Corey Klinzing is a Fiction MFA candidate at Columbia College and a newbie to the city of Chicago. She has previously been published in Furrow and on The Shepherd Express Poetry Blog, alongside such poets as James Liddy and Alison Townsend.
The White Widow
Natalie Sutherland, née Baraka, née Ramos, née Casarano, née Rabinovich had always wanted to be a black widow. A murderess. It had been an obsession of hers since she was quite young. Plotting them filled an ache she couldn’t quite express; first, they were just simple executions: a knife sinking between ribs, a bullet to the brain, a garrote lodged in an Adam’s apple, no real verve, no cleverness. But they grew more complex as she grew older: allergen infused perfumes, non-stick coating in the shower, cyanide laced lipstick, gunning him down in an alley with a pistol borrowed from a work rival, to be surreptitiously placed back in the owner’s home immediately.
And oh, it would be so easy to lull them to her. Especially since she was pretty: wide blue eyes and dark hair that curled ever so slightly, shining in any kind of light. Thin and sharp of bone structure, but padded where it counted, and it made her a face and a form very few tried to look behind. They never did, if the girl was pretty.
She began looking for a victim as soon as it was legal for her to marry without parental consent, which was very important, as both her parents were dead. She hung out in hotel bars, signed herself up for charity auctions, online dating profiles, a Tindr account. There was no shortage of men wanting to sleep with her, but it wasn’t simple lust she was after.
Just as she couldn’t murder just any old man off the street, just any horny goat wouldn’t do. It would be a common cull then. There would be no spark to it. No romance. Murder was supposed to be an intimate experience. It was supposed to be savored.
It was said that one revealed who one really was in those final moments, that how one went out— kicking and screaming or gently into the night—encapsulated who they were, everything they had been, everything they could have been.
By that logic, as the one who ended his life, she would know her husband as no one else had. She would know his most intimate of selves, the truest form of him. No one would share that with her, not ex-wives, not children, not friends or siblings. He would be hers as the breath left his body, and she his angel of death.
Just thinking about it made her breath come in little gasps, brought clusters of tears to her eyes. It was so beautiful, so unbearably romantic.
Yet, despite her many marriages, she’d never managed to see it through to the end. She planned the death of each new suitor, meticulously orchestrating just the right amount of irony: vitamin A poisoning for Patrick the health nut; a heart attack for Elias, the owner of a pharmaceutical company and a self-professed poet. And so on. Each plot was constructed with care and love.
And time and time again, her plot was thwarted; of her four husbands: Patrick, Malak, Elias, Luciano all died of quite natural causes several months into their marriage. The police and the media never believed her at first, of course, as her husbands were naturally quite wealthy. There was a flurry of investigation, the papers gossiping, so-called friends with thoughtful glances and knowing smirks. The police tromping their well-heeled shoes all over her beautiful new rugs.
But, as she’d never actually done anything, she was let go. The papers began calling her the White Widow, and there were rumors she was cursed; even though there was never evidence of foul play, none of her husbands survived a year— Patrick didn’t even make it out of the honeymoon. He’d had a heart attack on the second night of their marriage, while Natalie had been in the shower, unable to hear him struggle with his own organs.
She had emerged from the shower, a lovely thing with a steam option, her hair still dark and dripping, to find him, eyes glassy, on the hotel’s pale gold feather duvet. His hand had been clutching at his shirt, as if trying to tear away an obstruction. And there was fear on his face, not love. She had then stamped her foot, growled in frustration, and went over to the hotel phone to call the police.
The sheer nerve of that man, she’d thought as her frustrated tears mingled with the droplets from her hair. She’d barely been gone fifteen minutes, and he had the nerve to expire like that, so artlessly.
It made it all the worse that the detective sent to take her statement suspected her, yet again. Of course, her fourth husband, found dead before the honeymoon was over? It was impossible for her not to be a suspect, even as she sobbed violently into an embroidered handkerchief.
But it wasn’t her fault, as much as she might wish it was, and they were forced to conclude the same after no substances were found in his veins, not a shred of evidence anywhere. The detective, a young man who had recently been dumped (if the bags under his eyes and the state of his clothes had anything to say about it), and thus concluded that all women were evil, was forced by his superiors to drop the case.
And Natalie, after a few weeks of appropriate grieving for her lost husband, and her lost opportunity, began the search all over again.
She reactivated her Match.com profile, and began dating as if it was her career. Which mostly it was— the insurance settlements from her previous four husbands were more than enough for her to live comfortably. She wasn’t hurting at all, but while it generally made finding a husband easier, this time around it took months and a number of disappointing dates with unsuitable men, none of them worth the cost of a bullet, before she found Armand.
He was perfect, with sleek black hair cut just above his shoulder, and a ready smile that made her heart beat a little faster when she saw it. He was little younger, perhaps, than the men she usually preferred, but his shoulders were broad and his eyes were a lovely hazel that captured her gaze and put her in mind of amber and topaz. And oh, was he charming and witty, and she was sure she could fall in love with him easily, like throwing herself off a cliff.
They met quite by accident; he bumped into her in her favorite little patisserie, spilling her coffee all over his perfectly fitted suit. He apologized profusely as he tried to remove the stain before it could set, and then demanded that he be allowed to buy her another. Natalie was charmed at once. Here, finally, she thought, was a gentleman. No crude language or requests for one night stands. He wanted to know her. He wanted to fall in love.
The coffee date became dinner after an opera she’d been meaning to see, a night at a ballroom where he taught her to dance the samba. She taught him how to choose the perfect wine, and he made her the perfect salmon tartar. They spent long afternoons in her penthouse, the skyscrapers glistening in the dripping sunlight, discussing things she couldn’t remember afterwards. He proposed three months into their relationship, and tearfully, joyfully, she accepted.
In a rooftop garden that had belonged to her second husband, she became Mrs. Proulex. The happy couple honeymooned for three weeks in Botswana, between the luxury resort and their own, private safari. Together they killed a lioness, and later made love on her sun dappled fur.
And then, when the appropriate amount of time had passed, Natalie began plotting her newest husband’s murder.
She wanted it to be slow, as lush as every interaction with him had been. She was so in love with Armand, she couldn’t possibly dispatch him quickly— no hemlock in his tomato soup, or simulated mugging was good enough. No, she wanted to watch him decline, wanted to take care of him through it all. Then tell him, as he took his last breath, that she had been the architect of his demise, and watch the horror mix with love before everything he was, everything he had been, faded away.
She decided on cinchophen, which would utterly destroy the liver, thus causing the body to shut down oh-so-slow, and scoured the internet for a way to get her hands on enough to dispatch a healthy young man.
But she really should have cleared her browser history.
For Armand had been plotting his wife’s murder since before he met her. A con-man who specialized in older, wealthy women, he couldn’t resist the juicy plum of an extremely wealthy four-time widow. But slowly, ever so slowly, even despite himself, the cynical trickster had fallen in love with the precious Natalie. With her zest for new experiences, with how wholeheartedly she loved him. Her emotions filled her face when she looked at him. She was as luminescent as a star, and just as guileless.
So when he found out she had designs on his life? His poor heart, unused to such range of emotion, quite shattered in his chest. He cursed the necessity that drove him to use his wife’s laptop to peruse for visual erotica, and then for the necessity of procuring some fatal little substance of his own.
It was on their six month anniversary that his plan took form. His friends among the criminal netherworld had produced, for a cut of the money he was sure to inherit, a poison undetectable by modern methods. It was the easiest thing in the world to spill a little of the powder in her glass as he poured the wine while she was busy lighting the candles. He’d chosen the blue glasses for tonight, which made the merlot turn a deep purple. The color of blood in the vein.
Until death do us part, Armand thought, his countenance pale as he brought the glasses to the table on the rooftop garden, overlooking the city.
As they settled in, he made sure to take a sip of his wine first, ever so casually. The acting wasn’t difficult after a lifetime of convincing old women he was innocent and in love with them, but he quaked inside as she picked up the glass. He thought he would shake apart as she took a sip of the wine, her eyes locked with his as she swallowed.
“Ha!” Armand shouted, standing. His hands trembled, his face was now flushed. “You thought you could just kill me and get away with it, like you did the last four men who were fool enough to marry you. But I got you first. That wine was poisoned, Natalie. I won.”
“No, Armand,” she replied. She stood up from the private table and closed the distance between them. Her eyes were still bright with emotion, her smile tender. She placed her bare, soft hand on the side of his face. Automatically, his arms came up and encircled her waist. “We won.”
“I figured it would be tonight. It is too perfect, too poetic for you not to take advantage. And I know how romantic you are.”
Armand stared at her, uncomprehending, even as his extremities began to go cold in horror.
“The glasses, Armand,” Natalie said gently, as if were some sweet nothing to flutter along soft sheets. “I had the glasses coated with poison— a particularly nasty thing I had secreted away. From the same apothecary you used, I believe?” She chuckled. “Now isn’t that just lovely.”
Now his face was going numb. Cold and tingly, like he’d been outside in winter for far too long. He needed to move, but his limbs felt heavy. Sodden. He couldn’t feel her warmth against him anymore.
“It’s better this way, I think,” she went on, her fingers continuing to play against his cold cheek, then down the line of his neck, slipping into his collar to pad across the skin of his shoulder. He barely felt the pressure. “I’ve never loved someone as much as I loved you, my dear. Killing you was a given, but how to live on after? This way we die together. By each other’s hand. It’s so romantic.”
Her speech began to slow and slur, and Armand noticed her eyes were unfocused, lingering faintly on his face. And he was frozen, too numb to push her away.
“Don’t you think?” she whispered.
The police found them like that, several hours later, locked in a mockery of an embrace. The White Widow and her last, lucky husband.
“Just like Romeo and Juliet,” the lead detective said as he surveyed the room, through bleary eyes, his hands stuffed into the wrinkled pockets of his trousers. The comment earned him a smack on the chest from the lead forensics investigator, who was, coincidentally, a woman.