Soulless images swinging from a ledge, we perused the underworld as if a dare. A vast darkness, it swirled and roiled in endless chaos, a temptation to all we undesirables, and we were more undesirable than most.
Time meant little there. Each dusk rivalled the next for length and languor. Each splitting of the sky rendered the place more ruinous. Eternity was less a bonus than the Devil had promised.
We jumped from boredom, not shame. We plunged into His realm, as he had dropped into ours. I only hoped our son watched from heaven. Perhaps it balanced the books.
She claimed me a simple fellow bereft of ideas and ambition. In many ways, this was true, but not all. Whilst she revelled in opulent un-necessities, as I termed them, I made do. As she basked by day in dazzling pools of gold, quicksilver sprinkles by evening, I brushed off the ragged darkness and settled for black. This was just my way. As you might imagine, we clashed. Money and its making was ever a seduction to some.
Lissette was as headstrong as I was meek. She wore me down. She erased my lines like pencil from a clean, white page. It seemed I wore my soul as a too-long cape, one that dragged in the gutter, grew wet and mould-ridden, whilst she bought ever more spectacular silks and flaunted them as a modern-day Scheherazade. She recited her wondrous tales to whoever, whenever, just to get her way. Something had to change, as I was no king and she certainly no prospective queen. Yes, something had to change. But what?
The simplest solutions are often the best, and mine was the simplest of all: I ran. I gathered all I owned, emptied the accounts, leaving her with next to nothing, and fled to the mountains where once I’d thrived as a boy. There, where only goats roamed and cows munched the pastures, I lived the simplest of simple lives. Unfortunately, even this was too much.
She appeared one windswept evening, drenched and enraged. Her clothes hung from her like a wailing banshee, her skin now of spectral shades. What beauty she’d flaunted had long since past. Even her eyes had dimmed. If she still possessed the gold and silver she so valued, there was not one sign. Had she sold all her belongings, spent her, or rather, our fortune, just to track me? Could she truly have been so petty?
“You left.” She slammed the shack door closed to a whistle and a whoosh.
“You… left… me…”
“I did.” What else was there to say?
She shook so violently, raindrops sprayed everywhere, soaking everything, including me.
“You made me look foolish.”
“You did that on your own.”
“Me!” she said, as if in disbelief.
“What do you want?”
“I’m your wife…”
“We were never married. Never would have been, either.”
“In the eyes of the law, we were, and I want what I’m entitled to.”
She unravelled a script that said as much. I read it, rolled it back up and refastened the thing. I set her with one of my best looks and said, “I gave it all away.”
She laughed for some reason. Lissette almost split her sides. Only after several minutes of tears and frothing did she recompose.
“Where is it?”
“With a boy in Toulon. An old woman in London. A gypsy somewhere in between. There were, of course, others, all far more needy than I. The list was extensive. Now, I have this and nothing more. I spread my arms out wide.
I had seen rivers breach and even a volcano blow its top in Sicily, but nothing compared to her. Lissette knew me as well as I knew her, and there was never any doubt of my lying.
The dagger slipped into her hand as easily as a dream into sleep. Even easier into my heart, and twice in my head.
I woke to a glistening web of a place, neither silver nor gold, rich nor poor. The others were there, those I’d assisted, helping me to my feet, smiling.
“No, said the boy.
“Down there,” said the old lady, who looked decidedly better than when last I’d seen her.
“Cursed,” added the gypsy. She crossed herself and spat.
“Oh,” said I.
I wept then. Not for being murdered, nor that briefest of pain, but for Lissette.
“Why?” chorused the masses who’d benefited from my philanthropy, all those she’d tracked and butchered.
“I loved her.”
As I said, the simplest answers are always best. Never embellish them with adornments, no matter how fierce the shame.
Grinning, she toasted his death, then smashed the bottle over his head.
They locked her away, called her mad. She was mad, but not without reason.
Seventeen years later, and release. She went straight to his grave and did a jig. The police were waiting. They each shook her hand.
She made sweeping changes, everything from burning the curtains to killing the cat. The outside faired no better. She had the garden walls knocked down, the fountain plugged, even the old willow tree hacked to pieces. She did all this with a smile on her face and an unwaveringly airy disposition. Next, came me.
She made sure I saw everything, every last detail. She stood there bold as brass, hands on her hips and announced in a voice so sick as to be sweet exactly who she was, this woman who’d bought it all, my business, my home, myself.
“I’m your half-sister,” she purred.
“Uh-huh. The worst half.”
Father had never said a word, and now he never would, after all, she’d disposed of him first. Apparently, it hurt less than the cat, and on the plus side, saved me a job.
There was something about her. Something impassive. All she lacked was the nictitating membranes of a reptile’s eyes, that brief translucence before the kill. She killed often. I know. After all, she killed me. We met on a windswept Wednesday, when everyone with sense remained indoors. I caught her umbrella as it blew from her hand, or rather, she let slip from between her fingers. We walked, drank coffee, and later… danced. Wednesday night became Thursday morning and the sun reappeared. The city streets steamed. It was inevitable really, she and I. She had a house near the swamps and I had the money to fill it. I’d always hated the city, anyway. We settled together like a hen on an egg, by which I mean, she smothered me. It was a slow disassembling of self, how she manipulated me with raised eyebrows and slight shakes of the head. She never moved more than necessary. Late spring became mid-summer and the weather turned hotter still. The flowers drooped, trees sagged, and the weeds burned to a crisp. Every day began with the misted leftovers of the prior fried evening. They never quite cleared, the sun a citrine blur behind the withering reeds. I took to walking along the thickening waters like a heron patrolling a stream. It was as if God reduced them daily to pour on his lunch instead of gravy, so unctuous they turned. They had that same solidity as skin and I wanted to walk across them, test physics and nature alike. I wanted to but didn’t. My keeper lounged. She always lounged. She wore as little as possible as often as she could, sprawled like a lizard basking in that endless heat. Nothing bothered her, not hunger, lust, or even death. As the world burned, she bronzed. It came to a head when I tripped over her one afternoon; I hadn’t even seen her there. A dislodged sandal slipped into the water and a whisky-lined throat scratched, “Get it back.” I tried. I really tried! But no matter how far I stretched, reached with grappling fingers deep into the shoreline, the sandal was gone. Her response, “Wade.” And I did. Despite the very real fear of knowing what lurked beneath those stygian waters, her presence commanded it. My own personal Cleopatra, her beauty expected nothing less. My stomach hurt, teeth ground, heart sank. I gagged on the stench, eyes watering and throat retching. She sipped her drink and sauntered over. And just when I thought she might help, she slid onto her stomach and slipped into the water face first. It was not a fast death, that drowning. She made sure of it. I saw the pitch-black night of those depths as an astronaut sees space, taking them in, navigating them needlessly. The pain became insignificant as I faded. She placed me in her parlour with a pat to the cheek, her teeth stained crimson, eyes glazed. There were others in various states of decay. I was just the latest. She remained there for those final moments, motionless, inches from my face. I drooled a lobotomy. “You have alligator eyes,” my last words on this earth. She leaned in close enough to kiss. They say you see your life flicks past at the end. That a jigsaw of all you’ve been and all you’ve known is laid before you. It wasn’t, though, not for me. And as I went to who knew where, passed on, all that marked it were her epitaph words. “Wait till dark comes, my love, they glow.” But I was already there and saw nothing.
Isabella’s pros outweighed her many, many cons. After all, one may only sing the praises of one’s maid to so many people before they wish to meet her. I had extolled Isabella’s virtues from the moment she opened her big, blue eyes and smiled at me. I melted that day and have many days since.
Isabella busied herself about my mansion with the verve of a bee overloaded with nectar. She buzzed from here to there with her feather duster in one gloved hand and cleaning cloths and bucket in the other. She would start her cleaning before I awoke, tend to my needs when I did, then return to her incessant sanitations. At first, she was a godsend. Later, she was a hazard.
The problem with Isabella was everything. She understood that I required hygienic conditions for my work and took that knowledge to quite dizzying heights. One day, I walked in to find she had scrubbed so hard that the raised patterns of my carefully chosen wallpapers had been extinguished, buffed away, gone.
My decorating conundrum paled into insignificance once she started on my guests: faces, buffed; nails, trimmed; clothing, stripped and washed. The latter proved the final straw for one elderly dowager who walked out of one particular party with more than just an agog visage. Orders were given. Isabella was to be expunged.
I apologised to my guests, some senior clergy and parliamentarians amongst them, promised to do the deed that evening and made my excuses to bring the shindig to an early conclusion so as to facilitate said task. If only it had been that easy?
As I looked into Isabella’s beautiful glass eyes, those that had once been my beloved wife’s, I crumbled. I wept like a fool as Isabella tried her best to comfort me, her metal arms almost wringing my neck in her supposed embrace. She meant well, but as usual was not made for such things.
I reached around her back, slipped my fingers under her blouse and flipped the termination button, then backed away.
Isabella had no understanding of what occurred. As the steam of self-destruction engulfed her, she even fetched her mop and bucket and began to dab at herself. She only saw something that was not right, as did I.
Once Isabella’s violent juddering ceased, her head coming to rest with her eyes open and fixed on my own, I did the one thing I should’ve from the start. I opened up the trapdoor between her steel breasts, extracted that which powered her, my darling wife’s heart, and held it in my hands one last time.
If only those fools had known my wife wasn’t the only one to be resurrected that day, but they did not. With that I reached under my shirt, flipped the auto-destruct and waited for the boom before heaven to engulf me. It didn’t hurt, not this second time around, not too much, anyway.