The Fat Lady Sings   Page 1 0f 12

  Mary Mulcahey was fat, forty and deeply unhappy. Her life was a mess. She’d tried, God knows she’d tried. She’d resolved more than once to pick up the pieces and have another go but each time she had found nothing to retrieve. Somewhere, over the years, the wreckage had been irrecoverably strewn across a wasteland of unfulfilled hopes and dreams.

  Like many women she’d pinned her hopes on marriage and like many women she had been disappointed. It was difficult to remember exactly when her husband’s indifference had become the dominant feature of their relationship but now there was nothing left. He gave her a generous monthly allowance and arranged to pay the bills. He was civil during their limited time together but mostly he ignored her. “I don’t figure in his life,” she told her sister Molly, “I’m like a persistent case of athlete’s foot; ignored and left to rot.”

  Over the years Mary had come to hate her husband. If she could, she would have left him long ago. A nice little house, a small car and enough to live a comfortable yet modest life was all she asked in return for his freedom but Robert wouldn’t play ball. If she wanted to go she could, he told her but not with anything that belonged to him. In Robert’s view anything that could even remotely be considered communal property was very definitely his and his alone.

  Unbelievable as it might seem, she wasn’t sure exactly what he did for a living but as far as she knew it had something to do with supplying agricultural equipment to third world countries. Whatever the exact nature of his business it provided a good living. She suspected that Robert was a wealthy man, he was certainly a secretive and careful one. Nothing was in his own name, everything belonged either to corporations or to trusts, mostly registered abroad. She knew that if she left him, it would be a move into penury. She had neither talent nor skill that could be turned to earning an adequate living.

    Whatever the underlying psychology, there was little doubt that her excessive weight was a direct result of over indulgence. High calorie intake had become a way of life. Chocolate and cream cakes were her favourite foods. She had once visited a counsellor and had been irritated when he put the cart before the horse by suggesting that her marital problems may have been caused in part by, as he put it, her “fullness of figure.” Mary had not returned for a second helping of professional wisdom. I’m not wasting money on that mealy-mouthed twerp, she told herself, all that’s wrong with my marriage is that Robert’s a bastard. And she set out on a confectionery binge that added significantly to her already ample thighs and buttocks.

The prospect of a miserable and unfulfilled life lay before her. There was it seemed, no way out. That was until the Friday in September when the note came through the door. Robert had gone for the day when she saw the buff envelope on the mat as she came down for a late breakfast. She picked it up and took it with her into the kitchen. On the table, neatly stacked, was other mail that had come in the morning’s post. She went through them cursorily, just a few bills and circulars. She turned her attention to the envelope she had brought in. There was no stamp so it must have been personally delivered after Robert had left. On the front, written in a neat hand, was her husband’s name: Robert Mulcahey. There was no address or indication who it might be from. She turned it over but there was nothing on the back to enlighten her. She had more or less lost interest when she noticed, with surprise that it wasn’t sealed, the flap just tucked into the back. It can’t be important she thought, just some local handbill put into a cover to look more imposing. She dropped it on to the counter and started to make coffee.

  She had just set the filter machine going when her eye again caught the regular and slightly slanted script on the envelope. She went over and picked it up again. It could be a woman’s hand she mused. She held it to her nose. There was no scent. She considered for a moment then turned it over and lifted a single, folded sheet from its cover. She read it quickly with ever widening eyes then gasped involuntarily and let the paper fall from her fingers. She left the letter where it lay and it was a few moments before she recovered her composure. She poured herself coffee then retrieved the note and sat at the kitchen table. She read it again slowly and a shudder passed through her. It wasn’t revulsion but rather anticipation of what this turn of events might bring.

  The letter was undated, brief and to the point:


You were warned and you ignored it. We will not be cheated nor treated like fools. When doing business with us there are always two choices; either to conduct the transaction honestly or to die. You have chosen the latter.

   It was signed with the single initial “M”.

   She returned the letter to its cover and took it back into the hall. She placed it on a corner table at what she thought was a casual angle then went back into the kitchen to finish her coffee and ponder the situation.

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