Copyright 2016 Mitchell Nelson
Table of Contents
One More Thing
About the Author
She won’t look at him. It’s not like he’s done anything, but she’s just staring out the window or at her coffee cup. But not at him, she won’t make eye contact with him.
He says: It’s not your fault.
I didn’t say it was.
You’re thinking it.
Oh, you know what I’m thinking?
I guess I do.
Well I didn’t say it was my fault, and I’m not thinking it either.
She swirls her coffee around in the cup and a little of it splashes out on her hand. She wipes the hand on her jeans. He pretends he doesn’t notice how her skin leaves a residue on her jeans.
Stop staring at me.
Fine. I’m staring at you. Where do you want me to look instead?
She gets up and walks away without answering.
She came back three days after, early in the morning. She had dirt in her hair, but she looked pretty good otherwise. A little pale, but she put some makeup on and you couldn’t tell the difference. She used to do that when she was sick and still had to go to work. Cover the paleness with a little color.
He just asked the one question.
I don’t know.
And that afternoon he went out and bought steaks and expensive wine. He didn’t know if she would be hungry, but it turned out she was. Ravenous is what she was. She ate two and half steaks. This girl who weighed maybe one-ten, maybe one-fifteen, she ate two and a half steaks, and she downed half a bottle of wine without even swaying once.
God, I’m so hungry.
So he went out and bought some ice cream, something with nuts in it because that’s what she always liked the best. He kept thinking she wouldn’t be back when he went home, but she was. She had a little dot of ketchup on her nose, and it would have looked so cute on that heart-shaped face of hers, except the makeup was rubbing off and she was getting pale again.
He had a bowl of ice cream and she had the rest.
She said she would sleep on the couch that first night.
He said: The bed is more comfortable.
It would be weird for you.
Not at all.
Fine. I’ll sleep on the couch.
You don’t have to.
If it’s weird for you, I’ll sleep on the couch.
Okay. Whatever you say.
They looked at each other for a few seconds. They said things without opening their mouths. The things they said were unspoken. Neither he nor she knew whether they’d got their point across, but the silence was unbreakable.
In the night he woke up on the couch in the dark and felt an awful cold crawling underneath his skin. So cold, he thought she must have come downstairs and joined him on the couch. He turned on the lamp. He was alone.
The way his eyes stung and got wet, it was a weird feeling for him. He hadn’t cried in years and years. He hadn’t even cried when she was still dead.
She comes upstairs while he’s tying his tie. She looks at him with big dark eyes.
She says: I’m sorry.
Don’t be sorry.
I was rude.
So was I.
Yeah, but I was rude first.
I shouldn’t be.
A lot’s happened. It’s okay.
I love you.
He tightens his tie against his throat and looks at his reflection in the mirror, which blinks once.
I love you too.
I wish I never came back. This is too hard for you. For us.
Her skin is ivory. It’s always been pale, but not like this, not so white and so crumbly like she’s a statue carved out of Ivory soap. He knows she washed her hair earlier because she came out of the bathroom with it all wet and smelling like shampoo, the shampoo he bought for her that first night, but already it’s greasy again, and hanging in lank clumps.
It’s hard for everyone.
I could have gone somewhere else, y’know? Where people don’t know me.
And then what?
She looks at him and says nothing. And he tightens his tie and straightens up his shoulders in the mirror. Something greasy, like clumps of dandruff, are stuck to the arm of his dark jacket. He brushes them off.
I have to go to work. I’ll see you later.
Okay. See you later.
She’s at the kitchen table when he comes home, her face in her hands and her shoulders shaking with these big sobs. He opens the fridge. The fridge is empty.
He says: What’s wrong?
Honey. What’s wrong?
Do you even have to ask?
I don’t read minds.
There’s nothing wrong with you.
That’s the stupidest shit you have ever said in your life.
He opens a cabinet and looks where the cereal boxes used to be. He draws in a deep breath through his nose and exhales through his mouth. He closes the cabinet and stands there looking at the silver handle affixed to the door’s lower left corner. All over the handle, there’s this greasy white stuff.
I’ll pick something up. What do you want?
The second night when he came home from work she had an old dress on, this dark blue summer dress that should have washed out the color of her pale skin, but instead accentuated it. The trick was in the way she did her makeup. Her lips were red. Her fuck-me lipstick. He always liked when she said that, the way she dropped f-bombs like poetry.
For dinner they had steak again, because she was still hungry, and she made mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli while he grilled the steaks. He grilled some asparagus while the pan was still hot and bloody. She ate more than he did, but he expected that.
When it was dark outside they went to bed, the way people used to do before electric lights. They went to the same bed. Her skin was cool, but it was always that way, she just had a lower body temperature than he did. They found the old rhythms, the way it used to be back when they were newlyweds and they weren’t so worried about time. Slow and easy. Nowhere to be anytime soon, that kind of sex. When he went to the bathroom later, his lips were red. He thought it was her fuck-me lipstick, but it tasted like old dimes. He washed his mouth and brushed his teeth, and when he went back to bed she was still awake, but he didn’t say anything about it.
It was two days later, on Sunday, when he was half-asleep upstairs with his arm around her bare shoulder, her skin still pale but so what? She hadn’t been outside in days. And it was while he was in that space between sleeping and wakefulness that someone knocked on the door.
He put on jeans and a sweatshirt and went downstairs. Some woman was at the door. She was dressed business-casual and she had a brown bruise all along the side of her face. She had plenty of color, but a lot of it was the red blotches under her eyes.
Can I help you?
I just wanted to say how sorry I am. So goddam sorry.
She sniffs and presses her lips together and presses her fingertips over her mouth.
I was driving. That night, the other night, I mean.
I was driving the truck. That hit her.
Oh my God.
And I’ve thought about it every goddam day since then. I can’t sleep anymore. I just want to die. I mean, I’m not hear to talk about my problems, I mean, you really don’t care, but I just want you to know how sorry I am.
It was an accident.
Of course. Jesus, I mean, it was just a freak accident. I guess I must have dozed a little? But it wasn’t even that late. Just, all of a sudden there was this woman was right in the middle of the road. There was just no way I could stop in time.
You were drinking.
God no. I don’t ever ever drink and drive. I guess that’s the irony. I mean, not that I’m making light of it or anything.
I don’t expect you to forgive me. If someone did to my husband what I did to your wife? Christ, I’d want to murder the son of a bitch. I just had to tell you I was sorry. So so sorry.
If you ever need anything, I mean anything, here’s my card.
He took it. Her name was Bridget Murrell. She was a lawyer at a firm called Murrell & Murrell. How nice it must be, working with her husband. Got to be nice, having him around and not dead.
Really. I’m so sorry.
Thanks. For coming by, I mean.
The door closed and she was standing behind him, a pale specter in the living room gloom.
She said: What a bitch.
At least she’s sorry.
Easy for you to say.
You think this is easy for me?
You’re the one who gets to leave the house.
You could leave.
Are you telling me to leave? Are you really telling me that?
I didn’t say that.
Sorry. You sound like the lawyer bitch now.
This is hard on both of us.
It’s harder on one of us.
They found the older rhythms that night. The way it was in college. Fast. Furious. They didn’t make love. They fucked. Because who can say when time’s going to run out? And they fucked after that, and they fucked a third time. After the third fuck they lay there panting and sweating into the sheets and onto each other. Gasping until they fell asleep in a tangle of damp limbs. He had that taste in his mouth again. Dimes.
He didn’t see her the next morning, except in glimpses here and there, as she floated between rooms like she wanted to haunt the place. And he went to work, and when he came back he didn’t see her again. Because when he came back there was a police officer at the front door.
Would you mind coming with me?
Am I under arrest?
Should you be?
So he went to the police station. The police asked him questions for two hours, maybe more, he lost track of the time. They asked him questions about Dale Murrell, who was a lawyer at a firm called Murrell & Murrell, along with his wife, Bridget. Dale Murrell was dead. He had been strangled.
The police did not tell him this, but he inferred it from their questions.
The police could not figure out a way to prove him guilty, which in popular parlance made him innocent. When the police decided they had asked every possible question, a cop drove him home.
In the morning, she wouldn’t look at him.
He notices when he comes home that she looks skinnier than she’s ever looked, ever in the entire time he’s known her. Her cheek bones cast shadows over the deep pits of her face. Her flesh hangs slack on her arms.
She says: Do you think I’m strong-willed?
You could say that. Why?
Maybe that’s how I came back.
Force of will?
He puts the takeout on the table. He pushes two big boxes towards her. Rice and beef and pork and soy sauce. She likes Chinese. So does he. They eat together but don’t say anything. Sometimes the silence between them used to be so awkward, but that was a long time ago, when they were young. They’re still young, but they live in America where they’re saturated with sound every time they open the curtains, so it’s nice to go home and not have to say anything. Better still, to not have to listen to anything. To anyone.
She says: I don’t know why I did it.
I thought it would make me better.
I thought you were better.
I’m not. I’m not well. It’s so hard to be here. So much energy. Life is really hard, babe, I don’t know if you knew. You don’t even realize how hard it is until you’re dead. But I thought if I killed him it would be like a sacrifice. Y’know? A life for a life. That lawyer bitch could do the mourning instead of you.
But it didn’t work.
Not your fault. Just a stupid idea.
It wasn’t stupid.
It was. Don’t argue.
And don’t apologize.
Whatever you say.
The two of them, they smile at each other. Little smiles. Comfortable smiles.
She says: I don’t think I’ll be here in the morning.
Why? Where are you going?
She turns her gaze on him and she stares without speaking or smiling, and it’s not an answer but it is an answer. After that they don’t say anything. No words at all as they clear the table. She is healthy like she hasn’t been since before the accident, color in her cheeks. Her hair is soft. It’s clean. Her lips taste like lipstick when she kisses him, just lipstick with some soy sauce undertones, and her lips are warm and so is the rest of her. They go upstairs to bed and they don’t say anything because they don’t feel the need. They’ve already said everything. They said it without saying it. It was unspoken.
One More Thing
A long time ago, I wrote this short story about a man and his wife. The man was shy. His wife was outgoing. She was all the light and color in his life. She was also dead, but he didn’t really care about that.
You just read that story.
I thought it was a story about a man and his wife. That’s because I’m stupid.
“But why did she come back from the dead?” a friend asked me, when he read the story.
That’s not the point, I said.
“No, that’s the whole point,” he said.
I don’t think it is. But he insisted. He wanted to know how this woman could rise from the dead.
So I wrote a novel about it.
The novel is called Thread.
If you’re interested, you can find that book at this link:
About the Author
Mitchell lives in Oklahoma, where he is working on his next novel. He blogs regularly at MitchellNelsonFiction.com.