DAAN HENSELMANS

★ ★ ★ ★

FICTION

Old Wounds, or the Testament of Marlene Cassio

As my last will and testament, first of all I’d like to say I’m proud to have killed Geraldine Moore. She was a haughty and self-obsessed child, and had it coming from the beginning. I’m not proud of the method, nor that it took seventy years to get here, but given my illness and the opportunity that was handed to me, you make do with what you have.

I, Marlene Cassio, being of sound mind and memory, shall herewith document my final wishes in writing, as well as lay out the motivation behind them, that any beneficiaries may know exactly why they deserve their charge. Fate delivered Geraldine to me two days ago, just as I was considering my imminent death, and how little this grudge had brought me. The odds of assigning two mortal enemies to the same cancer ward at the same time by nothing but chance are nonexistent, and I’ll preemptively dismiss any cynics and sycophants who’d claim my last act calls my sanity into question. For once in my life, Lady Luck blatantly granted me her favour, even if I failed to recognize it at first, and only a fool ignores the stars aligning.

When Geraldine arrived in the ward, I immediately summoned the nurse and insisted on a separate room, but apparently university hospitals do not cater to requests like not wanting to spend your dying breath in front of your one true nemesis. Of course it didn’t support my case that Geraldine didn’t recognize me at first and limply denied our shared history, which is a testament to how effectively I’ve hidden the pain she caused me as well as to her own vapidness. The nurse is Jerome Bauer, and to him I bequeath my car but not its engine, that he may know what it’s like to be saddled with a useless hunk of crap.

I was 12 years old when I had the misfortune of meeting Geraldine, a step that I can now contextualize as the moment everything went to shit. My mother had set us up to study together in the delusion that we could be friends, and being the viper she is, Geraldine lured me into her life with honey-sweet lies and a pact to jointly lacerate every second-rate villain in our school with spirited gossip. We’d read books to each other in her room during the afternoon and I’d glance at her when she wasn’t looking, wondering what had brought us together, blissfully unaware. I was a young and stupid girl, vulnerable to Geraldine’s manipulations and the sense of power she seemed to have over her life. We agreed to stick by each other no matter what, an absurd proposition in retrospect, given the nature of her character.

The pact, of course, was nothing more than a farce. Not even a year went by before Geraldine started casually consorting with the other girls, discarding everything we’d built and agreed on, and thereby drove a spike into my heart for the purpose of torturing and humiliating me. She stopped inviting me to her house in favour of idle mall trips and bouts of giggling with the very bootlickers the two of us had sworn to conspire against. Being a contemplative person, my remaining time in school was spent reflecting on what we’d had, and she had tossed aside like garbage. I recall every single time she and her chosen cronies deigned to look at me in those five years: all instances can be counted on one hand and each was punctuated with ringing laughter, the meaning of which I was all too familiar with. The bootlickers are Pauline Hagen, Hyesung Choi, and Gina Pulaski, and to them I bequeath my antebellum home, which has a small but extremely valuable jewelry collection hidden somewhere in the walls or floorboards, belonging to whomever of them finds it first, that they might tear themselves asunder fighting over something that was mine.

I’ve heard it claimed that living well is the best revenge, and after smothering my archenemy with a hospital pillow I can now quite candidly confirm that’s utter and sincere bullshit. Every decision I’ve made since the day she cut me out has been in the interest of living a better life than Geraldine Moore, and it has brought me nothing but derision and sorrow. People are generally incapable of owning a purpose in life, and are uneasy around those who do, so they have distanced themselves from me as soon as I make it clear that my only desire is to see Geraldine suffer. In order to overshadow her law career I attained a PhD in finance, a horrid choice that has left me immune to all beauty my life might have otherwise had to offer. Worst of all, any superficial joy I derived from my material wealth is yet more acid in my bowels in light of how happily she lived with less. None of the decisions I have made after Geraldine dismissed me have borne any consequence to her, save one. The best revenge is the catharsis that comes with the well-deserved nightly murder of the person who ruined your life.

I made sure she never found out that I monitored her, so as not to give her the satisfaction of knowing I cared. I hired the best, most discrete private detectives, who kept me up to date on every detail of her lousy jobs and her boring family for fifty years after school, and on her bridge games and bland brunches after she retired. Trusting anybody but myself with this responsibility was obviously a mistake: the fact that none of the three detectives I have on staff ever reported that Geraldine was diagnosed with cancer leads me to conclude they’ve been phoning it in for whoever knows how many years. The detectives are Michael Dujardin, Max Mueller, and Harvey Zhang, and to them I bequeath equal stakes in my consulting business on the condition that all its current staff is sacked immediately, that they might know what it’s like to work for a living.

Geraldine, of course, with her perfect nose and blue eyes, tricked some shallow fool named Mark Moore into marriage sometime after university. I felt it was my duty to inform him of her true nature, and sent an anonymous letter before their wedding, but he was apparently too dumb to read. The two of them brought forth a plague of three children and spoiled them rotten, no doubt to make the world as miserable as possible for future generations. I had no choice but to temporarily hide my life’s purpose in order to marry a taller, richer man, a shameful mistake who kept me up at night sobbing into his pillow until I kicked him to the curb. I was disgusted to see Geraldine’s children actually visit the ward with their own spawn yesterday, implying her rotten genes will be around for at least another eighty years. These children are Kit Moore, Ella Moore, and Janine Barton, and I bequeath €25.000 to each one of them, many times the amount their thriftless mother will have left them, that they might hate themselves for accepting or rejecting.

I will be the first to admit that when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I wondered why — it seemed unfair, in the scope of things, and doubly so when Geraldine was brought in. My life had been an enormous turd, because of her, and now I was supposed to live out its shitty end in her presence?

“Marlene?” she croaked earlier today, pathetically. “Marlene, is that you?” Of course I had nothing to say to her, so I kept my eyes strictly trained on the ceiling, but some memory had seemingly come back to her and she now realized I’d told the nurse the truth, or maybe she was so ridden with guilt she just saw me in every old woman. “God, it’s a miracle,” she gasped. She started laughing, as if there was anything funny about my life or her consumption of it. “This must be fate. I might die soon, Marlene. I’ve been thinking a lot about my life, and I need to apologize to you. I dropped you like a stone when we were kids. I was so insecure.”

She dared apologize to me! At this point, after she’d blighted my entire existence and been the direct cause of all the misery and loneliness I’d piled up over my life! She dared defend the notion that any amount of regret on her part could compensate for even the tiniest amount of my pain! I had miraculously managed to maintain my composure after her arrival, but at that point my facade shattered, and I turned to face her in my bed, quivering with rage. “You don’t need to apologize,” I hissed. “You need to die”.

Of course she continued stammering empty platitudes after that, but I’d said what I needed to say and the rest is really not important. This was why that tumor had formed, this was why I was dying, this was why we were somehow diagnosed with the same cancer at the same moment: so I could have Geraldine delivered to me just in time, to finally claim my rightful revenge.

I now realize I’ve always been too petty, too trite, to accept the obvious solution. Fueled by that meaningless display of penitence, a renewed clarity of mind, and nothing left but death, my common sense kicked in. I turned my back toward Geraldine and waited until the lights went out and her blathering transformed into the stuttering breath of a sick woman asleep, before I gathered all of my remaining strength and got out of bed, brandishing my musty pillow like a sacred sword of truth.

Fate is what we make of it, a measure of blind justice we can spin out of a cruel universe. My cancer has spread; I won’t live much longer, but in these last moments I feel like I did live up to my potential when it mattered, and knew when to act when life nudged me and told me it was my turn. Fate is Geraldine Moore, and to her I bequeath my soul and eternal hatred.

That’s all that remains to be said. All of my other belongings, including my furniture and the engine of my car, are to be left to Barry Toole, my leech of a notary, provided he succeeds at making this document legally binding. I notified him of the stakes half an hour ago and he is currently speeding to the hospital to authenticate it. I’m writing this last will and testament in bed, next to Geraldine’s still warm body, which reminds me of studying together, spread out on her duvet 68 years ago. I’ll close my eyes for a little bit while I wait.

Daan Henselmans is a freelance computational linguist, writer, and improv comedian from the Netherlands. He has a BA in philosophy, linguistics and literature, a BSc in mathematics and cell biology, and two Master’s degrees in language science and technology. He also used to be in a circus as a kid. He lives in Berlin with his girlfriend and a very strange cat.

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