“Karen! The girls are here!” her husband Stephen’s voice echoed up the stairs.
“I’ll be right down!” Karen called back. But she didn’t move. She continued staring at the black duffel bag in her bedroom closet.
“Bitch, get down here I brought wine!” a woman shouted from the foyer.
Dragging her eyes away from the bag, Karen headed downstairs.
Three people looked up as she came down.
“You ready to party?” her friend Susan said with a grin, holding up two bottles of merlot.
“I made gluten-free vegan cupcakes!” her other friend Jenn chimed in. “Stephen, do you want to take one for the road?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Gluten-free vegan? Thanks but I’ll pass.”
“Suit yourself,” Jenn winked at Karen. “We’ll be in the kitchen.”
“Sure you don’t want to stick around for a glass of wine?” she asked Stephen once they left.
“Nah, I’ve gotta run or I’ll be late for bowling,” Stephen said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “What are you and the girls up to tonight?”
“The usual. Wine. Chick-flicks. Setting off firecrackers…”
“Plotting my surprise birthday party tomorrow…”
Karen smacked his arm. “We are not! Now get out of here before we force you to stay and watch Pretty in Pink.”
Stephen opened the door, letting in a rush of humid summer air. He paused, then turned back. “Oh yeah, the guys said something about going out for a drink after bowling, so I might not be home till late.”
Karen shrugged. “No problem. I’ll see you when you get home.”
The door closed behind him. Karen gazed blankly at the white wooden surface.
“So, did you decide?” Susan asked, handing her a glass of wine.
“Yeah,” Karen sipped the merlot, savoring the rich flavor. “I think it’s time.”
Susan nodded slowly. “Okay. Let’s get down to business.”
Jenn came up behind them, the tray of cupcakes in her hand. “You guys want one? They aren’t really gluten-free. I just didn’t want him to have one.”
“Cheaters don’t get cupcakes,” Susan said archly, taking a pastry.
“Exactly. So Karen, have you decided what to get Stephen for his birthday?” Jenn asked, anticipation in her voice.
Karen bit into the sugary frosting of her cupcake, licking her lips. She stared out the window as Stephen’s car pulled out of the drive and down the street.
She thought about the black duffel bag in their bedroom closet. The one that contained his bowling ball and shoes. The one that hadn’t moved in more than a month, despite the fact that Stephen went “bowling” twice a week.
“I think I’m going to get him a nice big steaming pile of revenge.”
There was a long pause. “Okay easy there, Tarantino,” Jenn said with a chuckle.
But Susan nodded thoughtfully. “Let’s do it. Karen, let’s get him a gift he won’t forget.”
“Oh, I’m totally in,” Jenn agreed. “What is this, his fourth time sleeping with one of his students?”
“Fifth,” Karen said. “And I’m pretty sure this latest one isn’t even eighteen. She’s a freshman at the university!”
“Guys with little dicks always go for young women,” Susan said sagely. “‘Cause they hope they won’t know any better.”
They wandered back into the kitchen. “Okay, so I think you should make his birthday present super nasty,” Jenn said, taking a healthy gulp of wine. “Maybe if you get him something for his birthday that like…makes it super obvious that’s he’s a cheating scumbag?
“Like one of those singing cards, but instead of recording a happy birthday message, we could record his mother saying how disappointed she is in him!” Susan suggested, polishing off her glass.
Karen finished hers as well, and topped everyone off. “Except his mother’s been dead for ten years, so that kinda doesn’t work.”
Jen perked up. “Oh! What if you got him something super dangerous? So like, he gets horribly maimed, but it looks like an accident?”
“Like what? A cobra?” Karen asked, already feeling light-headed.
“Awww no!” Susan protested. “Cause then if Stephen dies they’ll blame the poor snake and kill it!”
“You’re right. No innocent reptile should have to suffer just because my husband can’t keep his snake in his trousers,” Karen giggled.
“What about getting him hang-gliding lessons? You could always cross your fingers and hope he smashes into a mountain.” Jenn poured the last dregs of a bottle into her glass.
“Or sky-diving!” Susan chimed in, her cheeks flushed crimson. “You could even pay the pilot to like…I dunno, mess with his parachute or something.”
Karen shook her head. “I thought about that. But everything is so well-regulated these days, you can’t just pay for an unfortunate accident anymore. Chances are, Stephen would end up having a great time, and isn’t that kind of against the point?”
Susan opened the next bottle of merlot. “Okay, what if we went for good old-fashioned payback instead? We bail on the party, leave his ass high and dry without a cake and everything. Then we catch a bus down to Mexico. Get a bunch of tequila shots and…I don’t know, find a donkey show or something.”
Karen snorted into her wine. “Do you even know what a donkey show is?”
Susan looked confused. “Isn’t it like…people doing magic tricks with a donkey?”
“Actually, that gives me an idea! What if we cut Stephen’s dick off and feed it to a donkey!” Jenn said, downing her glass.
“Woah! When did we start talking about cutting off dicks!”
“Do donkeys even eat dicks?” Susan asked, slurring a little. “Shouldn’ we like…feed it to like a lion or something?”
“Maybe if we painted it orange to look like a carrot…”
“So wait…we’re going to cut his dick off and then take it down to Mexico? Won’t they stop us at the border and ask about the dismembered wang?” Susan emptied her glass, “How is that a birthday present?”
Karen’s head was spinning. “Maybe let’s discuss some options that don’t involve donkeys. Let’s head into the living room and think it over.”
Jenn tucked the bottle under her arm as she and Susan filtered into the living room, still debating which member of the animal kingdom would most efficiently dispose of a severed member.
Karen finished off her glass. Then, stumbling a little, she grabbed the tray of cupcakes off the counter and had just begun to follow them when she heard a soft knock on the door.
Her body jerked like a scalded cat at the unexpected noise. The tray flew from her fingers, sending a dozen cupcakes soaring in a wide arc across the kitchen. They landed with a series of soft splats as they smushed against the tiled floor, smearing the waxed surface with icing.
“Goddammit!” she clutched the counter to keep from falling as the wine rushed to her head.
The knock came again. Ignoring the mess, Karen crept into the foyer, her heart pounding.
The bickering from the living room fell silent. “Karen, who is it?” Jenn’s voice called in a mock-whisper. Her head popped into view, eyes wide. Another bottle of wine–already half-gone–was clutched in her hand.
“I have no idea!” she whisper-shouted back.
“Well we’re kinda trying to plan a penis-chopping over here, so–oh no what happened to my cupcakes!”
“Shhhh!” Karen approached the door, then hesitated. “But wait, I need more wine!”
Smothering a laugh, Jenn crept forward and filled her glass, then retreated into the living room.
Karen looked out the peephole. It took a moment to focus her eyes.
A tiny woman with snowy white hair stood on her porch, a colorfully wrapped package in her hands and a canvas bag slung over one shoulder. She must have sensed someone standing on the other side because she waved cheerfully. “Yoo-hoo! Karen! It’s Mrs. Perkins from next door.”
Karen let out her breath in a rush, took a sip of wine. “It’s just my batty neighbor. Hang on a sec.”
She cracked the door an inch, smiled brightly, and tried to sound sober. “Hi, Mrs. Perkins!”
“Hello Karen, dearie!” the old woman said in a thin, wavering voice. “I just saw your husband leaving for the evening, so I wanted to drop this by before his party tomorrow.”
“Oh, well…thank you so much!” Karen said, opening the door all the way to accept the package. “I’ll make sure to give it to him tomorrow.”
“It’s a crocheted holder for his bowling ball!” Mrs. Perkins said. Her smile didn’t fade as she met Karen’s eyes. “I made it myself. After all, we all know how much Stephen loves bowling.”
“Ummm, yes of course.”Mrs. Perkins’ face was a bit blurred from the wine, but Karen had a feeling she knew more than she was letting on.
Of course she did. The old widow spent half her life peering out the windows of her house. She knew everybody’s business better than they did themselves.
Susan gave a pointed cough from the living room, jolting Karen out of her thoughts. Ah yes, she was supposed to be planning to exact a horrible revenge upon her cheating husband, not chatting with the neighbors.
Tucking the package under one arm, she smiled brightly at Mrs. Perkins. “Well, thank you so much for stopping by, but I’ve actually got some company and—”
“Actually, would you mind if I sat down for a moment before heading back? These old legs aren’t what they used to be.”
‘They can’t carry you thirty feet across the street’? Karen wanted to say. But politeness won out. “Of course, please come in,” she said, opening the door to let the elderly woman in.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Jenn and Susan rolling their eyes.
Mrs. Perkins shuffled in, so stooped with age she barely reached the top of Karen’s chin. “I’m so glad I caught you tonight, dearie. I have a gift for you as well.”
“Oh, you don’t have to—” Karen started to say, but Mrs. Perkins gave her a pointed look and she fell silent.
“So your husband is off bowling tonight, is he?” she said. “Are you sure he isn’t over at the Huntsman Motel, balls deep in one of his art students?”
Karen stared at her, wide-eyed. The feeble tremor had gone from Mrs. Perkins’ voice, and her gaze was flinty and sharp.
“I’m–I’m absolutely certain that’s none of your business,” Karen responded with as much dignity as she could muster, considering that her words were thickened by wine.
The kind smile vanished from the old woman’s face. “I’m here because I want to help you.”
“Well I don’t really think we need—”
“My Arthur was a cheater too, did you know that, dearie?” Mrs. Perkins asked. She came further into the house. Susan and Jenn were both standing in the doorway of the living room. Karen noticed the second bottle of wine was nearly empty.
“Now this was back when it was considered almost normal for a man to get a little on the side. And for years, I turned the other cheek, just like you.”
Karen glared at her, but said nothing.
Mrs. Perkins’ lips thinned. “But one year, I caught him sleeping with my sister, and that was just the final straw. So do you know what I did then, dearie?”
“You cut off his cock and fed it to a donkey!” Jenn cried, her eyes slightly glazed.
Mrs. Perkins gave a light chuckle. “No, I killed him!”
Karen waited for her laugh again, to acknowledge that she was joking. But she didn’t. She looked each of them in the eye, still smiling faintly.
“Wait, seriously?” Susan asked.
“Well of course! It was easy enough in the end. My great-uncle owned a hog farm. So I waited for Arthur to get knock-down drunk, which only took about three days after I’d decided to kill him. Then I whacked him with a shovel, drug him to the truck, drove him out to the farm, shoved him in with the pigs and told everyone he ran off.” She said all of this as if reciting a recipe for apple pie.
“Pigs. Of course,” Jenn murmured. “Why didn’t we think of that?”
Karen blinked, staring at her friends. Initially, she had been thinking of something less…drastic. A gift that would tell him “Hey you jerkoff, keep your dick in your pants”.
Not necessarily one that would remove his dick entirely. Or his life.
Although there was a certain amount of poetic justice to the idea…
Mrs. Perkins waved a hand dismissively, “Of course, you can’t kill a man like that anymore. Everyone’s onto the pig farms now.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen that at least twice on NCIS,” Susan agreed. “We’d have to find a different way to dispose of the body.”
“But I have a plan that might work,” Mrs. Perkins said. “If you’re interested.”
“Maybe we could squish him with something big!” Jenn suggested, pouring herself another glass of wine.
“Pretty sure that only works if you’re a cartoon rabbit,” Susan said sarcastically.
“Wait wait wait,” Karen finally interjected. She blinked, trying to focus her drunken thoughts. “Are you guys seriously saying we should consider this?”
Jenn shrugged. “I mean, it’s his birthday, but you could see it as getting a gift for yourself. Since he wouldn’t be around to enjoy it.”
Karen chewed on her lower lip.
Mrs. Perkins gave a barking cough. “Well I haven’t got all day, dearie. Did you want some advice or not?”
Karen thought of the black duffel bag sitting in her closet, and of her husband, who was currently shacked up with a teenager.
From the canvas bag her shoulder, Mrs. Perkins brought out a bottle of brandy. “I think you girls have a lot yet to learn. Men like your husband simply cannot be tolerated.”
“But I can teach you, if you’d like.”
Susan cleared her throat. “I mean…the least we could do is hear her out.”
“Oh please, dearie, do let me help,” Mrs. Perkins said. She handed the bottle of brandy to Jenn, who uncorked and sniffed, her eyes fluttering closed.
“Now, if you girls do exactly as I say, there’s no reason why Karen shouldn’t be free of her cheating husband by Monday.”
Karen looked at her friends. Susan shrugged her consent.
Jenn was already in the kitchen, getting a fourth glass.
Mrs. Perkins shone with a sudden, hungry gleam. She glanced at Karen. “Well, dearie?”
Karen hesitated only a moment, then said, “Why don’t you come in and have a drink, Mrs. Perkins?”
“Excellent,” the old woman said, rubbing her hands together. “I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time.”
Jenn handed her a glass of brandy. The old woman retrieved a thin package from her bag.
Karen felt a cold fist clench around her heart.
“Shall we begin?”