For the Love of Dragons
Actually, it really was a dark and stormy night when I first started out. The rain practically slanted sideways in the near gale-force wind, and tore my hat right off. I chased it across the lawn, but it was completely soaked inside and out by the time I retrieve it, and now my hair was plastered to my skull making me look like a drowned cocker spaniel. Not the way I wanted to arrive for my annual meeting with the dragon queen, my mother-in-law.
My ex-mother-in-law to be more precise.
As it happened, five years ago my wife died in a car accident on Valentine’s Day. Since then, and strictly for appearances sake, I continued to visit the ex-M.I.L. ostensibly out a sense of duty. After several years, we’d come to an unspoken agreement to meet only on the anniversary of her daughter’s passing.
Another Valentine’s Day; that special moment when everyone was expected to profess their renewed love for one another. Yeah, right. Personally, I loathed the very word itself; it was just another four-letter word like so many others I knew – and used – so well.
After a year-long reprieve, that initial, stilted greeting with Lottie always filled me with dread. With a cursory glance, she would size me up, and each time I came away wanting. I silently berated myself for catering to her like this.
Lottie never missed a chance to remind me whose fault it was that Elisabeth was no longer with us. I should’ve ended this charade long ago, but I suppose we were locked in a contest of wills, each striving to outlast the other and thus hoping to have the last word. To Lottie, having the last word was very important, and she was always so clever in the way she disguised her little digs.
For instance, I remembered last year’s jewel as we sat together on the sofa watching a news program. Lottie suddenly perked up at the mention of a woman found murdered on the south-side of town, and her husband was wanted for questioning.
“Another poor woman dies at the hands of her so-called loved one. Well, you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?”
“C’mon, Lottie. Let’s not do this again. The police confirmed it was an accident. Why do you continue to think differently?”
“It was no accident, and you cannot convince me otherwise.”
“That’s quite obvious. If you truly believe I was responsible for Elisabeth’s death, then why do you insist on seeing me each year? If I really killed my wife, aren’t you the least bit concerned the same thing could happen to you? You give me ample opportunity.” Under my breath, I muttered, “And one of these days . . .”
“What was that? Did you say something?”
“Just drop it, Lottie. I come each year out of respect for Elisabeth, so don’t push it.”
“Rubbish. You keep coming because you think you’re still in my will.”
“That’s not true. You were kind enough to include me while Elisabeth was alive, and it’s entirely within your prerogative should you decide to change your mind.”
“I’ve certainly thought about it, but without proof it would simply be vindictiveness on my part to change my will at this late date. No, I shall honor my daughter’s memory and allow things to remain the same . . . for now.”
Another miserable year had passed and I still didn’t give a hoot about honoring the dearly departed or paying my respects to her fossilized relations. All I know is, I’m still in the running for a big inheritance, that is, as long as the old girl didn’t cut me off.
Lottie says she won’t change her will, but one never knew. Elisabeth and I were mentioned in the original version, and I felt reasonably optimistic Lottie wouldn’t disrespect her sainted daughter’s memory by quarreling over something as mundane as money.
All things considered, I congratulated myself on being a patient man. From the beginning, I’ve bided my time in spite of the continual personal affronts. After all, how long could the dragon queen hang on?
It’s been five years to the day since the alleged accident, but Lottie didn’t show any signs of slowing down. Was her hate for me that fierce? Is that what kept her going all this time?
Perhaps a change in tactics was in order. If Lottie wouldn’t oblige by stepping off on her own, maybe she needed a slight nudge in the right direction. I could try the “arsenic and old lace” approach, but that was too obvious.
I wasn’t particularly worried about being found out, although I knew only too well that the closest family members always came under suspicion if the police had doubts. You might ask how I orchestrated an automobile accident and managed to survive when my poor wife did not, and how I avoided scrutiny?
First of all, you must take into account that I’m a business analyst by profession; a sort of glorified bean-counter. And in all modesty, I’m nothing if not meticulous. I simply listed all my options, carefully assessed the possible outcomes, and in the end I was confident the odds were in my favor.
I’d worked out the details to the second; the sequence of events and my timing had to be in perfect order. That night as we drove to the restaurant for our ritual Valentine’s Day dinner, even the weather and road conditions cooperated; it was the crowning touch to my perfect plan.
Oh, sure, I got injured in the “accident,” but that only made my story about hitting a patch of black ice all the more believable. Again, a calculated risk I’d been willing to take and, so far, it had paid off handsomely, what with the insurance and all.
Still, I wasn’t concerned about suspicion falling on me a second time. The odds of both mother and daughter dying in separate fatal accidents were improbable to be sure, but not impossible. Perhaps they were just . . . unlucky.
As I reminisced, it dawned on me my sad little tale had the makings of a heartrending tragedy. In my mind, the movie version of my little melodrama flashed across the silver screen. Who would they get to portray me, I wondered?
Lottie was giving me grief about . . . whatever, but I tuned her out as I contemplated the intricate details of her untimely demise. Something effective, but not too brutal; after all, I’m not a psychopath. Nevertheless, I needed a plausible and foolproof event that left me in the clear since I planned to be far away at the fateful moment. That was the tricky part.
My orderly mind explored several possibilities as I stood to leave. I’d almost made it out the door when Lottie hit me with her parting shot.
“Did you at least remember to place flowers on her grave this year?”
I simply smiled. The clock had restarted on another year of recriminations; she just wouldn’t let go of those old suspicions. As I closed the door, I had to remind myself that patience was the name of this game.
Terry Adcock © 2022
Author Notes: An exercise that was submitted to my monthly writing group.