I saw a valley full of stars and I heard them telling me… I was home. Evenings didn’t get more miserable than that one had been, but I knew when surprise drew a smile across the face of my wife, Marie, the journey would be worth it.
I stood at the top of a snow-shrouded hill on a highway drifted over by white dunes. Inside my briefcase, which I clutched with achy, frostbitten fingers, a rectangular box lay snuggled in a rolled up t-shirt. Within that box, atop an ivory pillow, rested a diamond bracelet. I didn’t know if it was a Valentine’s Day gift or an expensive apology for the way things had gone in recent months.
My leather shoes bent stiffly and compressed the powder beneath them with a Styrofoam crunch. Each step demanded attention to the prickling numbness of my toes. Loose cyclones of flurries spun down the hillside. The sting of winter blasted from all sides.
At least the storm had passed, just as I hoped the clouds over my marriage might soon begin to dissipate. I wasn’t sure how often couples of six years typically fought, but I feared we had far surpassed that. Subjects of contention ranged from serious topics like me working too much and our disappearing sex life, to coming home from the grocery store with the wrong brand of yogurt.
“I can’t eat this,” Marie said, and she jammed her fingertip against the nutrition facts. “Look at that. There’s 29 grams of sugar in this crap.”
“Then don’t eat it. Christ almighty,” I said as I pulled boxes of pasta, noodles clacking against each other, from a rustling plastic bag and placed them in the cupboard.
“Then what am I going to take for breakfast?”
“I don’t know. Don’t we have any Oreos or Twinkies or something?”
“Real funny… You don’t have to be an asshole.”
That word – asshole – her go-to. Every time she said it, it felt as though she turned a vise on my face.
I shook my head and slammed the cupboard door.
“Yep,” she said. “Break something again. That’ll help… Maybe in six months you’ll fix it and it’ll be almost as good as new. Just like that hole you put in the living room wall.”
I turned, yanked open the door under the sink, and ripped out the garbage can. With one wide sweep of my arm nine containers of yogurt slid off the counter and thunked against the bottom of the trash. I snatched the tenth from Marie’s hand, not the slightest concerned that my aggression might scratch or bend her fingers. I dropped it in with the others, walked to the front door, and began shoving my feet into my shoes, struggling to work my heel in against the will of the already tied laces.
“Where are you going?” Marie asked.
“To get your fucking Chobani.”
I shook this flashback from my head as I reached the edge of town and turned down the street toward our house. No reason to dwell in the past. Her and I could start anew. It was Valentine’s Eve, and I was home early from a business trip to surprise her with a diamond bracelet. Never mind the tri-state blizzard and the cancelled flight, the white-knuckled six-hour drive, snow whipping past the rental car like stars in hyperspace, the beams of the headlights smacking flat against a wall of weather just past the hood. Never mind the dead cell phone, the patch of ice, the adrenaline-pumping hydroplane into a snowbank, and the two mile subzero trek. I was home, and it was time to right all the wrongs Marie and I had accumulated over the years. I’d deal with the car in the morning.
In our front yard, barren trees stabbed the sky like forks with twisted tines. The second story window, beyond which lay our bedroom, glowed yellow and dim and flickering. I thought perhaps Marie was reading by candlelight, one of her favorite evening activities. A breathtaking glee tickled the back of my breastbone with the intense remembrance that I loved her and all her little hobbies.
I cut across the lawn toward the porch. The motion-sensing light clicked on and brought my attention to footprints pressed into the snow down the length of the sidewalk, too big to be Marie’s. Their edges had caved and rounded with the wind, but they were still defined enough to know they had been formed that evening. No set returned back the way they came, just a solitary left, right, left, right, straight to my front door.
My eyes traced them to their source, a silver GMC parked across the street. I knew that truck. It belonged to her boss.
I walked slower and softer, knowing only one thing could be waiting for me inside that house. Infidelity. I slid my key into the lock and turned it. The deadbolt clacked into its chamber. I eased open the door.
Kelly was his name. Tall and European, ebony hair, thick eyebrows. I once told Marie something seemed suspicious about the two of them. In the ensuing argument I told her Kelly was a girl’s name, admittedly not my most mature moment. She told me Daniel was an asshole’s name. There was that word again. That’s when I put the hole in the living room wall.
Valentine’s Eve. I eased the door shut behind me. The home’s heat blanketed my throbbing extremities, and I stifled the urge to sigh in relief. I set my briefcase, complete with diamond bracelet, atop the rug and squeezed my face with sensationless fingers so my teeth didn’t chatter. I slipped off my dress shoes.
On the kitchen island, a candle burned beside a vase which sprouted roses clouded in baby’s breath. As gently as I could, my feet so anesthetized they may as well have been amputated stumps, I stepped across the hardwood through the swaying canary wash of the flame, past the flowers, their aroma so cloying it approached nauseating.
Marie’s giggle echoed through the silent house, followed by Kelly’s baritone chuckle, followed by the shing of the fillet blade as I slid it from the knife block. Then it was quiet again.
I stepped up the shadowed staircase. My pants, creased and hardened by the wind and frost, began to soften as chilling drips of water slithered down between my leg hairs.
“Oh… So big,” my wife murmured.
My rattling body shook the knife in front of me, the point of its blade dipping into the light at the top of the stairs. A bright sheen drew a thin line down the tip and extended toward the handle as the knife jutted closer to the second floor.
I peered around the corner, down the hall, and through the open bedroom door. Kelly’s tan ass flexed and unflexed, cutting dimples into the sides of his butt cheeks as he pumped into my wife. A final step brought me to the landing, and I walked down the hallway watching Marie’s feet bouncing in the air, one on each side of Kelly.
I crossed the threshold. Feeling trickled back into my fingers which squeezed tighter around the heavy, steel handle. The spicy and sweet scent of cinnamon and vanilla candles could have been intoxicating if I were the person inside my wife, instead it jammed its way into me and triggered nerves that stiffened the muscles in my shoulders and face.
Marie whimpered. Marie moaned. One of her hands combed through the hair on the back of Kelly’s head while the other dragged its nails down his back. Then both hands slammed against the bed and clutched fistfuls of comforter.
“Fuck me!” she demanded.
“Yeah,” I said. “Fuck you.”
Kelly pulled out of Marie and threw himself off the bed and against the opposite wall. He looked at the knife and at my face and at the knife again then clutched a pillow and covered his groin.
“Get my fucking pillow off your dick,” I said.
He dropped it and tried to push his extended member down to hide behind his hands.
“Jesus, Daniel,” Marie said through panting breaths. “You’re not supposed to be back yet.”
“Something you decided to take full advantage of I see.”
“I’m sorry,” she pleaded, though not to me – her eyes and words were pointed at the knife.
“You’re not sorry,” I said. “Only maybe that you got caught.”
“Yes I am. So sorry. Please. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“It’s too late for that,” I said. “My stupidity started back when I gave you my trust.”
“Please. I know,” she said, her forehead scrunched in desperation. “I didn’t deserve it.”
“Out,” I said. “Both of you.”
Already itching for an invitation to leave, Kelly lunged to collect his clothes from the floor.
“Yeah fucking right,” I said and stepped closer, my body thawing with the warmth of adrenaline, the knife now steady. “Those stay.”
“Daniel, what the hell? Stop,” Marie said.
“I don’t know why you’re still sitting,” I said and swung the blade to point her direction. “Up! Now!”
“Okay!” Her hands flew to the air as if under arrest. “Just please relax,” she said, and she stood up beside the bed, opposite Kelly.
I took in Marie’s nude body one last time, from top to toes, and got stuck on the lengthy, smooth legs I used to run my hands along during the days when we still enjoyed each other enough to snuggle and watch movies, all of that now gone.
“You’re such a bitch,” I said.
She found no response.
“Let’s go,” I said, and I moved toward the corner to free a path to the door.
“Where are we supposed to go?” Marie asked.
“That’s not my concern,” I said.
Kelly again bent to his clothes and said, “I just need to get my keys.”
“No,” I said. “The only thing you’re going to need to get is a doctor if you don’t get the hell out of my house. Right goddamn now!”
“Okay,” he said, and he stepped through the doorway toward the stairs.
I approached my wife. She flinched at the touch of my hand on her spine. My fingers glided up her skin and into her lush, ash brown hair. They twisted through it and jerked downward, cranking her head back and exposing the front of her neck. She shrieked. Kelly turned, muscles tense, poised to save the day. I held the glinting, wicked curve of the blade at a hover in front of Marie’s throat.
“Don’t try any fancy heroic bullshit,” I said, “or I’ll bury this in her windpipe, you understand?”
“Okay, okay. Got it,” he said.
He approached the stairs then descended. At the bottom he turned, hands again shielding his crotch, and watched Marie and I follow, her hair still roped through my fist, the knife hoisted to jab her in the kidney if necessary.
I motioned Kelly toward the door with a flick of the blade. I shoved Marie. They collided with a clap of sticky skin and stumbled back against the door.
“Here, I’ll get that for you,” I said, and I stepped toward them.
They shimmied sideways along the wall, away from my weapon. I twisted the doorknob and pulled. The wind helped push open the door and became an instant, howling presence in the house.
“Out you go,” I said.
“Daniel,” Marie said, her eyes searching mine for some hint of compassion. “We’ll freeze to death out there.”
“One can only hope.”
Kelly stepped out to the porch, his member now limp and sad and shriveled. Tears drew lines down Marie’s cheeks and flew away from her chin at a slant with the frigid gusts rushing past.
“Please,” she said. “Can we talk about this? I love you.”
I laughed. “I love you, too, but that doesn’t fix what you did.”
I clutched her hair again and forced her into the night, slammed the door and locked it.
The next morning I stood at the kitchen window. The sun sprinkled glitter across the ground. I sipped black coffee and waited for it to slice through the exhaustion of a restless night spent tossing on the sofa. I wondered how many times I had slept on sheets filthy with their lust. I pondered when I would hear from Marie again, what she would say, how long this had been happening… whether or not they loved each other.
I lifted my mug for another sip but was interrupted by the buzz of my phone vibrating against the countertop. I approached it. A prompt illuminated the screen and said, “Erica Lacour – 1 new message.” I unplugged the charger cord, typed in my passcode, and opened the message:
“Thanks again for the other night. I can’t get the way you felt out of my head. Let me know when you’re in town again. By the way, happy Valentine’s Day.”
I was a hypocrite, yes, but my own faithlessness made it no less painful to discover that Marie had done the same, and somehow her actions still seemed more despicable than mine. Perspective, I suppose.
With haptic feedback tapping back into my thumbs, I typed a reply to Erica:
“Happy Valentine’s Day. Are you doing anything next weekend?”