Something of a little bit different nature always strikes my fancy to read and write. Expect the unexpected.
Iris Green is dead. No surprise there. The only surprise is it took so long for someone to do it. Yup, I am pretty sure someone did it and I am pretty sure I know who and how. Apparently, no one else thinks there is a who or a how.
Iris’ sister Marnie knocked on my door at 11:00 this morning to give me the bad news. She was entering Iris’ apartment to get papers for the funeral home. Maybe a will or a birth certificate or such. Anyhow, she said she knew how close we were, and she wanted to give me the bad news. Her eyes were not swollen and no tears were shed as she spoke. Maybe she was as unmoved by her death as I was.
Iris Green, such a pretty name. It evokes a vision of a verdant lawn lined with beautiful purple flowers. In truth, the vision conjured up for Iris should be neither purple nor green, but black, like her heart.
I first met Iris when she came knocking on my door to introduce herself. She moved in while I was on vacation in St. Maarten. Upon hearing the key in my door, when I got home from work on Monday, she burst open her door with a “Hi, I’m Iris Green, your new neighbor.” Attractive, in her late 30s, with flaming red hair cut in a short avant-garde, style, a lot of eye makeup and big gold hoop earrings. Subtle she wasn’t.
Interestingly, she stood there with a cardigan monogrammed with a giant “C”. I swear she wore it on purpose, because the next thing you know she was telling me her recent history which she lapsed in to after saying “I have a “C” on my sweater because I just got divorced and changed my name back to Green. My married name was Campo.”
“I married my husband because I thought he had money. He drove a brand new Cadillac and dressed sharp. He married me because he thought I had money. He saw my mother was always taking trips and dressed well, so he thought I came from money. When we found out each other had none, we divorced.”
“All righty then,” I thought, “a match made in heaven of two shallow people.”
Then she says, “I met him when my best friend was engaged to him. I was going to be her maid of honor. I stole him from her. I see it as doing her a favor.”
Despite my initial reaction to the things she said, that first knock on the door was one of many and I often knocked on her door. I was never very outgoing and found it hard to make friends. Here was a single woman close to my age who did all of the befriending for me. Soon we were going to clubs together, shopping and taking aerobics classes. Truth be known, some people in our apartment building thought we were a couple but no, we would go to clubs to try and meet the man of our dreams.
Iris, of course, had much better luck meeting men, she being bold and completely uninhibited. Uninhibited? Good heavens. The things she would do made me cringe. On one occasion, while wearing a low cut black gauze jumpsuit, she sat in a languorous pose with an arm draped over the back of a bar chair, turning her head to stare at men while licking her lips seductively. Giving men the impression she was easy was Iris’ forte, it was what she strived for.
I, on the other hand, figured if I was going to meet a man in a night club, I didn’t want him to get the wrong impression. My self-imposed dress code was conservative. The cool blonde Grace Kelly look was my inspiration.
More than once Iris told me she wanted to cut all my hair off and bleach it platinum blonde so I didn’t look so plain. My wardrobe should be a dark purple bra under a see through lavender blouse. I think she wanted to turn me into an Iris clone -- the blonde version. I passed on her often suggested changes.
Iris had a way of finding unattractive men, who didn’t date much. She would zero in on them and make them feel as if she really cared. She would hang on their every word and laugh at their every joke. Far from being 10s these men were maybe a 4 or 5. Having someone as attractive as Iris fall all over them was truly unusual for them. For the first time in their lives they had arm candy. They lapped it up.
Men, were to be used and discarded when they no longer suited her purpose. When her grandmother died she went to granny’s apartment the next day to lay claim to two French Baroque chairs and granny’s mink coat. She bragged about convincing her sister, Marnie, their grandmother’s mink coat would not fit her. Moreover, her sister had a husband who could buy her one, while Iris did not, therefore, she should have it. Amazingly, and conveniently, the week after snatching up the mink, Iris suddenly started dating a furrier who cleaned and altered the coat for free.
Bernie, the furrier, was a little man with kind of pale twitchy face which called to mind a little rabbit, and not in a good way. He wasn’t bunny cute; he was bunny pasty and red eyed. Iris, did continue to see him for some time after he altered her fur, as he took her to nice places and bought her flowers on every appropriate occasion. An appropriate occasion was every holiday plus anytime she told him to.
She was also seeing other men. Joey the maintenance man, for example. Quite a bit more manly looking, than Bernie, far from good looking, but as Iris put it “adventuresome and good in the sack.” On Valentine’s Day she made the day special for Joey by leaving a trail of rose petals from the front door to her bed and also covered the bed in rose petals. Of course, the roses came from Bernie, who could afford them, while Joey could not. Iris then found the need to tell Bernie what she had done, as she already treated him atrociously I guess he just accepted it.
Case in point: Iris and Bernie were supposed to go a mutual friend’s wake. Iris told Bernie she would pick him up outside his fur shop. She never did. She proudly related this to me and said she left him standing there because her therapist told her she had to do what was best for her. Leaving Bernie standing on a street corner was good for her as she didn’t want to put up with listening to him. He missed his friend’s wake.
You know the song “Hard Hearted Hannah”? There are two lines in the song that spoke to me about Iris:
I saw her at the seashore with a great big pan
There was Hannah pourin' water on a drownin' man
Every time she pulled one of her stunts on a man, I would think “there’s Iris pourin’ water on a drownin’ man”.
Iris openly admitted she “knew people.” She could “read them.” She previously worked as a desk clerk at a nearby hotel and convention center. She made a lot of tips because she knew how to play up to people. This she learned in her prior job, when she was a hair dresser and did the hair of elderly women.
“I’d just call them dear and tell them how beautiful and young looking they were, and they loved me. Most of them are so lonely. I had a lot of repeat customers who generously tipped me and bought me gifts.”
Her new occupation, if you could call it that, was working for a sign company. She would go to the various towns where they were going to install signs and get the appropriate permitting. You see the sign company owner weighed close to 600 lbs. Iris entertained the clients as Jerry could not take the clients out to eat. If they went to restaurant with booths, he would be unable to fit in the booth. She went to the trade shows and conferences because Jerry could not fit in a plane seat. Job security by virtue of an overweight boss.
Jerry needed her, and she took advantage in every way possible. She demanded a large office and got it, even though she was on the road most of the time. She demanded it be painted shades of smoky lavender and it was done. She took days off whenever she felt like it as she needed a “mental health day”. And she openly admitted she had no skills and but could do whatever she wanted and get away with it.
Maybe I am a user too. I have to admit, I saw her flaws but having someone I could call on to go places with outweighed her meanness – for a few years, anyway. But then it started to all add up and get to me. It seemed as if her whole mind set was warped.
We were watching the local news on TV when a human interest story came on. The husband lost his job due to the recession and the wife was out on disability due to a back injury. Money was tight, but they decided to take a bus and see a movie. Unfortunately, they missed the bus. The wife took the bus fare, walked into a nearby convenience store and bought a lottery ticket. They won a million dollars.
My reaction was, “How nice someone who can really use it.”
Iris’ reaction was “Well now she can get a divorce. She doesn’t need a jobless loser.”
“You’re joking, it’s their money.”
“No, she bought the ticket. It’s her money.”
Different people have different values and I try to be open minded, but I could not remotely grasp Iris’ view of life.
I stopped going shopping with her when I realized she shoplifted. When she discovered a fly in her food, instead of calling the waiter over, she stood up screaming about it so the whole restaurant could hear her. She loved calling attention to herself. At a fast food place, she announced she wasn’t hungry and was going to take her food with her, as soon as we drove into the street, she flung all the food out the car window. Thus, I stopped going to restaurants of any kind with her.
She must have noticed me pulling away. I’m guessing it annoyed her that “I” the friendless dull person would not want to be with “her” the popular fun loving person.
We were sitting in her apartment when she suddenly lapsed in to this story:
“When I moved in here, I asked the building manager who lived next door to me. He said your name was Katherine Welles, and you were away in St. Maarten. Then after you came back, I saw you come home from work all dressed up and you stepped out of your shiny new white Camaro. I knew right then and there I wanted to be friends with you.”
I am thinking, “This almost sounds like a compliment. Typical Iris it’s the clothes and car that attracted her.”
Then she continues, “I figured you had money and if I befriended you, you would want me to go places with you. I thought you would pay for me to go on trips with you; but you haven’t. You are so damn cheap, you never buy me anything or take me anywhere. You are useless to me.”
I was dumbfounded. Not knowing what to say, I picked myself up and walked out of her apartment.
Things were really, I mean really cool between us after that. Then, surprisingly, after several months, she came knocking on my door again and told me all about this new man she was dating, Claudio. She wanted me to meet him.
“Hmmm, just what was her motive for taking me to meet him?”
Claudio lived in a high rise, which stood way above the city. His loft like space was huge and gleaming. Gleaming is the only way to describe it. The apartment had big floor to ceiling windows with a magnificent view of the harbor. The light shining through the windows made bright all the upscale modern metal furniture he had. All glass and simplicity, punctuated only by intensely colored abstract artwork on the walls and greenery in glass terrariums.
Claudio, did not have looks women would swoon over, but his blue eyes sparkled against his café au lait skin. He did not have the insecure meek persona of all Iris’ other men; instead, he was warm and self-assured. He didn’t just tell us to have a seat, instead he made a wide sweeping gesture with his arm, indicating the seating area, and in his lightly accented voice said: “Please have a seat and be my guest.”
Claudio was the kind of person who became good looking after a few minutes because of his over abundant charm. Now I knew why Iris wanted me here. It was to impress me with her rich catch and his magnificent apartment.
I had to mention his beautiful terrariums to him.
“Ah yes, but they are much more than terrariums,” he said in a voice as smooth as velvet. “Come, I will show you up close,” as reached out his hand as if to take mine and direct me.
I thought better of doing so, Iris would blow a fit if I grabbed his hand. I arose from my seat and followed, pretending not to notice his extended hand.
“This,” he said, “is Oophaga pumilio, better known as the blue jean frog. So-called because of his bright blue legs. The blue jean frog is native to Costa Rica.”
He pointed to a small bright frog in the terrarium. It was so small, I would have thought it was and insect; about the size of my thumbnail. Small, but beautiful with a striking bright red body and royal blue legs. Meanwhile, Iris remained on the sofa with a bored look. I think if she had an emery board with her, she would have filed her nails.
On to the next terrarium across the room and an unusually colored bright yellow frog. He (or she) was bigger than the blue jean frog, at a little over 2 inches.
“This is phyllobates terribilis or the Golden Frog, he comes from my native country of Colombia.”
“Terribilis, sounds like terrible,” I thought. “From now on I shall think of Iris as Iris terribilis,” I chuckled to myself.
“Are these your pets?”
“Yes and no. You see I am a biologist by profession and a botanist as a hobby. I am studying the effect the loss of the rain forest is having on indigenous species in Central and South America. Our little blue jean fellow seems to be doing okay, but our yellow frog is endangered.”
Iris rolled her eyes. Probably because she didn’t know what “indigenous” meant, that, and she could not care less if every endangered species was wiped off the face of the earth.
I found this subject fascinating; Claudio fascinating, and his terrariums and frogs both beautiful and fascinating. I was enthralled by Claudio.
On the way home, Iris asked, “So what do you think of Claudio?”
“He really is very intelligent and charming.”
“More important”, Iris says, “He’s from Colombia. And do you know what comes from Colombia?”
“Noooo”, beautiful dark rich emeralds.”
Now it all made sense.
“In no time I will get frog-face to give me emerald jewelry.”
Again, disgusted with Iris, I kept my distance. I just could not relate to her attitude and the way she treated people. I cordially, greeting her when I passed her in the hallway, and would ask about her day. Then came her knock on my door.
“Come over, I want to show you something,”
“Okay,” I said, grabbing my keys and locking my door behind me. Really, did I have a choice? To refuse would have been an outright affront to her invitation.
There, hanging in on her coat closet door, in her entry way, was a shiny emerald green gown. It had beautiful pleating on top, pulled to one side and gathered at the waist.
“Marnie bought it for me,” she gushed. “Well wait, let me tell you the big news. Marnie and her husband, Paul, signed up for a Caribbean cruise, and they were taking our mother. I explained to them the cost of taking a single person is almost as expensive as the cost for two people. To put it another way, two people can go away for a little more than the cost of one. I convinced them to pay for me to room with Mama. I told them they could enjoy their vacation more, if Mama wasn’t tagging along with them. Of course, Mama’s a big girl and she can go off by herself.”
“This is one luxurious cruise – gourmet food, plush cabins – when Paul and Marnie travel they always go first class. The cruise has a dress up night, where everyone wears formal or near formal wear. Marnie took Mama shopping for the cruise and bought her a beautiful light blue lace dress. Marnie got a damask gown with big white flowers and a metallic gold background.”
We were in the store, and I put on my sad face, and said: “Gee I wish I could dress up too, but I don’t have the money for a dress.”
Marnie said, “That’s unfortunate.” But she did nothing.
A little while passed and I said, “Aren’t you going to be embarrassed when everyone looks at our table and sees me inappropriately dressed. I will probably be the only one in jeans and a tee shirt on dress up night.”
“Well, you won’t wear jeans. You will just wear a dress from your closet.”
That’s when I smiled at her broadly and said, “No, if you don’t buy me a gown, I will be wearing jeans and a tee shirt and the jeans may even be ripped.”
“Marnie is easy. She sighed and groaned a little and then gave in and bought this gown for me.”
“Come see,” as she pulled the plastic bag off of it and shook it from side to side a little so it shimmered.
“The emerald green will look beautiful with your red hair.”
“Wait til you see the beautiful emerald earrings from Claudio”, she said as she grabbed a black velvet box off the end table and snapped it open.
They were huge round faceted emeralds in a yellow gold filigree setting.
“It’s a shame Claudio isn’t going with you on the cruise.”
“Claudio is history. I have my sights on meeting someone super rich on the cruise.”
“Wait, when did he give you the earrings?”
“This morning, I went and picked them up. I broke up with him last night but told him I’d be by this morning to pick up the earrings.”
The look of befuddlement on my face, as I shook it from side to side, must have encouraged her to continue.
“A few weeks ago, Claudio asked Marnie what to get for my birthday. Marnie asked me, and I told her to tell him I want large emerald earrings.”
“Well,” she said, “I shall just tell him emerald earrings. I don’t feel comfortable asking for large ones.”
“No, you will say large emerald earrings. We went round and round and finally she gave up and agreed to tell him large emerald earrings.”
“Claudio told Marnie he was leaving for Colombia on business in a few days, and he would pick up the emeralds while down there. Then, he would have them made into earrings at a jewelry store back in the States. He called when the earrings were made, just to let her know. He was so pleased and thrilled with the results. Marnie called and told me.”
“I knew he had them. When I called him to break up with him last night, I told him I wanted the earrings. I told him pierced earrings were not returnable as it was against State health laws. I also explained to him I already had a second piercing of my ears that day. I couldn’t very well go around with a set of holes in my ears, with nothing in them. My plan is to continue wearing my hoops, my trademark, but wear the emeralds above them.”
Indeed, I could see she had gotten a new set of piercings above the hoops and was wearing the temporary post space holders in her ears.
I was probably visibly shaking my head now. But Iris, unfazed by my look of disbelief, continued her tale of “pouring water on a drownin man”.
“I knocked on his door this morning and it was easier than I thought. He was crying and so shaken he just handed the earrings to me.”
He said, “I beg you to think this over; you don’t know what you are doing.”
“I told him I know exactly what I am doing all the time, and he didn’t seriously thing we had a future together.”
“Why not? He’s charming, kind and intelligent.”
Iris made “pfft” sound.
“Have a nice trip.” I said, as I opened the door and let myself out in a hurry. I needed to get away from her before I really lost it. She was leaving early in the morning, so I wouldn’t have to see her for 10 days, by which time maybe my feelings of utter disgust might cool.
So that was 5 days ago and now Marnie is at my door. She is telling me, the third day of the trip, they were all getting ready for dress up night:
“Mama was sitting in a chair waiting for Iris to get ready. Mama doesn’t wear makeup or fuss so much anymore, she was ready first. Iris put on her new gown; and her new emerald earrings. All of a sudden, Iris, fell down, her eyes wide open and her body stiffened. Mama ran to her, and tried to revive her, but she didn’t really know how to do CPR. When Iris didn’t respond, she panicked and came banging on our door. Paul and I ran inside but Iris was gone. The ship’s doctor said it was a heart attack.”
“Oh, how sad, I am so sorry. Please give your mother my condolences. And, of course, let me know when the service is.”
Heart attack, my foot. She’s 41 years old and healthy as an ox. I know what killed her. I was so fascinated by Claudio’s frogs and his narrative, I took books out of the library on the subject. After all, Iris and I were going through a cool period. I have few other friends, and there was not much to do in the cold of winter.
Fascinating little creatures, those frogs of Claudio’s. Both are considered poison dart frogs, although the blue jean frog is less lethal than Phyllobates terribilis, aka the golden poison dart frog. Even in captivity, when deprived of the foods from which the poison is sourced, the golden dart frogs can retain their poisonous skin for several years. The poison,
Batrachotoxin, from this golden frog’s skin is used on dart tips. Once it penetrates the victim’s skin, it keeps its victim's nerves from transmitting impulses, which leave the muscles in an inactive state of contraction. This leads to heart failure almost instantaneously.
The article said ten men could be killed with 1 milligram of the poison. A quick calculation on a metric conversion table, and I could understand 1 milligram is equal to .00018 of a teaspoon. Just enough to coat the backs of pierced earrings. And darling Iris made it so easy, by having freshly pierced ears.
You know, this is just my hunch. There is no proof and the local police would probably laugh at me if I told them. Besides it didn’t even happen in their jurisdiction. The cruise ship doctor declared it a heart attack and that seems to have stuck.
On the pretext of offering my condolences I will give Claudio a call and see where it goes from there. Imagine mousy little me with the fascinating and exotic Claudio. I think he is a catch.
© 2018 Ellen Gregory
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 04, 2018:
Oh my. This is really interesting and you have a way of telling it that is very engaging. I think you are a good story teller.
Dip Mtra from World Citizen on February 03, 2018:
Fascinating story, very well written. These will make a great collection of short stories. Looking forward to your next.