Although most of us make a sincere effort to mind our own business on a personal level, we just can’t seem to overcome the urge to eavesdrop in public.  Maybe I should say most people can’t overcome the urge, or some people can’t overcome the urge.  Okay.  I can’t overcome the urge to eavesdrop in public.

The habit began innocently enough.

As a teenager I was so shy I literally had to force myself to spend time around new people.  I hated the awkwardness of first meetings and those moments of uneasiness that accompany actually getting to know people, so I set out to devise a way of skipping that uncomfortable stage.  Once I discovered “listening,” I felt I could actually learn something about people without drowning in my own perspiration and, unlike the alternative, it was so easy!

No one was even aware I was playing a game.  I could walk around the mall for hours collecting bits and pieces of dialogue.  On a good day, I could add each phrase I overheard to the next until a plot began to form.

After hearing only a sentence or two, I tried to piece together the puzzle of events that initiated the conversation.  Once determined, those happenings became the threads from which I could weave any cloth I desired.  This sport often allowed me the opportunity to observe various personalities and situations from diverse perspectives.  In other words, I was awarded an extra large dose of empathy… or so I had always believed.

My friend, Tracy, and I don’t get much time to talk so when she called yesterday and asked me to meet for lunch, I juggled my schedule to make it possible.

Did you ever have a friend who could accurately finish your sentences?  Tracy and I know each other so well we can usually predict what the other will say or do in a given situation.  Normally, when we get together, the serious subjects are dealt with right away.  We spend the remainder of the time finding humor in our mundane lives and losing ourselves in laughter.

This visit was different.

Tracy was running about ten minutes late and by the time she arrived, I was already picking up a distress signal from the two women sitting at the table diagonal to mine.  Their conversation concerned me, and I was glad to have an extra set of ears to keep my imagination in check.  Rather than say, “Hello” to Tracy, I waved with my right hand and rubbed my ear with the left.  She knew I was trying to listen, so she perked up as well.

The woman in the red jumpsuit was telling the other; “He was so upset with me when I got home last night… I don’t think he meant to, but… he knocked me down.  Look at these bruises.  I’m so sore I can hardly move.”  Neither Tracy nor I could see evidence of a fight.  However, that meant nothing.  Some abusers are cautious about where they hit.

From the discourse, it appeared that he had, on several occasions, been involved in altercations with neighbors.  Household disagreements must have created quite a racket because apparently, the police had been summoned to their home on more than one occasion.

Suddenly, red jumpsuit woman began to sob.  “It’s been the two of us forever and he was good to me for so long… I just can’t keep… for the last few years…  Nothing I’ve tried has worked and it just gets worse.”

Then the discussion headed in a completely different direction.  The other woman, a platinum blonde in a black silk suit, began to address red jumpsuit woman firmly.  “Crying won’t get it done.  You have a decision to make and the sooner you take care of him, the better off you’ll be.  He’s getting more violent, and you know it.  You’ve got to put a stop to it, before he really hurts you.  Where is he right now?”

Red looked up from behind a tissue, her eyes puffy from weeping.  “I tried to sneak out while he was asleep, but he must have heard me.  I could see him at the front window as I was pulling away.  He sounded furious.  I don’t wanna go home… and what if the neighbors called the police again?”

Black silk suit reached into her purse.  “I brought almost a full bottle.  Dissolve them in water and stir the liquid into his dinner tonight.  He’ll just go to sleep and not wake up.  I can’t do it for you.  Remember what happened the last time I was over?  So take these, and call me tonight as soon as you’ve done it.  I’ll take care of the rest while you’re at work tomorrow.”

The two women were silent now.  Red took the bottle of pills and put it into her purse.  Although she still held the tissue, she was no longer crying.  It looked as if she had made her decision.  She was going to kill him.

Tracy and I had not said two words to each other since she arrived.  We had communicated merely through eye contact, breathlessly straining to hear each word spoken, but now…we needed to talk.

“I’ve heard quite enough,” Tracy whispered and excused herself.

I sat there hearing only the noise of my own thoughts.  Red’s options were somewhat limited, but there were definite alternatives to murder.  What about having the raging jerk thrown in jail?  Why didn’t she just leave him?  She certainly had valid grounds for divorce.  These two had to be stopped before their emotions led them to do something they would live to regret.  Perhaps, if they knew Tracy and I had overheard their plans, they would reconsider.  If I had been sure telling them would not have put Tracy or me in danger, I might have chosen that option; but these two were obviously capable of murder, or at least the consideration of it.

Where was Tracy?  I tapped my fingers nervously on the table.  I rearranged my food.  We need to talk about this. Maybe I was misunderstanding the fragments I had heard.  Could I have gotten carried away?  Perhaps I was the target of a really lousy practical joke, but that seemed out of character for Tracy.  If this was supposed to be funny—it wasn’t.

The two women were sitting there, eating their lunch, as if none of their conversation had taken place.

How can they eat? I couldn’t touch my food and I wasn’t even involved.

Tracy returned.  She motioned toward the aisle where two police officers were moving at a fast pace toward Red and Blacky.  Within minutes, the two women had been led out of the restaurant, and were on their way to the police station for questioning.  I was amazed by their ability to act confused as to why the officers were there.  Tracy and I couldn’t help but stare, our mouths completely open.

We went to the station as the police had requested, and filed a statement about what we had heard at lunch.  I arrived home just in time for the six o’clock news.  I was feeling pretty good about preventing a murder, but knew Red must have felt there was nothing else she could do.  Now she could go to prison.  Hadn’t living with that asshole been punishment enough?  My hope was that a compassionate judge would understand what Red must have been going through and that Blacky was just trying to help her friend out of a very unsafe and unhealthy situation.

We were the “top story tonight”.  “Two women were taken into custody today when customers at a local restaurant overheard what they believed to be plans for a murder.  They were released when it became clear to the police that the subject of the would-be murder was an ailing Great Dane who had recently become vicious and needed to be euthanized.”

It seems Red had been having great difficulty coming to terms with the decision that she, ultimately, had to make.  They had been unable to move the agitated dog to her sister, Blacky’s, veterinary office, and were attempting to take care of the situation as humanely as possible.

I collapsed in embarrassment onto the couch where I began to contemplate never again venturing into a public place; at least not without the benefit of some airtight ear plugs.



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