He’s watching me. I can feel his stare creeping up my spine, tingling the wispy hairs on my nape. My muscles tense and my shoulders hunch before I turn my head discreetly, expectantly, in terror. I see his shadow and my breath catches, a sticky hot gasp in my throat. Slowly, I unglue it. My heart scrabbles in my chest but I must be calm.
He’s inside the apartment.
He knows what I’ve done. He must have watched me swim with her. I had my reservations about leaving the house together. Somehow, in an empty part of the woods, in the blue of night, he watched as I held her naked body against mine in the water. He did nothing, said nothing.
But I heard him.
He must have followed me home. I could sense someone at my back, moving at a rhythm that matched my steps. I dismissed him as a guilty conscience or paranoia. But I heard him. He was catching up to me.
I ran as fast as I could. As fast as any out-of-shape forty-six year old man can run. Faster, even. My speed was such that I believed I would fall, trip, tumble to the ground. I hurtled through space as though death followed; but I was running from myself.
Looking back, nobody was there.
He knows where I live. Perhaps she told him. She sent him to come for me. Her version would have her blameless, seduced, innocent. Instead she was bitter, scorned, vengeful. Behind her angelic smile lay a wily adulterer.
Eleanor, my love. My sinful, tormented love.
We had many blissful nights. Her passion was unmatched—my heart ached to satisfy her while suspecting I never could. My insecurities were met with teasing, torture, laughter. I pleaded for her to remove the golden band from her finger; to shed its curse upon her heart. She refused and so the shadow remained.
I pretend I don’t see him, but I can hear him gurgling in the other room. He must be rabid. Or hungry. Hungry for my soul, or my manhood. I’m sure he wants to pluck it from me and render me impotent, because of what I did to her. She has long since emasculated me; his action would be symbolic.
I pour my tea and ignore the pounding against my ribcage. I can see my chest moving with the force of it; no, it’s just heavy breathing, sobbing, fear. My eyes are wet and it makes him harder to see. I don’t want to die. I pour blurry milk into my cup with a shaking hand and wonder at the steam that rises. The cooling tea is a lost opportunity for self-defence.
He moves into the light.
I can’t help but react. I shrink away, holding the cup before me like a ward. Brown liquid sloshes over my fingers, hot, sticky. I try to speak but my voice can only make a croak. Mocking me, he croaks back.
I throw the cup at him and he squawks his dismay. I run for my bedroom. It is only fitting that we should face off here, where it happened. This is why he has come. I reach the bedroom, hearing him chase me and my bravado melts like ice, leaving me chilled. Like a coward I slam the door shut and press against it, laughing, crying, hysterical.
Beneath my sounds I hear nothing. I gasp and hold my breath, fighting, struggling for control. A fluttering silence. My eyes are large and round but I can’t see much, the room is too dark. Nearby is a lighter and some of her scented candles. My heart aches for Eleanor, who is no longer in my bed, in my home, in my life.
Eleanor, my love. My twisted, murdered love.
I take the lighter and a candle with trembling hands and touch the flame to wick. I hold it away from me like a torch. Wax drips onto the carpet, smelling like peaches. I move forward, my gaze travelling with the feeble circle of light. The bedroom is just as we left it; there are clothes upon the floor, ropes tied upon the bedposts. I see the overturned end-table and a broken lamp, the one she was reaching for when she took her last breath.
My hands were loving, caressing, worshipping her body as she writhed beneath me, screaming for more. Pleasure turned sour when she couldn’t have what she wanted. I was not enough, I am never enough. The day I put the ring on her finger was the day I cursed us both.
Too late the flame of the candle alerts me to an open window; he’s already perched upon it, watching me with evil intent. Locked out of my bedroom, he found another way in. I can’t escape him because he saw us, because he knows.
Because she sent him.
Harbinger, thing of evil, voice of the dead. Knowing my thoughts, the raven laughs at me. Its caw is a frightful thing; like a grimace on a clown or a recoiling woman.
“Get out!” My voice cracks on the second word. Frustrated that it should know my fear, I swipe the candle in an arc before myself, as though it is a sword. The flame should have gone out, but something—something keeps it alive. The raven takes flight into the room, fluttering wings impossibly loud. The sound is the one I heard following me all the way from the lake.
Eleanor, dear Lord why? Why send this thing, this creature, this devil? I made her unhappy until the day she died. Living was torture. Life was unbearable. She told me of her misery from sunrise to sunset. Surely death was an escape? Had I misinterpreted?
The raven lands upon a pile of books, stacked up on top of one another and tied with brown string. It inspects me before its beak pecks at the knot.
“No!” I lunge for the bird, to shoo it away. I jab the candle at it and it squawks and takes wing. Whirling, wax flying, I watch it cry at me while circling the ceiling. It is a banshee, a ghoul in flight.
The room is brighter now, adrenalin improves my vision as I chase the raven. I leap on the bed and swing my arms, still holding the now extinguished candle. I jump upon the mattress as I take another swipe and hear the groan of springs. They sober me enough to leave me standing still while the raven returns to the window sill, watching, warning.
Our bed, our marriage bed, the place I lost my Eleanor. I feel the warmth of her touch on my back, the heat of her passion upon my skin. A mixture of scents assaults me and I turn to see a rainbow assortment of candles melting on the dresser. Fire crackles and reaches liquid fingers up the wall, blackening everything it touches; lighting and darkening the room.
As I stare into the blackness of his eye, listening to the doomsday of his cry, I knew the ending of my life, to spend eternity with my wife, the beautiful, vindictive, critic that was my Eleanor. While she is slowly sinking, drifting, soulless corpse unblinking, she and I will join in matrimony once more. My death comes with burning fingers, the raven beckons as it lingers, and together we will join in death, me and my Eleanor.
© Delia Strange 2015, All rights reserved.