at the line of villas and houses beyond a foot bridge. Now her face displays pure, intense satisfaction.