“The world is made up of two classes – the hunters and the
― Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game
I’d always wanted to see London at Christmas. When the
boys were small George and I didn’t feel as though we could leave
them at Christmas. We believed, as many young people do, there
would be plenty of opportunities to have adventures when our sons
were grown and had their own families. Then the boys finished
college and got married and there was debt and soon
grandchildren. And we couldn’t bear to miss those holidays with the
little ones. Soon after Matt moved to Boston with his family George
started to get sick.
At first he was just more tired than usual. He had retired from
his state job and took a part time job at a local construction business
as an accountant. I had cut back my teaching hours years earlier
working only as a substitute teacher. We took a couple of short trips;
once we went to visit Matt and the family in Boston. Another time we
went to visit Jesse in New Mexico where he was on a dig. But
George was always so tired. Always a stubborn man, he resisted
going to the doctor. By the time he gave in to my constant pressure
and the combined pressure of our sons and his good friend, our
neighbor Bill, his heart was in bad shape. A week before his
scheduled by-pass surgery he had a massive coronary. That was
almost two years ago. I was fifty-eight years old.
Matt tried to convince me to leave North Carolina and move
to Boston. I said I would think about it although I knew I wouldn’t
leave my home; the home where I had raised my sons, shared a
wonderful life with a man I loved, a place I decorated, gardened,
and loved for over thirty years.
I had great friends who were there for me, sometimes trying
to set me up with older gentlemen. I had a great neighbor who
wouldn’t let me mow my yard or even change the porch light bulb.
Bill had been there with George right through to the end. In the
almost fifteen years he’d been our neighbor he and George had
bonded closer than brothers. They’d gone to ball games, gone
fishing, and seen more movies together than I had seen in a
lifetime. They read books and discussed them ad infinitum. Bill
didn’t drive which was unusual for a man in our town. But Bill had
moved down South after an early retirement saying the northern
winters were too much for his old bones. I was never quite sure
what kind of business Bill had been in and I suspected he had
inherited some money somewhere along the way. George once told
me it was some kind of corporation. I knew he had no living family.
He’d been an only child and he had never married.
When George passed away Bill was there for me. It was Bill
who sat there at George’s bedside as George said what would be
his last words to us.
He was pretty doped up and most of what he said made no
sense. He talked about hunting which wasn’t something he or Bill
did. I remember his eyes being a little unfocused as he told Bill,
“Some hunters never stop hunting. Sometimes they will go right into
the bears den to pull him out when he’s hibernating.” Then George
had looked from Bill to me and back. “Livvy is a good woman Bill.
You can always trust her. But you watch out for her.”
I had put a finger to his lips and told him to hush. “You’re the
one needs watching out for you old coot.” And he had smiled.
It was a sunny day and the blinds were partly opened. The
sunlight cast bars of light and dark across the white sheet that
covered George. I was holding George’s hand and it seemed so
small and frail, the skin gray and loose. Bill stood on the other side
of the bed and when I glanced up I saw the concern in his eyes. For
a moment he looked up and our eyes met and the message was
there; we both knew George might not make it. Less than an hour
later we were hustled from the room by a cadre of nurses and
doctors. We stood in the hall and I was aware of Bill holding my
hand and I know I was squeezing it tightly. That heavy antiseptic
scent of hospitals that we all know so well was making me
nauseous. When the doctor came out of George’s room I knew
instantly my husband was dead. It was Bill who held me as I
sobbed, it was Bill who got all the information we needed to prepare
for what came next, it was Bill who sat with me as I called my sons
to tell them of their father’s passing.
It was a natural transfer for Bill to become my friend. And
that is all it was. My friends would sometimes tease me, asking
when Bill was going to put his slippers under my bed. I think many
people believed we had a romantic relationship.
Now I was alone. George was gone. Bill was gone. And I
was in London watching the snow fall lightly over the ice skating rink
in front of the British Museum. I can’t say I was lonely. I can’t say I
wasn’t lonely. I guess I was in a sort of limbo.
So, you are probably wondering where this is going. I guess
I should rewind a little and fill in the details.
Western North Carolina is beautiful in the fall. I lived in the
Smoky Mountains. If you’ve never been there you’ve missed one of
the most beautiful places on earth. I had an old Victorian house that
turned 100 with the new century. The porch wrapped around the
house giving a view of the mountains as well as a view of the lake.
After the kids had gone to live their lives George had hired a
contractor who added a small balcony outside our bedroom. We
used to love to sit out there early on summer mornings and have
coffee, or just as the sun set we’d have glasses of wine and marvel
at how fortunate we were. Sometimes I would sit outside and listen
to George and Bill on the porch below as they talked sports, or
movies, or books. The only subjects that were forbidden were
politics and religion, subjects neither man had a taste for.
After George was gone Bill would come over in the evening
and we’d sit and talk. Sometimes he would bring his guitar and
strum or just doodle a tune. Sometimes we’d go to the movies. I
found I liked foreign films and action movies but intensely disliked
“chick flicks”. Bill would tease me that I was channeling George.
Often after the movie we’d stop at the “Soda Shoppe” for a treat. Bill
had more of a sweet tooth than I did and that’s saying a lot. I took
over George’s role and once a week I would take Bill with me to
shop for groceries and cleaning supplies. Every so often I’d take him
to the mall and he would go shopping for whatever man things he
needed and I would go shopping for whatever woman things I
needed. We developed a routine.
I still did things with my other friends. It was awkward when a
group of us went out. There would be couples and more often than
not it was just me. Bill was not big on socializing although he did go
to a couple of events with me. I think he was just being nice. No, I
KNOW he was just being nice.
One time a group of us went to the fair. Once a year the fair
would come through our area with rides, games, fair food, and all
the wonderful silly things you see at a small town fair. They would
showcase some old musical performer or group and tickets were
cheap and sometimes free. I guess that year was a little slow,
maybe a lot of the “oldies” performers were past performing. The
show was a group of impersonators from Elvis to the Beatles, and
even more contemporary performers like Madonna and Tina Turner.
We spread blankets on the grass and listened to music I had long
forgotten. Some of the older people got up to dance. I admit I was
surprised when Bill got up, pulled me to my feet and we danced to
an Elvis impersonator singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. I couldn’t
remember the last time I had danced with a man. George didn’t care
for dancing and other than our wedding and our son’s wedding I
couldn’t think of a time we danced. I suppose it could have been
awkward but Bill had become such a good friend it seemed natural.
It helped that Bill was a pretty good dancer and easy to follow even
for a rusty old girl like me.
I think the night sticks in my mind because I hadn’t had that
much fun since George passed away. I think it was the same for Bill.
We played some of the games and it wasn’t until we stopped at one
of the shooting galleries that Bill’s mood changed. One of the guys
from church, Doug, won a big bear for his wife. Doug had had a few
beers and kept pushing Bill to try to win me a pink cat. “Come on
Billy boy. Win a Kitty for Ms Livvy.”
Bill kept saying no he wasn’t much of a shot and didn’t want
to embarrass himself. But Doug insisted, even laying down a dollar
so Bill could take 3 shots. He was a good sport Bill was. But he
wasn’t lying when he said he wasn’t much of a shot. He missed all
three shots. But Doug wouldn’t let it go. He threw down another
dollar. I could see Bill was getting more uncomfortable so I grabbed
the rifle and said, “Heck let me try.” I guess it was just luck but I hit 3
targets and walked away with a pink cat the size of a 4-year old
child leaving Doug with his chin on the ground staring in disbelief.
Bill couldn’t stop laughing. “Remind me never to piss you off,” he
whispered in my ear.
“I just wish I knew what I’m going to do with this thing.” I
“We could take it over to Doug’s and leave it on his porch
with an empty beer bottle.”
I couldn’t help laughing. This was a side of Bill I had never
seen. We took the prize back to my house and set it up in a chair
looking out one of the upstairs bedrooms. Bill called it my Guardian
Cat. Later that week the first clues began to surface although I did
not know it at the time.
It was early September and I’d decided I was going to bake
a pie. The weather had cooled and there was a nip of fall in the air.
It had been a long hot summer and I was more than ready for the
season to change. I’d filled my cart with all the ingredients I needed
and groaned when I saw the long check-out lines. As I waited I
picked a magazine off the rack, looking at recipes, fall fashions, and
the pictures of luscious desserts next to articles that told me how to
lose twenty pounds before Thanksgiving. I didn’t really notice the
man who got in line behind me. I was aware of someone standing
there but hadn’t looked up at him. It wasn’t until he spoke. “So do
you think he did it alone?”
“Excuse me?” I looked around thinking he must be talking to
He pointed at the magazine in my hand. “Oswald. You think
he did it alone or was it a conspiracy?”
It was kind of strange to see a young man in a suit and tie in
the grocery store in the middle of the morning, but there he was. I
looked at the front of the magazine. “Did Oswald Act Alone?” was
highlighted in a caption beneath a photo of John Kennedy. I looked
from the magazine to the young man, “I honestly never thought
about it. I guess he did.”
I started to place my groceries on the belt and slipped the
magazine back into the rack.
“It’s the 50th anniversary this year you know.” He tossed the
orange he was holding from one hand to the other.
“Oh my. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.”
“Fifty years and people still talking about who did it.” He
shook his head.
“I guess. Is that orange all you have?” I asked. “You can go
ahead of me.”
He looked at the orange and said, “Oh I forgot something.
But thanks.” And with that he headed back into the store and out of
my mind. I would never have given him another thought until
something happened a few days later.
Bill and I were sitting in front of the TV watching the news
and eating the last of my homemade apple pie when a story about
the Kennedy assassination came on. “So do you think he did it?” Bill
I laughed. “I really haven’t thought much about it until last
week. Someone else asked me the same question.”
Bill was quiet for a moment, then he asked, “Who?”
“I really don’t know.” I went on to tell him about the young
man in the suit and tie. You know how sometimes something
changes and you can sort of feel it. You may not know what it is or
why it’s happening but the air feels different somehow. That’s what
happened then. Bill got up, taking my dish and fork with his and
went into the kitchen. I heard him turn on the tap and knew he was
washing out the bowls. I went into the kitchen and watched him as
he ran the sponge around the bowls.
“Bill? I can do those later.” The TV played in the background
and one of the old announcers told an America that had long since
faded away that the president was dead. “Bill?”
He set the dishes in the dish drainer and turned to smile at
me as he dried his hands on a dish towel. “The least I can do is help
you clean up after you made the pie.” The words were right, the
tone was almost right, but there was something about his smile, a
shadow in his eyes that was different.
“Are you okay?”
“Just a little tired. I think I’ll head on home.” As he moved
past me I put my hand on his arm.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” He looked into my eyes and for
a moment I thought he was going to say something. Everything
seemed to stop, my breath, our heartbeats, the very air seemed still.
It wasn’t that sort of romantic stillness; it was more like a quiet
The moment passed and Bill’s eyes hooded over. “I’m fine
Olivia. Really. Thank you for worrying about me.”
I followed him to the door. “Well call me if you need anything.
I mean it now!”
He half smiled, “Lock up now. And thanks again… for
everything.” Something in his tone was final. A chill went through
me. I watched through the window as he crossed the lawn and went
in his front door. As his porch light went on and my curtain fell back
into place I saw a dark car I didn’t recognize parked halfway down
the street. It was obvious there were two people sitting in the front
seat. If I hadn’t been so concerned about Bill I might have paid
closer attention. But that’s water under the bridge as they say.
Instead I sat back down in front of the TV and half listened
as the announcer talked about the Kennedy assassination,
investigations, conspiracy theories, and the shooter. Something
about Lee Harvey Oswald seemed vaguely familiar; something
about the way he held his head, the way he spoke. But I wasn’t
paying close attention to that either. In fact it wasn’t until they
showed the museum, talked about events commemorating the 50th
anniversary that I began to listen closely. The more I heard, the
more interested I became. By the end of the evening I realized I
wanted to see this historical place. The next time someone asked
me what I thought about such a pivotal moment I wanted to have an
opinion. I went to bed wondering how long it would take to drive to