If you’re reading this, I am already dead.
That, in and of itself, isn’t inherently interesting. Everybody dies. That’s not the interesting part of the story. Nor is this next part, but I feel like I should start at the beginning.
I was married in a dark blue suit. It rustled when I moved and it wrinkled too easily when stored. I wore matching shoes, shoes that pinched and squeaked a bit when I walked. The girl? She was just a girl, normal like me. Someone who ate when they were hungry and slept when they were tired. Someone who was hot in the summer, chilled in the winter. Someone who waited their turn and spent too much time in lines out of politeness.
Normal through and through. A normal person who would read the newspaper. Would read about other people, people who were decidedly not normal. I would read about people who robbed and murdered and raped and cannibalized. But of course, that sort of thing happened to other people, not to me. To people who must have been, in their own individual ways, not normal. Not like me.
Yet today, as I write this letter, apparently I’m now finding myself amongst their number. As one of the “other people” who was now waiting for millions of people to read about and tsk tsk about what happened to me. To contemplate how I got here. How, and why, I needed to kill myself. Well, don’t worry, I’ll enlighten you.
Claire and I had fought that day, the day that changed everything. That day was last week Wednesday.
We fought in the morning and I stewed about it all afternoon. By the time evening was approaching and I was ready to leave work, I still wasn’t quite ready to head home.
I took a circuitous route full of unnecessary turns and stops. When I ran out of things to peruse or walk around or stand near, I found myself in a park. The sky looked like an angry, darkened, bitter face, the very visage of a dirty, enraged homeless man. I watched the moody setting quickly extinguish the light of the sun. It happened speedily, not gradually. I knew that it was going to rain.
And it did.
The sky burst open and began to cry for me, cry on me. As the first few drops hit my skin, I knew suddenly that I wanted to be home after all. I wanted to dash home, see the blue and white awning dripping and gently reverberating with the tap tap tapping of the raindrops on its hard aluminum shell. I wanted to climb up the concrete stairs, rush past the revolving door into my building. I wanted to run all the way up to the fourth floor, to my furnished flat. And when I got there, I wanted to see Claire again, feel her again. Feel her warmth against me as we hugged and forgave each other and I could tell her that I loved her, and that I was sick to my stomach with the remembrance that I hadn’t even kissed her goodbye that morning, all because of that silly argument.
I stood up and headed home, as fast as my now sopping wet legs would allow. The ground nearly shook with the deep rumbling thunder that arose following manic streaks of jagged light. All the storminess was out of myself now, but the same could not be said of the sky.
I nearly fell a couple of times, trying to take those slick concrete steps two at a time to get home faster. Soon enough, I was up on the fourth floor and nearing my door, apartment 12B.
As I got to the door, my heart quickened. I fumbled my keys, feeling like I was all thumbs. I was nervous, but in a big rush to be home, to end the fight once and for all and make everything okay again. Finally, I was able to wrestle the key into the door and turn. And the lock didn’t move.
The key, in fact, had hardly fit at all, and was now stuck protruding from a lock that wouldn’t budge. With a concentrated effort, accompanied by a few harsh words, I wrenched the key free before dropping it to the floor in a jangling jumble.
As I bent forward to retrieve my keys, I heard the door unlatch and open. I stood erect, nearly sobbing with joy. Claire! My love, I was about to see you again.
But…it wasn’t Claire.
That’s all she asked. One word, one syllable. Enough to destroy my entire world.
It wasn’t Claire. Inside of my doorway, inside of my apartment, there was no sign of my Claire. My love. My wife. Instead, there was an elderly woman, with dark skin and a friendly, but confused, smile on her crinkled face.
“Yes?” The word, repeated, this time followed up with a “can I help you? I’m making dinner, so if you’re here to sell something, let me tell you right now that you’re wasting your time.”
I looked down at the flowered apron she was wearing, the one that said Kiss The Cook. She held a large wooden spoon in one hand, a limp gray dish towel in the other. Cooking? In my apartment? What the hell was going on?
My eyes flashed to the small hallway, my small hallway, the one where our coats would hang, as well as a heavy oak mirror and a few of our best vacation photos. None of that was anywhere in sight. In fact, even the floor was different. Redone. The walls, though, still bore the small indentations and concave spots where we had miss-measured our new futon’s dimensions.
“I’m sorry,” I said, but not to the person that I was expecting to. “I’m looking for somebody.”
She smiled a small warm smile as she asked me what apartment I was looking for. That smile lessened and cooled when I told her I was looking for 12B.
She told me that I must be looking for the previous owners. And she then started apologizing that she didn’t have a forwarding address. After that, she told me she had only been “living here for a few days.” Days? Living for days in my apartment? How?
My head spun. Sweat drenched my brow. I rocked on my feet, suddenly feeling very unsteady. Unsteady on my feet, unsteady in my life, unsteady in the doorjamb of my apartment, my former apartment, it would seem.
She asked me if I was sick. I told her maybe. I didn’t tell her yes, in more ways than you can imagine. But I thought it.
She suddenly took stock of me, saw my dripping wet clothes, my soggy pants, my moist socks; my misery could be counted in droplets.
“Sorry,” I said again, this time at least to the person that I intended. “I don’t mean to drip on your new floor. I guess I’m just confused, I got caught up in the rain.”
At this comment, her eyebrow shot up, moving faster than the rest of her could.
She asked me:
I looked at her with incredulity. I looked down at myself, saw myself looking back, saw the reflection of a scared man in a growing puddle of wet and confusion.
“It’s raining right now,” I informed her. Maybe she was going deaf, maybe she didn’t know. “There’s thunder and lightning and everything. That’s why I ran all the way here.”
Her smile tightened, retracted. She eyed me curiously, but there was the beginnings of suspicion in them. She looked at me like she was wondering what drugs I might be on. She told me that it wasn’t storming outside, not at all. In fact, it was sunny. We haven’t had a storm like that since last week. Not since Wednesday.
Not today Wednesday, but a week ago.
My world spun and darkened and vanished. With the assistance of someone much older and much weaker than I, I stumbled my way into my old living room and was helped to take a seat on a sofa I had never seen before. It was vintage. And dissonantly colored. And hard, unforgiving, covered in plastic.
She took a seat in a large loveseat. My old loveseat. The one that I had just talked about three days ago, Claire and I saying it was about time that we fixed that large tear in the arm and the loose spring in the cushion. Judging from the woman's wince as she sat down, both were still there, although right now I could only see one of those blemishes.
She offered to get me a drink. Instead of answering, I drank in the room. Our old lamp was there too. The one with the crack in the bottom of it. A crack from too much good news. Claire got a raise and spun around happily in the room celebrating until she got dizzy and stumbled into it. There the crack was now, mocking me. My life was steadily disappearing down crack after crack.
The mantel was the same, but the pictures above it were different. I didn’t know what to do. So I just took a shot.
“I’m looking for the Moseley’s. The people who used to live here, I mean. Do you have any idea what happened to them?”
Her face grew a shade paler. As if the knowledge she clearly had was making her sick. She asked me if I read the papers. I said of course. Then she asked, “have you read them lately?”
I shook my head. She shook my world in return. She told me there was a murder.
“A murder? Are you sure?”
She nodded a slow, somber nod. “Afraid so. She looked like such a nice young lady too, at least as far as I could tell from the picture in the paper.” She paused to adjust her apron. “My husband didn’t like the idea of moving in here, so quickly after something like that had happened. But with the housing market what it is, well, here we are.”
A small piece of her smile returned, but it was only to make a show of being polite. It was a mere ghost of a smile.
I asked her if she could tell me about it. About the murder.
“It happened right there in the kitchen. In the kitchen with an ice pick of all things. Horrible. Like a game of Clue come to life. My husband refuses to eat in there. He thinks it could be haunted.” She smiled her mirthless smile again. “Shame what happened. Everyone here in the building says that they were so in love too, and that she seemed nice. So nice.”
I asked her about the newspapers, asked her if the murder was in it a lot. She told me they spoke of nothing else all week. She then pointed to a small stack of papers on her coffee table. A newspaper was folded right on top of the pile.
Ice Pick Killer Awaits Trial, the headline screamed at me, practically jumped off the printed page. I close my eyes to block it out, but it’s too late. It’s already in my head. On my mind. Seared onto the backs of my eyelids. I opened my eyes again, trying not to see the paper, all the while the words crazed and bloody and motive and killer all leapt out at me and blurred the rest of the world from my vision. Above it all, a picture. A picture of my dear Claire. I tried to read the caption underneath it but the tears blotted away my ability to read.
“I’m so sorry, dear. I probably shouldn’t have let you seen that. Were you close with the two of them? I’m sure this is all quite a shock for you.”
I mumbled half of an excuse and got up and left.
I don’t even remember leaving, walking out that door. I don’t recall walking down the stairs and out into the still, suffocating air. Yet there I was once more.
I walked the streets, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. My feet darted around as sporadically as my thoughts did. All I wanted to do was curl up on the pavement until my head stopped pounding. Or until I stopped breathing. Whichever one came first I would be fine with.
I soon found myself back at the park. On the same bench, even. But this time it was bone dry outside. I held my woozy head in my hands, as if trying to physically collect and contain my thoughts, but it was of no use, as I was wakened from my stupor by a child hauling ass through the park on a bike, passing so near to me that I felt the breeze on my face.
I sat up and yelled out in surprise. The kid only laughed and, without slowing down, shouted, “Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat!” He taunted me but didn’t watch where he was going. A few yards away he hit the stone curb and went tumbling head over heels over handlebars. He hit the ground with a hard thud.
He was covered in blood and clutching his leg. He was crying for help.
I ran over to him, instinct taking over. When I got nearer, however, I froze.
He kept crying for help. I stood perfectly still. In hindsight, I suppose the word he said was actually probably deaf, but I heard, “what’s wrong with you? Are you dead?”
And then I remembered. I was.
It all made sense. The loss of time. The apartment. The lady. I was dead. I died a week ago, murdered by my wife. Killed by Claire. Because of our fight. That had to be the reason, that stupid fight. With all that had happened, I honestly no longer even remembered what the fight was about.
I straightened my back and then I ran.
Behind me, the kid continued to scream in agony. I ran. I didn’t know where to, but I ran on. I ran and ran until I could no longer hear the screaming and the pleas.
I don’t know how long I ran, distance or time. I just remember that it was suddenly just..just…later. It was late and it was dark and I was tired. God, I was so tired.
I laid down and I closed my eyes.
Birds woke me up. Birds singing. The stupid feathery bastards. Must be nice to have no problems, to be happy in the morning. I sat up and winced, my neck stiff and cold. I ran my tingling hand over the length of my arm and felt the grooves that were pressed into my skin throughout the course of the night.
I woke up a bit more and found myself on that bench again. The same one I was on earlier that day. Or was it the day before now? The same one I sat on in the rain, upset over something forgettable. Dreading going back to a home that would be the death of me.
I closed my eyes again, trying to will myself back into unconsciousness. I tried to convince myself that this was all a dream. Soon I would wake up. Not on a bench, not in a park, but back in my warm bed in my loving home. Next to her. Next to Claire. I reached out to her, reached out to feel her next to me. My arm just hung out in an empty void. After a while, I sat up.
I was on the bench in the park, there was no mistaking it. I sighed deeply and smoothed out the wrinkles of my shirt. I didn’t know what to do. Maybe run until I pass out again. Then, I heard it.
“Barry? Baby, is that you?”
I shot up to my feet, whirling around to spot where the voice was coming from. I didn’t have to. In a blur of color and motion, Claire was at once next to me and wrapping me up in a tight bearhug. She asked me if I was okay. She said she had been worried sick all night.