Alone, as always
A moving story of altered realities, erotic desires and betrayal...
Friday morning, the day of...
He sleeps beside me, his arm draped loosely over me like the dustjacket
of a book. I feel the hair on his arm grazing the bare skin of my stomach
which rises with each laboured breath I take. A hundred times this has
happened exactly this way; I awaken before him, feeling his hot breath
billowing against the back of my neck. He is so close to me, so physically
The sense of isolation does strange things to my mind and though I know this, I still succumb to my own madness. Danny, especially at these moments of unreality in the mornings, doesn't seem to exist. If he does, he’s a mere ghost of his former self—a holographic sliver of the man I fell in love with. Always, a hundred times at least, I lie in bed, beneath the weight of Danny's possessing arm. I lie in bed and think such betraying thoughts, as if to validate my grim reality and justify my future actions.
But this morning something's different. I can feel the other body in the room. She's a forceful presence, as forceful as I wish I could be. Gazing at me, she knows I'm not asleep, though my eyes are tightly shut. When I open them she is closer, standing near me, staring at me with that way she has of tilting her head back and sizing me up. As if her gaze could confirm my reality; the proof I need to know that I exist.
She bends down to whisper something in my ear, oblivious to my nudity.
The backs of her fingernails brush my chin and I'm strangely aroused.
Sunday morning, five days before...
I was in the garden when she drove up in a white convertible, wearing
sunglasses that matched her long, dark hair. "Excuse me,"
she called but I knew she was the type who never needed excusing. "Is
this Hickory Street?"
Monday afternoon, four days before...
It was a cold autumn night and I was curled under a blanket in my
favourite chair with a book when I heard the doorbell ring. Instantly
my heart dropped. The doorbell wouldn't normally evoke such a feeling
of unease but I was alone as Danny was away on business. I crept to
the door and put my eye to the peephole.
"Oh no. I was reading the same page over and over anyway."
Our hands touched briefly as I handed her the coffee, the cold of our
skin contrasting with the warm mugs. "Cream or sugar, Stella?"
It was the first time I'd said her name and I saw her smile when it
rolled off my tongue. She shook her head and I sat down next to her.
"I don't wear it at night," I told her, which was true. My
wedding ring was on the table near my bed, in my empty bedroom. "I
started taking it off at night when Danny wanted to pretend he was with
I have to be crazy, I tell myself, for thinking what I was about her. I have to be severely out of my mind. But I went on thinking it anyway.
Several moments passed and she didn't return. I was beginning to doubt
her existence. Did I dream her up? I waited until I couldn't wait any
longer and finally went to look for her. On my way to the bathroom I
passed my open bedroom door. I always kept it closed but Danny must
have left it open. Leaning in and reaching for the doorknob, I noticed
Stella standing near my bed, gazing at a photograph on my night table.
I cleared my throat to announce my presence. Something fell from her
hands and clanged on the floor. Embarrassed, she struggled with an apology
as I walked up behind her. "I'm sorry. Your door was open and I...
I was being nosy."
Both flattered and disconcerted by her compliment, I looked around
for something to break our gaze. The glint of my wedding ring caught
my attention from beneath the nightstand. I bent down to pick it up,
but couldn't quite reach far enough under the table.
Tuesday morning, three days before...
He slept beside me, his arm draped across me. The hair on his arm
tickled my naked stomach as it rose with each laboured breath I took.
But it was different this time. His arm seemed lighter. Softer. As my
eyes began to adjust to the morning sun shining through the window,
they caught the glimmer of something gold on my night table. Slowly
I recognised it as my wedding ring.
Danny wasn't home and when I plucked up the courage to look I found a naked woman in my shower. A naked woman who, the last I remembered, had picked my wedding ring up off the bedroom floor. Memories are funny things. I remember some things very well, like yesterday's grocery bill: $43.38. As if that had some special significance. And yet I couldn't remember spending the night with the beautiful woman in my shower. I couldn't remember how we got from the floor to my bed. The water stopped and if I listened hard enough I could hear her dressing. The quiet rustle of smooth fabric brushing her soft skin, the clip of her bra closing. As my memory slowly returned to me I vaguely remembered helping her out of those clothes the night before. But I couldn't be sure that I wasn't making it all up. That's all there was—vague, truncated bits of memories; like the fragments of a dream that comes to you periodically throughout the day; neither entirely real nor logical and always just out of reach.
"I don't mean to run," she said, stepping quickly back into
the room, "But I have to go." Her white blouse was unbuttoned,
seductively exposing the tan bra that covered her small breasts. She
moved across the room, grabbing shoes and a purse as if it were her
room and she knew by instinct where everything was. "I left my
number on your night table." But before I could look, she kissed
me fleetingly on the lips and ran for the door.
Friday PM, the night of...
After I cooked Danny breakfast this morning—bacon and eggs and three strong cups of black coffee—I sat quietly and watched him eat. I shouldn't have been watching him but I couldn't bear to do much else. I was supposed to be getting the gun out of the bathroom but I couldn't, so I didn't. I saw him off to work and then I was alone. Alone, again, with my thoughts. Not that I can remember any of them. Hours passed. The whole day, almost. Before I knew it, it was evening and he was coming home. I heard his car pull into the driveway shortly after six. Suddenly, as if this was my last chance, I hurried into the bathroom and leaned against the washbasin. Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror I am shocked at how awful I look. I barely recognise myself. There's something familiar about the injuries I see, but they seem worse now. My lips are bruised and puffy, my right eye almost swollen shut. The monster staring back at me reminded me of my mission. I leaned down and pulled open the drawer. There, inside, is the metallic gleam of a gun. I don't know whose gun it is but I don't care. It feels like it fits my hand as I pick it up and that's more than enough reason to go on holding it. My actions seem somehow familiar, as if I've practised them a hundred times, although I don't remember it. The urge I feel inside me is also strangely familiar. It's hammering loudly in my heart and head, daring me. I want to put my finger on the trigger.
The woman in the mirror is watching me. She also has a gun, shiny,
like mine. She puts her finger on the trigger, so I do too. And when
I do, we both smile. What is it about holding a loaded gun that makes
you feel so powerful? Loaded? I check and it is. Of course it is. You
can't kill someone with an unloaded gun, can you?
Tuesday, three days before...
There was football on the TV. Danny wanted another beer and sent me
to get one. The phone rang just as I opened the refrigerator.
"I need to see you."
Wednesday, two days before...
I didn't see Danny off the next day. He left, for Wisconsin this time, around mid afternoon and I busied myself with gardening and housework. Before I knew it, the sun had set and night had fallen. I routinely looked at the clock, not because I couldn't wait for Stella, but because with each passing minute I was relieved she hadn't yet arrived. It wasn't as if I didn't want to see her, but that I didn't want her to see me—not like this.
The bedroom was almost completely dark and silent except for the ticking
of the clock beside the bed. The sheets were pulled up to my chin and
beneath them I was fully clothed. I knew I was sending mixed messages
but I didn't care.
"I'm sorry..." I said eventually. She seemed rejected, with
a faraway look in her eyes, eyes I now remembered kissing as her fingers
had floated down my naked body the night before last. "It's like
you're not real. It's like I'm dreaming," I said, but I knew I
wasn't. She pulled the covers down to my waist and saw that I was dressed.
Thursday morning, the day before...
When I awoke she was facing me at the foot of the bed, her deep brown
eyes wide open and staring. I smiled and leaned in to kiss her but she
The first thing I noticed was that we were both naked, but that wasn't what Stella intended me to see. She put her hand underneath my chin and lifting it roughly, made me look at myself. My jaw was swollen, my lip was fat and my right eye was a seductive shade of purple. Had I not known better I would have thought I'd put on too much eye shadow and been stung by a bee on the cheek. I did remember that Danny had hit me, yes, but I didn't remember the damage he'd caused. It was like I was looking at someone else in the mirror. Someone weak and broken. Instinctively I reached up to touch my face, almost surprised at the tenderness of my own flesh. Yes, it was me. I winced as my fingers encountered broken skin.
"I'm gonna kill the fucker," said Stella, but I was hardly aware of her presence. I was too busy trying to remember how it happened, how my husband had beaten my face to a bruised pulp without my remembering it. I was barely aware of her hands on my shoulders, moving slowly down around my stomach while my own hands explored my face, tracing my injuries as if they were a roadmap to my memories. Stella was peering at my reflection in the mirror. What was she looking at; my injuries—my naked body? I couldn't tell. She held me from behind, the tendrils of her dark hair stabbing the eyes that peered at me so intently. This time she whispered it. "We're gonna kill the fucker."
Friday afternoon, the day of...
"Whoa, Vic. What are you doing with that?"
"Don't lie to me, Danny."
"No honey, I'm killing you for another woman."
I pull the trigger and a bullet rips into his chest. I fire again and his body flips backwards against the wall. There is no sound. No bang from the gun, no scream from his mouth. I fire a third time and watch the light leave his eyes and his torso thump heavily against the wall with a muffled thud. I don't remember how many more times I fired. I only remember that the gun eventually ran out of bullets. There is blood everywhere. Mostly on the bed and splattered against the wall, but much of it is on me too. I've managed to cover myself quite well, in fact. I'm a walking advertisement for bloody murder.
In the bathroom, the full stream of cold water wakes my ears to the sounds of the outside world. No longer are my own thoughts so piercing. I run my hands and forearms under the water and wash my husband's dead blood from my skin. I study myself in the mirror. My swelling has gone down and my eye seems to look closer to its normal self. I almost recognise myself again. "It's over," I say aloud to the room, to no one in particular. Moments later, she's standing beside me, washing the arms that buried him in the garden, drying the fingers that moved his trash bag body into the freshly dug hole and covered it with dirt. "Fill out a missing person's report in three or four days," she tells me while splashing cold water on her face and wiping away smudges of dirt. "When they ask why you didn't report it sooner, tell them he's done this before. They'll think he's found another woman and probably won't even bother to investigate." She grabs the bloody towel from beside the washbasin as I stand behind her with my arms around her waist.
"You know what he told me... before I shot him? He said you weren't
"You said you couldn't," she replied. I rub at my dirty arm but the colour won't come off. Seeing me, she takes my arms in her hands and shows me it isn't dirt I'm trying to rub away, but bruises. Dark and patchy bruises extending up my forearms that I haven't noticed before. They're positioned where gripping fingers once grabbed me. She doesn't have to say anything. I know I've been held like this before and not by her. I knew the guilty fingers were now planted in my garden. Was he real? Is she? Am I? Overwhelmed with confusion I impulsively kiss her, desperate to confirm my own reality to her. My body presses hers back against the washbasin. I can see the dirt beneath her fingernails as she encircles my neck with her hands and pulls my mouth further into hers. Almost unconsciously, my fingers work their way beneath her top and crawl around her breasts like the insects that are invading Danny's mouth in the garden.
She eases me onto the floor, just beneath the washbasin as her hands work their way down my body. Pushing up my blouse, still stained with Danny's blood, she passes her hands up and down the length of my neck while licking a trail to my stomach, the ends of her dark hair tickling my skin. My back arches. I moan. Almost instinctively my body lifts itself up and begins to rise and fall in time to her caresses, bucking wildly each time I feel her enter me more deeply until her whole body is almost inside me, as if we're one person. The rush of orgasm flutters through my body and she holds me there until it’s spent, until I fall back on the tiled floor, exhausted and breathing heavily. My eyes close.
It's the light I notice first, the bright light on the bathroom ceiling. I'm lying on my back on the cold hard floor, the washbasin almost directly above me. On it I see a dark line, possibly dried blood that had dripped down and out of sight. I reach up to touch it but I don't have to. I know it's mine. Not fresh. But still mine. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I pull myself off the coldness of the floor into the brightness of the room. It's me, all right. Nothing's changed. The sex doesn't show; the betrayal doesn't show—not even the murder shows. Murder? It feels like a dream, pulling that trigger. Danny's blood had splashed just like it does in the movies. The bedroom is dark and quiet, but not empty. Even in its stillness I can vaguely make out the shape of the body in the bed. It's a body I know well, with curves and angles my own body has memorised. If I don't breathe, I can almost hear the faint airy whispers of her breath as it passes her immobile lips. Stella is asleep in my bed.
I draw near to her and let my clothes drop to the floor. Then I slide
under the covers, hugging the sheets around me. As my eyes close my
mind immediately starts to drift. Barely aware of the arm across my
waist, suspended between the waking world and sleep, I begin to dream.
In this dream, someone’s standing in the doorway, mouthing words
to me. At first I think it's Danny, saying, "We have to do it now,"
with furtive glances to the female arm across my stomach. I blink awake
and he's gone. Stella stands there instead, half-dressed. Somehow I
know she's leaving. She leans down to me and whispers in my ear. Then
she kisses the side of my mouth and tenderly touches my cheek. My eyes
close again. When I open them, she's gone. Like she was never there
at all. My fingers touch my mouth, where I can still feel her soft lips.
Story © 2005 Jennifer Gardner. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED