He should have married Esther instead,” they said.
Esther was a beer-swilling, cigarette-smoking old lady, and she was proud of it. Everybody loved her, including Henry’s family—his children and grandchildren. Esther was one of them, and they became her surrogate family. Esther never had children of her own, and her parents and siblings had been gone nearly a decade by then. “She’s our kind of people,” Henry’s family would say of her. But Henry showed up one day with this new woman, and Esther became a thing of the past.
Dolores Charming was her name.
She was an odd duck, Dolores Charming; as odd as her name. She had seemed suspicious of Henry’s family from the get-go and that was quite a change from the easy trust between Esther and his family. Yeah, there were questions for sure, and not just from Henry’s family. The whispers about Henry and Dolores churned through the brunch crowd down at Ida’s Place that very first Sunday. Dolores had accompanied Henry to church that morning, and it was the first time he’d been there with anybody other than Frances, his wife of fifty-two years who had sadly passed a few years before. You see, Esther didn’t attend church. She had no time for such foolish things. Maybe that was why Henry chose Dolores instead?
Not much was known about Dolores, and for a town this size that was unacceptable. It wasn’t easy to gossip about someone when there was no information to chitchat about. So the town folk clung to what was obvious: Dolores was much younger than Henry. Henry was in his early seventies by the time he met her, and Dolores had yet to reach sixty. Dolores must’ve been a gold digger. She was out to get the sizeable pension Henry’d earned working over forty-five years at the automobile plant over in Travers City.
But, Henry loved Dolores, it seemed, and made him happy. Henry was a well-respected man in the community so nobody in town threw up much of a fuss about her after the first couple weeks. Henry deserved to be happy, after all, especially after the tragedies that had befallen him over the years. Frances would’ve wanted him to be happy. No, Dolores was no Esther—she was certainly no Frances—but Henry seemed happy again, so his family gradually accepted her too.
It was a surprise when they announced their engagement though. The gold digger talk started up again as soon as word spread around town that there would be a wedding. “Hope old Hank got himself a prenup,” said Charlie Willoughby, slapping his hand on the counter at Ida’s Place, shaking his head. “Getting married again at that age...”
Their families attended the wedding, Henry’s and Dolores’s. There was a daughter and son on her side, and two daughters and three sons on his. The reception was a modest affair. Ida had thrown together some trays of food and baked a cake and hauled them up to the fire hall. There were drinks and some dancing, and Henry and Dolores cut their cake, and then they headed back to their humble home in the Woodside retirement community. They lived there together in Woodside for damn near ten years before Dolores up and died on Henry.
That’s when the nightmare started.
I see it every night when I close my eyes. Dolores’s daughter, Camellia Charming, draping her talon around Henry’s shoulders at Dolores’s funeral luncheon and announcing to his family that she loved him. “I love you like you were my own father, Henry,” she had said.
There’d been something so unsettling about it. Henry had smiled but it wasn’t a real Henry smile. He was as unsettled by it as the rest of them. He might’ve gotten up and walked away but by then Henry’s legs had all but given out on him, and he couldn’t get around so well anymore. He’d been stuck there in his motorized scooter, held captive by her arm. Looking back now, I’ll bet you she was digging her fingernails into him, that bitch.
It was the very next day it started: the late-night phone calls and the visits to Woodside. Little Miss Charming had gotten it into her feeble, infected mind that she was entitled to everything Henry and Dolores owned, including Henry’s pension. You see, Miss Charming loved the slots. She loved them so much it had cost her her husband and her car, and her house was next on the list. Henry's pension would delay the inevitable. It would buy her more time with her house and her beloved slots, so to hell with what was right and decent.
For nearly a year Camellia bullied Henry. He got an order of protection against her but it did little good. It didn’t stop the phone calls. It didn’t stop the threatening letters. Every week she called. Every week a new letter showed up in his mailbox. Every time the police said they could do nothing about it unless she threatened his life and had the means to do so. Every time Henry grew just a little bit weaker from the stress of it all. A man can only take so much, after all, and Henry had lived a long time.
Well, old Henry died last week. He died in his sleep. He didn’t suffer in death, and I’m glad for that. He’s free from Camellia's terror now, but he suffered in life. He suffered greatly because of her. She hadn’t even given him time to mourn his dead wife, his second in as many decades.
And now she won't allow his family to mourn him. She showed up at Henry's funeral, Camellia Charming did. She barged in and announced she was glad Henry was dead. She called his children vile names. Camellia said she wouldn’t rest until she got what she deserved.
So be it.
I’m old, and I’ll be dead soon. The cancer has spread everywhere, but this old Esther's still got some fight left. I’ve got more than enough left in me to take care of this problem. It’s the least I can do for my surrogate family. They allowed me to be part of a family again for a few, short years, and family is important. And even though he left me for Dolores, I love him still, my Henry. I’ve always loved him. I loved him before he even married Frances, close to seventy years now.
I’ve been practicing since he died. Last night, I finally did it. Ten out of ten soda cans popped off the log, one by one, as I squeezed my finger on the trigger. Not too shabby for a near-crippled woman of eighty-five years.
Two shots are all it will take, I gather: one for her and one for me.
Yes, one for me, too. I could probably get away with it. Nobody would suspect me, but the medicine they give me for the pain doesn’t do much to help anymore. I’m ready to go. And I don’t really want to be in a world where Henry isn’t anymore anyhow.
I see headlights down the road. She’s almost home. It’s almost time.
I’ll see you soon, Henry.