This man—this blood caked mass of age-spotted flesh and unapologetic misogyny—for thirty-six years this man gnawed and stung my every fiber. He plucked my nerves with every hateful barb his filthy mouth could string and shoot. Until today. Today he rests his sparse, grey and wiry hair on the white tile floor and gurgles like a child in his own thickening crimson flood.
What a damn mess. Even in death he plagues me still.
I hear the sirens drawing near. They must be rounding the corner where the tree-line ends, just before the dusty gravel way that leads into our acreage. I called them myself, and am ready now for the end which I have written for this man—my husband—and I. As they pull onto the rocky path I consider once more this pistol in my hand, spinning the drum, listening to the precise little ticks as each round passes by the waiting barrel. All six rounds remain.
Warmth. Finally warmth pours gently and slowly over my singing nerves. The gravel crumbles and pops under the procession of tires as they pull in front of our country home. Now feet. The feet knock at the aging wood of our beautiful porch. Treated pine. I remember how it smelled of the forest when he built it—of pitch and piquant green. I remember that he lost his temper when I spilled his beer on the ground below him as he drove the five inch nails into the fresh-cut boards.
“Yur a clumsy fucking bitch, Charmagne,” he told me. He made me bring another, in a glass this time, with ice.
“I’m sweatin like a whore in church,” he said. He truly was. His sunburnt skin flashed as sweat grabbed flares of light from the cloudless sky, rolled down his freckled shoulders, over the fading eagle he had tattooed in Cambodia after the war, pooled for a moment in the depression where his round belly met his ribs, then dropped in groups of three or four to the unstained board in which he knelt. He’d been hammering and drinking for hours.
When I handed him the glass, he neither said a word, nor turned his head to look, just put out his brown, wet arm, opened his hand and waited. After emptying the entire glass down his throat, he again reached his arm straight in front of him, waited as I came to take the glass, then simply let it fall.
“Jesus, Charmagne, can’t ya e’en see? Clean this shit up fur I get cut.” The tiny shards of glass mingled with the ice as it spread into pools, some of them floating like sharp little icebergs in the melting seas. When I came back with the dustpan, he was laughing with himself.
“She’s on a roll t’day, Lee. Bet she fucks up dinner somethin bad. Ya really caught a flounder there, Lee. A real fucking keeper.”
Through the stained glass panel in our front door—the door that Lee bought and hung on our twentieth, that he etched our names into like a high school boy in lust, the glass that in the morning sends an ocean sunset burning plum and rose and sky across the sandy carpet—through it I can just make out a few figures, darkly dressed, blending into one another and separating again like blue and purple ghosts as they shuffle anxiously on the porch.
“Mrs. Bolsen? It’s sheriff Carver. What happened? Are you okay?”
I told them nothing on the phone of what I’ve done, only that there had been an accident. Now my heart begins erupting, pumping so fast and full that it nearly lifts my blouse from my chest, like hanging linen in a stiff breeze. It feels young. Terror so strong I almost love it. It ripples through my blood. It is fresh—awake and living, floating in the current. And quickly I begin to drown.
Christ, Charmagne, you’re fifty-six. You’re a librarian for the county, you can’t go to prison. You’ll break to pieces.
Lee stops spluttering. Spumes of pink foam drift from near his mouth and slide along the lake of sticky blood as it slowly consumes the kitchen floor. I’ll say it really was an accident. He was making tea, spilled the water and slipped. I tried to catch him, but he weighs too much, and landed face down on the teapot.
Christ, Charmagne, they won’t believe you for an instant. Just look at his face, pieces of his skull and eye socket scattered on the floor like egg shells, tangled into what is left of his silvery hair. The damn teapot is a wad of tinfoil and strawberry jam.
I’ll just confess. Everybody in Dungem County knows Lee’s history. Sheriff Carver had to pry him off of me at the county fair last summer, in front of everyone, after he’d been asked to leave the beer garden for pouring his drink on the waiter.
It was late August. The heat fell down in swells and stuck to everything, the air so thick and dry that breathing was a struggle. My lips were like paper, my tongue slow and gluey. Jimmy Hainer, the poor boy, was drenched in a black tweed suit, running frantic while the thirsty town quenched itself with domestic beer and daiquiris.
On his last trip to the couple adjacent from us, he set the tray for a moment on our table so he could pull their bill from his breast pocket. Lee thought that disrespectful. He gathered up his calmest, quietest anger, called Jimmy close to him, and drained a full beer into his shirt. Jimmy just apologized and kept working. But the man who ran concessions threatened to call the police if Lee didn’t leave. So he staggered up and out of the picket-fenced area, kicking up golden clouds of dust and hay as he shuffled. Mortified, I lagged behind just a little.
I felt so bad for Jimmy that, for a moment, I lost myself. I said the boy was just doing his job. It’s just so hot is all. Lee swung round, loose and drunk, his arms trailing his body like ropes of seaweed in a tide, and tried to smack me on the mouth. He was so inebriated that he missed, but rage sobered him quickly. I didn’t have much time to move, or even think. Lee looped around my back, wrapped his bulky arms around my neck, and we went together to the ground. He thrust his arms as if performing the Heimlich, my face scouring the hay and gravel as his breaths heaved across my ears like clouds of steam. My hair was wet with his and my perspiration. Slowly, his gasping waned. He chugged and lurched, and stopped. And I could breathe again.
Sheriff Carver and his deputy soon arrived.
“Charmagne,” said the deputy, “what are you doing trying to carry Lee? He’s twice your size. No offense, Charmagne, but you’re no spring hen.” Together, they pulled Lee’s flaccid body from on top of me, hauled him to our Cadillac, flopped him onto the faux suede upholstery in the back seat, and told me to make sure he gets plenty of water. He’s pretty well stewed, they said. Probably going to feel that one tomorrow.
They had watched it all. Lee had ran with them for years and years. Since they were boys. They are all just boys, prideful little boys with reputations.
Lee slept late the next morning, woke slowly, stinking our bedroom of beer and sweat so heavily that it rolled downstairs like a viscous fog.
Metal fills my nose, the house now smells like the steel I hold in my hands, like the iron blood growing its tacky skin as it cools. The steel barrel, lead bullets, silver teapot, iron blood. Funny, the connections life creates. Funny, how quickly something lovely and unblemished turns. Now it all moves slow. Seconds dawdling by like little wooden ducks bobbing in a line. Any one of them I could pick. Squeeze the trigger and they sink. Just aim, and breathe, and shoot. Six unspent bullets. Six impatient shuttles, ready to pierce through another minute and leave me here alone.
I meant to put his own bullet, from his own revolver, into his balding, mottled head. I meant to be calculated and exact. Cold. Instead I was heat.
“Yur fucking dim, Charmagne. How’d you get that libry job when ya can’t e’en set the oven timer?”
“You fucking ugly hog, Charmagne. You can’t e’en fit inta the dress ya bought last year. Carver’s wife runs’er purty ass all round the county just fer him. You can’t e’en keep food out yur mouth for an hour.”
“You fucking bitch, Charmagne, don’t you e’er speak to me in fronta company, unless I ask it of ya. Yur mouth runs on and you don’t e’en know it.”
He slurred almost every word but one. One he sounded out with terminal precision. Every letter. Every syllable. The f sprung from his yellowed front teeth force and hotness, shooting mist in little mushroom clouds. I could hear the silent c roll into the k, which broke from between his rough, white tongue and the roof of his mouth with shattering clout. I n g culminated all his effort. He put every remnant of his hate in those last three letters, forcing the final syllable to stab me through, and ripping it back out in a single motion.
When I saw him there, in the kitchen, whistling Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome,” cutting thick slices of the bread I’d baked for him this morning, that word alone played through my head. That fucking word. Year after year, that fucking word.
Sweat began to wet my cheeks before tears had a chance. Fire stoked within my throat like a gulp of too-hot coffee. And then I stopped thinking or feeling anything but that word. Hearing and sight drained into the empty well that held my pain. Only one word. One fucking word.
How many times I hit him, I don’t know. I swung and swung like each swing was but a blink. When I saw again, I saw the teapot. The teapot which last I saw was sitting on the bar. The teapot Lee had bought for me on our tenth, in Naples. When I saw again, I saw the teapot on the floor, just a wad of silver metal diverting the flowing blood around it, specked with shiny spots of deep, deep red. Some with little comets’ tails that sliced through the hematic constellations.
Lee’s face had broken under me. Slivers of bone sparkled ivory white against the pulpy mess that disintegrated into the tile.
“Mrs. Bolsen, please open up. I’d rather not break your door. Lee will croak, he loves that thing to death.”
So it seems I have several choices. Six of them I hold still, their coolness beckoning my thought, each of them a host of options in themselves. Jesus, Charmagne, you can’t start a gun fight. You’ve never laid a finger on a trigger in your life. How hard can it be? Stick it to my temple. In my mouth, like the movies. I wonder if I’d ever hear the shot.
But then they would break the door down, now doubt. What a waste, our two most loved possessions—his handsome door, strewn across the entryway, broken bits of glass painting a quiet picture on the beige carpet, a lovely accident waiting to be swept; my priceless teapot, crushed beneath the weight of years, varnished with hate and violence, a sweet and dire vessel of our time.
The day I laid my eyes on it, I fell in love with that teapot. It’s gracefully cast handle was polished silver filigree. I lost myself in the mirror finish of its perfect roundness, studied a world of gentleness in its sweeping globe. Despite even the blistering touch of the Italian sun, the pot was cool and silky in my hand. The artisan whose hand created such beauty—a man of at least seventy years, weathered by the toil and heat of his work, but beaming nonetheless with the passion of his craft—picked it up and handed it to me, nodding as if it were mine from the first tender strike that peened its faultless body. Lee sighed aloud and shook his head. Too expensive.
For the rest of the trip I sulked. I moped about the cobbled streets of Naples, picked and shuffled my food whenever we ate. The sublime Italian surf, its crystal water running up the milky sand and crashing ivory foam below the open sky, the history which fills the air, the austerity and reverence of and undiluted people, century after century of culture—all of it paled in my eyes to the lustrous world that filled that teapot. Somewhere in that world was me. Somewhere in that pot was a beauty that I knew before.
Lee tried to keep secret that he’s bought it. But it cost so much he had to claim it to customs. He cursed to himself as he filled out the forms. He cursed at me when he wrote the tariff check.
“Damn it ‘t hell, Charmagne. Ya had t have this fucking thing, didn’t ya. Yur so fucking spoiled it’s pathetic. Yul be the fucking death of us both.”
There is no more time for thinking. Sheriff Carver’s hand is gripping a large crowbar, its forked tongue licking at the deadbolt, searching out the small crack where the elegant walnut meets the cedar frame, tasting for a tender spot to bite.
All the lights are off, but it’s as bright inside as it has ever been. Lee’s old body is empty, his arms sprawled awkwardly above his head, as if still trying fruitlessly to avoid the blows. There are no more, my dear. No more blood to let.
Sheriff Carver begins to pull. He splinters the soft cedar jamb, splitting it from the door and creating a thread of yellow sun that travels up the floral papered wall and back along the textured ceiling, casting a thin, straight line of powerful light that divides the room in perfect halves. Lee so loved symmetry.
Still the gun is in my hand. And still I haven’t chosen where to go. Now I hear the deputy speaking. His words come at me in radar blips, stuttering through the warm, metallic air.
“Sheriff…the jamb…still can’t…break the glass…”
“Last resort, Sheriff…Lee’ll understand”
A moment of silence. Tenuous. Ephemeral. Silence strings like spiders’ webs across the house. Please don’t let it break. Perfect silence. Glowing, loving silence. Silence like a breath of summer, when even birds hush in the hot breeze as the air evaporates their song. Silence like a cloud unfolding in an ocean sky, when the humming stars are but a memory of night. Silence like the sun falling down the horizon, rippling violet pools in the low-slung vapor as it kisses the sea one last time.
In the quiet is my rest. In the quiet there is my memory. And in it, all I want is sleep. Looking down at Lee’s old body, so small and tired now, I only want to rest again. Sleep like the night we married, when love exhausted us, when speechlessness seized us and we lay like death in each other’s arms. If only for an instant I could feel once more that comfort.
I lay down beside the man I used to love, and feel the tender sigh of my skin against his. His body is still warm. Together our warmth mingles and relaxes heavy in my eyes. They close completely, and again I am blind. But darkness never falls. Soft, silver light, like a mirror with no one to reflect, a shallow pond below an evening sky, when life begins to sink again to the deep for slumber, gentle, metallic light surrounds me, embraces me.
Its smells so clean and smooth, its touch is cool and strong. Nothing now will dim this light. No storm is dark enough to drown the brightness of my time. No silence such as this will crack beneath the weight of years.
So many times I heard that teapot sing, and now it sings again. But now its song I do not hear, its voice rising high above me, drifting off and riding winds beyond my silence. But still I feel it steam. Against the light it spouts its breath in luscious curls, laying beads of moisture on the sheen that cling but for an instant, then lose their grip and topple over one another as they drip below the dream.
The silence isn’t broken when the shattered glass paints the house inside the door—maroon and azure and lilac prisms slipping through the air, mixing strips of color that dance in ever-changing shades across the walls before they tumble to the carpet, building mosaics in the explosion. My silence is not broken when the booted feet crush the luminescence beneath them.
Silence bears my love for him as Lee and I embrace, his wasted hate now dried and staining the tile on which we lay. Silence breathes a word to me, and now the way is cleared. We are born in blood and screaming, the sanguine fluid’s metal scent the first to fill our lungs. We know the smell, and know it much and often. I lay now in its thickness, steel and lead and iron sliding to my nose and mouth from coagulated pools. Metal slips over my tongue, deliberate and serene. Metal fills my eyes, steals past my thought and through my dream. In metal is the silence strongest yet. I hear nothing as the tears fall, ease into streams of alloyed blood, our hate together running from our disimprisoned bodies.