The room was dark. The blinds had been closed, the curtains were drawn, and only faint light leaked in from the streetlamp outside the window. He pushed me inside and shut the door. The smell was insufferable, reminding me of that time I’d let a forgotten bag of potatoes go rotten in my kitchen cupboard. I’d spent hours searching for the raccoon or opossum I was sure had died below my kitchen window.
He pointed toward the bed. I patted the mattress, starting at the foot and working my way up until my hand came upon a leg that didn’t flinch under my touch. Frozen in fear, still holding onto the stiff limb, I slowly turned toward the headboard, where the comforter had been pulled up over the face in the way that doctors pulled a white sheet over the body of a patient they couldn’t save.
He flicked on the overhead light, and I shielded my eyes from the sudden brightness of the room. “Do you really have to see it to know what’s under there?” he said, stuffing his fists into his pockets.
I returned my gaze down to the bed, staring at the outline of the nose, and waited for the push and pull of the covers, indicating the flow of breath.
“She’s dead,” he said flatly.
“H-how?” I asked, my voice cracking.
He shrugged and avoided my eyes, looking at the body lying under the covers instead. “I just…held the pillow over her face…and didn’t let up until she stopped moving.”
“Y-you killed her?” I stuttered, stumbling backward onto the bed. I’d never seen a dead person before, not even a body in an open casket, and the sudden realization of my proximity to a corpse—and not just any corpse but one that the man standing in front of me, who minutes ago made my heart skip a beat for different reasons, just admitted to murdering—sent my head spinning. My mouth suddenly felt dry. The room was suddenly too dark, suddenly too small, as if I could stretch out my arms and touch the walls pressing into me. The smell of her decomposing flesh was overpowering. I needed to get out. I needed to breathe!
I held my breath and sprinted for the door, my neck throbbing as adrenaline pumped through my veins. Using my shoulder, I tried to burst past him, but he extended his arms and held onto the door jamb on either side of him, blocking my escape.
“You can’t leave!” he pleaded.
“You killed her!” I screamed, and again I 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, and elbowing his side in an attempt to cut him down so that I could get past and 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 with a hollow thud.
“Be quiet! I got 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 my neck with both hands.
“Why…would you show…me this?” I asked, heaving, then choking on the sour air, 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 made me your girlfriend so I could help you cover up a murder!”
“Keep your voice down!” He raised his forearm at my shoulders, about to pin me 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 open when he slammed his palm onto the wood just above my head, rattling the door as he smacked it shut and sending a tremor from the doorknob, through my hand, up my wrist, to my elbow, and further up until my entire arm shook like jelly.
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 be a mom. 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’ growing children on social media. When he had lost his son, he’d tried to erase him from existence. He’d tossed all of his toys into the lake behind his apartment complex, deleted pictures from his phone. Still, every Christmas, every fourth of August, the boy’s birthday, 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. 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 and stuffed his hands under his arms. “He cried his head off…because he didn’t know who the fuck I was!”
I could see the anger within him building. His furrowed brow dug deep into the folds of skin on his forehead. He flared his nostrils, blew through his cheeks, and ground his teeth as he began pacing again, glaring down at his feet. “Me. His fucking dad!” He repeatedly stabbed his index finger into his chest. “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 the bed. Fists balled at his side, he climbed onto the mattress, drove his knee into her gut, and 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 silencing the reverberating sound like a flat basketball hitting the ground. When he tired of punching her, he clasped her neck, locked his arms, and pushed down, strangling her already lifeless body. “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.
I quickly turned away, squeezing my eyes shut. “Stop it! Please! Just stop it!” I flung the door open, ran down the hall to the living room, and snatched back the curtains hanging over the balcony door, yanking the rod down with them. I dragged the door down its track, stumbled outside into the cool night air, and doubled over the railing, vomiting into a flower pot one level below.
© 2016-2023 Nortina Simmons
To Live (link will work when post goes live March 15)