Karen Cantwell

Karen Cantwell – Next Stop, Foggy Bottom


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Next Stop, Foggy Bottom

Copyright 2012, 2013

Athena Papas didn’t fall off the platform onto the tracks the way they reported it on the news. She was pushed.

How do I know?

Because I pushed her.

Then I watched happily as the screaming train crushed her thin, limp body like an empty aluminum can. It was a good day. And while she probably would not agree, I would say it was a good death. Not many people hated Athena as much as I did. Trust me, I had good reason, and not just because she’d been my boss. It was so much more. Every day during the ride from New Carrolton to Foggy Bottom, I listened to her blathering into her cell phone while she flipped through another edition of Washington Bride Magazine.

“We’re meeting with another caterer tomorrow,” she said one day. “The last company was a disaster. They were inexperienced and unorganized and kept trying to push the chicken on us.” She flipped another page and shook her head. “No. I don’t want chicken. Too common.” The pages kept turning and her glossy, painted lips flapped on. “And they don’t even do the cake. I want someone who does it all. Is that too much to ask?”

Blah, blah, blah. She made me sick with her crimson fingernails and milky skin. Her black hair as soft and shimmery as the surface of a calm lake on a summer’s day. Her pencil-thin waist and perfectly small, pretty feet. Sick, sick, sick.

The hum of the train on the rails, the gentle bobs and turns lulled my churning soul. Lights strobed in the tunnels while the PA announced stop after stop. Smithsonian. Federal Triangle. Metro Center. Finally, three stations later, they’d call it, “Next stop, Foggy Bottom.”

For other passengers, relief was in store. But not for me. She never stopped talking on that damn phone even as she stepped off the train and walked the four long blocks to the office of Hillard, Smithwick, and Rowe. “Mom,” she’d say. “I want you to meet Terry before the wedding. Come for Mother’s Day.” Then she’d laugh. “Wait until you see the diamond. It’s the size of Texas.” Her graceful arm would be crooked at the elbow, holding a fancy bag, while the diamond twinkled. Truthfully, she exaggerated. It was more the size of Vermont, but either way, it was big. Bigger than my all of my pathetic chips put together.

Then a full day at the office where she held the title of office manager, but played the part of office beauty queen. She probably would have worn a swim suit to work if allowed, just to add pizzazz to her already disgusting flirtations. “Oh, Mr. Hillard,” she’d coo to the hundred-something founding partner, “if I didn’t already have a fiancé…” On a daily basis, my mind simmered, figuring out ways to shut her up.

She would even talk to strangers on the underground platform at Foggy Bottom while waiting for the train home. “My fiancé,” she once told some bored lady in a gray suit and tennis shoes, “said I could have the wedding I wanted, so I’m making him keep his promise.” Her bleached white teeth gleamed when she smiled, her fancy bag dangling effortlessly from her arm while she tapped a lime green pointy toe. I never could have stayed upright in heels as high as the ones Athena wore. Black flats were more my style.

Once I decided to kill Athena Papas, I had to calculate the most effective method. I wasn’t very strong so I never would have been able to strangle her. Not even close. I couldn’t shoot a gun. Poisoning was out of the question. My options were limited. After following her for some time, it became obvious that the best plan would be to push her off the platform at Foggy Bottom. The trains there moved fast, the platform was quite high, and the crowds were big enough to make it look like an accident.

My problem was that Athena wasn’t in the habit of standing particularly close to the edge. She often hung back, chatting with some stranger or on her cell, waiting until the last minute when the train arrived, then relying on her beauty and the kindness of willing men to let her pass through the crowd. Irksome it was. But I had all the time in the world to be patient. I knew that one day, the time would be right.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait very long.

She must have been distracted by her own conversation. “But, Terry, sweetie, handsome man that you are,” she purred. “You don’t understand. I don’t care…what? Margaret? I don’t care about appearances. I want…hello? I said, I want my wedding my way!” She shook her head and tapped her foot. “Hello? Terry? I can barely hear you.” Her shiny tresses bounced around her shoulders like on a shampoo ad. “Terry, we’ll talk about this when I get…I don’t care about Margaret’s family. Who are they to me?”

Luckily, poor Athena was becoming increasingly frustrated. Her voice raised by octaves and decibels. She was inching closer and closer to the edge of that big, beautiful, dangerous platform at Foggy Bottom. I looked at the digital display that informed commuters of arrival times. The express train to New Carrollton would pass soon. Because it didn’t stop at Foggy Bottom, that thing would sail right through at breakneck speed.

The Fates were on my side. My time would soon come. So would hers.

Athena Papas would pay for what she had done to me.

For stealing my husband.

It happened at that office Christmas party, I know it. With her unblemished skin and her soft hair. Her fancy bags and her perfect teeth. She had everything that I didn’t, and he fell for it like a fat man on a tightrope. It didn’t matter that I loved and adored him. That I slaved for hours every Sunday making his favorite meal of roast lamb with orange marmalade sauce, fresh steamed, French-cut string beans, and mashed red potatoes with a four-layer, double-chocolate cake for dessert. That I washed his underwear, ironed his shirts, and remembered his mother’s birthday. None of that mattered to Terry, who I once called husband and now called The Devil. The man she called “sweetie, handsome man.”

I had practiced the push for weeks, building up the strength and the ability to get it just right. It wasn’t easy. There’s an immense learning curve to mastering the art of moving mass. Not all of us can do it. I needed the right amount of power to bump her skinny, taut body right over the edge, into the path of an oncoming train.

A heavy hum from the tunnel let me know the train was on its way. Lights on the platform blinked to warn passengers back. Athena was too engrossed in her own world. “Margaret is not my problem, I’m telling you—” Her eyes flashed with anger, her free arm waved about like marionette limbs on strings. “Not my problem!”

She didn’t know the train was there. She didn’t know I was there.

It wasn’t hard to access my own anger—the energy I needed to pull this off. It boiled endlessly within me like a desperate, churning volcano.
With the train in sight, I did the deed. Exactly as I had practiced time after time. One simple bump.

“Next stop, Foggy Bottom!” I shouted the words, rejoicing in the triumph.

Athena toppled, as if in slow motion. Her cell phone sailed high into the air. Her fancy bag fell to the platform, where it teetered helplessly on the edge. Time stood still as the lime green, glittery show of materialism seemed to struggle to hang on—as if it had a life of its own and did not want to die. Eventually the bag lost its fight. It tipped too far and fell onto the rails, just in time for the cars to slice them both like a hot knife through butter. Athena and her fancy bag. Dead. I wondered if the ring survived.

Then came screaming and mayhem. Not one person considered it anything but a tragic and unfortunate accident that this beautiful woman had tripped on her own tall, spiked heels at just the wrong time. No one noticed me at all.

For a moment, I almost felt sorry for her. I knew how it felt after all: to die. To have my life stolen from me when I was still so young. Of course, I was murdered by my own husband who wanted to be rid of me and, more importantly, needed the insurance money to marry his new, popular, prettier love named Athena Papas. Yes, Athena was the reason I was dead, so any empathy I might have experienced was fleeting at best.

When the dust settled and passengers were moved from the scene, Athena stood on the platform next to me in her new form. Confused, no cell phone, no fancy bag, she batted her long lashes at me.

“Margaret?” she asked. “I…I don’t understand.” She scanned the platform, as if looking for answers. A fireman passed right through her. She yelped. Her eyes reflected the fear I remembered so well when I discovered that my body and I were no longer one. When, from across the room, I first viewed my carcass sprawled on the hard tile of my kitchen floor while Terry scurried about, testing different locations on the floor to place the unused EpiPen I’d “dropped.” Wiping down the counters then placing one tiny shrimp in my bowl of leftover fried rice from Hunan Feast. I had no one there to greet me as I greeted Athena now.

“Down there,” I said, motioning to the bloody scene on the tracks. “That’s what you get, Athena Papas.” I was so pleased with myself.

“You did that to me?”

I smiled. She wasn’t as stupid as I thought. “What do you think? Not so pretty, is it? And your Terry, sweetie, handsome man—he’s next.”

Leaving Athena behind to contemplate her earthly demise, I found my way to Terry. We spirits move effortlessly, once we learn the ropes. Then I waited. I wanted to be there when the police rang the doorbell to notify Terry about this oh-so-tragic accident.

Later, at the kitchen table that was once mine, he sobbed uncontrollably. The tears he’d cried for me were only for show. When family and friends left the room, his eyes had dried faster than desert sand. It felt good to watch him suffer for real.

Fully intending to capitalize on my newfound power, I had planned to continue my reign of revenge, exacting a similar fate on the man whose bed I once shared, whose love I practically begged for. The man I despised even more than the wretched Athena Papas. But as I observed his obvious despair, it occurred to me that death would be too good for him. They would only end up in each other’s arms again.

No, I decided. Death would not suffice.

His suffering must be greater. Longer. Enduring.

And so it is.

Athena has found us now, but she’s weak. So very weak. All she does is moan.

Not me. I’m hard at work every day seeing to it that Terry the Murderer, Terry the Devil, Terry, Sweetie Handsome Man understands the true meaning of torment.

And when his doctors and family and psychiatrists don’t believe him when he tells them of the strange events that befall him—doors opening and slamming of their own accord, mugs shattering in his hands, knives flying through the air, narrowly escaping his throat, the endless wailing—I just laugh.

And the best part?

I know he hears me.

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About Karen Cantwell
Karen Cantwell usually writes humorous cozy mysteries. But she does have a habit of indulging in ghost stories now and then. Check out Keep Me Ghosted, a paranormal mystery. Sure it has a ghost, but it also has humor and romance. For lots of laughs, check out her Barbara Marr series, starting with Take the Monkeys and Run.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any to any person, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Cover Art: Copyright of individual shots: various artists via depositphotos.com