Their life became a comfortable routine and they were happy. Brad grew used to Marion getting up in the middle of the night and she accustomed herself to his little eccentricities. Officially married in the eyes of the law and their friends a month after Marion’s return, the remainder of that year and the next were the happiest either had ever known.
One Saturday afternoon Beatrice Chandler burst through the front door and stomped down the stairs. Brad was sitting on the porch, his usual position when she visited. She reached the sidewalk before turning to acknowledge him. “She’s stubborn, Bradley.” Brad nodded as the old woman disappeared up the tree-lined street.
He waited for Marion (his habit when it was nice and Mrs. Chandler came over) by reading more on super string theory. Marion was fuming when she finally came out. Brad closed his book and counted six times she paced the entire length of the porch before sitting next to him. “Infuriating,” she said.
“Anything I can do?”
“No,” she said. “I’m just frustrated with her. She won’t let me go.”
“Ah,” Brad said not understanding. The long silence was accompanied by the sounds of the neighborhood.
Finally, Marion relaxed. “Wanna fool around?”
The house was still dark when Brad woke and he looked at the clock: 3:47. She was almost never up this late. “Marion?” he said. “You out there?” No answer. He got out of bed and padded to the hall: dark there, too. The living room was empty, the kitchen, the dining room were all bereft of his wife. Something out of the corner of his eye on the wall behind him caused him to jump. When he looked again it was just shadow of the elm tree’s leaves in the wind. Calm, he went to the basement door.
Downstairs in the light of the moon filtered through the window wells he found Marion seated, cross-legged, next to the bloodstain still on the carpet. “Marion?” She looked up at him through the murk and he gasped and sat on the stair. Her eyes were completely black, a little point of white where her pupils were supposed to be. She tilted her head and said something in an alien language, then closed her eyes and bowed her head.
When she looked at him again, her eyes were back to normal and she tried to smile at him. “Sorry to wake you, sweetheart,” she said. “I was talking with a counterpart, asking advice.”
“What sort of advice?”
Marion stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Bea is demanding I take on a student. Like I haven’t done enough for her and the Chondria.”
“Do you have to go away again?”
Marion came over to Brad and put her hands on his shoulders. “No, sweetie, I don’t. I won’t ever have to go away like that again.” She gently pulled him to his feet. “Come on, let’s go back to bed.”
The following week, Brad came home from the garage to find a young woman in his dining room with his wife. He smiled, kissed Marion on the cheek and went upstairs to shower off the day’s grime. When he came back downstairs, Marion was fixing dinner and the girl was gone. As she stood at the stove stirring the soup he put his arms around her and nuzzled her neck, pulled as close as he could to her. She laughed. “Stop it,” she said. “I’m trying to get your dinner here.”
“Need any help?”
“Not the kind you’re offering. Sit down and keep me company.”
“How was your day?”
Marion sighed. “All right. No real excitement, except for my visitor.”
“She was cute.”
“Nice of you to notice,” Marion said. “She’s the student Beatrice wanted me to take on. Today was my first meeting with her. She’s smart, and already knows a lot. I’ll introduce you.”
“What’s the commitment?”
“Quite a lot. More than I want it to be.”
“So,” Brad said. “You gonna take her on? Teach her?”
Marion pulled the spoon out of the soup and set it on the ceramic rest she kept in the middle of the stovetop. Opening the refrigerator, she pulled out a head of lettuce, a cucumber and two tomatoes. She washed the vegetables and set them next to the sink before reaching into a cupboard to pull out a cutting board, then into a drawer to grab a chef’s knife and a serrated knife, both of which she placed next to the cutting board. Everything was carefully arranged. She crossed her arms and leaned against the sink.
“I’m going to have to, Brad. I’m training my replacement when I take her on. It means we can have a normal life once I’m done.”
“Normal. Kids and everything. You know, when you’re ready to have kids.”
Brad stood up and grabbed her, full of joy. They kissed and laughed until she put her hand on his chest. “Two years, at least, maybe a little less but you should count on two years.” He frowned at her. “I’m sorry,” she said. Brad pulled away and turned his back to her.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
Pained, Marion turned toward the counter where the salad makings were so carefully laid out. “It’s pretty involved,” she said. “I can’t explain it all. I wish I could”
“I put up with a lot, Marion,” he said looking straight ahead and not at her.
The silences that usually followed such conversations were awful for them both. This one was terrible. It lasted for days and resulted in an uneasy, unspoken acceptance.
Six months later, Brad woke alone in the night. He didn’t look at the clock and lay in the bed staring at the ceiling. Shadows from the trees played in the full moonlight across the walls and the ceilings. Brad got up and went to the window. The enormous white disk hung in the western sky lighting up the landscape as though it were the sun.
A shadow, huge, mercurial and black, ran across the face of the moon from south to north, followed by a shattering, stabbing pain behind his eyes. Brad fell backwards, half on the bed when Marion’s voice called his name softly, weakly. Panicked, he ran to the basement door. In the kitchen he saw the elm’s shadow on the wall, but there was something else: letters, words in a strange language he didn’t recognize, arranged in phrases or sentences that moved across the walls like a news ticker. Even more frightened, he grabbed the doorknob, barely noticing the heat or the resultant burn and dashed downstairs.
At the bottom of the stairs he saw Marion, covered in blood. She was crawling towards their spot, struggling to breathe. Stunned, Brad forced himself to go to her. “Need to get,” Marion said, took a huge gasp of air and coughed. “There.”
He helped her to the stain on the carpet and cradled her head in his lap. Her throat was spurting blood out of a short, ragged gash and there were cuts to her chest and hands. Her breathing was shallow, punctuated by deep hucking sounds. Marion rolled on her left side and put her right hand on the spot, spread her fingers over the center of it and slapped at the space. “No,” she whispered. “Damn it. No.” She collapsed backward into Brad’s lap. Her eyes were closed.
“She’s --- killed me,” Marion said. The words were slow and nearly silent. “Emily. Bitch --- killed me.”
“I should call an ambulance,” Brad said. “I need to get you help.”
“Fooled --- me. Love you --- Bradley,” she said. Marion’s eyes misted over and she smiled a sad smile. “I love --- you.”
His left hand was on her heart; she brought her right hand up to lay on his and tried to squeeze. “What can I do?”
“N – nothing,” she said. “It’s ah – already done. Love finds,” she gasped. “Find me.” The last vowel rode the breath out of her body. Her hand fell away, her eyes unfocused, she went limp; he shouted her name over and over until a neighbor called 911 about the noise and police and an ambulance came.
Beatrice Chandler was at the funeral: Dale Crown was there, all their friends came and more. Standing together were a dark-eyed, heavyset man in an elegant suit and a handsome man with flowing chestnut brown hair and a goatee. They approached Brad after the graveside ceremony, a short, strange affair conducted exactly according to Marion’s will.
“My name is Strangiato,” the dark-eyed man said. “Marion was a --- colleague of mine and a friend.” Brad looked suspiciously at him. “I can help you find her.”
Brad nodded slowly.
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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