The first story in this section is one of several children's stories Martha Corey-Ochoa wrote about her sixty-four favorite stuffed animals, known as the Bed Characters, to whom she remained close throughout her life. It is followed by Martha's only complete literary short story, "Black Widow."
The Bed Characters!
I almost missed my bus that morning. It was raining lightly, not enough to create puddles, but enough to make me wish I had brought my umbrella. The walk to the bus stop usually takes me fourteen minutes, but when I left the house it was already 6:58, and my bus arrived at 7:07. I had to run to the bus stop. When I got there, the bus was just arriving. It was about a minute late.
I took out my laptop once I got on the bus. I’d downloaded the latest lecture in my online criminology course last night. I tried to read, but I found it hard to keep my mind on the lecture. I kept thinking about the five-kilometer race my husband Harold and I were running that weekend. It was only Tuesday, but I was already excited for the race. It was our first race in a while because the last one was cancelled for rain. I hoped this rain wouldn’t last till the weekend.
Finally I got off at my stop. It was always a few minutes until my transfer came, so I went into Bob’s Coffee, which was around the corner from my stop. “Hey, Martina, how’s it going?” asked Luis, the young man who worked in the coffee shop.
“Okay, how bout you?”
“I’m good. Medium coffee with skim milk?”
“Yeah.” I took my coffee and left, pushing past a crowd of giggling preteen girls.
On this bus I drank my coffee and listened to my iPod. I was listening to country music, mostly Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack. This bus ride was shorter than the first bus ride, so I reached my stop fairly quickly, and walked to four blocks to my office. I walked up the three flights of stairs to the office of Richmond Criminology Associates, where I worked as an intern. I love walking up stairs. It gives me this feeling of vitality and satisfaction.
The psychology department, where I work, is arbitrarily divided into two sections, one on the third floor and one on the fifth. I walked over to my cubicle and set down my light brown purse and my black briefcase. Next I went over to the coffee pot. I’m a bit of a caffeine addict. Susie, one of the secretaries, and Ray, a DNA analyst, were hanging out by the coffee pot. “Some weather we’re having, huh?” said Susie.
“Tell me about it. I had to walk in that rain today.”
“That’s too bad. Oh, so Ray and I were just talking about that new representative we got after the last one got tangled up in that ethics scandal.”
“What’s the new representative’s name?”
“Tom Rennson,” said Ray enthusiastically. “What a great guy.”
“It’s about time we get some change in there,” added Susie. “They’ve had so many scandals in Washington lately.”
“Rennson isn’t gonna stand for any of that nonsense,” said Ray. “He’s a straightforward kind of guy. He’s gonna bring some law and order back to Congress.”
I kept my mouth shut because Rennson was a Republican and I was a Democrat. I wasn’t ready for an argument that early in the morning.
“Oh, Martina!” said Susie excitedly. “Hank Jeffreys, our child psychologist, says he has a case you might want to see. Looks like we’re finally having something interesting happen around here.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s this girl coming here that killed her piano teacher or something like that.”
I shuddered. “Really?”
“Yeah. They think she’s psychotic or something so they’d figured they’d send her to Hank. He’s one of the best child psychologists in the state.”
“I’ve heard about him.”
“He wants you to be present at his interview with the girl.”
“Let me finish my coffee and we can go.” Susie and I took the elevator up to the fifth floor. Usually I don’t like to take elevators, but since I was with Susie I did.
Dr. Jeffreys’s office was spacious and slightly messy. The curtains were up but there was not much of a view outside the window because the sky was covered with dull gray clouds. Dr. Jeffreys’s secretary, Judy, motioned me to a large, dark brown chair. It was a lot more comfortable than the gray swiveling chair in my cubicle.
Dr. Jeffreys was a large, fifty-something man with friendly brown eyes and a well-kept beard. His chestnut hair was balding and turning gray. After the necessary introductions, Susie and Judy left the room, leaving me alone with Dr. Jeffreys. “So, Martina, where did you go to school?” he asked me.
“Ah, that’s a wonderful school. My wife went there. She really loved it.”
“Where did you go?” I asked. Before I could find out, Judy called to Hank from her desk.
“I’ve got Paul from the police station on the phone. He wants to know if he can bring the girl over now.”
“Sure. When will she be here?”
“About ten to fifteen minutes.”
She actually showed up twenty-seven minutes later, at 10:03. She was a thin, intense teenage girl with messy brown hair and deep green eyes. She wore a plain black shirt and black jeans. She was not beautiful, strictly speaking, but there was was something in those fiery green eyes that made you unable to look away.
“She refused to come here unless we let her wear something black. We had to get her mother to bring over some black clothes for her before we could get her to leave.”
“Thanks for bringing her, Paul. This is my intern, Martina Chen.”
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Chen. You’re in for quite a shock,” Paul said, smiling a bit. “If she tries anything funny, Hank, you just let me know.” Paul went out, leaving us alone with the girl.
“I’m Dr. Hank Jeffreys. This is my intern, Martina Chen.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Sara Reiniger.”
A shadow passed across Dr. Jeffreys’s face. “Will you have a seat, Sara?”
“Will you let me see my husband?”
“The record says you’re not married.”
“That’s a lie.”
“It also says your last name is Edelstein.”
“It was until I got married.”
“When was that?”
“Can you tell us what happened that day?”
Sara sat down on a black stool next to Dr. Jeffreys. “This chair might be more comfortable,” he suggested, gesturing to a chair similar to mine.
“I like this color better.”
“Can you tell us what happened on April 22?”
“Yes. I shot my beloved. Then I married him as he was dying.”
I gasped. “How did you marry him?” Dr. Jeffreys asked.
“It was a spiritual marriage. A marriage of love. There were no priests or rabbis or anything but it didn’t matter because he’s a god.”
“You believe Mr. Reiniger is a god?”
“I know it.”
“What leads you to believe this?”
“He told me.”
“He appeared to me in my room one night when I was trying to pray. He said all the prayers my parents had taught me were false. He said all I had to do was believe in him and he would save both of us.”
“Was Mr. Reiniger physically present in your room, Sara?”
“No. He was spiritually present.”
“I know what you’re going to say, Dr. Jeffreys. You’re going to say that I was hallucinating. You’re going to say I’m delusional. That’s just the term you medical people use to keep people like me and my husband, special people, in check.”
“You consider yourself special? How so?”
“I can see things and feel things you people can’t even imagine. When my husband comes back from the dead, when he comes to save me, we will laugh at all the normal people like you who tried to keep us in subjugation.”
“When do you expect Mr. Reiniger to return from the dead?”
“He did not tell me. I am sure he will tell me later.”
“Have you spoken to Mr. Reiniger since his death?”
“Last night he came to my prison cell. He told me I had to be strong because people like you were going to try to take my love away from me, they were going to torture me, and I had to hold on to my love because he loved me and he would save me.”
“Nobody’s trying to hurt you, Sara,” Dr. Jeffreys said quietly. “We just want to help you.”
“Then let me see my husband.”
“I can’t do that for you.”
“His wife doesn’t want anyone to see the body except close friends and family.”
“I was his closest friend. I am his wife! That woman who pretended to be his wife wasn’t even faithful to him!”
“How do you know that?”
“It came to me in a dream a few weeks ago. I saw her and this other guy kissing and then they tried to kill me and my beloved. I tried to stop them by lighting a newspaper on fire and waving it at them but my husband stopped me. He said their time had not come yet. I asked him if he wanted to die because they were advancing on him with a knife. He said yes. Then I woke up.”
“Do you believe Mr. Reiniger wanted you to kill him?”
“How did he tell you?”
“Well, the dream suggested it to me, but I couldn’t act on a mere suspicion. When I became certain was after this benefit concert we were giving to help stop starvation in Africa.”
“What happened at the concert?”
“My beloved was playing Bach’s Oboe Concerto in D minor. It’s our favorite song. When he played the first movement, the allegro, I saw all the suffering he had endured in this life just so he could be with me. In the adagio I heard the sweetness and passion of our love. If I had ever doubted he loved me, I did not doubt it then. It was in the presto that he revealed his desire for me to kill him. I wasn’t sure at first but then I realized there was no other way. He played it with such sorrow and intensity, and during one of the most passionate passages he looked right at me. I could see that his enemies were going to kill him first, they were going to torture him to death, and I had to kill him quickly before they got the chance. His death was the only way that he might return from the dead to save us.”
“Did it occur to you that Mr. Reiniger might just have been playing the song that way for some other reason? Perhaps he was upset at the hunger in Africa?”
“Perhaps he was. That was why he had to die, so that he can return to save all the suffering people of the world. And I will be his queen.”
“Do you consider yourself a queen, Sara?”
“Not yet. Perhaps I am a princess.”
“Are you aware that your name means princess in Hebrew?”
“Yes I am. Eight years of Hebrew School and that’s pretty much all I learned. That, and a bunch of lies about their God.”
“Do you belong to any religion?”
“I am a follower of my husband.”
“Supposing I could prove to you that he is not a god?”
“I would not believe you. I would know you are lying because you don’t want me to love him.”
“How would you describe your love for him?”
“Passionate, tender…It’s hard to explain.”
“How does loving him make you feel?”
“Even though you can’t be with him?”
“I know I will be with him.”
“Where did you first meet Mr. Reiniger?”
“He was my oboe teacher since the eighth grade.”
“What grade are you in now?”
“Do you like school?”
“I’m the best in my class.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“When I’m thinking about him I’m happy. If that happens in school, I like school. When they make me think about something else, I don’t like it.”
“How long has your obsession with Mr. Reiniger been going on?”
“Obsession? That’s another of your words that you use to try to destroy feeling. I loved him since I met him.”
“Have you ever had a boyfriend?”
“I went to the eighth grade graduation dance with this guy Jeremy Tomson. It was mostly because he was the smartest boy in the grade and I was the smartest girl, so every expected us to go together.”
“Did you love him?”
“No. I hated the whole dance. I just tried to make myself like it. Now I see dances like that, like prom and junior formal, they’re just gathering places for the normal to meet and pretend their lives have meaning.”
I began to speak. “Are you suggesting that no life can be meaningful without…”
“Insanity? Yes, Mrs. Chen, that is exactly what I am suggesting.”
“How did you know I was married?”
“I could see it in your eyes. Tell me, Mrs. Chen, have you ever been in love?”
“I love my husband.”
“I mean really in love. But I guess not.”
“Sara, how do you feel at this moment?” Dr. Jeffreys asked.
“Scared, of what you will do to me. But also happy, because I am still in love.”
“Do you miss Mr. Reiniger?”
“Yes I do. Have you not noticed that I dress in black? I am in mourning. I will be in mourning until my husband returns to save me.”
“Sara, do you have any history of mental illness?”
“Well, I guess I was first suicidal in the fourth grade. It’s come and gone since then. By the time I was in high school I knew I was crazy. I was never diagnosed with anything because I hid it so well from my parents.”
“How do you get along with your parents?”
“Very well. My friends are always complaining about their parents. I’ve never been grounded in my life.”
“What do your parents do?”
“You mean their jobs? My mother is a special education teacher at a high school. My father is a copyright lawyer.”
“Do you do any extracurricular activities?”
“I’m on the debate team, the math team, the literary magazine, and the newspaper. I take SAT prep classes…”
“What about your music?”
“Let’s not talk about that.”
“Because you can’t possibly understand.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“All right. I am the star musician in the school band. I am the second oboist in the Chesterfield County Orchestra. I’m really the best oboist ever, after my husband, but they can’t recognize real talent at the County Orchestra.”
“What do you mean?”
“They put me as second oboe. Then this senior, who can’t even play very well, they gave her the solo in the arrangement of South Pacific we were playing. I’m not in that orchestra now anyway. I figure they’re making me drop everything now that I’m a murderer.”
“Do you feel sorry for what you did?”
“No. Of course it makes me upset, but then I remember it was what my husband asked me to do.”
“So you consider yourself innocent?”
“All right. Martina, will you call in Paul? He’s right outside.”
I went outside to get Paul. He came in and sat on the chair that Sara had refused to occupy.
“Paul, by all my accounts this girl is suffering from a severe mental illness. She is definitely presenting with symptoms of schizophrenia. It is possible that she suffers from a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder as well, although further analysis of her psychiatric history would be necessary to determine that. Can we arrange a meeting with one of her parents?”
“I think it will be possible,” said Dr. Jeffreys. “Martina, you may go now.”
As I left the office, Sara looked at me. It was a look of hatred and pity, and perhaps the faintest glimmer of love. It was like she saw through the façade of happiness I presented to some darker truth of my life. I thought I was happy, but Sara didn’t believe that anyone could be happy living a normal life. Maybe she was right.
It’s been over a year now, and I’m pregnant with my first child. I’m now a full-time employee with Richmond Criminology Associates. I love my husband and I love my life. Sara Edelstein was deemed not guilty of the murder of Samuel Reiniger by reason of insanity. She was committed to a psychiatric hospital after the trial. I haven’t seen her in eight months, but I still think about her. I remember her stare. I’ve downloaded the Bach Oboe Concerto in D minor for my iPod. Whenever I hear the Presto, with its tragic intensity, I think of Sara. Her dark beauty will live in my memory for many years.