Where Do You Go at Night?

The car was parked down the block near the greenbelt. The tiny splash of nature at the end of the street had always given his husband the creeps. Nick liked it so he let Alan park in the driveway. Nights like tonight though, he kicked himself for it.

It wasn’t cold enough to snow, but the air had a damp chill that burrowed right into his bones. The car would be just as cold. It took forever to heat up nowadays, but with the house needing a new roof, and an adoption to consider, things had to fall by the wayside.

When Nick pulled the keys from his pocket, they slid through his fingers and dropped right into a puddle on the side of the road. “Goddammit,” he muttered. as he knelt down to pick them up.

Before he could grab the keys, a pale hand slid up out of the water and caressed his fingers. He jerked back from the puddle. The keys sat in the shallow water, only getting colder. “Too many hours at work,” he thought. “You have to take better care of yourself.”

Nick fished the keys out of the puddle with a shudder and got to the car. It had seen better days, but for a twenty-year old import, it ran remarkably well. He had just settled into the driver’s seat, shivering and wishing for a better heater, when he saw her.

She stared out at him from the cover of the bushes. Her thin t-shirt and jeans were definitely not suitable for the icy weather. Nick wanted to get out of the car, but something inside of him made him stay put. There was no way that she knew he’d seen her. He could just drive away.

He started the ignition, and the heater roared and spit out cold air. With shaking hands, Nick switched the fan off. A quick glance in the mirror revealed that the woman had disappeared.

“Probably just some junkie,” he muttered. “This neighborhood’s going to shit.” He tried to reach over and shift into drive, but his hand was locked to the wheel.

The woman slapped the window. She glared in at him through stringy blonde hair, her eyes filled with anger. Nick shivered under her gaze.

“Where do you go at night?”

Her voice cut through the air like a rusty knife. Nick stared straight ahead. He didn’t want to make eye contact with her. Didn’t want to see the small chunks of ice in her hair, or the skin that hung loosely from her body. He glared at his hand, trying to will the fingers to let go of the wheel. She slapped the window again, and the car shook.

“It’s a simple question, Peter. Why won’t you answer me?”

“You have me confused with someone else,” Nick said, shaking his head. “I don’t know anyone named Peter.”

The car shook again as she slapped the window a second time. For a skinny woman, she was incredibly strong. Wet handprints shone on the glass. She leaned forward, staring in at him. “Don’t fucking lie to me, Peter. Just tell me where you go.”

Nick leaned back away from the window. He could see his own breath in the cold air; hers wasn’t visible. She pressed her face against the glass, staring in at him. Her skin had begun to rot, sliding away from her face in places as it moved against the glass.

“I don’t know anyone named Peter,” he repeated. “My name is Nick and my husband’s name is Alan.”

“All I want is the truth. That isn’t too much to ask.”

Frost formed on the glass where her hands touched it. Nick closed his eyes, and started to pray. He hadn’t been to church in years, but he promised that he’d start going again every Sunday if he just got out of this.

He thought about Alan waiting inside for him. It was late. He was probably already in bed, reading a book. Alan had never really liked Nick’s late night drives but he had learned to accept them. Nick wouldn’t be missed for an hour at least.

“Tell me,” the woman hissed in his ear. “Where do you go at night?”

He jumped. She was sitting behind him now, fingers grazing his neck. Her skin was cold and damp. His eyes moved on their own, looking in the rear view mirror. Her head was cocked at a slight angle. She seemed more confused than angry.

“I just drive,” he said, hating the way his voice shook. “I don’t go anywhere. All I do is drive. It helps me sleep.”

“I needed help,” she said. “And you left me behind.”

“My name is Nick,” he said, his teeth chattering as he spoke. “My husband is Alan. We’re going to have a baby soon.”

“We had a baby. A little girl. She’s alone now.” Her fingers slid around his neck. Her grip was loose. Nick wasn’t sure if his shirt was wet from her skin or soaked through with sweat. Tears streamed down his face. “It’s all your fault.”

“Why did you hurt me?” she asked again, her voice breaking slightly. Her grip tightened. Not enough to stop his breath, but just enough to make the threat of asphyxiation stick. Nick desperately wanted to reach up and pry the fingers from around his throat, but his hands still wouldn’t move.

Her anger flowed through his skin like an electrical current. Nick felt her argument with Peter, the rage overpowering all of his senses. There had been shouting, and things were thrown. This wasn’t the first of these fights. She had been so sure the neighbors would call the cops this time.

Dishes had been thrown. Now there was pain. Her hands touched her stomach and came up bloody. She had run from the house, not long after the fight had begun. Peter yelled for her in the night. Her bare feet slapped against the pavement. The driver never stopped, even after she rolled up onto the hood of the car, the glass shattering beneath her body.

The air tasted red, the coppery flavor of blood. “Colors don’t have a taste,” he thought, trying not to choke on it. Every joint felt like it had been filled with broken glass. He felt her dragging herself to the greenbelt, too scared to go home. She had died in the woods like a wounded animal.

“I’m not Peter,” he gasped. “I don’t know who hurt you. I’m sorry. So sorry.”

The fingers released his neck. He risked a quick glance in the mirror. She sat in the back seat of the car, hands still stretched forward. Dark bruises covered his neck. Slowly, Nick opened the car door and eased the key from the ignition.

He ran back towards the house where his husband was waiting for him. His keys fell from his numbed fingers in the puddle again, but he didn’t care. The only thing he wanted was to get home, to find the safe embrace of someone who loved him.

Stay With Me

Every morning at 3:37 AM, Elena wakes up and stares at the ceiling. Her arm drifts over to the left side of the bed. She hasn’t been able to bring herself to change the pillow case that still holds a faint smell of perfume. After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, she grabs her own pillow and her blanket, and drags them to the couch in the living room, where she falls back asleep.

They say it takes 21 days for a habit to form. It’s been 32 days now, and she’s only just starting to get used to the routine. She’s learned to accept the pain in her neck and lower back from sleeping on the couch. The alarm on her phone buzzes her awake at 7:00 AM. She’s tempted to hit the snooze button, but forces herself to wake up instead.

Elena shuffles through the kitchen, turning on the coffee maker and putting bread in the toaster. For awhile, she made four slices, but today she remembers to only make two. She brushes her teeth in the kitchen sink, and lets her eyes drift around the apartment.

Dust blankets the bookshelves and cabinets. She can’t even remember the last time she vacuumed the carpet. On her way back to the bedroom to get dressed, she does her best to avoid even glancing at the bathroom door.

Nobody says anything to her about her showering in the gym. She thinks about working out, but she just doesn’t have the energy. Some days, the sound of water on tiles is more than she can bear. The rest of her day speeds by in a blur of lights and sounds. In the afternoons, she politely declines her co-workers’ invitations to lunch. In turn, they ignore the times when she cries at her desk.

The last few nights when she’s come home, the apartment has been cold. Even with the heat running constantly, there’s a chill in the air that settles into her bones. She turns the TV on to avoid the silence. Hours go by and she can’t remember what she watched. Sometimes she eats, although most meals are forgotten as well. All she wants to do is sleep.

In her dreams, Elena replays that night, finding new ways to fix the situation, to keep it from every happening. In one, she catches an earlier cab home from the bar. In another, she and Carmen never had a fight to begin with. She never said those ugly words, and didn’t have to see Carmen’s face crumple as they hit her like a knife. She didn’t have to feel the weird flush of joy she got, right before the shame washed over her, and she had to leave. That was the best one. Most of them end the same way, with the sound of water running in the shower and bright red blood circling the drain.

3:37 AM, and she opens her eyes to stare at the ceiling. The room is freezing. She smells stagnant water and a hint of soap. When she tries to move her arm, nothing happens. Frozen fingers caress her jaw. Icy skin presses against her body. Lips brush against her neck and a familiar voice whispers, “Don’t wake up.”

Tears fill Elena’s eyes as the fingers run through her hair. She wants to say yes. She wants to say that she was wrong. She wants apologize for everything that happened. All that comes out is a quiet whimper.

A cold arm wraps around her waist. Carmen’s voice is pleading now. “Don’t go.”

Tears run down Elena’s cheeks. She tries to say something, but the words die in her throat. Every breath catches in her chest. Her left side is going numb as the arm pulls her closer. The shadows in the room grow darker. She turns to the left, afraid of what she might see.

In the growing darkness, she can just make out an indentation on the mattress, where Carmen used to sleep. There’s a slight curve of a woman’s hip just under the sheets. She feels a hand brush against her cheek, and the words hang on the air.

“Stay with me.”

©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.