by Brian Ross
My wife is following me. Again.
Lately, I have been distant: hands-off when she wants me to be hands-on, too busy or too tired when she wants to talk. She has suspicious blood, my wife, but she also trips over her reckless curiosity. She does the math, comes up with five, and paints herself a pretty picture. Next thing I know, I’m watching my back because she’s on it.
She never stops to ask why. So we play the game.
She asks me how my racquet-ball practice was and I say, great thanks. I rub my shoulder convincingly as she tells me about her evening of dishes and dirty nappies. Her story is as transparent as mine, but I’m working a lie so I don’t question her's.
She is a poor detective - more Clouseau than Poirot. She thinks I don’t see her - behind cars, in doorways, around corners - but I do. I see everything. She doesn’t move when my eyes try to find her, but she is there just the same, not realising that I have her chasing her own tail.
I’m happy to indulge her, to pretend I don’t notice my new shadow, because she will only ever see what I want her to. And besides, after tonight, she won’t do it again.
#“It’s work, honey,” I tell her, already shrugging my jacket on. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”
I’m a doctor, so leaving the house at eleven-thirty on a Thursday night isn’t such a stretch. I have made midnight trips before: I have saved lives at this hour several times. This one though is different. Make up a patient, give him a name, a tumour, two months to live. Shake and stir.
I cross the street and make as if I’m checking for traffic, but there are no cars at this time of night, and it’s really her I’m looking for. She’s still there, hands frightened by her sides, pretending to be interested in the sides of beef Joe has in his butcher’s window.
My wife, the vegetarian. She can’t fool me.
The town is black, but the truth cannot be masked by flicking a switch and killing the light. I turn up my collar and sink deeper into the gloom. I pass a guy on the street, his hands shoved deep into his pockets like he is digging for answers. His eyes meet mine as our shadows merge under a street-lamp, and he quickly looks back at his guilty feet, as they take him towards the wrong bed. I turn the corner and there’s the building I’m looking for. Five storys. There are a few yellow eyes in the wall of concrete and black glass: dozens of numbers on the silver panel by the door.
I press forty-two, and say:“Sorry to bother you so late, but I’ve locked myself out. Can you let me in please? It’s seventeen. Thanks, man.”
He doesn’t say a word. There is a buzz, the lock springs, and I push inside. The door falls closed on my tail.
The outside chill is replaced by artificial warmth. The heating system tick-ticks within the walls of the building like a telltale heart.
I climb the stairs, passing seventeen, and throw a look over my shoulder. Nothing. She has learned fast, but not fast enough. Out of sight, and soon to be out of her mind, I think, almost loud enough to hear outside my own head.
When I reach the third floor, Number Forty-Two is standing in his doorway. Bare feet, wild hair, black pants. His middle-of-the-night curiosity is a dangerous thing, although at this moment he doesn’t realise it. I don’t mind. It saves me knocking or breaking in.Less noise, more haste.
I walk up to him and say: “I believe you know my wife.”
It’s not a question but he seems to think it is. I can see him wondering who the hell I am and why the hell I’m here. He looks at me strangely - because comprehension is asleep at midnight - then tries to say something, but I am not interested in any of his excuses.
I pull a gun from my inside pocket and shoot him three times in the chest.
Silencers are wonderful. It’s like plugging a pillow.
Forty-Two falls back and hits the carpet, dead before he does. I’m a doctor. These things I know.
I put the gun back into my jacket and make my way downstairs. My wife is standing in the foyer with her mouth open, looking at me the way people do when they don’t know what to say. I smile and brush past her into the night. You see, a cheat is easy to see, and a betrayal of the heart shines like a beacon. My wife glows. But not anymore.