Norman, tall and balding, came in and gave Emily Lour a quick pat on the shoulder. Lou noticed there was no kiss. Norman poured himself a glass of ice tea and sat across from Lou at the kitchen table, asking her about her upcoming Colorado trip and schedule. He mentioned that she would love the Stanley, a famous old Hotel outside of Boulder, and he urged her to take the ninety-minute Stanley History and Ghost Tour that he had noticed on the hotel website.
They chatted comfortably with each other. Once teenage sweethearts, they had been married for twenty-five years, a good life with financial security due especially to Lou’s hard work and the money she brought in with her regional sales job. She continued making notes for her trip as Norman began to drone on about his job and his day.
“But I am happy.” Norman was saying. “I’m so happy. Something wonderful has happened. I’ve fallen in love with my summer intern, Betty Jo. So while you are away, I will be moving out. I won’t be here when you return from your Colorado meeting.”
Lou paused with pen on paper. It took a few seconds to record what Norman had said. She looked up and blinked. “What did you say?”
“I’ve fallen in love with Betty Jo and I am moving out.” Norman replied with a giddy, idiotic grin on his face, driving an ice pick in her chest. Yet, she still could not believe. Out of the blue came to mind.
“…sell the house. I know the market is still off. But this is such a great house. Maybe some of the new people at the Resort would be interested…” Norman continued to babble on about his happiness and how they must split up their possessions.
Lou put Norman on mute. She watched his lips moving, but tuned him out. Was this happening? Was it a cruel joke? She looked around the kitchen in bewilderment. Was there someone in the dining room? Would the neighbors pop in and yell, “Surprise”. What did the kids call it? Punked, that was it. The kids nowadays like to punk each other. Was Norman punking her?
“…of course it is against company rules. You cannot imagine how hard it is when Betty Jo and I see each other, pass in the hall, or sit in meetings together. We can hardly keep our hands off each other. Betty Jo wants to leap into my arms, drag me into a closet, hee, hee.”
Lou recoiled at Norman’s salacious chuckle. Maybe he was deranged; the pressure for the job was too much. Or perhaps, this was a flight of fancy. In the morning, he would not recall any of it, just an aberration. Norman would be himself in the morning.
“…I think it was love at first sight…” Norman waxed on. “We shook hands the first time we met and electricity coursed through my body. “My Lord, the real thing…”
Lou cocked her head and studied Norman. He seemed oblivious of her, as if he was telling his pals, explaining his euphoria. He and Betty Jo had found true love; they were soul mates. Emily Lou blinked. Where was the sanity? Would he never stand up and yell, “Not!' Tell Lou the joke was on her and their life would, of course, go on as before?
“Well, I’ve had a hectic day.” Norman said. “All the politicking by the others to take the top job away from me! Have they no decency? I am the only qualified person for replacing Stu. I will be the resort manager. I have been loyal and honest, for twenty years a most productive company employee, an outstanding executive member of the team. I,,, No we, have worked so hard for this. It is mine! I mean the job is ours, Lou.”
Emily Lou was incredulous. We? Ours?
She could vaguely recall meeting this year’s summer intern at the Springtime Dogwood Function. Betty Jo was athletic, short haired, dark eyed. Not unattractive, Lou grudgingly acknowledged. But this young woman was going off with Norman, who could be her father. She was stealing Lou’s husband of twenty-five years. Betty Jo was destroying their marriage and also destroying Norman’s career, once the word was out. What was happening here?
“I know this is out of the blue, dear. I’ll leave you with your coffee. Maybe a second cup will help.” And Norman gratuitously got up and gave her a refill of the afternoon coffee. “Let me get a shower, then we can talk some more. But I need to get comfy first. Maybe you make a list of the things you want. Needless to say, tonight I will move into the guest room, use that bathroom at the end of the hall. I’m sure you’ll want your space.”
And Norman got up and went up the stairs. He was humming a song from long ago. But Lou could not place it. If he did not shut up, he would drive her mad.
Lou looked down at her pad and the notes she had made to share with her friend, Cannon, over drinks at the Stanley Hotel. She stared at what she had jotted about her last sales overnight in Mitchell, South Dakota. An odd young man had sat with her at breakfast in the Comfort Inn, whispering to her about a Washington, D. C. conspiracy: there were no political parties, no wars, the U.S. Government was a hoax, a ponzi scheme. And only he knew, and they were after him. To read her notes made Lou smile, the story was amusing, but that morning the young man had scared Emily Lou. Cannon would love this one.
Lou slowly got up and blew her nose. How long had they been there at the table? How long had Norman rattled on about his new happiness? It seemed to be getting dark, definitely twilight time. There was only one thing to do.
She went into the cellar and poked around in Norman’s things. Finally, she found what she was looking for in a trunk. Then she needed something else and found that in the tall cabinet beside his work bench.
Preparing herself, she went back to the kitchen and listened. Lou could hear the shower in the guest bathroom. Norman was singing. Lou went up the stairs and took the chair from the side table. She set it at the far end so she was looking down the hall at the guest bathroom, some thirty feet or so from where she sat.
“Only you, only you can…” and again Norman’s voice trailed away, followed by the insane humming. Then the water shut off and Lou could hear him moving around in the bathroom. Finally, the door opened and there was Norman in the doorway, resplendent in his gold-trimmed, navy blue robe. He blinked at her, his mouth open in protest.
Lou steadied herself and pulled both triggers. The shotgun barked, shook, and spat, shredding Norman’s robe. The shots blew him back into the bathroom where he smacked against the hot water radiator, and then Norman slid to a sitting position, his mouth agape, and his eyes wide in surprise.
She got up and put the shotgun on the hall table, dragging the chair back to where it belonged. She went into their bedroom, now her room, and searched in the bathroom cabinet, taking two aspirin, which she shook out of the bottle and flushed down with a drink of water.
Lou then looked at her roller suit case, which was sitting on the bed. She prided herself on packing compactly, taking just the essentials. She had always told the kids, “you pack it, you carry it." She glanced at the phone on the end table, but hesitated. No need to dial 911, not yet. Let Norman sit tight in the bathroom. He would not ruin her Colorado trip. Besides, she so wanted to hear Cannon’s story that he hinted at in his email, the one about the Nevada motel that he claimed turned into a flying saucer. And all her colleagues were waiting. The show must go on.
Such is life.