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The List

(By Michael A Gibbs  ) Authors Note
 
We are not often cognizant of the importance of lists. The relevance of lists to our lives is as food is to hunger, as sex is to love, as clothing is to warmth. Lists keep track, lists organize, lists remind, lists guide, lists control.
One person’s list will differ from another’s depending on the demands of life.
Or death.
 
“You know I don’t mind you having nice things, Brendle. I only meant that I need to keep account of the spending. Just let me know when you’ve bought something. That’s all I ask.”
 
Brendle Railshare, dressed in her short nightgown, watched her husband in the mirror as she worked with her auburn hair. What a shame, she thought, to have spent her best years with a man shorter than herself. Had she not needed his influence and money, she would have left him years ago. The influence he held in the social community was not even his, not really. She
was the one they all wanted to see. Not one of the dinners or fundraisers had been in his honor, even though Rupert had believed as much. No, the men wanted her presence at the various company functions and house parties. If not for her, Rupert would never be invited anywhere. He’d not be second in line for vice president at Pendegrass and Plumbe, and he’d not have the salary he enjoyed if not for her wit and looks that swayed those who needed swaying.
 
And here in her room Rupert stood now, preaching to her about her spending. Where did he think the money came from? Rupert had turned his back a number of times while Brendle feigned illness to be taken home by men with power enough to elevate her husband’s station. Hypocritical, it was, for him to act as if he didn’t know.
 
Rupert—short, shy, and stupid. He had nothing whatsoever to interest her sexually. She’d tell him that someday, and she’d tell him that her spending concerned him about as much as the diet pills she took. Sometimes she wished he were just gone. She frowned now at her perfect features in the mirror.
 
She hadn’t even enough nerve to say the word in her mind. She just might say it now. And then suddenly she did.
 
DEAD, DEAD, DEAD! The words reverberated inside her head. After Rupert left for work, she’d say it aloud. She’d say it aloud or be d*mned.
 
She heard the front door closing softly and she stood to watch him go. His pudgy butt moved every bit as much as his legs as he waddled across the summer lawn toward the Lexus.
 
On an impulse, and in her state of half-dress, she turned from the window toward the closet where all but their most valuable records were kept. She found the insurance policy and delved into it until she found those bits of legal terminology she’d looked at twice already this month. She was the beneficiary
of $800,000 if his death were anything but suicide.
 
Next, she dug out her copy of the will, which left her everything—his stock in the company, the paid for home, the cars, the summer home at the lake, and “any and all funds currently drawing interest in First City Bank.”
 
She sat on the bed holding the documents on her shapely exposed legs and said it. “I wish he were dead, dead, dead!”
 
By midmorning, he was. She answered the door to the timid knocking of the city fire chief. She opened it to see the chief, a minister she recognized from the church she infrequently attended, and Mr. Goldfield, the company president. All six of their eyes went to her legs. She smiled inwardly.
 
“Mrs. Railshare,” said the chief, “I’m afraid we have some bad news.”
 
Her heart stopped. Could it have been this easy?
 
“Your husband has been killed. An accident with the elevator. I’m sorry.”
 
She couldn’t say anything. As nonchalantly as possible, she moved the papers she’d been holding to a place behind her back. Still, she hadn’t spoken.
 
“I know, Mrs. Railshare,” the said the chief, “that such news is hard to accept. Is there anything I can do? Would you like some time with the minister?”
 
“Where’s the . . . I mean, where is he?” She needed proof.
 
“At the morgue, but I wouldn’t advise you going there just now, Mrs. Railshare. You see . . . he was . . .”
 
“He was what?”
 
“Well, crushed. I’m sorry.”
 
Damn. She’d have to wait for an official identification.
 
She faked some tears and turned away, saying she needed to be alone.
 
Back in the bedroom, she put the paperwork back where it had been, and in that way, when the authorities asked her, she could dig the policy and will out of the closet just as if she’d not even thought about them.
 
Smiling at herself in the mirror, she said, “Thirty-seven, rich, single, and pretty.”
 
The transfer of funds proceeded smoothly. Within three weeks, Brendle had the insurance money as well as what the stocks brought. She said goodbye to the realtor who was just now pulling away from the Railshare home. Brendle looked at the sign sticking out of the front lawn like an obscene gesture.
Rupert had stupidly paid off the house a year before he died, and now every cent of the sale proceeds would be hers.
 
She reentered the house to find a stranger seated in the parlor with his black and shiny shoes propped on her hand-carved coffee table from France.  His presence startled her, but she refused to let it show. “May I helpyou?”
 
“Of course.”
 
What did he mean by that? Who the hell was he? His dress revealed neither wealth nor poverty. His plain suit was brown. He wore no jewelry that Brendle could see. “Are you with the realty company?”
 
“No.”
 
“P and P?”
 
“What? Oh, you mean Rupert’s company. No, I’m not from there. Try again.”
 
“Don’t be rude, sir. You’re in my house. I’ve recently suffered the loss of my husband. State your purpose or get out.”
 
As he stood, Brendle caught a glimpse of perfect teeth behind a false smile. The man was tall, his complexion dark, and his hair shiny with whatever product held it in the swept-back position that left no doubt that his eyes were small and black.
 
“I wish he were dead, dead, dead,” the stranger said. “Have you forgotten?”
 
“Get out, or I’m calling the police.”
 
“Are you telling me you didn’t make such a wish?”
 
Brendle said nothing to that. What could she say to someone who obviously knew her very words the day Rupert died?
 
“Are you a detective? Is there some suspicion that I killed my husband?”
 
“You weren’t there,” he said. “The elevator malfunctioned. It’s all a matter of record now.”
 
“So what do you want?”
 
“Why, payment of course?”
 
“For what?”
 
“For granting your wish.”
 
“I’ll ask you once more to leave. If my husband owed you some debt, take it up with the lawyers.”
 
“Brendle, please,” he crooned. “Don’t act as if you don’t know. You’re a member now. I’m afraid you have to pay. Club rules, you know.”
 
“Who are you?”
 
“Just another member. Perhaps I should explain. Sometimes new members are confused at first.” He sat down again. “You wished for your husband to die. You said it aloud. You can’t do that without becoming a member. I’m simply here to collect what you owe His Excellence.”
 
“His Excellence? Who in hell is that?”
 
 “There you go. If you know where he lives, surely you know who he is.”
 
This was beyond bazaar. This creep obviously wanted something from her. Maybe she ought to know what.
 
“What is the payment? My soul?”
 
“I’ve not been clear,” he said. “If your soul were your own, you wouldn’t be a member. You lost that the moment you verbalized the death wish against Rupert. Having established that, what else might His Excellence require?”  The tiny dark eyes turned yellow. “A few more souls, Brendle, that’s all. His
Excellence is impatient. Of our many members, there are those who cannot be expected to die for some time. Your payment is that you simply verbalize your wish that they die immediately.” He reached inside his coat. "Here’s a list. You must select each one in order as it appears. The left column first, then to the top of the second.” He stood and handed the parchment to
Brendle.
 
“I don’t want your list.” She let it fall to the table. “I’ll make no such statements against anyone. This is the last time I’ll tell you to leave.”
 
“Very well, Brendle.” He started for the door. “But a member not in good standing shall not be permitted to live.” He said not another word before leaving her alone in the house.
 
She sat on the sofa where he had sat and picked up the paper—a handwritten list of names in two columns. So many. She read the names then, recognizing each one. One was her brother, Danny. His was the second name in the second column.
 
Danny was a member? What might Danny have done in his twenty years of life to deserve d*mnation?
 
Surely, the visitor was a fraud—just someone that overheard her when she wished Rupert dead. A cruel and evil joke, this was. She’d have no part of it.
 
She carried the parchment to the library and began to build a small fire in the fireplace. She placed the paper on the rising flames and stood to watch it flare up, wither, and fall apart.
 
Brendle slept well that night, dreaming of nothing. She arose fresh and ready to go about the business of sorting her belongings for the moving company to pack. A midmorning spark of pain in her breast made her flinch, but it was gone as quickly as it came. But the discomfort returned, and made itself
at home. Indigestion, she thought, and took the appropriate remedy. No relief.
 
A heart attack? Surely not. She was only thirty-seven.
 
The pain increased. A numbness absorbed the left side of her face. In the hall mirror she was horrified to see that side drooping, the skin sagging.
 
A stroke! She was having a stroke. She had only to reach out to get to the wall phone. Picking out 9-1-1, she put the receiver to her ear. Nothing. No ringing, no dial tone. She would die!
 
With that thought came another. She rushed to the cold fireplace and poked gently at the ashes. No worse for being burned, the paper was there, the names as clear as her knowledge of what she must do.
 
She sat in the floor, put her finger on the first name, Silas Beamington, a druggist she’d known all her life. “I wish you were dead, dead, dead,” she said, and immediately the pain left her chest. A tingling on her cheek told her that
the numbness was fading.
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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