The city left me. In the deep of the dark, on the edge of the dawn, the city left my wife. The moon, the bright summer moon at noon, killed me and left me for dead. It was a joke, I guess. The moon couldn’t kill a person. Light crawled in my window and the city left me and it was a ghost town in the dark and the darkness sucked in the life all around it and the quietness, the stillness, was of autumn, of wind, of deceit. My wife was a ghost and her heart stopped beating after she was a ghost and deceased, a ghost of the good and the dead when they went to sleep, where they went to sleep and the dead slept in the deep blue ocean, the blueness of the ocean all around us. She had been a ghost long before she was ever with me and it was only when she was dead I realized she had never been living in my life in the first place. It was like a star slowly burning out from existence, it was like the dying of a star. We never got along about anything. She never had a nice thing to say about me and our sex was miniscule. We seemed to have the picture perfect life and didn’t. I found her lying dead and naked in the bathtub, the water dripping from the silver faucet, her hand dangled over the edge of the tub, her eyes closed. She wasn’t really sleeping. For a second, I thought maybe she was sleeping and the thought flitted away and she was alive in my mind one minute and dead the next. I looked down at her naked body, stark white naked in the bathtub, and didn’t feel anything except the cold, hard truth-the cold facts of truth. She died sometime during the night and her body was cold to the touch of my finger and it wasn’t my fault and I knew in my heart she was somewhere safe, in Heaven or wherever else people went when they kicked the bucket. I had a guilt trip like you wouldn’t believe. Anger. A deep, penetrating anger emitted from the core of my being and I wanted to tear up everything-tear at the posters hanging in the master bedroom; knock over the bookcase full of Agatha Christie and James Patterson novels; wreck havoc on entire cities like Adolf Hitler did once a upon a time before Vietnam swallowed the world and spit it back up again. I didn’t. I stood in the bathroom, my hands dangled at my sides, looking at the ghost of my wife and not really feeling anything at all, only a cold, hard truth and the swallowing anger and darkness and the wind shuddering outside the house. I did what any sane widow would do. I checked her pulse. She had none. I checked her breathing. No gasp of pain emitted from her lips or her nose. Her chest didn’t move. “God!” I wept. “Jessica!” She didn’t reply. I went to the hall closet, pulled out two towels, and covered them over her naked body. I dashed into the master bedroom, picked up my cell phone, and dialed 911.
Thank goodness they pick up on the first ring.
“Hello?” the operator chirped in my ear.
“Emergency,” I breathed heavily into the phone and hoped it reached the other end. Sometimes, things didn’t work right, especially appliances. “Emergency. Come. Now.” My voice was throaty and whispery and I sounded like a dumbass. It wasn’t my intention. I wanted to sound professional and not break down in front of a stranger over the phone. I didn’t want to break down about anything.
Her voice floated back to me: “Where?”
I gave her the address.
“Is she…still?” I thought maybe the last word was breathing but I couldn’t be sure. My phone crackled.
“No…dead. I checked her pulse. Again?” The statement was more of a question. She didn’t give a response. I sounded drunk. It wasn’t a good idea to sound drunk on the phone with a 911 operator. She hung up the phone. A minute later she called back and apologized for the inconvenience and said it was probably some crossed wires and she didn’t mean to hang up on me. The ambulance and the police were coming and I wouldn’t have to fear anything any longer. She asked me if anyone had broken into my home. I told her I didn’t know. I lived in a beach house-or, what old people would call a “condo.” The ambulance arrived and the medics burst through the front door and pounded into the bathroom and pronounced my wife dead at the scene. I wept. The police arrived next, and booby-taped the bathroom, I couldn’t even get my hairbrush or my toothpaste. A police officer introduced himself as Detective Kit Perry of the New Orleans Police Department. They queried me about what happened before her untimely death-she had gotten home kind of late and I heard her stomping around the guest bedroom until, I assumed, she fell asleep and woke up again and went to take a shit and fell in the bathtub and eventually drowned to death-except, the bathtub was half-full and the water was very cold and I didn’t have the whole facts. Only partial facts and opinions about what happened. I was upset. I had been asleep the whole time in the master bedroom and if my poor wife screamed, I had been asleep and don’t remember hearing anything unusual. It was horrible. They drew chalk on the white, linoleum floor next to the tub and waited for the medics to load her on the stretcher and carried her away, down the stairs and out the front door and into the dead of night. I followed down the stairs, babbling, unable to know exactly what it was I wanted to ask; a police officer followed behind me and patted me on the shoulder and assured me everything would be all right. The medics assured me the police would escort the ambulance to the medical examiner’s office and I would have to claim it the next morning. Kit asked me if I had anywhere to stay for the night. I shook my head and told them my sister was in Utah and she had two children and couldn’t leave them. They were in school and had to get good grades so they could get into a good college and take care of their mother when she was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s was a disease a lot like cancer and destroyed the soul.
“Jessica,” I sobbed. “Jessica. Jessica.” I cried her name over and over again and a police officer came pounding up the stairs and handed me a tissue and I blew my nose in it and handed it back to him. He introduced himself. His name was Charley Stevens and he was one of the older police officers-he had been a police officer for fifteen years and had seen a lot of crimes in his day, but very few murders. He was puzzled by the murder and asked me a lot of questions and wrote them down in a yellow notepad.
“Were you home all day?” he asked me.
I nodded. “Yes. I was going to get pizza out and changed my mind and heated up leftovers instead-the cook leaves at six. We make food ourselves any time after six. Sometimes, I don’t want to cook and eat whatever’s in the fridge.” I took a deep breath. I was babbling. I had to stop. “Well.”
I didn’t say anything else. I swallowed and looked at them and I looked at the condo and I didn’t want any of it. I hated my wife, sure, but I didn’t want her to be dead. I wanted her to be alive. I wanted her to stand in front of me and tell me everything was going to be all right.
“I think,” Jasper Frenchman said. His shoulders fell. “I think the maid did it.” He frowned. I could see the little hamster wheel spinning around and around in his brain. He asked for my maid’s number. I recited it to him by heart. Jasper babbled on and on about nonsensicals-how she died; why; everything I didn’t want to have to deal with. I swallowed. Charley scowled at him. His expression was one of anger. “Stop!” He commanded. He glared daggers at him and the police officer shrank back, perturbed by the man’s resilience of having being demanding. The man’s resilience was something to be left undiscovered, unperturbed, undisturbed. The darkness was around them and was outside the house. The police officers had been at my house for over an hour. I glanced at the clock in the kitchen. My stomach rumbled. I didn’t tell them I was hungry. They didn’t need to know.
Jasper wandered back to the bathroom. He looked down at the yellow chalk. “It’s not in the right spot,” he muttered, and shook his head.
“That’s all right,” the police officer, Audrey Davis, came up behind him. “We did it on purpose. You can’t really draw the line of a human in a bathtub. It’s impossible.” He smiled. He didn’t think anything was funny about a dead woman. Her husband would surely take the blame. Things happened. They couldn’t be controlled.
He nodded. “Right.” He looked at me. “You all right?” He smiled. I wondered, What the hell was he smiling about, dumb fuck? I wanted to rip him a new Adam’s Apple. I wanted to buy a weapon and eat all of his friends. I wanted to…It was against the law. I held back. My hands clenched at their sides. I shook my head resolutely and stared hard at the man and tried to think of something mean to say and nothing came. In the name of the God Almighty, I will be firm, I will stand tall against the tides, I will be tall against the darkness and all things that wanted to tear me from sanity, tear me from the woman I loved, tear me from doing the right thing. The right thing and the wrong thing were two different things and I didn’t know how to solve it. The sanity kept me firm. Be still. The police officers told me I shouldn’t stay here. I looked at them. How could they say that to me? This was where my wife spent her last moments on Earth. My wife, the blonde woman who had the quirky smile and the big eyes and the soft, throaty voice. She spent them in the bathroom, the water slowly filling in the bathtub. This was where she died. I couldn’t leave. I told them so. Jasper shrugged nonchalantly. “Suit yourself,” he replied. “You crazy. Don’t want to deal with no crazies.” He gestured for the police officers to leave. They trooped out the door and down the stairs and I heard the outside front door open and closed. I stood in the living room. My breath came in large and laborious and I went to the bathroom and stared at the bathtub. The water was turned off. It wasn’t dripping. I put my hands on the bathroom sink and tried to think about what I was going to do. I had to go to the coroner’s office the next morning and claim the body. They said they were keeping it over night to examine it and make a decision about the cause of death. I thought it was suicide. My heart told me otherwise. My beautiful wife. Gone. Gone in a single minute. An instant. It was like making a cup of instant coffee.
The police officers were gone.
I was alone in the apartment.
The body was gone, too.
The body. I couldn’t understand how I could think of her in the manner I thought of her. I was in the dark. The living room light was off. I went to the tall shape of the lamp in the dark and flicked it on and the entire room emitted a yellow glow. Shadows fell off the walls and bounced on the floor. We had bouncy carpet. I went to the sliding glass doors and opened them-swish, swish-and walked out onto the balcony and looked down at the ocean. The purple-black mist swirled on the water and the water was black, too. The moon was full and bright and the brightness reflected on the water and the water shivered and moved. I didn’t see the whale again, the whale was my only friend. My only friend, the whale. I was sad. The sadness was in me and I couldn’t get it out for anything in the world. I couldn’t get it out for anyone, let alone the police officers who came to visit me in my hour of need, or the coroner who kept my wife’s body safe for the night before I had to say goodbye.
I cried for myself.
For my life. Not for my death. Because it didn’t happen yet. I rested my hands on the balcony and the tears bounced off my cheeks and down my skin and the wind whispered, delicate, across my eyelids and remained. The solitude was daunting. It daunted me. The wind echoed her voice: Raul, can we go? Raul, would you like this? Raul, strawberry wine from Paris. I enjoy our time together, Raul. And the strangeness at the back of my mind, maybe she was cheating on me, maybe she had cheated on me, maybe she was thinking about cheating on me and wasn’t going to go through with it, or she was going to cheat on me in the future. All the conversations fell in my mind, quick stepping stones and the wind was her, it became her. I was not by myself on the balcony. The wind kept me company. I could move to the city. I could move to the city and get away from the ocean and all its terrible secrets. Like the death of my wife or the whale with the glittering eye, or the moon that rose up over me and blanketed me in a thin silver of light. The thin silver of light permeated from the core of darkness and the darkness surrounded it and the wind spoke for my wife. I didn’t want to hear my wife’s words ever again. I wanted them to be buried forever. They would be buried when she was buried. They would be gone forever once she was dead. She was dead now. The words fell on my lips. I spoke them aloud, a whisper on the wind: My wife was dead. A spark from a cigarette lit the dark and it was my cigarette lighter lighting a thin, white cigarette. What would my wife do for me? I thought all of the things she had done for me. Every single little thing. She took out the garbage for me. She used her credit cards-her own credit cards, mind you-on me to purchase sweaters, sweaters with the logo “Shorts” on them in big, bold letters, or “Save the Earth, Nuke the Whales.” It made her laugh out loud. I thought of her laugh. I could see it in my memories. I could see it in the back of my mind and I tried to grasp the words and the sound didn’t come. The words didn’t come and I grasped them with two, firm hands, and the laugh came, clear as a bell-no, it was the wind again. Not the laugh of my wife. Why didn’t I record her laugh when I had the chance? I didn’t know. I didn’t understand anything that was going on. I thought about my wife’s eyes. They had been large and blue and reflected the sun. On the first day we met, I was lost in those eyes, lost in the endlessness of it. The endlessness of the eyes were one of the things I loved about her-from her eyes to her long, blonde hair and heart-shaped mouth. She wore red lipstick and had no eyeglasses. I was brown-haired and blue-eyed and she said I could have been a model, except I was working 24/7 at a job I hated. I was a contractor for a big-time contracting company. Everyone kissed my butt. Sometimes, I think even my wife kissed my ass. She thought her job was less than what it actually was and it wasn’t. I was glad she’d had the job. It helped out a lot. Now she was gone and I couldn’t get her back. The wind was my wife. If I didn’t know any better, if I wasn’t mistaken, the wind cried her name. I was the wind and the wind was my wife and we both cried and the stars came out and they cried, too. The stars were big and bright and reflected the sky and I was on the balcony and didn’t notice the shadow of a figure of someone in the beach house next to me come out on his own balcony and light a slim naked cigarette and stare out at the ocean. I didn’t know he was there until I heard the click of the lighter and a small flame sprang up in the darkness. The darkness of the sky was different from the darkness of the ocean and the land and the houses, the darkness of the sky was more purple, pale and translucent in the dark and I craned my neck to look for fish. Her ghost haunted me. She was behind me in the dark and I looked quickly and only saw my neighbor. His name was Lonnie Dracon. He was a forty-seven year old divorced man. I usually saw his car in the driveway and I only saw him twice in the whole life I was living at the beach house. I never talked to anyone anymore, and rarely conversed with my wife. My wife was gone and Lonnie was not and I craned my neck over the railing and blurted out one word: “Hi.” The words were soft-spoken. Quiet. I swallowed, hardly able to get the word out. I didn’t know what to say. Lonnie had a busy life. I didn’t want to bother him about my own. He would know tomorrow if I didn’t tell him now. The news would know. They always knew everything.
“Hi,” he repeated. He flicked the cigarette off the balcony and it flew through the darkness and was gone, into the pit of blackness that made up the night. Vietnam swallowed the night. Vietnam was the night. The night was Vietnam. I didn’t know why I thought those things. I didn’t know what I was thinking. Or why I thought anything. The anger welled up inside of me again.
“You angry?” he said. “I saw the police cars leaving.”
I laughed bitterly. “My wife,” I explained. Laughter bubbled in my throat. I couldn’t keep it down.
He nodded in the dark. His head bobbed up and down. “Ah,” he sighed. The end of the cigarette burst full of light and faded again. It was a star winking out. The metaphor was clichéd, I knew, but I didn’t bother to make a better one. My wife was gone. “I saw the police cars,” he added. “The sirens. Woke me up.”
I nodded. “Sorry about that,” I apologized.
I felt guilty for lying. Lying wasn’t my thing. Unless it was to someone I didn’t like. “Lonnie.”
“My wife is dead.”
“She died from alcohol?” He sounded startled.
I shook my head. He couldn’t see me, but I did it anyway. “No,” I answered. “We don’t know what it is. They’re doing the autopsy tomorrow.”
“She was pretty.”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“Were you happy?”
I grasped the words in my mind. Grasped them and they rolled around my tongue and I felt them and heard the memories in the back of my mind: “Yes.”
“Why did she do it, then? If she did it?”
“What do you mean?”
The word was an ugly word.
I thought about it. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I thought about it. The words rolled in my mind with a lucidity that was horrifying. Terrifying. The darkness made it all the more prominent. The darkness made me scream inside my mind. Suicide was an ugly word. It had an ugly connotation attached to it. My heart hurt. The pain was fierce and sharp and it hit my gut and I wanted to run and never come back. Lonnie was the most terrifying idea to me at the moment and he was the only one who had never hurt me, had never left me. We were never close but he didn’t try to stick his nose in my business and I respected it for him. I respected him. I guess he did something with fishing and ran a restaurant on the side and he seemed to be happy with his wife-what was her name, Starla? Yeah, I think it was Starla. She was a Barbie-type person. She had a lot of tattoos and shoulders like a man. I didn’t really think the description was appropriate, but I guessed it was good enough. It was good enough for me.
“Tell,” he urged me. His voice was emotional. He was choking up. I was surprised. He didn’t seem to be the type to get emotionally attached to situations.
“Talk about it. Tell me how it made you feel.”
I was startled. “How what feel?”
“Death,” he explained in a patient tone. “Her death.”
“I just wanted to see the whale.”
“That whale? I named him SnuggleBuns.”
I resisted the urge to snicker. “Dumb name,” I replied.
“What about your dumb name?”
“Oh, mine? Micah Heap.”
“It sounds Egyptian.”
“I haven’t even been to Mississippi.”
“Or Jackson, Tennessee.”
“No. Not that.”
“Jessica. Middle name is Elizabeth.” I don’t know why I told him her middle name. I wanted her to be alive for a few minutes longer. I thought about all the times we were together and the times we were apart. We were apart more than we were together. We had dinners. Dancing. Long walks on the beach, talking, and looking at the stars. Our sex grew less and less until I couldn’t stand the sight of her. We drifted apart. I thought about bringing it back but I had been working, trying to provide for her. Our beach house cost $43,000; she bought a $25,000 car last week and it sat in the garage like a great wooly mammoth. It sat in the garage, sullen and angry, and I mulled it over in my mind and the thoughts shaped in my mind and became firm and hard, without being bitter and angry about anything. The anger was raw. The hatred was raw and I wondered why Lonnie was angry. Myth had it only angry people smoked cigarettes. I was one of the angry ones. I didn’t know why. The anger was inside me and it roared like an angry lion. We danced around angry words. I didn’t want to talk about his home life. My home life was bad enough. I didn’t need to pry into his. We watched the moon. It was bright and full in the sky and the moon glared down on us and then a sound on the water and two whales came up, gasping, for air. They sang their song and my neighbor snorted and went back inside. I watched this with wary amusement. He came back out and a series of shrill, high whistles emitted into the darkness and I realized he was the one whistling. It was a sweet sound. A good note. The sound of the whales and the sound from my neighbor’s whistle was in the dark around us and we didn’t think anything for awhile, just listened to the whales, who had not been there when the wife died and I had to see her body all by myself, but they were here now and I was enjoying the moment, the moment of stillness, the moment of the water and the dark and the sky and the wind. Check that, it wasn’t windy. The sky was pitch black. Pitch black all around. The sky moaned and life breathed in the ocean and in the houses, my wife isn’t in that house or the other one or any other house on the black or the rest of the world. I was in mourning, mourning hard, and the mourning crashed my entire being, the entirety of it all, I was tired.