She’s almost done putting on her make-up when she hears her husband come in through the back door, whistling. She stiffens, her tube of lipstick suspended before her like a baton. Familiar sounds follow: his car keys jangling onto the kitchen counter, the refrigerator opening and closing, the hiss of a beer can’s released tab. He calls her name. She watches color rise to her cheeks in the mirror, but doesn’t answer.
His footsteps come down the hall, through their bedroom, and then he’s behind her wrapping her in an embrace, one hand clutching the can. He kisses her earlobe, gently nibbling it the way he knew she likes. She flinches, lowers the lipstick.
He lifts his head and smiles at her in the mirror. His tie is unknotted, crooked. “Happy anniversary,” he says to their reflections. “Again. Hmm, nice necklace. Kids at your folks’?”
She smells the beer on his breath, feels herself nod.
“Good.” He glances at his watch and straightens quickly. “Hey, our dinner reservation is in twenty. I’ll change quick, then we need to leave. Hop to, beautiful.”
He gives her a playful swat on the backside, then disappears into their bedroom where his whistling resumes along with the sound of him rummaging in the closet. She closes her eyes tightly, then reopens them. They blink back at her in the mirror. That same prickly feeling as when she’d happened upon the note an hour earlier invades her arms, her shoulders, her neck. Mechanically, she finishes with the lipstick, recaps it, places it like a talisman in the counter’s precise center. Her eyes travel to the framed finger painting on the wall that their twins made together for them in kindergarten the year before.
She bites the inside of her lower lip, vaguely aware of his whistling, the slurp of his drinking, the hurried motions of him changing clothes. A dog barks nearby. A moment later, another answers it.
He calls, “I’ll get the car started. Let’s go, sweetie, or we’ll be late.”
She hears his steps retreat down the hall, hears his keys jangle again. The back door opens and closes, his empty can clatters against others in the recycling bin, the car’s engine grumbles to life in the driveway. Dust hovers in the shaft of early evening light streaming through the bathroom window. A long breath escapes her.
She’d come upon the note by complete happenchance while she was getting their ski gear out of storage in the garage for their weekend get-away the next morning. It had fallen from a partially zipped inside-pocket of his parka. Folded into tiny creases, the note was torn from a pad at the lodge where they’d stayed with a handful of friends a few years before, the last time they’d used the gear. It was written to him from Gail, a woman who’d been one of her bridesmaids. She remembered the day while skiing when Gail had returned to the lodge after their lunch break saying she was worn out and wanted to read. A cold flush spreads through her at the memory, benign at the time, of her husband heading back early, too, after their next collective run, citing a twisted knee from a fall. The rest of the group had skied on together happily until the lifts closed late that afternoon.
The note’s message said: “I’ve never made love like that, never experienced something so sensual. I’m still tingling.” It was followed by Gail’s signature and a heart.
The tap of the car’s horn from the driveway startles her from her thoughts. She squeezes her eyes shut once more, then pinches the bridge of her nose until it hurts. In the mirror, she fingers the necklace he’d brought to her in a wrapped box that morning along with her coffee. The horn honks again, this time longer and more prolonged. She shakes her head, yanks her shawl from the towel rack, and slings it over her shoulders. When she passes through the bedroom and down the hall to the back door, it’s as if someone else is walking, as if she’s watching instead of moving herself. Her heart is a shadowed stone in a hollow cave. The horn blares a last time just as she emerges through the back gate onto the driveway.
She stops still and watches him in the driver’s seat a few feet away as he raises his eyebrows, shows his palms, and waves her towards the car with a smirk. A sudden jolt shoots through her; she reaches down, grabs a grapefruit-sized rock bordering a bed of roses, and hurls it at him with a loud grunt. He ducks as the rock smashes the windshield just above where his right ear had been. It slides down into the wiper well, and spider-like threads trickle out across the windshield from the depression and splinters it has left. When he glances up next, she rips the necklace from her neck and throws it, too. It lands in almost the identical spot, catching on a shard of glass, suspending itself on the windshield as if she’s hung it delicately from one of her jewelry box clips.
His eyes move from it to her own; the terror in them migrating slowly from shock to forlorn recognition. She nods, swallows hard, and slides down the back of the gate like the windshield’s rock until she’s prone on the hard concrete, her head in her hands, weeping silently. Abruptly, the car’s engine stops. Everything remains perfectly still, not a single sound, until the same dog as before barks again. This time the other doesn’t answer.
More than 250 short stories by William Cass have been accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. Cass was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He has received one Best Small Fictions nomination and three Pushcart nominations. His collection of short stories, Something Like Hope & Other Stories, was recently released by Wising Up Press. He lives in San Diego, California.