Georgie Ann

by Nikki Dolson

Georgie Ann is dead. Her husband and all of ours crowd around her coffin. They stand with their backs to us and their arms thrown over each other's shoulders. We, the dutiful spouses, black suited and Prada heeled, sit waiting for our cue to cry.

The casket is open. We've all done our viewing and we agree she looks great for a dead woman of her age. She is ten years our senior. Was. She is dead.

One of us says what we're all thinking, "How much hairspray do you think they used? Her hair never held curls like that."

"Maybe it's a wig," another says. We contemplate this. Her bangs are perfect, her face looks flawless and her head is tilted on the pillow so no one can see her neck. Her crow's feet are hardly noticeable.

We were not Georgie Ann's friends. Not really. Though our husbands, all former college football players now golfers with love handles and bald spots like medieval monks, were the best of friends. Greek letter brothers till the end. We spouses did not like each other at first but none of us liked Georgie Ann and in that shared dislike we have found friendship.

We are our husbands' equal opportunity, rainbow coalition of spouses. Their Generation X Stepford wives. They chose us well. We represent their America: Liane is Japanese-American. Oscar is Mexican-American. Jodi is from New York. I am the black, Midwestern, ex-cheerleader (truth be told, we are all ex-cheerleaders) and Georgie Ann is our brown-sugar haired, southern Barbie-doll. Together, we've endured birthdays, anniversaries and rotating dinners at each of our homes. And always, we endured Georgie Ann but we swear we didn't kill her.

Georgie Ann's husband begins sobbing loudly. Oscar stands and offers his pristine white handkerchief to his husband, the tax lawyer, who mouths thank you and gives it to the crying man. After our fight and weeks of not talking to me, Oscar sits down next to me and takes my hand. I lean against his shoulder. Oscar and I are friends, real ones.

Liane and Jodi and Georgie Ann live next door to each other. Their spacious houses, all in a row. Each with matching tennis courts and pools and gazebos like they all went to the same architect and said, give me what she wants. Oscar and I live across the street and sometimes feel a world away from them. We have no pools or gazebos. We make do with multi-directional showers and sunken bathtubs. His house is a two-bedroom faux English-style cottage; mine is a three-bedroom, Spanish-tile floored, Frank Lloyd Wright knock-off. Our lots are a third the size of theirs.

The funeral director asks everyone to take their seats. Our husbands sit together in one row and we sit in another, united. Georgie Ann's husband doesn't make eye contact with us. He stands before the assembled mourners and praises his wife's good works. Her volunteerism. Her saintly mothering of their children, who spent the school year at boarding school and were never actually at home. Tears slip down his clean-shaven cheeks. He places a hand on the coffin of our Saint Georgie Ann.

Georgie Ann was fifty-one years old but from the neck down it seemed as though her body had stopped aging. Two children nearly wrecked her but a team of doctors rebuilt her better than she was before, complete with new bionic hip. Though from the collarbone up, she looked every year of her age. To combat this, she wore scarves around her neck to distract from the turkey wattle thing that was happening. Her bathroom was department store of face creams. When we came to visit the four of us would discuss her new acquisitions like swooning teenagers discussing the football captain. It seemed she single handily kept infomercials on the air with her buying of the next new thing. She'd seen a documentary once about plastic surgery gone wrong and liked to cite Jennifer Grey as a reason not to put your face under the knife. "You can't tell who she is. No one calls her Baby anymore. Her career is over all for want of a nose." We all nodded and agreed because when Georgie Ann was right, she very was right. Then there were the other times when she said things like:

To Liane, during her first pregnancy, "Lamaze is for wimps."

And to Jodi, "Natural child birth is the only way to go."

To Oscar, "Is civil partnership going to take care of you when you're old?"

And to me, "Aisha, have you seen the watermelon at the farmer's market? It's divine."

This is Georgie Ann. Was. This was Georgie Ann.

Georgie Ann died in her kitchen. It was the last barbeque of the summer and she was hosting. She was also angry. She told Jodi, who told us, in between licking the deviled egg spoon, that her husband, the Silicon Valley software developer she seduced when she was thirty-four and he was twenty-four, was cheating on her. Again. This time she was filing for divorce, Georgie Ann had said. Then she grabbed the steaks off her marble counter, plastered on a smile, and sauntered out onto the patio in her pencil skirt and red-soled five-inch heels. The rest of us were in jeans and t-shirts. Georgie Ann never dressed down. She was always on.

To Jodi we said, No shit, with straight faces. Oscar cut a look at me. He knew things the others didn't. He knew that I was the one sleeping with Georgie Ann's husband.

I did not intend to have an affair. Oscar had been telling me for months to end it. He warned, "One of you is going to slip up. Then I will have to choose sides and my man will want me to drop you. I don't want to have to break up with you." His husband thinks Oscar is always on the verge of leaving. Oscar would live in the gutter if that were the only way to keep his husband. His love has no end. There is no situation that would cause Oscar to ever do to his husband what I have done to mine. This is what we fought about. We were supposed to have lunch one day and instead of meeting him I met Georgie Ann's husband at a hotel. It wasn't the first time I'd done it. An hour after my forgotten lunch date with Oscar, my phone held six text messages and eight voicemails from him. I called to beg forgiveness as I reapplied my lipstick.

"Where the hell are you? I thought you were dead somewhere," he said. He was in the bathroom at his office. His concern echoed off the walls.

I giggled then straightened, "I forgot about lunch. I'm sorry."

"Are you going to answer my question?" He was suspicious now and I couldn't lie to him. Not to Oscar, who stroked my hair after my miscarriage. My Oscar, who on Halloween let me dress him up as Freddie Mercury and I went as Prince, much to our husbands' dismay. The others refused to do more than hand out candy. Georgie Ann turned off her lights, put her two yapping terriers in the yard, and pretended not to be home.

"He called," I said, wincing when Oscar began cursing. I didn't know what he said, Spanish was his swearing language of choice and I took French in high school, but I got the gist. "Oscar, I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you."

"Don't bother," he said and then he hung up.

Oscar thought I was risking too much but I couldn't help myself. Georgie Ann's husband was the fitter, less bald, more tanned version of my own husband and he was better in bed. My lover didn't call me Aisha, but A, said like a prayer or a note in a song. When we met in hotel rooms he'd say, "A, let me see you" and I'd undress. Each time, I'd stand there naked in front of him for a moment, feeling glorious under his gaze, then he'd press me up against the door and run his mouth over me. Over every inch of me. Like he couldn't get enough. My husband seemed to have had enough of me by year ten.

When Georgie Ann's husband sold his company three years ago, she had wanted him to move the family to Europe. I was the one who convinced him to start a publishing company. Now he published six books a year. All of them reprints of classic pulp-era books that now got him write-ups in The Wall Street Journal touting him as the anti-Jeff Bezos. He was saving the written word. He kissed me last December in Jodi's garage when we were supposed to be finding her spare tree lights. Our attraction only grew but we were content to keep things as they were. We lived less than fifty yards apart.

We were all married the same year, fifteen years ago. Liane in March. Jodi in May. Oscar was our June bride and Georgie Ann had waited until September, right when autumn was settling into fall, when the leaves were at their most vivid color. My husband, the civil engineer, and I got drunk and eloped in Reno. When we woke to rings and hangovers, we decided to stick it out because all his friends were married and he didn't want to be the first to divorce. I was a writer and didn't make any money at it and he promised to support my dreams. We did not understand each other's jobs in the world but we were somehow content to coexist in our ignorance.

Let it be said that we tried to be happy. On our first anniversary there was torrential rain. My husband drove us out to a project site where we stood and watched the street fill up with water and slowly creep up the sidewalks, crest over the landscape and trickle into the parking lot. He pointed at the rushing water, dirty and swirling and said, "You're like the water. Terrible and beautiful and necessary." If I had ever doubted that I loved him those doubts were gone in that moment. It's funny the things you forget.

Georgie Ann's death came during dessert. We spouses went in and left the husbands on the patio to bullshit and smoke the Cuban cigars Jodi's hotel developer husband had scored on a recent trip to that country. Liane is pregnant with baby number three and is nauseated by the smell of fresh cut grass and any kind of nicotine-laced smoke.

That night it was my turn to bring dessert. I brought a cheesecake I said I made from scratch but really it came from a local bakery. Georgie Ann pulled out another bottle of wine and I rooted around in her kitchen drawers to find the pie knife. She stood behind me, close as a lover, and put her hand in the drawer with mine. She came up with the corkscrew triumphantly, scrapping up my arm with the sharp metal point as she did. I yelped. She said, "Sorry, doll." Our gazes locked and I knew she knew.

Liane and the others sat down at the breakfast bar while Georgie Ann poured the wine and I served cheesecake.

"Can I just get water?" Liane said sounding tired. Her baby is a non-stop mover and she hasn't been sleeping well. Georgie Ann tutted and poured Liane's wine into her own glass and downed it in three gulps. I found a tumbler and bottle of water for Liane because she was afraid of the minerals in the tap water. "Is it cold she asked?" I told her I'd put ice in it and she nodded. Georgie Ann scoffed. "The ice is filtered tap water. What exactly is the difference?"

Liane only shrugged and rubbed her protruding belly. She's a slim woman, all baby in front now with only a few weeks to go.

"Leave her alone, Georgie Ann." I pressed the tumbler against the lever for the icemaker and filled it. When I turned around Georgie Ann was in my face. "Don't tell me what to do in my own house." Her nose and cheeks had gone red from alcohol.

I stepped around her and set the glass on the kitchen island's imported marble top. "Relax, Georgie," I said, making a face behind her back. The others saw it and smiled private smiles except for Oscar who frowned behind his wine glass. I poured the water into the glass and moved to give it to Liane but Georgie Ann was right there again. This time she knocked the glass from my hand. It shattered on her travertine tile floor and water soaked us both from the knees down.

"You think you can just come in here and flaunt yourself in front of him?"

I took a step back. I saw Oscar stand. "Georgie Ann," I said. She came after me, her manicured hands reaching for my hair, for my throat, for my face.

Whether it was ice or glass she stepped on, I don't know. One minute she was bearing down on me, the next she was lurching left then right, her heels slipping on the tiles. The back of her head hit corner of island top then she was on the ground. Motionless. A broken thing. I knew this instantly. Then, she was a curiosity.

We just looked at her.

It was quiet save for the low rumble of Liane's husband's laugh coming in through the open French door. Then Liane said, "Oh, there's blood," and clutched her belly.

Jodi said, "What was she talking about?"

Oscar said, "Is she?"

I prodded Georgie Ann's leg with the toe of my sneaker. The body rocked slightly but there was no rising and falling of perfect C-cup breasts under her cashmere tank top. Jodi stepped forward, curious. Oscar reached for my hand. Together we watched the blood spreading from her head mingle with the water on the floor and turn into a bright, red halo.

The husbands walked in, laughing, and seeing us, asked what we were looking at. We spouses jumped. Then one spouse pulled out a cellphone and called 9-1-1. One burst into tears and one consoled the other. Another spouse hugged their husband and told him what happened. It was an accident, we said. Later, the husbands will think we're hiding something. But it happened just like we said. Only we didn't mention the long minutes we watched her dying on the floor. Or that we all thought, if it had been one of us, she would have poured herself another glass of wine. That was Georgie Ann.

BIO: Nikki Dolson's fiction is forthcoming or has appeared in Thuglit, Vignette Review, and the Red Rock Review. She occasionally tweets @nikkidolson and tumbles over at nikkidolson.com.