by Alan H Bush
Wellington first saw the greenhouse in the back of the National Geographic. The tiny picture wasn’t much but the listed dimensions looked like they would just fit the back corner of his wife’s garden. It would be the perfect anniversary gift as she loved her garden and often entered a state of rapture as she deadheaded the pansies or repotted one of her precious begonias.
Wellington was not much of a gardener himself but he did the mowing and heavy digging when necessary. He was more likely to enjoy piecing together a brick walkway out of antique brick scraps he’d scrounged from work or repairing a fountain.
That night after he’d given Marjorie a kiss good night as he was drifting into a deep slumber he realized in twenty-seven years of marriage he’d never purchased his wife a gift that cost more than a few hundred dollars. It wasn’t all his fault; his wife was the analytic type and worked to keep track of every penny and they’d had a long-standing agreement to discuss any purchase over seventy-two dollars. He was disappointed but he rejected the thought of the greenhouse.
Several days later when Marjorie was gathering old magazines to take to the local assisted living facility Wellington rescued the National Geographic saying something about wanting to finish the article on American Imperialism during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.
That very night Wellington woke from a sound sleep. He knew how he could buy the greenhouse without his wife knowing. He would slip their passbook from its hiding place and on his way to work he would withdraw enough for the purchase and not write it down. Then he would purchase a money order so Marjorie wouldn’t be missing any checks from the book she kept so meticulously. The worst argument he’d ever had with Marjorie occurred twenty years before when they were overdrawn and had to pay the bank a $37 dollar service fee because he wrote a check for an oil change in his work truck and didn’t write it down. Surely he could have the small building and erect it long before the quarterly savings account statement arrived. After all, it was only eight feet long by six feet wide.
Wellington was not a patient man and he wanted to keep Marjorie’s special gift a secret. He knew she’d love it, as she’d admired greenhouses owned by her friends in the gardening club. But he needed to know before he withdrew this money if the dimensions of the greenhouse would actually fit the corner of the garden and still leave room for the neighborhood’s setbacks from the property line for all sheds and outbuildings. So he slipped from the marital bed into his slippers and quietly went to the garage to get his metal Stanley Tape measure Margorie had purchased for him just last Christmas.
He went into the kitchen and pulled out a small penlight that Marjorie kept for power outages. He then studied the picture from the classified section of the National Geographic. He wanted to situate the building perfectly. It must catch all the available sunlight in the winter, when the snow was deep, so Marjorie could enjoy her plants and get a good start growing flowers from seeds and propagate her plants in the spring.
The more he thought about it the more this greenhouse idea appealed to him. So still in his pajamas he unlocked the door and slipped into the backyard. He thought if his wife heard him and she got up to see what was happening he’d say he thought he heard Patches, their cat, in a fight.
Fifteen minutes later when he slipped back into the house he checked on his wife and she was still sound asleep. This was the perfect opportunity to phone the company’s 24-hour-toll-free number and get the exact amount he would need for the money order he would purchase from the bank later that day. Finally just before he slipped back into bed he remembered to get out the savings passbook from its hidey-hole behind the loose brick in the fireplace and he slipped it inside the National Geographic he’d take to work for his lunchtime reading.
As he was climbing back into bed, Marjorie was mustering herself to visit the powder room. Wellington had to hurry and he just made it without her noticing. Congratulating himself as he didn’t like lying to Marjorie and he wasn’t good at it.
The next morning Wellington was in a most excellent mood and that surprised Marjorie as it was Monday morning and he didn’t like his job at the building department. He especially didn’t like his secretary as she was a younger divorced woman with two children and not in the least conscientious.
After Wellington ate his morning cinnamon-and-raison bagel with marmalade and a Fugi apple sliced into four precise sections, as was his habit, he picked up his magazine and tottered off to work. This was also unusual because he left twenty minutes early and he forgot to give Marjorie her morning peck on the cheek. She dismissed it thinking that even though Wellington could be loving and tender he was getting a little forgetful.
Later in the morning as Marjorie was vacuuming her textured concrete floors she noticed some black dirt in the small sunroom. This was quite strange as she was careful not to track in dirt and she’d trained Wellington during the first five years of their marriage to always wipe his feet. In fact this might have been the one thing she had been able to reinforce in Wellington. He was incorrigible. He still drank orange juice right from the carton and forever put his feet up on the furniture while he watched one of his teams playing with one of the round balls or more often the pointy ball. These things were the bain of her existence. Why couldn’t Wellington be more like her cat?
Then when Marjorie was slipping off the sheets to do the laundry she found more traces of black dirt at the foot of the bed. Most unusual. So she examined Wellington’s slippers and there in the stitched crease she found traces of the dirt.
She pondered the dirt and later as the laundry was spinning out and she was having her mid-morning tea she followed Patches out into the yard. The only place there was any fresh dirt was in her garden where she’d been planting marigolds. And sure enough in the back corner of her garden where there was fresh-turned soil she saw the prints of Wellington’s slippers and from the pattern it looked as if he’d been dancing. And then, there off to the side was Wellington’s new tape measure in the grass still wet from the morning dew.
This was even more unusual. Her husband did not leave tools out where they would suffer the curse of corrosion. Especially not something with the delicate workings of the expensive Stanley tape she’d purchased for him at the holidays.
Marjorie sat down in her favorite adirondack chair and sipped her now cooling tea and puzzled over Wellington’s strange behavior. And then Patches jumped into her lap and distracted her
She wasn’t sure and so she decided to give Wellington a ringy-dingy during his lunch hour.
The phone rang for what seemed like forever and then the young divorcee answered. Marjorie could tell she’d been laughing but when she heard Marjorie’s voice she hiccoughed guiltily and then her voice changed. Most unusual. She then told Marjorie that Wellington could not come to the phone as he was running an errand. Impossible, she thought, for she ran every errand as she enjoyed the sense of complete control it gave her over well, absolutely everything.
So Marjorie, who loved a good mystery, sat down and began to ponder but soon lost interest as Patches was so charming playing with the hem of her gardening apron, the one with the stitched voles frolicking across the front.
In the middle of the night Wellington woke from a nightmare. He had sent in the money and replaced their passbook behind its brick but he had failed to get a building permit. How could he, a life long believer in rules, licenses and permits, work at the building department and purchase a non-refundable outbuilding for the yard and not apply for a permit? It was unthinkable. He would surely become a building department pariah. Why he could lose his position and at his age who would hire him? Who indeed. But Wellington was stuck. If he presented Marjorie with an expensive greenhouse in a box and then could not erect said structure he would feel impotent beyond belief. And Marjorie would not soon, if ever, let him live it down.
Wellington lay there in a cold sweat. There had to be an answer. If he had a friend in the department he could call in a favor but there was no one he trusted. In fact he suspicioned many of his coworkers didn’t like him. And to this point, besides his secretary, he’d been able to avoid most of them by never going near the dreaded water cooler. He prided himself on not wasting anyone’s time communicating in person but always by precise memo.
Then just as he was about to give up it hit him. He would do an immaculate job on the foundation and the greenhouse and no one could fault him. Besides if he was ever caught it would be easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
He rolled over, an unusual phenomenon for Wellington, and just as he was drifting off he sat bolt upright. His back ramrod straight. There was a flaw. What if a neighbor reported him? He didn’t know any of his neighbors but the department often received complaints that led to stop-work orders. It happened all the time. But how could they if they did not catch him in the act? And so Wellington came to realize that to keep it a secret from everyone he must build it at night. After all it was at the far end of the garden and how often did Marjorie ever go there?
Wellington looked over at his dear wife and she looked to be sound asleep. He got up and as quietly as he could he got his clothes and silently stole from the house.
He assured himself of the positioning of the greenhouse, measured it out insuring that the corners were square and his lines were plum. And he began to dig the foundation as quietly as he could.
As he dug he imagined how Marjorie would glory in his present. How surprised she would be. For once in his marriage he would have done something meritorious. Something grand. And it was a grand gesture, something…
At that moment it became clear to Marjorie. Wellington was having an affair with his secretary and he could only be digging a grave. Her grave. And so she picked up her garden ax and cleaved his right side from his left.
You see, Wellington woke Marjorie when he rolled over and the sheet moist from his perspiration made her realize that this mystery was deeper and more sinister than she had thought. So she carefully followed Wellington and watched as he laid out her grave
It was too much to bear. Here she had sacrificed and given up her dream of having a family and Wellington was going to run off with that young divorcee and her children. He would leave her there in that house to rot. No, she was made of sterner stuff, so she got the ax and introduced Wellington to her stronger side.
Marjorie realized the next day when she got up and Wellington wasn’t by her side for the first time in 27 years that something was wrong. It all had to be a bad dream. She got her coffee and Patches and went to the bottom of the garden and she found first the right half of Wellington and then his left. They were side by side in that cursed grave. She dropped her cup and Patches gave a yowl of accusation and scratched her arm as she jumped down.
It took time but Marjorie was a practical woman. Wellington was going to kill her. The grave and all the other suspicious activities were enough to prove it. She had done what she was forced to do; kill Wellington before he could kill her. And so she buried his body in the hole. It took most of a day but she disguised the fresh soil by covering it with her mulch pile.
At midmorning Wellington’s secretary phoned, that bitch, and it was quite simple, as she was a good liar, to tell her that Wellington was sick and he would not be in for a few days.
As the hours stretched to days and the days to a week Marjorie kept her mind off Wellington by repotting her houseplants and reassuring Patches. On Friday Wellington’s check was deposited automatically. This made her happy.
The weather over the weekend was wonderful for being outside but on Monday a truck pulled into their driveway. Marjorie heard the heavy vehicle and went to the gate to redirect the driver. The driver was adamant that he was in the right place but Marjorie didn’t believe him until she saw the dimensions of the greenhouse.