It was early October. Not exactly beach weather. But there I was alone, sobbing as I huddled under a tattered beach towel that had waited in the trunk of my car for this moment to arrive. I felt the coolness of the damp sand on my bare feet as I sat wallowing in my misery yet relishing the fresh smell of the ocean that had lured so many in to life-altering adventures.
Is there an adventure here for me? I wondered.
Waves crashed on the shore. Their salty spray coated my once perfectly coiffed hair and soaked my meticulously made-up face. I felt as if I were melting. But I didn’t care. I needed to wash away my façade.
I pondered the events and emotions that had driven me to the beach. After a victorious week of business dealings in the city that never sleeps, I should have headed home to my penthouse apartment for a much-deserved glass of wine and a relaxing soak in my Jacuzzi® from which I would admire my kingdom and plot my next conquest. But no one, not even a loving, unforgiving pet, waited for me at home.
So I whizzed toward Long Island in my beautiful success symbol—a Jaguar convertible— singing at the top of my lungs, “New York, New York. If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to me New York, New York.” The wind tousled my hair as my prized successes whirled through my head. I heard my mother’s voice as clear as if she were sitting next to me. “A career is nice, but you can’t cuddle up with your job at night.” I hate it when she’s right about the things I resist most. Still I sped toward the comfort I so desperately needed— a comfort I knew so well. Blessed solitude.
The ocean’s pounding waves and refreshing sea breeze called to me as I made a beeline toward the shore. I felt the need to cleanse my soul of the sins I’d committed as a big player with the big boys of corporate America.
I’d made grown, powerful men cry.
I was it. I was the bitch they all loved to love and loved to hate.
I basked in the glory of my power and brilliance. In fact, I reveled in it. I’d challenged Goliath and scored a mega-million-dollar account. I was a big deal in the world of big dealers. I’d made a name for myself, so to speak. Wasn’t that what an independent, well-educated woman was supposed to aspire to rather than the perfect husband, 2.5 kids, and the cute well-kept house surrounded by a white picket fence?
The vastness of the ocean put my life in perspective. I was powerless and small. In other words, I was insignificant. I sobbed myself into exhaustion. A feeling of emptiness overcame me. “Who the hell am I?” I mumbled. “I don’t know me anymore. I’ve become a person I wouldn’t want to know. This isn’t what I wished for.”
Or was it?
As a little girl, I’d fantasized about being a powerful princess who grew into a commanding queen. With my imaginary sword in hand, I’d yell, “Off with your head,” as I pretended to lop off the heads of the people in my life who’d stifled me. And there were many—my mother, my father, my older brother, my teachers, my classmates, my dance instructor, my gymnastics coach, and my piano teacher, to name a few. I’d annoyed every one of them with my ability to be the perfect failure at everything. But today I was the queen with a capital Q. I ruled my world. I had the power to create and to destroy. I’d proven I wasn’t a failure. And I’d done it with such ease.
A huge wave broke over me. I didn’t move to safety. I sat there as shocking words escaped my lips. “I wish I were dead,” I screamed.
Darkness shrouded the sun. Lightning ricocheted off the water and danced along the clouds. Thunder clapped. It started to rain. But it didn’t matter. I was already soaked to my core with sea spray and tears. So I allowed the surf to wash over me. Suddenly I was spinning within a wave. I could feel the cold water engulf me as it tossed me like a rag doll and pulled me out to sea. I held my breath and tried to get my head above water. I was in the throes of life or death.
For a moment, I didn’t know whether to fight for life or give in to death. I chose to fight. Just when I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, I popped to the surface. As I took a deep life-saving breath, another strong wave slapped me in my face. I tasted the salt water and felt it fill my lungs.
A sense of peace washed over me.
I was drowning.
I was dying.
My wish had come true.
Copyright© 2018 by JM Hughson
For the umpteenth time a young boy yelled, “Cannon ball” as he jumped in the pool.
The boy’s mother ignored his annoying behavior.
A young woman approached the edge of the pool and looked around as if to make sure all eyes were on her.
Sunbathers became wet, frustrated, angry.
The sign read No Jumping or Diving. Couldn’t the boy’s mother read?
Nearly one minute passed.
The young woman didn’t surface.
Again, no one noticed her.
Another minute passed in peace.
Still the young woman didn’t surface.
The boy yelled, “Mommy, there’s a lady on the bottom of the pool.”
The boy’s mother begrudgingly got up and strolled to the edge of the pool. “Yes, I see,” she said.
Bubbles rose from the woman’s nose and gently broke the surface of the calm water.
The boy’s mother jumped in.
A gray-haired man overheard the boy’s comment. Concerned, he left the comfort of his lounge.
He stared into the crystal clear water and saw what looked like two women fighting.
He jumped in.
Moments later he pulled one woman to the safety of the hot Florida air.
The other woman popped to the surface like a jack in the box.
The man dragged the woman to the shallow end of the pool and rested her limp body on the stairs.
The other woman swam to the man and the unconscious woman. She hung on the pool bar, floated in the water, and watched.
The boy threw a rubber fish and dove after it; happy to have the pool to himself.
The man grabbed the unconscious woman under her arms and tried to drag her onto the pool deck.
A young man ran over and helped.
The two men lifted the woman out of the pool and gently deposited her on the hot surface of the deck.
Her head flopped to the left.
“Call 911,” the gray-haired man yelled.
Another young man grabbed his phone and dialed.
The gray-haired man straightened the woman’s head and leaned toward her to check if she was breathing.
He checked for a pulse.
“Do you know CPR?” he asked the other man.
The younger man shook his head and said, “No.”
The first man yelled for someone, anyone to help him perform CPR.
No one responded.
“I only know CPR from cop shows,” the gray-haired man said as he started chest compressions followed by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
The woman’s head flopped to the left again.
An ambulance siren echoed in the distance, announcing its soon-to-be arrival.
The woman in the pool said, “Hurry, she’s turning blue.”
The ambulance bounded into the parking lot.
It jerked to a stop.
The back door flung open.
A paramedic jumped out, grabbed a heavy medical bag, and rushed to the scene on the deck.
Other paramedics casually unloaded medical gear and a gurney.
The woman was blue.
The woman’s lips were now black.
Death was near.
The paramedic took over.
Two other paramedics arrived by the woman’s side.
“Her neck is broken,” one said.
“I think she’s dead,” the other said.
Soon oxygen pumped through a bag value mask.
The paramedics carefully secured the woman on a spinal board.
“Does anyone know this woman? Is she with anyone?” the first paramedic asked.
The two men shrugged.
“Do you know her,” the first paramedic asked the boy in the pool.
“No,” he said without looking at the woman as he tossed the rubber fish to the deep end of the pool and swam after it.
“She’s alone,” the woman in the pool said. She pointed at a table and chairs on the other side of the pool and said, “Her bag is over there.”
The third paramedic walked over to the table and retrieved a beach bag.
He quickly rejoined his fellow paramedics.
Squealing gurney wheels announced the woman’s trip to the ambulance.
She was loaded in.
Two paramedics jumped in the back beside her.
The third paramedic sprung onto the driver’s seat.
The sirens wailed.
The huge truck pulled out of the pool parking lot.
“She’s dead,” the gray-haired man said.
“I hope not,” the woman in the pool said.
The two men returned to the comfort of their poolside lounges and continued to catch some rays.
The woman pulled herself out of the pool with the grace of an Olympic swimmer.
She strutted to her lounge, toweled off, then dug in her beach bag and retrieved a pair of designer sunglasses.
She arranged the towel and lowered herself on the lounge.
The boy looked around the pool. “Mommy? Where are you?”
The woman watched the boy from the safety of her sunglasses. “I hate people with kids,” she muttered.
The boy screamed, “Mommy!”
She couldn’t help but smile.
Copyright© 2018 by JM Hughson
The hospital room was chilly. A lamp cast a warm glow on Julia as she quietly snored and gasped for breath.
Bob, her husband of fifty-two years, tucked the covers under her chin. “Rest, my sweetheart. I’ll be right here.” He kissed her on her forehead, scooted a chair close to the bed, and exhaled as he sat down. As he took his wife’s hand in his and gently kissed it, he thought about how quickly the last half-century had passed and how many dreams hadn’t come true.
A hospice nurse came in, checked Julia’s vitals, and gave her a dose of morphine. “How has she been today, Mr. Cummings?”
“The same. I’m afraid the end is near.”
“I’m afraid so.” The nurse touched Julia’s cheek. “The only thing we can do is keep her comfortable.” The nurse quietly packed her things, patted Bob on the back, and started to leave the room. “If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to call me,” she said as she gazed at Julia from the door before leaving to attend to her next patient.
“Well, it’s just you and me, babe.” Bob attempted to smile and hold back his tears. “I want you to know that you gave me the best years of my life. And if it weren’t for those five kids, I would have made wild, passionate love to you in every room of the house.” He chuckled. “But I guess it was our wild, passionate love that got us those kids. And to be honest, every one of them was a blessing. Thank God they took after you.”
Bob wiped his tears on his shirtsleeve. He held Julia’s hands again and kissed them before gently placing them on her stomach. He eyed her bony, veined fingers remembering the wonders they had created. “You were a magnificent cook, a great seamstress, an artist extraordinaire, and not too shabby of a pianist.”
Bob rubbed his wife’s hands as if they were a good luck charm and then tenderly brushed her hair off her forehead. “You were the best. The best wife. The best mother. The best healer of wounds of the flesh and the heart. I wish I could have been the same to you. But you know how I am. Too singularly focused is how you phrased it. I think it was just a nice way of saying that I was selfish.”
Julia moaned and briefly opened her eyes.
“Oh, my darling, I’ll never forget your beautiful blue eyes.” Tears welled in Bob’s dark brown eyes. “Prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Julia moaned again, but this time her lips pursed as her dry tongue struggled to form the words she longed to speak.
Bob leaned in; hoping to hear what could be his wife’s last words.
Julia gasped a few times and fell silent.
“Julia? Julia?” Don’t leave just yet. I have a few more things I want to say. I want you to know you gave me more than my dreams. My dreams were big, but my wallet was small. I tried to be the best husband, but I don’t think I was. I tried to be the best father, but I don’t think I was great at that either. I’m sorry for anything I did that may have hurt you.” Bob paused and looked longingly at his dying wife. He took a deep breath and said, “I wish I could have given you the world.”
“You were my world.” With one final gasp, Julia was gone.
Copyright© 2019 by JM Hughson
A Beautiful Night
She whispered in his ear; something he thought no one knew.
He jerked away. “That was a stupid thing to say.”
“That was a stupid thing to do,” she said. She turned off the lights, moved to the other side of the room, sat in a chair, then looked out the window over the New York City skyline. It is a beautiful night. A beautiful night for murder, she thought.
As he admired the same Manhattan skyline, he glanced at her as she sat, peacefully taking in the night’s sights, swirling ice in her crystal glass as if she didn’t have a care in the world. It’s a perfect night. A perfect night for murder, he thought.
She gently placed her glass on the table and then sauntered to the balcony doors. She waited for him to join her. When he didn’t, she glanced back, teasing him with her eyes.
He went to her and reached out to touch her.
She pulled away flirtatiously. The sliding doors that led to the balcony of her twentieth-floor condo didn’t make a sound as she opened them and quietly stepped outside.
He followed her. He leaned casually with his back against the balcony rail, his legs jutted, looking like a 1940’s movie star playing the part of Casanova.
She straddled his legs.
They were now face-to-face.
She stared into his blue eyes and smiled.
She leaned toward him.
He prepared for a kiss. Lips pursed. Eyes Closed.
His presumptuous sexual anticipation sickened her. She stepped back.
“Don’t be coy. No one can see us. Are you going to do it or not?” he asked.
“Now that you mention it, I think I will.”
He sighed with pleasure as she ran her hands down his thighs. She unzipped his pants and pulled them down, revealing his nakedness.“I see you’re ready,” she said.
“Hurry. I can’t stand it much longer.”
One final tug and his pants surrounded his ankles. She caressed his calves.
“Come on,” he said as he arched his back in anticipation of the ecstasy he was about to receive.
“You’re so impatient.” Suddenly, she lifted his legs and flipped him over the rail.
He descended rapidly toward the pavement, flailing as if he hoped he could fly.
She laughed. “Well,you asked for it.”
A crowd gathered.
Police lights swirled, sirens blared, flashing and echoing off the facades of the skyscrapers.
The building’s residents rushed to their balconies to take in the excitement.
The police searched for the balcony from which he’d fallen.
Everyone’s eyes focused on the wrong one.
She was relieved, but not surprised.
Officers went door to door, searching for clues from anyone and everyone. Soon they knocked on her door.
She pretended she wasn’t home.
They pounded on her door.
A neighbor peeked out from the condo next door and said, “She’s out of town. Won’t be back for three weeks.”
She sighed, knowing that months of preparation had secured her the perfect alibi.
Hours later, dressed in a silk nightgown, drink in hand, she sat in the dark and basked in the serenity of the skyline.
She sipped her drink and smiled. What a beautiful night for revenge.
Copyright © 2019 by JM Hughson