A woman discovers a terrible secret, and chooses to solve her problems with lasagna.
I wake to rain pounding on the windows and an empty bed. I smooth the worn blanket on his side. He’s still not home. I check my phone, but nothing. He hasn’t posted on his wall, let alone messaged me. I can’t message him, he doesn’t like when I nag. I can’t call his work, that might look bad.
I’ll have to spend another day waiting for a call from the cops. They found his body in the lake. They found his brains plastered over a hotel room. So sorry for your loss, ma’am, they found him hanging from a tree.
When he gets home we’ll talk. If he gets home. When he gets home. We’ll talk.
I stumble through my day, nerves shaking me up. I get through my shift with only a couple slip-ups. I’m home again and cooking dinner when he walks in the door.
My heart gives a leap when I see him, tears springing to my eyes in relief. I turn back to the corn I’m cutting off the cob so he won’t see. He drops his keys and bag and comes over.
When is dinner. Like nothing happened, like it’s perfectly normal to disappear for an entire weekend without a word.
“Twenty minutes,” I say as I scrape corn into the pot. I close my eyes for a second and pray that he’ll do something, anything, give me a pat on the shoulder, or might I dare hope for a hug. When I open them he’s gone, off to change and park himself in his office.
By the time I finish dinner my shoulders are drooping, my head heavy. Being on alert for three days can wear you down, and now he’s home and I’m still just as tense. I message him that dinner is ready and collapse on the couch. I flip on the tv and put an innocuous cooking show on. I hear him getting soup in the kitchen.
I’m dozing on the couch, my bowl empty and a new cooking show on. I am bone weary. It is eight o’clock.
This is our agreed-upon quality time. I switch to the evening news so he can’t say I was busy watching something.
I could grab my phone and try to read, instead of wasting my time waiting for him. But if he comes in and I’m on my phone he’ll be mad. So I wait. Maybe he’ll come in. Sit with me. Maybe we can cuddle. And talk.
The news flashes an alert on the ticker going across the bottom. The image switches to outside a normal-looking home. They flash a photo of a nice-looking family. Then a photo of the middle child, a young boy. Blonde hair and blue eyes and a t-rex smile. The only survivor of a murder. A whole family from Braintree is dead. They’re warning people in the area there may be a serial killer, hunting families and leaving one child alive. That poor child.
I wake with a start. It’s past my bedtime and I have a crick in my neck. The news is still going. He isn’t here.
I head up to bed. He’s there. Oh. Found him. He’s doing something on his phone. I climb in. He knows the light from his phone keeps me awake. He rolls away and I tell myself it’s so the light isn’t hitting me and I can sleep better. His back isn’t radiating tension, so he must have had a good weekend.
Maybe he had a great weekend and now he’s relaxed. I tuck one foot under his leg. I don’t dare put a hand on him. But he might like to cuddle. Or more fun things. He grunts, but doesn’t move further away. So. No fun things tonight.
In the morning he’s heading out the door when I wander downstairs. He doesn’t say anything as he grabs his bag and leaves, getting into his friend’s car. I watch him leave. I stand there, staring out the window.
This is my life. Watching him leave. He doesn’t even know I’m here.
If I stopped feeding him he might notice. It would make him mad, though. Maybe not a good idea.
He’ll be late tonight, boy’s night out. While the car is here I get to clean it. I also get to use it, to go to the store and stare at food I can’t afford.
I get my coffee, glancing at the grocery money under the salt and pepper on the dinged-up table. I go back to the window. Staring outside, at the neighbors leaving for work. Somehow even the ones in a hurry or stressed still have more happiness in their faces than he ever does. It’s a willingness, a pliability in their expression, as if they could smile, if you gave them the chance.
I finish my coffee and settle at the table. I open my laptop. Yesterday it was running slow. My anti-virus ran overnight and says there’s nothing, but it’s still acting odd. I pop in the disk for another anti-virus program and let that run.
I’ll clean out the car so I can go shopping. In the garage the clunker waits. It always smells, like the car’s burning something it should be consuming, but it’s burning it anyways just for spite.
I’ve got my wipes and trusty smelly spray. It smells better than the car, anyways. There’s a little trash in the back, he never makes a mess when he goes off for the weekend. There’s a receipt under the seat. I can’t help looking. The Lobster Stop in Quincy. Oh. I like lobster.
I check the trunk. He left his camping gear there. I know better than to touch that. But there’s another bag I don’t recognize. I shouldn’t touch it. He’ll be mad. But maybe there’s dirty laundry or trash in there that needs to be taken care of. I unzip the bag to take a peek, just in case.
It looks like camping odds and ends, rope and gloves and such. I start to rezip the bag, but there’s something shiny in there. I dig deeper. It’s a knife. A big knife. Not a small utility knife, or even a moderate survivalist knife, this is a big kitchen knife.
Maybe he started hunting and didn’t tell me? And this is for cutting up the whatever it was he caught?
Whatever it’s for, it’s another thing he hasn’t told me about and doesn’t want to talk about.
I zip the bag back up. I try to put the trunk back, just as it was. I have practice at this and I’m sure he won’t know I’ve been in there.
I finish up the car and head back in the house. The anti-virus completes and oops, there’s a trojan. How did I manage that? I don’t get viruses. I have to quarantine the thing, and jump through multiple hoops to remove it. And one hoop is to check the other computers on my network.
Now I have a problem. He’ll be mad if he finds out that I managed to get a virus. But he’ll be really mad if he finds out I went into his office. And worse, touched his laptop. This program was quick, though, he’ll never know I was in there. I won’t have to tell him a thing.
I pop out the anti-virus disk and take it. I open the door to his office. I don’t even vacuum in here. He hasn’t forbidden me to come in here. Nothing like that. He stares at me, his eyes vibrating with contained malice, until I leave. I’m not stupid. Just lonely.
It looks like a normal office. A normal, cluttered office. He must have some enigmatic system of organization that only he can fathom. Looks like piles to me. I have to move sideways to get past things and to his computer. I only bump one pile, which shifts but stays up.
I try the password he uses for everything. I’m surprised when it works. I start the anti-virus, praying there’s nothing there.
While that runs I go make my shopping list, pulling a couple good recipes for dinner. I like food, making the list perks me up. By the time I’m done the program should be finished.
When I go back to check he has a couple things that might need removing. But not the virus I had. While checking the folders in question I see a name that is interesting. “Successes.” What would be in that folder? Something new he’s been doing? He might have another project that is going well. I would love to be able to talk to him about his work. Or anything.
I click on the folder. Rows of photos pop up. Photos of children. Both boys and girls, of varying age, but most about middle school age. Why does he have these photos? There is no accompanying information. It’s a folder off of the documents folder, no subfolders. Dozens of photos, some pretty old. Some of those kids would be grown now.
I scroll and then stop, freezing when a jolt of electricity goes through my body. My throat has gone dry.
The one in the middle I have seen before. That’s the child from the news.
My hands start shaking, sweat popping out on my forehead and palms. Don’t panic. It doesn’t mean anything.
Maybe he just happened to work with this kid. Who is now a survivor.
I flash back to the knife. It doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it’s big and shiny to scare off bears.
Braintree is the next town after Quincy. But that doesn’t mean anything.
I can’t think. I close everything, stop everything. Put everything back. Take my disk out. Straighten the desk calendar. Check for anything else I disturbed. Pray nothing is out of place as I tiptoe my way out of the office and close the door.
I tear through the house, tidying everything. Everything must be tidy. Everything must be neat. Just as he wants it. Nothing out of place. When I’m done I sit at the kitchen table, staring at my laptop.
This binds us together. His success is my success. ‘Til death do us part.
I flip open the cookbook. Find a recipe. Add some items to the list. My hands barely shake.
The photos keep flashing in my head. But I stuff them down. They don’t mean anything.
I take the car and head out to the store. I wince at the prices, and put a few items back, but I manage to get most of it. I guess they’re used to me being odd, no one says a thing as I flinch and stammer my way through the trip and hurry back home.
Onions chopped, beef cooked, I’m stirring the white sauce when he walks in.
“Hey. Lasagna?” he asks. I nod.
“Is it my birthday?”
I shake my head. “No, just another day.”
He smiles and wraps an arm around my shoulder, and I can feel my cheeks creak upward until I’m smiling too.