Never Asked

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the importance of asking questions. It might, just possibly, be a matter I’ve given some thought to in the past.

Never Asked

If Carla had ever asked, I’d have told her everything. I’d have told her about feeling invisible, about wishing someone would listen to me. I’d have confessed to resenting her success and how it made me feel even more insignificant.

I’d even have told her how strange it was seeing a married man. On one hand, I liked being part of our two-person conspiracy. It felt cozy, inclusive. I found I enjoyed sneaking around. The longer it went on, the bigger my thrill at keeping it a perfect secret. For once, I’d found an advantage to never being noticed.

On the other hand, I knew it was all illusion. No matter what a tingle I got in my toes (or anywhere else) when he looked in my eyes, there was only so much time for talking. It never seemed to be about me. And if I needed an ear to listen or a shoulder for leaning on while he wasn’t around, I couldn’t exactly call him at home.

I couldn’t call Carla either. For all she was supposed to be my best friend, she wasn’t very good at it. Calling her to talk was like going to the desert for a drink.

“Darling!” she’d always say, “How-are-you-you’ll-never-guess-who-I-saw-yesterday…” And off she’d run, with hardly a pause long enough for me to say, “Yes,” “No,” or “Wow.”

As exciting as Carla’s life was, it would be nice if she–if anyone–had been willing to listen to me talk. It would have been even nicer if anyone ever asked me just one little question about myself.

The detectives who waited on my doorstep the afternoon after Jake’s murder asked lots of questions, even if they were about Carla, and they listened very well. I was nervous at first, but once I got over the shock of seeing them at my door, I was telling them everything.

I told them about growing up with Carla, how she always knew just what she wanted. For the first time, I told someone that I’d thought she was crazy. Poor girls like us don’t get to meet the kind of people she was always talking about, much less become them. I’d never managed to tell her that, but my opinion hadn’t mattered. She’d done it anyway.

She married Jake straight out of junior college. I’d heard all about the dozens of favors she called in to get herself invited to the Wallace’s holiday party, just as she’d told me over and over about everything they said to each other every time they met. I’d heard Jake’s side of the story, too, just once. I shared with the detectives my opinion that she’d worn him out. He’d known she wasn’t going to give up, so he’d given in and married her.

Detective Sanchez, a tall woman who leaned forward to catch every word, laughed out loud. Detective Browning looked up from his notes and let his brown eyes twinkle just for me before asking me to go on. I did. I warmed to my story.

I told them that Carla moved into the society of judges, lawyers and fundraisers with relish. I’d heard about every new “conquest,” every new house that opened to her, but I only shared a few. After the first dozen or so, they’d gotten boring. I expected the detectives wouldn’t be as impressed as I’d been.

They were certainly interested when I talked about Carla’s disappointments. She’d picked Jake for his past, assuming his future would be just as brilliant. But Jake was…well, not lazy, but not ambitious either. Sure, Carla was pushy enough for two, but her getting Jake elected to the U.S. Senate would still have required that he work for the seat. Jake didn’t care enough to do that, or to aim for CEO of Wallace Industries or any other title Carla wanted to be married to. To him, being a Wallace meant he didn’t have to work.

Carla prodded as far and as often as she felt she could, but her position was shaky. She hadn’t been persuasive enough to get out of signing a prenup. If Jake divorced her, she’d have nothing. She’d be just like me again. No one would pay her any attention.

I wanted to see the look in Detective Browning’s eyes when I told them that Carla had thought that Jake was having an affair, but aside from quick glance at me and his partner, he kept his head down. He was scribbling too fast to look up. Detective Sanchez hung on everything I said, though, and kept asking questions.

I might have gone a little far at that point. Telling them that Carla had confided that she was thinking about having Jake followed was one thing. Telling them she’d planned to ask him to meet her at her grandfather’s old farmstead to talk it over wasn’t so bad either. They already knew she’d turned the place into a weekend retreat. But when I told them about the hidden dry well she used to use for storing her little childhood treasures, they were on their feet almost immediately.

Detective Sanchez pumped my hand. She told me I’d done the right thing by telling them. Detective Browning thanked me softly and asked whether I’d be willing to testify to everything. I nodded. Even if my throat hadn’t gone dry with all the unaccustomed talking, I’d have been speechless with him looking down at me like that. Then they left, their tires not quite squealing.

I wasn’t surprised. Jake had been found at the old farmstead, and the gun used to shoot him hadn’t been recovered yet.

They found the gun in the dry well, and Carla was charged and brought to trial. Experts described the scene. They played Carla’s 911 call, in which she’d said she’d found Jake already dead when she arrived. She barely mentioned Jake, talking instead about how horrible it was for her to find a body. I was impressed with the dispatcher. She was the first person I’d ever heard interrupt Carla.

Then it was time for me to repeat everything I’d told the officers. Having them hanging on my words had been heady, but facing a courtroom full of rapt listeners was almost too much. I’d never had so many people look at me at once. I wanted to hide. Only the knowledge the Carla had to listen to me for a change kept me talking.

Of course, she had to interrupt. When I got to the point in my story where Carla had confided that she thought Jake was having an affair, she stood up and shouted, “Liar! Jake wasn’t seeing anyone else. Tell them the truth. He loved me!” On and on she went. The judge tried to shout her down, but shutting Carla up takes work. Finally her attorney yanked hard enough on her arm that she almost fell to the floor. While she was recovering, the judge threatened to have her removed if she interrupted again.

Carla sat quietly but with a mutinous expression through the rest of my testimony. She didn’t challenge any of the next five witnesses, who provided ample evidence to suggest Jake was cheating. She closed her eyes during the testimony on the gun. It had been her grandfather’s, stored at the farmstead.

Once the prosecution rested, everyone turned to Carla. But she didn’t testify. Her mother did, prattling about how well Jake treated Carla and how much they loved each other. A couple of society friends testified that Carla had never mentioned Jake’s affair–and that it was perhaps the only thing she’d never told them about herself. The prosecutor undid the defense’s progress by getting them to admit that they’d been avoiding Carla’s calls for years. Then the defense rested.

There was a break before final arguments, and everyone was abuzz that Carla hadn’t testified. I understood, though. If I’d been her attorney, I wouldn’t have wanted her going on and on about herself on the stand. If her friends couldn’t take it anymore, how could it possibly endear her to the jury?

In the end, it didn’t matter. The jury barely deliberated before returning a guilty verdict. Second-degree murder.

Carla spun to look at me. “Liar!” She was screaming this time. “I didn’t kill him! Tell them! Tell them I didn’t kill him!” She was still screaming as they dragged her away. “Liar!”

Even then, it never occurred to her to ask about me. She never thought to ask why. I’d have told her, I think, if she’d only shown a little curiosity about why I lied. I’d rather have talked about me than about her anyway.

Even if she’d asked me on the stand, I’d have told her about Jake, about thinking I’d finally found someone who was interested in me. I’d have told her how it felt to discover I was wrong. Jake was happy to sleep with me, but he didn’t want to hear about my life. He only wanted me to listen, just like Carla.

The final straw came when he started complaining to me about Carla. With everything I knew about their lives, the rest–killing Jake, framing Carla–was easy. All I had to do was talk. And for once, everyone wanted to listen.

Except Carla. She never asked.

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4 Responses to “Never Asked”

  1. September 25th, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    Another great story, Steph, and as usual it comes with your special twist.

    It took me years to learn how to listen, and it finally came with training on the “how-to” part, one of the fringe benefits of a support group. The hard part, still, is remembering that other half of the conversation. I still need someone to listen to me. The questions just show that what you are saying matters to the other person. The stereotype is women listening raptly to men in order to impress them. But there is nothing so seductive in a man – nothing! – as being able to listen!

  2. September 26th, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Lou FCD says:

    Bravo. I was completely blindsided.

  3. September 27th, 2009 at 7:00 am

    trog69 says:

    Despite the see-through plot I liked how the author kept me interested in the protagonist and her situation. Nicely done.

  4. September 28th, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Thank you all, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that I got a mix of “no idea” and “transparent” comments on this.

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