The doorbell chimed, and I clenched my eyes shut, burying my head. The blanket felt soft and warm, like always, and the sheets smelled of fabric softener, like they always did. It was as though nothing had happened. The doorbell rang again, and I half expected the lump at my side to yell at me for being too slow to answer, but the mounded blanket remained motionless.
The doorbell rang once more. I stepped into my slippers and pulled a robe over my nightgown. Sunlight beamed into the living room through the bay window, and I could see old Mr. Peterman standing on my porch in his shorts and flip flops, looking around the suburban street. Instead of ringing, he knocked this time, apparently losing patience. Mr. Peterman was retired— always home, always alert. He must have heard Ethan and I fighting last night, must know something had happened. Perhaps he just wanted to make sure I was alright.
I cautiously cracked the front door open.
Mr. Peterman studied my face, then smiled broadly and lifted a handful of envelopes and paper. “They delivered your mail to my box again. There are some bills in there, thought I better hand-deliver them.”
I stared at him for a time. How could he not feel the emptiness in the room, or the guilt in my gut?
His smile wavered. “Joanie? Everything alright?”
I forced a smile. “Of course. Thank you. That was very kind of you.”
Peterman shrugged. “No trouble at all. I saw the car in the driveway—”
Here it came. He saw that Ethan hadn’t left for work and knew something was wrong.
But instead of asking about my husband, Mr. Peterman went on about the shrubs that bordered our yards and a new kind of insect killer. I excused myself from the conversation, thanked him again, and shut the door tightly with a perverse smile. I had done it! I had gotten away with murder!
Of course no one would suspect me, not quiet little Joanie.
Joanne, I corrected myself. People only called me Joanie because that’s what Ethan called me, at least when he wasn’t calling me “idiot.” I wasn’t Joanie anymore.
My heart skipped when the phone rang. It rang and rang. Joanie! I expected to hear, Answer the damn phone, but it stopped ringing, and I fell to the floor laughing. No one said anything. No one complained.
No one cared.
I stopped laughing and listened. The house creaked a bit when the wind blew. It was so quiet. I didn’t have to make Ethan’s breakfast or pack his lunch, didn’t have to deal with his shit if I used the wrong bread or packed the wrong snack.
I jumped when the phone rang again, reached for it, but stopped myself. It was the warehouse, probably calling to see why Ethan hadn’t come to work.
In the bedroom, the lump remained as I had left it. You idiot! I heard his voice. You’ll never get away with this. You’re too stupid.
“I don’t see your ass doing any mental gymnastics!”
But he was right. Ethan would have known what to do. I was always so unsure, but Ethan was decisive. He grabbed what he wanted. He didn’t always choose the right thing or the smart thing, but he always knew what to do, and that’s how it was done.
He used to say he could kill me if he wanted, make it look like a suicide. And everyone will believe it, ‘cause no one would believe someone as stupid and ugly as you would want to live.
“You didn’t think I was stupid or ugly when you married me,” I muttered to the lump.
I didn’t know you were going to turn into your bitter old mother. I’m the best thing ever happened to you. You better treat me right, girl. No one else will have you.
I lifted the ax off the carpet and yanked the blanket away, ready to swing all over again, but the sight of him stopped me; the glistening red stain under his neck where the first strike had hit, the second across his ear when he had turned from a dead sleep.
He always slept soundly after sex.
The third and fourth gash dug into his cheek and nose. His eyes were still wide open, staring at me. I covered him again and leaned across the bed.
What if he was right about me? I hadn’t ever really been alone. I’d gone straight from my parent’s house to my husband’s.
People had thought me pretty once, in high school, at least Robbie did. He was smart, gentle, broad-shouldered—better looking than Ethan in many ways, but he lacked Ethan’s passion, his fire. Robbie was a simple, uncomplicated man. He never challenged me, and he gave me anything I asked for, or at least he tried. Even after I broke his heart, Robbie said I could call him anytime and he would be there for me. Could I still call on him?
I looked him up online. Robbie had graduated college, married Cindy Brown. They had a second child on the way and looked happy together. I wondered what it must be like to live such a quiet, predictable life. The only thing predictable in my life had been the constant battle.
Robbie’s life had moved forward. Ethan and I hadn’t changed much since high school, especially Ethan. He was still tall, still firm-bodied. My pale skin sank under my cheek bones. Creases had formed around my eyes, and frown lines blemished my mouth. Ethan was right. Who would want me now?
The stack of bills lay on the floor where I had dropped them. Without Ethan, I couldn’t make the house payment. Between our parent’s combined gifts, we should have been mortgage-free soon after our wedding, but Ethan, financial wizard that he was, took out a second mortgage to finance a showy new pickup truck which got totaled a few months later.
I spun around, facing the open bedroom door. “It was your fault it got wrecked! I never would have driven off in your precious truck if you hadn’t been drinking!”
I waited, but the lump didn’t fight back. The house was too quiet. I crawled onto the bed and clung to Ethan as I had the night before, wiping my tears on the blanket covering him. I hated Ethan, but I hated myself more for missing him.
I would show him. I would make it look like a break-in. The burglars hadn’t known Ethan was home, got freaked out and killed him.
You idiot! They killed me with my own ax? And what did you do while they were in here killing me?
He was right. I had to get rid of the ax, and I couldn’t have been home when it happened. Although Peterman had already seen me, Ethan hadn’t been dead long. I could go to my sister’s, stay for a few days. No one would know exactly when the killing took place.
They’ll find out. All they have to do is talk to the neighbors about how we screamed at each other every night.
“You’re forgetting,” I said to the lump. “No one cares enough about you to investigate. No one cares because you are a piece of shit!”
I was breathing hard. Everything was so quiet. A neighbor’s car started and drove away.
I called my sister and told her I would be coming. She was too ecstatic to notice the tremor in my voice, or perhaps she just ignored it. I hadn’t talked to her in a year, since the last time I tried to leave Ethan.
I crammed clothes in a small bag. Then I realized I needed to take some stuff if I wanted it to look like we had been robbed. What would a burglar take? What did we have worth stealing? I stuffed random things into a suitcase, including a $300 immersion blender. Would burglars steal expensive kitchen appliances? I didn’t know.
A true genius at work.
“Shut the fuck up!” I snatched a ceramic mug off the counter and whizzed it across the room. After a short pause, I motioned at the dented drywall and shattered mug. “As usual, I have to clean everything up!”
The back door creaked as I peeked out. The sun cast cool shade behind the house. Green grass grew in patches within our faded privacy fence. Dogs barked in the distance. The world was going on as if nothing had changed. I crept outside, confident no one was looking, and lifted the ax.
The bedroom window didn’t tinkle like I expected but instead made a loud snap, followed by the soft clatter of fragments hitting the carpet within. I waited to see if anyone would pop out and ask about the noise, but no one appeared, so I knocked some more glass away, making a larger hole.
“Joanie, what are you doing?”
“My name is Joanne!”
Something moved in the shadowy room behind the broken glass. “Shut up, you idiot! Clean up this mess!”
Ethan looked out at me, cheek split open to his ear, nose hanging loose. “And get me some aspirin.”
My knees buckled. I didn’t think to ask how he was still alive or consider what he might do if he realized what I had done to him. I knelt in the grass and grinned up at him with eager anticipation. “Get it your goddamned self, you ugly bastard!”
Now, things could go back to normal.