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„I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as I live." Sally could still remember the words that Michael, her husband, had said back then. She could literally hear the silence that had fallen over all those present at that very moment. She recalled the sound of her husband’s breath, retraced the feeling she had as he slipped the ring on her finger, and intensely smelled the scent of incense that filled up the church where they had gotten married, back then.
Immersed in the memory of that moment, Sally flipped through her wedding album. She had been in the middle of dusting the house. The album had been lying at the same place, in the living room, for almost eighteen years. Today, she felt like going through it again. Sally enjoyed remembering the day of her wedding with Michael. It had been sunny, at least, throughout the day. In the evening, as the party was in full swing, there had been a terrible thunderstorm. It had poured down so suddenly that they couldn’t run fast enough for shelter. In retrospect, this amused Sally time and again. Michael didn’t like that memory. He hadn’t found that funny back then. After all, he had caught a heavy summer flu because of all the rain. They had danced a lot outside -
With a flick of her hand, she brushed the dark brown strand of hair off her face. It was nice to take a trip down old memory lane, again. She loved that.
Sally had sat down on the couch in the living room to look through the album.
She flicked back a strand, again. She had tied up her long, straight hair into a ponytail. She found that much more practical while she was dusting. Except, that this one strand just wouldn’t stay in place and pushed its way through to her face, again and again.
Michael was a bit slimmer back then. Sally looked at the picture very closely. He has celebrated his fortieth birthday just about two months ago. He, too wasn’t left unscathed by time. He has gained quite a bit of weight in the last few years. Yes, men are like that, Sally mused. The woman is supposed to stay nice and slim, preferably her whole life, while nobody bothered about the man gaining weight. The wife just had to live with that. Well, that wasn’t exactly Michael’s view. But, he still preferred her being slim and was glad that Sally was and still had a well-
"Hi mum! Cleaning?" Lil, her seventeen-
„Oh this is good. Yes, go on." Michael groaned.
Nora had managed to talk him into coming in to her apartment. She had seduced him in every trick of the book. And they had ended up in bed. But Nora was also really good.
"Ohh!" Michael groaned loudly. He was on his way to climax. Nora clutched on to him.
"Oh, yes! This is awesome. So good," she repeated and held him tight. As though tangled up, they hung on to one another and enjoyed the climax that they had, one after the other.
Out of breath and happily exhausted, Michael and Nora fell into their pillows.
„That was wonderful, Michael."
„Will we do this more often now?" Nora simply went on to ask. This whole thing was basically her call. She wanted to have Michael. She couldn’t care less about Sally. She didn’t give her any thought. Nora believed that Sally wouldn’t be any threat to her.
They had known each other for some time now. Michael and Sally had talked to her once during an exhibition. Sally had thought, back then, that she was the owner of the gallery. It had been a misunderstanding. And because they had liked each other, they went to a restaurant right after the exhibition to get better acquainted. Meantime, it has almost been fifteen years ago. They had known each other that long.
„No," that was it. Michael didn’t say anymore than that.
„Why not?" Nora persisted.
"I don’t feel like discussing all of this now. It was nice with you. I really liked it. But I have to go now. Hey Nora, don’t be mad at me." Michael said trying to comfort Nora.
Nora was sulking.
„Are you going home now? To Sally?" she asked, although she had already known the answer.
„Yes, of course. What do you think? This was a slip up and it won’t happen again. Okay?"
The okay was actually redundant, Michael thought. He has made up his mind. Sally was his wife and he loved her. No one else. Nora asked for it. She had seduced him and had lured him into having sex with her. He wasn’t keen on repeating that. This was his only way of forgiving himself. If he were to have sex with Nora again, it wouldn’t be a harmless affair, anymore.
So he gathered his things and sat up in bed.
"Nora, see you around. Take care." He said goodbye to her and just left. He left her alone in bed and walked away without even looking back once.
„A slip up!" Nora said the words very slowly. She stretched them out like a chewing gum. So I’m a slip up, she thought angrily. She didn’t want to have just been a mere slip up for Michael. She wanted him as a husband, her husband. And she was going to make sure that this happens. Nora knew that Sally was very jealous. It was much easier to move in onto a jealous woman’s husband, she thought with pleasure and turned sleepily again on her side. You will soon regret it, dear Sally that you hadn’t given up Michael to me even sooner. It’s only a matter of time, she thought wickedly.
A couple of days later, Sally was driving Lil over to a friend’s.
"Hey, that was Michael, wasn’t it? – Lil. Wasn’t that dad? Didn’t you see him, too?" Sally repeated the question. She had just caught a quick glimpse of the couple walking along the main street next to one another. After all, she had been driving and couldn’t look away for too long.
"I can’t believe it! Lil – they’re walking hand-
No, she reassured herself. She had clearly seen them walking hand-
Lil finally caught sight of the couple, too. She stretched her head out of the car window. By that time, Sally had driven a good distance past the two. Lil craned her head out of the window and just about got a last glimpse of the couple before they turned around the corner.
"Yes, you’re right. That was dad. And Nora. What’s she doing with dad there? And at this time." she ascertained almost boringly and turned her attention back to her magazine. That the two of them hadn’t been simply walking next to one another but even holding hands was something she must have overlooked.
Lil didn’t like Nora. Sally never understood why. Every time she visited, Nora was always nice to Lil and even brought her sweets, sometimes.
A kiss ass cow, was Lil’s favorite expression when Nora visited. Sally dismissed that as a teenage whim.
Sally was so busy thinking about Michael and Nora that she almost drove into the car in front of her. She hit the brakes abruptly. She absolutely had to concentrate on the road. Angry over the close call, she suppressed the incipient jealousy within her.
She just couldn’t do it – she kept seeing this picture over and over – of her husband walking along the street hand-
The answering machine at home was already blinking. Curious, Sally pushed the play button.
"Hey, here’s Michael. I’ll be home late tonight. Don’t worry. I’ve got a lot to do and I’ll go out to dinner with my boss to the Spanish place. You know, at Antonio’s. So, please don’t wait up for me. It’ll be late. And an extra kiss to Lil. Ciao."
"What is this? I saw you!" Infuriated by this lie, Sally yelled back at the answering machine. She just couldn’t stand a thing like that. That her husband could lie to her so cold-
"Just a sec – we’ll soon find out," she spoke loudly to herself. She then reached out to her mobile phone and dialed Michael’s number. She was very curious now to hear what he would have to say.
He didn’t answer the phone. She only heard the mailbox. Angry that she couldn’t ask him about it, she hung up. She would have to wait now until he came back home.
Sally sat on her favorite armchair. Now that she has dropped Lil at her friend’s and wasn’t able to erase Michael and Nora’s picture out of her mind, she was getting more and more edgy. To take her mind off things, she turned on the TV. There wasn’t anything special. She zapped through a few channels and got into a worse mood. There was nothing that really interested her. So she switched off the TV. Still in a bad mood, she remained sitting dead still in her favorite armchair for a few minutes. The more she thought about this blatant lie, the angrier she got and, at the same time, the more scared she became of knowing the truth. Horrible doubts crept in on her. Was Michael having an affair with Nora? Could it be that? When she looked back at her marriage in all honesty, she knew that it hasn’t been going so well for sometime now. Boredom and indifference had settled into their marriage. And they hadn’t had sex for a long time, despite her good figure. Michael didn’t seem to have noticed this dismal state they were in – at least, he never said anything. Neither did she. They simply kept quiet about their problems. She knew too well that that wasn’t right. But, maybe it isn’t what she thought it was. Maybe, this thing with holding hands meant nothing? Nora regularly had new lovers. Her last lover has probably left her and she had needed some consolation. But why would she be having a cry on Michael’s shoulders and not mine? Thoughts were tormenting her!
She picked up the phone again and called her best friend Cathy.
"Listen Cathy, I need your help. I just don’t know what to think. I believe that Michael’s having an affair with Nora." It was out now. Actually, Sally only had a suspicion, but the more she thought about it, the stronger it got.
"Sally, what makes you think so? Tell me, what happened?"
She was glad that Cathy didn’t start reproaching her about anything now. Cathy was aware of her jealousy. Over time, she had gone through two incidences in which Sally had embarrassed Michael because of her jealousy. Sally had been wrong every time. Cathy had prophesied that she would destroy her marriage one day because of her jealousy. She was afraid now that Cathy’s prophecy may be coming true.
"I saw them walking along the main street holding hands this evening. I was driving Lil over to a school friend of hers. You know, Lil was invited to Sarah’s and I had to still pass by the bank anyway…" Sally got teary eyes, although she still had no proof to justify her suspicion.
Crying, she explained the situation to Cathy. The more she talked about it, the more she was afraid to loose Michael. Her suspicions ate away at her trust in him.
"You know what Sally, you’ll only find out for sure when you drive out there." Cathy said trying to help.
"Where to? I don’t even know where they went to."
"Try out Nora’s place. If there’s no one there, then you’d just have to wait until Michael gets back home."
"Today of all days. After I’ve driven Lil over to a friend’s. I don’t know if I really want to know it."
"Of course you want to know it. Trust me, you won’t make it through the evening with all this uncertainty."
She found a parking spot right opposite Nora’s house. She managed to keep the house after the divorce. She had inherited enough money from her parents to pay off her ex husband. Looking at it this way, Nora was doing very well. Only in matters of love, things didn’t work out as well for her. Actually, she constantly had new lovers. Her husband, Michael, wasn’t going to become another one of her lovers, Sally concluded.
Seething with a good portion of anger, she sprinted the four steps to the house door. Nora would have to do quite a bit of explaining to her – why did she have to pick Michael, of all people, as the next victim? There were enough other men to use; she should just leave Michael alone. This beast, this bitch! As if her way of life isn’t bad enough, she also has to break up a marriage now! Sally towered ever more anger up. She was going to show this Nora!
It was impressive how quick Sally was in gathering enough abusive material in the short time it took her to get from the car to Nora’s house door.
Michael opened the door.
"Sally?" he asked clearly surprised and carried on talking. "What are you doing here?" he said in a very reproachful tone.
Sally felt humiliated. This tone. Why was Michael talking to her like that – in such a tone? It sped through her mind.
"I could ask you the same thing. What are you doing at Nora’s and why did you lie to me? What was that you said on the answering machine, with you being with your boss? I saw you. And Lil as well. You were walking along the street holding hands. And now I find you here. You’re the pits! And Nora, too. She must have seduced you. Didn’t she? Am I right? You two are having an affair?" Sally couldn’t stop anymore. She just hurled her words onto him. Every word that was out relieved her of a burden. She felt relieved.
Michael looked at her angrily. "Are you done now?" he asked resentfully. That got Sally even more upset. "What’s the matter with you Michael? What are you doing? Don’t you want to give me some sort of answer, first?"
Sally didn’t want to listen to him anymore. She found the way he was treating her outrageous.
Maintaining her readiness to fight, she stood less than a meter away from her husband.
"Sally, come on – let me explain."
"What’s there to explain? Come on, tell me. You’re betraying me, right?" Sally was trying to provoke Michael.
"Sally, let’s talk about this calmly," Michael added.
"I am calm," Sally interrupted.
"You’re totally worked up. I know you – you’ll take everything I’ll say the wrong way now. You know, you better get in the car now. I’ll be right with you and I’ll explain everything to you. Okay?"
Nothing was okay for Sally. She felt mistreated by Michael. She was numb. What did he want from her? That she gets into the car now? He would be right with her and would explain everything? That was unbelievable. How could he be so unloving towards her? That was exactly how she was feeling: she was being treated heartlessly. Worthlessly. As if it wasn’t bad enough that her husband was with Nora instead of being with her at home. And he lied to her – he would be out with his boss. And now, she was supposed to calmly get in to the car. He can’t be serious! Sally couldn’t answer. Her rage vanished. Instead, she was encompassed by mixed feelings of sadness, disappointment and hurt love.
Unable to articulate a word, she simply turned around and left. That was the end of an eighteen-
Sally woke up. She felt pretty beat up.
"Where am I?" were her first questioning thoughts.
"In the cosmetic department," she was answered by a voice in the room.
"Excuse me? Cosmetic department?" she asked in disbelief.
"You’re dead. And all dead people make their first station here, in the cosmetic department," the voice clarified.
"Feel free to get up. You don’t have to lie down," the voice, which by the way was very warm and pleasant, went on to say. A voice to cuddle up to.
Sally sat up. She was lying on a stretcher. She squatted halfway up on the stretcher that was on the floor of a bright room.
"I’m dead?" she repeated to herself in disbelief and looked around her. An old man with a grey haired fringe, wearing old horn-
"It’s a joke, right? I’m not dead, but healthy and in hospital!" Sally countered defiantly.
"Dear Sally, everybody who has just arrived here, to us in heaven, reacts this way. You’ll get used to being dead. And now, please stand up. I’d like to examine you." The old man incited her in his warm voice.
"This can’t be! I’m not dead. I’m still alive," Sally stressed strongly now.
"Get up please. I need to examine you. You’re free to roam about until your initiation appointment. I can show you around if you like," the old man said in a gentle tone of voice, like nothing has happened. If it weren’t for his pleasant voice, Sally would have loved to scream at him and even strike out at him.
She was mad.
"How could she possibly be dead?" she asked herself. She had only fainted on the street. Yes, exactly, she could remember now. She had suddenly had a terrible stabbing pain in her head, like very strong migraine pains and then she broke down. Her circulatory system, most likely. She hadn’t had dinner, yet.
"I’ve got to go now," she sprouted. It must be late. A whole day may have even gone by. It was very bright here, anyway. As bright as day. In the meantime, she had gotten up and had herself examined by this old man with the gentle, warm voice. This checkup was just as funny as everything else here in this room. This man wasn’t wearing a gown; maybe he wasn’t even a doctor. He was dressed like an old man, in an old fashioned shirt, a funny and totally unfashionable sweater vest over it and then these old, unfashionable glasses. As though they were out of 1910.
Sally looked around the examination room. It just didn’t look like a hospital room, or like a cosmetic department, as the old man called it. There was a brown wooden cupboard that was fixed on to a wall; it had an unbelievable number of small drawers. The walls were also covered with extremely unfashionable wallpaper and it was very bright in the room, although there were no lamps or the like in there. It almost seemed as if the air was shining. But, it was pleasant. There were two armchairs, a small table and a davenport in the room. She gathered they were from around 1900. They looked like that. It seemed like all the furniture there was from another time and age, albeit not run down or used up, but instead just like newly inhabited. There were old pictures and drawings hanging on the other walls.
"Hey, that tickles!" Sally said laughing out loud although she was in no mood for it. The old man was palpating and scanning her body everywhere very thoroughly during the checkup. It was as though he was looking for something, she thought.
"So, you’re all right. You had a stroke. There’s nothing that can be rectified," he said dryly and put his stethoscope aside; he had it around his neck all the time and didn’t use it at all.
"A stroke. Yes, sure I had a stroke," Sally mocked sternly. She didn’t believe a word the old man was saying.
"I really have to go now," she snapped at him and was glad that he released her.
"Would you like me to show you around?" the doctor asked with good intentions.
"No, it’s all right. I’ll find my way around just fine." She dashed at him cheekily and went out of that old room. She was so sure she wasn’t dead… She didn’t thank the old man for examining her, not to mention having not said goodbye to him. She simply left. She was in no mood, anyway, and now an old grandpa wanted to talk her into being dead. What a load of bull!
It can’t be so difficult to get away from this strange doctor and find the way back home. I could ask a taxi driver. But I need to get out of here first, she thought and walked down a bright, well-
I have to be able to get out of this building, somehow. I’ll be able to find my whereabouts as soon as I get on to the street. I hope that they haven’t taken me to another town. An exit or something will surely come up soon, she said to herself quietly in an attempt to calm herself down.
She heard voices that were coming out of a room.
Carefully, she peeked through the door that wasn’t totally closed. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to make out very much. It looked like an office room. Otherwise, she could hear voices.
"This looks strange. Where in the world am I here?" she asked herself and carefully pushed the door a bit more open. She wanted to be able to see what was going on in there without getting found out.
This was maybe an office for the hospital administration. So, I must have walked in the wrong direction. But, let’s see. Maybe I can make out what they’re saying in there.
Sally pressed herself against the door. She could see the room very well now through the wider gap. Sure enough, it was an office. There were people sitting at computer stations working cheerfully at something. Some were silent and seemed to be concentrating hard, and others were pressing around on screens, while another group didn’t seem to care less for computer work. They were having a heated discussion.
"Did you tell him?" A young lady called out, at that moment, across to an older, scanty man.
"Yes, he’ll be right there, he said," the man shouted back. Before Sally even had a chance to make a rhyme out of it, somebody touched her shoulder.
"Can I help you?" [...]