With the Surety of a Revelation
The garage smelled of gasoline from the chainsaw. He had cut down the curly willow tree out back just that afternoon. After they argued. After he hauled off and punched her in the face, his fist as wide as a shovel. In the bathroom, she held a washcloth to her nose. The white of her eye was crimson like raw meat. Fat drops of rain blew against the window, and in the sink, the cold water ran pink into the drain.
Out back, hollering obscenities over the chainsaw, he cut the severed branches into wooden rounds that stacked as high as the picnic table they never used because it was tilted and full of splinters.
But then it was several hours. She went to fetch a jar of wax beans canned from her garden. His head was leaned up sideways onto a pair of gray waders, the suspenders folded down, limp rubber piled loose over the round toes of the boots. She stepped over his legs. His chest was still, but her hand held in front of his mouth came away warm and wet.
She squatted next to him. The skin of his face was cool and gritty with stubble. She was slight, but she had moved him before, dragged him out from other unconscious places, pulled his boots, unbuttoned his shirt front, covered him with quilts. She jammed her shoulder under his arm and pressed herself up.
His weight staggered her. He twisted and groaned. His lips fluttered, breath foul with whiskey against her neck.
“Bitch,” he said.
She dragged him over the threshold, across the floor to the sofa, dropped his upper body on the cushions and rolled the rest of him up from the floor. He lay on his back on the white flowered sofa, legs spread, one arm up, mouth open. Dried sawdust clung to the folds of his pants and the tops of his boots.
Outside, the yellow streetlight flickered and then went out. The black night reflected her back to herself in the wide picture window. The ivory drapes that hung behind the sofa were stained brown down the back where the porch roof leaked every winter. Her reflection reached a hand up to pat at a stray curl. The flesh on her face was mottled and thick over her nose, her left eye a dark slit. She straightened, turned her head to the side just so. The twisted curl sprang back up.
He began to snore. His leg twitched, jerked off the end cushion. His boot landed on the floor with a solid thump. Clumps of dried mud crumbled onto the rug. She reached to brush it up into her hand, hesitated, drew her hand back. She crouched. The dried pieces of mud were perfect replicas of the boot tread. She pinched a piece between her fingers, rubbed it into dust, a spray of particles across the floor. A skiff of dirt. Broken clumps of mud on the rug.
Her hands clenched, bony fingers closing into bony fists. Around the sofa, she closed the drapes. She pulled him up by his arms so he seemed to be sitting on the edge of the cushions. Lifted him again.
His head rolled hard sideways, smacked her across the brow. She cried out, her knees half buckling. Feet braced, she leaned into the weight of him, tipped forward towards the garage.
His body slid off of her as if he had no bones. She pressed him up against the bench, sat him up. Under the bench, the Styrofoam beer cooler was missing its lid. The standing water was cool but not cold, ice melted days ago, a dead mosquito hawk floating on the surface. She eased his hand into the cooler. Along the inside of his leg, a wet stain appeared and spread into his crotch. Her mouth twisted in a wide grimace.
Rain rapped against the garage window. Wind sucked at the plastic taped over the broken pane and rattled the loose door hinge that had never been fixed.
Tipping him forward, she squeezed in behind him, cradled his arm out in front of her. The wet shirtsleeve clenched in one hand, she slipped the other up and around his arm. The curved siding knife in her fist. She breathed in shallow gasps. Held her breath. Cut into his wrist.
After the lights and noise had settled, a paramedic with curly brown hair sat with her at the kitchen table and cleaned the gash above her brow. He taped clean, white gauze to her skin. His breath was warm and sweet as he examined her red eye with a small light. He told her that her husband had been dead for several hours.
“There was nothing you could have done,” he said.
“I know,” she said.
He sat back on the kitchen chair. His eyes were the color of cornflowers. “He won’t ever do this to you again,” he said.
She nodded her head. “I know.”