Monday, 1 June 2015

Constant Companion

The most troubling thing was Joy’s choice of weapon.  I would have understood a gun.  If you’re a good shot, it’s quick, easy to dispose of, and, at least to my mind, more merciful.  Poison would have worked as well, although maybe not as quickly as a bullet to the head.  If she had injected me with cyanide, I would have been far less shocked.  But, she chose a crowbar, a brutal instrument.  I don’t know how she was able to manage it, small as she was, but she did, and with disturbing skill.

The first blow was to the head.  I could hear the sick crunch as the blunt end of the weapon broke through my skull above my right eye.  The second blow landed up and to the left of the first.  The final blow, the one that continues to confuse me, was to the chest, directly over my heart.  It couldn’t have been an accident.  Her first two strikes had been far too precise for me to believe she hadn’t intended to hit me there.

When she entered the family room, I was standing two paces away from the couch, staring at my dead body lying on the couch, the couch where I often spent the night.  The TV was on.  I had been watching Leno when I had a heart attack and died.  I did not suffer.  I wonder now how I would have suffered if it had been Joy’s crushing blows that killed me.

I looked at Joy and asked her what she was doing, but she didn’t hear me.  She walked slowly around the couch.  She faced my body, and within seconds, struck the first blow.  The second and third followed soon after.  When she was done, all I could think was, if only she had been a little more patient, none of the nonsense with the crowbar would have been necessary.  The thought made me chuckle.

Done with the deed, she left the room.  I heard her in the kitchen.  She was probably cleaning the blood and brains from the crowbar.  I stayed in place looking at my dead body.  The damage done by the crowbar horrified me.  Despite that, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  Half of my face had been obliterated.  God only knew what my chest looked like.

I heard her go to the garage from the kitchen, then heard the car pull out and drive away.  Was she going to dispose of the crowbar?  I would go looking for it later, but would never find it.  What else could she have been doing?  I started thinking about motive.  Why on Earth would she do such a horrible and violent thing?  And why would she select such a brutal instrument?

I can’t say we had a great marriage, but it was functional.  We got along for the most part and tried to stay out of each other’s way.  I suppose it was better early on, but, as with most marriages, over time, the life had been sucked out of it, replaced by thinly veiled disdain and withering fragmented dialogue.

Our marriage worked on some basic level, absent the passion and caring we might have once had.  As things deteriorated between us, I often wondered what had gone wrong.  What had driven us apart?  I struggled to comprehend it, and eventually stopped thinking about it altogether.  Despite this state of affairs, I couldn’t see any good reason why Joy would kill me.  Well, she didn’t really kill me; I was already dead.  Still, in principle, she did murder me.  Why?

When she returned home, she entered the family room and stood over my body.  She stared at my body for ages, her fists balled up.  I could hear her breathing, an almost desperate panting.  Finally, she muttered something about it finally being over. I hoped she might explain herself further.  How about “that’s what you get you bastard for ruining my life?”  I found myself desperate to understand why she bludgeoned me with that nasty instrument.  She finally turned, walked to the kitchen, and called the police.

It took the police forty minutes to arrive.  It felt like an eternity.  It gave Joy plenty of time to prepare the scene.  I watched in horror as she gagged herself, forcing herself to throw up.  It went everywhere, including on my body.  Then she wiped her eyes to smear her mascara and forced herself to cry, causing the black substance to run down her cheeks.  Finally, her pièce de résistance; she knelt down next to my body and kissed what was left of my face, leaving the red imprint of her lips on me.

Her story was simple.  She had gone to the movies to see something I didn’t want to see, and when she got back she saw that I was on the couch and figured I was sleeping, so she decided to go up to her office to work on a report.  “Why so late?” asked the officer  “I barely sleep,” she replied.  She then explained that she finished the report and came to drag me off to bed.  That was when she found my body.  She sobbed and went on some wild tangent about the anniversary of our first date and the present she bought.  This piece of fiction caused me to shout out, “No fucking way,” though nobody noticed.  The officer asked to see the present.  Joy disappeared for a moment then returned with the wrapped box.  “What is it?” said the officer.  “An alligator skin wallet,” she said.  This was all very convincing stuff for the small town cop on his first murder case.  I think someone more seasoned and jaded would have seen through the bullshit.  As I watched, I found myself saying, “You lying bitch,” over and over.  Of course, nobody could hear me.

The police officer asked if anything was missing in the house.  She said she didn’t know and offered to check.  She and the officer then went around the house.  I stayed in the family room.  Eventually, they came back to the family room.  “So, just the jewelry is missing and the content of your husband’s safe,” said the officer.  Joy confirmed and noted that she wasn’t sure what was in the safe.  A quick, almost barking laugh escaped me.  I wondered how had she figured out how to get into my safe for a moment, then concluded it didn’t matter.  There was nothing in there that would reveal anything surprising about me.  I had nothing to hide.  It was just a bunch of bonds, a gold ring my father gave me when I was sixteen, and a few trinkets I inherited from my mother when she passed.  Maybe it was ten grand worth of stuff that no longer had the same meaning it did when I had been alive.  The material world and all it held had diminished.  I knew that one thing, though there was more to learn about being dead.

Paramedics arrived and tended to my body.  Eventually, they bagged and took me away.  Then, the police officer that had been interviewing Joy said he wanted to bring my wife in for an interview in the morning.  Meanwhile, the other officers on the scene did a little finger print work, some gathering of evidence from the family room, and checked the house for signs of forced entry.  They only did the basics.  More seasoned cops would have scoured our house and would have grilled Joy.  I was beside myself.  As the police wrapped up in the house, they advised Joy to spend the night in a hotel, which she did. 

I had no life insurance policy of any real worth, and no other assets that Joy could profit from.  What did she think she would gain by killing me?  I spent the remainder of that first night searching the house for evidence.  There had to be a clue somewhere.  Something in the house had to point to a motive and to her guilt.  I couldn’t believe that it was just because our marriage had lost its flare.  I continued searching until sunrise and then went into the kitchen and sat down at the breakfast table to pause and think.  She entered the house through the garage.  She was on her cellphone.  By the sound of it, it was Carla.  They talked constantly.  On more than one occasion, I had suggested that they might make a nice couple.  Perhaps Joy had taken my advice.  Could that be the motive?

She recited the same pile of lies to Carla that she had fed to the police.  Laid the whole thing out in all its gory detail.  Then she said something I didn’t understand.  She said, “Oh, that is in a safe place.”  She followed that with, “It is so horrible not to be able to share it with him.”  And finally, “I guess I’ll get it and turn it in this afternoon.”  In these statements I had the beginning of the solution to the puzzle.  There could be no doubt.  But, by themselves they offered no final answer.  I waited for her to say more, but nothing useful escaped her lips.  I had to give it time, and I believed I had plenty of time to figure things out.

She stayed in the house until ten.  She spent the time on the phone with sympathetic friends.  Then, as she hung up with Mary, one of her book club friends, she said she had to go for her interview at the police station.  I wanted to witness this interview and wondered if I could go to the police station with her.  At that point, the mechanics of death were not clear to me.  I didn’t know the limits of my existence.  All I knew was that I could see, hear, move about, and with some effort physically interact with things.  I could also speak, but nobody seemed to hear me other than myself.

I followed Joy to the garage and went to the passenger side of the car.  I pushed up against the car and felt myself passing through the door into the vehicle.  Once inside I sat in the passenger seat.  I realized I could both obey and break the laws of the material world.  I promised myself I would spend more time testing my abilities.
On the drive, she took another call, this time from someone unknown.  I tried to identify the voice on the other end of the phone, but all I could hear was buzzing.  But, I heard her, and what she said gave me another piece to the puzzle.  She was buying a property in Arizona.  Over the years, Joy had talked, on and off, about wanting to retire in Tucson.  I had argued for Florida.  We were never going to agree on it, and part of me always wondered if that would be the deciding factor in whether or not we would stay together until the end.   Now, she was going to buy a place in Arizona.  With what money I wondered?  We had assets, of course, but to buy a second home seemed far out of reach.

She hung up as we pulled into the police station parking lot.  My mind was racing.  Had she met some other man who had money?  Had she come into some money?  Was she planning on cashing out our retirement fund?  What other possibilities were there?  She got out of the car and entered the police station.  I trailed two steps behind.  Once inside she was escorted to one of the interview rooms.

Officer Goetz entered and introduced himself, then dove right in, going over her story, his eyes periodically glancing down at a set of documents he had brought with him.  After she regurgitated the previous night’s fiction, they started in on my life.  What was I like?  Did I have any enemies?  Did I have financial problems?  How was our relationship?  This guy was much more competent than officer Rand from the night before.  Joy’s answers mixed truth with fiction in a subtle and beautiful way.  I was especially impressed with her description of our relationship.

According to Joy, we had a good relationship.  Of course, there were ups and downs, but the pattern was that of an ever-improving union.   That was it in a nutshell.   In the details, though, you found the real nuggets.  She talked about how we did crossword puzzles together, a lie.  She talked about how on many nights I would scratch her back before bed, another lie.  I used to do it, but grew tired of it as she seemed to expect it more and more.  She talked about how we would take walks together, always on the same route, and stop for coffee at the halfway point.  We hadn’t taken a walk in years.  The sum of such little moments painted a picture of marital bliss.

Officer Goetz asked her when we had our last fight.  She had to think about that one.  I found myself wondering when our last fight had been.  The last few years of indifference had brought silence to our home.  I couldn’t remember the last time we fought, and could barely remember any of the fights we had in the past.  What would she make up for Goetz?  She said we hadn’t had a fight in some time.  She thought it was over vacation plans.  I had wanted to go to one resort and she another.  In the end we went to both, according to Joy, and it was true, but the part about there being a fight was fiction.  We had gone to two separate resorts because we couldn’t get a room at the first one for our entire stay, thus, we spent the rest of our vacation in the other.  There was no fight.  It was the perfect lie, as are all lies based on truth.

The interview produced nothing that could help me fit the puzzle pieces together and determine a motive.  I guess that was actually pretty telling.  The omissions, whatever they might have been, appeared to me to be the most damning evidence against her.  At the end of the interview Goetz offered his condolences and let her go.  As we left I looked down at his notepad and saw the words “dead end” written on his notepad.

Joy’s inspired acting made me call into question so many things about the early days of our relationship.  All the I love yous, all of the screams of passion in bed in our early years, all of the interest in what was going on in my life and how I was feeling, again, in the early years.  What once rang true rang true no more.  Perhaps over time she just lost the will to lie to me about how she felt, and settled on silence.  I supposed that could explain the deterioration of our relationship.

On he drive back she turned on the radio.  I was too lost in my own thoughts to listen.  I thought about our relationship and its demise.  Had I been so bad?  I worked for years to support her life.  Her bridge club, the book club, her volunteer work at the animal shelter, all of the charitable causes she wanted to support.  I agreed to all of it without question.  And this was how she repaid me?  Still ignorant of her motives, I found my frustration boiling over.  I wanted to grab her and shake her and demand the truth.
  
We stopped at a bank on the way back.  It wasn’t our bank.  This fueled my speculation that she was hiding money.  Inside, we were taken to a safety deposit box, which Joy took to a small room and opened.  All of her “stolen” jewelry, my bonds and a plain white envelope rested inside.  She pulled out the envelope and closed the box, returning it to the clerk.  I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was going to figure out what was in the envelope.

Once home, she exited the garage with me trailing behind her into the kitchen and dropped the envelope on the counter by the refrigerator.  She picked up the phone, dialed a number, and went into the family room.  I watched as she sat on my favorite chair, and listened to her.  She had Carla on the line.  I turned back to the counter.  The envelope was right in front of me.  It wasn’t sealed.  Could I touch it?  Could I look inside?  I reached out and touched it, feeling smooth paper on my translucent skin.  Picking it up, I opened it and looked inside.  Enlightenment. 

In all the years I had known her, Joy insisted that the lottery was just a tax on the mathematically challenged, a waste of money.  I didn’t give it much thought, so it was never an issue between us.  Now, in the envelope was proof of her lie, or at least of some other change in her beliefs.  I looked at the lottery ticket in my hand.  It was for the draw two Saturdays ago.  That had been the two hundred million dollar jackpot.  Was this the winner?  I had no way of knowing.  Perhaps I could get on the computer and look it up.  After all, I could pick up this envelope and look inside.  Why couldn’t I type?  It would have to wait though.  Right now, I had a decision to make.  I peered out to where she sat, still on the phone.  Clarity.

I grabbed the envelope, stuffed the ticket back inside of it, and went up to my office in the attic.  There, behind a secret panel on the wall was a crawl space that I used to store old books.  I opened the panel, pulled out the topmost book on the closest stack and slid the envelope under its cover.  I closed the panel and went back downstairs.  This would draw her out.  This would make her squirm, and that was what she deserved.  To think she would try to cut me out of the winnings.  Hell, she could have just divorced me and split it with me.  There would have been plenty to go around.  But, she had to kill me.

I waited in the kitchen for her to get off the phone.  When she came back in, she grabbed a cup out of the cupboard and prepared some tea.  She turned back to the spot where she had laid the envelope, gasped, and dropped the cup, shattering it on the floor and splashing tea all over the place.  Without a word, she was off into the garage to check the car.  She came back in and scoured the kitchen, then went back out to the garage again.  After a few minutes, she returned and sat at the table, head in shaking hands, talking to herself.  Where had she put it?  It was right there on the counter, wasn’t it?  Had she left it at the bank?  Did it fly out of the window?  Did someone take it?  She got up and checked the back door.  It was locked.  She started crying.

In that moment, I had an inspired idea.  Leaving her in the kitchen, I went up to the second floor and into her office.  On her desk I found a pad of paper and pen.  I wrote a note.

“You don’t deserve it.”

I grabbed the paper and headed back downstairs.  She was on the couch on the phone talking to Carla again.  “It’s lost,” she said.  “I put it on the counter and now it’s gone.”  The conversation went on like this for a while.  I went into the kitchen and dropped the note on the counter where the envelope had been.

She returned to the kitchen to clean up the mess on the floor, and when she did, she found the note.  In that moment I felt joy as I had never felt joy before.  Joy turned so pale her skin became almost translucent.  “Hello?” she said.  “Is anybody in here?”  Shock turned to fear and she picked up the phone and dialed the police, then went out to the family room and sat in my favorite chair.  I followed her and sat patiently on the couch, watching her, reveling in my genius.

The police arrived.  I wondered if she would lie to the police about the lottery ticket.    She did just that, claiming not to understand the note.  They asked her about any suspicious encounters she might have had, and again about any enemies I might have had.  She said she didn’t know, but I saw on her face that she was contemplating just that.  Someone had to write the note, and that someone clearly was hostile toward her.

The police searched the house and the yard, finding nobody in the house and no signs of forced entry.  Eventually the police left.   Agitated and possibly scared, Joy paced around the house.  I could hear her reciting all of the steps she had taken from the bank back home.  I heard her trying to convince herself that she put it somewhere else and that she just wasn’t looking in the right spot.  She broke up this dialogue with bursts of frenetic searching, stopping occasionally to cry or scream.  I wrote her another note and left it on the coffee table. 

“You’re not going to find it.”

Joy didn’t find that note until the next day.  The effect it had on her was just as magnificent as the effect of the original note.  I watched her pick up the phone and start dialing.  But, she hung up.  She went into the kitchen and sat at the table.  She told herself she needed to stop thinking about it.  Then it would come to her she said. 

She grabbed the phone book and looked up the number for the Salvation Army.  She managed to get them to agree to come out and take the couch.  She claimed it was like new.  I hadn’t checked, but had to guess that there were no bloodstains on the couch.  I wondered what would happen to me after they carted the couch away.  After all, it was my deathbed.  Would I go with it?

Two days passed with Joy going through the same routine of searching, crying and screaming.  I couldn’t get enough of it, and contemplated writing more notes to try to send her over the edge, but decided to hold back.  The notes were a good tool, but if used too much it would lose their effectiveness.

More time passed, and from time to time a friend would stop by.  Joy always brought them into the kitchen to talk.  She said she couldn’t bear being in the family room, at least not until the couch was removed.  Over and over I had to hear the story of my death, all of the lies about how broken up she was, the utter fiction about our first date anniversary.  The story sent waves of nausea through me every time I heard it. 

Joy’s frantic searching died down.   I wondered if she was giving up.  After a couple of weeks, I wrote another note and left it on her pillow. 

“Have you given up?”

That set off more searching, crying jags, and fits of rage.  She took to talking to herself almost constantly, and these conversations became more and more distressing over time.  I almost felt sorry for her, but how sorry can you feel for a murderer?  That thought drove me to write the note that would change the game completely.

“Murderer.”

I wrote that on the same day that she found out from the coroner that I had died, not from my injuries, but from a heart attack.  It was an interesting twist, and a welcome one.  Now she knew she’d committed that heinous crime for nothing.

I left the note in the car, and made sure to follow her so I could see her reaction.  When she got into the car, I was there on the passenger seat, waiting.  Who knows where she was going.  I had stopped following her around as much, now that I knew what her motive had been.  She picked up the note and stared at it for several minutes.  I don’t even think she blinked.  She was in shock.  I felt the sick thrill I had felt after every such note, but multiplied a hundred times over.  She got out of the car, went back into the house and sat on the new couch she had bought with me right behind her the whole way.  I sat next to her, and feeling something I couldn’t explain, I put my arm around her.

I think she knew then, though she didn’t say anything.  She just sat there staring out into space.  Finally, she said, “Fuck a duck.”  Just those three words.  I had never heard her curse before, and for her to use one of my favorite phrases?  It didn’t sound right coming from her.  She continued to sit there the rest of the day and late into the night, before she got up and went to bed.

The next morning she looked haggard and lost.  She hadn’t slept.  I lamented the fact that my death had not brought with it the ability to read minds.  Reading her mind would have been fuel for weeks of jubilation.  It served her right.  She had no cause to kill me.

Three days later I was laying on the new couch when she entered the family room.  “I know you’re here,” she said.  “I know you’ve been writing the notes.  Wasn’t the horror you put me through in life enough for you?  Now you have to do this?  If you have any decency you’ll stop.”  That was it.  She left the house and didn’t come back for several hours.  While I waited, I considered my options.  I could write another note.  I could do something more spectacular, perhaps, like rearrange all the dishes in the cupboards.  I could trash the house.  Instead, I wrote another note.

“You will burn in hell.”

After that note, I went silent.  I started taking walks in the neighborhood and reading all of the books Joy had bought over the years.  The walks were nice, although I did feel uncomfortable every time I passed old Mrs. Frank’s place.  She had always been a strange old lady, her eyes staring off to some faraway place.  I knew she could see me, and wondered if I had those craters in my skull.  Alas, no mirror could tell me the answer to that question.  She bothered me so much, I started taking another route.  As for the books, well, it seemed the more I read, the more I realized just how much I had missed out on.  I had never read in life, for whatever reason.  Perhaps, I had been intimidated by it.  But, now, I had a passion for the written word that almost rivaled my passion for torturing Joy.

Sometimes, I would watch Joy as she went about her day.  I wondered more and more often, if there was anything I could have done to prevent this horror show, but my memories of the past were murky.  Whatever real problems we had were now just so many lost memories.  Often, I found myself struck by her beauty.  She could be disarming.  But, she wouldn’t change my mind.  She was a murderer.  She had betrayed me.

Somewhere around the six-month point, she came home with a short, porcine man with thinning black hair.  They sat in the family room on the couch.  It didn’t take long to figure out why he was there.  All the talk of spirits and the other world gave it away.  When the conversation stopped he closed his eyes and raised his hands palm up.  He called to me.  I almost choked--if this ghost’s body could even choke--I was laughing so hard.  He called on me to reveal my secret.  Where was it hidden?  I listened to this nonsense for a few minutes, and then decided to take a walk.  I made it to the door, and stopped.  He was demanding the location of the envelope.  The little prick really had nerve.  I decided to try something I had been thinking about for weeks.  I sat on the couch next to him, got close to his ear, focused just like I did whenever I wanted to touch things, and said, “Get out of here you fat fuck or I’ll murder you just like she murdered me.”  He didn’t react.  I tried again, this time screaming.

Porky Pig was up and out faster than you could say bat shit.  His only explanation as he sprinted out the front door and onto the street, forgetting Joy had been the one to drive them there, was that I wasn’t in the house and he didn’t know where I was.  She offered to give him a ride, but he was long gone. 

Joy came back in and sat on the couch.  “I know you did that,” she said.  “You just want to ruin my life.”  I thought, amen sister, you hit the nail right on the head.  I contemplated saying something to her, but dismissed the thought.  I liked the notes much better.  I’m not sure if she picked up on it, but the notes were proof that I could interact with her world.  Perhaps she wondered what I could do to her.  I chuckled as a vision of me pinching her butt flashed in my head.  I didn’t do it.  Instead, I wrote another note.

“Only those who repent escape damnation.”

That note woke me up.  All this time I had been looking for an apology.  I wanted her to be sorry.  Granted, my method of extracting the apology was to cause stress and pain, but the desired end justified the means.  I figured without pain she wouldn’t realize how wrong she had been.  Christ, I thought, I had been left in this world for that purpose alone.  But, she wasn’t apologizing.  A normal person would have by then, or so I thought.

Over the next two months the intervals between her emotional outbursts and fits of scouring the house increased.  I started to think she had given up hope.  A couple well-worded notes did the trick.

“You’re not giving up now are you?”

“Don’t you know what you have to do?”

It worked.  She came back to me like a moth to a light.  For a solid month she spent the better part of every day searching the house.  She even came close to finding it once.  After that I hid the envelope deeper in the stack of books in my crawl space.  At the end of the month of searching, beaten and exhausted, she started begging. 

“Not good enough.”

“Try harder.”

Begging combined with sobbing.  She stopped leaving the house and barely ate anymore.  Part of me felt sorry for her.  Honestly, I would feel sorry for anyone who had lost a two hundred million dollar lottery ticket, and yes, I had checked the numbers.  It was the winner.

We were in the eleventh month when she told me that if I didn’t tell her where it was it would be too late, because the ticket expired after a year.  On that day I was in a particularly nasty mood.  I had run out of books to read.  I was craving food, which happened from time to time.  I had been thinking about sex for the last several days.  I just was fucking sick of being dead.  It was a shitty afterlife, and none of the pleasure I got from screwing with Joy made it any better.

“I gave it to someone else.”

That note backfired.  She actually laughed.  She hadn’t laughed once since my death.  “I put my name and address and signed the back of it,” she said.  “Only I can claim it.”  I wrote another note.

“You don’t deserve it.”

It was the same not I’d written to her months ago.  She read it and threw it out.  Then she left the house for an hour.  When she returned she sat in the kitchen.  “You have no idea what you put me through,” she said.  “You were in denial about it the whole time.  You were horrible, Ray.  You were hurtful, negligent, and judgmental.  You poisoned the waters years and years ago and made me stay with you so you could continue to put the screws to me.  Again, you have no idea what you put me through.  I swear to God I wish I never met you.  Hands down, you were the worst thing that ever happened to me.  And now, as a ghost or whatever you are, you continue to torment me.  I am in hell.”

I guess the word that did it was denial.  It was the trigger that started a process in my brain.  I desperately wanted to speak to her, to argue with her.  What about all the shitty things she had done?  All of the negligent things she had done, all of the hurtful things.  My mind raced.  There were examples of her failures, weren’t there?  They had to be there somewhere.  But they weren’t, were they?  No, those memories weren’t there at all.  And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, a flood of memories of all of the horrible things I had done washed through me.  I wrote the next note right in front of her, something I had never before done.  She showed not the least bit of surprise.

“But, murder?  You should have divorced me if I was so bad.”

She looked right at me and I swear she saw me.  “Look,” she said.  She tilted her head forward and pulled apart the hair on the front of her scalp.  There was a two-inch bald patch with a scar from stitches.  And then the final memory came back.  She dropped her hands to her lap and stared at me.  After a while she laughed and said, “I guess you remember what you did the last time I said I was leaving, don’t you?  Or are you still claiming it was just an accident?  Will there be no more notes from hubby?  It’s all so pointless, isn’t it?”  I didn’t hear the last part because I was already on my way to the attic.  Whatever I had for a brain had compressed into a ball of knots, pulsing, creating a drumbeat.  I fumbled with the hidden panel, found the book and retrieved the envelope.  I stood there staring at it, the beating in my head intensifying.  Perhaps giving it back would make things better between us.  Perhaps she would forgive me.  Perhaps I wouldn’t be the biggest mistake of her life anymore.  I had to try. 

She was still sitting in the kitchen when I came in and dropped the envelope on the table.  She looked at it and then looked up at me.  I expected her to say something, but she didn’t.  That is when I noticed the gun on the table and her body lying on the floor.