By Unity Barry
Violet Freudlich was old, very old. Arthritis plagued her joints and the thick lenses of her glasses only partially clarified the blurry world through which she moved. But the biggest trial of her existence was Clem, the man she was shackled to through forty nine years of a miserable marriage.
Clem loved machines with unqualified adoration and spent all his spare time tinkering with cars. His garage was packed with greasy auto parts and the driveway was populated by the carcasses of at least four vehicles in varying stages of disrepair and deconstruction. But holding pride of place in front to the Freudlich’s door was Clem’s favorite. It was a 1963 Corvette Stingray painted gleaming candy apple red with white racing stripes. It was an exact duplicate of one in Clem’s favorite television show, Route 66. Every day, right at sunset, Clem would caress every inch of its shiny surface with a chamois, cleaning away the previous 24 hours’ accumulation of dust.
Violet regularly watched the ritual from the kitchen window as she prepared dinner, gritting her teeth at the oily blackness covering the pockets and seat of his trousers where he wiped his hands instead of using the towels and cleanser she left in conspicuous places throughout the chaos of his work area. The upholstery of his chair at the dining room table was stained from the daily transfer of oil. She gave up years earlier trying to shampoo the upholstery because every product she tried only embedded it deeper in the fabric. In the living room, Clem’s favorite recliner that occupied the prime location in front of the TV set was in similar condition. It was years since Violet invited the ladies from her church auxiliary over for tea.
Every day was the same. Clem arose from bed and announced his wakeful state with a burst of loud flatulence that sounded remarkably similar to whoopee cushions popular with mischievous boys. Violet learned early in their state of wedded un-bliss, the best strategy was to rise first and open the bedroom window before her lesser half awoke
“What’s for dinner?” Were, without fail, the first words he uttered when Clem came inside at night after wiping down his Corvette. He usually said them as he walked straight past the clean shirt and pants Violet hung on a peg strategically placed at his exact eye level. On days when he saw a jar of Violet’s homemade liverwurst on the kitchen counter, he always broke out in a wide smile that showed his brown and gap riddled teeth. Violet had her timing down pat and took several steps back in time to avoid getting a blast of his foul breath.
Clem frequently had his buddies over to help work on his cars with him and after a few beers, their off color jokes and snide references about the wives got loud enough to be heard inside the house. One day while Violet was sorting through the pantry she kept stocked with mason jars full of home canned meats, fruits and vegetables, she heard Clem’s beer slurred voice say,
“Ya know, guys. Violet’s got plenty of faults. She’s cold as a dead mackerel in bed and nags sump’in fierce. Damned if she don’t win every argument. Always gets the last word, too. One of these days, though…” then there was a loud belch and Clem continued, “I’d a divorced her years ago if’n it weren’t fer her cookin’. Man, that ole’ broad fixes the best viddles ah ever et. Fact is, that’s the only reason I married her. Certainly weren’t fer her good looks!” Then came another belch and guffaws from all the men.
Violet wasn’t surprised by her husband’s confession, she’d heard him say things like that before, so she kept sorting through the jars. Work always helped to keep the anger at bay. When she reached in the far back of the shelf, she could see there was a jar that was just beyond her arm’s reach. After getting a coat hanger to snag and drag the errant jar toward her, she noted that it was covered with a lot more dust than the rest. She took it to the sink and rinsed it off. It was liverwurst and the date she had written on it was over 5 years earlier. She ran her finger tips across the top the lid and felt for the little section in the center that should be ever so slightly depressed. It wasn’t, a sure sign that the contents were unfit to eat. After opening it, she started to reach for a spoon to empty the meat into the garbage before washing out the jar to use again, when she noticed something. The liverwurst looked and smelled fine. She set the jar, still full of her husband’s favorite, on the counter and opened her recipe file box and sorted through its contents. Clem would love his meal that night, so much so he’d probably eat the whole jar full.
The next evening, Violet watched Clem caressing his Corvette before he seemed to droop slightly then sit down behind the wheel. Violet hummed to herself as she let the kitchen curtains drop back in place. She turned off the stove, went into the living room, turned on the television, put her feet up and watched a couple of hours before opening the front door and calling in a very loud voice,
“Clem! Come on, dinner’s ready!” She listened carefully. The Wilson’s next door were playing croquet in their back yard. She called out again, “Clem, can you hear me! Clem, what on earth are you doing out there so late?”
Violet walked to the car and saw Clem’s face with its open mouth and glassed-over eyes. She smiled and took a deep breath before screaming as loud as she could.
All the neighbors were full of condolences and became something of a nuisance in the following days, constantly dropping in and offering unwanted help. When Violet was told there would have to be a Coroner’s Inquest, she refused all of their kindnesses and offers for rides. She wanted to face this hurdle alone, just as she had faced all the hurdles of the last forty-nine years.
After the Inquest that had declared Clem Freudlich’s death accidental from botulism poisoning, Violet walked across the street from the County Courthouse to catch the number 47 bus home. As she stepped out into the street, the last thing she saw was a 1963 Corvette Stingray, painted a glistening candy apple red with white racing stripes heading straight toward her.
An eye witness saw the whole thing and reported the sports car’s license number to the police. When the officer’s arrived at the Freudlich home and saw the car parked out front, they verified the license plate and eye witness description with the report and shook their heads. With perplexed expressions they walked around the car that didn’t have a scratch on it. Fred Wilson from next door came out of his house and walked up to the officers.
“Afternoon sir,” one of the cops said. “Is this car yours?”
“Mine?” asked Fred. “I wish. That belonged to Clem Freudlich. He died just a few days ago, sitting right there, behind the wheel, actually. Loved that car more than anything. We should all be so lucky to die doing what we love best, just like old Clem did.”
“Do you know who was driving it this afternoon?”
“No one,” answered Fred. “That car hasn’t run for years. There’s no engine it.”