It would be wise to reread Chapter 1.
Melba saw Lucas sitting on a chair next to her bed. Asleep with his arms folded across
his chest his snores reminded her of a mare struggling with a breach birth. She had difficulty sitting up. Her hands hurt. Besides broken fingernails and chipped polish
on both hands, she also had a swollen knuckle on her left middle finger. Her mouth hurt, too. She pulled at her warm lower lip and winced in pain.
She noticed two open suitcases near the door. Curious, she leaned forward. On top lay a pair of shorts, a wool Christmas sweater, blue jeans, and two sleeveless shells. She chewed on a broken fingernail and wondered where she had decided to go. She didn’t remember planning a trip and didn’t feel up to traveling even if she had. When she relaxed on her pillow, she caught a glimpse of the damaged wallpaper. Melba gasped. Who would…? Then she remembered. She sunk in bed, closed her eyes, and covered her face with her hands.
She wanted Lucas gone. She’d get another driver, another able body to care for the horses, another caring soul to transport her along Interstate 95. He knew more than he should. He probably knew more than she ever hoped to know of Daniel’s philandering behavior. Melba cleared her throat. When Lucas didn’t stir, she did it again.
Lucas jerked and sat straight, lifting then planting his feet loud upon the floor. “Mrs. Chaveaux, you’re awake. How do you feel?” He yawned and stretched.
“A little tired.” Melba turned to press the intercom and noticed a pill bottle on the nightstand.
“No need, Mrs. Chaveaux. I’ll get her for you. I need to get down and feed the horses anyway.”
“You’ve been here all night?”
Melba reached for the bottle. It read Valium. “How long have I been out?”
“Two days? How did I get this? And where’s the rest of it?” She shook the bottle.
“I drove to the pharmacy and picked it up. Got stuck in the snow four times.” He laughed. “The doctor said to take two and only two. I dumped the rest in the toilet.”
“Why would you do that? No,” Melba said, abrupt and harsh, her right hand signaling him not to speak. “Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. I’ve got a feeling I’ll fire you.” Melba rolled the bottle between her thumb and index finger. She heard Lucas’ heavy feet descend the staircase followed by Deyanira’s swift steps.
“Mrs. Chaveaux, I’ll start your bath,” Deyanira said as she entered. “It’s a little late for breakfast, but a poached egg and toast might be good for your stomach. Would you like anything else?” Deyanira opened the drapes with a touch of a button then went to the bathroom and prepared Melba’s bath.
Melba squinted at the bright light. She opened her dry mouth and stuck out her tongue. Thoughts of food made her queasy, but after two days she needed to eat. “A poached egg and toast is fine.” She placed the empty pill bottle on the nightstand, whipped the covers back, and sat alongside the bed. “What time is it? And what day is it, by the way?” She failed to look at the clock on the nightstand.
“Twelve-thirty-two. It’s Tuesday, February 22,” Deyanira said, swirling her hand in the bath water. “Miss Sondra phoned. Twice. I’m running out of excuses. She hasn’t called today, but she will.”
Melba walked in the bathroom, closed a separate door behind her, and sat on the commode. “What did you tell her?”
“I said you didn’t feel well,” Deyanira replied from the closet. “When she called the second time, I told her you wanted time alone and you would return her call. A lady named Susan Naples also called. You want to wear your gray wool slacks today, Mrs. Chaveaux? Might look good with this white sweater Mr. Chaveaux bought you for Christmas.”
“No!” Melba flushed the commode and opened the door.
In the closet doorway, Deyanira had the sweater dangling from a hanger affixed to her index finger. “Is something wrong with the sweater? Is it too small?”
“I don’t want to wear it!” Melba turned away and lowered her voice. “Not now.”
“Are you okay? You’re red. Look.” Deyanira pointed at Melba’s reflection in the mirror.
Melba refused to look. “Don’t worry ‘bout me. I’m okay.”
Deyanira went to the closet and returned with black slacks and a blue v-neck long-sleeve blouse and hung them on the back of the bathroom door.
“Did I ask you to pack?”
“No ma’am. You did that yourself.” Deyanira retrieved Melba’s slippers from another area in the closet and sat them next to the tub. “Clothes were everywhere. I put everything back except what you put in the suitcases.”
Melba scowled. “Did I say where I was going?”
“No ma’am, you didn’t. Think you might still take a trip somewhere? I worked through Christmas because of Mr. Chaveaux’s passing. I could use some time off.”
“I’m not sure. I’ll let you know.”
“Your bath is ready. Call me if you need me.” Deyanira closed the bathroom door, put fresh linen on the bed, and left.
Melba slid into her bubble bath and tried to relax. It was hard for her to understand how she could escape a world she hated, take great pains to create one she loved, and now feel ensnared by both. Tears welled in her eyes. She slid in the tub until her chin leveled with the water.
“Mrs. Chaveaux, Miss Sondra phoned,” Deyanira spoke through the intercom. “She’ll call back in a half hour.”
Melba slid farther into the tub until the water reached her earlobes. Sondra thought Daniel walked on water. Knowing her, she’ll be happy about this child. Melba grabbed her face towel, placed it over her mouth, and screamed. When she caught her breath, she settled down and stared at clouds moving at a snail’s pace above the skylight.
She needed to talk to Sondra, but could she trust her? Too many times, Sondra had taken Daniel’s side in their private feuds over politics, Philadelphia’s crime rate, and soaring truancies among young Black students. Melba rarely complained about her husband. When she did, Sondra quipped, “How fortunate to be in your position…to complain ‘bout t’ings so trite.”
Melba needed sympathy, not sarcasm and jealousy. The notion Sondra might show any empathy for Daniel pained her so Melba decided not to tell her about Daniel’s son. After her bath, Melba unplugged the tub, stood at attention as a scary thought crossed her mind. What if Daniel’s infidelity revealed she’s the selfish one?
She darted from the tub and dressed in a hurry. She wanted a place to hide. Maybe she’d return to work as vice president of operations at the Brothers Against Hunger Foundation. Better yet, take a lower position and travel overseas to forget her pain.
She grabbed the door frame and tried to keep her balance. She felt weak. Melba made it to the settee located at the foot of her bed. To her left sat a portable table with breakfast, dressed in white linen, accented in sparkling silver, graced with ripe fruit, and coffee. Her first bite proved painful. She rubbed her sore, bottom lip then continued eating.
From a distance, snow seemed a foot deep. She picked up her cup of coffee and went to the window, noticed Lucas had shoveled her driveway and put away Christmas decorations. Timely, she thought. She didn’t have the heart to remove them after Daniel’s death in December. Now, she felt relieved Lucas had ignored her order to leave them up.
“Mrs. Chaveaux, it’s Miss Thomas. Will you take the call?”
Melba filled her cheeks with air and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’ll take it.” She cleared her throat, sat her cup on the nightstand then picked up a pencil and scratched her head with it. “Soapy, I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you.”
Melba strolled to the window and stood there picking at her chipped fingernails when she observed a dark sedan sitting in her driveway. The exhaust pipe blew smoke into the cold afternoon air. She had seen it twice before, first appearing after Daniel’s funeral, then again, two weeks ago. From her security camera, she couldn’t determine who had the courage to sit and watch her house in broad daylight, in the middle of winter.
“Don’t mind how I feel t’day. I call to see ‘bout you. How you feeling?” Soapy chimed, her Jamaican accent flowing with concern.
“I’m really good.”
Melba tapped the heel of her hand against her forehead. “Please be nice to me today. I’m too—”
“I just spoke to Deyanira and she told me dif’rent. Said you hadn’t felt well.”
“There’s some truth to that. But when considering the circumstances—”
“Circumstances? What circumstances? Has somet’ing happened?”
Over her shoulder, Melba eyed the box which Deyanira had moved from the bed to the floor then she stared at the suitcases. Where—was—I going? Am I losing my mind? She couldn’t answer those questions, but leaving didn’t seem like a bad idea anymore. The car in the driveway concerned her. Soapy frayed her nerves. And she needed a refuge to iron out her complicated feelings toward Daniel. She swore if authorities would look away for half a minute, she’d dig up Daniel’s maggot-infested body and throw it in the streets. Snaaap! One pencil had become two.
And she dare not forget about her mother’s plea to go back to White Castle. Melba shook her head and whispered, “No way.” She retrieved her mother’s letter and the legal documents from the box, unfolded each, and placed them on the bed. She stared at them, wondered what to do.
“Melba! What’s wrong with you?”
“Soapy, I’m fine. I’m okay.” She threw the broken pencil on the bed then squeezed the phone between her shoulder and ear. She reached into one suitcase and unfolded two blouses then went to the closet.
“Somet’ing has happened. I can tell. You’re too quiet. I’ll be over t’night after work.”
“No! No, that’s not necessary.” Melba tried to remain calm. “The weather has cleared up, so why don’t we meet somewhere tomorrow? The roads should be in better shape then. How about Richmond’s? It’s halfway and you won’t have to drive up here.” Melba placed the blouses on hangers and hung them up. She paused at the sight of Daniel’s one remaining suit—his tuxedo. She yanked the jacket to the floor and left it there.
“Fine. Around six-thirty? Look, baby, my other line is ringing. Things are crazy here. Gotta go.” Soapy made two smacking sounds into the receiver. “Love ya. See you tomorrow night.”