Maxine

Flash fiction by Niles Reddick

I’ve never met a librarian I didn’t think was crazy. Sure, I admire them for reading books, for keeping knowledge organized and safe, for loaning books to everyone, for buying books and doing their part to keep the book business alive a while longer. I seem to gravitate to them and maybe that’s because I come from a long line of librarians and crazy people myself, and maybe I teeter-totter on that line between what’s normal and what’s not, but Maxine went beyond eccentric to the far end of the deviancy spectrum.

I couldn’t prove she killed her husbands, but something wasn’t right. Her first husband had beat her, kept her and her children hidden away from society, and after several years she got the courage to escape through the woods when he was at work, making their way to a highway, where a trucker gave them a ride to the nearest town. They moved around and she finally divorced him through the mail, using a PO Box fifty miles from where she lived as her address, so he wouldn’t come and stalk them. I admired Maxine for escaping abuse, going on to a community college, getting a head start on her education, jumping through all the hoops, and finally getting a bachelor’s and then a master’s in Library Science.

Her second husband died from a multitude of symptoms, no diagnosable illness, and the administrative assistant Hilda didn’t think much about Maxine ordering books on poison until after the husband had been planted; no autopsy had been done either, because of religious reasons, though they had not attended church in the years they were married. Maxine’s met her next husband through an online Christian dating service, and after two years, he, too, passed under the same sort of strange circumstances and there were never any investigations. The thirty-year gap from the first husband she told people about and the death of her two husbands since she’d been at our library made us all wonder if there had been other husbands in between who had died.

Pushing sixty, Maxine didn’t look like a killer. She was frumpy; much of her weight settled in the abdomen area, as if she were bloated from downing sodas for years, not drinking enough water. She came to work with us at the local Methodist college, having retired from one librarian job, looking for a second retirement because of our five year vesting option. Two retirements coupled with Social Security she believed would keep her going until her own demise. Her children, all grown gone, didn’t visit her much and she rescued cats and they scurried from window to window in her mid-town Cotswold-type cottage. Maxine had a small Prius that was paid for, but she walked the half-mile and back every day, bringing her sack lunch, to save money, she said.

The day Maxine came to the library with cuts all over her hands and arms was a game changer for most of us. When Hilda asked her, “What in the world happened to your hands and arms and have you been to the doctor?”, Maxine said: “Two of my cats have leukemia and the vet wanted over two hundred dollars to put them to sleep. So, I decided to put them down myself and so one at a time, I held them under water in the bath tub until they were gone. They put up a fight, so they must not have been too sick. Next time, I guess I’ll need to get me some of those industrial gloves.”


Niles Reddick’s newest novel Drifting too far from the Shore has been nominated for a Pulitzer. Previously, his collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities was a finalist for an Eppie award and his first novella Lead Me Home was a national finalist for a Foreword award. His work has appeared in anthologies Southern Voices in Every Direction, Unusual Circumstances, Getting Old, and Happy Holidays. Author of nearly one hundred stories, Reddick has been featured in many literary magazines and journals including The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, Southern Reader, Like the Dew, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Pomanok Review, Corner Club Press, Slice of Life,  Faircloth Review, and many others. Reddick works for the University of Memphis, Lambuth, in Jackson, Tennessee. His website is www.nilesreddick.com
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