My husband will be home in less than an hour. It’s our anniversary, so I need to make sure everything is perfect. I give the chicken in the oven one last peek before running upstairs to tidy my makeup and get dressed. I throw on the little black dress I wore on our honeymoon to Bermuda. Rick loves that dress. I fix my hair up just right – a beautiful updo that leaves my neck and shoulders exposed. The only piece of jewelry I’m wearing is my wedding band. The symbol of our love and our commitment to each other. The physical embodiment of our vows to love, honor, and cherish each other as long as we both shall live.
Staring at the ring brings up a welling of emotion in me that I don’t quite understand. I struggle to keep myself in control because crying will smudge my makeup and I don’t have time to re-apply it.
When I’m sure that everything about my appearance is ready, I go back downstairs to await my husband’s arrival. It seems like only minutes have passed before I hear his key in the lock. He opens the door and I can’t help but notice how haggard and worn he looks. His shoulders are slumped forward and the sparkle in his eyes is gone. My heart goes out to him. He must have had such a rough day at work.
“Happy anniversary, honey,” I say as I walk over and give him a hug and kiss his cheek.
His skin is cold to my touch and he shivers. I don’t feel any temperature difference, but perhaps it’s colder outside than it looks. I reach behind him and slam the door closed. The bang startles him and he jumps.
“I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t mean to scare you. Please come in and sit down. Supper is just about ready.”
Rick surveys the dining room, taking in the table set with our nicest china, the candles waiting to be lit, the two glasses of wine. He shakes his head and walks silently into the living room where he sinks into the couch. He rests his head on the back of the couch and closes his eyes.
“Karen, you need to stop it. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” He raises his head and opens his eyes, slowly looking around the room. There’s sadness in his eyes. I don’t know what happened to put that sadness there, but I’m determined to take it away. I go to him and caress his cheek.
He sighs. “Actually, I do know how much I can take and I’m at my limit.”
I hear the kitchen door open and I go out to investigate. Four people walk into my kitchen, their eyes appraising everything they see. They take great pains to pay absolutely no attention to me, but they nod to Rick who’s walked up behind me.
I’m so angry at him right now. This was supposed to be our anniversary dinner. A special night for just the two of us. How dare he bring friends home when he knows how much I’ve been looking forward to this.
“Mr. Stevenson, are you taking everything with you?” The tall, dark haired woman asks. She’s holding a clipboard and making notes on it. At first I don’t understand what she’s asking, but then two more people enter behind them carrying boxes.
“Yes, pack up everything. I’ll sort through it at the new place.”
He’s moving out on me. The bastard is leaving me on our anniversary. I didn’t even know anything was wrong between us. Why didn’t he say anything to me? We could have worked it out. Gone to therapy. Done something to save our marriage. It had only been three years. Had I been such a horrible wife to him?
I grab one of the glasses of wine off the table and fling it across the room. Everybody jumps back, staring around fearfully.
“Pay no attention to her,” Rick says. His voice is bland and emotionless. “She’s just pissed that I’m leaving.”
“She?” The tall woman seems to have regained her composure before everyone else. They’re all huddled in the center of the room, their eyes darting around.
“My dead wife.” I hear what he’s saying, but I don’t understand the words. I never knew my husband spoke a different language. What other secrets was he keeping from me?
“Your dead wife?” One of the bulkier men laughs, but I don’t know why. It’s a nervous laugh which cuts off abruptly. He’s speaking the same language as my husband. The language seems to be similar to English; if I concentrate, I can almost make out what they’re saying.
“Yes, she died a year and a half ago on our anniversary. A freak heart attack the doctor said.” Rick rubs his hands over his eyes. Eyes which are surprisingly damp. Is he feeling guilty for leaving me? Serves the bastard right. “Every few nights she recreates our anniversary dinner.” He sweeps his arm toward the set table. “Which reminds me…”
He goes over to the oven and turns it off after looking inside. He didn’t even have the common decency to ask me if the chicken was done yet. Tears streak down my cheeks as I realize that the man I love more than life itself is leaving me. That he doesn’t care about me anymore.
“I always have to check to make sure there’s nothing in there. She nearly burned the house down a few months ago when she put a pan of chicken bones in the oven.” He finally switches back to English.
Is that what this whole thing is about? I had made a mistake, one I didn’t even remember making, and he was leaving me for it? I pick up the other wine glass and fling it at his head. He ducks just in time and the glass hits the wall, shattering and splattering white wine everywhere.
“She sure is one angry lady.” The man carrying a stack of boxes sets the boxes against the wall and rubs at a wet spot on his pant leg.
“Angry? Of course I’m angry, asshole. My husband is leaving me. Why the hell wouldn’t I be angry?” I scream as loud as I can, trying to scream the pain out. As if on cue, the chandelier over the dining room table shakes and the lights flicker.
They all continue to ignore me.
I want to slap Rick, but I restrain myself. With all of these people here who are obviously on his side, I would probably end up getting hurt myself.
Rick sighs as he walks over to the sideboard and picks up a pretty white abalone shell filled with what looks like herbs. How had I not noticed that before? Was he doing drugs now? My heart breaks in my chest at the thought. I’d tried to be the best wife I could be, but it obviously wasn’t enough.
“I haven’t found anyone able to fully exorcise her from the house, but I can make her go away for a little while.”
He lights the herbs with a lighter he picks up from beside the shell. The smoke rising up from the dish smells pleasant, but it makes me very sleepy. I try not to breathe it in, I have no idea what kind of drugs are in there and I want no part of it, but the smoke seems to follow me and cling to my hair and skin.
“Karen Stevenson, you’re dead. You don’t belong in this world any longer. I beseech you to move on to the next path of your journey.”
The room is growing darker. I can barely see the dark figures who are starting to move around the room, touching my things. Finally, I can’t see anything at all.
My husband will be home in less than an hour. It’s our anniversary, so I need to make sure everything is perfect. Rick had the entire kitchen remodeled as his present to me so I need to make sure this night is absolutely right.