By Molly Weiland
Felice’s husband, Ronald, was preparing to leave for an unusually long work trip to Philadelphia. Felice stood in the mudroom watching him tie and re-tie the laces of the dress shoes she had bought him at the Men’s Wearhouse Black Friday sale.
“Why are you wearing your brand new shoes on the plane?” said Felice. “You’ll wear them out.”
“You never know. I might have some important business to attend to,” Ronald said, raising his eyebrows.
“Important business, huh.”
“Don’t watch our show without me, hon.”
“But I’ll have nothing else to do!”
Ronald stood up and extended the handle of his rolling carry-on. “If you wait for me, I’ll make us popcorn and rub your feet while we watch the next episode. How’s that, huh?”
“I guess I’ll try to find something else.”
“Maybe Seth has some suggestions,” Ronald said.
“Maybe. I’ll call him tomorrow.” Felice checked her watch. “Better get going. You’ll miss your flight.”
“Bye, hon,” said Ronald, pecking Felice on the cheek.
“Bye,” Felice murmured. She watched Ronald pull out of the garage and head off down the road, feeling the vastness of the house behind her.
With Ronald gone and their adult son, Seth, moved out, this would be the first time in her entire married life that Felice had been utterly alone for what was to be an entire week. So, with their usual show out of the question tonight, she flipped through the channels, alone, until she came across the True Crime Network.
Normally, she didn’t watch things like this, but recently, she had overheard her younger coworkers talk about binge-watching murder shows on Friday nights. Ever since the accounting firm had replaced Felice’s boss of twenty-five years with a new, swoop-haired innovation zealot not much older than her Seth, Felice’s like-aged colleagues had been retiring to Florida at an alarming rate. Unable to retire early, Felice had taken to spending her lunch break googling the definitions of strange, fake-sounding words her younger coworkers tossed around in meetings.
In a way, Felice supposed she could consider watching the True Crime Network as research toward her continued professional relevancy, as she liked to think of it. She watched Cold Case Files, 72 Hours, Body of Evidence, Catching Killers, Cold Blood, Murder Files, The Killer Speaks, The Last 24. Repeat for six nights.
Felice had seen posts on Facebook warning that, in most cases, when a woman is murdered, the perpetrator is her partner or her ex. The True Crime Network supported this claim. What made her relationship different from those of the women who had been murdered by their husbands?
In one of the shows, the murdered wife and her husband lived miles out of town. There were no neighbors to hear the screaming, and the wife had nowhere to escape to. Felice looked out the living room window at the miles of empty farmland behind their house.
In another, the murdering husband was just as meticulous in his everyday life as he was in covering up the murder. Felice thought about the way Ronald never left the house without ironing his entire outfit, including his underwear. She opened his drawers, where each of the T-shirts was painstakingly folded and stacked, organized by color.
Another show told of how the husband had left home for a number of days preceding the murder, in order to stake out the exact place where he would hide the body. Felice recalled Ronald’s playful mention of important business to attend to and wracked her brain for any solid evidence that this was, indeed, just a work trip to Philadelphia.
Invariably, in every show, the murdered woman’s puffy-eyed, tissue-waving sister or neighbor or daughter would tell the camera, “I just never thought he would do something like this. We never saw it coming. Never.”
Felice lay in bed, staring into the almost-dark above her. She had borrowed the night light from the guest room and plugged it in next to her end table. Ronald was due home that night, the seventh one. A few hours earlier, he had called to tell Felice that his flight was delayed. But, he said, he had made friends at the airport with an impossibly interesting ninety-three-year-old woman who had fled Poland during the Holocaust, so he didn’t much mind the wait. Ronald had always been a World War II and Holocaust history buff. Felice nodded off as she tried to remember if any of the shows had mentioned that as another warning sign.
Felice woke to the sound of Ronald opening the garage door. Moments later, he entered the bedroom, and Felice watched as he changed his clothes in the dark. The moonlight made him look menacing as his body towered over the bed. He looked like someone she did not recognize. He crawled in next to her, wrapped his arm around her waist, and breathed, “Hi,” into her ear. His breath smelled like wintergreen and felt cold on Felice’s back. She felt a shiver curl up her spine as she rolled over and pretended to be asleep.
At last, she heard Ronald’s breathing slow. Felice crept out of bed as silently as she could. In her bare feet, she tiptoed downstairs and into the attached garage, over to the bin where they kept Seth’s old sports equipment from summer nights in the driveway—a Looney Tunes basketball, a baseball glove, tennis balls, an old aluminum bat. Felice slid the bat out of the pile by the handle, careful not to make any sudden clangs. She held her breath, listening for movement inside the house, but heard none.
Back upstairs, Felice slid the bat underneath her side of the bed. She rested her head on Ronald’s chest, watched it rise and fall, and wondered if this was all a massive facade—their marriage, their cozy life. Ronald. Part of her knew it was ridiculous—of course it was—yet part of her still knew that all of this had once been true for someone.