The rain comes down in droves, thick sheets, running icy claws down my back. It holds me in my place as if my feet have been frozen to the ground, melded, and it’s all I can do to breathe.
“Look, I know you were—are—a little skeptical about the place, but trust me when I tell you it’s all gonna’ work out.”
“I know,” I say. There’s nobody in a ten foot radius, but I can see him… Kam… He’s just dropped both his suitcases and taken my hands in his. I can feel him and I’m back to the day we arrived in Midnight.
“Chas, I mean it. It’s just different and different can be really good.” He pecks me on the cheek and picks up the suitcases again and I follow him as he leads me along the path, up the stairs of the porch and through the front door.
Following him is effortless, like holding a pen or breathing. I’ve followed Kam all my life, at least any time worth remembering. And he makes it so easy to find tranquility. Even with his hands full, he holds the door open for me.
“What do you think about going to the Midnight Haunt festival?” he asks, dropping the luggage and closing the door. “It’s an annual town outing to bring everybody closer.”
About to answer, I glimpse the photograph on the coffee table. I could have sworn we’d already gone to the festival. I remember there being a photo we as a family took. And I had placed it in that very spot. But with a closer look I see that I am mistaken. That photo’s been replaced with one from the Spring festival. Two children look back at me. Ren off a boarding school. Kam and…
“Rose…” I breathe and I can hear Kam question me from behind, but the moment I turn and repeat myself, it’s as if he’s been made of smoke and disappears from my very eyes.
My heart is in a race my brain struggles to battle and I pick up the photo from the table and get a better look. Rose. And I am brought back to reality.
Ears pricked, I catch the sound of water running upstairs.
Following the sound, I’ve made it to the master bath, dropping off the photo in my hands absently before I enter and as I push open the door I see Rose. Her body hidden by a mound of bubbles, eyes closed. She’s leaned back in a tub I can only assumed costed a fortune with buds in her ears and a glass of red wine by her side. She must feel the vibration from my footfall–I’ll be completely honest in that I haven’t been light on my feet since I entered–because she opens her eyes but a peek. In an instant her back’s rigid as a piece of steel and her fingers grip the sides of the tub.
“You!” she gasps, knuckles turning white as she tries to hold the tub down. It’s as if she thinks the tubs going to bolt off out the window. Or more likely, she’s shaking like mad and holding onto something, anything, to keep her grounded to some level. Too bad it didn’t help much. Her wine glass hits the hard floor and shatters.
I entrap her in a menacing stare and it seems to spook her. Frantically, she’s splashing around in the tub, hands outstretched, trying–and failing mind you–to grab the towel on the wall. Listening to her gasping and whimpering, I take a seat on the toilet and wait for her. She’s finally got a hold of the towel, wraps it around herself and tries to jump out of the tub. The moment her feet hit the floor, she almost flips backward into the tub again. Somehow balance is on her side and she’s upright, hands out in front of her and searching me, tracing me with bulging eyes, looking, waiting for my next move.
“You’re looking a little pale there, Ruby.” I’m waiting for her to correct me, tell me her name is Rose, but she does no such thing.
“Y-You stay where you are!” she orders me. “I mean it, I’ll call the cops!”
I raise my eyebrows. “Well, you are very good at that, aren’t you, Ruby?” I snap my tongue and look down at my nails. “To think I showed you mercy some time ago.”
“I mean it, I’ll call the cops!” she threatens me again, backing towards the door. “I will!”
“So you’ve said and I said you’re very good at that.” I watch as her hand goes behind her back and for the door knob. “But you know what I’m really good at? I’m good at dealing with fear, with anxiety. You know, figuring out how my brain works and how to cope with the hell people like you have sent my way. Like you right now, unable to comprehend why Chasity is cool and relaxed, controlled. But for the life of you, all you want is out of this very room and you can’t understand why the door knob won’t turn.”
Rose’s face drains of any colour she had left. I get to my feet again.
“It’s because it’s locked, because I locked it as you were getting that silly towel of yours.” I move in toward her. “And even though I’ve told you I locked it, you’re still trying to turn the knob, thinking for some miracle that it’s going to just prop open just because you want it to.”
Tears pour down Rose’s cheeks and I can hear the sound of her still trying to knob.
“But that’s always who you’ve been, now isn’t it, Ruby?”
I hear the faint click of the door finally unlocking and she pulls it open. I can see relief on her face before she whips around. The sound of the sigh that escapes her lips. I grab her by the shoulders and haul her back into the bathroom. She screams at the top of her lungs, kicking her feet and flailing her arms. My strength overcomes her and she begins babbling, sobbing, telling me how sorry she is and that she’ll never do it again.
“Well,” I say through a grunt, “let me just get on with what I want to do and I’ll take it into consideration.”
“No, no, Chasity! Chasity, please!”
I’ve dragged her back to the tub and slammed her front side against the rim. She cries out. I hold in some of my own as I step on broken glass. But I’m not giving up. I grab both her shoulders and push her face down toward the water inside the tub. She’s fighting back with all her strength, a lot of it coming from her neck.
With all my might, I put one hand against the back of her neck and the other against the base of her skull and force her into the water. Head under, her arms begin a spastic swirling motion, fingers trying to find purchase on something, anything that will bring her head above the surface. Under me, I feel as she kicks back, her back side like that of an angry bull.
In what feels like hours, there is no fight left in Rose’s body. She’s dead weight, literally and I loosen my grip of the back of her head. As I pull away, a ball of hair in both my palms, Rose drops to the floor hard.
I’m back in the bedroom and my focus is back on the photograph from the Spring festival. I pop open the back and slide the photo out from its glass protector. There’s a Sharpie next to a calendar on the wall and with it I scribble out Rose.
I glance over my shoulder and see Kam. “Ah, honey,” I say, looking back at the photo as I put it back in place. “Looks so much better, wouldn’t you agree?”
“On the floor,” I tell him matter-of-factly. “I can’t say I approve of the rearrangements she inflicted on the place. I guess it can always be changed back–” I stop as I see Kam through the mirror in front of me. He runs into the bathroom in a panic, mumbling and babbling on.
“What the hell did you do?” he asks me and I finally get a good look at his face. He’s horror-struck, eyes wide and rolling with barely-controlled panic.
I walk up to him–he’s in the door frame of the bathroom. “What did I do?” I ask, now a foot from him. I run a finger up and down his silk vest, along his cotton shirt. “This all started with you. All that time in that horrid place you stuck me…” I glance at Rose and back again. “Where you both put me. I had lots of time to think. ‘Why’d he do this to me, why’d he cheat?'”
“What?” A glimmer of confusion washes over his face and then he shakes it away. “No, we need to call the authorities. Maybe she can be helped–“
I stop him by pushing him against the frame. “And I realized, that’s just who we are. You’ve spent all this time helping me control my own demons, that to balance it out, you sought refuge by being uncontrollable yourself. And that made me so happy, that you would fight for me so much, no matter what it did to your image. It’s beautiful. So when you ask what I did, I only have one answer: I fought for you.”
“You’re insane,” he says, pulling back. He shrugs out of my grip and begins backing away. “You’re insane!”
“No, I love you, Kam. And you love me.”
“I don’t. I don’t even know who you are anymore and I don’t know what’s happened to you, but you’re not Chasity.”
“Of course I am, silly. Who else would I be?”
Kam’s face twists. “I’m calling the police.”
“Honey,” I say softly. Why is he getting so upset?”
“No, don’t ‘honey’ me!” He’s dropped down to Rose’s side and tries to shake her awake, her head bobbing. I can’t hear what he’s saying, he’s cooing into her ear, begging her to wake up.
Pressing my lips together, I can tell they’re forming a straight line so white with tension they’re barely visible. What is he doing? I’m right here! Rose is gone and he still chooses her? As Kam pulls out his cell phone, tears running down his face, my hands clutch so hard my nails make my palms bleed. See the numbers her dials–three of them.
“No,” I whisper.
“I’d like to report a murder.”
“No,” I say, this time a little louder. How can he choose her? She was just some whore.
Kam’s straightened up and passes me, heading to the hall, still speaking to the person on the other end of the line. “51 Breach Bend.”
“No,” I say even louder, now following him, hoping he will give me at least some attention. He won’t even look my way. And he walks out of the bedroom. “NO!” I finally scream at the top of my lungs, grabbing the axe he still has hanging on the wall.
When I was young, my mother once told me when I broke her favourite vase–handed down from her great grandmother, to her grandmother, to her mother then her–that she was blinded by rage. Being six years old, I could barely fathom the saying used, let alone the emotions she was feeling. But now I can. It’s like somebody has doused my entire innards in gasoline and lit a match. Deep from the pits of my stomach and clawing at every part of my body. Through my veins, between my toes and across my eyes. All my senses are null and void except for feeling and that pain is indescribable. So hot is could be considered blistering cold. So hard it could be sharp. And then there’s a moment where I feel nothing at all. Numb from head to toe. Geared into auto pilot.
He doesn’t see the first swipe coming. It catches him in the arm and he yelps, spinning around, losing his phone. I spot it as it falls over the railing to the floor below. Kam, eyes round and bulging, clutches his arm. I may see his pain and confusion on his face. His fear growing at a rapid speed. But my arms are already up, his axe tight between my white-knuckled fingers and his mouth drops open, ready to scream for his life. But it’s too late. I yank down with all my might.
Kam crumbles to the floor, his momentum propelling him down the flight of stairs. I try to keep a hold my the axe, but it’s too much. It’s too wedged to come out easily. Kam’s tumbling, around and around, and he finally hits the bottom, still rolling, until his back hits the front door, stopping him.
Making it to the bottom myself, I can see Kam’s just holding on. Eyes just slits, his brain unable to comprehend what’s going on. I close the distance between us and kneel down, putting my hands around his neck. His breathing is heavy, hard, fighting for every intake.
“I did everything for you,” I tell him softly. “I moved to this hell of a place for you. I supported you every step of the way. I dealt with your ex-wife because you were never around. I even showed that I could have mercy for both you and that whore you sob over.” I tilt his head so that if he can still see and hasn’t been blinded by rage or pain, he can see my face. “I could have loved you. I’m just sorry you couldn’t see that.”
Standing, I grab the handle of the axe and pull hard to unwedge it.
Sirens can be heard in the distance, flashing lights between the houses as I glance outside. Axe in my one hand, I grab Kam’s phone with the other. I make it to the dining table and notice the photo of all of us that is still used as his wallpaper. It was taken that Snowflake day we all spent together. The day Rose entered our lives. Remembering she’s upstairs, I force myself to focus on something else. Like my happy family. How they’re going to learn about all that happened here today. How they’re going to react. How I’m probably never going to see any of them again. The photo begins to blur as tears pool in my eyes and I can’t do anything other than let them fall.
The moment the first tear falls, it’s all over and I can’t stop. I worked so hard the moment I came to this place to change my life, to pull a mask over all the fear and vulnerabilities I had encountered in my past. I came so far, until that hell grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me back in. If it weren’t for my children, I’d have thought I won. But now, looking at them, I realize maybe I didn’t win. Maybe I never got further than I thought. Maybe I just transformed into the very thing I was trying to run away from.
The police have arrived and there is pounding at the front door. I don’t move because all I can think about is the last thing I heard Mother say before I tore away from the party…
“You can’t run away from who you are truly meant to become.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Then the door is broken open and I slip into darkness.
The nurse watches from the hall, a clipboard in her arms, jotting down notes as her heart felt as if it were squeezed by unseen hands. The young man hovers over his wife, unaware of being watched, hands on the grey cotton of the hospital gown, occasionally running gently through the strawberry locks of Chasity Lennox.
“Did you hear me?” the nurse’s leader says, bringing her attention back to the present.
The nurse shakes her head. “Sorry, my head’s somewhere else.”
“Clearly,” her boss says. “That’s not a good thing. If you want to be a nurse, you’d better get into the game. No patient wants to hear that your head’s somewhere else.”
The nurse nods and then glances back at the man and woman. “Does he really come in every day and just sit next to her?”
“He loves her so much,” the nurse’s boss says, putting her stethoscope around her neck. “She’s been in the coma for almost a year now.”
The nurse’s boss smiles joylessly. “Just moved to Midnight, went to the Fall Festival and”–she makes a gesture with her hand–“out. Panic attack that went beyond bad. Poor thing, though I can’t help but envy her. My hubby won’t bother his backside like this man. Mine probably think it a get-outta-jail-free card.”
The nurse gave a small knowing laugh for the air went still between them and took in the same picture.
Finally, the nurse’s boss sighs, breaking the silence and hands the nurse a list of her next jobs. “At least she’s got him. Come on, Nurse Thorn, we still have things to do.”
“Right behind you.”