Last night marked the third occurrence this week he elected to sleep on the couch and the tumultuous wind pounded away at the shingles, signifying ill-time spent alone for my endearing husband. Judging by the sounds of his weeping that mingled with the waning lamp-light, I knew something to be wrong. As dawn ascended, I laid there, in my half-empty bed, contemplating on consoling my husband, but elected to leave him in his solitude. By the time I emerged from our chamber, he was already in the kitchen preparing lunch—the silence was portentous except with the methodical turning of the paper. I could see the teeming patches of shadow dragging his eyes lower upon his face.
“Care to tell me what’s on your mind? Why you took time away from— “
“Oh, I needed a break from the norm,” he interjected harshly, “the university life is catching up to me. Those damned youths! Always on the move. I just prefer to take it easy—a nap within my office suffices!”
He was scheduled on a sabbatical, and for some reason, he would not reveal why he made this decision. I assumed he was weary, but his eyes would scarcely fall upon my own—trailing off. It was as if he was looking beyond me, avoiding a specific topic brimming from his mouth. However, I dispelled the vagrant idea and waited a moment. The toaster popped on the counter.
“I understand, but isn’t this the reason why you took a sabbatical in the first place? To relax a bit?”
“Yes, I mean, not quite. The previous year I have been teaching senior seminars. Mostly just guidance—the students complete most of the work outside of class anyways—”
“But your brooding has yet to make sense these past few days. There’s something on your mind—I know it to be true.” I refuted.
My husband rose without objection, and that’s when I fully comprehended the brimming need to speak a truth that was unbeknownst to me. His mouth opened partially, emitting a fragment of a syllable, yet was not completed or followed by another word. In silence, he stepped over to the cabinet and rummaged through all the pill bottles. He swallowed a couple of aspirins dry. He hunched over the counter, and with his arms solidified like marbled columns, groaned audibly. The conversation ceased. I sighed in compliance as he washed off his plate and motioned toward the front door.
“By the way, honey,” I spoke down the hall in a matter-of-fact tone,”what happened to the Cheval mirror?”
“Oh that. It cracked horribly the other day. I will purchase—but dear, I must depart now. Goodbye.”
Upon the echo of the door’s fumbling latch, he was gone, and a stale air immediately flooded my home. I could only ponder on his eyes—those horrible reddish orbs—that reflected such a hue in which a bull would envision upon the first stab of the rapier. I sensed a continuing stream of the air and walked toward the door—it was not fully sealed shut. The chilly air nipped my flesh until it felt dry and raw. Once the gust of air settled with the locking of the clasp, I discerned how the sun emanating through the sidelight exposed the painting on the left-hand side. It was framed in aluminum stock— ‘The Scream’ hung just shy of the wallpaper. It was queer how the angle of the light illuminated the orange hues, thus shadowing the figure below. I had mixed emotions towards this caricature. Upon the driving of the final nail, the masterpiece became triumphant. I was unnerved at the uncanniness of the face, the color, and symbol being displayed. It reminded me simply of too much dissonance as if it was a voodoo of ancient times past. However, as the years went by, I became benign towards it, as crazy as that sounds. It became camouflaged so well that ultimately, I simply never noticed it vis-à-vis the house, but now it is prominent; a furnishing of no equal. The beige—now faded yellow—wallpaper was but a lackluster backdrop.
I found solace without the nourishment of food and collapsed on the leather couch. I contemplated while my body molded into his figure, attempting to once again, become whole with my husband of fifteen years. For once, I was unclear as in what manner to address him—a formidable voice and clarity I had not. The words tumbled within my esophagus and the passive restraints of my soul prevented any sort of solution. Then, out of a sudden, vindictive plight, I began to justify that it was not indeed myself that was awry, but my husband. Not once have I strayed from the idealistic view of his loving wife—it was he that has changed recently!
I began a survey for the common thread to this debacle, by considering our past. From the inception of our relationship, he was frank in revealing everything—sharing those secrets that some would take to their grave. I was quite the unassuming young woman but felt it necessary to accept the skeletons in his closet. He spoke of his failures—the first: an account of assault as a youth that landed him in jail. Petty, yes, but the knowledge of him wielding a heavy hand was unnerving at first. He was absolved of the crime upon his eighteenth birthday of course, and in my eyes, the maturity that comes with the pursuit of a doctorate halved his youthful angst until it was a minute. He was quick in revealing his previously failed relationships that led him to drink multiple times a week. At first, as he would so humbly admit, his tenure was his trump card, swooning the cynical bartenders and impressing the society of literary savants. He mentioned, in explicit detail, of his amorous run in’s behind the alley dumpster after the midnight shift ended, within the lofty bedrooms after bottles of wine and talks of criticism. Yet, these occurrences would leave him hollow and the ensuing depression would overcome him. His newly-adorned tenure position became at risk, his students complained, yet to some absurd irrationality, he would continue this habit—continued thusly up until the day he introduced himself to me at the corner of the bar.
I shook my head violently to dispel the lucid visions of my husband. I was but infatuated all over again with the night at the bar, that I usurped all efforts at finding a common thread. I was digressing, and I knew that the ability to deflate the situation remained in my complacent attention away from the matter. I tried to stay occupied with crosswords and television browsing, yet the idea of my husband off and about in this state of mind concerned me still. Granted, his wits were still intact, however, there was no guarantee he would not tumble into the oblivion he once conquered.
The hours swiftly passed and before I knew it—dinner time had arisen via the sunset cleaving the drab curtains in two distinct hues. My husband had yet to return, and the contemplation of my scheme had yet to be articulated. I decided to dissipate said scheme entirely. My goal was to be as nurturing as possible prior to his return. Using my detailed cookbook, I prepared his favorite meal within the hour. I worked feverishly, unaware of his eventual return. However, the phone never rang—the door never opened. For ninety minutes, his plate sat at room temperature under the lone filament hanging from the ceiling—the appearance of a vacant interrogation room loomed in the background, unnerving me with a queer sensation. Hence, my fear was that such a feeling was going to overcome me finally. On that notion, I threw my body onto the couch like a discarded puppet and succumbed to a miserable nap.
I unclosed my bloodshot eyes to a jostling at the front door. I was unaware of the time but it was dark and the looming silhouette of my husband was seen, emanating the moonlight through the casement. My body remained still as my ears, like a bat’s sonar, traced his steps from the foyer to the kitchen, and then finally, just feet away from the couch. I was parallel to the backrest, breathing in heavily my own warming breath. I detected his body closer, yet could not hear his steps. It was as if he too was inhaling my respiration. I became instilled with rigor mortis. Any moment, I was expecting his hand to descend tranquility upon my shoulder, thus in hopes of awakening me from my faux slumber, but it never arrived. My anxiety remained still, as his footsteps led him away, down the hall, and into our bedroom—he finally decided to sleep within our chamber! The sensation that overcame my body prior to slumber had manifested within me again, this time more devilish than before. I now was rationalizing, with all the being of my femininity, that he was indeed avoiding me on purpose! My mind ignited like kerosene and the couch became ablaze with my furious intentions.
However, despite my unfathomable rage, my docility was necessary, for I had to perform the ratiocination that would drive the stake into the heart of this monstrous affair. I arose with the guile of a masterful thief, and without making a sound, scoured my husband’s belongings around the house. His blazer was doubled over on a kitchen chair, so I rummaged through the pockets. No magnifying glass was needed to discover the cashier receipts of gratuitous proportions deep within. I gawked at the amount withdrawn—the first of many clues I presumed. My hands scoured for more suspects of infidelity, like the classic lipstick on the collar of his lazy shirt upon the banister. Nothing. I dutifully dressed in a thick wool and crept outside, keeping the nervous tick of my trembling hands to a minimum upon the doorknob. The stale gust was now significantly bitter. His automobile door was unlocked, so I entered—the luminosity of the streetlamp cast a ghastly aura around me, matching my shadow and breath to the asphalt. I sat into the driver seat, and again, sunk into the shape of my husband’s perpetual form. Here I was certain to find the most incriminating evidence: the misplaced panties upon the backseat, the smell of Francophonic perfume that stifles virgin lungs. I overturned briefcase, paper bag, tissue box, and other miscellaneous garbage until the placement of every item was alien. Nothing, again. My eardrums popped. My entire Sherlockian process provided only one item of truth, but even that was vague unless my husband provided clarity. I felt incredibly foolish.
I emerged gingerly from the car, consolidating my route back into the living in which I began. My body swayed upright with trepidation for a few moments as I acclimated to the warmth once again, and after my tear ducts thawed, I began to wail; I was defeated. I cast off my slippers and propped my body against the wall, forming an acute weakness. The tears cascaded down my face and I sobbed similarly to my husband the previous night. However, there was something bizarre that caught my eye upon raising my head to level. Before me, stood Munch’s finest smeared beyond belief from my salty tears. The tones of red now streamed like blood and intermingled with the figure’s contrasting color, as if his eyes were now screaming death. It was now significantly altered, and just then my ears popped and hummed. I knew the technique now—my ability to solve this burning question was but in the kitchen the entire time! I knew with this; an answer would be revealed at last. My feet drove me, mechanically, through the kitchen for the practical item, and then into our bedchamber. That’s when I saw him—vulnerable at last. I shut the door faintly behind me. Upon the bed, which was elevated some four feet above the floor upon thick wooden members, he was wrapped intimately within the blankets. The moon was in full view, for the curtains were not drawn due to his apparent exhaustion. His face appeared cold as if even in slumber, anxiety bloated his figure. I realized that, at last, I now loomed over my husband.
An ensuing silence.
“My dearest husband, answer me,” I demanded.
He shuffled around underneath. One eye creaked open.
“What is the matter? I am trying to sleep.” he retorted with an acerbated tone.
The statement became the catalyst of my exasperated soul. I jettisoned upon the bed, tearing my gown against a splinter. I became nude, straddling him from movement in the process—a most amorous position, but nothing like he expected. I brandished the formidable knife from behind my back. He screamed while attempting to swat my arms aside, but I was set in concrete with demoniacal intentions.
“Tell me what you’re hiding, this instant!” I shouted, undaunted
“I am but innocent, my dear Madeline. Put down this knife, please. Let us talk!”
My arms received tension from his own now, thus twisting the handle deeply into my palm. I was unwilling to release it until they thudded upon his corpse. Among the struggle, he stiffened—frowning suddenly, emitting an aura of somberness. He began to weep, slowly at first, then uncontrollably, which in doing so, crafted a metaphysical lance that pierced through the devil festering within me. Once again, my brain overturned within my skull.
“Do you wish to know the outcome of the mirror in yonder corner?” he said, broken in-between sobs.
I nodded—the knife still encroaching Death overhead.
“It did not break. That is the only lie I have committed. I but removed it, for your own sake.”
The quizzical look on my face must’ve been surreal, for I felt muscles within my face tense that I previously have never felt before.
“Do tell me now, or by God, I shall run you through!”
“Please, dear, let the unbiased moon reveal all. Glance the knife toward the window and stare within, for there you will have your answer.”
Dumbfounded, I lowered the knife to eye level, tilted it sideways and glanced at my double, but this double was no phenomenon, it was truly me. I was in disbelief—I was dying. My pupils widened as my fingers caressed the puss-filled lesions enrooted into my once fair cheeks. The wrinkles trickled blood when I squinted and jaundice infiltrated my once vibrant eyes. Instantly, my unaffected skin flushed to the most horrid white, like that of a freshly washed linen, and my body contrasted strongly against my husband’s healthy, vibrant flesh.
“I did not wish to bear the news, Madeline, but you have demonstrated the want for clarity. The physicians alerted me in confidence, to abstain from bearing the harbinger upon you. The bubonic legions were believed to have spread to your most vital organs, which are beyond repair. But I, your gallant husband, attempted to do what I could. I purchased for you the finest of medication and ointments money could buy, applying them to you in your sleep, intermixing with your meals. Yet, I became afraid to stare into the eyes in which I fell in love with fifteen years ago. I abandoned you at the most pivotal stretch, and for that, I am truly sorry. But here we are, overwhelmed with strife, and seeing you in this mood, about to slay me—well, I would not go against you, if you choose to obligate such an action. I love you until the moment Death sweeps you from my unwavering arms.”
His absolution shook the fiber of my being. I felt exorcised began to lose touch with reality. The monster I birthed, now diminished into a molecular substitute. My flaccid hand, lowering the knife, haphazardly grazed his arm drawing his blood slightly. I raised the tip to my mouth and I tasted the essence that pulsated through him. He was bitter within, yet true, and that was his proof indeed. I felt on the verge of an implosion. The extents of my actions were nothing short of maniacal—this cursed disease had defeated me. With a heavy sigh, I stared at Jonathan, directly into his apologetic eyes.
“There is but a phrase left for me to say, as so when we held our hands together upon the altar so long ago. I love you.”
With my lips pronouncing the final syllable, I drew the knife close to my chest and rolled off my husband, but not onto my rightful side. Johnathan screamed, knowing quite well my intentions. His fingers barely grazed my flank, just shy of saving what meager portion of my life lingered. Peace was made, within our debacle and my own mortality. As my extremities thudded upon the impermissible oak, and my body skewered onto the knife, the remainder of my warm blood vacated my body. My neck craned towards the window, and with the expulsion of my final breath, a single beam of moonlight—that dodged the stark shadow of the bed—rested upon my motionless face, producing a hue that mimics that of a cross section of glass.
Josh Dale holds a BA in English from Temple University, previously published in Black Elephant Literary Magazine, Dead Snakes, Peeking Cat Poetry, SickLit, and forthcoming in 48th Street Press. You may find him acquiring cat scratches with his Bengal cat, Daisy, at Thirty West Publishing House, founded in November 2015.