I felt dumped, hurt, damaged. I can't stand it when friends walk out on me, however convinced I am the fault wasn't mine.
The rest of the day, I ignored my work (an action that generally improves departmental efficiency) in favor of licking my wounds. When I managed to think rationally, it seemed weird for Paula to get herself into such a knot over a distant pal. At work I'd judged her a perfectionist, fussing over too many minor details at the start of a project, but in the end she'd bull through obstacles to keep the job on schedule and within budget. A capable, decisive person -- so why was she fretting and talking about Merle rather than phoning the bozo and thrashing it out?
Trying to remember the URL on the blog printout, I scanned various sites, and I searched for the terms "SoTender" and "Darling Dumbo," but no relevant results popped up. All the while I was feeling that tweak in my chest, like a mouse gnawing on a muscle, and now I recognized it as jealousy. Once I acknowledged this, I leaped to the related conclusion: that Paula had a deeper relationship with Drama Queen Merle than she was letting on. It meant that she was, in a sense, deceiving me -- as well as her husband, most likely. That thought hurt even more. Sneak! I yelled at her in my head. You say I'm cruel, okay, obsess over your country fairy, see if I care!
But over the next days, I couldn't let the matter go. Every now and then I'd try another search for the blog site, and I started several e-mails to Paula before trashing them. Admittedly, since He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned departed with only a word-processed note on the kitchen table, I get distraught and fixated more easily than I should. But I felt an obscure sense that Paula was in danger.
One afternoon in the office, perhaps because the blog had been in operation long enough for web crawlers to find it, I got a hit: the site came up, with a new post at the top.
It was the coziest of nights. Our third anniversary. I built a lovely fire in the hearth and we enjoyed our supper beside it, on TV trays, while the warm orange and scarlet highlights flickered on the walls. I had purchased a dozen magnificent red roses and arranged them in the vase of light aqua crystal that she once declared her favorite. She was ecstatic when I presented them with a bow and a flourish: "My Love, for you, my one and only!" I believe she understood for a moment about the anniversary, she grasped that the occasion related to Herself and me, which pleased her no end, and that in turn pleased me, for with one's offspring vanished one must celebrate the relationships that continue however limited they may be. For dessert I brought her a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and a large box of Romanicos hand-rolled truffles, as champagne is the drink of royalty and chocolate, they say, is the voice of passion and love. After persistent coaxing she closed her eyes and opened her mouth to allow me to place each candy on her tongue, and thus she consumed more and more until she plopped back against the sofa cushions, satiated.
The passion came afterward. I stroked her gently for minutes on end, for this sensual gratification, along with chocolate, is one of the few human experiences fully remaining to her. In due course I flipped her over and as I possessed her in the manner she does not like, the route that makes her screech with shame and pain, I gently whispered that this was only righteous, the anniversary being mine as well as hers and we both must be given our due, as it is written in the Great Book of Justice.
Herself cried for half an hour afterwards, with wrenching bursts from the lungs. I lay softly breathing beside her, sipping champagne while I listened to each exquisite sob, inhaling the delicious odor of chocolate truffles.
The date on this was the day before. At once, tossing aside my resentments, I phoned Paula.
"Thank god you're at your desk. Have you seen it?"
"Your sadist friend's latest post!"
"You're following that? I didn't mean for you to -- "
"Paula, have you talked to him? Have you tried to stop this?"
"Ken says it's probably a put-on."
"Huh? There's so many details that -- How long have they been married? He mentions the third anniversary."
"It's approximately three years, I've been trying to remember. I may have saved the wedding announcement but things are a bit disorganized in my house right now."
"Wait, you said you talked about this with Ken?" I was surprised and annoyed that her husband was involved.
"A little. I showed him the first post. He didn't think it was Merle."
"How does he know? How does he explain the message from Friend1991?"
"He says there's so much spam, there's bound to be coincidences. Ken said to get Merle on the phone if I'm worried."
"Which is what I suggested," I muttered. "So have you?"
"Not yet, I'm thinking what to say when -- "
"Let's go one better, let's get the authorities on the phone."
Silence for a moment. She lowered her voice. "Rick, you're overreacting. Ken's right, it sounds like a sham. Merle's language is florid but not so -- Anyway, with all the terrorist sites out there, and porn sites, and how-to-rob-a-bank sites, you think the cops are going to care about this?"
"When he murders her they will."
She clicked her tongue against her teeth. "That's ridiculous. What has he done that's -- "
"Have you read it? There's a name for this -- it's called rape. And he's listening to 'each exquisite sob' from the poor woman! Stop making excuses!"
"Rick, I'll handle this, I shouldn't have told you about it, it's really no business of yours. Now you're taking advantage of my confidences to interfere where you're -- "
Furious, I hung up.
* * *
I wouldn't apologize to Paula, wouldn't attempt to schedule a lunch, wouldn't deign to forward an e-mail cartoon she might have liked. On the other hand, I kept watch on that hateful blog, refusing to relinquish the notion that I might gallop to the rescue like Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider. Paula's rescue, I mean, from whatever moral abyss she was in. Maybe, in gratitude, she'd go to bed with me for once -- take that, Merle! too bad, Ken! who needs you, HWNSNBM!
As for Herself, I phoned a lawyer friend and briefly, without many details, described the blog posts; he agreed with Paula that, given the legal difficulties of forcing the service provider to reveal the blogger's contact information, and given that such information might be fictitious anyway, and given that spousal abuse in such a case would be difficult to prove, the police and district attorney would likely file my complaint in the "look at this when the North Pole melts" category. A social service agency might be more interested but similarly helpless to intervene without real evidence. I thought of firing off a note to the blog provider, demanding the posts be taken down; then I reasoned it might be better to let the creep keep revealing himself.
For a blogger, though, the spiteful bastard was unproductive. After his second post, there was nothing more for a while; the site did allow comments, but not a single person had responded. The psychology of this situation amazed and confounded me. He was flaunting his brutal perversity in public and nobody seemed to notice or care. What would that do to him?
One afternoon the following appeared.
When a friend joined us for supper last night, Herself was on her very best behavior. She ate up every bit of her salmon with lemon dill sauce and scalloped potatoes. I allowed her a small glass of the scrumptious silky smooth Pinot Grigio that the friend had brought, and she made gallant efforts to join in the conversation, laughing from time to time at random moments and uttering comments that betrayed a charming unawareness of the topic. "Herself is so pretty tonight!" I complimented, for she had donned a pink high-collared frock and diamond earrings and had painted rose lipstick in the vicinity of her mouth. She blushed a deeper shade than her lips. The company said, "You'd never know from looking at her," and I said, "Yes, the shell remains lovely, doesn't it?"
I am so proud of her, whatever others may think. She went right to bed when I told her it was time, put on her nice warm PJs and let me tuck her in, allowing myself and friend to finish the wine and entertain ourselves for the rest of the evening in privacy.
I couldn't help myself, I banged out a reply on my keyboard. "If you were half a man," I wrote, "you'd protect your wife, not torment her, expose her to ridicule and parade your affairs under her nose. You disgust me." I clicked the button to submit, and the comment appeared on the page. Now at least one corner of the world had responded! Naturally I used a screen name that concealed my own identity; I didn't want anyone linking me to this asshole, nor (I understood in the back of my mind) did I want Paula to know it was me.
Too late, it occurred to me that I might have endangered Herself by provoking him. Maybe he'd do something more outrageous as soon as he sensed the public's eyes upon him. But the web page stood inert for the rest of that day and the next. No further posts, no reaction to my comment.
At that point, obstinately, I compensated for my possible mistake by withdrawing my attention: I refrained from looking at the site for almost 48 hours. Why should I be the only one worried about this monster? If Paula wanted to banish me after getting me involved, well so be it, I'd step out of the way and let others cope with the consequences. I'd be the voice crying in the wilderness -- and I pictured myself in a long white robe trudging through the sand. In fact, I trudged around my kitchen in a plaid bathrobe, one that HWNSNBM used to mock me for liking.
It was late Sunday morning when I changed my mind and found this:
Carpe diem wrote the poet. When Opportunity knocks one must answer. The Good Lord knows Opportunity will not likely call again for a being such as I. Or Romance.
For the safety of Herself I leave her comfortably attached with dainty cords to the bedstead. As she will not understand the knots, and as the knives and scissors are far out of reach, she is protected for some time. I doubt she is resourceful enough to chew her way out. Abundant food and water are handy, as well as a chamberpot for her coarser needs. I leave the TV on for her, tuned to Lifetime where she can puzzle through hour after hour of stories as heart-rending as her own.
Ta-ta my love!!!!
I was dialing Paula's cell as soon as I located my phone under the sofa cushions. "Are you home -- did you see it?" I yelled. "The bastard's cut out -- when was this posted, yesterday! -- and left her chained to the bed!"
"Calm down, she's okay."
"If this is real, she's not okay, she's fucking tied up!"
"I phoned the house and talked to Arlene's nephew, Raymond, he's there with her. Merle has apparently gone off somewhere -- "
"Of course he has! He said so!"
" -- but the nephew will stay until he can arrange other care. He said he'll start looking at places for her. He got there last night."
"Wait, since when does she have a nephew?"
"Since, I don't know, 28, 30 years ago, whenever Raymond was born. He's the one member of her family in the area."
"Why didn't you tell me about him? Why hasn't he stopped this torture?"
"Rick, I've never met the young man. All I know is what I heard from Merle, that the boy's been hostile ever since the marriage, he thinks Merle wanted Arlene for her money but in Merle's opinion it's Raymond that cares about money, and at any rate ... ," she paused to catch her breath and sigh, " ... it seems Merle let him know he'd find his aunt alone in the house. See, Merle made sure someone would come take care of her. And perhaps he'll be back soon, who knows, it's like him to make grand gestures ... "
"I don't believe this, you defending him. Because it's clear now, he's the abominable blogger."
"I suppose so."
"You suppose? Why aren't you more concerned about this?"
"I am concerned, I've been worried sick. If Raymond hadn't been there I'd have -- I'm not sure what, but something. Called the police, I guess. Now I'm worried what Merle's gotten himself into."
"Merle? Good riddance. Let him run off with his Opportunity."
"I can't be that cavalier about an old friend."
"An old friend who's been," I sputtered, "abusing his wife, boasting about it, playing stupid games with -- "
I petered out. Arguing with Paula seemed futile as well as painful. Now that I knew a crisis had been averted, I felt extraordinarily depressed about the situation. Soon I hung up and put myself to bed for the afternoon. When I stumbled up for a drink of water, I told myself that only someone with no life of his own would get so caught up with people he'd never seen or spoken to. To celebrate this gloom I smoked four cigarettes. I calculated that HWNSNBM had been gone two years and three and a half months.
Continued next week ...