by Niv Miyasato
A serial killer. Real estate porn. A Sub-Zero kitchen. Another day in the suburbs.
Set amid Willow Hills’ finest homes on over an acre of park-like property… Victoria Winterfield scribbled out the listing information on one of her printed broker’s pads. The Birchbark property could be an easy sale. It filled almost every checkbox save for a pool. No matter, nowadays most families that were shopping for a home had infants or younger children and viewed a pool more as a death trap than an amenity worth the premium in pricing.
Birchbark was so pretty, a former country house built in a quiet Queen Anne style with deep wrap-around porches and lovely columns. The first time Victoria visited the house was when she brought her pre-school age son, Caleb, over for a playdate with the Griffith’s boy, Connor.
Gail and Christopher Griffith, aka “Gigi on Bibi.” Yes Gail, Victoria gets it. Victoria gets it every single time you say it to her at Starbucks or at the Lifetime Gym. Victoria tells you how cute and clever you are and always remembers to compliment you on your seven-hundredth Pinterest pin about the decorative bags you create for each and every fucking holiday.
Victoria also appreciates the fact that you bring unrequested baskets of fresh-from-your-garden veggies “for the kids and Roger.” Thank you Gail, for the reminder that Victoria should be feeding her family something healthy instead of ordering twenty-one meals a week.
And Gail, if there was any possible way that you would be reading this, it’s almost certain you’d be doing the math in your head about those twenty-one meals. Trying to figure out how many dinners or lunches or even breakfasts are split between four people over seven days. Chew on it, Gail.
During that first playdate, Victoria worked hard to be the perfect guest. She marvelled at Gail’s decorating and ongoing renovation decisions. She fussed over the antique dessert plates that Gail served home baked, gluten-free muffins on. She cooed over the Jura Capresso Espresso maker that Gail explained was finally the only coffee maker they would ever need (after owning and rejecting dozens of others). Victoria flashed her zoom-whitened smile as often as she could stand while Gail threaded through all the wonderful “opportunities” to volunteer at the pre-school the boys attended. It was during that exact part of the afternoon that Victoria realized she would hate Gail for eternity.
“Bye, honey, have a good day,” Gail kissed her husband as he left to catch his morning train. “Don’t forget, tonight is the Tennis Club fundraiser. It’s going to be incredible this year. You know how hard we’ve all been working on it.”
“Of course, sweetie, I look forward to it every year.” Christopher smiled after kissing his pretty wife. He was looking forward to getting tanked on a weeknight with the fairly new buddies he had met since Gail insisted that joining the Lonsdale Tennis Club would be just the thing to meet the right people in their new home town. Of course, sweetie.
Gail had a short list today, not one of her usual twenty things on, only ten things done type lists. Today’s list was reasonable and she was sure she would cross off every item easily.
Item No. 1: Meet with painters - Done before Chris left for work. The Ocampo Brothers Painters were the preferred painters across three towns and they lived up to their reputation. Hector, the youngest and best looking brother, was in charge of all of the Griffith’s work. It made Gail giggle when her coffee klatch friends carried on about how hot Hector was. They said dirty things and gossipped about who in town had slept with Hector. Gail was the only one in her group that had Hector as the lead for her painting needs. But she would never, ever consider sleeping with another man, not even with one of those “weekend passes” her friends were constantly speculating about.
Item No. 2: Shuttle thirty-five raffle-able centerpieces to the Tennis Club. Gail had worked on and off, for three weeks re-creating an inspired arrangement from Putnam & Putnam that she’d found on Instagram. Gail was pleased she could source all the elements in faux florals so that the winners of the raffle would have a permanent memento of the fundraiser (and of Gail’s immense creativity to boot).
She’d have to skip yoga today, but would still have time to meet her group at Starbucks in West Mill. The West Mill Starbucks was Gail’s favorite. It had a big outdoor warm-weather seating area with umbrellas and furniture that reminded her, just a little, of Parisian cafes. And the planters! She loved the fact that West Mill paid such attention to softscaping. She wondered who the talented person was who decided on the botanical choices each season. Whoever it was, Gail often copied their efforts for the pair of antique urns that flanked her outside front stairs.
Items 3-8: Dry cleaning pick-up, ask about their pick-up and delivery service. Organize and put away all crafting supplies used for the centerpieces. Finish the monthly library volunteer spreadsheet. Connor’s progress update conference at the pre-school. Remember to bring the tissues and hand sanitizer they requested in last week’s email blast. Make sure Darina strips and remakes all the beds and replaces the bath linens. Technically, Gail wouldn’t be doing that actual work, but she did need to make sure that it was done. Finally food shopping for tomorrow’s brunch with Hilde and Bob, the in-laws who were coming to pick up Connor for the long weekend. Gail was looking forward to it being just her and Chris for a few days.
Last night’s fundraiser was a lot more fun than Christopher had expected. Gail and the other organizers had truly outdone themselves. It was a pleasant surprise to go in with low expectations and come out feeling the hangover was well worth it. Having a couple of beers with Dad at brunch today took the edge off. As a surprise for Gail, Chris was planning a romantic homemade dinner for the two of them. He would make that easy stuffed chicken breast thing she said she loved as well as a big salad from her abundant garden, which grew in the sunniest spot in the far back quadrant of the property. Cooking every now and then relaxed Chris, especially when he did it on a day off.
Gail would be out all afternoon at the library going over next month’s events and ramping up the enthusiasm of all the volunteers she coordinated. It would give him plenty of time to prep dinner after watching a game or two. His man cave wasn’t as over the top as some of the others in Willow Hills. Gail decorated it in a handsome way that was all about him and his interests without being obnoxiously off-putting and conspicuously macho.
After dinner tonight, with Connor out of the house, he and Gail would certainly have their weekly sex. Some of his friends complained that sex once a week wasn’t enough. Not Chris. For him it was just the right amount, any more he could take care of himself. Sex with his wife was amazing. After all these years he didn’t know how she managed to make every time they made love feel like it was the first. She wasn’t shy, or direct, but whatever it was, she had a way of looking at him, using her body language to excite him as if they had just then decided to do it for the first time. The one thing he would never tell his friends is that when Gail whispered in his ear “It’s okay to fall asleep inside me.” it made him feel that he was one person with his soulmate. It made him want to cry with happiness.
On a flawless, sunny, Friday afternoon, Christopher grabbed G’s garden basket and a pair of shears and headed out to collect salad greens for the special dinner he had planned. He thought a good mix of all the lettuces would be a nice foundation for the salad, so he clipped some of every variety. Pickling cucumbers would be clever, so he pulled a few of those along with some blazing red cherry tomatoes. He would add some nuts and olives from the pantry and crumble some stinky cheese on top to make it look like he really knew what he was doing.
The table was set with what Chris thought were Gail’s favorite dishes, mixed and matched in a way she might like. The wine was chilling in the silver bucket. He would light the candles when he heard her car pull up on the gravel driveway.
“Babe! What a surprise. I knew something was up as soon as I came through the garage. It smells heavenly.” Gail reached up and unclipped her hair to give it a quick ‘last minute sexy’ shake.
“You’ve worked like crazy this week and I had the time after Mom and Dad left. So, why not?” Christopher handed her a glass of pinot grigio and toasted her.
“Mmmm, yummy. How soon till dinner?” asked Gail.
“Anytime you want. It’s ready and in the warming drawer.”
Gail kissed Christopher and bounced up the stairs to change her clothes. She had anticipated this weekend as well. She was excited that the minimalist Calvin Klein, lace-free, silk camisole top (which looked almost exactly like the one her older sister had in the ‘90s that Gail coveted) would get good use during an intimate Friday night dinner with her man.
Gail ran a dollop of product through her hair to hold it off her face, four dots of eau de parfum in appropriate places, casual white stretch jeans and her camisole. She was ready. Chris scurried around the kitchen transferring the meat to a decorative plate he had mistaken for a serving platter, but no matter. How unsafe could, ‘Not Safe for Food’ actually be if it was just on it for a few minutes? She chose not to mention it and poured herself another glass of wine. A big fluffy salad sat in the middle of the table but the candlesticks made it difficult to serve from, so she did a little rearranging on the sly.
“Are we starting with salad?” Gail asked.
“Yep, I think I stacked the plates right, tell me what you think.” replied Christopher.
“Perfect, sweetie.” Gail used the same hammered brass servers that had been set out earlier today for the in-laws brunch, Chris must have hand washed them.
“I tried to make a dressing for the salad, let me get it.” said Christopher. “If you don’t like it, I’ll grab a Newman’s or something.”
Gail dipped her pinky into the dark oily bowl, declared it delicious and spooned some out over both of their salads.
“What a week. It’s so nice to just sit here and have a quiet dinner with you.”
“Well, thanks for making a great brunch for Mom and Dad today. Connor was so excitied to leave with them.”
“Wouldn’t you be too if you knew you’d be getting all the treats and sweets you wanted all weekend long?
“Are you still talking about Connor or about me now?” Christopher tried his best to give Gail his sexiest look.
He felt warm from the wine. Too warm, too fast. What was it? His neck was tensing and his throat went from scratchy to burning in seconds. He gulped air loudly and pushed back from the table. Gail was so startled she simply stared at him for a couple of beats. Christopher grabbed at his throat and tried choking out words. Gail had no idea what he was trying to say when she felt a fiery blush through her entire body. Her following movement aped her husbands’ almost exactly. They fell to the floor gasping and grasping for each other. Christopher moved across the floor toward his cell phone on the counter area but made it less than half way to his destination. His trachea clamped shut and in his panic he violently tried pounding on his own chest. There was no air coming in. His head felt light. His skin went from flushed to the palest white followed by the literal bluing of his lips. Then the dopamine release and the peaceful realization this was it for him, the end.
Christopher used all his remaining strength to twist his body to look at Gail before he lost consciousness. She was where she had fallen, eyes frozen wide open with her beautiful hair framing her face.
Victoria didn’t like getting her hands dirty, but this little project just might end up being worth it. Six weeks earlier she slipped on a pair of white capri pants, a long-sleeved denim shirt tied at the waist, and wriggled her feet into Gail’s garden clogs as she adjusted the wide brim straw hat over her pinned hair. A big pair of sunglasses covered most of her face. No, she didn’t look at all like Gail, but in this get up, if anyone glanced into the yard, they would probably think they had seen Gail going about her gardening like any other day.
The seedlings in the basket were only two to three inches tall and if Victoria planted them close enough to the five varieties of lettuces Gail was growing, they would probably go unnoticed for several weeks. Rheum x hybridum was only deadly if you ate the leaves, and really, who would do that? Victoria carefully put the clogs, hat and basket back in the slate floored garden room and saw herself out. Funny that Gail never locked the garden room door even though you could get direct access to the house after zig-zagging your way through the dog wash and oversized winter storage room.
Victoria would just have to wait and see if anything came of her little plan. God, she hoped nothing would happen to Connor, he was just a child. And although Victoria had goals, she was not a monster. No, she would never wish ill upon any child.
Gleaming hardwood floors and striking restored moldings set the tone for this exceptional luxury home filled with period details and stunning, appropriate renovations. The spacious chef’s kitchen features a 6-burner Bertazzoni range, double ovens w/heating drawer, Sub-Zero refrigeration and walk-in pantry.
322 Birchbark Road would receive multiple offers in a bidding war with the winning bid $200K over ask, going to an aggressive Type-A couple that decided they would soon be aggressively starting a family. Victoria sent them flowers and a gourmet basket to welcome them to Willow Hills. She made sure the flowers she sent were grander and the basket more posh than the one the buyer’s agent had sent. No one was going to be bigger in Willow Hills than Victoria. No one.