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My Very Own Murder Excerpt from My Very Own Murder

by Josephine Carr


As a requirement of the newly divorced, only-just-fifty-year-old woman, I was supposed to be miserable, yet brave. After all, women of my age and situation knew they would either die alone or re-marry a man twenty years their senior. Which is to say, seventy years and, possibly, older. Nothing wrong with a seventy-year-old man, other than bandy legs and no hair. I mean, no hair anywhere. Anywhere. But, no, to the disappointment of my friends and family, particularly my ex-husband, I was not miserable. Therefore, I had no requirement to be brave, either.

My divorce became final four months ago, about the time I left the family home. Soon after, my youngest child, Laura, began her freshman year at Juilliard and my son, her older brother, Andrew, started his final year at Swarthmore. Let's call this the happily-ever-after divorce story, because who ever said you needed someone to get old with? Since I had children who loved me, now all I really had to worry about was sex, and to be frank, you could always buy sex. It was a commodity. Besides, I had many reasons to smile.

To begin, I was comfortably well-off, though I confess that this wasn't due to my own hard work. My grandmother had left our small family about $5 million. Not enough to set up a foundation, when divided by five, so we each got a significant sum. And my share from the divorce settlement guaranteed a solid future financially. I used to have a career called motherhood. I was good at it, but retirement had come early, compared to the trajectory of other career paths.

After all, I was only fifty years old and well educated. A lot to offer yet. I was sure that I had just embarked on a fulfilling journey from marriage and motherhood to . . . question mark. I didn't know what would come next, which could have been slightly anxiety-provoking except that I refused to let it be. Also, I had to admit that dwelling in the no-man's land of No Man seemed infinitely superior to my role as a wife. For someone whose identity had been partially defined by the term wife, I'd been remarkably bad at the job. I was relieved at not having to act the part any longer.

I loathed going out to lunch, but on Saturday I lunched with one of my husband's best friends, Jonathan, at a small Lebanese restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in northwest Washington, D.C.

"You might consider volunteering," he said.

"Or I could shoot myself." I stared at him, wondering why I'd ever imagined having lunch with Jonathan would be a good idea. Maybe I'd been flattered by his invitation because his wife, Abigail, was out of town, visiting family. Maybe he was interested in me.

His bushy gray eyebrows shot up, and he burst out laughing. "What's wrong with volunteer work?"

"It's tedious."

"You're supposed to give back to society, as a sign of your thankfulness for all that you've received," he lectured.

"I thought about giving away all my money."

He blinked. "That's not what I meant."

"I know it's not what you meant." I grabbed my iced tea and took a hefty gulp. If I gave away all my money, I wouldn't be able to afford fancy lunches, and even though I didn't particularly relish the ladies-who-lunch tradition, I preferred that my options remain open. So I changed my mind. I looked at Jonathan as though he were a stranger. I decided, at that moment, what I needed to do: sleep with every man I possibly could.

"Would you like to go to bed with me?" I asked, hoping that he had no plans for the rest of the afternoon. He had a potbelly, but I've never been picky about a man's physical appearance.

Jonathan blinked again. "Your ex-husband, Peter, would kill me. Otherwise I couldn't possibly refuse."

"Peter slept with Abigail." Peter had slept with Abigail, but this was supposed to be a secret.

Jonathan's face turned from florid to virginal white. Pure as snow. I thought he might keel over and land in the pea soup. Instead he threw back his head and guffawed. "Good one," he yelled.

Abigail wasn't exactly a femme fatale. He figured I was joking. I wasn't, of course, but I decided to accept the judgment and get through lunch quickly.

My vast apartment at the Kennedy, several blocks up from the restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, welcomed me home quietly. I wandered to the bay window overlooking the fall colors of Rock Creek Park and the zoo. I gazed out so long without blinking that my eyes filled with tears. The heavy lunch, and Jonathan himself, had left me vaguely nauseated and out of sorts.

Perhaps it had been a mistake to choose one of the largest apartments at the Kennedy. I often felt like I was the kitchen catchall drawer where keys, stubby pencils, rubber bands, paper clips, hair scrunchies, and mismatched earrings accumulated. Though, unlike that drawer, my apartment was organized and pristine. I tried to mess it up sometimes, to suggest that a lot of living was going on. Only that morning, I'd dared to leave my bed unmade. And the down cushions on the couch in the library were flattened from where I'd sat the night before watching television. Still, I bopped around the apartment like a wildly bouncing pinball, sending out little dinging noises.

During the previous two years, I'd volunteered like a madwoman, something I hadn't bothered to mention to Jonathan. He'd probably been set up for the lunch by Peter as a spy mission. My ex-husband wanted me to remarry quickly, because it would alleviate his guilt at having been faithless during our marriage. I knew, though he didn't, that the guilt was all mine. Deep down, I hadn't expected fidelity.

In the kitchen, I sipped a glass of diet soda without ice and continued to stare out its single window at another wing of the apartment building. Basically, the view was a nonview, but I still felt glued to the spot, unable to move.

I wanted sex, and more sex, and additional sex after that. But I didn't know how to go about it. I could purchase sexual services, but I saw that as a viable option only for later in life, when I no longer had anything whatsoever to offer by way of pleasure to my partner. I wasn't there yet, and, anyway, I was still considering signing up for an online dating service. I could probably achieve sex and more sex by using the Internet. My gorge rose, despite the soda. What I didn't want were all the complications a sex life would bring to me. Sex, despite my best efforts, always seemed to lead to love. And love was the course in life that I'd failed dismally.

I'd been through intensive therapy for years. I was happy. I didn't miss Peter at all. I didn't miss the kids, either. I had no pets, and I was thrilled not to have them. I had nothing whatsoever to do, and the truth -- oh, dear God -- the truth was that I liked it this way. I'd taken to staying in my nightgown much of the day. You might imagine this depressed woman wafting around her grand apartment, pale and puffy and miserable. But no, no, no.

I had a series of gorgeous white nightgowns. I did waft, but with a sort of incoherent joy. I loved to catch sight of myself in the ornate gold mirrors, my long brown hair in a loose braid, the nightgown billowing against my body and showing the drifts of breast and bottom. I felt downright beautiful, even if I wasn't. That is, I often felt beautiful when I was alone, not when I was the object of a man's gaze.

When I'd finally had enough of my nightgown existence, I walked outdoors for miles, checked out piles of books from the Cleveland Park Public Library, and then came back to the apartment building for a swim. I was in the best health I'd ever experienced. I read for hours, but my reading tastes had changed. Almost no fiction. Nonfiction on esoteric subjects, but primarily science written for the nonscientist. It could be tough going, especially physics, but I soldiered on.

So what was the problem? In our society, you aren't supposed to do nothing. Doing nothing is suggestive of being emotionally troubled or, at the very least, lazy.

How I loved laziness.

As a human being, you are also supposed to enjoy other human beings. Worst case, if you don't happen to be sociable, you have a love for animals or plants. Not me. Solitude was magnificent. I needed no one. And my fake plants were absolutely lovely.

I didn't know what to say to my kids when they implored me to date, to keep up with my old friends, to socialize in some form or another. During a recent phone call with my son, Andrew, I blurted out, "I'm a misanthrope."

Though, of course, that wasn't it either. I didn't hate mankind. In fact, I quite loved mankind. Really.

I couldn't decide if I was bored, sexually deprived, morally suspect, or just disgustingly happy to be doing nothing at all. I went into the living room and booted up my laptop so that a stream of classical music from the Internet filled the room. Late-afternoon sun whispered across the antique Oriental rug. Carefully, I sat down on the couch and debated whether I had the energy to go swimming. If not, my nightgown was just a minute away.

Reprinted from My Very Own Murder by Josephine Carr by permission of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright 2005 Josephine Carr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

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