Bethany Browning

Felony wanted to marry Xertz because he was the type of man who took capital-R-I-S-K risks. In their three years together, they’d peered into the boiling eye of Eyjafjallajökull, loped through Cappadocia on the backs of Bactrian camels and bungee jumped off the STRAT. Just last year they came in sixteenth in the Rickshaw Run despite battling an offensive bout of trench foot they’d contracted during a monsoon outside of Nagpur. He’d even convinced her to try pegging that one night when the power went out in their motel in Minsk, though that was something she wasn’t into a second time even if next time Xertz promised not to slurp down a full bowl of borscht beforehand. 

Xertz’s willingness to try anything had also made him rich through something-something fungible, something-something investiture. Felony never wrapped her brain around his occupation, but she did know that Xertz wasn’t anything like the Skoal-sucking, scarlet-necked boys she’d made out with back in Gaffney. She was working as a waitress when she met him at a lobster boil in Tampa. He regaled her with tales of his recent tour of the Parisian sewers. She made him spit-laugh with a story about the time she jumped out of a canoe and into alligator infested waters to escape the sexual advances of her uncle-cousin. They bonded over their shared distaste for lobster. “Sea roaches,” he called them. “Mud bugs,” she agreed. 

Xertz was from nowhere and everywhere. He was both material and ether, whole yet evolving. And that’s what Felony dreamed of being. Before Xertz, when she wasn’t waitressing, she sat alone in her sad apartment watching the Kept Women of Kansas City on the TV she’d stolen from her mama’s garage, wishing she could be them.

When Xertz (finally!) presented her with a two-carat diamond he’d unearthed himself on a dig-your-own-diamonds tourism trip through Namibia, she screamed yes so loud her landlord called the cops.

    But by the time they’d decided on their wedding cocktail—a masterpiece of molecular mixology designed to be sniffed from a Victorian apothecary vial—Xertz was dead, his organs awash in tetrodotoxins from a botched flaying of a fugu fish. It had been a lifelong dream of his to sample this potentially lethal delicacy. And Felony, who’d transformed herself into the kind of woman who would amiably support a wealthy man in his reckless follies, encouraged him. 

    Felony wobbled atop her barstool at the Pumpkin Eater lounge, where she and Xertz had shared too many nightcaps to count.

    “Mama says I spill my candy in the lobby,” she said to the guy who was listening to her blather on. He stared at her blankly. “I give away all my information too easily. What’s your name again?”

    “Doug,” he said. “Remember?”

    She squinted. “You don’t look like a Doug.”

    “Fugu farms are a thing,” he said. “You can get poison-free poisson.

    “What are you talking about?” she said. Two Dougs swam in her eye line.

    “I’m suggesting that the chef was negligent. Or your fiancé faked his death.”

Felony couldn’t focus. “Should I sue Chef Miro?”

Doug signaled to the bartender that he needed another drink. “If you do, you run the risk of shutting down the only decent Kaiseki spot in a hundred-mile radius. Or finding out something you don’t want to know.”

Felony snorted. “Sue with what? I’m selling my ring tomorrow to pay my bills.”

    “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “The man. And the ring.”

    “What do you do, Doug?” Felony needed to change the subject before she succumbed to the bitter realization that she’d be “waitressing” again soon, lest she end up back home sharing a bed with her mama’s dog, a malodorous pug named Short Bus.

    “Jewel thief,” he said. He didn’t break eye contact.

    She hardly recognized the sound of her own laugh. Was Doug hitting on her? She felt the effects of his advances in her naughty places and thought, what would Xertz do in this situation? 

    He’d say, Life is for the living. Maybe this Doug was the golden shovel Felony needed to dig out of her rut.

    She leaned into Doug and took a whiff of his cologne. The way the Calabrian bergamot mingled with Japanese persimmon and Persian oud took her breath away. “Why don’t you come back to my place to commit a little Felony?” An oldie, but a goodie, and it worked on men like Doug.

    Doug knocked back the last of his drink—a fat-washed mezcal—and put on his coat. “It’d be a crime not to.”

    Felony wasn’t embarrassed that she stumbled on the stairs. And she wasn’t the least bit concerned that she hadn’t tidied her apartment. This was an adventure, albeit a blurry, slightly queasy one. One that she’d have no recollection of the following morning. 

    She didn’t remember going out. She didn’t recall getting home. She had a vague impression that she had done something wild, made a bad decision. But the only difference she noticed was a mysterious, lingering scent of bergamot hanging in the air, a sensory remnant that made her uneasy. She curled up on the sofa under the afghan her me-maw had knitted for her on her death bed, anxious about everything and nothing, unaware that her two-carat diamond engagement ring was gone, spirited away in the pants pocket of a man she’d never see again. 

Bethany Browning’s fiction has appeared in Esoterica, Angel Rust, Filth Literary Magazine, Stories We Tell After Midnight Volume 3, Allegory, and Mudroom. More stories are forthcoming in upcoming editions of Sunlight Press, Drabbledark II and 13 Days of Christmas.