Fiction by April Grey
You know, it was a marriage they said would never last.
Even I had my doubts. After all, I was a dancer—a dancer, mind you, not a stripper—at the Pussy Cat A-Go-Go Club and he was this geeky post doc at his friend’s bachelor party. But I became a good professor’s wife. I hosted faculty teas and luncheons, kept the house spotless, made healthy meals, kept myself in shape and raised two beautiful boys--one now at MIT and the other at Cal Tech.
Still, it’s supposed to be until death do you part. Death: the parting of the ways. This whole eternity thing, I never agreed to it.
Faithful to a fault, that’s my Fred.
And he wasn’t buried three days when he showed up at the back door covered in dirt, and his feet, well, he had no shoes on, just socks. Wet, muddy, slimy socks! He should have told me, put it in his will or something, to bury him in shoes. I would have done it. I can be unconventional. He should have warned me, but he was always the typical absent-minded professor.
I was in such shock that I hadn’t the presence of mind to shut the door on him, and the he was on my freshly washed kitchen floor, with moldering leaves and what have you, and he grunted at me.
“Huh?” I said, equally speechless. I kept that floor clean enough to eat off of and now look what he’d done.
He grunted again. Prior to his demise, my Fred was a well-spoken man, and he had this amazingly plummy voice for his lectures.
“Fred, honey, I don’t know what you’re saying.”
He opened his mouth a bit wider and a few white crawly things, slugs, maggots, I don’t know, fell out onto the floor. I shrieked and ran for the disinfectant and my cleaning gloves. While I was under the sink, trying to decide on straight ammonia or pine fresh, he shambled over. He tried to embrace me as I stood up with my supplies. Well, no way, I thought, though I was pinned to the sink. He smelled of soil and decaying things.
Still, I tried to stifle my revulsion. This, after all, was the father of my boys, so I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Neither could I accept letting him get one inch closer. I put out both my hands, filled as they were with cleaning products.
He grunted plaintively, perhaps at the expression on my face, and turned around, moving toward the living room—oh, my white shag rug! The one that I waited years for the boys to grow old enough to head off to college before getting. The one that I made everyone take off their shoes before walking on. That one!
Well, yes, Fred wasn’t wearing any shoes, but that only made things worse; there was already a trail of grime across my kitchen floor. I know Martha Stewart claims she can get out dirt from shag, but can you take the word of a jail bird?
It was time to lay down some guidelines.
“Fred, Lovey,” I said as I got out some chilled wine from the fridge. I froze. I had had that wine in the fridge chilling since before his accident at the lab. The dinner I had planned that tragic night was trout almandine with green beans and rice. Healthy meals, that’s what I strived for. Pulling myself together, I found the corkscrew and opened the wine. “Please sit down and have a little. I know this has been a stressful time for us both. Why, the boys lost a week from their classes, and only flew back last night. I’m sorry you missed them.”
I must have been getting through to him because he turned away from my shag and came back towards the kitchen nook where I had poured us two glasses of wine. I patted the wrought iron café chair, hoping he’d take a seat. I only meant to sip my glass of wine, but the sight of him and his yellowing, hard boiled eyes, upset me. I downed it and poured a second.
“Sweety-kins,” I began, using the back of my hand to wipe away a dribble of wine from my chin. “This isn’t going to work out. You know I adore you, and I’ll love you always.”
He moaned and the sound of it drove a cold chill down my spine. I forgot what I was going to say for a moment, while I wondered what that green and fuzzy thing was on the side of his nose. Was it growing there?
He was trying to say something, maybe that he loved me too. But did he love me enough to stop this insanity and head back to his grave?
“You know, you can’t stay here. You’re dead and your new home is in the cemetery. Remember? We picked out the grave site together. You really loved those cypress trees!” I tried to be as gentle as possible. “And the funeral, I guess you don’t remember that, but the boys were there and all your colleagues from the University. And what would they all say after such a beautiful ceremony? It would be downright rude not to stay dead.” I gulped down another glass of wine and felt the room whirl.
“And I promise to visit you every week. Won’t that be grand?”
He didn’t touch the wine, but grunting even louder returned to the entrance of the living room and my shag rug. I hadn’t gotten through to him at all, and now my rug was about to pay the price! Where was that reasonable man I had married? Gone forever, I feared.
I didn’t know how I would stop him but I ran past him into the living room and stood in front of him, wordlessly begging him to stop. But stop he didn’t. Instead, he pushed past me and crossed my rug leaving a dank, black, oozing trail across it. But the rug was not his final destination, and he entered his study. I was tempted to shut the door behind him and lock it. Then what would I do? I had to somehow get him to understand his place in the world was the graveyard now that he was dearly departed.
Inside the study I found him tearing through his desk. He slipped a vial of some grey-green concoction into his coat pocket, and then continued to throw papers on the floor. His study was the one place in the house where I wasn’t allowed to go while he was alive. After his demise, it had taken me hours to collect and sort his papers, but I didn’t complain about this new mess. I can be noble.
With a happy grunt, he found his research journal. It was his habit to have two sets of notes, one in his study for him to pore over at night and the second one at his lab. I smiled and nodded—maybe he just wanted some reading to take with him?
He brandished it at me. I read the cover, “Immortality Project.” I sighed. Poor, poor Fred. I usually spent the time when he was talking about his work figuring out the dinner rotation or the week’s grocery shopping in my head. Had I known, I would have told him what a dumb idea it was.
Immortality? Who would fund something like that?
“Is that it, Fred? You wanted to tell me what you had been working on? Well, I understand. It all went wrong, horribly wrong. You’re dead now, and it’s time to head back to Shady Elms. I’ll miss you, but I’ll come by every week with fresh flowers. You’ll see that being dead isn’t too bad.”
With a howl he rushed forward and lifted me up in his arms. I shrieked, and then I kicked and pushed against him, but to no avail—he was walking on my beautiful shag again—this time headed for our bedroom. Now I didn’t have just one filthy path to clean but two. I had to admire his strength though; lugging me around like that should have thrown out his back, but here he was carrying me without a moan or even a grunt.
I’ve always been careful with my husband’s feelings. Scientists are like artists, sensitive, but he just wasn’t getting the message. Something dropped off of him and wiggled itself down into the shag. I screamed and pounded my fists on his all too solid back, enraged that not only would I have to get it cleaned but fumigated as well.
But just when you’d think it can’t get worse, it did. He crossed the threshold of our bedroom and I realized that he was about to violate the pristine ambiance of our bedroom.
“Put me down, Fred. I’m not going to make love to you. No, means no!” He ignored me. Crossing the pale pink and beige carpet of our bedroom, he tossed me on the bed like a sack of turnips.
“Please, in the name of all that is holy, there are 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets on this bed.”
Sex, great sex, had been the mortar of our marriage. In the bedroom, we were frenzied, exotic animals pounding out our differences, but I draw the line at necrophilia.
I opened my mouth to tell him no one last time, but he grabbed my jaw. With surprising deftness, he unstoppered the vial I had seen him put into his pocket, and poured the stuff down my throat.
It was as if liquid nitrogen had been poured into me, instantly freezing my mouth, jaw and neck. It slid down my throat into my stomach, and an intense iciness enveloped my torso and spread through my limbs.
The only heat remaining was my tears pouring down the sides of my face.
As my vision faded, Fred leaned over and mouthed some words. I can’t be sure, I can only hope, but I think he said, “Trust me.”
Well, maybe Martha was right about getting dirt out of shag…