I twisted the knob but hesitated to open the door. His cries were strong, desperate. They weren’t the high-pitched squeals like a baby’s cry for milk or to have his diaper changed, but deep in his gut, a low, steady moan, like a dying man, as if he already knew, already sensed that his mother was gone and that sudden awareness was slowly killing him.
The front door slammed shut, startling me, and I quickly snatched my hand off the knob.
“Oh, Stephan’s crying,” he said and brushed past me into his room.
Stephan. His name was Stephan.
I lingered at the threshold and watched as he took the boy from the small Hot Wheels bed and rocked him.
He was much bigger than I had imagined. His feet dangled just past his father’s belt buckle. I couldn’t remember if he’d ever told me the boy’s age. There were only the pictures in his phone from when he and his ex were still together and living in Philadelphia. Stephan was only five or six months old then. Old enough to sit up, utter single syllables, and possibly even stand—if he held onto someone’s leg or a flattened cushion on the couch or the dulled corner of an end table—but not quite able to walk. He was still too top-heavy. His body needed time to grow into his head—time lost when his mother took him in the middle of the night and disappeared.
I wasn’t allowed to see Stephan when they moved in—the consequence of dating a man with a child and a selfish baby momma who could vanish without a trace. However, his baby pictures stayed with me. Even when I knew how fast children grew in a year, I still dreamt of him as a red-faced newborn wrapped in a blue blanket, wearing a blue cap on his head, and lying on my chest. I pictured the tiny little body that could fit snuggly in my arm—his head resting on my shoulder, his bottom in the crease of my elbow, his pudgy feet in the palm of my hand, where I could curl my fingers in and tickle the bottoms of his toes until he laughed so hard he passed gas.
Continue reading “Motherhood | Buried Series | Part 7” →
The odor was even more intoxicating when we returned to his apartment. I wondered if it was affecting my judgment. Maybe the stench had manifested as a barrier that intercepted alert signals from my brain telling my legs to run. It kept my arms stiff by my side when I should have snatched up the phone and dialed 9-1-1 with hands not yet soiled by the dirt we would bury her body under.
“How’re we doing this?” he asked as I took each suitcase out of the other and lined them up in front of the bed.
“We’re gonna pack her body up in the big one,” I said.
“Can she even fit?”
“We’ll make her fit.”
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to chop off her arms and legs?” he said, measuring the width of the suitcase with his forearms.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, placing my hands on my hips. “Do you have a machete packed in your trunk? Because I don’t.”
He turned his back and sighed audibly.
“It’s extremely hard to dismember a human body,” I continued. “You’re cutting through bone, and you can’t do that with a regular old kitchen knife.”
He didn’t answer, only shook his head. Maybe he was finally starting to realize how deep into the sludge we were headed.
“Fine,” he said scratching the back of his neck. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without you, so I’ll follow your lead.”
Continue reading “Accessory | Buried Series | Part 6” →
Of course, he didn’t own a suitcase. That would’ve been too simple.
He didn’t have many clothes—you tend to pack light when you drift from place to place. He’d only been in town six months when we met at the DMV. I was renewing my license, and he was getting his CDL.
“I’d make a great truck driver,” he said later that afternoon over coffee. “I can’t stay put in one area for long.” He then recited the cities where he’d lived before temporarily settling in Greensboro, North Carolina: Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond.
Repeatedly, he expressed his desire to live in Atlanta, or further south in Florida, possibly Miami, with its white beaches and exotic women. However, he loved how quiet Greensboro was and reveled in our small-town atmosphere. By then, I was already smitten, so I convinced him to give my quaint little city a year, enough time for him to fall in love with it and with me too.
Continue reading “Drive | Buried Series | Part 5” →
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.
Continue reading “To Live | Buried Series | Part 4” →
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.”
Continue reading “Murderer | Buried Series | Part 3” →
The apartment had her touch. Before her, we spent most of our time in the bedroom—the living room having nothing but an old TV whose sound went in and out, a PlayStation, and a single chair.
Now the living room was cluttered. A loveseat sat in the center, facing a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. In front of the loveseat, magazines, napkins, empty cups, an open laptop, baby wipes, and alphabet blocks covered the surface of a coffee table. The five arms of the blue, green, and brown floor lamp drooped over the left arm of the loveseat like the wilted petals of a flower. The bulbs were dimmed, giving the room a sepia glow. Teal curtains that were better suited for a master bedroom draped sloppily over the sliding door to the balcony. On the carpet next to the excess fabric of the curtains were a car seat and stroller—a diaper bag hanging from the handle.
Diapers, I thought. That had to be what I was smelling.
He sat me on the couch, clenched my thigh closest to him with his long fingers, and kissed me, desperately, sucking hard on my bottom lip until it lost feeling.
“I need you,” he whispered.
“What’s that smell?” I asked, changing the subject, overwhelmed by his surprise display of affection.
He drew back, turned away from me, and wiped his nose. “I don’t smell anything,” he said.
Continue reading “Odor | Buried Series | Part 2” →
He broke things off when his ex moved in. It wasn’t that his feelings for me had changed or that the potential for an “us” in the near future had been lost. He didn’t love her—he hated her in fact—but he had his son to think about, a son she’d kept hostage for eighteen of his twenty-four months of life. And it didn’t matter my feelings or his, I couldn’t be around to confuse the boy, to make him question why Daddy was kissing this strange woman and not Mommy, who lived in the same apartment, slept in the same bed.
Everything about it sounded illogical, but I accepted it, reluctantly, and didn’t bother him, opting to cry in the comfort of my own lonely bed instead.
But tonight, his phone call sounded urgent as if he’d just witnessed something horrific. The news from my TV blared in my free ear coverage of a mass shooting at Zales two weeks before Valentine’s Day, the busiest engagement season of the year. Three people were dead, and I wondered if he had been there.
Without hesitation, I grabbed my keys and rushed out the door, forgetting that I looked just as disheveled as my house—the trash piling in the kitchen to the point that it attracted gnats, the permanent dent in my couch, where I spent many a sleepless night watching reruns of melodramatic reality TV shows while constantly checking my phone for a text that never came. My belt didn’t fit. My jeans pulled tightly around my waist. The top button imprinted a perfectly round circle just below my belly button—the nightly diet of buttery popcorn and flat Sprite pushing its way to the surface.
Continue reading “Ringer | Buried Series | Part 1” →