The Other Woman

Alice was on the verge of signing the Harmony Acres contract. She had taken her Mont Blanc fountain pen, a deliberately old-fashioned extravagance, from the inner pocket of the black Anne Klein jacket she had chosen this morning, and scrooched up to the table between them.

Then the name came up.

If Susie the “counselor” – never mind that, she was a sales lady – if she noticed that Alice was dressed to the nines, she didn’t remark it. When they were bargaining over price, Alice had studiously appeared in rather worn and slightly rumpled clothes; not bag-lady plain, but not what she wore to the museum board or the opera or even to the ladies’ book club. Maybe Susie was familiar with the ploys of bargaining.

In any case, as she pushed the thick wad of paper across the table, Susie seemed eager to talk about a newfound coincidence.

“Mmm, I’d forgotten you’re coming from Littleton,” she said. “Doesn’t sound like a very big town. I wouldn’t be surprised if you knew one of our residents. I’m pretty sure Millie Howard said she grew up in Littleton. Millicent, but calls herself just Millie. Shall I look it up?”

What should Alice have done when a bombshell exploded like that? Put the pen back in her pocket and storm off? Tell Susie, who was almost a stranger, why she was upset? “Oh, I know Millicent Howard, all right! She’s the bitch who destroyed my marriage!”

No, of course not. If told this shame, Susie would surely tell her boss why Alice Butterfield was backing out after three months’ cultivation. After passing the physical and mental exams that all retirement communities demanded. After haggling down the buy-in price, which was still more than a quarter million dollars. Just walking away.

Word would get around, after decades of successfully obscuring the humiliating reason for her divorce: She hadn’t been good enough to satisfy her husband when it came to sex.

Or he had been too demanding, or hadn’t been patient enough to teach her, or didn’t believe in fidelity, or – but handsome, successful men were never blamed, were they?

Anyway, Alice wasn’t about to sign. “I’ve heard the name,” she managed to say. “Can’t say that I knew her.” Which was true enough: Alice had never met the woman, and left Littleton not long after the divorce. She was back in town now, camping with her younger daughter Judith only long enough to scout out a new, congregate home. Harmony Acres had been, until this moment, at the top of her short list.

The move was the kids’ idea; they’d conspired at Christmas. “Mom, you’ll be 75 in July,” Charlie said. “You take such good care of yourself that you could pass for 65 . . .” (“60!” Judith had chimed in) “but anything might happen, living alone in that big house.”

She’d agreed to downsize, sell the house, and live with Judith just long enough to visit and evaluate several nearby “life care” communities. It had taken three months to give away or sell most of her furniture and belongings, put in storage more than enough to furnish a small apartment, and sell the house. She hadn’t merely gotten what she asked, but enjoyed watching two would-be buyers bid up the price, which was going to make her next life more affordable.

Now she was cramped into Judith’s guestroom, about to finalize the step into that life. Had been ready, even eager, to live the rest of her life at Harmony Acres. But not with a neighbor who was the presumably shapely, sexy younger woman who’d turned her husband’s head.

“Listen,” Alice said, words and excuse finally coming to her, “I’ve got to talk to my broker once more before this final step. I’m sorry. I should have been ready today. But there are some questions of personal finance that I need to have answered. It’s a big commitment.”

And she was out of there, telling a protesting Susie that she’d phone in a few days.


Phone and call the whole thing off; that was what she’d meant.

Back at her daughter’s, though, she had second thoughts. Having shopped around thoughtfully, she really liked Harmony Acres. She knew a few people there, long-ago friends. They had a busy calendar of activities that meshed with her interests. The place must have a good chef; her try-us-out dinner in their main dining room had been first rate. She would be welcome to invite Judith and the grandkids to an occasional meal. She could even have a little raised-bed vegetable garden.

She’d been looking forward to a comfortable old age there.

Perhaps she could ask her few Harmony Acres friends – carefully, diplomatically – how hard it would be to avoid the woman. It was a big place; more than 300 residents, Saleslady Susie said. And the apartment she’d chosen was in a brand-new wing, so the woman was unlikely to be a really-near neighbor.

And she began to ponder that ancient history. Alice had long known that Millicent Howard had not become the second Mrs. Butterfield. Stuart had remarried a year after the divorce, but to a different woman. So the affair with this Millie person had perhaps not lasted long. Just long enough to ruin Alice’s marriage and her life.

Or perhaps this Millie had been a long-term plaything, Stuart’s kept woman even after his second marriage. Alice didn’t want even to think about that.

Divorce had been slightly scandalous at the time, but there must be among the many of her generation at Harmony Acres a sprinkling of divorcées, to say nothing of former adulterers and cuckolds and wronged wives. None of that showed on the discreet little name badges everyone wore so they could first-name each other in the friendly Harmony Acres tradition.

Alice didn’t want to think about other people’s irregularities or triumphs or tragedies;  could she could ignore or at least overlook the presence of her personal bête noir?


And then came the phone call.

“Good morning,” a cheerful voice said. “Is this Alice Butterfield?”

“Yes. Who . . ?”

“This is Millie Howard. Susie in Marketing says you’re coming to Harmony Acres, and I just want to welcome you. I’ve long admired the way you made that bastard Stuart, excuse my French, pay for his sins.”

Wh-a-a-a-t? Alice couldn’t find her voice.

It was true enough; she had made her cheating husband pay. Stuart Butterfield wanted to become president of his bank, and couldn’t afford a scandalous parting. Alice’s price for an “incompatibility” divorce had been big-time alimony, child support and a trust that was the reason she could outlive him and still afford to live well. But even the children hadn’t known the details of all that until years later. How could this woman . . . .”

The voice on the phone persisted. “Alice? Mrs. Butterfield? You still there?”

“Yes. I’m just a bit taken aback. I had never expected to hear from . . . from. . . .”

“One of other women he wronged?”

Wronged? What could that mean? Alice had been standing, but suddenly had to sit down. She wondered if Judith had left yet; maybe her daughter could figure out what this woman was talking about.

“Alice? You still there? You knew that, didn’t you? That he was a serial predator?”

She felt giddy; felt her heart pounding. She wanted to punch the smartphone off and put it in her pocket, but brought it back to her ear instead. “Yes. No. I’m . . . I’m just not understanding how you could know about my divorce settlement, and . . . .”

“Oh, sorry, I never knew the details. That would be prying! But when you took the kids and moved to a big house in that flossy town, it wasn’t hard to figure out. All the women at the bank kept track of you, and kept me tuned in. I had left behind a few real pals there. Fellow victims.”

“You . . . you didn’t stay at the bank?”

“After what happened? Hell, no! That was long before the MeToo movement, y’know? I counted myself lucky to get a letter of recommendation out of the son-of-a-bitch, pardon my French again, to another bank. Thank God, I did well there. But I never married. He destroyed that part of my life. I spent years with a shrink.”

Alice could hardly breathe. She put the phone down on the little coffee table next to the chair, put her hands on her knees and straightened her back, which helped her take a deep breath.

“Alice? You still there?” The voice from the receiver, face up on the table, was tinny.

She picked it up again. “But you. . .you. . .stole my husband, and now . . . .”

“Is that what he told you?”

“Why, yes. He said was in love with a woman at the bank. I found your name and phone number on a scrap of paper.”

There was an explosive sound over the phone. “He really was a creep! Love, hell: He raped me! Took me to an out-of-town convention, and had me come to his room, and . . . I really don’t like to talk about it, even after all these years.”

Alice felt herself trembling. “You weren’t . . . his lover?”

“Lover? My God! He had me, and that was it. Locked in a hotel room. Then I was of no more use than a used Starbucks cup. Which is why I was glad when you made him pay.”

“You didn’t . . . make him pay?”

“I told you. In those days, no one would have believed me. Hashtag MeToo was decades away, remember? And I wasn’t the only victim at that bank. What happened to me happened to a couple of the other girls, but none of us ever told anyone else.”

“Millicent . . . Millie . . . I’m having a hard time absorbing all this. Maybe we could talk another time.”

“I understand. Why don’t you come to lunch here?

“At . . . at Harmony Acres?”

“I’m at the far side of the complex from where you’re heading. Distant, maybe, but we’ll be sort of neighbors. Ought to get to know each other.”

“Yes . . . yes, Millie, we ought to do that.”

“Good. Let’s set a date.”

“Millie, I’m sorry to put you off. But this is all new to me, and I’m still absorbing it. Let me look at the calendar and call you back. Maybe tomorrow, or even later today. Okay?”


She had the phone dial Judith at work; she could us some daughterly advice. No luck: She got Judith’s voice inviting a message. Never mind; she punched the phone off.

Sitting there, it came to her that explaining all this to Judith was unnecessary. She should of course move to Harmony Acres. This Millie Howard might not become a best friend, but it would be nice to have a new friend as she moved it.

She picked up the phone and had it dial Millie back. “Hello. It’s Alice Butterfield again.”

“That didn’t take long.”

“No, I just needed a minute to collect myself. How about lunch tomorrow?”

“Great! I’ll reserve us a table, and meet you in the visitor’s lobby.”

“Just one thing, Millie. May I call you Millie?”


“I long ago put the divorce and all that out of mind. Totally. I’d like to leave it that way. Can we agree to talk about anything but Stuart Butterfield?

“Yes,” Millie said. “Absolutely. If that name never comes up the rest of my life, it will be too soon.”

“Millie, I look forward to getting to know you. We may have more in common than I’d thought.”


First published in Change Seven in October 2023



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