Margaret B. Davidson
My sister, Jane, described Walter Aristotle to me via e-mail as being ‘really sweet, and no trouble at all, even if he doesn’t live up to his name.’ A rather odd way, I thought, to describe one’s new beau. I wondered whether she’d bring him to the airport to meet me.
My BA flight from JFK was an hour late getting into Heathrow. After inching my way through the customs line, I retrieved my luggage and hurried into the arrivals lounge.
On previous visits Jane had been at the front of the crowd, pressed against the rope barrier, and screeching my name loud enough they could probably hear her in
This time no voice demanded my attention. I scanned the sea of unfamiliar faces. Darn it, where was she?
I wandered among the waiting throng until the crowd thinned. No Jane. Thinking she was probably stuck in traffic en route I decided to call her. I jerked my cell phone from my hand-baggage and was just about to dial when I glanced up and saw the sign. What the…? I looked again. Yes, it was my name, but nailed to its post upside-down.
The man holding the sign was busy at one of the airport phones, having difficulty juggling both the receiver and the sign which was toppling sideways. I hurried over.
“Hi, I’m Amanda Greenaway. Do you have a message for me?”
The man, startled, dropped the phone.
“Amanda! He propped the sign up against the wall where it promptly fell forward, narrowly missing my foot.
“Oh, sorry.” He grabbed my hand and began pumping it up and down as though desperate to extract water from a dry well. “It’s such a pleasure to meet you.”
“You must be Walter.”
“Should have mentioned it right away, ha, ha. I’m Walter. Jane was feeling poorly this morning so I encouraged her to stay home.”
Hmm. I was a little put out. My sister had never before failed to meet me. Still, maybe she was really sick so I would reserve judgment. I smiled at Walter. “It was kind of you to come pick me up.”
“Not at all. Let’s get rid of this sign shall we?” He plunked it into a near-by trash container, stepped back and frowned.
“The lettering is upside down,” I said.
“So it is. So it is. Ha, ha, nailed it on the wrong way up.”
“He’s as thick as two short planks,” confided Jane. But he’s so good to me. Take this morning for example. I could have gone to the airport, but he insisted I stay in bed. I loved Ken, and nobody will ever take his place. But what I need now is somebody to spoil me, and Walter does that.”
Ken, Jane’s husband, had died a year ago. He’d been a quiet man, and an intelligent one. For forty years he’d been a calming influence on my emotionally volatile sister; kept her from self-destructing.
It occurred to me now that Jane had found somebody she could easily manipulate, and this did not bode well.
“I’m going to marry him,” Jane said.
“Why do you need to marry him? Why not just live together? Much less complicated.”
“The poor dear has no money. This way he’ll have the house and enough money to live on if I go first.”
This was the typically impulsive Jane, and now there was nobody to insist she use common sense. I did try.
“I see what Walter gets out of the marriage, but what about you?”
“He’s good to me.” She began sniffling. “I’d think my only sister would want me to enjoy life again?” She stormed out of the room.
The remainder of the visit was grim. Jane played at being under-the-weather for several days, and I watched as Walter catered to her every whim; serving up platitudes by the panful. Bored, I tried chatting with him, but conversation wasn’t an art he had mastered and after a sentence or two he’d lie back in his chair and close his eyes as if in deep contemplation. At first I was fooled, until I heard him snore. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Two weeks after my return home I got a terse e-mail from Jane saying she’d married Walter. I wondered how long it would be before she was thoroughly fed-up and tried to unload him.
As it turned out, it didn’t come to that. Six months later I received a phone-call.
“Hi, sis, it’s Jane.”
Her voice was shaky, and it sounded like she was fighting tears. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Walter. He forged my name, withdrew twenty thousand pounds from my savings account and took off with it.”
“Guess we were both wrong; he isn’t so thick.” I heard a gurgle on the other end of the phone and felt guilty at my sarcasm.
“No, we were right. He’s really, really stupid.”
“Well, sure, he might’ve gotten more in the end had he stayed.”
“He got nothing.”
“After he left the bank, he used some of the cash to buy a used car. Started down the M-1.”
“The police spotted him and followed. Seems he got scared and started speeding. Went faster and faster, the police giving chase. Fortunately they caught up with him when he ran into a traffic jam. Wads of hundred pound bills cascaded out of his glove compartment when he reached in for his registration.”
“But how did the police know to follow him in the first place? Guess he must have been dumb enough to use his real name when he bought the car.”
“Oh, no. He wasn’t dumb enough to do that.
More gurgling noises through the phone, and it occurred to me that Jane was not weeping at all. She was giggling.
“The police followed him because they saw the license plate on his car.”
“He’d tacked it on upside-down.”