SEP 12, 2022


Hawthorne became Georgia's playground. They had sacrificed plenty to survive the first couple of months. Stan worked hard and turned their lives around. By the next summer, Stan had been promoted, and with a better income, they experienced their first taste of hobbies. Stan's first hobby was to restore the International to its former glory. He loved that truck, having served him dutifully from Hardin to his new job. He had no intention of ever giving it up, regardless of the fortunes ahead.

Dutifully, he bought his father a new truck and spoiled Georgia with a sleek new maroon Thunderbird. His hobbies extended to golf. A budding handicapper, he had found his Saturday mornings and sometimes Sundays were taken by this new game.

Georgia however did not take to golf, preferring to explore the creative side of Los Angeles. She explored the city, seeking a career, success ever so fleeting. She knew how to bake and had managed a bakery once, but with the owners unwilling to commit to her on a long-term basis, she had left, recognizing the dead end. It had sunk.

They rarely headed up north to Hardin, and when they did, they barely spent a weekend. Outside of family, Hardin offered them little. One contentious winter, Georgia was compelled to submit to Stan, who was keen on spending Christmas in Montana. He had missed it and was not always happy with their short stays. Georgia on the other hand was not happy spending it there, the rural setting was no longer her thing. Stan, sensing her downturn, pacified her with a trip off the continent, defaulting to Hawaii, an idea they had picked off the magazines. She had loved it, and hula'd her way back to smiles, which was good for Stan, given that their next transition was coming, and he would need a happy Georgia. He was considering buying a home. Stan was brooding, keen on starting a family. Georgia, however, was not.

The afternoon they came home from Hawaii, a moving truck appeared up the cul-de-sac, to the long-vacated duplex. Finally, tenants, for the Nortons, new neighbors. Stan, seated on the porch with a panting Felton watched curiously as the movers unpacked the new family's belongings. Did Stan see a golf set?

“You should not be snooping, Mr Norton,” he heard Georgia humorously admonishing him, as she brought out a jug of lemonade with two glasses on a tray.

She sat next to Stan and together, they sleuthed.

As Georgia busied herself with housework the next morning, Felton ran growling towards the door. Moments later, the doorbell rang. He started barking, energetically wagging his tail.

“Hush Felton,” she commanded.

She cracked the door ajar, only to be greeted by pale skin underneath a ball of auburn hair.

“Hi, I'm Cora. Cora Harrison. We are your new neighbors…”

Cora's East Coast accent came across strong, slightly amusing Georgia, who had worked on diminishing her Montana drawl for a more common West Coast accent.

“Come in, Cora,” she offered, opening the door.

Felton spilled out, rushing past Cora, keen to be out in the yard and not stuck in the house.

The set was thus created. Georgia and Cora became partners in crime, and one lunch later, Stan and Rob were making golf plans, exploring the stock market and football.

*  *  *

Cora's world had changed as Mrs. Harrison. The untimely death of Mr. Rowan had prompted Rob to explore moving out west in search of greener pastures. Cora, ever so doubtful, agreed to move across the country, not that she had much of a choice. Rob had so far been right about everything. Their young marriage had proven itself. Rob had tutored Cora, encouraged her to finally finish high school, taught her basic accounting, enrolled her in community college, and now, she was a step higher than the clerical roles she so desired. She worked at a bank, and not in the secretarial pool, but as a teller. Immensely proud of herself, and grateful to Rob, the growth fuelled her expectations, challenging herself to greater achievements and greater roles.

Together, Cora and Georgia explored the city in her Thunderbird. For Rob, with Cora having a new friend, the transition seemed easier. He almost immediately found work, but she would remain out in the cold for a fair bit. She never minded. As long as she was not a waitress, or in a tiny room in a boarding house, she was content.

Every other day, the two escaped to the beach. Georgia loved the ocean, enjoyed swimming, and everything that involved sitting out in the sun. Cora on the other hand preferred to sit it out, preferring to sit in the shade. Her pale skin was not for the sun, and besides, she had spent far too many years of her previous life working by the docks.

As time passed, Rob saw a change in Cora. She seemed relaxed. Rob debated if the move had been good for their marriage. He was becoming wary of Georgia's freewheeling ways, which was not what he wanted for Cora. To him, Georgia was far too wild, outspoken, vivacious, a handful, for which he pitied Stan.

Worse, Cora was slowly beginning to emulate Georgia, and he worried that this could be their undoing. Georgia might help Cora unravel the facade of confidence he had designed for himself around his wife. It wouldn't do.

The buttoned-down Cora was the one he loved. She overlooked his faults, yet accepted criticism without question. Besides, she wanted to better herself, he argued. It was for her own good. He did not need Cora to become a sluggard, or worse, carefree like Georgia. While talking to Stan might have solved the problem, Rob held his tongue, realizing that his approach might unravel everything, and perhaps, damage his friendship.

Stan on the other hand brooded for far too long. He reasoned that while fun was fun, it was time to start a family. Their finances were secured, and their families back home lived fairly well now, so he did not see the point of waiting any longer. Georgia on the other hand also wanted children, but not at that moment. At twenty-five, she figured a bit longer would not do them any harm. Stan was frustrated.

Success had brought both men mixed fortunes. Something would have to give.

* * *

Sandra, proud of her postal service, marched her route with eagerness. Having served as a messenger in the last war, the purpose of delivering messages had followed her home. She marched up and down the streets of Hawthorne, humming a joyous tune to herself, waving at people. Affixed to her lapel was her veteran's badge, proudly adorned and lovingly burnished every single morning. Sandra was proud of the small role she had played. She knew everyone, and everyone knew her. Everybody loved her.

As she posted the mail at the mailboxes on the cul-de-sac, she noticed smoke creeping from underneath the door of one of the houses. She imagined herself as being wrong, but the smell hit her. She ran up to the house and banged on the door. No answer. As she slowly cracked the door open, the smoke poured out.  Coughing, she dropped to her knees and crawled into the house, calling out, “Hello! Hello!” but again, there was no answer.

As she made her way to where she assumed the kitchen was, she knocked into a smoking metal bucket, that was gushing out smoke. Weird. She crawled out with it, set it on the lawn, and hosed it down, dousing the fire, while she caught her breath.

She walked back into the still smoky house, covering her nose and mouth with her elbow, her eyes tearing from the exposure.

“Hello!” she called out once again.

And again, she was met with silence. She could barely see anything, but down the hall, she saw two bare feet, sticking out of the bedroom door.

“Are you OK?”

Slowly, she made her way down the hall, glimpsing herself in the mirror, as the smoke started to clear out. It all happened in a flash. A red liquid streak splashed the mirror, spreading out to the wall, and confusing Sandra. Surprised, she looked again, to see the knife sliding across her throat. The pain surprised her, and as the knife was plunged into her back, and she felt herself go limp.

She tumbled to the floor, her body seizing up as she bled all over the carpet. Her face was close to the feet. She could see the body, but not her assailant.

The last image she would ever see would be those feet.

Sandra’s body convulsed at the last beat of her heart.

Bliss was over.