I could feel him standing behind me, watching as I retched into his downstairs neighbor’s urban garden. I anticipated his palm in the center of my back, a slight nudge that would send me over the railing. There was no reason to keep me alive. He had shown me the devil—etched away the thin crust and revealed the darkness he’d kept buried inside—and I had rejected it.
“Will you call the police?” he asked with the same gentle voice he used to tell me he needed me.
I turned around and looked into his eyes, glowing gray in the moonlight. Tears shimmered as they pooled in the sockets. One tear dripped from the corner and began to glide down his cheek. I reached up to wipe it away, and he snatched my wrist.
“Will you call the police?” he said again, more forceful this time, the bass in his voice rising. He squeezed my wrist, his fingertips digging deep into my skin, drawing up blue veins, cutting off circulation, causing my hand to go limp, and bringing me down to my knees.
“We have to,” I said finally, and he flung my hand into my face and turned his back to me.
“Because there’s a dead woman in your bed!” I snapped.
He spun around, knelt in front of me, and cupped his hand around the back of my neck, pulling me into him. “You still don’t get it, do you?” he sneered. He ran his thumb up and down my throat. I wondered if he would push in and cut off the air to my lungs?
“W-w-we can tell them s-s-she went to bed drunk…a-a-nd choked on her own vomit,” I stuttered.
“They’ll check her stomach.” He patted my shoulder as if to say, “Thanks for trying.” I’d shown him I was considering the possibility of helping. My life, for now, was saved. “Besides, they’ll wonder why I took so long to call,” he added as he stood and helped me to my feet.
“H-how long…has it been?”
“A couple days!” I stumbled back into the metal railing and put both hands on the bar to brace myself and keep from flipping over as the realization set in. The smell. She had been there…festering. And he was sitting in it. For days! How could he not notice? How couldn’t his neighbors? I’d smelled it at the door!
“That’s why you have to help me!” He rushed to me and swept me into his embrace. He kissed my shoulder and neck hurriedly, but as he moved higher, he slowed, biting on my cheek, planting a row of kisses down to my lips.
“Stop,” I whined, but he wouldn’t let go. He held me tighter, kissed me harder, and slipped his hands into the front of my jeans.
Before I knew it, we were back inside, where I again couldn’t breathe—the reek of decay impairing my better judgment. He laid me on the loveseat, knocking trash off the coffee table as he wrestled me out of my clothes and mounted me. It was then that I realized this was another way to live. Though lying on her back got the last one killed, if I could give him what every man expected and wanted from a woman, silently, maybe he would feel less murderous, less vengeful. Maybe his desire of being a father would awaken once again. Maybe we could forget what he’d done, start over with a clean slate—save my life and cleanse his soul.
When he finished, he sat on the arm of the couch and lit a cigarette while I slid back into my clothes. He took a long drag then turned and handed it to me. I shook my head.
“Why not?” He shrugged. He knew I didn’t smoke, but what was the point of being righteous now? What was the need to try to extend my life? We all died eventually. If not by the hands of someone else—someone we undoubtedly knew and loved—then by our own hands.
I held the cigarette between my index and middle fingers, inhaled the nicotine, and listened to the echo of the final nail being driven into my coffin. “Do you have a suitcase?” I asked.
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