JOHN MARA - WEDNESDAYS AT DUSK
Wednesdays at Dusk
Maude traces her fingers idly along the ridged scars on her wrists. The razor tracks transport her back to the nervous breakdown that landed her in a sanatorium two years ago. “I’m getting better,” she convinces herself. As proof, she grins, and then she fills the grin with the barrel of an old revolver. “See?” she reminds the gun. “I’m in complete control.” Yes, she often regresses, but her discharge to the serenity of her lakeside home is just what the psychiatrists ordered.
Downstairs, her husband Artie thinks otherwise. Maude is a time bomb waiting to detonate his political ambitions. He holds a seat in the New Hampshire State Senate and is running for Congress. He’ll stomp on anyone, anytime to advance his career. Last month, his duplicity earned him a Senate Ethics Committee sanction, which he deftly turned to political advantage by playing the victim card. “My opponents want my hide!” he shamelessly alerted the electorate. His detractors labeled him ‘Artifice Artie,’ but his poll numbers surged ten points! Maude’s early return from the loony bin is Artie’s latest political challenge. His diplomatic compromise? Warehouse the nutcase on the third floor until the votes are counted.
From her window, every Wednesday at dusk, Maude detects a light flashing from a hunters’ shack across the lake. The signal always draws Artie to it like a Pavlov dog. This Wednesday evening, Maude decides to break the monotony of her third floor sanctuary. She kayaks across the lake.
Right at dusk, Artie’s light beckons him yet again, and he paddles his canoe straight for it. But this Wednesday, his time-worn routine takes an unexpected turn. “Oh God, Maude, what the hell are you doing?!” he cries out, when he enters the shack.
Maude points her revolver at a horrified blonde woman splayed against the wall.
“Hand over that gun!” Artie lunges toward Maude. “Now!”
“Don’t try it Arthur!” she says. “I’ll shoot off the wandering little thing that made me crazy!” She waves the gun menacingly at his groin. “Now stand right over there. Next to blondie!”
Artie clutches his manhood with tremulous hands, and beads of sweat form on his brow.
“I know why this little dolly comes here!” Maude seethes.
“You’ve … you’ve got it all wrong, honey,” Artie says. “This young lady takes walks around the lake, that’s all.”
“Walking!! Walking?? That’s just what the tramp here claims!” Maude hisses viperously. “Is THAT what you call it, Arthur? I thought all your … walking … ended after I … cut myself.”
“It did, honey, it did! I swear!”
“Then what’s with the flashing light every Wednesday?”
“An old codger signals me every Wednesday at dusk. We watch over this shack together.”
“It’s Wednesday. It’s dusk. And this blonde dolly is no old codger!” Maude aims the gun at the woman, who sinks to the floor, too horrified to speak.
“Don’t do it, Maude. Dooon’t!” Artie pleads. “Come home with me. I’ll help you get better.”
But Maude hears only her own dark thoughts. She squeezes the trigger, and the woman’s face explodes.
“Oh no! Oh God!” Bile burns Artie’s throat, and his bladder empties.
Maude flares another crazed grin. “Ain’t pretty no more, your little plaything, now is she?” She turns the gun on Artie. “I’m ending all the pain you cause me, right now.”
Artie squeezes his eyes shut to accept his fate, and he folds his hands in prayer. “God, forgive all I’ve—”
“Bang!” Maude’s brain splatters the shack before the gun barrel falls from her mouth.
“No! Nooooo!” Artie howls. Maude’s eyes stare, still holding him to account. The shock freezes him in place. “Help me God. Please. Tell me what to do!”
The fetid smell of death fills his nostrils. Artie retches, and his head swoons. He retreats outside to gulp the fresh air. He paces, and in time his pounding heart slows down. “Steady now. Get back in control.” His cold survival instincts return. “Maude’s gone, and so is the woman. I can’t change that,” he calculates. “But how do I skate outta this mess?” He suddenly hears footsteps. “I’m finished,” he reasons. He slips behind the shack.
“Big fella, y’in there?” The woman Artie calls ‘Wednesday Wendy’ weaves her way toward the shack. “Shorry I’m late,” she slurs. Two years ago, Artie promised to get her lengthy drug record expunged and then land her a proper job. After a long day atop her favorite barstool, she’s ready to tell the creep, “No more Wednesdays at dusk.”
Artie monitors Wendy through a gap in the wall planks. “Think, think.”
“Oh Lord, help me!” Wendy shrieks, when she staggers into the grisly scene. She covers her nose and hyperventilates, and then she vomits an afternoon’s worth of rotgut whiskey when she sees what used to be Maude’s skull. In a daze, Wendy kneels to wipe blood off the revolver and examine it. She crawls through blood, brain and bone, wending her way to the blonde woman. The trauma overwhelms her when she turns over the faceless corpse. The room spins, and Wendy passes out.
Artie has an epiphany. He paddles out onto the calm lake and speed-dials his campaign manager on his cellphone. “Say Slick? It’s me, Artie. Now listen good. You got one last victim card in that campaign deck of ours? I may’ve found the ten extra sympathy points we need in the polls to turn the election -- if we play our cards right! Meet me at the lake house. The press will descend on us at dawn like vultures, and we need to conjure up another good sob story.”
Artie glances back at the shack. Flashlights strobe in the dark, but this time they belong to two policemen investigating possible gunshots –- the two that got hired after Artie angled for state funding. “Yo Slick?” the artful one whispers. “Come meet your next Congressman. We just hit the jackpot!”
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