This short story is inspired by the one-act play Trifles by Susan Glaspell.
Entering the dark, frosty room, Elaina Hale began to flashback to a life she had forgotten. Memories of a love she had forgotten filling her mind. The fireplace sat unlit, her breath coming out in a plume of smoke in front of her. She wraps her arms around herself.
“God, I haven’t been here in forever,” Elaina stated with trepidation.
“Well, there was good reason for that,” Her husband Lewis answers.
“I told one of my men to start the fireplace.” Henry Peters, the sheriff states, not really caring about what Elaina said.
“Here, in the bedroom.” George Henderson, County Attorney yells downstairs as he walks through the house inspecting each of the rooms for warmth.
“I prefer to stay here.” Abigail Peters, wife of Henry, says as she looks around the living room with a mixture of disturbance and appraisal.
“I’ll keep you company.” Elaina states.
“Are you sure you girls will be fine by yourselves, not going to get frightened now, are we?” Henderson teases as he chuckles to himself.
“We’ll be fine.” The girls state as the men make their way to the bedroom.
Looking around the small house Elaina notices different points of disarray. Dishes piled in the sink, trash overflowing from the trashcan, dust on every surface. The phone is off the hook. She frowns to herself as she goes to place it in its rightful spot.
“Do you believe what they are saying?” she asks Abigail.
“I don’t see how I cannot, all things considered.” Abigail replies as she brushes her fingers across a bookcase.
“When Lewis told me what he had seen I couldn’t believe it, the Minnie I know would never do such a thing” Elaina states as she walks around the room examining the photos on the wall the phone now in its rightful spot.
“Were you two close?” Abigail asks.
“We used to be…” she stated looking down and pausing. A sadness crosses her neighbor’s face Abigail had never seen.
Footsteps pound as the men traverse the staircase back down to the living room.
“You two have fun gossiping.” Henry taunted as the women’s conversation died down when the men reentered the room.
“So, is it true what happened?” Elaina asks choosing to ignore Henry’s comment as she moved to stand beside her husband who was beside the small worn-out couch.
“What we can tell so far is that John was strangled by a rope.” Henry states.
“Minnie already admitted that to me.” Butted in Lewis.
“She did not say that she strangled him though-“ states George “a very important distinction”.
“So, what are you looking for?” questions Abigail.
“Why evidence, of course, what else?” Henry scoffs while rolling his eyes subtly.
“What sort of evidence?” asks Elaina impatiently with a twinge on her face that signals displeasure.
“Why she did it”- George mumbles as he walks into the kitchen “what made her snap. You’d have to be pretty disturbed to do this”.
“Minnie is a terrific gal, she couldn’t have done this” Elaina insists desperately as she follows George into the kitchen.
“She’s never so much as gave me a cross look” Abigail adds now following the group into the kitchen.
“Well women become hysterical everyday”-Lewis argues back “they don’t know how to control their emotions”.
Elaina frowns at this, choosing to say nothing as she watches George pull a chair over to the kitchen cabinets, climb on top of it and feel atop the cabinets.
“What on earth are you doing up there?” implores Abigail.
“Looking for evidence, of cou- “he stops “Aha” he says as his hands make purchase with something metal. He gets a hold and pulls it down.
“A birdcage?” he questions seeing what he had uncovered.
“I didn’t know they had a bird” states Lewis.
“I haven’t seen one around here, have you?” Elaina ponders aloud.
Changing cabinet tops George begins to speak as he blindly explores “I haven’t eith-“ midsentence he stops pulling his hand back covered in a red goo. “What the fuck is this?” He snarls in disgust as he scrambles down the stepstool.
Stepping closer to inspect his hand Elaina says “it appears to be jam” raising her eyebrows while trying not to laugh.
George grumbles as he steps across the small kitchen to the sink. Only to become enraged when he discovers that there is no-running water.
“COME ON ARE YOU KIDDING ME” he yells in frustration, kicking a wash bucket across the room “That cow couldn’t keep a house you think she’d be dammed to make sure all the bills are paid” He exclaims as the men chuckle in agreement.
The women lock eyes sharing a look as he attempts to clean his hand with a nearby rag.
“Let’s just keep looking around okay, Georgia,” Lewis says, poking fun at George’s outburst.
The other men begin to chuckle again as they headed up the stairs once more with George sulking at the rear.
Waiting for a moment as to ensure the men were out of hearing range Elaina began to complain.
“To think they can come into a woman’s home, put it in shambles, and complain while doing so.”- she states frowning and walking back into the living room “Only men could be so rude”.
“It is part of their job in a sense…” states Abigail hesitantly as she follows Elaina and sits in a wooden rocking chair beside the couch. She notices a quilting basket next to the chair.
“She was making a quilt”-says Abigail attempting to change the subject as she picks up the basket and begins rifling through it.
“Oh, you’re no better” Elaina scoffs as she turns her back and begins examining books on the bookcase. A minute passes. She turns back to Abigail and gives up her façade of uninterest as she walks and sits on the couch next to the chair.
“Can you tell what she was planning?” Elaina asks.
“I’m not sure”- Abigail says as she notices a box that had been covered by squares of the quilt. She picks it up and gently shakes it before setting it on the coffee table.
The box is wrapped in ribbon with a beautiful intricate pattern on the outside.
“What is that?”- asks Elaina, studying the box “Do you think she meant for it to be there?”.
Abigail joins Elaina in examining the box. They once again share a look. No words must be said. The box shall be opened. Elaina gently gathers the box in her lap and starts undoing the ribbon. As she lifts the lid, she can see a piece of silk. She grabs the silk by one edge and pulls, and into the box comes the carcass of a bird.
“Oh my god” gasped Elaina putting the box on the coffee table as if it had burned her.
“What is it- “asked Abigail looking in the box and gasping herself.
“Its neck” chokes out Abigail in disgust.
“It was… It was… strangled” Elaina stutters.
They sit there in silence for a moment contemplating.
“Do you think…” Abigail begins before trailing off.
“No, no this was not Minnie. You didn’t know her before she met John. – “Elaina insists.
“She used to be so happy, so full of light and laughter. Every room she walked into she would brighten.” She looks down and smiles a private smile.
“What happened between you two?” Abigail questions as she begins to ponder some things herself.
“There was a time when we were best friends. Minnie and Elaina, Elaina and Minnie.” Elaina replies chuckling to herself “We were in show choir together, although Minnie has always been the real star. We did everything together, hell we even lived together. I thought we’d be Minnie and Elaina forever. But then” she begins trailing off “then she met John and things changed.” She frowns.
“Who could do such an evil thing you suppose then?” Abigail wonders aloud.
“You did not grow up around here, did you?” asked Elaina.
“Why no, I had never met Minnie until they brought her in yesterday.” Abigail replies.
“Then you did not know John. John Wright was a legend of his own around here.” Elaina ruefully replies.
“I’ve only heard good things?” Abigail questions.
“He doesn’t drink or smoke and always pays his debts on time but John has always been stern. I once heard him described as a ‘hard man’ and thought it was perfect. Some say he never completely came back from Korea” Elaina remarks.
“Minnie was like a bird in a way she was pretty and sweet but timid and fluttery, she has always needed someone to ground her so she wouldn’t fly into the sun. For a long time that was me. But then she met John and he clipped her wings so she couldn’t fly at all.” Elaina begins tearing up thinking about the past.
Abigail is stunned at her neighbor’s emotion. After all the years of their acquaintanceship she had never revealed any relationship with this woman. Certainly not one of this caliber. She stands and moves to awkwardly embrace the sitting Elaina.
“When I was a young girl, I had a kitten and this boy took an ax and” Abigail trails off trying to empathize “they did it right in front of my face and oh I was so mad I could have done something horrible” she ends now tearing up herself.
“I should have known something like this would happen, I should have stopped by and checked in even though we weren’t”- she pauses “friends” she continues ranting “anymore, I knew how John was. Us girls know. We have to stick together”.
“This isn’t your fault you had no way of knowing this would happen” Abigail soothes trying to calm her down.
“They never had children” Elaina wonders aloud “Minnie always dreamed of a big family but John, John was an impatient man, to say the least.”.
The footsteps above them begin to boom signaling the men nearing the stairs. Elaina quickly dries her eyes on her handkerchief and stuffs the bird back in its box before putting it back in the basket. The girls sit beside each other on the couch as if nothing unusual has occurred when the men walk back down the stairs.
“I see you gals did some investigating of your own” Henry drawls noticing the quilting basket has been moved.
The girls look at each other before Abigail replies “We were curious about what she was working on baby.”
“Maybe you could take her pattern to her so she has something to work on” Elaina suggests perking up slightly.
The men burst into laughter at the idea.
“That’s a great idea, while she’s at it she can quilt us some new blankets for the jail bunks” George exclaims while laughing.
Abigail frowns but moves to stand closer to her husband.
“Come on babe what’s a little lady going to do with a few quilt patterns” she says as she cozies up to Henry.
Henry envelops Abigail in a grope and stays there for a moment before giving her a big wet kiss on the mouth.
“Just for you doll I’ll see about giving the bat some of this stuff since y’all are best friends all of a sudden” Henry says eyeing Abigail with a lustful look.
“Thank you so much baby I’ll make it worth your while” says Abigail while smiling at her husband.
The men begin to make fun of their friend for giving in to his partner while walking outside.
“Grab that quilt shit will you doll” Henry calls from the threshold of the door.
“Sure, thing sweetie” she returns her back turned to him as she rolls her eyes.
Standing there in the living room the women looked at each other and a decision was reached although no words were said. Elaina took the box and hurriedly stuffed it in her coat pocket before taking one last look around the small house and smiling sadly.
“Thank you” Elaina said before walking and quickly embracing Abigail in a hug and leaving to join her husband.
So there Abigail stood in a living room of a woman she had never met knowing more about her life than she possibly could have imagined. She walked over to the ill-fated quilting basket, picked it up off the coffee table, and walked out the front door never to return.