The rain was haunting me, unearthing ghosts of things I'd long since buried. Here, a cucumber plant. There, my husband's favorite rosebush. And peeking out beneath the window, almost out of view, were his remains.
I'd never set out to be a murderer, not even when I woke up that day, three years ago. If you had to ask me why I did it, I don't think I could pinpoint the exact reason, the proverbial killing blow. One minute, he was standing, his back to me, laughing about something. And the next, I was kneeling over him, stabbing repeatedly with his favorite knife.
He always did like to cook.
There, underneath the window, I could see his skeletal fingers, one still wearing his wedding ring. I'd buried him with it on, sealing us forever in eternal matrimony. Not even after death would we part. I'd always been sentimental about things like that.
It has been raining for sixty days. Sixty three if I was going to believe the fear-mongerers on the radio. After the rain didn't stop for a week, I came home from work every day and watched this spot. After two weeks, I drank my morning coffee here, and then resumed my post as soon as I walked in the door.
After thirty days, they couldn't keep the roads open anymore, everything had flooded. Emergency vehicles only. And ten days after that, not even them. The past fifteen days, I've left this post only for bodily functions.
Should I really be worried about what happens to Patrick when the soil all gets washed away? Those carefully dug six feet of dirt, sloughed away by sixty days of angry water. Would anyone have cared? But I cared. What if the neighbors saw? The flooding hadn't reached the side-yard, but when it would, Patrick's skeleton would be carried away like a banner of hope to his family, pulling back the curtain to reveal me as the monster I've known since that one sunny morning in the kitchen.
But I wasn't the only one who'd changed. I was just better at hiding it.
There wasn’t much for me to do while I stood sentinel at my post, watching the rain unearth my secret, so I would think. The past fifteen days were horrific, poring over what a terrible human being I had been in my youth, not settling in as a person until I was well into my thirties, and not even then. But wasn’t that true of everyone? I asked that question every day as I stood at the window, watching the erosion. It was true: everyone was evil until 35.
Back then we were well equipped to be assholes to each other. We had been in love with the Internet, an ancient invention meant to bring people of different cultures and backgrounds together, and make everyone the same in the eyes of Information. But that’s not how it worked out. According to President Haste, humans ruined it. So as his first action in 2109, he outlawed it, the Internet.
Withdrawal wasn’t gentle. At first anyone with wireless implants lost connection and lost their minds, literally. Hospitalizations went up across the country when older technology was rendered obsolete: watches, data-centers, or even something as archaic as a smartphone. The U.S. Government had to get creative with ways to compensate us for our precious connectivity. Telephone companies dug themselves out from history, finding centuries old infrastructure and wiring it into people’s homes with actual wires they called “land lines.” We had gone from being free beings of the world to being tethered to the wall, able to move 20, 30, 40 feet away at $20.00 increments. But Patrick said he’d never felt more free.
Some couldn’t handle being cut off from everyone they knew. It was as if lights of hundreds of people they could interface with at any time had just winked out, and now they wandered the streets, soulless and alone. Columbus built two new nine story psychiatric hospitals to house these husks of citizens, and within six months, they were at capacity.
The magazines, there were magazines now, called this the New Physical Age. They lauded President Haste for ending the cacophanous corruption of the minds of the American people, and welcomed in the new era that face-to-face communication would bring now that we weren’t glued to our HUDs or screens. I couldn’t tell if they were sucking up, or if they weren’t like me, constantly itching for want of something more, some other experience. Every day I sat at my desk, where there was still a mark from where the computer had been for decades. I spent hours looking at the clock, its incessant ticking my only link to the fact that there was something out there greater than me who had control.
As the weeks and months went on, Patrick eased into this New Physical Age like it belonged to him. We went and saw movies at the theater, ones made in the 20th Century, still preserved on actual film. We bought a once discarded invention, a television, and a cable subscription. He liked the comedies. I couldn’t sit still for more than ten minutes. I picked up smoking, something else coming back into vogue, to quiet the fidgeting of my hands. I sat out on the front porch and tried to teach myself how to blow smoke-rings while he laughed at cooked-up capers inside.
One night, I was out like this when I saw a woman with dark hair in her face. She was shuffling down the street like she was lost, or drunk. The street lamps had lost their fervor for light in the New Physical Age, so she might have been walking carefully. She was muttering to herself, so I shrank back into the dark of the porch, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I must have made a noise, because she looked right at me. She saw me, and stared. That’s when I heard it, the silent creep of the Yellow Van. She heard it too, because she quickened her shuffle. She was two houses down, out of the light of the street lamps, and all she had to do was find a good hiding spot, but she froze. She was wearing a skirt, it was a nice skirt once, but it looked like it hadn’t been washed in a while. The Yellow Van stopped, and one of the men in the suits got out and lead her gently over to the sliding door. She resisted at first, but climbed in without issue. I plastered myself against the house wall.
I’d recognized myself in her eyes.
Middle of the night. Tornado sirens. This wasn’t uncommon in the early days of the rains, but with Patrick’s bones being as they were, this was catastrophic. I grabbed the radio and went to the basement, already deep with standing water. Patrick was the one who was always careful about waterproofing. His home-brew equipment was down here, as well as other things I’d always thought ridiculous until recently: a printer, a computer with an actual keyboard, and printouts he kept of our finances.
After he died, I found myself so well equipped for his funeral I almost felt guilty. Did I kill him for the money? No. We kept most of our savings, due to the detailed physical records Patrick kept, but a lot of people lost fortunes playing pretend with the stock market. All of those tiny little numbers snatched up and discarded with the ether, along with everyone’s pumped up bank accounts.
Why did I kill him? I still don’t know the answer to that question. That morning, the sunlight shone through the window, shaded only by the light of an old-growth maple tree that I hated. I hated it because every fall we had to rake, and sometimes, every few years or so, it would drop a branch. I hated so many things for so many stupid reasons back when my time was taken up hating everything on the Internet. I had gone from hating the tree and hating everything to hating him, everything about him, from his rolled up sleeves to the grime under his nails. I even hated listening to him breathe every night, wishing that one day he would just stop, and I could wake up the next morning finally refreshed.
He was standing. Was he making coffee, or washing up after breakfast? The details are so hazy now. He turned, looking over his shoulder at me, his teeth so white despite his years of coffee drinking. I couldn’t see his eyes, I can’t even tell you what color they were anymore. Green? No, brown, maybe. The sun hit the lenses of his glasses in such a way that they shone like headlights, bearing down at me, judging me, lighting me up. He opened his mouth to say something when I spotted the knife, sitting there, recently wiped clean.
I moved so fast, I don’t think he saw it coming, grabbing that knife and driving it in to the soft part underneath his shoulder blade. It wasn’t easy; I was shocked with how not easy it was. But I kept it going, shoving with both hands, and again with both hands, withdrawing the knife. I’d never felt so empowered, so I found another soft spot, and drove the knife down again. This was all his fault. He’d had plenty of chances to stop me from doing this, if he’d only paid attention. Had he seen me getting angrier and angrier over the past two years? Turning away from him when he wanted to kiss; pushing off his advances?
I had to destroy him, this perfect person born at just the right time to live when I couldn’t adapt. Where I couldn’t change, he breezed through every day like royalty. I killed him over and over again in my head, stabbing him four times until he turned over, his arms weakly trying to push me away. I didn’t look him in the eyes, I looked at his mouth instead. It was open, with blood pooling in it. At that point I knew it was over, he would choke on that blood. I raised the knife one more time, and he said one word through that viscous liquid. It came out as a gargle; his death rattle.
“Please,” he said.
I took one more look at him, and threw the knife away. I left him to die on the kitchen floor while I went to blow smoke rings at the maple tree in the back yard. It was such a beautiful day.
I waited until dark that night to plant him in the side yard next to his favorite rosebush, I figured I owed him that much. That night the yard was lit up like a charcoal drawing, the shadows of the long grass drawn by a scribbler moon. I dug for hours in the company of those shadows, and my neighbors never noticed a thing.
After 24 hours, I reported him missing, conjuring up a distraught voice I’d learned from 6th Grade Drama Class. Then came the police investigations, lawyers, private detectives, mediums. The police wrote me off quickly. I didn’t even have a parking citation. After a year of searching everywhere, including the psych wards, my lawyer called me.
“He’s probably dead, Erin,” he said. He sounded so concerned. “It’s time to let go.”
That night I opened a bottle of champagne we’d been saving for our tenth anniversary. I drank the whole thing, figuring whatever hangover I’d suffer would help me fit in with the grieving. It was spring again, and Patrick’s rosebush was doing better than ever, looking healthier and more beautiful than it had in any year previous. I took it as a sign: Patrick was mocking me, telling me I’d never be rid of him.
That rosebush was near one of these basement windows. The water level down here was nearer to my knees than my ankles, so I went wading to that particular window, and pressed my hand against the glass. It rattled in response, and I saw the fabric of Patrick’s shirt, waving a surrender.
The sirens had never shut up, and I’d forgotten about the radio. The window continued to vibrate against my hands as I stood transfixed on that waving flag. My heart felt like it was made of lead in my chest, weighing me down toward the high water with every heartbeat. So I put my weight on that glass, staring at what was left of Patrick.
I was wrong. I was sorry. I’d made such a big mistake. I could see that now. Would he forgive me? The flag’s answer was noncommittal. I needed him, I had always needed him, did he know that? Is that why he grew so many roses these past two years, just for me? To remind me that he was always and would always be here? If there was a God, or some great thing that controlled the clocks, I wanted to talk to them, to make my apologies to my husband. Could they hear me? Could anyone hear me over the sound of this wind?
The water outside was pressing against the basement window, I watched as it swayed back and forth like the tide, crashing against the glass to gain entry. This was the end of my quiet life as a grieving widow. Gone would be the consoling looks from the neighbors as I shoveled the snow from the walk alone, or climbed the ladder to clean the gutters. No one would avert their eyes anymore when they talked about pregnancy or anniversaries. Every time the water crashed up against the glass, it brought Patrick’s remains with it, and every time I was only inches from seeing what my freedom had done to me.
He’d always hated storms. The second the tornado sirens had started, all throughout our marriage, he’d grab this emergency radio and flee to the basement, and I’d have to go with him and hold him until they stopped. Maybe he was just scared now, wanting me to hold him one more time. The wind sounded like the freeway closing in, and the window was starting to crack, water seeping between my fingers.
It felt like seconds later when the glass had had enough, and the pressure of everything, the dirt, the water, Patrick’s ghost, came crashing through into the basement joining me and the brackish water. The wind cried out at me, screaming at me for what I’d done, admonishing me, as what was left of Patrick came tumbling through the window, reaching out for some consolation, some answer I could never give. It was a melee of hair and skeletal fingers at first, his tangled in mine, when we met again after those long three years. He smelled like earthworms and rot, the fabric left on his torso soaked and filthy.
I stumbled back into the standing water and I brought him under with me, holding him tight, protecting him from the winds. He was headless, as I saw him in that dark black water, my Patrick was just a torso who’d lost his wedding ring. I held my breath, clutching him with both arms and watched as the other four windows exploded inward, as if they, too, had had enough of keeping up appearances.
The tornado had reached the block by the time I came up for air. I could hear its freight train of a battle cry. I had to save Patrick and myself, so I hugged him to me with every bit of love I never was able to show him, every kind tenderness he was ever owed, and wrenched open the door to the coal chute. We collapsed inside, and I ran my hand down Patrick’s rotting back to soothe him. I could hear the tornado getting closer, and later, I felt it tearing our bungalow to pieces.
I just held Patrick close, and whispered how everything would be alright.
They found us a week later, after the rains had stopped, clutched together in the confines of the coal chute like lovers. Me and the torso of my dead husband, forgiven at last. They rescued me first, and left him there, pulling me off to the side to make sure I was unhurt. When they extracted Patrick, it was with such care, it looked like they didn’t want to disturb his sleeping. And then came the handcuffs, and the police cars.
I wasn’t much in the mood to answer questions, having been trapped in the dark with my husband’s corpse, becoming so familiar with the results of my mistake. I damned myself. I was hostile to the police, but incoherent. Our conditions would have wrecked even Patrick, if it had been him they found alive in the wreckage, sheltering my ruined body.
They had a lady detective, who asked me, “Do you feel remorse?”
Was she even allowed to ask that? I’d only seen the question asked in courtroom dramas Patrick liked to watch on weekends, or movies we went to on Fridays. I spent such a long time thinking about how to answer the question, she went on asking other questions I don’t remember. Or never listened to.
They couldn’t dig up the rest of Patrick, as he was underneath the house like the one witch from that old movie. Wasn’t there a tornado in it, too? So they put what they had in a black bag, and I watched them drive him away in the County Coroner’s black van. I never did get to say goodbye. They’d taken him from me after our week together, making up after so long separated, and he was pulled from me like … well, they probably had a different picture, being on the outside, looking in.
The neighbors had formed a perimeter on the sidewalk just beyond the crime scene tape, with eyes that no longer held any other emotion than disgust. I had been masquerading in their nice little neighborhood this entire time, trading them vegetables from a garden with a corpse rotting in it. A corpse they’d known, talked to, and sent stupid cards upon his making. I looked at them, judging them right back, while the police moved around me like beetles in slow motion, combing a three-year-old crime scene for some kind of trigger of the act. They wouldn’t find it, as I’d never found it myself.
And the truth was, after I killed him, everything fell into place. The New Physical Age finally made sense, like all of Patrick’s serenity and love of antiquity transferred itself when he said his last word. So did I feel remorse? I suppose the understanding of the word, like the understanding of the murder itself, waved in and out of shadow, like the light through the leaves of the maple tree that one beautiful morning that he bled out on the kitchen floor.
Two police officers stood on either side of me, guarding me, not letting me get away, but where would I go? My feet rested on what was left of my kitchen chairs, shredded to toothpicks by a wind with as much rage and insanity as I had sometimes. I sat on that chimney until the sunlight left it, and the bricks grew cold and damp, and the wind came in, bringing with it a familiar autumn chill.
The street lamps came on, shining their dim light on the sidewalk, casting shadows of the debris from the neighborhood houses. The Johnson’s house was still standing, but the Haverford’s next door was gone. Tornadoes had such capricious vengeance, like the Old Testament God, picking and choosing who lives and who dies. The neighbors had left by dinnertime, splitting off in small groups to go gossip on their land-lines or porches, and I remained, staring at the results of my apology.
And that’s when I heard it, the silent creep of the Yellow Van. The police officers picked me up by the arms, and walked me toward the sliding door. I resisted at first, but realized it was pointless, and climbed in without further protest. While they buckled me into the harness, I caught one last look our ruined bungalow and saw that old-growth maple tree, standing proud and tall and untouched, backlit by a light from the alley. It was a tall silhouette, but I knew its leaves were a brilliant autumn red, beautiful and inviting, a final fireworks display before death. I could have sworn in the moments before the door slid shut, that it waved its great branches at me in a solemn farewell. A final parting gift between friends, a good-bye to end good-byes, the closing of a chapter. After my vision collapsed into darkness, I realized it had always kept my secrets, and loved me all the same.
© Jordan S Kurella, 2015