His wife’s breath is vile, and sometimes there are brown, sinewy fragments stuck between her teeth, but he remains devoted. Twenty-three years. He was always the protector and provider.
Their bodies are no strangers to horror. Joint pain, poor vision, memory loss, the dark surprises of routine bloodwork––it is all happening to them. This new development is one more thing to worry about, but the internet doesn’t offer any bullet-point lists or quizzes to tempt him into an amateur diagnosis. He can see the change in Aimee’s behavior and soon the kids will figure it out. They have already come to him, not with frightened questions but with an aggressive authority, as if they do not trust him to do the right thing.
It is hard to deny what has been playing out before his eyes. There was the time she chased after a BMW that had cut them off during one of their evening walks. It was funny, a gag, with Aimee waving her arms and moaning until the driver sped away like his life depended on it. Laughing, she asked him not to tell the kids. “They’ll think their poor mother has lost it.”
Then there was that morning they were both working at home. In under an hour there were over a dozen calls to their landline, each one demanding a credit card number. He worked as a fraud investigator and knew how to handle scams, but Aimee took over, letting the caller say his piece before she started screaming about government agencies, traced calls and torched villages: “You can’t run. I’ll find you! I will eat your liver.”
He took the phone from her and saw that her eyes were pure white. No irises, no pupils. After a second they oriented themselves in their sockets and brought his wife back to him.
She claimed she was having a migraine.
When she first started getting up in the middle of the night, he assumed it was because she couldn’t sleep. She often would go out looking for the cat when she had insomnia, but one time she didn’t come back. It was almost light when she walked into the bedroom. He sat up in bed and demanded to know where she had been.
“The cemetery. Do you want to come with me next time?”
He looked down at her filthy fingernails. He could picture her scaling the cemetery gates like the athlete she was, toned and spry. It was just the kind of thing she would have done as a kid, on a dare.
She leapt onto the bed. “I feel ten years younger. I’ll be taking care of you pretty soon. We’ve been worried all these years for nothing.”
He pulled the sheets up to his chin but she ripped them off and straddled him. “You should really come with me to the cemetery,” she said, trapping him in a wet kiss that triggered thememory of a food poisoning episode he had survived as a boy. He winced and retched as the taste of rotten meat flooded his mouth.
The kids were packing one morning, looking embarrassed and guilty, when he came out to make coffee. “We wanted to be closer to campus,” they explained. He gave them his blessing and begged them to take the cat.
Sometimes he thinks back to the early days and searches for signs. Aimee was always hostile and combative when she got too hungry, but she told him it was a blood sugar issue. When the kids were babies, she would take their tiny toes in her mouth, and he would cringe as the room filled with playful squealing. There was a certain wedding picture of him hand-feeding her their beautiful cake, white with pink roses. She had looked so glamorous on their big day, a real movie star, but in that one photo, her eyes are wild.
He’s supposed to kill her, or she’s supposed to kill him. That’s how these stories usually end. He knows better, though. He is never leaving this house. This marriage is where he lives. He knows they will last, as they always have, despite the naysayers. His family always hated her. They said she would ruin him.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of Verushka (JournalStone), The Kelping (Unnerving), The Blood Trail (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Find the Girl (Main Street Rag). Her stories have appeared in Bourbon Penn, SmokeLong Quarterly and Menacing Hedge, among other places. A Pushcart nominee, she is featured in Best Microfiction 2020 and The Best SmallFictions 2018 & 2021. She lives in Southern California with her family and is an associate fiction editor for Atticus Review. Find her at janstinchcomb.com; Twitter: @janstinchcomb; Instagram: @jan_stinchcomb; Bluesky: @janstinchcomb.bsky.social