She told me that I looked horrible. That I was soaking wet. I looked down and saw that I was. I had been so numb I could hardly remember what it felt like to feel. But I was wet indeed. From rain. From a storm.
She hugged me again. She told me that if I got sick she’d never forgive herself. She couldn’t believe I slept out there all night, all night in the rain. In the storm. The storm we had either last night or last Wednesday, depending on who you got your weather and news from.
We left the park together, me and the person who I never thought I would see again. As we did, we saw a little boy tear through the park on a bike. He rode so close to us and so quickly, that Claire gave a little jump and a yelp. The boy laughed and called her a scaredy cat. I shuddered.
I walked back to our apartment in a haze, arm in arm with Claire. As we crossed the threshold into our building, a nagging voice in the back of my mind told me that our lock would be changed. That some elderly lady would be living there now. But, as Claire inserted her key and turned, I heard the soft but audible click of the door opening.
“The place looks terrible, doesn’t it?” Claire asked me. She pointed out all the cigarette butts in the ashtray near the couch. Of the dishes scattered. She told me she couldn’t sleep, she worried so much. She told me that she tried to wait up for me, in case I came home on my own, but the broken spring in the loveseat made her uncomfortable and unable to sit for long. Our loveseat was ours once again. The whole place was ours once more, our pictures and decor returned to their proper places.
I don’t know how much longer she prattled on before she noticed my silence, but she eventually did. “Honey, are you okay?” I had no idea how to even begin to answer that question.
“Never mind,” she said. “Just tell me you still love me. You still love me, don’t you?”
She wrapped me up in a hug. I felt her familiar warmth. I smelled the familiar scent of her hair. As I was overwhelmed by the very sensation of her, I began to put the pieces together in my mind. I can’t be dead. Couldn’t be. If I was, I couldn’t feel. Couldn’t smell. Could it all have been a horrible dream? But if it was, what about the kid on the bike? What about my long conversation with the new tenant living in my home?
The lamp was still cracked. The couch still broken. The elderly woman, with the kind eyes and the unkind headlines, was nowhere to be seen.
Claire asked me if I was hungry. She asked me if I was thirsty. All I could utter in reply was, “it rained all night, right? There was a storm, wasn’t there?” She didn’t understand why answering yes to my questions brought fresh tears to my eyes. I barely understood it myself.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You’re home now.”
We ate breakfast in companionable silence. Her deep, kind eyes searched my face between timid bites of my food. I looked back. Studying her. Looking for malice behind the kindness, waiting for that ice pick to make an appearance from behind her back.
I was so lost in studying her that, when she spoke again, I was so surprised that I dropped my fork.
All she had said was that she loved me. I was terrified by the words. As she ran off to the kitchen to grab some napkins, I had the horrible realization that I was afraid of her. Afraid of the person I was so desperate to get back to. I was scared of my Claire.
“You don’t look good,” she said to me. “Maybe you should stay home from work today.”
I indeed felt terrible. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that, if I did stay home, I’d wind up dead with an icepick in my neck. I told her I would go to work. That I was fine. And she was understanding. And kind. Too kind. She was suddenly, by my estimations, being too good to me. It couldn’t just be because she wants to make up from the fight. No, it felt, well, it felt like more.
She asked me if after work we could go to a movie. Or just a nice dinner. Something to relax. I didn’t commit to anything and I got out of there as fast as I could just in case. I didn’t get out of there totally unscathed, however. She cornered me for a goodbye kiss. It sent a shiver down my spine when our lips made contact.
I did my work satisfactorily enough, but my mind wasn’t in it. All through my shift I had one repeating thought, one topic I couldn’t stop thinking about. I was afraid of Claire. I was afraid that my wife was going to kill me. Over the fight that I no longer remembered, or for something else entirely. Maybe a lifetime of little somethings. But I knew that she was going to kill me. I know, because I dreamed it last night. It wasn’t a dream after all, couldn’t be. Too much of it was real. Too much I could feel and touch and taste. It wasn’t a dream. It was a warning.
I went for a walk on my lunch break, trying my best to clear my head. See it all from every angle. As I walked down the street, every person on every bench seemed to be reading newspapers. Newspapers full of victims; full of people that the reader doesn’t think they’ll ever end up like. Reading only of the troubles of other people. Not me, though. Not yet. Not Barry. No headlines screamed of an ice pick murder. And I intended to keep it that way.
I sat out the rest of my shift at work just watching the clock. Three o’clock. Then four. Four thirty. I got more anxious the closer to five that it got. My mind went back and forth in a frenzy. It was just a nightmare. Had to be. No, it was a warning. Had to be. No, it had to be a dream, dreams mean nothing. Or do they?
One thing I knew for sure. Right here, right now, as I put in a full shift at work and then a little overtime for good measure, I was awake. I wasn’t mentally present, but I was damn sure awake. This was no dream. This time I could run. Like I thought I had last night. Today, I can run. Run from work. Run to the subway station. Maybe run past it, out to the city limits and beyond.
I thought only of running and of death. Yet, after I clocked out, I went home.
I paused in front of our building, fortifying my nerves for the last time before I go in. Maybe for the last time ever. Suddenly, behind me, I heard a chillingly familiar voice.
“Excuse me,” it said, “can you tell me where the landlord is?”
I knew who it was before I even turned around. It was her. It was the elderly woman; the one who took my apartment.
My heart sank as I turned and confirmed what I already knew. It was her. “Do you know of any vacancies in the building? My husband and I have been looking for weeks. Is someone planning on moving out or - ”
I turned and ran, not bothering to hear the rest. I already knew her. Knew her story. That means that the dream WAS a warning after all. I couldn’t deny the facts any longer. My wife was going to kill me.
I walked into my apartment, the one with the 12B on it. I walked in to find my wife waiting for me, home early from her night job volunteering at the computer lab. She told me she rushed home. Because she missed me. And wanted to see me. It sent chills down my spine. And maybe an ice pick in my brain later.
I tried to smile when she said she had a surprise for me, but I’m sure I looked like a deer in the headlights.
I asked her what kind of surprise. She told me to give her a minute, she’d be right back.
Sweat dripped down my face in steady rivulets, as if I was melting from the panic that was overwhelming me. Is this when she does it? I convinced myself to stick it out a little longer, it couldn’t be. No, maybe this is all still a big old insane coincidence. A Hail Mary for our world as we knew it. As it was today, not a week from today, not next Wednesday.
The distinguishable sound of an ice pick chip-chip-chipping away wafted in from the other room. My heart raced. I ran into the kitchen, ready for anything.
There she was, in the kitchen, leaning over the counter and smashing away at something in a small bowl. There, in her hand, moving about with an experts ease, was an ice pick!
She paused and turned around, sensing me. She smiled. “What’s the matter?” That’s what she asked me. I asked her what she was doing. She frowned at me, wrinkled her brow in a fit of faux rage. She asked me why I wanted to ruin the surprise.
She spun around again and grabbed the bowl, tightened her gip on the ice pick. On her instrument of death. She began uttering nonsense, something about if I was mad that she spent the money. I couldn’t hear her. My brain was screaming at me to run, to fight, to survive! I knew it was coming. I was given advanced warning and I still was about to get killed, all because I’m an idiot and a coward. No, no more.
She set the pick down and wrapped me in a big hug, tight. Vice-like. Snake-like. She told me that she loved me. Sure, sure she did. I knew what was coming next. And I was going to change it.
I reached out quick as a flash and I snatched up the ice pick while she was still locked in our embrace. She pecked me on my cheek and said she loved me again. A kiss goodbye, that was my final warning. She loved me, huh? I was ready to cut those lying words right out of her throat.
I tightened my grip on the chestnut colored handle. It felt good in my hand. Firm. Solid. I needed solidity more than anything right now. With this, I was safe. With this pick in my fist, she’d never get to kill me.
I had been warned. That will not be wasted. That dream was never going to come true. NEVER!
I raised the pick up. I held it up behind her back, perched at the ready, a deadly sting, a scorpions kiss, only a swift movement away. With all the strength I had in me, I plunged the ice pick down into her neck so deeply that I lost sight of it completely.
She uttered the beginning of my name and then fell silent, fell silent forever. She went limp. She drooped against me, hands wriggling and twitching in their final desperate attempts to hold onto life. They tightened and seized at me. In a panic, and with more than a little disgust at a lot of things, I loosened my belt and quickly let it fall away in the grasp of her spasming fingers. Anything to be rid of her grasping, her touching. I had to shed away my old life.
I ran off into the night.
Nobody saw me leave, I’m pretty certain about that. It was dark. It was late. It was cloudy. It was a perfect night to kill somebody. She had planned it all perfectly. Only thing she didn’t count on was my dream.
I had no destination. I just walked. Despite it all, I was pleased with myself. I had done it. I had won. She wanted to kill me, but here I stood. I made it.
I stumbled into the park, the same one as before. I hadn’t realized that I had walked that direction at all. Suddenly, the weight of the whole night fell on me at once. I limped my way to a bench and laid down, just wanting to shut my eyes for a while. Just to be somewhere else for a while.
Just for a while.
Just for a while.
When I woke up the sun was already on full display. The events of the night played out in my head again, but faster. Out of control. Stuck on fast forward and replay at once. I wished I had never woke up.
I got up and stretched my sorry legs and decided to walk again, passing the corner that carried the early edition of the papers. The ones that talked about the victims. The ones that wouldn’t be talking about me.
The headline mocked me. It told of an ice pick killer. The words bloody and motive and killer all jumped out at me once more.
And there was her picture again. A picture of her. Of my Claire. It was the same one I had seen in my dream. In my glimpse into the future.
Unlike in my warning dream, this time I was able to read on. I saw the caption under her picture clearly. It said she was murdered. It said they were looking for her husband; they were looking for me. My name had made it into the papers after all.
My brain fired again, sputtering to life with a series of sparks of confusion and perspective. She wasn’t going to kill me. It was just a dream, just a crazy set of coincidences. I knew that nobody would believe me.
That’s why I wrote this letter. So you could know how it was. So that somebody would believe me. So somebody would forgive me. That somebody would pray for me. I need that now more than ever.
The dream came to full fruition. I had made it that way. Today was Wednesday. Today the headlines told of me awaiting a trial. Waiting here, in a barren and small, smothering space, awaiting judgment for my actions.
I’m sitting here in my final moments, I’m spending them in a jail cell. I think about it all again. My mind was set to replay. Replay and fast forward. I was going to make it stop.
It happened a week ago, Wednesday. A week ago, today. It was wet outside. There was a storm. There was a bench. There was tumult.
I already know what my final, dying thoughts will be of. None of it will be pretty. If you could, please say a little prayer for me. Take pity on me.
As I prepare to sign off, a small part of me wonders if that nice older lady is still going to take my place, read the headlines about me on my own couch. Or if I had changed that. Who knows? I suppose it was inconsiderate of me to not fix that spring for her.
The towel is fastened around my neck. This is the end of the line for me. Claire, darling, I’m so sorry. I can only hope with every fiber of my being that you’ll be waiting at the end of that tunnel for me, ready to forgive and try again, be better. Who knows?
I have no other explanations to give. At least I don’t feel so.