By Scott Gould
He’d fallen unconscious again after Amy’s last words. Was it the sheer shock of what she said? Was it the strain of trying to sit up?
Blurry again. Sunlight streaming, tinted green as it dappled through pine and maple trees overhead. And the wind. Why did it seem so loud? It sounded as though it were chanting an ancient curse. More thudding, too. Was it the car hitting bumps?
“I asked you a question before. You never answered it.”
“I… No. I don’t think…no, I never knew. Never had a clue.”
“Why do I think you’re lying?”
“I didn’t…I thought you were…” What did he think? That she was his guardian angel, sent here to watch over him and absolve him of his pain? What a ridiculous notion. Could he even say it aloud? “I thought I was in love with you.”
She laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound anymore. Now it carried the horrible high-pitched timbre of a nightmare scream. “That’s sweet of you.”
“So, what…what are you telling me?”
“You really don’t know, do you?” she said.
“My husband. I told you I lost him.”
“I did, but not in the way you probably thought. I lost him to another woman.”
Understanding flared inside him, and suddenly it felt like a thousand needles were stabbing at his spine.
Amy went on, “He was having an affair. He was fucking your precious wife. My new patient. My new patient, the whore. My new patient who I’ve had the privilege of caring for every day for the last month.”
“You ran her down.”
“Of course I did. And in one of life’s sick little ironies, the woman I thought I killed got wheeled into my room two days later, barely hanging on to life.”
“You made it look like a drunk driver.”
She nodded. “Just throw a couple empty beer cans along the street and swerve the car around wildly and the police will never think any different.” She paused, and when she spoke again, he felt more afraid than he ever had in his life. “No one leaves me, Mal. No one hurts me. I hurt them.”
He closed his eyes, trying to make sense of everything she said. It was surreal, like a nightmare come to life. “What about your husband? Where is he?”
“I’ve taken care of him.”
“Did you kill him?”
After a long silence that seemed to stretch on for several minutes, Mal asked, “Why me? Why now? Why did you wait this long?”
“If I did it sooner, people might have suspected.”
“I don’t understand. I don’t understand why the timing matters.”
“That’s because you don’t see the whole picture yet.”
Her words chilled him.
She turned off the main stretch of highway onto a narrow dirt road flanked by tall pine trees, and he realized where she was driving.
“You’re going to our summer cabin, aren’t you?” he said, his voice grave and frightened.
No response. As she navigated the winding dirt road, he looked out to see the familiar canopy of pine trees that gave way to a view of the lake. As honey-colored light streamed through them and shimmered on the placid surface of the water, Mal wondered whether this would be the last time he would ever see this view – or any view. Would he die here? The car rumbled along the bumpy road for another quarter mile until they approached the cabin. With its milled pine logs stacked and notched horizontally and its steeply pitched roof covered with weathered shingles, it might have belonged to Abe Lincoln. It evoked a simple life, which he and Theresa had loved. It’d always been their retreat from the world and all its problems.
But not today.
Amy pulled into the narrow parking area in front of the cabin and shifted the Nissan into park. She stepped out of the vehicle and walked around to his door. When she opened it, he saw that she held a gun. It looked big enough to kill him quickly. A .38 or a .45, probably, even though his only knowledge of guns came from movies.
“Time to get out,” Amy said.
Mal considered lunging towards her and wrestling her for the gun, but his hands were still bound together and he still felt dizzy. He stood no chance. Putting aside all thoughts of action movie heroism, he shimmied across the seat and dangled his legs out the door. When he tried to stand his entire body wobbled drunkenly and leaned back against the truck for balance. He steadied himself and pointed at Amy’s gun. “So you’re going to shoot me?”
“Yes. But not yet.”
“What are you waiting for?”
The corners of her lips pulled back in a sickly grimace. He assumed that Amy thought it was a smile. She flipped the trunk open, and when Mal saw the man with the duct tape over his mouth and his hands bound by the same cord as his own, he suddenly knew everything.
He knew where the thudding noise had come from.
He knew what had happened to Amy’s husband.
And he knew why he had been brought here.
The man writhed and twisted in the trunk, kicking the way he had been kicking for the entire ride. He tried, and failed, to scream through the tape. His eyes were wide open. They registered only terror.
“You got so angry at my husband when you found out he was fucking your wife,” Amy said to Mal, her voice calm and level. “You got so angry that you snapped. You drove him up here to your summer home where you could be alone and no one would hear you. You shot him. Quick and easy. And then you shot yourself.”
With that, she lifted the gun and fired a single shot into her husband’s forehead. The sound was deafening, the muzzle flare blinding. The bullet lodged into the center of his head like a small coin pressed onto a skin-colored holder.
Mal stared, open-mouthed, in utter terror. He felt the contents of his stomach threatening to rise, and he fought to keep them down. When he looked up at Amy, whose smile could now only be described as manic, he barely saw her. He looked past her, through her, and instead saw his wife. Her hair was pulled back, revealing the delicate features of her heart-shaped face.
I’m sorry, Theresa. I’m so sorry for hating you so much when I thought you were having an affair. I’m so sorry for thinking of leaving you for this woman. Please forgive me. I forgive you so please please please forgive me.
“It’s your turn, Mal.”
He nodded. “I know.”
And he realized in that moment that it didn’t matter. He wasn’t afraid of dying anymore. Theresa was gone. Somehow he knew that, was as sure of it as he had ever been about anything. She had died that morning, and she was somewhere watching him now.
His real guardian angel.
“Together forever,” they had said all those years ago, and the words still held true. Two words captured on the bark of an old tree, caught in a single perfect moment of sunlit time. Two words that reminded him, in these final moments, that the world can turn from a prison to a sanctuary in the time it takes two people to become lost in each other’s eyes.
Mal smiled, content for the first time since his wife had been struck, and waited as Amy pressed the gun to the side of his head.