A Game, a Liar, and a Life
by Alexis Carter
Runestone, volume 7
Runestone, volume 7
A Game, a Liar, and a Life
by Alexis Carter
You’re the wife. You cooked a roast for dinner tonight. You ironed the linens and rearranged the shelves, twice this week. You’re as pretty as a peach, and you’ve been told you’re as sweet as one too. You know the right smiles to trade with the shopkeeper on eighth and the right jokes to make with the milkman to make sure he gives you the freshest bottles. You know how to keep your house in order .
You’re the wife. You have blood on your apron. A cigarette shakes in your hands. He hated it when you smoked. He hated a lot of things when it came to you. Ash mixes with fumes from the bleach, so you shove the nausea down deep. You wonder when you started to hate him back.
There’s a knock at the door, sharp and loud. You take another drag of the cigarette before dropping it in the ashtray you keep hidden in the desk drawer. Another knock, and you smooth your dress. The wrinkles disappear. The blood doesn’t. You answer the door. A walrus of a man fills up your doorway, all mustache and blubber. A shiny badge blinks up at you from where it’s pinned on his chest. He has a gun on his hip. He glances at you, but he doesn’t look at your apron.
“You’re the wife?” He asks as he shoulders his way in. “A neighbor called about a noise disturbance.”
He plants himself in the middle of the room and systematically starts to tear the place apart with his empty, accusing eyes. He pulls at that mustache. You know what he sees.
The sitting room is lovely, everyone says so. The wallpaper you picked out matches the carpet. The coffee table is placed perfectly between the sofa and the armchairs within arms-reach of both but enough leg room to ensure absolute, complete comfort. You’ve arranged and rearranged it so many times you’re certain that there is no better way. There are even fresh flower arrangements in the windows that you fix every Sunday. They usually make the whole house smell like a garden, but now the room smells like a hospital, sterile and cruel.
You know he doesn’t see the blood that soaked into your carpet because you also know how to scrub until everything, everything, everything is washed away. Your mother passed down her secret cleaning solution that she promised could get any stain out of anything. You don’t think this is what she had in mind.
He can’t see the blood, but that bulbous nose of his twitches. You know he smells the bleach. You see him take the first step down the hall. You see him turn the corner. You squeeze your eyes shut and press yourself against the door. You hear him when he finds your husband.
You don’t remember the gunshot or how it rang in your ears long after the smoke had cleared. You don’t think of your husband, clutching at the crimson nightmare blooming in his chest, stumbling through your lovely sitting room. Your husband, collapsing in the hallway, dead. You remember tying your apron around your waist and cleaning. You did not go into the hallway.
You watch as policemen swarm your lovely sitting room. They crawl and prod at your life. They pick at the bones. They tear apart the façade. The walrus stands in the middle of it all, directing and gesturing and posturing. Eventually he notices you again.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this, ma’am,” he barks at you through the chaos.
You wonder whether or not he means it as a threat. You wonder why you don’t care. You observe this infestation of blue-shelled beetles in your sitting room, and you do not care. You do not breathe, blink, or bear witness to the hulking, heavy mass that is carried out on the shoulders of strangers. You do not remember the moment when the swarm descended upon you, as gentle as the executioner’s axe.
They take your apron. They take you to the police station and take your statement. You’re not sure they actually listen, so you say nothing of the game that you and your husband play. The game where you see who can force the other to despise the ring around their finger more.
It had started off with a couple of comments about how much you pay for those pretty dresses of yours. After the wedding, things had been so sweet, all laughter and midnight kisses. You could overlook the comments and make do with the clothes you had. You could smile until it hurt. Even then, he’d barge into your home after work and search for what you didn’t do. He’d tell you exactly how hard he worked and what he expected from you until his tirade became a soundtrack in your dreams.
You over salted his dinner one night just to see what would happen. He unraveled. You could see that anger in the whites of his eyes as he whispered insults and curses into your ear. You hid a fury of your own behind a tight smile and a concise, insincere apology. You picked up the plate that he threw and scrubbed away the stains. You swallowed your bitter truth and ignored the way it liked to crawl up your throat late at night. Every time that happened, you’d slip from the bed, right out the door, and settle on the doorstep, your head against the stair rail. You’d light a cigarette and smoke until dawn. You knew how to chew the leaves from the mint plant you kept to hide the ash that coated your tongue.
The game escalated from there. You’d sew the buttons from his favorite shirt asymmetrically. He’d rip them off and throw them in your face. You’d lock him out of the house after his bowling night, and he’d break down the door. You learned how to use the toolbox he gave you. Little things became big things in one quick breath. It didn’t matter. Both of you had settled into this new normalcy, like roses learning to ignore the thorns. Your smiles always hurt, but you painted your lips red to cover any hesitancy.
You sit in the witness box with your hands in your lap. There is a box of tissues in front of you, and you wonder why. Your mother is sitting behind your lawyer with a crowd of your friends and family. They have no faces. All you can see are the watery eyes and smiles ruined by pity. You just lost your husband, and now you have to go through this. That’s what they tell you.
The prosecuting attorney stalks toward you. He’s all the wrong angles glued together in a collage of a person. If you squint and tilt your head to the right, he might look human.
“Five years ago, you stood in front of a priest, swearing to love, honor, and serve your husband. Today, you sit in front of a judge and jury, swearing to speak the truth. Your husband’s manner of death, while tragic, ties these events together. Tell me, what happened in those five years that led to your husband’s alleged suicide?”
Your lawyer bounces to his feet, his sympathetic eyes turning to you before snapping to the judge. He yanks at his tie as though it’s keeping him from attacking the prosecutor, a dog on a chain.
“The question is whether or not he committed suicide, the nature of their marriage is not on trial and my client will not answer any questions in that nature.”
You catch a flash of the prosecutor’s teeth as he says, “Fine. Then I’ll ask her why her fingerprints were on the gun that ended her husband’s life.”
You open your mouth to reply, but your lawyer speaks for you.
“She answered that in her statement to the police. Her husband had her clean it along with everything else stored in the safe every month.”
The first time you saw the gun was when your husband waved it in your face after he found a suitcase packed and waiting in your closet. It had seemed so vulgar. A brutally honest hunk of metal that explicitly told you more about your husband than anything else had. You had thought you were winning the game until that moment, but he had just pulled the trump card from his sleeve and declared the game well and truly lost.
After you had made your apologies and swallowed your fury, he did show you how to clean the gun. He told you to clean it for him every second Thursday of the month, so you’d know it was there. He laughed when you told him that it scared you. He had wrapped his arm around your shoulders, squeezed only a little too hard. Then he swore he never kept a bullet in the chamber. He swore it with tears in his eyes. You learned to clean the gun, learned how heavy it felt in your hands. You learned how much heavier it became when you hid a bullet in the chamber.
The prosecuting attorney crossed his arms behind his back as he struts in front of the witness box. He faces the jury. He faces your lawyer. He does not face you.
“The question remains. Why would her husband commit suicide? He had a good career and plenty of friends. The only thing in question is his home life. If it was truly that bad, who’s to say that his wife didn’t pick up the gun and shoot him.”
Your lawyer pulls out a copy of the police report, reading aloud about the blood spatter patterns and bullet trajectory.
You didn’t shoot your husband. You had stared down the barrel of the gun that your husband pointed at you. You, standing with one foot out the door, sunk back into your sitting room. Your tongue turned to lead as your apologies ran together. His laughter settling in that hollow spot between your lungs. You didn’t shoot your husband. Honest to God tears flowing from dry eyes. He laughed some more.
“I already told you, I don’t keep it loaded.”
This game you play, you play it to win. Your nerves were forged in a fire of his own making. Your smile always held fangs, and it’s not your fault that he never noticed. You make no apologies for the monster that he created. So, you ask him if he’s certain.
He turned the gun towards himself, rolling his eyes right until the trigger clicked. You didn’t shoot your husband. Your tears dried up as blood soaked into your carpet, and you tied your apron around your waist. You didn’t shoot your husband. You fell to your knees and scrubbed, but you forgot to pray. You didn’t shoot your husband.
“When her husband lay dead on the floor, why did she not call for help? Why did she clean the sitting room floor?” the prosecutor spat at your lawyer.
“She was in shock. Are you really going to stand there and argue about the things people do when they’re in shock?”
The jury deliberated for two hours. Your mother held your hand the entire time. You do not remember it though. You remember when the judge read the verdict. He smiled at you after, and you ignored the yellow teeth. Everybody was smiling at you after. You ignore the teeth.
You walk out of the courthouse with your shoulders back. The sun blinds you for a moment, but your steps don’t falter. There’s a gaggle of reporters who descend upon you, vulturesque. A sickly one stands out. He doesn’t bother to meet your eyes. He breaks away from the rest and shuffles his way over to you.
“You’re the wife, right?” the reporter asks. He clutches his pen and notepad like he’s engraving omens on stone. The rest of him is limp and boneless.
You look away from him and stare at the horizon. You don’t smooth nonexistent wrinkles from your skirt, and your hands don’t reach for the cigarettes you have tucked into your purse. You ignore the clicking of cameras and the buzzing of the other reporters. The sky is cloudless, open and so blue it hurts.
“Actually, I’m the widow.”
University of Arkansas
Alexis Carter is a junior at the University of Arkansas and is pursuing a degree in Computer Science. She wants to create, in every sense of the word and as much as possible, but writing has always been her home. Her work has also appeared in her college’s literary magazine, The Diamond Line.