Business and Pleasure

Annamaria Podge was an ordinary woman who led a quiet life. At 45 years old, she was, for Polk City’s townfolk, an established bachelorette. She enjoyed nights at home with her five cats, was a solid, if quiet member of the local Tuesday and Ta Ya Mim clubs and played hymns at the Baptist church on Sunday mornings. She answered when spoken to, but her timidity radiated around her plump form like a shield, keeping strangers at bay and those who knew her deep in pity.

In Polk City, she was plain old Annamaria. A shallow presence, a part of the woodwork. In her private life, Annie was a different woman entirely.

On the night of Friday, Jan. 23, Annie bundled up her fleshy figure in a bright track suit with geometric shapes in vivid blues, greens and reds. Her wilting dishwater blond tresses were pulled back in a tight bun fixed where fat from her back rolled up to kiss the nape of her neck. With sausage-like fingers, thick but always adept on the aged and always slightly out-of-tune church piano, she pulled on a wig of curls dubbed “burnt sienna.” It was a color more apt for walls than hair, but the wig effectively detracted from Annie’s pitted visage. After smearing on bright red lipstick, she ran her tongue over crooked teeth, tugged once more on the wig and stood from the dressing table.

The slicky pants whined as her lumbered walking rubbed the fabric between her thighs, but the sound wouldn’t matter when she got there. She lifted one of her many framed flower needlepoints from her living room wall to set on a highbacked floral print chair. From the concealed safe, she snapped on black latex gloves, then drew out her snub-nosed .38. She’d have to dump the gun, per usual, which was a shame. She’d really come to like the blunt revolver. It didn’t have the shooting power of some of the flashier guns she’d used, but it fit comfortably in her hand. She caressed it gently with one plastic-encased finger before slipping bullets out of a cardboard box to load in the cartridge.

With her weapon nestled in a leather fanny pack, she adjusted the strap, once, then twice, until it clipped comfortably around her middle. She said goodbye to the felines lolling about the small house and locked the back door.

Her 1985 blue Buick Century rumbled to life, and she wriggled the fanny pack to her side in order to stretch the seat belt to its buckle. With her heart bumping, she pulled out of the carport, the map and instructions spread across the passenger seat. She had them memorized already, she always did, but she enjoyed having the paper as back up. This job, in any case, was familiar. She knew the target, suspected she knew the client, but she never asked questions. When Roy had paged her, she’d called back to listen only. No questions, no trouble, no feelings. The money would be placed in an offshore account, and Annie was counting down the days until her fiftieth birthday when she could collect. She would miss Polk City – it was her home – but the call of white sand beaches and shimmering blue water was seductive. She would retire, move to paradise and immerse herself in romantic novels and greasy French fries until she keeled over. The thought of it made her smile as her headlights slashed through the night.

When she pulled up to the restaurant, her heart’s bumping had accelerated to pounding. She looked for a space next to the zippy red convertible and waited. The diners milling in front of the windows of the warm eatery looked happy, Annie thought. A small part of her yearned to be inside with them, dining on delicious food while engaging in witty banter with a handsome man. She would feel confident and beautiful, smart and classy and all the other adjectives that had long-ago escaped her pudgy grasp. But she’d found her calling in killing, and that was the way it was.

She pushed aside the thoughts of loneliness and the thick depression to focus. When she found her target, she nodded to herself. The woman was paying the check, and her husband was nowhere to be seen. Probably left early for a medical emergency. “Medical emergency,” Annie thought. Read: Meet with the Pastor’s wife, with whom he was having a relationship. The whole congregation knew it.

When the woman, slim and blonde, pushed out of the heavy restaurant door, Annie unzipped her fanny pack and pulled the gun out, fitting her pointer finger over the trigger. The blonde walked slowly, her gaze low and her features pulled downward. When she reached the convertible, Annie rolled down her window.

“Hello?” she asked.

The blonde looked up, her face revealing her shock at Annie’s garish appearance.

“Yes?”

“Are you Cassandra Pickler?”

“Yes. May I help you?”

“No.”

Annie lifted the gun and shot the woman twice. Once for the kill, the second for good measure As the woman dropped to the asphalt next to her car, Annie let out a long, slow breath and calmly placed the gun and the discarded shell casings on top of the papers. She put the car in reverse and drove the curving and dipping streets home, where a box of powdered donuts and a video of “An Affair to Remember” were waiting.

The car was later found in a used lot. The gun was never recovered. The bustling crowd in the restaurant never heard the shot, nor did they see a flash. The only thing they could remember was a heavyset woman with rich brown hair and a flashy jogging suit. No one remembered her face.

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Other and Together

*Note: This story is an updated/edited version of the one that has been published on WOW! Women On Writing. Thank you for reading!

The girl stood on the street corner, alone. Her hands were at her sides, fingering the pleats on her burgundy skirt. Her school bag lay silent against her leg, though the occasional breeze gave life to the buckles that remained unfastened. She didn’t glance around, looking anxious; she didn’t look bored, her eyes glazed over and blank. No, she observed, absorbing the colors of the trees and the sky, the touch of wind against her skin. She felt.

This little girl, Amber, was other.

She saw strangers’ looks, the fear, the lack of understanding. She saw the flushes of embarrassment, though she didn’t understand them. She saw parents kneel down and scold their children when they laughed or pointed at her.

Unlike those children, Amber could not hear, could not speak. She could make sounds, enjoyed the vibration in her throat. She didn’t know that the noises were jarring and loud, didn’t realize they made her a target. Fluent in sign language, Amber communicated with a flutter of her hands that appeared almost poetic. But without friends, she chose to interact with no one. She merely watched the world around her.

On this particular day, while she waited at the bus stop, something changed for her. As strands of blonde hair danced against her face, as the hem of her skirt lifted and fell with each gust, Amber slowly raised her arms higher and higher, reaching toward the sky. She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and welcomed the sunlight that turned her vision red. She swayed back and forth, back and forth.

And when she lowered her head and opened her eyes, there was a girl standing in front of her.

“Hi, my name is Annie. I’m new. My family just moved here. What’s your name?”

Amber stared at the girl.

“Are you new here too?”

Silence.

“Am I bothering you? I can stop talking. My dad tells me I talk too much, but sometimes it can be a good thing. My family moves around a lot ‘cause of my dad’s job, so being a chatterbox makes it easier when you’re at a new school. I have a new cat, too, and his name is Charlie. Do you like cats?”

Amber’s brown eyes revealed nothing, only reflected Annie’s curious gaze.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re not very talkative. Are you ok? My sister, Sarah, she says I can be really annoying, but I don’t care. I spend a lot of time with my mom, anyway. She doesn’t work, she stays home to take care of me and Sarah and Charlie and my dad, and she likes to cook. She’s shy, so I like to keep her company. I’m great company. Do you want to come over later? Where do you live?”

Again, silence was – and could only be – Amber’s response.

“You’re really quiet. Is there a mall around here? Sometimes Sarah drives me to the mall, and we go shopping. You should come next time. My mom doesn’t like to go shopping ‘cause people look at her funny. I talk for her using my hands. See, like this.”

And Amber’s world opened up.