By Mary J. Breen

I always insist on the truth. Mother taught me that.

For example, Mother always said I was homely. Plain as a board fence. Better not to have any delusions. "And," she always said, "be particularly careful not to let anyone see your feet."

Mother also said that since I couldn't be beautiful, then it wouldn't hurt to have more grace, especially for a girl of my size. "It's all in the bones," she'd say, sighing under the weight of her burdensome daughter as she held up her delicate wrist for all to see. "If only your father wasn't such a big man."

Actually, Daddy used to call me his "pretty girl," but mother always said, "Her? Don't be ridiculous, Arthur!"

After Daddy died, Mother had nothing but bad to say about men. "Beware!" she'd say. "They'll try to trick you by saying you're beautiful. And you, you of all people must see them for what they are. Beasts, all of them, wanting only one thing."

Mother sent me to secretarial school where I learned typing and dictation and book-keeping. After ten years working for The Bell, I got a job working for a bank vice-president, Mr. Meyers. Conrad, Mr. Meyers, was very nice to work for. He was a quiet, serious man. A widower with no children. And such a dignified man, I thought. He'd even been to university. I was living in a flat along the Danforth at that time, and he'd often invite me to share his cab home after work since he was going right by the door. He never let me pay my share either.

I never told Mother about Conrad. She'd have said I mustn't let people feel sorry for me, even though, God knows, it was inevitable.

Mr. Meyers began insisting I call him Conrad, and he stopped calling me Miss Dolan. We even went out for lunch a couple of times, but usually we worked right through. He was a very busy man.

One Friday night he invited me for supper. As we headed for the little diner on the corner, I remember how he held my elbow so I wouldn't trip on the frozen ruts alongside the streetcar tracks. A few weeks later, he asked me to a play at his church. I'd never been to one before, and it was very funny — lots of mix-ups over who was who. Then we went out for a steak dinner. It was the nicest night of my life.

We took a cab home, and instead of just letting me out like he always did, Conrad walked me up the stairs to my apartment. I thanked him for the lovely evening, and he said, "Eugenia, do you know how pretty you are?" Before I could argue, he quickly amended that. "No," he said — which was what I was about to say, No, I'm not! — "No," he said again, "you're not pretty; you're beautiful. Pretty means delicate, temporary somehow, but you, you're beautiful like a tragic heroine, like the Sorrowful Mother in some of the old paintings." His gloved hand reached up towards my face.

Suddenly, I was livid. It had happened. Just like Mother said: a man whom I trusted, who I thought was my friend, saw no shame in lying in order to have his way with me. "No, I'm not!" I said, and I pushed him hard with both hands. He looked startled as he took a few steps back. Then suddenly his foot slipped and he tipped backwards, and he was gone, bang-bang-bang down the long, hard flight of stairs. He lay crumpled and still at the bottom, and I remember thinking that he looked like he was having a little nap. Mr. Henderson on the floor below heard the commotion and came rushing out. He called the police and an ambulance, but Conrad was already dead.

My lawyer tried to say that I had no motive to kill Conrad, that he was my only friend, but the Crown made a lot of the fact that I hadn't run down to see if he was OK. And I hadn't. I was too overcome with fury and disappointment that even a man as nice as Conrad had no scruples when it came to sex.

I've got fourteen more years in here. People don't seem to lie much in here. So far, no one has given me any false hope.

Ms. Breen has published fiction and non-fiction in national newspapers, essay collections, travel magazines, health journals, and literary magazines including Boston Literary Magazine, Canadian Woman Studies, Mystery Authors, Writer's Bloc, Bartleby-Snopes, Soliloquies, and Other Voices.

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