The lady in apartment 5G, her name is Rose, is one of those black widows—a woman who, for whatever reason, keeps having husbands die on her. She’s working on number six right now, and everybody’s keeping a close eye on the situation.
All of the neighbors agree that Steve, the new guy, seems nice enough. He remembers everybody’s names. He’ll hold the door for you and ask you about your health as the ancient lift carries him slowly, and with its frightening jerks and stops, to his fifth floor doom. Fiona, who lives alone in a dark, cramped apartment on the second floor, is especially quick to his defense. “He’s a gentleman,” she always says when the subject of Steve comes up. “A gentleman of the first water.”
Still, people examine him for weaknesses—the extra weight he’s carrying, the sallow complexion that hints at some heart issues, or maybe jaundice. Then there is the fact that he eats her cooking, which, as Stan in 3B says, is like holding a gun to your own goddamned head and squeezing the trigger just to see if it’s loaded.
Knowledge of Rose’s extensive widowhood was slow to arrive. She’s only lost two since she moved in. First there was Roy, who was electrocuted when a radio fell into his bath. People didn’t think anything of it at the time. A victim of progress, they whispered to each other, dropping casseroles off in front of the bereaved woman’s door, one of the hazards of modern life.
A couple of years later Frank went. Died quietly in his sleep, or at least that was the story Rose put out. But the whole thing happened so quickly—he was underground almost before anybody even knew he was dead—that some mental gears started to grind.
Bernice Poplowski, 4C, who has a lot of time on her hands because her husband travels for work, started checking up on Rose on a hunch, and she couldn’t believe what she found. Eddie, the one before Roy, offed himself. Or so they would like you to believe. He jumped off a building in midtown, middle of the day, and it was just luck that nobody else got hurt. Dominic was run over by a produce truck—something that hinted at occult powers in Rose that were nearly too frightening to contemplate. Vince, number one, bought it in Viet Nam. It’s hard to blame that one on Rose—as Donnie, 4A, says, the place was a well-known shit show. But if she’d really loved him, some wondered, wouldn’t she have gotten herself knocked up to give him a shot at a hardship deferment? Anyway, it’s not an open and shut case, but all eyes are on Steve.
Fiona, however, sees thing differently. To her, Rose is a tragic figure, a woman who has loved and lost and lost and lost and lost and lost, and still has the strength to love again.
She finds herself entertaining increasingly elaborate fantasies about Steve, valiant, chivalrous Steve. She imagines him preserved, embalmed and laid in a crystal coffin, like Mao or Lenin. A revolutionary of the heart. He would be laid in a stately building, the architecture of which would reflect both the tragedy of his death and the soaring, indomitable strength of the human spirit—she imagines something in gray granite with great columns in the front. The queue to see him would stretch for miles, and everybody who saw him (slightly puffy, perhaps a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes) would know that they gazed upon the face of love.
Notes from Guest Reader A.A. Balaskovits
This is a delightfully unsettling story, almost like a reverse Bluebeard, filled with dead husbands and an inadvertent,
romantic murder-protégé in the making and far too many bystanders who aren’t paying enough attention.
Stories like these make you question assumptions about all the folks living around you, and what
they get up to when you’re not looking — or looking too closely but not quite seeing.