Varsha (Monsoon) 2021 Stories - Carol Goodman


The Innocent Project
By Carol Goodman


Amy’s husband of forty years died of a heart attack as he was coming home on the train from Newark, where he worked as a lawyer. The train stopped backed up to the station to call the rescue squad but it was too late. And now Amy couldn’t bear her longing. She felt distant from herself and on a muddy road. She sat in her house trying to think what would help.

She paced the floor, gave his clothes to the thrift shop. Finally, she decided a different atmosphere would help her, a different town perhaps, not to stay in the house where every room reeked of him.

The real estate person, after pumping her on the kind of place she wanted, small and unusual, showed her the carriage house and Amy nodded with delight. She wanted to move at least six miles away and sell her other house. She had friends there but she would see them. Wouldn’t she? But not go a while because they always asked her how she was doing and that started the tears again. She wanted her sorrow someday to be just a little blip.

Because the carriage house was smaller than her other house she left some things in boxes. Didn’t have the emotional strength to unpack. The yard was small and her front porch looked on the street but there was not much traffic. She was glad her house had two fireplaces, which she thought in winter would cheer her up. She was a small thin woman with long blond hair and a crisp way of talking, although now her voice must have sounded sad.

Some days later she was unpacking the boxes of family china and began to feel a little better and turned the news on the radio to make her think of the world she lived in and not just herself, when there was a knock at the door. A woman about her age, forty-five, stood at the door and said, “I came to welcome you in the neighborhood. My name is Jody Rockland.”

“Hi, I am Amy Ward.”

“I want to invite you to a party on Saturday night at eight. “I live in the house in the middle of the development, number 28. Hope you can come.”

“I would love to. Is there something I can bring?”

“Just yourself.”

She didn’t want to be complacent about life. She wanted to join in and try and heal, even though there was still a stone in the pit of her stomach. Saturday night she wore a yellow cotton dress, just above her knees but discovered the packed room was mostly in jeans, men and women both. She was embarrassed. Amy wandered around talking, introducing herself. A tall, big shouldered man came up to her and said he was Jody’s husband, Lee.


“I’m a doctor, general practice, if you need anyone.” He half smiled. She thought he was bulky and a bit intimidating.

“I will remember that.”

At dessert time, plate on her lap, she sat on the couch and a man sat next to her. They introduced themselves. His name was Jeff De Wald and said, “you just moved in the carriage house. welcome.”

“Yes, just moved in. Do you live in the neighborhood?”

“No, actually I also live in a carriage house four miles away in Bernardsville. It is not like your carriage house but a rambling place, rather ungainly that housed three carriages and has a big hall. “You’ll come see it sometime. It sits on a hill and has a nice view. I can almost see your house.”

“I was told by my mother don’t talk about religion or politics. So, what shell we talk about?”

“How about why you moved here.”

She told him about her husband and he told her he was divorced.

“Why?” she asked.

“That’s an unusual question? But I will tell you as much as I can. She was afraid my work would get criminals out of prison.”

“What is your work? Are you a guard?”

“Quite the opposite, I work for the innocent project.”

“I would like to hear more of that.”

“Maybe we could have lunch.”


He walked over and stood by Jody, their hostess. He put his hand on her shoulder. They must be good friends Amy thought. Amy moved about and found Jody with a small group around her and stood to listen. Jody talked so fast Amy couldn’t understand half the words, no three quarter of the words. Gossip, political, town stuff. Things Amy was too new to feel the significance. But she liked Jody, the energy.

Amy’s husband introduces himself and said he was a doctor, a general practitioner. If I needed anyone.”

She didn’t like him, for no reason, she could put her finger on it, except he didn’t look in her eyes when he spoke. But she found out from somebody else that Lee also was on the board of a nearby mental institution and was a respected doctor. In the weeks to come Amy felt she had a new friend in Jody and they talked about books at an occasional lunch. But Jody was not athletic and wouldn’t walk with her. She giggled and said it was a dumb idea. She thought you should walk to a destination not just walk. Amy found there were paths nearby and also the famous Great Swamp.

Then summer came and Jody told Amy they rented a house on Martha’s Vineyard and why doesn’t she also do the same. Amy thought that was an excellent idea. It turned out that Jeff went with them. Amy was glad because she really liked him. She found a house about five miles from them and drove to their house that was almost on the beach. Jody didn’t swim out in the ocean, just wadded in up to her waist and let the waves glide her in. Jody invited her to have lunch at a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the ocean when Jeff asked Amy if she would like to go sailing.


“Jody doesn’t like sailing and of course Lee isn’t here yet.”

They went to the boat dock and rented the boat. “Let me pay,” Amy said.

“Nope. My treat this time. Have you sailed before?”

“On a lake.”

“Well, would you hold the sail ropes and I will steer.” She liked him a lot.

They stayed out for hours. “Let’s stop and watch the sunset,” Jeff said.

She let the sails bluff and they drifted and talked about the colors. “Look,” Amy said,”there’s a rainbow.”

“For good luck,” he said and blew her a kiss.

They stayed drifting until it was almost dark. “This was lovely. Thank you so much, “Amy said.

“We will do it again.”

“I hope so.”

When they returned, Jody was standing on the dock waiting and she ran to Jeff threw her arms around him, looked at Amy, and said, “He’s mine.”

“What?” Amy whispered.

Amy thought about “Mine.” Were they lovers? Of course, they were lovers. Amy didn’t want to show anything to Jody, certainly not her disappointment so they continued to have lunches and dinners together at either house. Jeff didn’t always sit near, But asked her to sail again and winked at her at dinner parties. Come on Amy said to herself, be a grownup, stop pining for him, but there was something about him she really liked and after all Jody was married. It wasn’t fair. So she went on trying to devise ways to see him.

It was fall now and Jeff still went to Jody’s house. Amy would see his car parked there when Lee was at work. So they were lovers.

One day when Jody was away, Jeff knocked on Amy’s door. Would you like to hike in the great swamp where there were lots of trails?”

“Yes. I have been there. I love the place.” She was a bit shocked after what Jody said;”he’s mine.” And thought she might ask him about that but didn’t.

“Jody doesn’t like to walk.”

“Yes, I know, but I like to.”

He picked her up in his car. They talked about whom he had saved from prison and she said, “I admire you so much.” He parked the car at the edge of the woods with other cars. He walked ahead because the path was narrow. The trees had begun to turn and the squirrels were going crazy to hide nuts for the winter. They found a log to sit on.

“How about you. Do you have projects?”

“The one good thing I do is work at the food bank,” Amy said.

“Well that is admirable too.”

She laughed. “Not like you.”

When he drove her home, he said, “I have to give up Jody. It isn’t right and…” he didn’t finish but she assumed or wished. He kissed her.

The next time she saw Jody they sat on her deck and talked about Tolstoy and Chekov and decided to go to the theatre together. When Jeff came to their dinners he didn’t sit near Amy. But always winked. And he called her on the phone to chat and they walked in the Great Swamp often. Amy couldn’t take it and decided to look up a dating sight. She scrolled and scrolled but couldn’t find anything that suited her. She tried to look away from a dogged depression, tried to work on it and just think about the food bank. Maybe she would join the Red Cross. She understood that he wasn’t hers.

Now it was October. Amy walked over to Jody’s and found her crying. “Jeff walked from his house, the three miles to us. He found Lee in his study and went in and without greeting him he said, “I have something to say.”

“Yes?” Lee asked.

I had been your wife’s lover for three years. Because I feel so guilty I told her not any longer.”

“Oh,” is all Lee said. “I’ll will drive you home but why don’t you stay to supper.”

Amy couldn’t imagine what they talked about at supper and that Lee showed no animosity. When he was to drive Jeff home. Lee drove the wrong way.

Jeff said,” I live the other way.”

“I know I just had to first check on something at the mental institution.”

Lee parked the car and went inside and came back out with two men who quickly opened the doors of the car, grabbed Jeff as he hollered, “What are you doing. Don’t touch me.” The men dragged him kicking and yelling. Lee opened the doors and the men dragged him down the hall unlocked a door pushed him in to a room and quickly went out, locking the door again.

The next day Jody told Amy what happened. “I don’t blame Lee. The nerve of him telling him. I won’t visit him. I don’t ever want to see him again.”

All Amy could say was, “Oh my God.”

This couldn’t have happened. The poor man. She had to figure a way to get him out.

When Amy got home she went over how to get him out, what to do. She couldn’t believe Lee would do that. She had not witnessed cruelty like that ever before in her life. Locked up. No getting out. How was Lee able to do that? She knew from the beginning she disliked him. The irony was Jeff was a lawyer for the Innocent Project and here he was innocent and locked up. But she would have to act normal around Jody and Lee while she figured out how to save him.

The next morning, she went to the institution and at the front desk asked to see Jeff De Wall. A guard took Amy to his room, unlocked a door with a key and he stepped inside. He looked worn out as she hugged him. “I will get you out somehow.”

He said, “To think I was working on the Innocent Project.”

“Yes, oh Jeff.”

“We walk in the yard every day but there is a fence, a big wire fence and a gate with chains.”

“I will figure out a way to get you out. I promise and mean while I will visit you every day. Should I just call the police?”

“No that won’t do any good. They know Lee and trust him.”

“But it’s against the law. You have been kidnapped.”

“Yes,” he whispered.

“I will figure out a way to get you out,” Amy said again.

“Jeff put his arms around her and hugged her tightly.

The next visit she said, “I saw the gate to the street and the chains. I will come tomorrow night when no one is in the yard and cut the padlock chain but leave it on the fence so no one will know.”

“Then what?” He was shaking.

“The next day I will park the car in the street near the hedge so no one will see it and leave it running and with the passenger side open. When you are in the yard you stand over near the gate and just open it and run and jump in the car.”

“God, I hope it works.”

“It will work,” Amy said.

The next day at two p.m. Amy knew they would be in the large yard where all inmates were allowed to walk for an hour and the guard sat on the far side of the yard away from the chained gate. Amy drove the car on the street next to the hedge and left the car running and the door open. Jeff stood with his back to the gate and facing the guard, who was not paying attention. He quickly turned and pulled the chain off, opened the gate as the guard saw them.


Jeff jumped in the car and she drove for a mile south and stopped. “You got me out. You got me out.” He leaned over and kissed her.

“Where should we go now?” Amy asked.

“My house.” He told her the way.

She drove the seven more miles, still afraid. “Just park the car in front,” She parked in front. They rushed out and he pulled out a key from under the mat by the door opened the door and took the key inside. He locked the door and turned on a light in the hall. He turned on the light for the stairs and the kitchen.


Amy was shaking. “Everything will be okay,” he said, “I am going to get a lawyer and sue Lee for kidnapping. “

“Will that work?”

“Yes, it will.”

“What if Lee tries to come here?”

“It won’t do him any good but he won’t anyway. He knows better.”

They hugged and kissed and went into the kitchen where he found wine and poured them each a drink, calming down and they talked about trips they might take, like England and the Caribbean. When they finished the wine he took her hand and drew her up the stairs where he opened a closet and found clean sheets for their bed.


Carol Goodman from U.S. is the author of twenty-three novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages, The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize, The Widow’s House, which won the 2018 Mary Higgins Clark Award, and The Night Visitors, which won the 2020 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family and teaches literature and writing at The New School and SUNY New Paltz.


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