Blue and Mrs. Throop
by Joel Howard
She gave scant thought to how the police interpreted the scene before them. For one thing, she was in shock, and for another, she had piddling confidence in the police. If they were at all competent, they’d have had her in handcuffs already.
The hell with you imbeciles, she found herself thinking. Michael’s right, cops are as useless as tits on a nun.
“Mrs. Throop, shall I call you that, or do you prefer Nancy?” It was the cop who seemed to be in charge, a doughy man stuffed haphazardly into an ill-fitting suit. Detective Smith she recalled. He had bad breath. The breath of habitually bad habits.
“Mrs. Throop will do. I am Mrs. Michael Throop.” She adjusted the collar on her blouse as she spoke, her words conveying an imperious manner, delivered in a voice rarely used, but which gave her a sense of unexpected satisfaction, of superiority. It was reminiscent of the tone Michael so often employed when speaking to his wife, the delivery alone alerting her to his grievances toward some actions or words of hers. She shook at the recollection, twisting the gold cross draped loosely around her neck.
Smith peered, his eyes squinting across the upper rim of his dollar store reading glasses. Mrs. Throop avoided his glance and looked down at her shoes, where she noticed a scuff mark on the leather of the left one.
Clearing his throat, Smith failed to gain her eye. “Right, right. Well, then, please know that you call tell us anything. Anything at all.”
She found his manner overly ingratiating. Such kindness irked her, as if he was the teacher and she a pupil arriving at the first day of first grade, as if she were part of some remedial course for the slow-witted. Having raised her gaze, she focused on the detective. It was her norm to hold up every man – real or imaginary – in comparison to Michael. And while she met few people outside of their home, those men she did meet invariably paled in comparison to her husband. Looks, intelligence, bearing – no matter, they all failed. Smith, she quickly surmised, doubly so.
The detective had earlier made the mistake of mentioning prior visits to the Throop home, putting her on alert, shrinking her already shallow well of trust. Sure, the police had been called out before, but that hadn’t happened in well over six months. Well, she thought, almost six months, a record absence of uniformed officers on their front steps.
It took me a while, she thought, but I learned not to call. And I tried to speak to Mrs. Baines, tried to tell her not to call the cops on us, but she’s a nasty neighbor. Telling me to ‘get help’ and ‘have some respect for yourself, Mrs. Throop’ just made me scream at her, to lose all control.
Involving the police invariably stoked her husband’s emotions at a time when he already stood as a tinder box of barely contained fury. Besides, in the end, she had always dropped any charges that might have been brought against her Michael. He’d return home from jail, his rage fast igniting into an inferno of berating fists.
No, nothing good comes of dialing 9-1-1. First responders are sent no matter how much one might try to dissuade the dispatcher. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to call. Cancel it, please.” No such luck there. Begging was as futile as pleading with Michael about calming his mercurial temper. Once the call was connected, the law stated that help must be dispatched. They’d send cops and ambulances and maybe even a fire truck, leaving Nancy to surmise that firemen were either bored or nosey. They would all arrive quickly and remain insistent on knowing what exactly precipitated the call, demanding answers, logical ones. And if Nancy had even the smallest visible bruise or red mark, if her hair looked disheveled or her teary eyes gave pause to the cops, things would get uglier. It all served to further infuriate Michael.
You’re going to get me put in jail again, stupid cow. You’d probably like that, wouldn’t you? Yeah, I just bet you would, he’d wail at her as she vehemently shook her head, becoming dizzy from the effort.
Today’s events had been her fault, after all. She admitted as much to the police, telling Detective Smith exactly how it came to be that Michael lay dead on their kitchen floor, how his death stood firmly – and to her mind obviously – upon her shoulders. Oddly, when Smith asked her for details, it was as if his words came swimming to her consciousness from some unseen place, somewhere far below her, whereas when Michael spoke to her, it always, invariably, came from a place high up, some lofty heaven overhead.
As she explained to the detective, she’d frittered away too much time that afternoon in the bathroom mirror, fussing over a bruise on her left cheek, one which persisted in heralding its blue-black testimony to one of her recent failures. She’d managed to add concealer to both cheeks, layer upon layer, adding some rouge on top, trying to get them to appear even. In the end, she found her appearance to be that of a half-made clown. Michael had asked of her many times before that she simply be ‘half-ass presentable’ when he came home from making a living for them both. But she couldn’t even get that right, not today at least.
“That was but the first of my stupid, stupid mistakes. What could I have been thinking? I wasn’t thinking. Not thinking at all. That was the problem. And so my husband now lies dead on the kitchen floor. Murdered by his wife, by me.”
Couple her clownish appearance, she further explained, with the mess she’d made of dinner, and it was little wonder that her husband had been upset with her. If she’d gotten herself presentable faster, she could’ve focused more on dinner and having it properly presented on the table when her husband walked through the door from work. There was also the simple rule that Nancy have a double shot of whiskey to hand him when he came home, “to sooth my fucking nerves”, he’d tell her. This, too, she’d mucked up.
Why doesn’t this simple and odorous detective understand my fault in Michael’s death? His ineptitude is both amazing and exasperating. Tits on a nun, tits on a nun.
“I mismanaged my schedule, causing me to rush in the kitchen, sending the evening spiraling into a crushing chaos which I was too stupid to contain. The bowl of green beans we’re of course hot, but hotter than I’d expected, and I’d dropped it, shattering glass and sending green, watery rivers out across the tile floor. How inept can I be?”
Then, she went on, the garage door motor could be heard, sending her into a panic. Michael soon entered the kitchen, sighed in heavy grunts of displeasure, and come at her in anger. As the smooth soles of his dress shoes met the slippery tile, he was sent into a spin. The crack she’d heard as his skull met the unforgiving edge of the granite counter yet echoed in her mind, as did the thud of his weight falling upon the floor.
“Oh Nancy, you foolish woman! Now you’ve gone and done it worse than ever before.”, she’d chided herself. “Is it any wonder he grows impatient with you?”
Her husband lay akimbo on the tile floor, the image reminding Nancy of the ominous chalk outlines one sees in a noir detective movie. But she thought then that he was alive, death being an impossibility in her mind. Michael was her rock, her beacon. He would not falter, couldn’t leave her alone.
Unable to rouse him, she’d finally called for help, this time begging they come quickly, wailing, “I’ve hurt my husband.” Upon the paramedic pronouncing him deceased, she’d screamed, launching herself at the man, hitting him, biting at his clothes, refusing to accept his determination of death.
Once calmed, she realized it was an unarguable case of murder. Why she hadn’t been arrested was unfathomable in her mind. The entire story leading to Michael’s death she’d relayed to the detective in run-on emotions, an avalanche of words more spewed than spoken. Perhaps her words had traveled too quickly for Smith to comprehend.
“Who’ll take care of Blue?”, she’d finally asked, having come up from the depths of despair for air. The detective had tilted his head, looking at her as if he didn’t understand. “I can’t just leave him here. He’s a real lap cat. He’ll need someone to be with him. Michael would be upset if Blue wasn’t being properly seen to. He adores Blue.”
Nancy had affection for Blue as well, but not as Michael had. The cat had served at times as a furry buffer between her and her husband’s anger.
Now, though, she’d hoped the detective wouldn’t say that Blue would be taken to a shelter. Perhaps he’d tell her to call a friend, but where’d that leave her, a woman of no friends? As for relatives, she had few, and the nearest one was her crazy sister in Topeka, some 300 miles away. Rather Blue be put down than go to her! Michael loved Blue as much as he hated “that meddling, busybody bitch of a sister of yours.”
It was just such family interference that had made Michael leave a better paying position and move them all this way. Her family had caused enough trouble. To stay in Topeka would have meant such a burden on their marriage, all at the hands of her intrusive sister and silly, now deceased, mother. That was eight years ago, and she’d found, much to her dismay, that the cops in Ridgedale were almost as bad as those back in their hometown – they could be as insistent on interfering in their private lives as the Topeka police.
Detective Smith didn’t say anything for the longest time, looking upon her as if he had, what, genuine concern for her? It brought to her mind the thinnest bit of kindness toward the man, only to dissipate when his utterance of a heavy sigh recalled to her nose the ugliness of his breath. Finally, realizing that Mrs. Throop was speaking under a false impression in regards to the cat – and the situation as a whole – he spoke to her in softness. “Mrs. Throop, you’re not going to jail, if that’s what you think. No, I see this as an accident. And from what you’ve told me, the DA will likely see it the same way. I mean, I can’t guarantee that, but still. I’ll just ask that you not leave town until I give you the okay.”
“Oh, what a foolish, silly man you are, detective.” The sentiment was so deeply sincere that she was but a breath away from having said it aloud. The detective still seemed not to understand: her ineptitude was the weapon of her husband’s demise.
“Might as well have plunged a steak knife through his heart!”, she’d wailed at last. Yet none of this amounted to her arrest. The police just did not understand, or were being willfully obstinate, a trait Michael said his wife had in abundance. This would go far in explaining why they seemed not to understand her having cleaned up the kitchen before finally doing that one thing she most dreaded: dialing 9-1-1.
“Why,” she’d said incredulously, “did I clean the kitchen before calling you? If I hadn’t, how’d that make me look? You’d have thought I didn’t love my husband. I mean, coming in and seeing spilled green beans and blood and all, well, I couldn’t let that happen, could I? Michael would be so disappointed in me.” All of this she spoke as tears ran along her cheeks, the only time she’d cried during the interview. As she wiped at first one and then the other cheek, the bruise on the left side of her face, previously covered in rouge, emerged, as if seeking to have a say in the matter at hand.
Detective Smith tsk-tsked the story and offered her a tepid smile. “I see, Mrs. Throop. I surely do.”
^ ^ ^ ^ ^
She noticed the day – the one of Michael’s demise – was coming to a close. The earliest hour of a new day stood at the ready, a mere hour after the police and others had left her home, It would be, she realized heavily, the first minutes of the first day without her Michael. She rose from the living room floor where she’d been curled tight in a ball, laboring to get erect, the heavy load of grief and guilt working against her.
Wandering aimlessly about the house, she had the glimmer of realization that what she’d had for the past several years was an existence rather than a life. Michael had provided a measure of certainty, much as a crate can do for a dog. Shuddering at the thought, feeling guilty for such ideas, she went to the den, Michael’s place. At Michael’s recliner, she crawled onto the seat where he’d spent countless hours, remote in one hand, his whiskey in the other. The leather’s aroma, the whoosh of her body settling back, the pronounced clunk-thunk of the footrest being engaged, it all caused memories of her husband to crash down upon her. She lamented her loss perhaps as much as the uncertainty suddenly smothering her. Even having Detective Smith back would have been some odd form of solace. Heavy sobs took control of her body.
“Oh Blue, I’m so sorry I took him away from us.”
Clicking on the television, she found that it was on Michael’s favorite sports channel. Blue jumped to her chest, kneading her with his front paws, crying out with loud, broken mewling, seeking his master. Nancy reached out to extinguish the floor lamp, allowing the glow of the television to cast a pall across the two as their breathing fell into a steady rhythm. Rolling to her side, she pulled Blue against her. She felt isolated, as Michael had always enveloped her life within his own, serving as a belt cinched tight around her own emotions, tamping her desires. He’d choked out the very essence of Nancy’s personal being, leaving her dependent on him even for emotional direction. She hadn’t the center, or compass, that guides a person, being rather like a broken weathervane seeking direction, any direction. Life’s simplest undertakings hadn’t even the most rudimentary baseline from which she could launch herself.
She mumbled incoherently, trying desperately to address the emptiness, before sleep-tumbling for a moment into deep uncertainty. Suddenly, Blue swatted softly at her chin, as if to bring her to the present. Reaching her left hand to her face, she felt the warmth of her own blood. A small trickle was making its way from Blue’s scratch, seeking her jawline.
Her jump to a standing position sent the cat flying to the center of the room. As she took a step forward, Blue ran from the den, a flash of anxious fur and guttural meows. She ran after him, calling his name. As she came into the kitchen, her stockings slid on the tile floor, sending her reeling in a dance that had her bounce from one countertop to the one opposite. She managed to right herself, but not before slamming her left elbow into the counter and her left foot hard into the baseboard.
Panting, she screamed, “Blue! Damn you, Blue! Damn you, damn you, damn you!”
Stumbling, she found the cat backed into the small hallway which led to the garage. Keeping her distance, she leaned over the animal and opened the door. Blue darted into the garage. Nancy, fumbling in the darkness, press the automatic door opener. As the light came on, the rumble of the door echoed, and she caught just his tail as her husband’s pet ran from the tidy space into the thick dark of the early morning hour.