Late Husband ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
After midnight Thelma Lucy heard a disturbing sound in the house and went downstairs to investigate. When she saw her husband, Boswell Lucy, sitting in his favorite chair in the living room, she turned on the light and stared in disbelief.
“What are you doing here?” Thelma asked.
“Hello, dear,” Boswell said.
“You’re not supposed to be here!”
“Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“I want to know why you’re here!”
“I wanted to see you. It’s been such a long time.”
“You’re not really here. This is what happens when I have too many drinks and then take my pills.”
“Still taking those pills?”
“I need them. I can’t get along without them.”
“You’re an addict.”
“I’m not! And you need to mind your own business. You’re dead!”
“Where were you this evening? I was here earlier and you were out.”
“I had dinner with a friend, if it’s any of your business.”
“It was Dr. Tab Hudson, wasn’t it?”
“You’ve been seeing quite a lot of Dr. Hudson lately, haven’t you?”
“Well, what of it? You died and left me a widow. You can’t expect me to sit here all by myself forever and let the world pass me by, can you?”
“Dr. Hudson is not what you think he is, but I see you’ll have to find it out on your own.”
“He’s a fine man.”
“You think he’s wonderful because he reinforces you in all your neuroses and he gives you as many pills as you want without a prescription.”
“I don’t know why I’m even listening to you. You’re a dead man.”
“You’ve put on some weight, haven’t you? And what have you done to your hair?”
“After you died,” she said, “I took on a whole new look. I bought some new clothes and changed my hair. Don’t you like it?”
“Orange hair looks ridiculous on an old woman.”
“Everybody says it makes me look younger. And where do you get off calling me old?”
“Well, aren’t you?”
“I want you to go now,” she said. “It’s late. I’m going to take one of my pills and get into bed.”
“You’re already taken two.”
“How could you know that?”
“I’ve been here the whole time.”
“Spying on me?”
“Looking out for you.”
“I don’t want you looking out for me. I’m doing just fine without you.”
“I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t need me.”
“I know this isn’t really happening,” she said. “It’s a bad dream—a nightmare, really—and in the morning when I wake up I won’t remember any of it.”
The next time she saw him was in the supermarket. She picked up a box of donuts and placed them in her cart alongside her candy and ice cream.
“That’s why you’ve put on so much weight,” he said in her ear.
She dropped the donuts into the cart and turned on him. “Why are you doing this to me?” she asked.
“It’s bad enough that I’m seeing you in my own home, but now I’m seeing you in public?”
“I’m wherever you are.”
“I want you to stop following me around. This is not amusing!”
In the checkout line she knew he was right behind her. She would have felt him breathing down her neck if he had breathed. On the way to her car, he was walking along beside her.
“I could find a policeman and tell him you’re bothering me,” she said.
“He’d think you were crazy because he wouldn’t see me.”
“Are you saying that only I can see you?”
“That’s the way it works.”
“Why don’t you go haunt somebody else and leave me alone?”
“Why would I want to haunt anybody but you?”
“Why do you want to be here when you can be in heaven? Heaven must be wonderful. You’ll have to tell me all about it sometime, but not now. I’m late for my appointment to get my hair done. I have a date tonight.”
“It’s with him, isn’t it?”
“Goodbye, Boswell. I really hope this is the last time we meet.”
As she drove away, she was relieved that he wasn’t in the car with her.
Over a candlelight dinner that evening, Thelma told Dr. Hudson that her late husband had been following her around.
Dr. Hudson frowned and took her hand across the table. “Poor puss!” he said. “That must be terribly upsetting for you.”
“No, it’s not terribly upsetting. Just a little disconcerting since I don’t know what his motives are.”
“He doesn’t have motives, dearest. He’s dead. It’s all in your head.”
“You’re absolutely right, of course,”
“I’ll give you a stronger medication and we’ll see if that helps.
Always so strong! So commanding! He always knew what to do in any given situation. He was exactly what she needed.
After dinner they sat on the French sofa before the fireplace and listened to the patter of the rain on the windows. Always a gentleman, though, Dr. Hudson didn’t try to take advantage of the situation.
He confided to her in a way he had never confided to anybody before in his life, he said. He told her all about his life, how he had been raised by his grandmother in a small town and how he struggled to get through medical school by posing nude for painters and picking up odd jobs wherever he could. When he segued from his youth to recent financial reverses, his voice trembled and his expressive brown eyes filled with tears. He took her hand in both of his and faced her solemnly as if to make a confession.
“I don’t know how I dare ask it of you,” he said.
“Ask me what?” she asked.
“I was wondering if you might lend me a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
“Of course, darling!” she said.
“I’ll pay you back with interest, of course.”
“Will a hundred and fifty thousand be enough?”
She met him at the bank the next day and arranged the transfer of the money to his account.
They began seeing each other every day. He was attentive and considerate in every way possible. He lit her cigarettes for her, held car doors, and helped her on and off with her coat, like a gentleman of the old school. He took her on little overnight trips to places she never dreamed of going. And, always, always, he provided her with the pills she needed and the occasional pick-me-up shot. She didn’t know what the shots were; she only knew they made her feel wonderful. She trusted him completely.
She believed he was on the point of proposing marriage to her. She was so besotted with him that she would have done anything he asked of her. One night he called her at midnight when she was sleeping.
“I’m so sorry to awaken you, dearest,” he said, “but I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Can’t it wait until morning?” she asked.
“I’m afraid it can’t. I need you to stop by my office and pick up a little package and deliver it to a patient downtown. You know where I keep the spare key hidden.”
“I’m afraid to drive downtown by myself at this hour.”
“Nonsense! You’ll be perfectly safe. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“I don’t know.”
“I have no one to ask but you, darling.”
“Well, all right, if you say so.”
She began delivering packages for him all over the city and then in places outside the city. Soon she was traveling to other states by airplane, always to pick up or deliver a small package. She didn’t mind these trips because she had always liked to travel and it gave her a chance to see new places and stay in beautiful hotels at somebody else’s expense. She felt as if she was living a dream life.
It wasn’t until she went to Mexico City that she thought to question what was in the packages. The first couple of runs went smoothly but on the third trip some men were waiting to pick her up when she landed back in the U.S. They humiliated her by treating her as if she was a common criminal. They went through her baggage and took the package she had gone all that way to pick up. When she professed her innocence, they just ignored her; one of them even made as if to slap her. They took away her clothes, jewelry and money, locked her in a cell and told her she’d better hire herself a good lawyer because she was in plenty of trouble.
“But I didn’t do anything!” she wailed. “He asked me to pick up and deliver packages for him, that’s all! I didn’t know what was in them!”
“You were his mule,” the sheriff’s deputy said.
“It’s a drug term. A mule is a person who carries drugs.”
“So all this about drugs?”
“I didn’t know! I swear! I would never become involved in drugs. If you will just call Dr. Tab Hudson and ask him to explain, I’m sure he’ll tell you I did nothing wrong.”
After several days, nobody had been able to find Dr. Hudson, although police claimed to be looking for him. He had once made an offhand remark to Thelma about friends in Coast Rica, so she figured that’s where he had gone.
One night after lights-out as she lay on her bunk in her jail cell, she felt somebody near her, just inches away. She thought at first it was Jesus but then she knew it was her deceased husband, Boswell Lucy. He was dressed as a cowboy, complete with spurs and ten-gallon hat.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said. “I’ve never felt so alone in my life.”
“Nobody can find him, can they?” he said.
“He’s gone and left me holding the bag. He’s a major-league drug dealer and I, his unwitting accomplice.”
“I tried to warn you but you wouldn’t listen.”
“I know, darling, and I wasn’t very nice to you.”
“So, now I’m ‘darling,’ am I?”
“If you hadn’t died, none of this would have happened!”
“I didn’t want to die. I wasn’t consulted beforehand.”
“I see now that Dr. Tab Hudson was just an illusion. You were always the steady one. You took care of me. My life has never been the same since you died.”
“Well, maybe your lawyers can get you off.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me now. I’m afraid. I don’t want to go to prison. It seems that just telling people I didn’t know what was going on isn’t going to work.”
“Do you want me to get you out of this?”
“More than anything. I don’t like being in jail.”
“You know what it means?”
“And you don’t mind?”
“No, as long as I can be with you.”
He had her lie back and then he put his hand over her mouth and pinched her nostrils shut. She slept, slept, slept and felt nothing. After an indeterminate amount of time, she opened her eyes and looked at him and she knew that she was a shade just like him. She linked her arm through his and he led her out of the jail into the night.
In the morning the guard found her dead in her bunk. A doctor examined her, decided she had succumbed to a heart attack in her sleep, and signed the death certificate. Nobody ever claimed her body, so she ended up buried in a nondescript cemetery on the edge of town where the graves were decorated with gaudy artificial flowers. She didn’t mind, though, because it was so much better than being in prison.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp