Illustration in Ladies Home Journal, June 1940
this looks like red has just this moment decided to murder grey’s husband
Evie had always been such a happy girl.
Josephine had never really understood it–the world had always seemed to her a serious place, disaster always lurking just around the corner. Perhaps it was because of the way she’d grown up, living hardscrabble with her mother and grandmother, her father having succumbed to the mustard gas in the war before she’d even made her appearance, leaving her with only her name and the color of her eyes to know him by. Perhaps it was just Evie’s sunny nature, that always looked for the best in people, that went through life with a song always on her lips.
Josephine had no sisters, and she didn’t have time for friends, but Evie had always been both to her. Both, and something more besides: something tender and precious, to be sheltered and preserved.
She’d had her misgivings, when Evie started walking out with the butcher’s son George. The old man was kind, true, but his son always seemed a little too eager with the cleavers, too pushy with the girls, too free with his hands.
Evie only saw the good in him. “He feels he has to put on a show with the other fellows, Jo,” she’d said, “but he always treats me nice. He wants to keep me like a fine lady, he says, all fancy like a jewel in a shop window. And he’ll have the shop, some day. He can keep a family. I think we can be happy together.”
It had hurt, somewhere inside behind her ribs, but Josephine had told herself she was being absurd. Of course Evie deserved it, the man and the shop and the family, all of it.
She had looked tiny and delicate and lovely, standing up beside George in her wedding dress, her hair shining nearly silver where the light hit it. After, Josephine had watched them walk away together and told herself she was crying because she was happy.
She didn’t see Evie again for a while, but that wasn’t such a surprise; Evie was a new bride with a home to make, and besides, the old butcher’s health had started to fail. It was a surprise, then, when the knock came at her door one night after supper, and she opened it to find Evie on the other side.
Evie, but not Evie, not really; Evie with her lips turned down, no laughter in her eyes.
She said there wasn’t anything wrong. She was just a little lonely; George had to be out on business often, of an evening.
“You can always come to me, darling,” Josephine told her, and a little light came back into Evie’s eyes.
“Good old Jo,” she said, her voice wistful. “How I have missed you.”
Life went on. Evie was tired, now. George was gone a lot, for the business, she said, and there was so much to do. “We just have to get established, Jo,” she said. “It’s been hard, with George’s father so ill, and the shop to run, but a few more years, he says, and we’ll have some space. He wants to buy me a house one day, have I told you? We’ll have room for you to come and stay, and we’ll all be so happy together.”
George’s father died, and the shop did a good business, but no more was said about buying a house.
It was several months later when it happened. Josephine was just starting her meal when the knocking started, frantic and light like the hammering of a bird on a window. When she opened the door, Evie nearly collapsed into her arms.
She looked a fright: shirt torn, face bruised and bloody. It took nearly an hour to get the story out of her, whispered between sobs that shook her thin body. Coming home early from visiting her mother. Finding George with another woman in their bed. The things he’d shouted at her, the horrible things; how she was ugly and cold, no kind of wife.
The way he’d backhanded her into the bureau.
The precious, happy secret she’d been planning to tell him. The one that had her doubled over now, sick with fear. The baby.
Josephine shushed her, stroking her hair, letting her hide her poor face while she wept.
“Oh, darling,” she said. “My poor darling.”
When Evie had cried herself pliant, Josephine helped her into her own nightdress and put her to sleep in her own bed, with a sleeping tablet for peaceful dreams.
Then she put on her business clothes and went to pay a call.
She didn’t have many friends, but there were a lot of people who owed her favors. She had quite a line in the trading of secrets, in the opening and shutting of doors.
The next morning, the butcher’s boy was opening the shop alone.
“Where’s George?” Josephine asked him, while he packaged up a pound of sausages. Evie had always been fond of sausages.
“He had to go away on business,” the boy replied. “And Miss Evie, she’s off to her mother’s.”
“Well, I wish them safe travels,” Josephine said, and went home to make Evie some breakfast.
The news came later that day. There had been a robbery. Terrible business. Everyone was so grieved for the young widow.
Josephine moved in above the shop to help out. Evie needed her, after all; she had the shop to deal with, and there would be the baby soon.
When the baby came, it was a little girl. Evie was white and weary, but the light was in her eyes again as she looked at Josephine over the little bundle.
“Isn’t she beautiful, Jo?” she said. “What shall we call her?”
“I’ve always liked the name Judith,” Josephine said, thinking of a cruel man, of a bright blade.
“Judith,” Evie said. “Yes, I like that.” She reached out a hand, and Josephine took it.
“We’ll bring her up properly,” Josephine said.
“You won’t be leaving us, then, Jo? Surely you’ll want to find a husband some day.”
“I think we’ve had enough of husbands,” Josephine said. “We shall do very well with just us three.”
Evie smiled. “I’m so selfish,” she whispered. “I know I hadn’t ought to say, but I’m so glad, Jo, for you to stay with us.”
“So am I, darling,” Josephine said, gladness rising like a fire in her heart. “So am I.”