She watched the casket lower into the ground. The metallic bronze finish was dulled by the overcast day. She would feel despondent, lost, and alone if the situation were real. If that really was the person everyone believed it was.

The coffin continued its descent. She knew she would want to jump in on top of the box and let them bury her with him. If he were dead, life would hold no meaning or purpose. Nothing would matter. But, that’s not this situation.

In one hand, she grasped a handful of fresh earth; the other held a long-stemmed rose. She couldn’t figure out which was more depressing, the dirt, to which the stranger in the coffin would return, or the rose, which had already started to wilt.

As the minister concluded the service, she stared at the flower. She focused on the diminishing color and the world seemed to disappear. She couldn’t even hear the kind whispers of those standing next to her. Even as a hand lightly touched her arm, she couldn’t really feel anything.

Grief probably did that, she assumed. It probably felt like a massive taser reached down and electrocuted the soul. She merely grieved for the stranger in the box, and already, she was numbly abject. She couldn’t feel laughter, no tears. She refused to accept he was gone.

The doctor’s voice echoed through her mind, “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing we could do…. If you need anything contact my office….” His words registered in choppy half-sentences. She couldn’t hear him. Shock wouldn’t even let her protest. She knew it was a mistake, a horrible misunderstanding.

She felt so sorry for the person he really needed to speak to. Someone was going to be crushed when they learned the truth. How horrible to experience such a tragedy as the death of a spouse. She knew she couldn’t live with it.

The minister shook her hand, but she couldn’t feel his touch. The rose she held in her opposite hand still had thorns. She knew she bled from their scratches, but she couldn’t let go of it. She could only hope no one noticed the red liquid smeared across her finger.

Nothing was right, even when she returned home, everything remained wrong.

Her husband hid from her, the day was too dark, the summer was too cold, and the house was too silent.

She sat alone in the living room after the service. He would return at any moment, he would walk through the door, and she would run to him with open arms and kisses. She couldn’t wait. She missed him so much already. What a laugh he would have knowing they went so far as to bury him when he wasn’t even dead.

She watched the six o’clock news, despite the acute boredom it always prompted. He should be home, damn it, where was he? At seven o’clock, the game show hour began. Alex Trebeck announced Jeopardy and she watched the door.

Eight o’clock came and she watched a movie. It was unusual for him work so late. Nine o’clock came as the movie continued. She walked to the window and pushed the curtains aside. His car was in the drive, he must’ve gone next door to see Michael. Michael wouldn’t keep him too long. By ten o’clock, she realized he must have been helping Michael in the garage.

The movie ended at eleven. She curled up on the couch and patiently waited. She was so tired. She didn’t know why she had to attend so many functions. Daniel wasn’t dead, he was just next door.

She opened her eyes to see morning sunlight shining through the window. Golden streams of light collected dust from the neglected furniture. He would understand the neglect, after all, she just wanted to see him. She roamed the house, “Honey, where’d you go?” Her voice echoed through silence. She opened every door and checked the closets. He was still there.

“Sweetie, I really need to talk to you. Please quit playing games…” She peered out the window. His car was still in the drive. He hadn’t left for work. She smiled in anticipation of seeing him again. She went in to the garage, “Daniel? Where are you?”

Again, only silence. She went down in to the basement where his tools were. Perhaps he worked on something down there and didn’t want to wake her. It was odd that he hadn’t bothered to flip on the lights, but he had acted strangely since she returned from the hospital.

His behavior was a minor concern; it wasn’t anything she worried about. She wasn’t angry with him. Such a terrible wreck would leave anyone apprehensive and nervous for a long time. The front end was crushed completely, “death was instantaneous….” softly murmured through her mind. She brushed it away and kept looking. How could he not suffer some psychological trauma from it?

She got in his car and sat, she hoped there would be some clues. He was driving the utility truck when, they claim, it happened. A freak collision with an eighteen-wheeler, they offered. She knew they were wrong. The trucks for the electric company were sturdy, it collided with a rig and the front end was all that was damaged. That was someone else, not her husband.

She aimlessly wandered back in to their bedroom and opened the closet. His clothes hung neatly on the dowel rod. The hangers hadn’t been disturbed in three days, another oddity caused by the strange behavior. He wore a clean set of clothes every day. She stepped into the small space, relishing the faint smell of his aftershave. She reached out and touched his hanging clothes. She cherished the feel of them.

He had worn all of them to work. He always embraced her and kissed her before he left. All of the textures and fabrics had been against her skin for a few moments while he prepared to leave. She felt him with her, in the closet.

For once, in the strange course of events, both the days and the nights were too long. Her clothes didn’t feel normal. They didn’t fit right.

Her husband hid from her, the day was too dark, the summer was too cold, and the house was too silent.

His clothes hung in the proper spots. She had coordinated each outfit with the one in front of it. She cleared an open spot to sit in. She sat in the closet and waited for several hours. She listened for his footfall, his voice, his breathing. She closed her eyes and waited for his touch.

She couldn’t resist temptation any longer. She stood up and disrobed, as she threw her clothes down, she felt like she shed an old skin. Where had he gone? They hadn’t been apart for longer than one night before. It had been days already. She pulled one of the hangers from the rod and slipped the outfit from the confines of the metal.

She slipped into his clothes in a matter of moments, the soft dress shirt beneath a heavy jacket, and his baggy pants. She ran her hands over her legs, her arms. It was almost like touching him. She imagined he was in the clothes, and she just caressed him. She backed up to the wall and smiled. He would return, she knew.

She slid down the wall, back in to her previous position on the closet floor. She would wait for him to return. The house was deathly quiet, but she didn’t want to do anything. She tried to watch television, but lost interest after the first commercial. The radio emphasized the solitude. Where could he have gone? Why did he leave so mysteriously?

When would he return? She knew -if- he would return.

She curled up in a fetal position atop his shoes, most were presentable, some were scuffed and damaged. She would shine them up for when he came back. Or even better, she would take him to the store and let him buy those boots he’d wanted for months. She didn’t care, she just wanted him home.

She closed her eyes, so tired her body ached. She just needed to rest her eyes for a little while. When she opened them again, it was night. She wept, not out of mourning, for he wasn’t gone. She wept because she missed him and wished he would come out of hiding. Even if he had been with another woman, she didn’t care. She just needed him back. She still carried the rose from the funeral. She didn’t know why.

Who the hell had they buried? Everyone was convinced it was Daniel, but she knew better. It wasn’t him. He had pulled a prank on them all. They were still young, both in their thirties, they had their lives in front of them.

Her chin trembled in the emptiness of the house. My God, has the house ever been this damned silent? She sat up straight; she couldn’t take the stillness anymore. She ran to the radio alarm clock and turned it up to full blast. She went through each room and turned on every radio, every music box. In the living room, she played CDs and flipped the television on.

“Daniel, is that you?” She called into the air. She was positive she heard movement in the rear of the home. “Are you home?”

There was no answer. Again, silence. He was hiding from her. It would just be like one of his practical jokes to do that. She began, “You know, honey. The funeral was beautiful. It’s a shame you couldn’t have been there. Even cousin Leroy was crying. You know he doesn’t like anyone. I thought he’d laugh at my funeral, but he was touched. It was sweet.”

She felt her stomach growl. She walked to the kitchen and pulled vegetables from the refrigerator. “Would you like a salad, honey?” Daniel always loved salads. She unwrapped the plastic covering the vegetables and washed them, and then she took them to the cutting board.

Still no answer, she grew agitated. “Look, Daniel. I’ve been patient. Now, will you please come out of the shadows and talk to me? I need you. I’m scared.”

Nothing. No response. That didn’t hinder her, “Really, my love. I need you badly. I know you were just doing this to teach me a lesson. I’ve learned it fabulously. You can come out now.” She lightly chopped the greens.

She began chopping more furiously, the noise echoed through the house. The hollow sound of the cutting board rose above the television and radios. She brought the blade down with rage, with fury, and the final cut was made in tears. She fell to the floor, rocking.

She grabbed her arms and concentrated on the feel of his dress shirt. The jacket had been too hot to wear while cutting vegetables.

She rocked back and forth, as she sat on her knees. As her sobs subsided, she finally spoke, “Please God, I need him. Life is nothing without him. Please. Please. Please. Someone help me, I can’t take it. I can’t handle the emptiness. I can’t live without him. He’s the only man, the only person alive to me. I love him more than life itself, I don’t care what happens, I just want him back.”

More silence, then she heard a faint rustle of fabric. She looked up, through her blurry vision she could see an angel before her. It was breathtakingly perfect and smiled at her. A saintly glow surrounded its crown. She stopped her sadness, “Take me to him. Please.”

The angel sympathetically watched her. Its wings spread and stretch out. The angel shook its head, “No.” The voice was soft, a sigh, a sweet musical whisper.

“I can’t live without him.” She shook as she lowered her head. “I just can’t do it. It’s too much.”

“What would you give to have such a large request granted?” The angel pried gently and inquisitively. “That is a great deal to ask for.”

“Anything,” she didn’t have to think. She knew she wanted him back regardless. “I will give anything you would like.”

After a moment, the angel came down. It stopped levitating and stood before her. The angel motioned for her to stand and she did.

A cold breeze started in the kitchen. The hanging rack over the central island swayed in the breeze. Pots and pans clanged together over the range. She leaned back against the counter for support. Her legs felt so weak. He was coming home.

She gasped as a change started. The angel changed before her eyes, its face contorted and shifted. She watched in disbelief as the angel’s soft blue eyes turned black. Not just the iris, the entire eyeball was black and glossy in the fluorescent kitchen light. The immaculate white robe became dingy and stained with black blotches. The smell of brimstone permeated the air.

A peal of thunderous laughter roared through the kitchen. “Ask and ye will receive,” the angel had became a demon. “Your wish is my command.”

She felt her heart lurch. It was wrong. Something was evil about it. A blood-curdling scream erupted in the foyer of the home. She ran, knife in hand, to find the front door gaping. Someone had entered their home. Thick tracks of dark mud went towards the library.

She went to the door and there he was, with his back to her. She grinned and screamed, “Daniel!” She ran to him, he had returned, he was home.

He turned to her and she stopped so quickly she slid backwards in the muddy footprints. His hands were digging deep in the flesh of his muddy arms. Muck and an acrid greenish liquid dripped on the floor. “What did you do to me,” came from between clenched teeth. “God, I’m burning, my veins are burning. What did you do to me? What the hell did you do?”

He was enraged and blind. His eyelids had been glued together. One eye had come open and she could see one dark orb follow her as she stepped closer. “I wake up in mud and have to dig myself out, what the hell is going on? Why am I on fire?”

He screamed again as he dug in his muscle and extensor tissue. When his voice cracked, she heard his fingers plow through the moist flesh. “Kill me, kill me, God kill me. I’m in agony. Someone kill me,” he stumbled towards her.

She watched in agony. He was in such pain. He looked dead, gray and pallid, almost blue in places, but that didn’t mean he was dead, not in the true sense of the word. He stood before her. She smiled, just happy to have him home.

She ran to him, arms around him. He smelled of earth and something pungent. It resembled alcohol or fingernail polish remover. She wouldn’t want him revolted by her if the situation was reversed. He was pitiful and needed her love.

She studied him up-close. When she overlooked the small details, he really was the same. She picked up the dead rose she had carried at the funeral, still beautiful as well. It would be all right in the end. In her happiness, she kissed the flower. It crumbled to the touch.

She kissed his cold cheeks and cried with sympathy. He didn’t pull away from her. He was here, in front of her. “I’ll love you, my darling. Please let’s go give you a bath. I’ll try to make it better. Really, I’ll do my best to make it better….”

 

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