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Bad Husband

I’m not sharp anymore, can’t remember everything.

It’s been a long week…week-and-a-half, whatever…without much sleep, and I’m in big trouble. I think I’ll write for a little bit to organize my thoughts and maybe, just maybe think clearly enough to work my way out of this jam. I don’t know if that’s even possible but writing is better than staring just at the ceiling…waiting for her.

The other day my wife came to bed unexpectedly; to say it was a surprise would be an understatement. We hadn’t been close for…well, years. She entered the bed silently, woke me and grabbed me, spooning; her feet were cold…but even after the initial shock I…adjusted. Then I became suspicious.

Was I in the “dog house”? Were we…okay? How much did she know? Did she miss me? It would be nice to forget the way we acted around each other the past few years but…I was never exactly the best husband in the world…to say the least. Beyond my own sins we had a falling out too, the cause of which I wasn’t exactly sure why. It could have been any number of reasons, and I’m the type of guy that when he isn’t sure which thing he’s in trouble for…he stays quiet and lets it ride.

We made love. I’m no dummy, I took what I was given; happy wife, happy life, and all that “happy” horseshit. The sex was surprisingly good too, even though I must have been noticeably hesitant. Was it a peace offering? You’re back, but…why? What’s the catch? I decided to wait for her to address the issue(s) first, but she left before I woke up. Where’d she go? I was a-l-m-o-s-t expecting breakfast to be ready (I told you…I’m not the best husband in the world). I’ve been called a creep before; many times, if I’m being honest. But creep or not…I had to chalk that night up as a win.

I hung around the house that morning a little bit longer than normal to see if she’d return; like maybe she was…I don’t know, shopping? But when she didn’t show by ten o’clock I went about my business and headed for the golf course. I didn’t forget her for a minute however; she was on my mind all…day…long. She hadn’t said much the night before, in fact…had she said anything? I couldn’t recall one concrete sentence…or word. It felt like we must have at least had some communication, but…I’ll be damned if I can remember.

If all was forgiven, that was all I cared about. It wasn’t like I had anything better going on in my life now anyway. But it all seemed too good to be true. Did she know anything of…my sins at all? Let it be known that I would take a clean slate in a heartbeat…but I’m too skeptical to believe that it’s just that easy. And if I was lonely or desperate enough to believe I got off scot-free I’d be letting my guard down. It was again time to stay quiet and watch closely.

As I said, it’s been a long week, and I’m having trouble getting to sleep. On top of that, I’m a lousy storyteller, awful in person and only slightly better on paper. But all that aside, she seems…off. Well, of course she’s off, but I mean to say it seems like she loves me more now than she did…a year ago…and I don’t know why.

She returned the second night too, but it wasn’t as surprising. I half-expected it.

I found myself looking to the front door hours before bedtime…I even made her some tea and left it on the counter, just in case she showed up for dinner. She

wasn’t going to want to eat the food I eat, I was sure of that. She never ate pasta of any kind, never mind Fettuccine Alfredo. I couldn’t picture her eating it, so with no better ideas, I did a little digging and found one of her old teabags in the back of the cupboard. I told you I’m not a great husband.

Dinner came and went, so I cleaned up, put her mug in the fridge and went and watched some TV like I always do…but still no Natalie. Oh, I forgot to include her name at the beginning. Her name is Natalie. Ha ha…I just wrote that her name was Natalie two sentences in a row…now three. I must be losing it. Well, no time to go back and edit; probably no need to either.

The time for bed came, and the house seemed extra quiet. As I brushed my teeth I left the bathroom three times to look down the stairs at the front door. I thought twice for a minute but in the end decided to lock it…just as I had the previous night. Did she still have her key? Did it really matter? I went to bed…nervously…

…but I didn’t go right to sleep. Her little ambush the previous night…would it happen again? Just in case, I got up and sprayed some cologne…to be ready. Then I looked down the stairs at the front door again (still nothing) and went back to bed. I set my alarm for…what time did she show up, a little after three? I set it for three AM.

Like all alarms do, it scared the crap out of me, and it took me more than a second to leave whatever dream I had to recall the real-world circumstances. Now I remember. I’m alone in my dark house just like every night, except that tonight I’m wondering if my estranged wife will show up unannounced again.

Some idea this was to set the alarm… I hate waiting for anything, never mind after midnight. Setting an alarm to wait for Natalie added an aspect of suspense that I hadn’t anticipated; I felt that if she didn’t show up I might have a hell of a time getting back to sleep…dammit! So I lay there, waiting and listening for something that might not even happen. I wished it was boring, but it wasn’t. It was agony, and my mind started to…think of things I didn’t want it to.

Like the time…well…here I go… She had been looking for a job at Phillips Exeter Academy; had always wanted to work there, but I wanted her to be closer to home. I wasn’t a great father, never mind a great husband, and honestly, I would rather go to work than babysit my own kid. Anyway…Phillips Exeter called one afternoon before she got home; it was parent conference week at her current job and she was there, unable to take the call. The long and short of it was…I told Phillips she wasn’t interested in the position anymore.

I know; I’m a selfish bastard, but she never found out, so no harm no foul in my mind. We were happy the way we were, and I don’t think we would have been as happy if she went and changed everything. That extra time on the road would have taken time away from Anthony, so I made an executive decision for what was best for the family.

This particular episode was running through my mind as I stared at the bedroom doorway wishing I hadn’t set my alarm. I pushed it out of my mind as best I could and turned on the bedroom TV to attempt to wind down. Not surprisingly, there was nothing worth watching. I settled for an infomercial and tried to get into it; anything to stop thinking…but before I could, I heard a *click*.

I muted the TV and sat up. It came from downstairs. The blue light lit the bedroom while darkening the hallway outside the door. I listened hard, trying to discern whether or not I had imagined the sound, and it did not repeat itself. Nervously I threw the covers off and put one foot on the carpet, about to investigate.

And then her face appeared in the doorway.

The light from the television flickered, preventing me from properly focusing. Her face seemed to float in the dark space of the doorway as the rest of her body remained in the shadows. It was as if a mask had been hung on a black door…and she was beautiful. I don’t think she ever looked so good, but maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention. Maybe it was the lighting too, I don’t know. My heart raced; this was her show, not mine. I pulled my leg back into bed…playing it as cool as I could and preparing for whatever she had planned.

She stepped into the room in a long white nightgown, crossed in front of the television and crawled into bed. Grabbing the remote I turned off the TV, and she wrapped herself around me. The room was dark now, and I…succumbed, for lack of a better word. I fell asleep right after the sex and…again, I don’t recall if we talked about anything at all.

Did I mention…wait a second I need to reread what I’ve written, hold on a minute:

Ha ha, wow, that was quite the omission…but surely if you’re reading this it must have gone without saying. Surely you must have guessed by now that my wife…is…not with us anymore. I mean she is, but she shouldn’t be…no, sorry, I’m trying to explain artfully and it’s not working. I told you I suck at telling stories… What I mean to say is; she died. I watched it happen…and she’s back now. My wife is dead.

It was eight months ago, after what some would say was a long illness, but it wasn’t really all that long.

Diagnosis to death was a little over six months; cancer, of course, and it was difficult for all of us. Anthony is grown and can take care of himself; but still, it hit him pretty hard.

Why she’s back is the situation I’m trying to figure out now…and of course I’m suspicious.

She was gone again in the morning, and like the day before, I was sexually satisfied. She must be in a really good place to have forgotten what our lives were like together. To be honest, if it were me…I wouldn’t have come back to “me” at all…so…why did she? What if she’s playing me? I haven’t even told you half of the things I’ve done. I could be in big, big trouble (as I said at the beginning). Now I can’t stop thinking of her. My guilty conscience is eating me alive; I’m thinking of things I haven’t in years, like the time I slept with a prostitute while she was pregnant. No, I’m not proud of it. But I was pretty sure I had gotten away with it…now, not so much.

I lay in bed trying to wrap my head around some things with the sun coming through the curtains and considered my options. She would most likely be back again tonight but despite the sex, I wasn’t looking forward to it anymore; in fact I even feared it. No; dread was the word. The anticipation, the suspense, the inability to relax; I had no control over any of it. Still; I didn’t have the courage to rock the boat…at least not yet.

This went on for about a week, uninterrupted. My privates were happy but my mind knew better. It was too good to be true…unnatural….no, correct that; supernatural…and I couldn’t help but wonder where this was all going. On the eighth night things began to take the predicted turn for the worse.

Dinner came and went, and the waiting began. I didn’t eat much; I couldn’t. I killed a couple of hours on the couch and then headed upstairs to…wait. I decided to take a shower in an attempt to relax. As I lathered up I breathed deeply to clear my mind, as worrying only makes things worse…so they say.

As I shut off the water a chill overtook the bathroom and I didn’t have to guess why. I mean, she hadn’t been physically cold all week so there was no reason for me to assume it came from her…but yet I knew damn well it did. The room was cold enough so that I turned the hot water back on before peering from behind the curtain. She was there in the doorway, in her nightgown.

Her eyes were locked on mine from the second I peeked out and I wondered how she did it; could she see through the curtain somehow? Her chin was tilted down slightly toward her chest and she looked at me from the top of her eyes; it was different for her, and strange. I couldn’t read her emotions but I was certain they weren’t warm and fuzzy. She held the gaze long enough to make things unpleasantly awkward; then, she turned into the dark hallway and disappeared in the direction of the bedroom.

Naked, I toweled off, mind racing. She hadn’t been smiling and didn’t seem particularly delighted to see me. Now she was there in the bedroom, waiting for me in the dark. Even the TV was off. I sprayed the cologne and brushed my teeth, pretending the chances for sex were just as good as all the other nights.

Leaving the bathroom light on, I walked slowly down the hallway trying to listen for anything at all; but there was nothing at all to hear. I stepped through the bedroom doorway and for a few seconds couldn’t see a thing. When my eyes adjusted she was not in the bed but standing in the far corner of the room, in between the nightstand and the wall; a very odd place to be. This can’t be good, I thought.

I shivered; it was cold in there now. I thought for a second to stall and go check the thermostat downstairs but…she might not like that. I felt she needed my attention first; okay…I didn’t dare piss her off. It hadn’t been this cold last night, or any of the others. I remember she had cold feet all the time but…this was something else entirely.

I went behind the bedroom door to fetch my robe. My hair was still damp and I couldn’t go on without it. Once it was tied, I hung my towel on the doorknob and turned slowly, unsure of how to approach. She was standing in a niche two feet wide between the table and the wall; the lampshade obscured a sizeable portion of her midsection, like she was hiding behind it, but she wasn’t. It was as if she was trying to be weird to freak me out; I mean, who stands in the corner of the bedroom? I began to approach reluctantly, and when I reached halfway (the foot of the bed), something caught my eye; a reflection of something glossy on the mattress.

I felt around. They were photographs. I picked them up and took eight reflexive steps toward my side of the bed. I pulled the small chain on my nightstand light and half of the room lit up. I looked over at Natalie. She stood motionless…and also e-motionless; watching me as I scrambled to catch on to whatever she was up to. Even though the room was still poorly lit this was the most light I had seen her in since…oh God… the funeral home.

She didn’t look good…which is the understatement of the century. The hair literally stood up on the back of my neck. I was horrified…terrified. It was obvious she was…long gone. What had been a beautiful woman last night (as well as a moment ago in the bathroom) was now bluish, blotchy and bruised-like; well into the livor mortis stage. I nearly dropped the photos as I straightened up. Our eyes locked and I felt…a strong sadness coming from her, strangely. I would have to be a fool to believe that I had nothing to do with it. I dropped my gaze to escape the intense dread and my eyes fell upon the photos, and what they were of.

They were of me…with other women; four in all. All four in fact…including the prostitute. I hung my head, but looked at her, guardedly. I was afraid the sadness might turn to anger any moment. It’s not every day you get caught red-handed, never mind by someone that has returned from the dead. What else did she know?

Probably everything. There were no words in the cold bedroom.

“Nat…” I tried anyway. She held up her hand to silence me and then lowered it slowly, stepping out from her cul-de-sac, pulling the sheets back and sliding into bed. I cringed, realizing what she might expect. Was I even forgiven?

Every man with any experience at all knows not to hesitate on a woman’s advance or it will not end well. I had but a few seconds to look her in the eye, feigning true regret as I frantically weighed my options. How ghastly will this be? Will I be able to…perform? If not…what will she do? Even though I had already completed the act with her post mortem…she at least hadn’t appeared to be dead; a completely different experience…if that possibly justifies anything or makes any sense at all…

So there I was, not brave enough to just take off and figure it all out later, leaving everything I owned behind. That wouldn’t solve any problems; it would just create new ones. I shut off the light and pulled back the sheets…completely at her mercy.

She lay still; perfectly still. I waited three seconds to see if I should make the first move. For a moment I wondered if this was what it was like to be in a coffin with a dead person; she was that still. Nervous, I reached out in the dark and touched her back; up near her shoulder. She had chosen to face away this time; perhaps I would not be required to perform tonight…something I would be very happy to skip…tonight and every night from now on. Everything had gone downhill so quickly!

The term cold shoulder crossed my mind; an unfunny pun in an unfunny situation. Oh, if whoever had written that phrase could be in my shoes right now…they had no idea of what they were saying.

Natalie didn’t move a muscle; most likely part of my punishment. I didn’t dare move again either; lest I disturb her…I was beginning to attempt to believe that we could just…uh, I could just get out of having sex with her and let the night be done. Why rock the boat? I would rather remain motionless all night long than engage her in any way. I rode this agony for an

eternity…until I fell asleep four hours later. I don’t know how I managed; maybe she induced it somehow so she could leave unannounced, I’m not sure. Maybe she just played dead to torture me; I’m not even trying to be funny. It was beyond disturbing.

I awoke to my alarm at six o’clock as if I hadn’t rested at all. My eyes were bloodshot, I had a pounding headache and it was no way to start a Monday, but I was happy to be alive. I needed to change things up, and soon; I might be in danger if I didn’t.

The next night I booked a room at a motel in an attempt to escape the new morbid routine. I was afraid of going to bed again in my own house…but before I did all that I went and bought myself two oversized duffel bags and filled them with necessities; things I would need to live my everyday life until the movers could come and get the rest. I would sell the house and downsize…maybe buy an apartment somewhere so that I would always be close to other people, even if they were only strangers behind locked doors.

I checked in to the motel after work at around seven o’clock after a nervous dinner in a chain restaurant. I tried to get involved in the baseball game on the bar TV but it was a fool’s errand; I’m not much of a baseball fan to begin with, and I had a lot on my mind despite being four towns away from last night’s encounter. I ate my dinner, but later couldn’t remember doing so; strange days indeed.

It was beyond obvious that my nights were consuming my days…and my whole life. Whatever fun I had enjoyed sneaking off behind my wife’s back, enjoying the secrets and the mystery…was all gone now; money spent; and it was increasingly feeling like it was time to pay the bill…or the proverbial piper.

I asked for a simple room. There were two beds, and the television was on a bureau directly in between them on the opposing wall. I chose the bed furthest from the door. I locked and chained the door, showered, brushed, and settled in front of the television, looking for something lighthearted to watch. Was I safe here? Was it just that easy? I settled on a channel playing an old Andy Griffith Show marathon. An episode and a half later I was asleep.

I dreamed of her, quickly realizing it was not going to be an easy night whether she showed up or not. Even if I had escaped her, I hadn’t escaped myself, or more specifically, my guilt. Sure, I’ve always been a selfish guy and have never worried about things like consequences…but…this time I’ve had to ponder my past for more than a week straight, and even I think I’m a piece of shit now. That’s a start isn’t it?

In my dream she was sick. It was approximately the first month after her diagnosis. I played it like I “was confident she could beat it”…but really…I just wanted to golf. I grabbed my clubs, gave her a peck on the cheek and left…while she went to her first chemo treatment.

Yes I know. I know what 100 out of 100 people would say about that. I’m a shit. I know, I know…I know…now. In my dream I drew the club back preparing to tee off. I wound my body tight and unleashed a powerful swing, connecting with the ball perfectly…a loud *smack*, which… …woke me up to see Natalie towering over my face, right next to the bed.

It was probably just past midnight. The TV was on, projecting light like a malfunctioning strobe. She looked at me with disdain. I felt like an insect that might be stepped on any given moment. Her hand hung down at her waist very close to my head and…I could smell it; decay. I pressed my shoulders back into the mattress but of course there was nowhere to retreat. I could already be dead if she had wanted to kill me. Again, it was her show…her call.

I began to stammer, to make up an excuse as to why I was in this motel. A few broken words tumbled out of my mouth when the TV clicked itself off. The room went silent and dark as I listened intently for movement. After an anxious moment of uncertainty she slowly raked her hand gently over my face, startling me. Her hand was well below temperature, and as her fingers passed on either side of my nose I knew that I would never forget that smell for the rest of my life. Her hand completed its pass and left my chin.

A second passed as I waited blindly for the next…interaction; praying once again that it would not be her, sliding in beside me. Suddenly something struck my face hard; right between my eyes (I think it might have been the room telephone). I blacked out until the next morning when I woke up with a splitting headache. The television was back on, grinding out morning show noise pollution. The maid was knocking at the door. Was it eleven o’clock already? Shit.

I told the cleaning person that I needed ten minutes. Then I walked to the bathroom, wiping dried blood from my nose. I looked in the mirror; two black eyes. I weighed my options: Go to the police? Get on a plane to Hawaii…or Australia or Brazil? No. Neither idea held an ounce of promise.

The morning after the motel (this morning, actually) was when I began to believe deep in my soul that my time was up; and I almost hoped it was true. I couldn’t go on like this… Who in their right mind wants to wait for their dead spouse to let themselves in, each and every night? Count me out. I’m not a religious man (I know you’re in shock), but I prayed then and there in that dirty motel room that she would kill me…and kill me soon.

Now I sit here writing in my kitchen, facing the front door. I went out for a while and killed some time, but when your life is in the state mine is in, you don’t have the energy to shop, or eat, or go to the movies. Nothing feels good…nothing feels right; nothing cures your depression. Its seven-thirty now and I skipped dinner.

Once again, this waiting is pure, pure torture! I mean, I start thinking of my anxious afternoons as soon as I wake up…I dread them. I don’t think I’ve ever known anything worse.

Uh…that didn’t come out right. I really should have said that the worst thing that ever happened to me was my wife’s slow death; I can hear that now, it just took me a second but, wow, what a shit-heel I was. I still am. Fucking clueless. …well, too late I suppose. The Reaper wants me now.

The TV in the living room just turned itself on. I’ve gone to the couch, as it appears to be showing not the news, but scenes from our lives together. I’m either insane, or dreaming…I’m not sure, but nobody ever filmed these scenes. There were no cameras present on a Saturday morning about a year ago when Natalie asked me to stay home with her, and I went golfing instead… There were no cameras present when I just got up from the couch right after dinner one evening and left the house because I was bored. And there were no cameras present when she came home from another solo trip to the doctor and told me she had a month to live…and I simply regurgitated my standard “you can beat this” mantra…because I really didn’t care enough to let her life-shattering news ruin Monday Night Football.

No, I’m not dreaming, and this is not insanity…this is Natalie’s doing. And like clockwork! Here I am waiting for her to open the front door like every other night…so I wait downstairs (a change of pace on my part)…and she sets up a video montage of my…disconnection. Perhaps the most painful thing you can ever do to a person; the ultimate betrayal…the act of not giving a shit. I did that to her. I hated myself watching that. Plus she set it up so she gets sicker and sicker as the video plays. Well done Nat. Well done. Stick a fork in me. I’m done. Seriously.

Where the hell are you?

I know what’s going to happen now. She’s going to make me wait a little longer…maybe a lot longer…get me good and frazzled. And when I’m as nervous as a deer she’s going to turn that knob as slow as can be…while I feel every scintilla of tension… And when it opens she’s going to look worse than she ever has…a living nightmare…shit you never even dreamed you’d see. And she’s going to motion to me…like a dog. Just point up the stairs, and I’m going to fucking go, because I’m a dog and I can’t take this anymore.

And then I’ll wait in the bed about another eon-and- a-half as she climbs the stairs, as I try to think of something else, anything else… I’ll leave the lights off too because believe me, you don’t want to see that… And finally she’ll slide in bed behind me, because; I surrender.

I’m done.

From there I don’t really know what she’ll do but it’ll be something like; her hands wrap around my face from behind and pinch off my nose and cover my mouth, or she slides a blade into my spinal cord…something like that.

It won’t be pretty…but it will be better than this life. And I’ll still be the asshole.

I have to go now. She’s at the door.

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