The Other Angelas
She decides to kill herself. She decides she doesn't want to live anymore. She decides she's tired of finding her husband with other women, women who couldn't possibly be as loyal and charming and sexy for a woman of certain age as she is. She is tired of him returning after he is through with each one. She is tired of cleaning up his messes, handling his phone calls, telling his boss he isn't home or that he is sick. She is tired of excuses, of the constant mantra in her mind that goes, "He's having a rough time, middle age and all, he'll settle down again." She is tired. This, then, decides her. She will lay down and allow herself to cease existing. She will close her eyes and imagine her body's systems shutting down one by one, the lights in a building stuttering off floor by floor.
In the morning she finds she is not alone. She rolls over into soft warmth. Didn't I die? She is puzzled. She opens her eyes to find another pair of eyes looking back. A pair of the same eyes in the same face with the same blonde hair, tangled and frizzy from sleep. What cracks in her lips! She raises her hand to her cheek, her cheek that is beginning to sag with age, and the other woman raises her hand to the cheek opposite. "Who are you?" they ask each other.
"I'm Angela," they both answer.
"I'm Angela," they counter.
"No, I'm Angela," they say. Their voices begin to harmonize.
"Is this going to be a problem?" asks Angela.
"It doesn't have to be, I suppose," says the other Angela.
The other Angela selects an outfit from the closet. The old Angela doesn't mind. "Take what you want," she says, so the other Angela does. She picks out a skirt that will flow around her legs, sheer and spring-like, and a white blouse. Nothing in here seems to match, so she will have to make do. This Angela would rather have new clothes. Wearing the old Angela's clothes makes her feel as if she is wearing the clothes of a dead woman. She doesn't like dead women. This is one of the first things the other Angela decides.
She goes out for the day, leaving the old Angela in bed, the house a mess behind her. "You should get up and get fresh air," she tells Angela before she goes, but the old Angela just waves her hand and says, "Go on, you go."
She goes, then, to the mall. She has the old Angela's credit cards. She buys a new outfit, a skirt and blouse that match and have more color. She buys a bracelet and matching necklace. She buys perfume. She comes home later and Angela is still in bed, but Angela's husband is sitting in the recliner. "Well who do we have here?" he says, a sly grin climbing up his face, very sexy she thinks instinctively.
They fuck on the floor, a fast fire, but within five minutes he is done and it is over. She decides sex isn't so special. She thought it would be better. She has vague memories--memories left over from the Angela in bed--of sex being incredible, spicy and full of musk and time stretching out like taffy. But that Angela is lying in bed like a sack of nothing, so what would she know?
Angela's husband buttons up his pants and asks what's for dinner. She says she doesn't know. "What do you mean?" he asks. "You always have dinner ready." She shrugs and tells him to get it somewhere else.
He looks upset and, in a threatening voice, says, "I guess I will. I guess I will get it somewhere else!"
He grabs his jacket and slams the door. She decides she doesn't like doors. They open and close far too much, and the sounds they make--some creaking, some slamming, some slipping closed with only a slight gust of air--all of these sounds she decides are unnerving. She will close all the doors, she decides, and lock them. She will have the locks changed, then he will never be able to open them again.
In the morning, she wakes next to the old Angela, and on her other side another Angela has spent the night. The three wake up together at dawn, yawning, stretching their arms above their heads, sighing together. They make coffee. Even the old Angela gets out of bed. "I'm feeling better," she says. "I'm feeling like a million bucks." She thanks the other Angela for dealing with her husband.
"The locksmith is coming this afternoon," says the other Angela, and the new Angela says, "Oh good, I was wondering if you remembered."
They nod at each other, lifting their mugs to their lips and sipping.
In the afternoon the new Angela decides she wants a hairdo, a manicure, a pedicure, and maybe she would like to borrow that perfume. "Why?" says the other Angela. The new Angela shrugs.
She spritzes the perfume on her neck and shoulders, drives to the spa and has her nails done, her hair done, and smiles a lot at Gregorio, the man who gives her a back massage and touches her in places where he shouldn't. Well, she likes it, so it's okay, she's thinking, but really she never gave any indication that this was wanted. His skin is tan and his smile is straight and white. She decides she likes this, a white smile in a tan face. "What do you think about the beach, Gregorio?" she asks.
He purses his lips and thinks for a moment. "I like the beach," he says. "It's warm there. The sand is soft and hot. The waves are rhythmic, like lovemaking, no?"
"That's what I think too," she says. "Let's go."
They go to the beach and she fucks him behind a sand dune. He holds her tight and she can't help but keep from looking around, above her head, off to the side, to see if anyone can see them. No one does. The sand is soft and hot, like he said, but it's also itchy. He doesn't smile when he fucks her, he grits his teeth. He grunts a lot. She doesn't like this part of him, she decides. She says, "Smile!" as if she is taking his picture, and he does. A moment later, he goes back to grunting and gritting.
She comes home with sand clinging to her legs and takes a shower. That was interesting, she thinks. Now I know what that feels like. She doesn't understand the attraction. Is this what her husband does that keeps him so occupied with other women? There is a spark, she admits, but it isn't anything to keep her going.
She decides Gregorio was a decent lover, but nothing special. Not like his smile and his massage. His penis was much smaller than she imagined also. This is so often the case: Nothing in her imagination meets reality often enough. She decides the world isn't nearly as interesting as it is in her head.
The four of them begin cleaning up the house. The old Angela and the other Angela, the new Angela and the even newer Angela who arrived that very morning. One sweeps, one dusts, one scrubs, one packs their husband's bags. He has so many things that by the time she has him packed, over half the house is bare. She thought she had more things, but she doesn't. She is left with kitchenware, a bedroom suit, and several shells from a beach where they honeymooned. She is left with two chairs and a table, she is left with her grandmother's quilts and several almost full photo albums. She is left with the remains of his life outside her: people calling for her to tell them he is gone. She is left with only herself to rely on. She decides this is a good thing.
She sits down in one of the two chairs at the table. The other Angelas put away feather dusters and vacuums, then gather round, smiling, laughing at semi-funny jokes. The newest one elbows her to join in on the fun.
So she does. She smiles. She decides she can do that too.
About the author:
Christopher Barzak grew up in Ohio, has lived in California and Michigan, and is now a resident of Japan, teaching English near Tokyo. His stories have appeared in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Trampoline, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Nerve, The Vestal Review and Descant. His novel, One for Sorrow, is currently making the rounds. For more on him and his work, visit his website: www.taverners-koans.com/ratbastards/zakbar.html.