Her Husband’s Secret

Her Husband's Secret

Illustration: Inkshark

fiction by Glynis Scrivens

Celine stumbled upon Anders’s secret identity by chance.

He’d always been a creature of habit. Lunching at the same café. Driving home along the exact route. Holidaying in the same seaside resort.

Now it seemed he’d achieved the impossible. He was also doing this somewhere else.

The letter in her hand was addressed to Lars Hansen.

She’d noticed subtle changes recently. Uncharacteristic mistakes and things left unexplained. Anders organized his wardrobe methodically, shirts arranged by color, no sock missing its partner. Yet she’d searched the house without finding his blue checked shirt. And yesterday he’d mentioned a new exhibit at the Art Gallery. When he noticed her blank expression, he quickly changed the subject.

When this letter arrived, Celine realized something was going on. But what? How could she find out? Would she open the letter?

The name Lars Hansen rang a bell. She’d heard it recently—or had she seen something on Facebook? As she looked at the letter, it felt like the missing piece of a puzzle.

Impossible, said part of her brain. Have a Scotch and forget it.

That explains everything, said another part of her brain.

Which would she listen to?

It was ten to six. Anders would be nearly home. She had less than a minute to decide.

Quickly she grabbed her handbag, placed the letter exactly where she’d found it, and ran out the door. She reached the bus shelter and hid behind it just as his gray Ford swung into their street. She’d pretend she’d caught the later bus.

Watching Anders arriving home, Celine felt a new sense of detachment. Who was this man she’d lived with for the past ten years? It was like watching someone she no longer knew.

Just because of that letter.

Which she hadn’t even opened.

I should’ve had the Scotch, she thought. Shivering.

And she should’ve read the letter.

Lights went on inside the house.

Finally the next bus drew in. Several passengers spilled out onto the footpath, and Celine joined them.

Inside, Anders offered her a cup of tea. The mail was on the kitchen table. Electricity bill. Junk mail. A postcard. Conspicuous by its absence was the letter addressed to Lars Hansen.

Celine’s heart fell. This confirmed her suspicions. Why had he hidden it?

She went through the motions that evening. Cooking fish, mashing potatoes, frying onions.

The next morning she pretended to sleep in. By 7:30 she knew Anders would be heading to the bank where he worked.

She logged into Facebook, but couldn’t find any clues about Lars Hansen. She carefully searched the living room. The letter wasn’t there. She even ventured into the forbidden realm of Anders’s study. Nothing.

There weren’t many options left. Today was Thursday. That meant he’d work late. But what if he did something else on Thursdays?

Celine decided to follow Anders, despite the heavy traffic.

At the bank, she noticed Anders’s car in its usual parking space. At precisely nine o’clock, the bank opened. At 12:30 he emerged, crossed the street, and went to the café opposite.

After he’d returned to the bank, she spent the afternoon in the café. At five o’clock, he left. Abandoning her coffee, she followed. He was on foot. She’d have to be careful.

Three blocks away he stopped outside an apartment building. Intrigued, Celine watched him let himself in.

He didn’t need to drive here so there was no extra mileage on the car and no extra gas costs. You had to credit him; he was clever.

A young man wearing a leather jacket approached the apartments. She followed him inside, giving a friendly nod. She’d seen people get into buildings this way on TV. The secret was to act normally.

It worked.

The elevator had stopped at the eighth floor. That’s where she’d begin.

A loud argument could be heard as the elevator doors opened on the eighth floor. Anders’s voice unmistakable. “How did you get this address?” he shouted.

A woman whimpered.

The sound of a slap.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lars.”

Celine had heard enough.

Moments later a door opened. A blonde in a dressing gown appeared. She rushed inside the elevator, holding her face. The doors closed, leaving Celine alone in the corridor, frozen with fear lest Anders aka Lars should suddenly appear.

Where was he? What was he doing? Would he hit her too, if he saw her?

She quietly moved to the open doorway. Anders had his back to her. He sipped a Scotch, the letter in his hand. From his position on the balcony he watched the pavement below.

Her speed surprised Celine. Arms outstretched, she hurtled through the room, using every ounce of her strength to push against Anders.

The impact winded her. And was ineffectual. As he turned, the sneer on his face changed to shocked disbelief.

“Your secret’s out,” Celine said.

His hands moved toward her. The fire of menace in his eyes.

She didn’t wait. One hard blow caught him off-guard. As she jerked one of his legs up, realization turned to terror in his eyes.

“No,” he screamed, falling backwards over the railing. She deftly snatched the letter from his flailing hands.

The temptation to watch was overwhelming, but she must get away quickly.

Running up the stairs in the fire escape, she entered the elevator on the eleventh floor, hoping to avoid any connection with the commotion on the eighth floor. There were several tenants in the elevator. Nobody seemed aware there’d been a calamity.

It was a different story on the ground floor when the doors opened. Screams. Rushing figures. Urgent voices on phones.

Celine quietly slipped out and walked to the bank, heart pounding. Making herself walk at normal speed, the letter in her pocket the only evidence linking her to the crime.

Anders’s car sat in the parking lot. It was 5:30. She must go home. Pretend everything was normal. But first she sat in her car and finally read the letter. To her surprise, it was a bank statement. In Lars Hansen’s name. She read through his expenses. Restaurants, cinemas, and the art gallery. It must’ve been easy for him to set up this account. But somehow he’d made a mistake. The letter had come to their address. Typical of Anders, he’d blamed the woman. But more likely he was the culprit.

No wonder he’d been angry. This letter exposed his deceptions.

As she drove home, she tore off tiny pieces of the letter, dropping them out the window.

Anders normally arrived home at eleven o’clock on Thursdays. She must stick to her own routine. Dinner, TV, phone her mother, and in bed by ten. She’d be accountable for her actions later.

As she lay in bed, wondering when to report him missing, the front doorbell rang. For one awful moment she wondered if he could’ve survived the fall. Come back to exact revenge.

Heart pounding, she wrapped herself in a toweling robe and padded outside.

Two policewomen stood on the front landing. The younger asked if they could come inside.

“There’s been an accident,” the older officer began. She told her of Anders’s fall.

“I’m afraid we’ll need you to identify his body.”

Celine’s first sensation was relief. She was careful not to show that. But she was puzzled. Why were the police here? Wasn’t it Lars Hansen who’d been killed? That’s what eyewitnesses from the apartments would’ve said. Shouldn’t the blonde be the one identifying him? How had they traced Anders so quickly?

She wasn’t left to wonder for long. “He’s my bank manager,” the younger officer said. “I recognized him immediately.”

Neither of them used the name Lars Hansen. And of course Celine couldn’t.

The shock she felt was genuine. This wasn’t what she’d expected.

Her distress at identifying him was also genuine. The police were satisfied it was an accident. Even the insurance company rubberstamped her payout.

Almost too easy, Celine thought. Unexpectedly she’d become wealthy.

The first jarring note came when the blonde approached her at Anders’s wake.

“I know what you did,” she said. “Give me half the insurance payout and you’ll never see me again.”

“Who are you?” she asked coldly. What she really wanted to know was what the woman had seen.

“Have it your way,” the woman said. “I’ll see you in court.”

Was this a serious threat? What evidence could she possibly have? Or was she bluffing? She must surely be as shocked as Celine to discover Lars aka Anders had been living two separate lives.

The woman needed to be silenced. Otherwise she’d contact her again. And again. Celine wasn’t prepared to pay. But she couldn’t contemplate cold-blooded murder either.

Luckily there were other options, now she was wealthy.

Inspired by her husband, she bought a seaside villa and adopted the name Ella Olsen. The local hairdresser transformed her into a brunette with short curly hair.

Sometimes Anders was right. It was easier to simply become someone else.

Glynis Scrivens writes short stories and has been published in Australia, UK, Ireland, South Africa, U.S., India, and Scandinavia. Her book Edit is a Four-Letter Word includes what she has learned in the process (see www.glynisscrivens.com).

This article originally appeared in the May 17, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.