• Sheri McGuinn

Warped Tales: The Gardener – Part 4

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Warped Tales – be warned. As a child I read piles of books filled with short stories – the complete works of Poe, stories from the Twilight Zone, collections from Hitchcock, etc. As an adult, thrillers rule. This is that kind of story, in six parts.

While John spent his time alone, fishing and hunting or sitting in front of the television, Anne shelved books at the library on Mondays, played cards with residents of the assisted living center on Wednesdays, and read with first graders on Fridays – not to mention the monthly book club. She was making a place for herself in the community.

As the air began to crisp in October, both of the Davenports missed the red of the sugar maples, so they took the Mustang up to the higher elevations where aspens shed their yellow leaves. The day was pleasant enough that Anne thought she might enjoy traveling with him, that there might be hope for the marriage if he stayed busy hunting the rest of the time and let her garden in peace. The thought cheered her, since it looked like she was stuck in the marriage whether or not it was tolerable. She had nosed around in his desk when he was out hunting and found some bank statements, but she still wasn’t sure if they could afford to live separately.

Then came winter.

John went for weeks without leaving the cabin. He looked at travel options and said they were too costly, they should wait a year. He complained about her activities – as if she should be sitting next to him as he sank into depression. It wasn’t her fault John’s life had revolved around his work or that his hunting buddies had been fellow detectives and officers from the Schenectady Police Department or that going hunting and fishing alone had quickly lost its appeal. He was the one who decided to buy this cabin and retire in a place where he didn’t know anyone. He’d made her give up everything that mattered to her to come here. He could complain all he wanted about her activities. She didn’t care. Volunteering, focusing on other people’s needs, had kept her from falling apart when John Jr. was blown to smithereens and it was helping her make this transition. She was adapting – he should try it.

Of course she didn’t say any of that. She just went about her business as she pleased.

While she missed her home and garden, John had been right about winter. In March they had one big snow that lasted just long enough to stop Anne’s pining for real winter. The rest of the time they got a light dusting that no one bothered to shovel. That was much nicer than winter in Schenectady. She had already planned out her raised beds and the rest of the yard

“Do you realize four out of the six houses on this stretch of road are empty?” John asked Anne one evening during the big snow. “The house down on the corner is the only other place with a plowed driveway, and there aren’t any cars parking on the road, so the others have to be empty.”

“They’re snowbirds or flatlanders,” Anne replied, automatically using the terms she’d picked up from her new friends.

“What?”

“Snowbirds are from up north. Flatlanders are people who live in The Valley – Tucson or Phoenix – and only come up on weekends or a week or two when it’s unbearably hot.”

John responded to the recognition that they lived in a largely vacant neighborhood by buying new deadbolts for the doors and insisting Anne take a gun safety course. She did fine in the class until the first night they had target practice. She had a little bursitis from years of gardening. When the backlash from firing John’s gun threw her arms up, the pain was so intense that she’d cried right there in front of everyone.

The instructor apologized. “That is way too much gun for you. I should never have let you try that your first time shooting.”

She’d gone straight home and handed John his .45 as if it were venomous.

“My shoulder’s killing me.” She glared at him.

“I should get you something smaller,” he’d acknowledged.

“No! I quit the class. I could never shoot a person anyway!” In twenty-some years, this was the first time she had yelled at him. She half expected him to get up and hit her. She was prepared to call the cops on him. Wouldn’t that be something!

He just shrugged, though. “Well, at least you’ve fired it. If you need to, you can do it.”

Anne walked away.

By the time April rolled around, an idiot could see John was severely depressed, and the taxes he had to pay on the sale of his ancestral home made it worse. One sunny Tuesday, Anne made his favorite breakfast, including the last of the elk sausage. As they finished eating, she started the conversation she’d been planning for months.

“There was this lady at the library yesterday, I couldn’t help overhearing her tell her friend how her husband had passed on and she was losing her home because she didn’t have enough for the inheritance taxes. I just couldn’t stop worrying about it last night.”

“That wouldn’t happen to you,” John reassured her. “I invested the money from the house to make up for using my retirement fund for this place. You’ll have enough to pay the taxes.”

“Even after all they took?” she asked in her most innocent voice.

He shrugged. “You don’t have to worry.” There was no strength in his voice as he said it.

“Good,” she said, as if that had alleviated all of her concerns. Then she added, as if it was an afterthought, “It is a shame, though, how they tax the same money over and over.”

John actually made the suggestion for her. “I should put your name on the cabin – and the Mustang. Then we’ll both have to be gone before they can take more taxes on those.”

“Is there anything else we should have in both names?” She again played innocent.

“Everything,” he said, slapping his hand on the table. “I should put your name on everything so they can’t take a cent.”

“I can do these dishes later,” she offered.

He nodded. “Let’s get it done.”

She went with him to the Motor Vehicle Department to change the title and registration on the Mustang and then the county recorder to add her name to the deed of the cabin. John took her out for lunch then. She was worried he’d lose interest in this project, but he seemed happier than he’d been in ages.

“All that’s left is the bank,” he said as they left the restaurant. “You don’t have to go anywhere else this afternoon?”

“No, I’m all yours.” She smiled brightly.

At the bank he added her name to all of his accounts, including his investment account and the safety deposit box. The banker even convinced him to set up online access for Anne, so she could take care of bills if John was not able to do so.

“You’re wise to be doing this. It makes everything so much easier for a surviving partner,” said the banker. She tucked a gray lock of hair behind her ear. “Have you done this with all your investments and belongings?”

Anne could have kissed the woman.

“Nope,” he said. “We’ve taken care of it all now, except my pension. Can’t put that in her name, but it’s set up with her as beneficiary.”

At last, Anne could assess their financial condition. While it looked like a lot of money to her at first, when she did more research, she realized it really wasn’t enough for two separate households.

Divorce was not a good plan.

www.sherimcguinn.com www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn https://www.imdb.com/name/nm8459664/

#mystery #womensfiction #freefiction #thriller #metoo #fiction #suspense

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