Vasant (Spring) 2021 Stories - Jay Shepherd


By Jay Shepherd


It started when Ted told everyone about the real Anne.


That so very public event – it happened three years ago at the twenty-fifth reunion of their law school class – was talked about for months. “She must have been mortified,” some people said. “How could he say those things about his own wife, and in front of everyone?” said others. The general feeling was one of approbation directed at Ted, and sympathy directed at Anne.


I was there. My general feeling for Anne was not sympathy. I assumed she deserved everything Ted said about her. I know Anne better than most.


Anne, of course, didn’t want sympathy. For years she thought that most of her law school classmates were losers anyway. She believed that many of the women went to law school for no other reason than to find a successful husband. Too bad, she told anyone who would listen. Some of those “wives” would actually have made fine lawyers, if they just had the cojones to get in there and do it.


And the men? Well, if you set aside the pigs among them – 75%, she would estimate – the rest were a mash up of mommy complexes, little tyrants, and tree-huggers. She generally liked the tree-huggers best, although perhaps they weren’t the best lawyers.


Tough to generalize. For a while she liked me, and I was no tree-hugger. Bottom line, though, was that Anne could kick the ass of any of them, without even breaking a sweat. For years, she was their superior in the courtroom, or in negotiations. More recently, now that most of them were in their fifties, her commitment to fitness meant that she could probably kick their asses in the back alley as well. Even the tree-huggers.


So, the last thing she wanted was anyone’s sympathy. Sympathy implied lack of respect. Nothing mattered more to Anne than respect, and nothing angered her more than disrespect, perceived or real. Anne and Ted weren’t a couple in law school. Although two years older than her, he was a year behind. Generally the cohorts didn’t mix that much.


But later, as junior lawyers, they clashed on a superior court motion. Predictably, Anne triumphed easily, so she was (pleasantly) surprised when he congratulated her, and then asked her out. He was a very smart guy, and his work for environmental groups bumped him up a notch in her estimation. The fact that she crushed him wasn’t really relevant. She believed that if she ruled out everyone she could crush, she would never be able to get married. You couldn’t argue that logic. She was right.


No-one thought it would be a fairy tale marriage, and it certainly wasn’t. However, everyone in their circles thought - smugly – that this was the way the world should unfold. Superior people should find each other, and then live happily ever after.


And it was, to the outside world, all good. Ted understood that Anne was smarter and tougher. Anne “respected” Ted for his commitment to doing good, and later for his equally fervent commitment to their two kids. She often told people that if she had to describe the perfect father, she would just show people Ted’s photo. She never talked about his work as a lawyer, though.


Behind the scenes, not so perfect. After their second child, it was apparent that she was a lot more in demand than he was. Anne developed and imposed a plan where she would work in a major firm, for a lot of money, and Ted would work out of their expensive home doing pro bono work for environmental and community groups. He would also be the primary care-giver, after the nanny, for their kids.


It seemed perfect. All of Anne’s plans seemed perfect, because usually they were. She was probably right, in fact. She just didn’t really consult Ted about her plan. She was not known for her human touch. So there were tensions under the surface. It was probably inevitable, but no-one ever saw those tensions except Anne and Ted. Anne just ignored them.


Thus, when their kids were teenagers, and Ted the environmental lawyer and Anne the corporate lawyer were a star couple at the twenty-fifth reunion, Ted’s meltdown was, as they say, “shocking”.


Not just the fact that he went nuts. People do that when they’ve had a lot to drink. No, this was about what he said.


Everyone who knew Anne thought of her as not just cold and calculating, but also hard and nasty. A classmate once called her “an unfortunate cross between Vulcan and Klingon”. What Ted talked about at the reunion, then, was not inconsistent. It was, on the other hand, much richer and more detailed than anything anyone had ever heard before.

He provided details of their life that most people would have left unsaid. He told people what Anne was really like, and he didn’t hide any of the most unpleasant, or most colorful, parts of the story. It was hard to hear, even for me. Yet he went on at some length, in a room full of people that slowly fell silent and listened in shock. Everyone was waiting for him to finish, but he kept going. When he stopped, it was as if he was just tired of speaking.


Then their perfect life was over, and Anne became a new Anne. Ted was the one who created this new person. Was he justified? Perhaps. But everything that followed was, in some sense, on him.


If you’ve read about Anne in the newspapers, you may have a certain picture of her. However, since there are no current photos of her, you can’t really understand. You might get a sense that she looks a little crazy. Not so. Anne is very feminine and polished. Three years ago, just after her fiftieth birthday, she still had the soft skin and unwrinkled eyes that she had when she was twenty-five. She is a little tall, and very fit, but she’s no Amazon. Not beautiful, perhaps, but with her exquisite clothes, confident manner, and piercing eyes she has always been someone you would notice.


The story of the new Anne starts with that reunion. It starts with Anne leaving the party, going home to pick up her passport and some clothes, and flying to Tel Aviv. Israel? Really?

If you were able to ask Anne – not Jewish – why she chose Israel, she might say that it was the first plane leaving town. Or, she might say that you don’t need to be Jewish to be a sabra. The truth is probably that she just wanted to be unpredictable. So she was.


Her husband and her kids went nuts not knowing where she was. Her law firm, and her high profile clients, was beside themselves. No-one had any information. Some feared she had died, or encountered some other terrible tragedy. Some thought she was sequestered in a lodge in cottage country, licking her all too public wounds. Some thought she was holed up in an expensive downtown hotel, plotting revenge.


From Anne, only silence.


None of those things were true, as it turned out. She was seeing the sights in Israel. After a couple of weeks, she went to Mumbai, a place she’d always talked about. There she was the older white woman who didn’t listen to the warnings about their wonderful but dangerous city. She had close calls, but she stayed a month. Her powerful stare may have protected her from the predatory males of the city.


She would have laughed if she heard that. A laugh with very little mirth, but a laugh nonetheless. It was from Shanghai, three months after the reunion, that she sent her first message to Ted, an email.


“You’re a piece of shit, and I will hate you forever.

Tell the kids I love them.” When Ted showed me that email, it was with an air of disbelief. While the email didn’t tell anyone much, it at least answered a lot of questions. Her law firm assumed that she wasn’t coming back, and moved on. Another star was anointed.


Her husband told the police he was no longer worried about his wife. She had left him. Nothing more complicated than that. They forgot about her. She was not missing. Ted didn’t forget, though, because he knew Anne. The kids didn’t, because despite everything they loved their mother. For everyone else, the mystery was over. Anne was “taking some time”, as they say.


The second time they heard from her was three months after that. She had been to Sydney and to Buenos Aires in the meantime. On a cold January morning, when Ted was off on a trip to meet some new clients, Anne showed up at their house before the kids went to school.


The housekeeper – new to the family – almost called the police right then and there, but the kids stopped her. Crazy with relief, they embraced Anne more in that first few minutes than they ever had in the eighteen years prior.


One in university, the other just finishing high school, they knew that something profound had happened. Anne, even though not the most empathetic person in the world, understood what they were feeling, and it hurt her. No-one thinks that I can be hurt, a much younger Anne once said to me, so many years ago. But I can. Assholes! I’m smart and strong, but I’m still human.


How she knew that Ted was away, she didn’t say. What she did say, to her kids, was that her life was changing, and they would be affected. She told them, word for word, what Ted had said about her publicly at the twenty-fifth reunion. She had debated about that in her mind, she told them, but decided that toughening up her kids was an important goal, and honesty was another message she wanted them to learn. Even brutal honesty.


They didn’t really like what they were hearing, but they listened, and they asked blunt questions (“Is what Dad said true?”). Anne admitted to them that she was cold and unfeeling, to Ted and to many other people. Even to them, her own kids. On the other hand, she said, she had always been that way, and Ted knew that going in. Caveat emptor.

She also told them she loved them. They had heard that before, but in the circumstances it mattered more than it had in the past. Her voice was cold when she said it, as usual, but they felt that she meant it. Their mom might love differently than others, they told themselves, but she still loved them.


As Anne left, she said something ominous. She said: “Some bad things are going to happen. You have your lives unfolding in front of you. You can make those lives happy, or not. It is absolutely your choice. Don’t let any of the bad things get in the way of your happiness.”


Then she left.


No-one heard from Anne for more than a year. Because she was not officially missing, no-one could access her bank accounts, or her passport records, or anything else that would show where she was. When her taxes came due that year, she paid them…from who knows where. After that, she had no income, so she didn’t file any more. She had lots of money, and she answered to no-one. She dropped out of sight.


Around that time – more than eighteen months after the reunion – Anne appeared in London. A long-time client’s son was getting married, and somehow she knew she had been invited. The invitation couldn’t have reached her, but she still knew. Showing up without an RSVP is not courteous, but nobody complained. They were happy to see her, and greeted her like a long-lost friend. Which, in some ways, she was.


People who knew her and talked to her at the wedding gleaned some things about her travels. She had spent three months in Zagreb, for some reason, and another month in Accra. She talked about a resort in the Canary Islands, and about an eco-park in Madagascar. Along the way, people knew that she had spent time in Europe, but also Africa and Asia.


Then she was gone again, once more falling off the edge of the earth. That might have been the end of the story, but it isn’t. Almost a year later, Ted was murdered. There is no real reason to connect that crime to Anne, except that this was Anne. You couldn’t assume anything with Anne.


What has been publicly reported about Ted’s murder is that he was walking home from the subway after work. Someone attacked him from behind on the dark street, slitting his throat and leaving him to bleed out on the sidewalk. His wallet and credit cards were stolen, so the assumption was that it was some drug addict after his money, even though the slit throat didn’t seem like an addict. When the empty wallet was found in some bushes, the addict theory was reinforced. Some doubt was cast when the credit cards were never used or sold, but overall it seemed like a druggie murder. Happens in every city.


Did anyone suspect Anne? The murder was big news for a few days. Ted was a well-known person. The newspaper accounts mentioned her “disappearance” a couple of years earlier, and the mystery that surrounded it, but didn’t go any further than that. The police were nervous that they didn’t know where she was, since she would otherwise have been a suspect. Her kids were traumatized. They didn’t really think it was her, but they wanted to know where she was, and they remembered that “bad things” were going to happen.

Four months later, the police received a package in the mail from Malta. It was photocopies of Anne’s hotel bills for the period three months before and three months after the murder, plus a photocopy of her passport visa pages, to show where she had been all that time. It all matched. She was nowhere close when the murder occurred. So said the evidence. It was pretty conclusive.


The police crossed her off the list. There was another story in the newspapers about this unusual turn of events. Then…done.


The difference between the police and me is that I am eighty-three years old. I have seen more than they have in my long life. I have also known Anne since she was my star student at the law school and, for a time, my lover.


This was her doing, no doubt about it. I knew that from the moment I read the first news report about the murder. Anne took her revenge, as she had done so many times in the past. To everyone she thought had wronged her.


It didn’t take me long to find her. Should the police have given me the details of the package she sent them? Perhaps not, but I’m a soft-spoken retired law professor, so what’s the harm? They were willing to believe my story about writing a book on women in the legal profession. Her former husband was dead, and I was not a suspect. Let the old kook see it. Turn the other way when he snaps photos of her visa pages.


If you looked at her passport, there was a pattern, and there was no doubt in my mind that she was in Paris. I have always thought that mysteries like these are all really math. Nothing is ever random. Things have patterns. People have patterns. Turns out, I was right. A few phone calls from a doddering old grandfather (my quavering voice a plus in this situation) was enough to get her hotel and even, to my great surprise, her room number. Maybe it was my stumbling around in poor French that helped.


Now I am on a trans-Atlantic flight to speak to her, face to face. She cannot avoid me. I know where she is, and I know what happened. She has to be brought to justice.

She will be surprised to see me after so many years, no doubt. I will look her straight in the eye and tell her that what she has done is wrong. What she did to me is long ago history. I paid dearly for my transgressions, as she intended, but I survived. What she did to Ted was different. It cannot be ignored. Unlike me, Ted didn’t survive. I can’t just let that go.


Anne is brilliant, true. That doesn’t mean she can do whatever she likes.


After all, what can she do to me now?


Jay Shepherd from Canada is a writer


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