Bloody Parchmentby Chris Miller

4th place

 

Missy slipped out from under the covers and eased open the bedroom door. It creaked and she looked back at Simon, but he remained undisturbed on their California Queen. There was a time when the earth could rend and swallow them whole and she wouldn’t know it; but over the past year her sleep had grown restive.

Missy paused at the threshold, taking care to step over the squeaky section of floor board. Simon was a light sleeper. As she crept toward the bathroom she heard the erratic patter of light rain on the roof. Outside storm clouds hung heavy, eager; inside, humidity clung to her skin and grappled with her nightgown.

The latch on the bathroom door sounded like the click of the alarm clock, the one that preceded the actual alarm by a half-second. She imagined it waking Simon now and felt her heart go from thump-thump to flitter-flitter.

In the medicine cabinet was the box. She knew right where it sat, even before opening the mirrored door. The sight of the box, with its wavy pink and blue design, now instilled a feeling of nausea rather than anticipation. If only it were the good kind of nausea, she thought. With one practiced motion Missy tore open the box.

Laying across her palm, the stick felt foreign. Like the game she played as a child where she repeated a word again and again until it lost all meaning, the sound of the vowels and consonants having become alien to her. She tested its weight. No more than a few ounces, yet heavy with consequence. Missy closed her eyes, said a silent prayer, and sat down to pee.

With the tip doused, Missy held the stick in front of her and stared at the display. “No minuses,” she whispered as she waited for the stick to declare. Missy longed for a plus. It could be pink, blue, or green—it didn’t matter. Two short perpendicular lines would make for a happy woman and maybe a happy man. That cliché about boiling water came to mind as she sat on the toilet with her panties around her ankles.

Then her wait ended.

One straight line.

Intercepted by none.

Discarding the pregnancy test, she stepped out of her nightgown and turned on the shower. The water was hot and sprayed against her face and chest. Before the room could steam up she heard Simon enter. The chrome-beaded rings of the shower curtain raked the rod and he slipped in behind her. As she tried to stifle her emotions, she was grateful for the hot water; it concealed the erratic nature of her tears.

*     *     *

The sun hovered over the horizon; its waning glare hit Missy full in the face through their kitchen window. Steam rolled up the wall and disappeared against the ceiling. Spaghetti roiled in a large pot on the stove behind a pan of poached salmon and dill. Missy used her apron to pull buttered asparagus from the oven. She placed the dish on a trivet. Her short apron was not enough to reach both handles of the spaghetti pot so she looked for pot holders. Finding none, she cursed softly then grabbed the pot by its handles and rushed it to the colander in the sink a couple of feet away where she cursed aloud.

“Am I back in basic training?” Simon said from the other room.

“I doubt they ever served salmon on a shingle,” Missy said. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Simon walked into the kitchen. “I’m not surprised. With all that racket I could have sworn my Navy buddies were here.”

Missy shook out her hands. She took off her ring and put it on the window sill, then put the side of her index finger to her mouth in an attempt to sooth her burned fingers.

“Let me help you.” Simon opened the freezer and pulled out a bag of frozen peas. He placed her hands on either side of the bag then put his hands on hers. “Better?”

Missy looked into his brown eyes, but could see no further. “Yes.” The weight of his hands on hers felt reassuring, felt good, proper; they felt compensatory. “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes.”

“Good, time enough to shoot off a couple of emails.”

He left her there, holding the peas, without having kissed her hello.

Missy set the table and opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio. The salmon, pasta, and asparagus did not touch one another on the plate; yet together they formed a nice picture. Something you might see on an over-priced menu, she thought.

“Looks great,” Simon said. He clipped his Blackberry to his hip, pulled out her chair, and poured the wine.

They ate in silence. The gentle clink and scrape of knife and fork on plate rang out like a fire alarm. He smiled at her. She smiled back.

“How was your day?” Simon asked.

“It was fine.”

“I noticed the neighbors have a new SUV, one of those hybrids.”

Missy pressed her lips to gather herself so her voice wouldn’t crack. “It looks nice.” She wanted to cry out loud–a visceral scream. I’m right here. Can you see me? No, all you see is a new car and your Blackberry. We will never need a car that size because I am barren, my womb and us—we are barren.

“Jackson and I were thinking about taking in eighteen holes this weekend. Try out my new irons. Maybe you and Clarissa could do something,” Simon said.

Missy didn’t answer.

“Babe, are you all right?”

“No.” She put down her fork. “I’m not all right. We’re not all right.”

“I can cancel the golf.”

“This isn’t about golf.” Missy could feel hot tears in the corners of her eyes. “Do you love me?”

“Of course I love you,” Simon replied.

“No, sweetie. You love the idea of love. You love the idea of golf on the weekends, let’s face it, you’re no Tiger Woods.” At this she smiled in that way that says I know and that’s okay. “You love the idea of coming home from the office to your beautiful wife,” she sniffed and wiped her eyes, “and to your brood of children.”

“Is that so wrong?” he asked.

“No, but for us it’s a fantasy.”

He tilted his head, furrowed his brow, and looked at her. Really looked at her, she thought. As if she was suddenly in 3-D.

“I took another pregnancy test this morning.”

He waited.

“I’m barren. There will never be a brood; we’ve both known it for a long time.”

“That’s not true,” Simon said. “We’ll keep trying. There’s alternatives.”

“What alternatives? We’ve tried tracking ovulation, basal body temperature, lubes, herbs, post-coital pillows, invitro, sperm count and mobility—it’s all veneer, a shiny coating to make us look pretty—but we’re hollow.”

“I love you,” Simon said.

“No you want to love me, but you don’t and I don’t fault you for it. We’re pretending—hoping a child will fix us. We’re broken, babe. And there are no replacement parts.” She got up from the table.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I have to leave.”

“For how long?”

“I don’t know.”

She packed a bag and left—her wedding ring still on the kitchen window sill.

*     *     *

Missy drove about the city, going into parts where she had never before ventured. A light rain accompanied her. The wipers made a soft swoosh-thump every few seconds. Eventually, she found Route 18 and the Meridian Hotel.

Missy knew of the Meridian but had never lodged there. It was a five-star establishment situated among centuries old trees. The hotel proper sat at the east end of the lot while sharing the property line on the west side with a cemetery as old as the trees. She recalled a newspaper article about a dispute over the property line, but the original records were lost. The lawyers for the Meridian convinced the city that the hotel’s tenants took precedence over those of the cemetery.

Exiting her vehicle, Missy handed the car key to a valet. Two doormen in black and red uniforms opened the brass doors leading into the lobby. She followed the veins in the marble floor across the grand hall to the front desk where she met the concierge.             “Good evening. My name is Mr. Alves. I have your room ready.”

“I haven’t booked a room.”

“No, but I’ve been expecting you.”

“Excuse me?”

“I had a feeling an unknown guest would present herself this evening. I had no idea you would be so lovely.”

Missy felt her cheeks flush.

“Stefan! Take Miss–”

“Larson,” Missy said. Or was he about to say Missy?

“Show Ms. Larson to her room.” He entered a few keystrokes and handed Stefan the room key. Stefan took Missy’s suitcase and led her to the elevators. Inside the elevator, she reached for the button marking her floor and realized Mr. Alves never mentioned it.

“Allow me,” Stefan said.

*     *     *

Missy sat on the edge of the bed in room: 1301. She flipped open her phone and ran her fingers over the buttons, feeling the edge of each one on her fingertips. She pressed 1. The display flashed ‘Calling Simon . . .’

“Missy! Where are you?” Simon asked.

“I drove around for awhile trying to get my bearings, you know? About us.”

“Tell me where you are. We can fix this. I’ll put my golf clubs up on eBay.”

Missy smiled. “You don’t need to sell your clubs, but it’s a nice gesture. I think I need to be alone tonight. But let’s meet in the morning for breakfast. I’m at Le Meridia–”

Her cell phone died. She picked up the phone by the bed but heard only a soft static. She jumped when thunder bounced off the windows. The rain came down in sheets and there was a slight tremor in her hand as she replaced the receiver. She needed a drink.

After three vodka cocktails with pomegranate, and a napkin from the bartender with his phone number, Missy made her way back to the elevators.

“Right this way,” Stefan said, escorting her into the first elevator. He pushed the button to her floor. As she stepped out of the elevator she could feel his eyes on her backside. At her door, she slid her card key into the lock and waited for the green light. The lights in the hallway went out. At the far end of the hall she heard a door close.

“Hello? Is anybody there?” She thought she heard footsteps, but wasn’t sure. Three vodka cocktails weren’t enough to get her drunk, but she had a good buzz. She should have eaten more.

Footsteps again, closer now.

Instinctively she looked behind her. Emergency lighting kicked in. She was alone. The green light came on, the door latch released and she pushed through.

Missy flicked the wall switches but her room remained dark. She took a deep breath. “Silly girl,” she muttered. “You’re a grown woman.” She made her way to the bed, wriggled and stumbled out of her clothes and slid under the covers.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep when she recognized Simon’s scent and felt someone curl up behind her.

“Simon,” she said through a sleepy sigh. “How did you get here?”

“Shh,” he whispered and kissed the back of her neck.

They made love to the lightening strikes and rolling thunder–not just sex, but intimate honest love.

*     *     *

Missy felt the morning sun through her eyelids. She clasped her hands and pushed her arms out in front of her, stretching the muscles in her back, then reached across the bed for Simon. He was gone, but his scent lingered. Must be having breakfast, she thought.

Missy dressed, gathered her things, and went to the buffet to look for him. At the front desk, she saw Mr. Alves. “Do you ever sleep?”

He turned to face her. “Good morning, Ms. Larson. I’m afraid last night’s storm delayed my replacement. I hope the loss of power didn’t inconvenience you.”

“Not at all. I’m looking for my husband. You gave him a key to my room last night.”

“Oh no, Ms. Larson, I would never do that. The security of our guests is paramount. You would’ve had to authorize something like that. I have no record of any such authorization.”

“But, he was here.”

“Perhaps the storm did disturb you, my dear. I don’t mean to be presumptuous but you did imbibe the spirits last night.” He tilted his head towards the bar.

Missy understood the implication. Never mind, she thought. I’ll find Simon and figure it out.  “I’d like to check out, please.”

“Certainly. Let’s see, that was room 1013. Was everything satisfactory?”

“No. My room is 1301.”

Mr. Alves chuckled softly. “I’m afraid that room doesn’t exist.”

“Sorry?”

“We don’t have a thirteenth floor,” he said while tapping the keyboard. “It’s a silly superstition, but many hotels are constructed without a thirteenth floor. Ah yes, here it is.” He turned the monitor to show her the room record: room 1013—Ms. Larson. Stefan could accompany you back to your room if you’d like to check. His replacement didn’t make it either.”

She looked to the elevators and saw Stefan at his post. He tipped his cap to her. “No, that’s fine.” Missy resigned herself to whatever powers orchestrated the last twelve hours. “Where do I sign?” she asked. “And it’s missus.”

Missy signed the receipt and turned to leave.

“Mrs. Larson, I seemed to have overlooked this.” Mr. Alves handed her an envelope that read Missy. She recognized Simon’s script:

Hey Babe,

Thanks for last night.

Sorry I had to leave but things will be different now.

Love,

Simon

“Is everything all right, Mrs. Larson?” asked Mr. Alves.

“Yes, I think so.”

*     *     *

Missy turned down her street and felt her chest tighten. Parked in front of their house was a sheriff’s vehicle. The sheriff met her at the front step.

“Mrs. Larson?”

Her mouth felt dry. The words struggled to escape. “It’s Simon, isn’t it?”

“There’s no easy way to say this, ma’am.” The sheriff removed his hat. “We found your husband’s car last night in a ravine off Route 18, about a half-mile shy of the Meridian Hotel. “Forensics says he likely hydroplaned and lost control of the vehicle.” He paused. “I’m sorry. He died at the scene.”

Missy stared at him. He seemed to speak in slow motion, the words stretching from his mouth to her ears.

“…come down and identify the body. If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.” He handed her his card.

Images from the previous night flashed in her eyes—his touch, his scent. She felt light-headed. Dropping her bag, she rushed inside. Her vision blurred as her eyes watered and darkness crept in.  Leaning against the walls, she made her way to the bathroom and turned on the faucet. She splashed her face and drank from the tap. Cool water ran down to her elbows and off her chin, soaking her chest, but it sharpened her senses. With only water in her stomach she felt nauseated and turned to the toilet. After an uncertain moment, the sensation passed.

Clutching the porcelain, her gaze drifted to the waste basket and the discarded pregnancy test. She blinked and blinked again, not believing what she was seeing. Missy grasped the stick from the previous morning. Silent tears ran down her face and spilled onto the cool tile floor. The stick in her hand showed two perpendicular lines, neither pink, blue, or green—but it was there.

+


Copyright © 2010 by Chris Miller
Something Wicked has no affiliation with Bloody Parchment, please direct all queries to the official Bloody Parchment website
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