“Where one is forgotten but not gone.”
Pamela chewed on her pencil. Number 39 across was a word with lots of vowels. The title of the puzzle was “The French Connection.” How to say “to forget” in French?” She’d excelled in the language in college. Oublier, of course.
Pamela penciled in, O-U-B-L-I-E-T-T-E.
She remembered the first time she’d ever heard that word. She’d been with Charles in a castle in England somewhere, or maybe in Wales. It was during their grand European honeymoon. They’d visited so many castles then, because as a child, Charles had been fascinated by them. She remembered him pointing out things to her, like murder holes and arrow slits. How excited he’d been to visit the dungeons! He’d shown her horrible-looking torture devices, but Pamela had not paid them much attention.
Except for the oubliette. That grate-covered hole in the floor where prisoners were left to be forgotten. The oubliette had disturbed her.
“Here you are, Pamela!” said the irritating redheaded woman with the German accent. She glanced at Pamela’s magazine, then smiled at her brightly. “I know that crossword puzzles are very good for maintaining mental agility, dear, but don’t you think you should be socializing with your guests?”
Pamela scowled. They weren’t her guests. They were her husband’s guests. Where was Charles, anyway, and why did he keep inviting this rude, nosy woman to their home? Pamela tucked the crossword book under her arm, got up from the sofa, and strode into the next room. She walked up to a short, dark-complexioned waiter with a big moustache.
“Excuse me, have you seen my husband?” she asked.
He looked at her with wide-open, non-comprehending eyes, and she sighed. This was the problem in Florida: all these Cubans and Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Perhaps she should have studied Spanish instead of French in school.
“Champagne, por favor” she said, slowly and clearly. She held an imaginary champagne flute in her fingers and mimed taking a sip. He nodded and went to bring her a glass.
Pamela looked around the room at all the people chatting and laughing and enjoying themselves. Her husband loved to throw parties and they certainly had the house for it, with large, airy rooms and a pool, outside bar, and a long green lawn with a fabulous view of Tampa Bay. Charles loved to entertain, but Pamela had grown tired of it. Perhaps it was because so few of the attendees were her true friends. She knew Sandy Robinson, of course, and the Kripkes, but many of the guests were strangers to her. She assumed that most of them were people Charles knew from the club.
She said hello to several couples and engaged in small talk. Having made her obligatory hostess appearance, she sought refuge in a far corner of the patio. The bossy German woman was in the garden and appeared to be in deep conversation with the mustachioed waiter. When another of the catering staff passed by them with a tray of drinks, the German lifted two glasses from the tray and gave one to him.
Pamela fumed. The audacity! She must report this to Charles and demand that he dismiss the caterer, or at least assure that the miserable-looking waiter could never step foot in her house again.
Magdalena Kripke saw her and walked up to her. “Pamela, what a fabulous party!”
Magdalena was Pamela’s oldest and dearest friend. They’d been roommates in college and were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings. Pamela asked her, “Tell me, Magda, what do you know about that tall redheaded woman?” She pointed at the offensive guest.
Magdalena glanced across the pool at the couple. “I don’t know her name. I only know that your husband values her opinion very much.”
“She’s impudent!” said Pamela. “She acts as if she lives here! She was actually handing out champagne to the catering staff!”
“My, that is out of line!” said Magdalena, scowling in the direction of the German. The woman glanced up, saw them looking at her, raised her glass, and smiled.
“I know how much your husband relies on her but, I agree, it appears she is taking advantage of your generosity,” Magdalena said in a loud whisper.
Pamela sighed. “I’ll have to talk to him about her. By the way, have you any idea where Charles might be hiding?”
Magdalena looked surprised. “Charles? I have no idea! I’ve not seen him for a long time.”
“Thank you, dear,” said Pamela. She turned and found a seat in a dark corner of the patio where she could keep an eye on the activity around the pool and watch the party inside through the sheer drapes.
She glared at the German who was now laughing uproariously at some joke the mustachioed waiter made. He obviously hadn’t understood English. Perhaps they were speaking German together? Perhaps the little man wasn’t Hispanic, after all. Maybe he was one of those Arabs who learned the language while living in Germany. What were they called? Guest workers? She suddenly realized that the man looked familiar to her. She had a vague memory—just a flash—of him petting their cat. He’d been in her house before. All these foreigners—Arabs and Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and Germans—in her home! It was bad enough to have them in her country!
She glanced back at them, but the German woman was gone. Only the strange little man was left, sipping champagne and gazing at the pool. He looked up at her. She suddenly felt embarrassed and turned her attention to the party.
Inside, two women held their heads close together, making catty remarks about the other guests. Pamela let herself relax as she listened to them gossip. Barbara had a face-lift done—what a disaster! She should sue! Did you hear that Trudy Dalton plans to leave her husband for Donald Carpenter? What is she thinking? I heard that Bettina’s husband lost everything in some real estate deal.
Pamela enjoyed the chatter though she knew none of the subjects of intrigue. Her ears perked up when the woman wearing pink said, “Isn’t it a shame about Pamela? I wonder if her husband plans to let her stay in the house?”
“Oh, it’s just terrible! Where will she go, I wonder? I’m sure she’ll be devastated when she finds out what he plans to do.”
The woman in teal nodded, “Poor Pamela seems completely unaware. I’m sure his German friend talked him into it.”
“The woman doctor?”
“Yes. They spend a great deal of time together.”
Pamela felt herself grow cold. Could this be true? Was Charles having an affair with that woman? Was that why the horrible, obnoxious foreigner was always hanging around? Did Charles plan to demand a divorce? Pamela’s emotions churned and roiled from surprise and panic to humiliation and anger. Where was the Nazi? Where was Charles? She was sure they were together somewhere in the house!
Pamela was determined to catch them and confront them. She leapt up and pushed her way through the crowded room, through the kitchen, and into their living quarters. She went to their bedroom and threw the door open wide. But the lovers weren’t there. Well, it would take some cheek for them to betray her in her own bed, she thought. She stormed through the rest of the house, opening every bedroom door. All of them were empty. Where the hell were they?
In the darkness of the last bedroom, she flung herself onto the bed and wept. How could this have happened? How had she lost control of her life? When had Charles lost his passion for her? But she knew she wasn’t being fair. They’d both lost interest in one another. He’d always been irritatingly childish and vain. She hated his club and had no interest in his friends. But that hawk-faced, sharp-voiced German? How could Charles find her more attractive?
Pamela felt crazy. How long had that foreign creature been hanging around? What was her name? Pamela felt sure they had been introduced, long ago, but nothing had stuck. Pamela always knew she didn’t like the woman but until now she hadn’t known why. She felt lost and unmoored, as if she had been drugged.
Drugged! The woman in pink had said that the German was a doctor! Pamela scoured her memory. The German had been talking to the little Arab, who’d brought the champagne. That’s when the horrible woman drugged me! Had Charles planned it? Had they all conspired against her? Were the lovers her captors? Pamela buried her face in a pillow and sobbed.
She wept for herself. She wept for the prisoner in the oubliette. The prisoner who knew there was no hope. The prisoner who looked up at the metal grate above him and saw nothing except the occasional faces of strangers, looking down. Faces that pitied him, perhaps. Faces that hated him. Faces that waited for him to give up and die.
Should she do that? Should she give up and die? Or should she fight them with all her might?
Pamela heard voices in the hall. The disagreeable voice with the German accent. The Nazi! The husband thief! And someone else—Charles?
The door opened and there they stood. The German and the Arab man. Behind them were some other guests.
“Darling—” said the dark little man.
Pamela stared at him. “Who are you?” she demanded of him. “Who is this woman? Where is my husband?”
The German smiled at her. “You know me, Pamela. I am your physician, Dr. Heidi Greisbach.”
“Liar! I don’t know you! And where is Charles?” shrieked Pamela. “I demand to speak to my husband!”
The ones at the door looked at each other. The short, dark man spoke soothingly:
“Pamela, I am your husband. My name is David. I love you. You and I have been married for more than twenty years. You divorced Charles decades ago.”
“You suffer from a condition called Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease,” said the German, soothingly. “Do you understand what we are saying?”
But Pamela didn’t understand. All she knew was that the metal grate of the oubliette was above her head. All she understood was her captivity. All she knew was her helplessness. Everything else, she had forgotten.