Day 1: “Anniversary”

(Content note: Very scary. Zombie issues involved. Maybe not for the under 18 crowd.)

*

My husband died a year ago, and we’ve never been happier.

This is what I want to tell those big haired preachers on t.v., the smug writers of relationship guides, even the greeting card makers.  The ones that say ‘Treasure your spouse all this life,’ or ‘Treasure each other and you will enjoy eternal life together’ and other such nonsense.

You don’t need the ‘life’ part of living with a man to enjoy it.  I know that sounds gross, but it’s not what you think, and not nearly as bad as it seems.

Though most people know about his accident, only a few know about the rest.  That we are still married, that he still lives here with me.  His best friend, Alredo.  My sister, Veronica.  And Mama.  I didn’t tell anyone else, and those three have kept the secret, either because they are too frightened to talk, or they know nobody would believe them.

It happened last October near the construction yard where he worked.  Alredo called to tell me.  The yard is by a busy road, and apparently Vance had wandered off and then into it.  Al thought he was drunk, maybe high.  From what I knew, it was probably both.  Van’s nights out with Al had been running later and later, and we he came home he was usually a mess.  I’d send him off to work each morning hoping he didn’t get hurt there, hurt someone else.

The Sheriff said the truck that hit him threw the body clear of traffic and into a grassy field.  An hour after the accident, they hadn’t ‘recovered’ it yet, the deputy told me.  Someone would be in touch.

Four hours passed.  Then six.  It got dark.  No one called again.

I guess I should have called them.  My husband was dead, didn’t I want to know what to do next?

I did nothing.  I watched the moon come up.

The empty chairs at our wedding should have been a hint the union would hardly be blessed.  Also the overcast sky of that wet April day, the disapproving looks of relatives, even the priest taking me aside to ask did I really want to do this.  The perils of marrying a much older man.  I ignored the omens because I liked the way Van looked smoothed into a black, stylish suit, which, I found out afterward, was the only suit he owned.  I liked the deep green carpet of the chapel we’d rented, humble though it was, and smelling of cheap supermarket flowers.

Yet it was Mama who made the biggest memory for me that day, saying just before the ceremony, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Marriage is forever, Martinique. It is not about trinkets on your finger or how your hair looks under that harlot’s veil.  From now on, you are the chain around his ankle, and he is your cross to bear.”

I married him anyway.

Though not entirely unpleasant at first, things soured pretty quickly after that.  He was demanding, and gave little in return.  I cooked, cleaned, did the shopping and paid the bills.  From Van’s income in construction and my job at a fabric store, we managed a modest house in the center of town. It was hard.  After a few months, he lost interest in the sex and began to spend his evenings with friends at a rotation of local bars.

His demeanor changed radically after that.  It took on a hard edge, especially when he was tired, or drinking.  There came a time when I stopped trying to reason with him in those states and started avoiding him instead.  It didn’t always work.  At the few events at which I saw family or mutual friends, I endured the sharp, pitying stares reserved for those whose men have turned away from them.

Sometimes, Mama was one of the ones staring.

The morning after Van’s death, I woke up to an answering machine message from the coroner, asking me to come to a downtown address immediately.  I assumed they wanted me to look at the body they’d pulled from the weeds, say it whether it was his.  I erased it.  Let them find someone else.

I spent the day in bed.  Smoked the occasional cigarette.  When it got dark again, I drank one of his beers.  Staring out the window, I noticed a cactus I’d given him as a birthday present, thinking it reminded me of him.  How appropriate that had turned out to be.

That was when I noticed the shadow at the edge of the yard.  It looked remarkably like a man.

It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, walking out into that darkness, toward the brownish blob in the driveway.  It took me a few seconds, but then I knew for sure:  it was him.  He was wearing the same clothes I’d sent him out in that morning, red t-shirt and faded jeans–typical work fare.  I expected bruises, tears, blood.  There was no real difference, except for the left side of his face, which seemed a bit misshapen somehow, and swollen around the jaw.  And he was very quiet.

“Hey, baby,” I said.  There was no response.  “They said…Al told me about your accident.  How did you get home?”

We stood in silence for a while, I don’t know how long.  When at last I realized he would or could not speak, I motioned to him to come inside.  After a few steps, I heard him shuffling behind me.

I could lie, and say I searched for reasonable explanations. They had mistaken him for another man hit and killed by a truck.  He had been injured, but not killed, and left the hospital unnoticed.  I could have been dreaming.

But there was never any doubt, not really, about what happened:  he was dead, and had returned somehow.  To me.

In the beginning, I didn’t know what to do with him.  Once he had stumbled into the entry way of our tiny home, I slammed the door, suddenly afraid of someone seeing him, which would have been impossible to explain.

I had kept the lights off that day.  I kept them off, not ready to see him fully.Lit mostly by October moon, he seemed pale and weak.  Not the husband who had once held a broken beer bottle to my face, thrown a vodka bottle at my head.  He made no protest as I guided him toward the bathroom.  He was putty in my hands.

Still, it’s hard to undress a dead man.  Untangling clothes from the limbs of someone who hardly moves is a challenge to say the least.  Soaping him up in the shower, I found the bruises at last, a deep purple covering the left side of his torso, and felt his hair matted to the back of his head in a blood soaked mass.  When he was redressed in pajamas, another difficult task, I tried getting him into bed.  This proved impossible, so I left him in the living room.

Two days later, I received a call from Van’s brother giving me the details of the burial service.  I don’t know what they buried.  You need a body for a funeral, and as far as I knew, the Van who came home was still using his own.  I put on a black dress and showed up for an hour, made minimal conversation with the few concerned mourners.  The casket stayed closed the entire time.  I think I did it mostly to keep up appearances.  Mama was there.  We managed to cross paths without harsh words.

Alfredo was the one to see him first.  He stopped by at Thanksgiving, to see how I was doing.  In truth, I was doing fine; an insurance settlement from the accident was paying most of the bills.  I didn’t want to talk to him, but after he knocked twice, I thought I’d have to open up to get him to go away.

“Martina,” he’d said, slyly, taking no notice of my guarded stance.

“How’re you holding up?”

“Okay,” I said, wary of him, trying to find ways to keep close to the door frame.  “Just tired.  Did you need something?”

“No, no,” he said, with a face more sincere.  “I wanted to look in on you.  Told Van I would do that, if anything ever happened.”

I told him I had to doubt Van had ever asked for that.

“Really,” he chuckled, less amused.  “Well, it’s true.  ‘Cause, you know, I thought you always liked me fine, Martina.”

The oily sheen in his voice turned me off.  Some hard edge of my soul bared its teeth.  Suddenly, I wanted him to see how I was truly holding up.  Me, and my husband.

Slowly, I opened the door.  Waved a hand toward our living room.  Al stepped inside.

The couch I left him on had taken on a musty odor, but appeared otherwise to be keeping Van settled nicely.  He still did not speak, and seldom moved unless prompted.  But there was no mistaking it was him.

Al froze when he realized. He stared at me in shock.

“He came home after all,” I said simply.  “And things are much better now.  Don’t you want to say hello?”

Al bolted from the house without a word.

After that I kept Van in the garage.

By Christmas, my family must have started to ask questions, and that was how Veronica found out.  Knowing them as I did, they might have actually drawn straws to pick a victim, someone dispatched to my door to find out where I’d gone, why my phone calls had stopped and why I never picked up my own anymore.

I stepped out for a rare trip to the mailbox to find her in our driveway, leaning back against the car she had somehow parked in silence.

“Hey, sis,” I said.  Perhaps a kind word would send her off.

“We’re all very worried,” was her cold reply.  “It’s been two months.  We thought you might have died.”

I had to laugh.

“Sometimes that’s not the end of it.”

Veronica recoiled.

“This isn’t funny, Marti.  Mama is worried sick.”

“Bullshit,” I said, cheerfully.  “Mama does not give a damn about me and never has.”

“Martinique.”  Mama’s voice was stern, close by, and when I stepped closer I could see she had been standing just behind Veronica, like a shadow.

“Tell us what is going on.”

I smiled.  Walked to the garage and opened its narrow door.  Motioned them to look inside.

“What was it you told me, Mama,” I said, as she peered behind Veronica’s shoulder, “on my wedding day, about marriage?”

Whatever they saw then sent them hurrying away, and I felt certain it would be for the last time.

“It’s forever.  From now on, we’ll have only each other.”

It’s October again.  Almost one year since his death and almost that time of year when they say our dead return.  I want to tell them about the dead who never leave.  Mine, at least.  How he is quiet, never a bother, and now does only what I need him to do, which is nothing.

We have never been happier.

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