THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE
Bill Mahaney's wife didn't come out of the travel agency after an hour, he
decided to go in after her. He was tired of sitting in the car in the
parking lot. It was chilly, and every now and then he had to start the
engine to warm up. But when he went in, stood near the door and looked
around for her, he didn't see her. It was a small place and he ought to
have been able to spot her immediately, so he approached the first desk
and asked for her.
see where Mrs. Mahaney went?" he asked the neat redhead who was sitting
there diddling with the keyboard of her computer.
wife, Martha Mahaney. She came in to buy a ticket about an hour ago. A
ticket to Philadelphia."
redhead got up. "She didn't talk to me. Wait, I'll ask the other
clerks." Bill admired the rear view as she walked away. She came back
shaking her head. "Nobody by that name has been in here this afternoon,"
just stared at her. Finally he said, "What are you talking about? I
watched her open the door and walk in." He beckoned the young woman over
to the window and pointed. "That's my car there, that white Bonneville.
You can see it's facing your door in the first row." He looked at her and
frowned. "I watched her come in here, and I never saw her come out."
shrugged. "Maybe she got past you while you were daydreaming or
something. Why don't you check some of the other shops in the mall? I'm
sorry." She turned and walked back to her desk. Mahaney stared at her for
a full minute and then left. It was the only explanation that made sense
— Martha must have gone into another shop.
hadn't. Bill went up and down the mall, walking into, around, and out of
each of the shops, asking at the smaller places, pacing the aisles of the
larger ones. Martha was nowhere. After about two hours he'd had enough.
"What the hell!" he said, the emotions of concern and irritation
contending in him. Could she have gone home without him somehow? He
found a public phone booth and called — the kids ought to have gotten home
from school by now.
had. Billy answered.
dad, pal. Is your mother home?"
so," his son said. "Mom?" he yelled. Bill could hear someone answer from
somewhere else in the house. Then Billy came back on. "Yeah, do you want
to talk to her?"
Bill said, "No, I'll be right home." He hung up. Twenty minutes later
the Bonneville rolled to a stop in his driveway and Bill Mahaney got out.
Billy was in the front yard playing catch with his pal Donny from up the
street. "Is your mom home?" he asked.
Billy said, but Bill was already through the front door.
as he was in the hall he called, "Martha? Martha! Where are you?" He
tossed his cap onto the hallstand. "What's the idea of leaving me sitting
there in the parking lot at the mall?"
mall?" The voice came from behind him and he spun on his heel. "And
who's Martha?" Bill's heart skidded to a halt and then thumped loudly as
he stared at the petite brunette who had just come out of the living room
several seconds before Bill could get his voice to work. "Who the hell
are you?" he asked, "and what are you doing in my house? Where's Martha?"
are you talking about, and who's Martha?" she said, putting her hands on
her hips and cocking her head.
"Martha's my wife. She left me sitting in my car at the mall, and now you
show up." Bill looked around to see if this was a joke or something. Was
it his birthday? No. "Is this a trick or what?" he asked.
stop it." The strange woman approached him and put her hand out to touch
his chest, but Bill stepped back. "I'm your wife, and my name is Alicia.
You're the one playing a trick, aren't you? Cut it out. It's scaring
where's the grape jelly?" Bill's daughter Annie asked as she came out of
the kitchen door at the end of the hall. "I can't find it."
half-turned toward her. "Ann, come here." The twelve-year-old girl
approached. "Hi, dad," she said. "Have you seen the grape jelly?"
who is this?" Bill pointed at Alicia. His daughter gave him a quizzical
a game?" she said.
game. Who is this?"
heaven's sake," Alicia said and started to leave.
Bill said. "Annie?"
mom, of course. Quit it, dad."
strode to the front door, opened it, and called, "Billy, come in here a
on," Billy told his friend and came running to the stoop. "What's up,
stepped aside and pushed his son into the hall. "Who is that woman?" he
asked pointing to Alicia.
looked at her then at his father. "That's mom," he said. "Naturally."
He hesitated for a moment before he turned and ran back out the door to
resume playing catch.
does it," Bill said. He brushed past Annie and went into the kitchen. He
was dialing 911 when Alicia caught up with him.
are you doing?" she asked.
the cops," he said. "I don't know who you are, and I don't know what
you've done to Martha and my kids, but I'm going to find out."
didn't try to stop him. "Oh, Bill," she said. "What's happened to you?"
She began to cry.
squad car to 56 Soter Road," Bill said into the mouthpiece. "Domestic
dispute." And he hung up. The police were out in front and knocking on
the door inside six minutes.
going on, folks?" the sergeant asked. He stood in the kitchen with his
partner and looked around, puzzled. "Doesn't seem to be much action
here. What's the matter, ma'am?"
him," Alicia said wiping her eyes.
pointed at her where she sat on the tall stool. "She's done something
with my wife. She's missing. I think she's been kidnapped." Annie stood
by the sink staring at him. Billy was in the doorway to the hall doing
wife." Alicia said. "I don't know what's going on."
sergeant hesitated. "Kids?"
our mother," Annie said. Billy nodded.
done something to them, too. My wife's name is Martha and she says hers
is Alicia." Bill was trembling with anger, deeply frowning.
for some I. D." the sergeant said. "We'll start with you, mister."
took the wallet out of his hip pocket and passed it to the officer who
held up his hand.
out your driver's license and pass it to me," he said. "Where's yours,
went to get her purse. She came back with her license and a framed
photograph. She gave both to the policemen who passed the articles back
and forth between them.
William Mahaney?" the sergeant said to Bill.
nodded. So did Annie and Billy.
you're Alicia Mahaney?"
way!" Bill shouted. "She's no Mahaney."
how do you explain this?" the officer asked and passed Bill the
looked at it and boggled. It was a wedding picture of Alicia and himself
standing in front of the family's church. "It...it's fake," he said at
last. "It's got to be fake." He put his hand to his forehead and found
he was sweating profusely. What was happening to him?
sergeant handed the picture and her license back to Alicia, and the other
officer gave Bill his license back. "Listen, mister, you need some help.
This is your family." Turning to Alicia, "I'd get him to a doctor if I
were you. Come on," he said to his partner, "we'll write it up. See you
folks," and he headed up the hall tousling Billy's hair on the way by.
The other cop followed as did Bill. After he had closed the door behind
them he went into the living room and sat down in an armchair. How could
he disbelieve the photograph and his own children? But he missed Martha
something terrible. He was filled with anguish for her fate. He moaned
and began to weep.
family gathered around his chair to comfort him. "It's okay, dad," his
daughter said. His son patted his arm. Alicia stood behind him, put her
arms around his neck and kissed him on the ear.
sighed, but there was something funny about Billy's hand resting on his
arm. Bill looked up. He didn't recognize the boy who was standing there,
and the girl beside him was a stranger, too. "Annie!" he said in a
strangled voice. But the girl just looked at him with her big blue eyes.
"Billy! What's happened to you?"
is Joe, dad, you know that," he said. "And that's Elizabeth," pointing to
his sister. "Lizzie the lizard. You're scaring us, dad. What's the
could only sit and listen to his heart racing. "Come with me," Alicia
told him. She came around and took his hand. "Let me put you to bed.
Take it easy." She smiled. "We love you and we want you to get better."
you've been working too hard, right, mom?" Elizabeth said.
sure that's it."
looking at them. He sat like that for a long time.
Copyright © 2009 Lewis Turco