A short story by June V. Bourgo.
The car drives through the black wrought iron gates, slowly weaving its way along the narrow roadway. My sister squeezes my hand, and my grip on the flowers in my lap tightens.
“Are you all right?” she asks.
It’s three months since the accident—my husband’s that is—and I still can’t, or won’t, say his name, it’s too soon, and too hard. All of it is a blur—the police, the funeral, settling his affairs with the lawyers, collecting the insurance, selling the house and furniture. I stare out the window at the even rows of headstones and see hundreds of dead people. I hate this place. But then who likes a cemetery?
We met not far from here. The memory of the white sandy beach, crystal-clear water, and laughter of the sunbathers sits in sharp contrast to my current reality. The living versus the dead. A whirlwind romance of dinners, trips away, wine and flowers, and gifts. Ah, the gifts of beautiful jewelry and clothes—all so impressive to the naive, small-town girl moving to the city.
I turn to my sister. “Remember Rainbow Beach, the day we met him?”
“Yes, happy days for you back then.”
I sigh. It’s ironic, the name of the beach. “The innocence of first love, believing I’d found the pot at the end of the rainbow.”
She brushes a wisp of hair back from my eyes. “I’m so sorry, sis.”
I lean my elbow on the door rest, covering my mouth with my hand. And oh the wedding!
Designer dress, so many rich and beautiful people, a honeymoon cruise, and the new house with the six bedrooms with their own private bathrooms, the pool, and the view of the city below. A view to die for—and he did.
“Five years! It’s hard to believe it’s over.”
The vehicle stops. The driver opens my door. I step out; stand straight, with shoulders back, and head held high. But seeing his name on the headstone tears me up. My sister reaches out, but I pull away. Stay strong. Moving forward, I kneel on the grass, and my hands shake as I place the flowers against the marble slab. That fateful day fills my thoughts.
Him home early and me returning from shopping, I climb the stairs to the bedroom. He races out of the bathroom naked, still dripping from a shower, and pulls on a robe. I gauge his mood. Warning bells go off when I see the anger in his eyes and hear that all too familiar accusatory tone in his voice.
“Where have you been? You know you aren’t supposed to go out when I’m away.”
“I needed some personal things that couldn’t wait.”
He grabs the bag from my hands and dumps the contents onto the bed. I stare at the pools of water on the hardwood floor and wait for his wrath. His hand pushes the items around the comforter so hard, some fly through the air and bounce across the floor. “Make-up? New perfume? A new scarf? They couldn’t wait?”He totally ignores the tampons; my reason for leaving the house.
He turns to me. Oh, the look on his face. I don’t bother pointing out the tampons. It doesn’t matter once he shows me that expression. I know what’s coming. Stay still, stay calm. Never talk back. It goes easier. “You’re up to something. I know it.”
“No,” I say softly.
“Don’t lie to me.” His voice resonates around the room.
I cringe. “I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. You leave the house without my permission and lie to me. I call and ask what you are doing, washing my hair, you say. I come home early to surprise you and guess what? No, you.”
He’s right. How can I say I’m out shopping? I’m not a mind reader who knows he’s only twenty minutes from home.
He picks up the scarf and examines it. “Your favorite color, blue silk.” He looks at me and sneers. “You’re planning to go out. Where? Who with?”
I start to squirm. “No,” I whisper. I point to the tampons. “Those are why …” I stop talking as I notice he’s wrapped the ends of the scarf around both hands. He pulls the scarf taut and moves towards me, his face red with bulging eyes.
My hands reach up to my neck in self-defense. Something inside me snaps. No, not this time. No more. I turn and run out the bedroom door. I reach the top of the stairs but not soon enough. He leans forward to grab my arm and I side-step him, giving him the advantage of blocking the stairway. I’m trapped upstairs. In a panic, I try to think out my next move.
He sneers, sensing my fear. He starts to turn my way, but steps on the terry towel tie on his bathrobe, hanging from the belt loop and trailing on the floor. His leg slides forward, and he twists back to grab hold of the banister. He misses it and teeters at the top of the stairs. A fit man who may or may not have been able to regain his balance, but we’ll never know.
It’s only seconds and happens so fast—me recognizing my chance. This is my one shot. With deft speed, I rush forward and move behind him. With both hands, I give him a hard push. That pivotal moment makes the difference, and he loses control of his balance. He yells out, knowing he’s going to fall. His arm shoots for the banister, and he grabs hold with one hand. But it goes against him. The move pulls him forward, and he hits his head so hard on the railing, I hear the wood crack. His body goes limp, and he tumbles down the stairs to the bottom.
The silence is deafening. Frozen to the spot, I stare at his lifeless body. His head tilts at an awkward angle. I know his neck is broken. He’s dead. Shock resonates through me, but I try to shake it off. Think! What should I do? I run to the bedroom, careful not to step in any of the water puddles on the floor. I gather up my store items, replacing them in the shopping bag. I compare them to the receipt to make sure they’re all there. Descending the stairs, I carefully move around his body on my way down, still fearful he might open his eyes and yell ‘surprise’ as he grasps me tight. Once past him, I gingerly lean over and feel for a pulse, then place my hand over his chest for a heartbeat—nothing.
I sit in the chair in the entranceway and use my cell to call the police.
It’s a cut and dried case, according to the detectives. The wife comes home to find her husband dead on the stairs from a horrific accident. It seems he slipped on the bathrobe tie wrapped around his right ankle, hits his head and breaks his neck on the way down. A simple case of carelessness, poor bastard.
I stand up from his grave and brush the grass off of my clothes. Oh, I’m sure if I own up to the police and tell them the truth about that day and all the other days, I’d get away with self-defense. But, his family must never know. His father, his brothers, all violent men, accept the police report and are empathetic for their brother’s widow who is now alone without their family’s youngest sibling taken from us all so tragically; a great man in their estimation. It’s such a shame. Once a week, I visit his grave. They all think I’m still grieving. What do they know? No longer here to tell me what to do, how to do it, or when—my life is my own. But is it? Each night in my dreams…I should say nightmares…his hands reach out from the grave and I awaken in a sweat to relive the fear. Even after death, his dominance over me is complete. I come for reassurance that he really is dead.
But, no more. Today is my last visit. Today, I’m taking back the power. Today I’m celebrating a new birth.
My sister and I return to the taxi. She tells the driver to take us to the airport. She’s bringing me home to that small town where the people I know as a true, loving family are waiting. I reach for her hand, and she smiles. Yes, she knows what happened as only she would. Not from me telling her in words, but because we’re twins—identical twins. One day, we’ll speak.
“Now I’m fine,” I say.
We drive through the gates for the last time. I don’t look back. He’s behind me now. The realization hits me that I’m finally free and the sweet taste of empowerment washes over me.
About June Bourgo:
June V. Bourgo is a novelist whose incredible journey has taken her down many different paths. From years of working in marketing/sales for a major telecommunications firm, managing a physiotherapy clinic, living on a houseboat in Victoria harbor, to working at a gold mine on a remote mountain in the Yukon, she finally took the time to pursue her love of writing. She drew on her many life experiences, including an abusive first marriage, to create her first novel, Winter’s Captive. She shares with the reader the lessons she learned with the fictitious story of one woman’s struggle to enlightenment and empowerment. June was born and educated in Montreal, Quebec. She lives with her artist husband on beautiful Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia. Her writing is influenced by the raw beauty of nature and the Salish Sea that surrounds her home. Follow June of Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.