I hadn’t thought about what we would do once we crossed the border into Virginia. Truthfully, I didn’t think we would ever reach this point. There was a part of me that hoped he would eventually come to his senses, or that at least I would. But when we still stuffed the body into the suitcase, when we still put it inside the trunk of his car, when we still took her sleeping child along for the ride to unknowingly witness his own mother’s disposal, the parts of our minds that housed reason stared on horrified, unable to tear eyes away.
Virginia was just ahead, and I had to think fast of what we would do next. Would we try to find a park near the highway where we could bury the suitcase, or would we just pull off onto the shoulder and find a spot in the woods? Even if we did find a place to bury her, what would we use? I didn’t think to ask if he had a shovel before we left. But why would he even need one? He lived in a second-floor apartment, he had no yard, and he barely left home unless he was going to work. Where else could we easily find one? Going to the store to buy a shovel this late at night would only raise suspicions, not to mention it was unlikely we would find a hardware store open 24 hours.
Why was the decision left to me? He didn’t weigh his options with me before he moved her into his apartment. He didn’t consult me before he decided to end her life. But he put all the responsibilities of eradicating the problem squarely on my shoulders. I couldn’t stand on my own two feet under the heavy burden. Eventually, my knees would buckle, and I would fall face-first into the ground, inhaling dirt, and in the end, when he no longer required my quick mind to hide his shame, he would bury me right beside her.
As we approached the sign indicating two miles to the Virginia border, he turned to me. “Well?”
I shrugged. “Maybe we could hide it somewhere in the woods on the side of the road.”
“Are you shittin’ me?”
“What happened to ‘We can’t just toss it. You’ll get caught’?” he asked in a high-pitched nasal voice. He used that same voice when he imitated his dead ex-girlfriend. Immediately, my stomach twisted in knots.
I slowly drew in air and then exhaled to regain assertiveness in my voice. “Better here than in the lake behind your apartment,” I said. “If they find it, they’ll look for missing women in Virginia, rather than in your neighborhood.”
He shook his head and returned his attention to the road. A pair of signs notifying us of an upcoming split in the highway passed overhead. Ignoring them, he pressed his foot down on the gas, and we lurched forward. He turned the volume on the stereo as high as it could go. The speaker vibrated against my leg, and the windows rattled as if about to shatter.
I checked Stephan in the rearview mirror. He was still sound asleep. Was it possible that he was deaf? I couldn’t remember if I’d seen a hearing aid in his ear. Maybe he never had one. Maybe his mother kept it a secret. Jobless, it would have made sense that she couldn’t afford doctor’s visits, had to pretend he just wasn’t listening to her. Or maybe she’d become so vindictive she’d allowed his father to believe Stephan didn’t like him, didn’t want to be near him, when in actuality he couldn’t understand him, couldn’t connect with his voice or match it to his first memory of a father long forgotten. Maybe I could convince him to let me add Stephan to my insurance and schedule an appointment with an audiologist sometime next week, once everything settled.
The fork in the road was quickly coming into view, and he was pushing 90 miles per hour, with no signal of slowing down.
“Are you gonna pull over?” I asked, shrinking into the seat.
“I don’t know where the fuck I’m going!” he snapped, but part of me feared he had the idea to end it—no need in worrying about where or how to hide a body if all of us were dead.
I read the sign above our lane. We wanted to go to Danville, but this sign was leading us down a business route. Anything “business” would take us right into the heart of town, the last place we wanted to be with a dead body in the trunk, even in the middle of the night.
I pointed to the sign for 58. “Take the exit!”
He swerved at the last minute, treading across the grass and almost clipping the exit sign with his side mirror.
We merged onto a two-lane highway just as empty as the last. There were no street lamps, and the trees on either side of the road created a pitch-black barrier that narrowed as we drove along. He drummed his fingers on the dashboard and steered with the hand closets to the door, screaming along with the track, “All these things I hate revolve around me… Just back off before I snap!”
My brain shook against my skull, and I covered my ears, expecting to feel blood ooze through my fingers from all the noise.
“Do you think you could turn it down? Please!”
“So are you gonna tell me what we’re doing?”
“I don’t know! I can’t think!” I smacked the volume dial with my palm. Finally in silence, I laid my head against the window. The forest outside was peaceful, undisturbed. I wanted to disappear behind the curtain of leaves, lie among the shrubs, and let the cool breeze soothe my exhausted mind and rock me to sleep.
“Why can’t you make a fuckin’ decision?” he groaned. “You said you would help me.”
“I didn’t tell you to kill her!” I banged my forehead against the glass. The music was gone but the headache pressed on, squeezing against my temples. “This is your fault! Your fault!” my inner thoughts screamed inside my head. I knew it wasn’t true, but I also knew there was a desperation inside me that he sensed, that assured him that it was safe for him to reveal this evil side of him, an evil side that wouldn’t hesitate to drag me down to hell with him, knowing that I would be a willing participant, and that terrified me.
I looked up and perked when I saw the yellow diamond-shaped sign: BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD. It wasn’t ideal, but it could work. All we needed was the arm strength and the prayer that no car would pass by as we pushed the suitcase over. I wouldn’t have to get my hands dirty, and maybe a splash of water would cleanse my soul of all the guilt and sin I felt.
The headlights illuminated the next sign: DAN RIVER — JAMES LESTER TRAMEL BRIDGE.
“Stop,” I said, tapping the window. “Stop right here!”
He braked hard and jerked the steering wheel right, nearly colliding with the guardrail.
“Smoothly!” I whined.
“What the fuck are we doing?”
“We’ll throw it in the river,” I told him.
“Do you have a better idea?”
He sighed. “I just want this shit to be done.”
“Well let’s hurry up before a car comes.” I checked on Stephan one last time before following him to the trunk.
The smell of rotting flesh had permeated inside, and the whiff nearly knocked me out when he lifted the lid.
He covered his nose with his forearm. “You take the one with the sheets,” he said through his sleeve. He extended the handle to the larger suitcase and pulled it out. It hit the ground with a loud, solid thud, and the wheels, unable to properly roll under the weight of her crumpled body inside, scraped against the pavement like chalk on the blackboard.
He dragged the luggage behind him, and just as he was about to heave it over, I shouted, “Wait! It might float.”
“Goddamn it, woman!”
“We gotta figure out how to weigh it down.” I moved the other two suitcases around and patted the inside of the trunk in the darkness, feeling for a weight or crowbar or maybe even the tire jack, anything that would sink the unlikely coffin down to the river floor.
“Didn’t you say better here than back home?”
He was using my own words to mock me again. Before I could respond, he pushed the suitcase over the edge and stormed toward me. I backed out into the highway and raised my hands in surrender. I was next. Without the sun, water temperatures were much cooler at night, maybe even freezing. This was how it would end for me. Death by drowning or hypothermia, whichever came first. I turned toward the eastbound lanes, anxious to see a pair of headlights, a witness. How soon would they get here before he hauled me over his shoulder and dumped me into the black abyss?
“What are you doing?” he asked.
I dropped my arms.
“Get in the damn car,” he said, then snatched the second suitcase out of the trunk and tossed it into the river.
© 2016-2023 Nortina Simmons
New Beginnings (link will work when post goes live March 31)
Catch up on previous installments: