Ending a marriage can be messy...
|When the blood stains first soaked through the bed sheet, Abby thought those red blossoms were so vibrant they looked like triumph. But now, in the moonlight, they were only black, all that victorious color replaced by the vague shades of uncertainty. In the bed of the Chevy pick-up, wrapped in the soiled, white sheet, Carl’s body appeared neat, and somehow smaller.
That’s a joke, Abby thought, scoffing as she grabbed his feet and begun dragging him from the back of the truck.
Always tending towards fleshiness, Carl had never been a thin man, but over the past several months the beer and Hostess cakes had finally taken their toll. And he was never a tidy man, either. Every weekday she came home from work to find him in his easy-chair, amidst the empty beer cans and snack wrappers, and with every passing day her hatred for him grew. It was like a hard, malignant stone in her belly, drowning in a pool of bile and regret. Little by little, Carl ceased to be the man she married. He became nothing more than the dirty laundry and trash he left in his wake; the cold droplets of piss splattered across the toilet seat.
Abby struggled with Carl’s weight until finally she got him to the rear of the of the truck-bed. With his buttocks resting on the lip of the tailgate, his legs hung over the edge, causing his body to bend at the waist in a painful looking arch.
“Comfy babe?” she asked, and then startled when something screeched in reply. Abby had no inkling as to what type of creature might have made the noise. It seemed close, but the shallow waters surrounding her had a strange effect on sounds. A bullfrog, probably, she decided, or perhaps some strange bird.
The swamp, she knew was home to all manner of wildlife. It was this knowledge that had prompted her to choose it as the dumping point for his body. Reaching back into the truck, Abby dragged out a cheap plastic sled, and positioning it on the damp ground beneath the tailgate, she recalled one night, a year ago when she and Carl were watching the news. A four year-old boy, the child of two ecologists studying the local wildlife had wandered off and become lost. All the major networks were following the story closely, and The Search for Bobby Cohen, was scrolling across all the online news feeds.
“Fuckin’ kid’s a goner,” Carl slurred into his can of Coors.
“You don’t know that…” Abby wanted to doubt her husband; Carl was an easy guy to doubt, had marred her trust every chance he got, but in this, she felt a queasy certainty that he was right. Though they now lived in the city, Carl grew up in those swamps. He knew them well. He still made the fifty mile drive out there once of month with his brother, Hal. They'd guzzle Evan Williams and crank .223 out of their Bushmasters at any creature unfortunate enough to catch their blurry eyes.
“Anyway, it hasn’t even been 3 days.” She heard a defensive note in her voice, and noticed her husband was looking at her with that peculiar little smile she had come to hate. His soft sneer, she called it.
“There’s black bears out there. Bobcats; Gators and poison snakes, too,” he mused before polishing off his beer. “And then there’s the sinkholes. Quicksand. Let’s just say I wouldn’t hold out any hope for attending little Bobby Cohen’s Bar Mitzvah.” Carl chuckled and set down the empty can.
The occasional racist comment was all that passed for culture in her husband’s repertoire. He turned her stomach. Was it then that she decided to kill him? She wondered as she pulled his body off the edge of the truck bed. It fell into the sled with a wet thump, the soggy ground beneath squishing under his dead weight.
Twining the sleds frayed, nylon cord around her fist, she began the slow, laborious task of dragging his body deep into the swamp, well away from the double rutted, overgrown path through which she had driven in. At first she walked backwards, facing the sled as she dragged it, but when her heel caught on a root and she nearly fell flat on her back, she decided to turn, dragging the sled behind her. But there was something disquieting about losing sight of the truck. She could barely see it anyway, but the occasional glimmer of the moonlight on chrome fortified her will and gave her assurance that she would not end up lost, wandering forever in the dark with the alligators and ghost of little Bobby Cohen. And then there was the thought of Carl’s body behind her…
“No,” she scolded herself. “Don’t start down that road, Abby. He’s dead.”
Though the plan had been gestating in her mind for weeks, (months?) when it finally happened she had not been trying to kill him. Hell, I wasn’t even trying to cut you. She glanced over her shoulder and had made it far enough so she could no longer see the truck. She stole a glance back at the body and narrowed her eyes. “I was just chopping some fucking onions,” she spat at his corpse. “The damn cutting board was in the dishwasher!” No, she wasn’t planning on killing him, at least not in her conscious mind, nor did she mean to cut him, but once she saw the blood…
It happened in the kitchen.
A pot of homemade chicken soup (her mother’s recipe,) was bubbling on the stove. Abby had followed the instructions to a T, even washing the dishes as she went, and she felt Mom would have approved. But somehow she had forgotten the onions. Still early enough, she thought, grabbing an onion from the pantry and laying it down on the kitchen counter.
In all things, Carl was a slob, but in that instance, he must have developed a single trait orderliness, because when he walked by and saw her cutting on the bare counter-top, he objected.
“Hey!” he shouted. “You’ll ruin the counter!”
Before she could even reply, Carl was thundering across the linoleum and shoving her aside. He grabbed the onions, small, damp cubes slipping between his meaty knuckles. What Carl intended to do with them, Abby would never find out. She only meant to brush his hand away, swat at it in an attempt to stop him, but forgot she was still holding the butcher knife. A flick of her wrist and the skin on the back of Carl’s hand parted in a long, red gash.
“Crazy bitch,” he gasped, snatching his hand back. “You cut me!”
Upon later reflection, and perhaps even in that moment, she understood his words were exclaiming. A declaration, or question even, but in her mind they landed as instruction, as an invitation.
I say, you there. Crazy bitch. Good morrow. Come, cut me.
Carl was staring at her, wide eyed, clutching his wounded hand. They were squared off, standing at the same distance as when they said their vows, staring into one another’s eyes. As if dreaming, Abby pushed out the blade, lazily poking her husband’s belly. The jab was non committal, an experimental, exploratory prod, but the point sank in an inch, and Abby knew she wasn't finished.
In a flash Carl reached out, grabbing her with both of his hands. His left locked around her wrist, his right took her at the elbow as he began to try and wrestle away the blade. He was large. His weight and strength were overcoming her. She twisted in his grasp, but could achieve little mobility with her arm. Her wrist, however, had a greater range of motion. Tightening her grip on the knife, she swept it in a circular arch, cutting at the hands that held her. The point of the blade nicked the tendon in the crook of his left elbow, than swung around to drag a zigzagging gash along his right forearm, down to the wrist. And she was free.
Startled, Carl’s eyes darted back and forth between his lacerated arms and his wife, still clutching the blade. She thrust the knife out again, this time fully committed, but she did not stab into him, but rather over his left shoulder. Confusion registered in her husband’s eyes as she laid the blade against the side of his neck, and yanked it back towards her, opening a broad wound at the artery.
A spectacular gout of blood issued fourth, painting a thick stripe from floor to ceiling. In a futile attempt to staunch the bleeding, Carl pressed his hand, still covered in bits of diced onion, to the wound, but it was done.
“Call an Anglican,” he slurred, absurdly, and hit the floor with a tremendous thud.
Now, standing ankle deep in swamp, with her husband’s corpse at her feet, the episode in the kitchen seemed to have happened a hundred years ago, though it was only hours.
“An Anglican?” she murmured to his lifeless body. “Really, babe?”
It only occurred to her now that he must have meant ambulance, but was in shock and could not find the words. She let go of the sled ropes and decided she had taken him far enough off of the trail. In just the few moments she spent standing in the same spot, she had already sank into the muck up to her shins.
“Yes,” she whispered. “This will do.”
All around her, the swamp breathed and writhed in its murky blackness. Perhaps a hundred feet away, something was trudging through dark, and Abby imagined little Bobby Cohen, lost forever, searching for his family.
“He’ll have, you babe,” Abby said, rolling her husband’s body out of the sled. The water almost completely covered his corpse, soaking through the bed-sheet, swallowing him up. Something slithered past her calf, and the ghost of Bobby Cohen sounded closer than ever. Abby shivered.
“I’m going to leave now, Carl.”
She gathered up the sled and turned to make the long walk back to the Chevy. The horizon was glowing the faintest shade of violet. It wasn’t the exact same color as the dresses her bridesmaids wore, but close enough. Morning was coming. Abby was tired and sore, and she still had the mess in the kitchen to clean. It would be a long time before she would sleep, but in her heart she knew it would be restful, and fulfilling, and she welcomed whatever dreams it would bring.