When I married my second wife, Emily, I went to live in her house in northern California. It’s a big house with a lot of land around it, just outside a small town. The next house is almost exactly the same, and that belongs to Emily’s sister Millicent.
Millicent and Emily. Sisters. But completely different in looks and in character. Millicent is tall andrather thin. She is very strong-minded and likes to control everyone around her including Emily. She wasn’t at all pleased when I came and took Emily away from her influence.
Emily is rather short, and – well, fat. As she says, she weighs eleven or twelve kilos too much. She doesn’t claim to be very clever, and usually she does what other people want. Not always, though.
For three weeks now,Emily had been away. But Millicent had been watching me closely. She was with me now, drinking coffee in our sitting room. The telephone rang, and I answered it. ‘Yes?’ ‘Hello, dear, this is Emily.’
‘Emily – er – what is your surname?’ ‘Oh, really, dear. Emily, your wife.’
‘I’m sorry, you must have a wrong number.’ I put the telephone down.
Millicent was watching me. ‘You look as white as asheet. You seem frightened. Shocked. Who telephoned?’
‘It was a wrong number.’
Millicent drank some coffee. ‘Oh, Albert, I thought I saw Emily in town yesterday. But that’s not possible.’
‘Of course it’s not. Emily is in San Francisco.’ ‘Yes, but where in San Francisco?’ ‘She didn’t say. She’s visiting friends.’ ‘Emily doesn’t have any friends in San Francisco! I know all her friends. Whenwill she be back?’
‘She wasn’t sure when it would be.’ ‘I’ve heard, Albert, that your first wife died in a boating accident? She fell out of the boat and died in the water?’ ‘I’m afraid so. She couldn’t swim.’ ‘And you were the only witness to the accident.’
‘I believe so. No one else ever came forward.’ ‘Did she leave you any money, Albert?’
‘That’s nothing to do with you, Millicent.’In fact Cynthia had fifty thousand dollars of life insurance and one sailing boat. Poor Cynthia. She had taken her boat out alone that day. I had seen the accident from the boat club, and rushed out in another boat, but it was too late to save her.
Millicent finished her coffee and left.
When she had gone, I went for a walk through the woods behind the house. I walked to an open space betweenthe trees, which had a little stream running through it. How peaceful it was here. Quiet. A place to rest. I had been coming here often in the last few days.
I sat down on a fallen tree near the stream and thought about Emily and Millicent. Their houses and land were very similar, so you would expect them to be equally rich. But this was not the situation, as I discovered after my marriage.Emily owned her house and the land around it, but she could not afford to employ people to look after them.
Millicent, on the other hand, employed a lot of people in her house, and even a lawyer to look after her money. She must have a million dollars, at least.
On Tuesday afternoons I usually go to the supermarket in town. Today, in the car park, I saw a small, rather fat woman across the streetwalking away from me. She wore a purple dress and a brown hat. It was the fourth time I’d seen her in the last ten days I hurried across the street. She turned the corner and I started to run. When I reached the corner she was nowhere in sight. I was standing there when a car stopped beside me.
It was Millicent. ‘What are you doing, Albert? I saw you running – I’ve never seen you run before.’‘Oh, I was just taking a little exercise.’ I was still breathing hard as I walked back to the supermarket.
The next morning, when I returned from my walk to the stream, I found Millicent in the sitting room, pouring some coffee for herself.
‘I’ve been in the bedroom looking at Emily’s clothes,’ Millicent said. ‘I didn’t see anything missing.’ ‘Why should anything be missing? Has there been...