He could have called it “Marion’s Monday.” Every Monday for the last six years, I’d take the house apart and put it back together, vacuuming the carpet, dusting the furniture, stuffing the pillows, polishing the silverware, and, if it was the last of the month, writing the checks. for your large number of bills, as you did today.
A scan revealed what could have been a furniture showroom: The carpet batteries were firm and the table surfaces were shiny. Everything was calm outside of her, but not necessarily within her. Fear, like liquid ice, ran strangely through his veins. Neither the house nor his life would be the same tomorrow at this time, he somehow sensed.
Writing her checks was easy, since her father’s inheritance earlier in the year. Money, for once, was not a problem.
As she wrote the date on one, it became blurry, the flashbacks in her mind took her out of the present and into the past.
Why couldn’t he see it coming? He thought. It all added up. Sure, you had to work late every night since you got that new account, she said, as if her husband was in the room. Of course, your infinite dedication to the company was behind those business trips and your new assistance – ha, woman, what a coincidence – had to go with you.
Every time he lied to her, that strange, almost alternate-personality expression seemed to register on his face, as if it had two sides.
“Do you think I was born yesterday, Donald?” she screamed. What a fool I was!
Shaking and steadying one hand with the other as she filled out a check, she thought: My God, I’m worth more dead than alive to him!
Another look around the living room and, through a sixth sense, he realized – no, he just knew – that he only had 24 hours to live.
* * *
Phones do more than ring: they sometimes rattle emotions, as she did now, causing her to bolt out of her chair and pick up the handset in a single motion.
“Oh God, it’s just you,” he said. “I thought it was my husband.”
“That again?” said the voice. “I wish you would calm down. I don’t think your anxieties are based on any truth. You are creating a reality in your head that just isn’t true. Everything will be fine. Stop worrying.”
“Yeah yeah,” Marion said, forcibly controlling her pants. “Maybe you’re right. I’m … I’m turning this into something it’s not. I’m … I’m watching too much ‘CSI’ stuff on TV or something.”
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow. By the way, I finished the sculpture class I was taking and wanted to show someone, you, actually, my final project.”
“Oh,” he said, refocusing on reality. “Yeah, that kind of sculpture. That would be nice. I’d like to see what you did.”
“Great,” he said. “So how about tomorrow? 1:00? The usual-Donovan’s?”
“Oh yes of course.”
And since he said, “I’ll pick you up at 1:00,” she intervened in his sentence with hers and said, “I’ll see you there at 1:00.”
“And one more thing,” Marion said. “What if I am not?”
“What if you’re not what?” her friend said.
“Are you making all this up in my head about my husband?”
“Marion, you have to have some faith. Everything will work out, I know. Someone is watching you and will make sure nothing happens to you.”
She was not entirely convinced.
* * *
He had to act like nothing was wrong, like his premonitions were unfounded and irrational. But when she fell asleep next to her husband that night, another title crossed her mind, Sleeping with the enemy.
* * *
He kept looking at his watch, but his growing anxiety made it increasingly difficult to focus on his hands.
If I don’t get in the car right now, he thought, I’ll never get to Donovan’s house in time. But when he got to the front door, he realized he hadn’t gotten his wallet out of his bedroom and turned around.
That’s all I need, he thought, is to be stopped by a cop and not have my license with me. Maybe this is what my premonitions have been all along.
But they quickly escalated when she saw the taxi pull up in front of her house and her husband get out.
What is he doing here at this time of day and why didn’t he take his own car? He wondered.
Twenty-four hours of life, he thought further. Oh God, this is it! I was right!
Immobilized by fear, she watched the door open, as if she were a distant observer, and saw the rope that he clutched in her hand. The tidy house, the gleaming tables, the unprinted carpet, all shattered in adrenaline-fueled trauma.
“Yes, Marion,” he said, approaching her with deliberate steps and using a monotonous voice that made her blood run cold. “Stay there. You know you can’t run. You never could.”
Terrified, she was caught by his projected energy, entwined with him.
“Oh no,” he tried to scream. “No! Please! I’ve been good to you. I’ll do anything to end this amicably. I’m …”
He took another three steps. Her hazel eyes, fixed on him, became reflections of his evil. His silky black hair lost its shine, drenched with sweat.
“Yes, Marion,” he continued. “Look around this house. Not a speck of dust. You were always so meticulous. Notice I said ‘they were.’
His voice was like a recording without emotions, without feelings or empathy. It had been reduced to a fact, the ice cream type. His face reflected someone he was not: his alternate personality. Her sandy hair gleamed white. Its stubble was like a thorn bush, a dead plant from which it had been drained all its life. The scar on his cheek appeared like lightning.
“Yes, Marion,” he continued. “I’ve learned a lot from you over the years. Now I’m meticulous too. Note that I took a taxi, rather than my own car, so no one would see it in the driveway at this time of day. And speaking of time? Well, it’s 1:00. I always leave the office at 1:00 for lunch. So what is there to suspect? “
Panting and his heart pounding, he could barely focus on the image in front of him.
Taking the last three steps toward her, he wrapped the rope around her neck, tightening it with dripping deliberation.
“Waiting for a call, Marion? I couldn’t help you. I conveniently forgot my cell phone. I left it on my desk. Tisk, tisk. They should scold me for being so irresponsible. But there is a silver lining to everything: no cell phone tower rings in this area. So I’m just not here. How smart technology is, until you get smarter and learn to handle it. Meticulous, Marion. It’s all part of being meticulous, like you. “
His closed air passage no longer allowed him to feel or think.
“And these gloves, Marion? What do you think they protect me from? But poor Marion. You may no longer be able to connect the dots in your head. The answer is footprints. There won’t be any. And the rope,” he said, watching life slip out of her eyes, “no bullets, no weapon residue, no trace to me. What are you saying, Marion? Speaking very clearly. Looks like he’s choking on something. What Is that it? Purchase receipt, you say? He chuckled. “There’s none, I didn’t buy it, so how are they going to trace it back to me? One of a kind? Ha ha, they sell this type of rope in every hardware store from Milwaukee to Miami. “
When he squeezed it, his face flushed and he blew out one last breath, losing consciousness.
“Do me one last favor, Marion,” he continued. “When I get to heaven, I want you to thank your father for me. Thank him for his gift, his money, to me. I will enjoy spending every penny. I promise …”
When he rolled his eyes and the room spun around him, he had enough oxygen left to hear the sound of a car driving into his house.
Hearing the gasps for air and feeling the same waves of fear that had somehow been carried over the phone lines yesterday, the man smashed the front window with his ten pound sculpture, smashed through it, and smashed into the husband’s head. of Marion. if it were a shocking meteor, creating a rift that opened into a crater.
And it was he, and not she, who fell to the ground, causing the stream of blood to spoil the perfectly vacuumed carpet.
* * *
The scene outside said everything about the inside: the rotating lights of police cars, ambulances, stretchers.
“No,” Marion said, almost pleading with the burly officer in front of her. “My husband. He was trying to kill me. Don’t arrest this man. He was just trying to protect me. He saved my life.”
“And who is he?” asked the officer.
“His name is Angel. We went back to high school. He was right. There was someone looking out for me. And it was him all the time, Angel. My guardian angel.”