The door sighs open, no resistance. A stale breath blooms outward, engulfing me.
“Jamie?” I call. I’ve seen your car, your baby, your 65’ fastback mustang, uncovered and slightly dusted in the cracked driveway. You aren’t one to leave the love of your life to the mercy of light and rain.
The sun is setting in the west, a gray shadow creeping through the house and leaving in its wake a palpable gloom like some great wickedness, a beautiful thing shivering in the living room, black satin slithering over opaline skin in the first crack of moonlight.
“Jamie? Please don’t startle me.” I hate when you do that. No, I don’t mean it. Startle me if you must, creep behind me and pinch my waist so that I shriek and crumble and curl myself tight against the threat of your tickle.
You must be upstairs. There are no lights on down here, no smell of microwaved bacon or burnt rye. The television is black and silent, the thermostat off. Didn’t you know I would come home today? Haven’t you known for near a decade how I despise a drafty house? I didn’t mean anything I said before I left, about the sloppiness of your hair and doughy stomach, about your stubborn laziness, about your inability to provide. I know losing your job was harder on you than me. I know that, my love. I do.
I know how you haven’t slept in months, how you’ve become a hunched, somnambulant creature. I’ve felt you creep out of bed in the night, and I’ve stole after you in the dark and watched you weep in the living room while muted infomercials stained your face white and blue. I’ve come home from the office to find you a trembling leaf of a man, dry and brittle, near to breaking free of the cold branch and fluttering down, no fight left in your bloodless veins.
“Jamie?” The odor I smelled upon walking in was the sour smell of a house left empty. But that wasn’t all, was it? I’ve known an empty house. I’m not in one now.
The stairs creak in places I’ve never noticed before, my voice is a strange thing in my ears, the acoustics altered, vocal cords strangled.
You’ve been eating in your room again, haven’t you? I smell the smells of your hermitage. Please, if you must dine away from the kitchen, don’t cook eggs or cabbage. The ripeness is choking me. The smell of your cheap cologne covers nothing.
I ease the door of our shared bedroom open, and I’m ready to forgive the smell, Jamie. And more than the smell. I’m ready to forgive you everything, and admit my own faults. Lift me in your arms and kiss me like we’re sixteen and drunk and stumbling around in a moonlit park. Kiss me like we’re in Eden, Jamie, my Love.
You’ve been writing again. I can’t breathe, or I would read what you’ve left me on the cherry desk that is mostly mine—but could be yours? Would you like that? Would you smile and shave and twist your fingers through my hair? There’s a window above the desk; you would love spending long afternoons writing while the sun shifts and the brassy light filters over your purposeful hands.
I read once that a human body left hanging will eventually fall apart at the hips, not the neck like you might imagine. The entrails will splash out and the victim will cease to be someone friends and family would know. The decomposition of a body changes the object from a ‘he’ to an ‘it’. Do you recall me telling you that, Jamie? You wrinkled your nose and wondered aloud at the sad, forgotten human hanging undiscovered for weeks.
You were always prone to flares of drama; I believe stories that romanticized tragedy left a deep and untreatable mark on your soul: Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’m not passing judgement; I’m not nagging. We’re past all that now, aren’t we? But fuck Jamie, I’m on my knees, and my heart is fluttering dangerously. I’m not opening that closet door.
Anja Benevento is a writer of poetry and fiction. She studied creative writing at Pacific Union College. Her work is forthcoming in Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal.