“Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do absolutely anything to get it?”
Marlys’ words were breathless. Her eyes shone with a kind of dark hope that turned Wallen’s stomach.
“Maybe some things aren’t meant to be gotten,” Wallen said gently. Marlys reared back and slapped him, hard, her palm making a sound against his flesh that brought him back to childhood, but he didn’t flinch. He didn’t cower or scream or hide. He stood there, a man now, letting a grieving woman beat him with her hands and fists while he stood, resolute.
“I love you and would never hurt you, no matter what you do,” he said, and her rage kicked up a notch before she sank to the ground in tears. Wallen sat beside her until her tears dried.
Marlys didn’t let it go. She couldn’t. She stopped eating, picking at her food and moving it around so it looked like she had a mouthful or two, but Wallen knew better. She stayed up at night, glued to the computer, the screen illuminating her face in the dark. She looked up people and practices and phone numbers and things that took a shadowy turn.
Wallen drove Marlys to her therapist and waited outside in the car. He leaned his chair back in the cool air, watching the leaves as they shook in the breeze. He listened to audiobooks and podcasts and sometimes simply the silence. So much more comfortable than sitting in the beige waiting room with a bunch of vapid magazines. He didn’t want to know how to drive a man crazy in bed or write his congressperson. He just wanted to know how to make his wife better, make her whole, when half of her had been abruptly severed and left to bleed out.
She came back from therapy looking exhausted, or thoughtful, or invigorated, or stripped of all her humanity.
“How was it today?” he would ask each time. He was supportive. He was calm. He was all of the textbook things a perfect husband would be toward a grieving wife.
“My sister is still dead,” Marlys would answer, and Wallen would hold her hand if she wanted to be touched or simply drive, looking straight ahead, if she didn’t.
Marlys was a different woman every day.
“Don’t ever leave me,” she’d say. He promised to stay.
“I’ll never feel normal again. You should just go.”
He still promised to stay.
There were the days when she said nothing at all, but curled up in bed with their cat sleeping on her chest. She didn’t look at Wallen when he took her hand or made the bed around her or drew a bath and gently led her to it. He would wash her hair and pour water over her like she was a small child. Afterward, he would wrap her in a towel and hold her on his lap.
“We will get through this,” he said. He wasn’t certain she really wanted to, but that was okay. Wallen had enough will to live for two of them. That’s the thing you do with someone you love: you take turns leading. It’s when you both break that you have to worry.
It was their birthday. Marlys and Mary. They bought a cake and Wallen drove them to the cemetery. They spread out a cheery blanket and set up a little picnic at the headstones. Marlys carefully served pieces of cake. One for Wallen. One for her. One for dead Mary, one for dead Max, one for dead Zariah, one for dead Jaleel. Mary and her three children shared one big, beautiful headstone, all with the same death date. Mary’s husband, who also shared the same date, was buried far away, all alone, nowhere near his family.
“They’re not his anymore, are they?” Marlys had told Wallen when they were making funeral arrangements. “He lost his right to them when he shot them in their sleep. Instead of a murder/suicide, he should have gone right to the suicide. He didn’t have the right.”
Time passed as it always did, but Marlys became more obsessed. She watched movies and documentaries about zombies, about living vampires, about the undead. Wallen found bird skulls and other strange objects around the house. He’d come home to see strangers with shaded eyes sitting in his living room.
“You’re scaring me,” he told her. Marlys’ hands were always cold whenever he held them, which was less and less often. “They’re gone, my love. You can’t bring them back.”
Oh, but she would try. She tried spells. Voodoo. She beseeched God and gods and goddesses and anything that would listen. She had people pray over the bodies and use crosses and blood and faith and dead cats and urine and everything else anybody told her to do. She desecrated Mary’s grave over and over and over and over.
“You asked me not to leave you, but you’re leaving me,” Wallen whispered one night. He wrapped his arms around the husk of his wife. The shine of her eyes told him she was awake.
“Please come back, Marlys. I can’t go through this world alone.”
He thought he heard her voice, but when he looked, the eye shine was put out and she looked asleep. Perhaps he had misheard. He certainly hoped so.
He was afraid he knew how this would end. Marlys would stop believing in ghosts and angels and devils. She wouldn’t be able to bring her sister and the children back. Life wasn’t Pet Semetery or The Monkey’s Paw. The dead stayed dead.
But they’d be reunited in another way, he was sure of it. Family was meant to be with family, and you couldn’t escape the ties that bind. Wallen went to sleep every night listening for the click of a new gun in the house. He knew it would come.
∼ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.