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Melinda K. Madison Keathley

A Solution

Woman with Cigarette by Amedeo Modigliani

He had his vodka delivered, and he only left the bed to go to the bathroom, but only if he wasn’t too drunk. When he was too drunk, he just pissed the bed. She would clean it up, fighting back tears and cussing him under her breath. They had been married for twenty-five years, some of them happy.

He had always been a little melancholy, but she liked that about him when they were young. It made him seem more serious than the other boys, but as his drinking got worse, so did the sadness. She used to look back and try to pinpoint the start of his decline, but recently she came to the conclusion that his trajectory was already fixed when they met. Nothing had really changed through the years. It just progressed, like people age — slowly, subtly, and inevitably.

Outside of letting himself be cared for, he stopped engaging with her. He only spoke when necessary. He ignored her pleas to help himself. But at night it was different. At night, he clung to her. He begged her to hold him. He said he needed her. He’d roll over behind her in a tight spoon and wrap his arms around her so tightly she had trouble getting out from underneath him after he’d fallen asleep. He’d sometimes hold her by the throat. She knew it wasn’t violent, just desperate, so she tolerated it until it repulsed her. He repulsed her, so she stopped lying with him and slept on the couch. But she wasn’t cruel. She felt guilty for denying him what he so desperately wanted. His muffled cries and her inability to help him tore at her heart. She needed a solution.

Her daily commute took her through the worst part of town. On a Wednesday night after her shift, she pulled over near three women she believed to be prostitutes. They were standing on a corner near a chain link fence that was overgrown with hemlock bushes. She waved to them, and they looked at her. Finally, the smallest of the group, a tiny woman with a weathered face approached the car.

“You need something?”

“Someone to hold my husband in bed.”

“Sex or no sex?”

“No sex. Just cuddling.”

“How long?”

“A couple hours.”

“It’s fifty bucks.”

“Not just once, but regularly. A few days a week.”

“It’s still fifty bucks each time.”

“Ok. Want to start tonight?”


“Get in.”

They drove in silence. She didn’t ask the prostitute her name. She didn’t want to know. No one would ever know about this. The prostitute hand rolled a cigarette on the way, and when they got to the house, she asked the prostitute for one.

The prostitute handed her the one she rolled and said, “You taking me back? This is a long way to walk.”


As they walked in the front door, she realized she worried what the prostitute thought of her house.

“He’s back here.”

“Jesus, it’s dark back here.”

“He’s depressed.”

She presented the prostitute to her husband.

“She’s going to lie with you. You can cuddle with her.”

“Ok,” was all he said.

The prostitute took off her high heels and crawled into bed. The husband immediately rolled over and spooned the prostitute, who grabbed his hand in both of hers and clutched them to her chest in what looked like a loving and knowing embrace.

She shut the door and left them alone. She went out to the back steps and smoked the hand-rolled cigarette. When the prostitute came out two hours later, she paid her, and they drove in silence back to the corner with the chain link fence and hemlock bushes.

“Tomorrow night?”


They met three days a week for six months. Every ride was the same. They did not speak. She did not ask her name. The prostitute would give her a hand rolled cigarette. She would smoke it on the back steps and wait in the living room for the prostitute to come out. Every now and then she would hear the prostitute laugh. Once she thought she heard her husband laugh and she got jealous.

The last night she picked up the prostitute was a Friday. The prostitute walked back to the bedroom and shut the door. She sat down on the back steps and lit the hand-rolled cigarette. She noticed a slightly different taste, but it was pleasant, so she finished it. Forty-five minutes later her hands began to shake, her heart raced, she had trouble breathing, and she saw two of everything. When she stood to get up, her legs gave out and she fell forward and hit her head on the glass coffee table. She felt the warm blood trickle down her forehead. She knew it was bad, but she could not raise her arms to feel the wound. She couldn’t move at all. She tried to call out to her husband, but she could not talk. Then she heard her husband’s voice clear and sober.

“How long does it take?”

“Three hours or so.”

“Are you sure she isn’t suffering?”

“I don’t think so. But that fall probably hurt. They’ll think that’s what killed her.”

“This is a convenient turn of events.”

“Do just like I said. Wait till morning, call 911 and tell the police you found her just like this.”

“Ok, Baby.”

“When everything cools down, come get me, Baby.”

He put on the wig she brought him, and in his wife’s car, he drove the prostitute back to the corner by the fence with the hemlock bushes. When the prostitute got out of the car, the other girls greeted her and asked about the drunk she cuddled with and his crazy wife who dropped her off, solidifying her alibi. When the new girl picked a white cluster off the hemlock bush and brought it her nose to smell the flowers, the prostitute said, “Don’t mess with that plant. It’s poisonous.”

About the writer:
Melinda is a lifelong Mid-Southerner, born in Arkansas and later drawn to the bright lights on the bluff of Memphis, Tennessee. She earned a BA in History and an MA in English Literature from the University of Memphis, and now makes a living writing internal communications for a Fortune 100 company. In October 2019, she won the Memphis Magazine Very Short Story Contest, and she’s published a handful of other short stories.

Image: Madame Amédée (Woman with Cigarette) by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). Oil on canvas. 39 1/2 x 25 1/2 inches. 1918. Public domain.

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