Such Tangled Webs
By Allen McGill
The screen door complained loudly as Maude pushed through it, then slammed shut behind her. She cringed as she waited to hear if the noise had awakened her babies. When all remained quiet, she shuffled across the worn boards of the porch to the paint-bare rocker and eased into it, careful not to spill any of the Budweiser from the can she carried. It was the time of day she liked best--the children in bed, Matt not yet home from his business meeting with Ken, and she soothing the pressure of her feet and strained back. Funny, she used to begrudge all the time Matt spent away on business, but she now enjoyed the solitude.
Maude tipped the icy can to let the bitter-sweet liquid flow slowly into her mouth. The peaceful complacency of the prairie in the last few moments of sunset was mesmerizing. She stroked the flowery print stretched across her swollen belly, her thoughts roaming from the child within to the day she’d be able to stand upright again.
“Trust me, darlin’” Matt had said that night after the Harvest Dance, when they’d both had more “celebration” than usual. “I promise I’ll pull out before...”
Truth be told, Maude was eager to “get to it” and hadn’t needed much coaxing to forego precautions. The dancing, drinking, warm autumn night and firm caressing of her husband’s strong hands on the drive home set her mood and yearnings probably before his. Another year, another baby, she thought, smiling. Another souvenir of another lovely evening. It may be too soon, but she couldn’t be happier.
The ringing phone shattered Maude’s reverie. She gripped the arms of the rocker and surged forward, belly first, rushing so the kids wouldn’t wake.
“Hello” she blurted in a harsh whisper, after snatching the phone. “Oh, hi Sheriff. How ya doin’? Matt’s not here right now, but... Driving out to see me? Why? What’s happen... Well, tell me... You’re beginning to scare me, Sheriff. I want to know what’s goin’ on! Tell me... No, not when you get here. Tell me now!” Her grip on the phone tightened as the color drained from her face.
“Wait, I don’t understand,” she cried. “You’re confusing me. Matt’s not dead, he’s in a meeting with Ken… You’re wrong! You’re mixing everything up... Oh!” Pain shot through her mid-section and she collapsed to her knees on the floor. “Help me! The baby’s coming.” She listened again, clasping her belly. “Yes, now! Hurry, and bring the doc.!” She dropped the phone, rocked from side to side in an attempt to quell the agony. They got the wrong person, that’s it. Matt can’t be dead. They’re wrong, or lying. But why? He said Matt and Lynda! Ken’s wife? Why? No, Matt wouldn’t do that to me, pregnant or not. Matt wasn’t with Lynda, he was meeting Ken.
She crawled to the sofa in the living room, worked her way up onto it, trying not to cry out. Waking the babies was the last thing she wanted to do. Lynda...that bitch! She’s always been after Matt. Damn her. Damn HIM! No, no, it’s a mistake…has to be. Things have been perfect with us. This just can’t be.
Time stretched endlessly as she waited, biting her lips so as not to cry out as much from the anguish in her mind as from her pain. After what seemed like hours, she heard the wail of an ambulance siren drawing near. The screen door screeched as the Sheriff and Doc Kendall burst into the room.
“Is it true?” Maude called, her voice strangled with tears. “About Matt?”
Doc knelt beside her, gave her a pain killer as the Sheriff took her hand in his, saying, “Listen, Maude. You just concentrate on your baby, now. Hear?”
A strangled moan burst forth from her as the doctor moved to begin his examination. Halfway under from exhaustion, she murmured, “But, why? Even if Matt was with Lynda, why kill him? Beat him up, maybe, but not...” She was losing focus. “...horrible. Live without Matt? Our babies...”
She saw the sheriff glance at Doc as her pain eased her into oblivion. She barely heard him whisper, unable to understand his words: “...too much pain...didn’t understand...thinks Ken killed Matt. Would have been bad enough … but it was Lynda caught the guys together...shot them both. Seems they’d been seeing each other for years.”