by: Paul Lewellan
An unexpected package’s arrival prompts a conversation about marriage, attraction, and trust…
The package arrived at Helen Martin’s desk at Mid-Continent Security early Friday afternoon. Her coworkers who populated the neighboring cubicles raised their eyes with interest. Even when she was in a good mood, Helen preferred not to be disturbed when working on a project.
“Who’s it from?” Shemeka Howard asked. She’d hired Helen straight out of college after a summer internship with the firm. Back then Shemeka was the accounting supervisor. In the twenty years that followed she’d morphed from boss to mentor to colleague to best friend. Now she was the firm’s Chief Financial Officer. Helen was its Controller. They were the only two women on the executive team. “Why is it wrapped in brown paper?”
“I have no idea,” Helen snapped, “and I don’t have time to find out if I’m going to finish the financial statements before the weekend.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“Of course, but…”
Shemeka put her large meaty right hand on Helen’s shoulder and told her firmly, “I’ll give you an hour to finish the financials. At three o’clock, let’s take a coffee break and open that package.”
“Not in front of everyone please.”
The cube farm that surrounded Helen’s desk was populated by a dozen curious young females wearing jeans, plaid cotton shirts, and Nikes. Helen and Shemeka wore more formal business attire, designed to blend with the suits on the third floor: white blouses, conservative skirts, sensible heels, and suit jackets.
“My office. Three o’clock,” Shemeka ordered. “You bring the package. I’ll crank up the Kerig.” When Helen protested, she cut her off. “Fear not, we’ll close the door.”
At three o’clock, Helen entered Shemeka’s corner office without knocking. The door was always open. She set down the mysterious package and fixed herself a cup of Caribou Mahogany Dark Roast. Shemeka was on the phone with her husband.
“We had a quiet weekend last week,” she was telling him. “If our weekends get any quieter, we’ll be dead. I want to make some noise.” She listened to his response and laughed. “Yes, that would be one way to do it.” But then he said something else and her smile disappeared. “No, I will not make you supper. That’s your job now, Ricky. Cook or carryout or call in an order, but there damned well better be food on the table when I walk in the door.” Shemeka hung up the phone before Ricky could say anything else. Shemeka’s husband, Lt. Colonel Richard Howard, retired, struggled with his new role of househusband after thirty years in the Marines and five tours in the Middle East.
The women drank their coffees in silence until finally Helen seized the package and tore off the brown wrapping paper. The box underneath identified the sender as Eve’s Pleasure Boutique, in Madison, Wisconsin. Helen shook her head. “Weird, I didn’t order anything from there.”
“Well, someone did.” Shemeka handed Helen the box cutter she kept in her desk drawer.
“It’s a mistake.”
“I don’t care. I want to see what’s inside. Open it.”
Helen carefully cut away the packing tape, and opened the box, only to find several smoke gray boxes inside. She pulled out the long thin one on top. Inside was a hot pink satin camisole.
“It’s gorgeous,” Shemeka purred. “And sexy. Your admirer has good taste.”
Helen opened another box and removed from it a black leather skirt. “Oh,” she exclaimed.
Shemeka took it from her. “Calfskin. Baby soft.” She pressed the skirt to Helen’s waist. “Whoever bought it for you knows your size.”
“It’s obscenely short.”
“It covers your naughty bits.”
“Barely.” Helen started to close up the box without pulling out the remainder of the contents.
“Do you want to tell me what this is about?” Shemeka inquired.
“You’re not going to open the rest?”
Shemeka handed her friend the skirt. “Then let me do it.” She removed and opened the next three boxes: black seamed nylons, a black garter belt, and a hot pink thong.
“Now I can hardly wait to open the big package,” Shemeka said with a wide smile drawn across her face.
“How do you know?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Shemeka excitedly wihdrew the final box and pulled out a pair of black leather thigh-high stiletto boots. Leather laces stretched down the length of the back. “Look at that stitching.” Shemeka showed Helen the label inside the boot. “Look at that, just your size?”
“I know.” There was a knock on the door.
“One minute please,” Shemeka called out as she stuffed the provocative items back inside their boxes. She pointed to her Helen. “You’re not leaving tonight without giving me the whole story.”
Helen left the packages in her friend’s office and went back to the unfinished financial statement. At the end of the day she returned. “They’re from my husband,” she said pointedly.
Shemeka shook her head. “Fred? Really?” She wheeled her chair back to the credenza and pulled out two rocks glasses. Into them she dropped ice cubes from the mini-fridge. Finally she unlocked the bottom file drawer and removed a half-empty bottle of 18-year-old Glenfiddich single-malt scotch and poured generously.
Exhausted, Helen sunk into the chair across from Shemeka’s desk. “Thank you,” she said, taking the drink from her friend.
“You’re welcome.” Shemeka settled into her desk chair, swirled the Scotch in the glass and savored the aroma. She took a drink. “Now talk.”
“Last week, I decided to help my husband pack for his trip to Fargo. It was after six, and he was still trapped at the office.” Helen stared at the glass momentarily. “When I got into his underwear drawer, I found a fat manila envelope.”
“Porn? I knew it. My husband….”
“No. It wasn’t like that. There were fashion catalogs, clippings, and pictures printed off the internet of slutty looking women in fishnets and leather.”
“So what did you do?”
“When he got home I confronted him. I was so angry —!”
“Nothing new there,” Shemeka joked. “You’ve been angry a lot lately.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been very unhappy ever since your daughter’s wedding.”
“That man is controlling and abusive. Now he’s moved my daughter a thousand miles away.”
Helen saw the expression on Shameka’s face and stopped.
“You have every right to be angry…”
“But I shouldn’t take it out on my friends and coworkers…”
“Or your husband.”
Helen considered that statement. “Fred apologized profusely, but I wouldn’t hear any of it. I grabbed my car keys and went to the mall until it closed. Then I stopped at a bar where I nursed a couple vodka martinis until I knew he’d be in bed. I slept in Janelle’s room, and when I awoke in the morning he was already gone. He left a note.”
“What did it say?”
“I tore it up without reading it.”
“When he came back from Fargo he brought flowers, which I threw in the trash. He insisted that he loved me and only me. ‘What about those pictures?’ I asked. He said he imagined me wearing those clothes.”
“Only now he won’t have to just imagine it,” Shemeka cooed.
“I could never wear anything like that in public.”
“What about in your bedroom?” Shemeka said, smiling. She spread the contents of the packages out on her desktop.
Helen looked pleadingly over to her friend. “I’d look ridiculous in these clothes.”
Shemeka lifted up the camisole. “Fred doesn’t seem to think so.”
“Why is that? Afraid to take the risk?” Shemeka grabbed a Post-It note and began writing down the name and address of the place that had sent the package. Without looking up she added, “Think of the risk Fred took to send you a package like this? But what else could he do? You’ve shut down everything else he tried.”
Helen held up her hands in surrender. “All right, all right, you’ve made your point.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
Shemeka looked up at Helen. “Why the hell not?”
“Fred’s on another trip until tomorrow night.”
“But he’s got his cell phone, doesn’t he?”
“So, get changed.”
“Of course, now. He knows the package was delivered. Don’t you think he’s waiting by the phone? Don’t make him twist in the wind, show him the sexy broad who’s waiting for his return. And when he gets home, after you’ve done the deed, let me know how things went.” She tapped on the Post-It note. “Because I’m putting in my own order.” The two women laughed at the thought. “Won’t the Colonel be surprised…”
Paul Lewellan lives on the banks of the Mississippi in Davenport, Iowa. He teaches Communications Studies at a small private liberal arts college across the river. He’s married to his best friend, Pamela, who is also his chief literary critic and his accountant. They share their home with an annoying little Shi Tzu named Mannie. Paul has recently published stories in Lodestone Journal, Black Heart Magazine, Euphemism, and Front Porch Review.