Lora Hilty is a recent graduate of Ohio State University, earning her BA in English upon returning to academia after living a
rich and fulfilling life. She has gathered moments for fictional fodder from experiences gained from life in many places
throughout North America, utilizing them to imagine and create short stories, each unique and wound with threads which
explore and explain something of the underside of human experience. This is Lora's first published story. She currently
resides in Ohio and spends her days reading, writing, and submitting works for publication.
My Life as Mrs. Murphy
I will get rid of them both, and save myself in the process.
In my mind the words beat a rhythmic song until soon they were all I could think about. I breathed them, ate them, pondered,
and weighed them, and soon the thought took root, fleshing itself out with detail and purpose in the hours and days that followed
the first inkling.
I became Mrs. Murphy in an unsavory way, two young people exploring and fondling a naïve sense of love in the back seat of a red
Chevy Nova at the drive-in theatre in Heath, Ohio. The impending birth had been enough to convince us to leave behind the
familiar warmth and solid concrete of the town we had known since childhood, and we went north, feigning happiness and dodging
rice, and contented ourselves in sparing our families the embarrassment of my pregnancy. John and I rushed to purchase the old
logging house in Merit, Michigan with the money his father had given him for a down payment, and we were eager to move forward
and cover our mistake.
The house, a large white turn of the century two-story, had a cellar with a dirt and gravel floor and is roughly situated on thirty-
three acres of tired land long grown up with weeds. The small Dutch community was in the Northern part of the state, and we
were outsiders due as much to the lack of Dutch heritage as being newcomers to the town. We were called Flatlanders in local
vernacular as the landscape there had rolling hills and Ohio did not, and we are referred to in town as Mr. and Mrs. John Murphy.
Jane was born on a snow-covered afternoon in February, the pain coming fast and hard, curious for a first born. She had rushed
into the world and arrived on my kitchen floor, a mixture of blood and disaster. Although small and lethargic she was complete. I
strained to see John's face when it was done his eyes wide and strangely comical and it was then that I first knew that he wasn't a
strong man, unable to take control and steer the boat, so to speak. His expression has remained unaltered since that day and
echoes the dumb drive behind his once handsome face. I had experienced raw panic for the first time and I knew I was alone in it.
A helpless flutter squeezed upon my chest and took my breath and I had wanted to run, to find some way out of the rural
Jane's tiny body screamed to be acknowledged from the first day forward, bent and frail, but tenacious. Her muscles began to
wither and stiffen within two years after birth, and we realized the gravity of her problems. It happened in stages, first the news
that she wouldn't be a normal child followed by the realization of exactly what that meant.
As she grew, she lived rough and stubborn and battled the essence of nature with her every breath while licking the remnants of
existence with a lolled tongue. Her eyes danced dangerously about as she struggled to focus, and her arms beat the air as she
fought to master them. I suppose she was the epitome of life's terrible lessons, a kind of purification process, perhaps.
I busied myself with the daily chore of bathing, feeding, and dressing her as she wailed, a siren that pierced my ears with never
ending demand. There were days filled with hospitals and nights driving home in the beat up brown sedan we had purchased for
the purpose. Defeat swirled thick around our lives, but she didn't know. Neurological, congenital, and terminal were all were terms
I'd come to know well, but the gist of it was that no one was to blame. But I knew the truth. She had been our drunken mistake.
I loathed the old house with peeling white paint and the stale smell of urine and sweat that had become a permanent fixture there.
Time added weight, building and grinding, until every part of me, each hair, each breath, and each cell in me was soaked with
despair so great that it was almost missed as indifference took its place. When I looked at Jane, a wild and spasmodic lump, I no
longer thought of her as human.
It was late summer of Jane's seventh year and I had awakened early, rolling from the bed so I wouldn't wake John. I studied him
before reaching for the white cotton housecoat which served for clothing most days while he was away. His t-shirt was thin and
streaked with the stuff of his world, hot-dogs, pork rinds, and beer from Tubby's Pub in town. I watched his breaths wheeze from
loose lips, sputtering as tired lungs and heart kept the air moving somehow and shook my head, remembering the trim and
handsome boy with blonde hair and large muscles which rippled under his shirt as he moved. I hurried from the room, shaking off
the memory of a sweeter time and resigning myself to the present.
Jane waited patiently for me in her room and greeted me with an open smile when I stumbled in. Her missing teeth enhanced a
face filled with promises not kept. She giggled as the morning sun played across her face and tickled her nose through the open
curtains. But soon, the saliva escaped from her open mouth and revealed the lack of intellect behind the angelic face. I pulled back,
unable to get beyond what I knew to be a life sentence. Frustration edged inside, flaming up even as I fought it down. It wouldn't
do to loose composure in front of John. I regained control and gathered Jane's clothes from the heavy bureau drawer.
I could hear John groan as he turned in bed and adjusted his weight to the center, his bloated belly filling my absent space. I held
my breath and winced at the sound of him, waiting for the snoring to resume regularity. Jane had soiled the bedding again and I
struggled to slide the bulk of her aside after removing her clothing and cleaned her body with soap and water carried in from the
kitchen. I worked to dress her in a powder-blue jumper and ankle socks before lifting her into her chair, my breaths labored and
my hair messed as I strained under her weight.
I took a deep breath and paused to straighten myself in the mirror above the bureau, a gold framed monstrosity given to John by
his mother. The dark circles under my red- rimmed eyes told of hard work with little sleep. I pushed the hair back from my face
with the back of my hand and pulled the small lines from around my mouth, stopping briefly to examine the teeth within. My lower
molars had become tender and loose to the touch, and my gums were swollen despite the vitamins forced down sometime
between morning coffee and dinner. The swelling had spread to my throat and cheeks and resulted in my meals tasting like the tin
cans from which it often originated. I swallowed hard and considered the lines which folded my forehead and the sallow skin which
begged for sunshine and rest and let my eyes drop to my body. A smile trembled in the corner of my mouth as I ran my hands
down my sides admiring the thin frame and looked away, realizing that it too would be changed with time.
Jane began whimpering, that tweeting little sound that comes from a mouse trapped on sticky paper, and brought my attention
back to the routine. She had slid from her chair, wiggling this way and that, as she did sometimes in an effort to gain my
attention. I slapped her promptly, knowing that if I gave her any room to misbehave, she would. She made the whining sound
again and her nose was running and soiled her shirt. Just leave it to her to ruin a perfectly wonderful sunny morning. I wiped her
nose roughly with a tissue from the bureau and she began to wail, saliva oozing from the corner of her mouth. I slapped her again
for good measure.
I rose to set myself in order, wiping the sweat from my brow before straightening my nightgown in the mirror and lingered there,
clipping my bangs back with a hair-pin from the bureau. Jane's cries had softened, puttering out as she tired with the effort. My
skin had reddened, flushing with the effort of bringing my blood from a rolling boil. My nose began to bleed and I wept, unable to
deal with the new crisis. I grabbed a tissue from the bureau and clamped it tight.
My stomach turned as I realized that Jane's cries had awakened John. My throat tightened and pain wracked my stomach and
caused acid to escape into my throat. I swallowed hard and pasted a smile on my face. I could hear him breathing in the doorway,
wheezing like the rats in the cellar when in labor.
"Morning," I managed.
"What's to eat?" His words were heavy with sleep, fused to his palate by his hangover. I took a peek from across the room. He
stood sweat-stained in the doorway, his robe open and his shirt rolled up. I put my head back to get the nose bleed under control.
"Give me a minute and I'll see what I can do." I headed toward the door, squeezing past him in the doorframe, avoiding contact.
He slapped my left buttock as I passed and held his hand there to squeeze. I winced and held my breath to make myself smaller
as I slid past and made my way into the kitchen.
I inspected the bacon, thick-cut and a little slimed, but decided that it would do. I waited for the grease to pool before adding the
eggs and was topping them with cheese as I listened to him cough in the bathroom.
"I hope you want cheese eggs." I called to him from the kitchen.
I heard his feet slide across the linoleum.
"Scrambled," he muttered, dripping coffee over the counter as he slid toward me and placed his face in my neck. My muscles
tensed as I attempted to steer clear.
"Too late," I said, knowing that he'd grumble.
"Then why'd you ask me if it was already too late?"
"To get on your nerves," I said with a smirk. He was using the bottom of his shirt to wipe his nose and it made me gag.
"I saw Feona Boscher in town yesterday and she told me to tell you hello," I said.
His eyes opened wider.
"Why'd she want you to say that to me?" His face began to color and I swallowed. Late nights and tired mornings smelling of stale
perfume that I didn't own were explained in an instant.
"I thought maybe you'd know," I ventured.
"She's just a dumb kid," he muttered, opening the paper and dismissing me. "How long 'till food?"
I slapped the plate onto the table and flipped the switch on the black and white television perched on the counter beside the
refrigerator. Ted Koppel was reporting that Roe v. Wade had been decided. My stomach turned and I listened, the tears welling up
and felt hot on my cheeks when they spilled over. This is no kind of life, I thought as I wiped the tears away and hurried to make
the rice cereal for Jane.
That's when it happened — when I was making the cereal for Jane. It was a flash of perfect and complete clarity, an epiphany
really, the single sentence which planted itself firmly in my brain. I will get rid of them both, and save myself in the process. The
thought had surprised me at first, but the more I rolled it around the more it became a real answer. I eyed John from my perch in
front of the stove and considered it, imagining my life returning to the one I once new, washed and dressed without disgrace or
Jane was easy. I was dusting the roses for beetles when it came to me, the tan powder sliding from the can in a brilliant display of
effective elimination. My finger slid down the side of the package as I searched for the active ingredient. Chlordane. I let my eyes
drop further, skimming the list of side-effects if ingested. The list was long, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tremor, mental
confusion, and death.
I watched the beetles for hours that day, inspecting each twitch of their round hard bodies for a measurable death song before
deciding to use it. I emptied the contents into a plastic container and placed it under the hutch for safe keeping. Just a few
sprinkles on her meals each day would cause much damage quickly.
I added the powder to her meals in small increments, measuring the effect before adding more. Two days into the treatments I
began to be bold, sprinkling larger doses until I could see that her health had taken a marked turn. She vomited and her face
twitched. Over the next few hours, the face twitch had turned into facial paralysis and she began convulsing. The resemblance to
her existing condition was remarkable, wonderful, and elegant. I called her doctor, Dr. Franklin, in Manistee to cover my crime.
The child was somehow sweeter through the poison; the memory of her smile was as sweet as honey. It was as if both Jane and I
knew this was necessary, Ted Koppel had confirmed it, and she would wait to greet me on the other side in that lovely way she
reserved for the morning time, when everything was quiet and new. It was a visionary way to do it, really, as clarity had come to
me in soft whispers of insight; the rightness of it enriching my life as the plan became reality and the secrets of this path were
Dr. Franklin arrived dutifully at 9:00 in the morning before shaking off his coat, hunching his back, and proceeding into Jane's
room. I made tea while he worked, humming softly in the kitchen as he examined her mouth and ears and the tremors which
wracked her small frame. He shook his head and muttered to himself before exiting the room and easing the door closed.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Murphy," he said. His eyes were downcast and the emotion in his voice brought tears to my eyes. "There's
nothing I can do for her but make her comfortable. I've placed an I.V. in her arm to get her hydrated, but other than that..." He
shook his head. I almost felt sorry that her condition stumped him so.
"I think I should arrange a squad to take her into Manistee." He was resolute.
A pain stabbed my stomach and I bent under it. My lip began to sweat as I realized that if he took her to there she might be
saved. I struggled to stand and he placed his hand on my shoulder, comforting me and calming my nerves.
"Please… please," I begged. "She's been through so much. We've been through so much. Please… let her die at home." I began to
cry, my lips trembling and my voice cracking under the secret stress.
"You've got something there..." he sputtered, scrambling for the handkerchief tucked neatly into his gray suit-coat. He placed it
firmly across the bridge of my nose and squeezed. I shook off my surprise as I realized my nose was bleeding again and looked
into his eyes as he worked on my nose. I watched as his brow furrow, deep lines creasing an otherwise handsome face.
"How long has it been since someone's taken a look at you?" He muttered, and guided my hand to my nose with his free hand.
"I'm fine. I'm okay, really, Dr. Franklin. This will be over soon." I was embarrassed, and wanted him to leave. I closed my eyes and
shooed him toward the door. "Really, I'll be fine."
"Are you sure you want to do this alone?" I could feel his eyes study me, examining me.
"I'm sure, doctor," I said, "John will be home soon, within the hour," I lied. "I know he'll want her here." I met his eyes with my
own and held my breath as he nodded his head affirmatively and turned toward the door.
"You've been through so much already," he said. "It won't be long now. Are you sure? I mean, are you really sure you want to do
I nodded, relief spreading over my limbs and calming my trembling skin.
"Call me if you need me. Anytime, Mrs. Murphy, and I mean that." He looked tired, worn under the weight of his job. "You've got
my number. Don't hesitate to call."
My breaths came easier as he stepped out of the door. I closed the heavy door before turning toward Jane's room and stopped to
pick up the small plastic Tupperware container under the dining room hutch which held the remainder of the insecticide, the tan
powder which was the key to my freedom.
I checked the time on the large wrought iron clock which was hung on the wall facing the door in Jane's room and considered the
strangeness of my work on this day. It was curious, the power I felt in knowing that was her last day, or moment even,
dependant on how fast the powder did its task. Jane's small body trembled as each labored breath escaped her mouth. She was
pitiful really, a scar, a burden, a nightmare, all caused by one error in judgment. I clicked my tongue, enduring was surely no kind
of life. Jane died as the powder found its way into the small slice I had placed in her I.V. that night.
The funeral was small. Various neighbors and John's friends from work shuffled in and out of Bruniks Funeral Home bound by
some sense of duty and respect. None had ever met Jane, or seen her picture. All they knew was that she wasn't right, and that
had been enough to keep them away. I nodded as they passed and lined stout bodies along the snack table, whispering and
motioning toward me with a free hand. Snatches of conversation reached my ear, "For the best... They both deserved better...
She's at rest, now… Look at him, he should be ashamed."
Dr. Franklin appeared briefly, driving in from the city to offer support, and merged with the sparse attendees. He patted my hand
and lingered, unsure of what to say. His eyes said everything. You are free, they crooned. You are still young and you are free,
now. He had given me sedatives to help me get through the event, and he had genuinely touched me with his steady concern for
my well-being. He paced around my in front of my chair, his sturdy legs slightly bowed. He smelled of cologne and I thought him
handsome in his black suit and hat. I didn't take the pills. I needed full control.
It was a closed casket at my request and I placed a small picture framed in blue on top of it. I glanced at it from my chair in the
corner, a comfortable wing-back with a nice paisley print, and had to avert my eyes, break away from Jane's blank stare.
I searched the room and found John, munching a plate of sausage links wrapped in breading and talking with Feona Boscher in the
narrow hallway. He whispered something into her ear and I watched, recognizing interest in her young eyes. She twirled her
blonde hair with one nail bitten finger as she slid her frame along the wall toward him. Her eyes never left his as she licked her lips
with her young pink tongue. I was queerly amused and disgusted at the same time.
Jane was buried the following day in a graveyard next to the church on Bickel Hill Road. Few came, as hard rain forced a
postponement for several hours. Those who braved the bad weather were bent under a driving rain which began halfway through
the service. Before it had ended, the sky opened up and sent lightening flashing through the surreal scene and scattering the
group. I stood strong in the driving rain, eager for the storm to rip the world in half and swallow this place. Pastor Venstra, the
pastor from the Merit Christian Reform Church, ended the ceremony abruptly in order to save those in attendance from certain
electrocution. I was relieved, but the finality of it disturbed my sense of progress and clouded my thoughts. I joined John for the
trip home in his blue Ford pick up truck.
We never spoke of Jane after the funeral, but now and again I would think of her, as I knew he did. There was never any real
sorrow or pain with her passing, but a solid feeling inside indicated that I had done the deed well. I felt justified in my action and
comforted myself with the knowledge that this special gift that I had given her was intricately complicated, and would be difficult
for others to understand.
Six months and three days after giving Jane to the Lord, I tested the step, four from the top, with my toe before carefully
stepping over it on my way to the cellar. I canned peaches for two days, stacking them neatly into the milk crates for John's
convenience when hauling them to the cellar. He was readying himself for the chore, and I went as far as clearing some shelves in
the cellar for the new installment of canned goods. I couldn't help to make one last adjustment to the bolts, just another eighth
of a turn to insure his accident on the way down before calling him. I could hear his heavy footsteps, and wondered what the
pacing was about.
It was always a big deal when John was to do something for me, a lot of grunting and moaning accompanied his effort. I smiled to
myself, knowing this would be the last time I would hear these awful sounds. I tapped my foot as I waited for the appearance of
his trousers at the top of the old wooden stairs. The minutes ticked by and I listened to his sliding gait — back and forth, back
and forth — and wondered why God would have made a creature so flawed that it couldn't gain enough ambition to lift its own
I looked around the filthy cellar and was irritated with the condition. I had asked John to clean and sweep the cellar not more than
a week prior in anticipation of this moment. He had been consistent to the end, sweeping just enough to fool me from the
doorway and neglecting the rest. My nerves wore thin and I could no longer contain the rage that I'd kept hidden for so long.
I shook my head and grabbed a bucket filled with garbage from the far corner, the contents shifting and settling in. I peered in,
the dim light of the cellar making it hard to focus, and clucked my tongue as I discovered the mess it contained. Broken
thermometers, no less than twenty, mixed together in shards of clear and gray glass. I eyed the quicksilver pooling at the bottom
and shook my head. What the devil is John doing with all these thermometers? I began to climb the stairs to confront him.
I took the stairs, two at a time, my feet light as I neared the top of the steep incline with the bucket in hand. I pulled back, but
realized too late that my stride had lined up with the loosened stair. I was forced to follow through with my step or fall down the
length of them. I swayed like a clown on a tight wire before it gave under my weight and I fell through.
Freefalling is a unique experience as, for the slightest moment, I felt wonderful. The moment was brief as my chin cracked hard on
the stair in front of me and my head smacked back to catch the one behind. I felt weightless and time slowed as the ground rose
to meet me with brutal clarity. My forehead hit first, somewhere above my eyebrow but below my hair line. Glass from the bucket
showered down and covered the dirt and gravel floor around me. I felt a piece stick into the skin behind my right ear before the
bucket hit squarely on the back of my head and bounced off. I caught my breath. I'd fallen through the stairway instead of down
it, and could appreciate the fact that my small stature had saved me from the length of the stairs that I'd planned for John.
I waited for pain to come but none followed. I could feel the warmth of the blood which seeped down my right cheek from a wound
of unknown origin. I closed my eyes and forced my breathing to slow and become more rhythmic before unconsciousness
enveloped me in its warm embrace.
I woke slowly, unsure of where I was and why I was there. The memory of my mistake became clear as my eyes strained to adjust
to the dark space. I struggled to raise my head and managed to lift it from the dirt floor before my eyes adjusted to the gloomy
light and focused on the boots which were in front of me.
"Help, John," I croaked, as I lay my head back onto the floor, the effort of lifting it had become too great and make me pant like a
dog in the summer heat.
He didn't answer.
"John. Help me," I stuttered, the words caught in my throat and threatened to choke me.
He grabbed my body and rolled me roughly onto my back. He held the wrench I had used to loosen the bolts in his right hand,
and was slapping it against the palm of his left. His mouth was set, a fierce clench to his jaw. He issued no concern for my
predicament, but looked squarely into my eyes for the first time since Jane had died. He promptly slapped me across my face
before I lost consciousness.
I was in the hospital for several months, and had resigned myself in that time to the truth that I would be forever bound to the
wheelchair, as my legs were lifeless weights of flesh at the end of my body. John brought me back to the house on a sunny day in
April, settling me into the room which had once been used to care for Jane. I shuddered when I thought of her, and had inspected
the details of my new position from all angles without finding a solution. I spend my days alone in the room, remembering her
short life and waiting to join her on the other side of this curtain. I have not spoken to John of the fall, or the events following it,
but pray daily that he has remained ignorant of my intention on that day.
I have lost all interest in meals as the metallic taste which permeates everything inside my mouth has intensified, and I have found
that a curious abundance of saliva now builds in my mouth and makes swallowing difficult. The pain in my abdomen consumes me,
and is relieved only by the sleep induced by Dr. Franklin's medications.
Mornings are best, as my pain is masked by the sun which plays across my face and tickles my nose through the open curtains. I
wait patiently for John in my room, and don't make a noise before he enters. I greet him with an open smile and eagerly wait to be
removed from the bed of soiled linens. I often sit in my chair and listen to Feona Boscher's lilting laughter as I search the gold
framed mirror tucked above my dresser for John's familiar face throughout the long shadow of my days here.