George & Gladys
Kevin M. Strawser | Terri Kelleher
Poor George Trumbull had been dead 10 days before anyone knew.
He’d always been on time or early with his rent, poor George, without fail for 4 straight years. And when he didn’t show up at Gladys’ door on the first day of February with the cash, the landlady worried maybe something was wrong. So, on the second day of February she bundled up and headed out the back door towards the woods and George’s cabin.
Gladys Pfeffer could never have imagined that, 10 days earlier, someone had watched George withdraw the 550 dollars for the rent from the automated teller machine. Or that this desperate person would, unbeknownst to George, follow him home and then force his way into the cabin to demand the cash at gun point. Gladys could never have imagined that George would try to talk the soon-to-be murderer out of the robbery.
Gladys believed most people to be inherently good, and she would never have thought this possible in her hometown. To Gladys, these things only happened in big cities and third world countries. Not in rural Pennsylvania. And certainly not 200 yards from her house, for the love of God.
Gladys had come to care very much for George, her sole tenant, and since he’d been so conscientious with his rent, she had no intention of asking him directly for the money. Yes, George was only a day late, but it had been a while since she’d visited George in his cabin, and this gave her the perfect excuse to visit again. She’d make small talk and he would, she was certain, spontaneously offer up a perfectly good and logical explanation as to why, all of a sudden, the rent was a day late.
George would, needless to say, be incapable of offering up any explanation at all. And as Gladys trudged through the ankle-deep snow towards the small, unassuming cabin where George’s corpse lay stiff on the hard, wood floor, she remembered, fondly, how he’d come to live there.
When the two met, George had been freshly divorced while Gladys was stuck in a loveless, rotting marriage.
They both frequented the local amusement park during the summers, coming, not for the thrill-rides, but instead, for the flashy dance shows with the canned music. They’d always come to the park alone (Gladys’ husband hated amusement parks) and during that first summer, they’d met and gotten to know and like one another sitting together in the cold, sterile, air-conditioned theater. Oftentimes they were the only two people there. George would joke, “I called ahead and reserved this show, just for us!” Gladys would laugh and laugh.
It was towards the end of that first summer that George confided in Gladys he’d been asked to leave his apartment, and that he’d been having a difficult time finding another one. What he didn’t tell Gladys was the reason for his apartment woes. George was running out of money because he’d been fired from his job at the accounting firm. One of George’s coworkers had caught him masturbating in his cubicle. George had stayed late and had assumed everyone had gone home. As he perused the free porn sites, he fantasized about Gladys; about kissing her, touching her and making love to her. Then someone behind him cleared their throat.
As soon as George told Gladys he’d been looking for a place to live, she immediately thought of the broken down old cabin on their property. When she and her husband bought the land, it had long been a vacant campground, and the cabin came with the purchase. With a little sprucing up, Gladys thought, it would be a nice place for George to live. And he would be close to her. She glowed with the thought of it.
Two years after George moved into the cabin, on a warm, summer’s night, he took a walk in the woods past Gladys’ house. The two of them had been together at the park that very afternoon watching “Broadway Through the Years” when Gladys turned to George, put her hand on his knee and said with a quivering voice…
“My husband is going away this weekend. He’s…he’ll be visiting his mother in Pittsburgh. He’s leaving after dinner.”
The moon was a sliver in the sky as George found himself staring up at Gladys’ bedroom window. Suddenly, Gladys appeared. George felt his stomach lurch as Gladys looked straight at him. He watched as she took off her blouse. He watched as she removed her bra, their eyes locked in an eternity of stifled passion. Gladys stood there, half-naked, staring at George, George staring back. He took a tentative step towards the house when the beams of a car’s headlights swept the side yard and into the driveway. Startled, Gladys abruptly pulled the blind shut. George’s heart was pounding in his chest, as he quickly disappeared into the woods toward his cabin.
The two of them never spoke of that night.
And now, two years later, four years after meeting George, Gladys made her way down the narrow path to George’s cabin, his temporary tomb, and she wondered if maybe this time she’d have the courage to tell him. To tell him she thought he was the nicest and friendliest man she’d ever known. To tell him if she had any guts at all, she’d leave her lump of a husband. She’d leave her lump of a husband and move in with George. Because he was nice to her. And she liked it. She wondered if she’d have the courage, finally, to tell him she loved him.
Gladys reached the door of the cabin. She breathed deep the frigid winter air. And as she looked at her tired, sad reflection in the glass of the door, she decided she would tell him. George would open that door and she would tell him. And damn the consequences.
Gladys smiled, made a fist and boldly rapped on the glass.