I ran for the door. The foul stench exuding from the mattress seemed to engulf me, an invisible force pushing against my body as if the walls were closing in. I held my breath, my neck throbbing as adrenaline pumped through my veins. Using my shoulder, I tried to burst through, but he extended his arms and held onto the door frame on either side of him, blocking my escape.
“You can’t leave!” he pleaded.
“You killed her!” I screamed, and again said, “You killed her! You killed her! You killed her!” It was all I could say, over and over, pounding my fists against his chest, pulling down on his neck, elbowing his side, attempting to cut him down so that I could get past, out of this room, out of this apartment, to fresher, cleaner air, untainted by death, free of the culpability of knowing that a dead woman lay underneath his bed sheets.
He suddenly wrapped his arm around me and scooped me off my feet. He cupped his hand over my mouth, my muffled screams of “You killed her!” vibrating against my teeth. He kicked the door closed behind him and carried me to the other side of the room where he slammed me against the wall, the top of the mirror on the dresser next to us bouncing on the plaster in beat with the back of my head.
“Be quiet! I have neighbors!” he whispered sharply. He pressed his forearm into my collarbone, cutting into my windpipe. Unable to speak, I lifted my chin and nodded my acquiescence. He relinquished, and I collapsed to the floor in a fit of coughs, clutching the base of my neck with both hands.
“Why…would you show…me this?” I asked, heaving for air, then choking on the sour fumes, between words.
“I thought you could help me.”
“Help you do what?” I squeaked as I lifted myself off the floor.
“You’re my girl now—”
“You make me your girlfriend so I can help you cover up a murder!”
“Keep your voice down!” He raised his arm as if to push me up against the wall again and shut me up by applying all of his weight to my throat. I ducked and circled around him, making a mad dash for the door, but he was just as quick. I’d barely cracked it when he slammed his palm onto the wood just above my head, rattling the door as he smacked it shut, sending a tremor from the door handle, through my hand, up my wrist, to my elbow and further, until my entire arm shook like Jell-O.
He sighed heavily behind my ear. “You don’t understand. You don’t have kids,” he said, and I felt as if I’d been stabbed through the back of my heart. He knew how much I wanted kids, how desperate I was to become a mother. He’d listened to my fears of an echoing clock ticking inside my womb, sat with me as I scrolled through endless pictures of my friends’ children growing before my eyes. When he’d lost his boy, he’d tried to erase him from existence. He’d tossed all of his toys into the lake, deleted pictures from his phone. Still, every Christmas, every fourth of August, memories would creep back in. He wanted to start over, recreate his first child, and I wanted to be the woman to grant him that, giving us both what we desired most.
“She took my son from me,” he said as he began to pace back and forth in front of the bed. “I don’t expect you to know how that feels, but for a year, I didn’t know where my son was at. If he was in this city, or that state. If he was alive or dead.” He stopped and looked down at his palms. “When I held him for the first time after that year—” He swallowed hard, stuck his hands underneath his armpits. “He cried his head off… Because he didn’t know who the fuck I was!” He starting pacing again, looking down at his feet. “Me. His fucking father!” He repeatedly stabbed at his chest with his index finger. “And this bitch walks around here, smiling and laughing. Moving all her shit up in my house. Acting like nothing’s changed. Like she didn’t keep my son from me for a year. Like she didn’t have another man raising my son for a year. Like she didn’t have my son calling another nigga ‘Daddy’ for a year!”
He stormed for bed, fists balled at his side, he climbed onto the mattress, drove his knee into her gut, landed one punch after the other onto her face; the covers slowly drawing back under his force, revealing pallid skin; her dead flesh absorbing the blows and cutting off the reverberating sound. When he tired of punching her, he clasped her neck, locked his arms and pushed down, strangling her corpse. “If I could bring this bitch back to life and kill her again, I would. And it wouldn’t be with no soft ass pillow this time either.” He rocked the bed as he spoke, banging the headboard against the wall. Neighbors wouldn’t call the cops; they’d knock in response, protesting the presumed rough sex.
I quickly turned away, squeezing my eyes shut. “Stop it! Please! Just stop it!” I flung the door open, sprinted down the hall to the living room, snatched the curtains hanging over the patio door, yanking the rod down with them. I slung the door down its track, stumbled outside into the cool, night air, and doubled over the balcony railing, vomiting into the flower pot one floor below.