Drinking coffee on an empty stomach rips me right up, but knowing that doesn’t stop me from doing it anyway. I make toast to chew mechanically while I listen for sounds from the basement. There are none.
When the urge to vomit’s passed I throw the rest of my breakfast out on the patio for the dogs to fight over, then pour a fresh cup. Fourteen days, six hours and thirty-one minutes. Twenty-nine pots of coffee. Eleven sandwiches pushed wordlessly through the vent. The ulcer I suspect growing in me is probably nothing compared to what he’s going through, locked inside the cabinet at the bottom of the stairs.
I feel bad for him–I’m not a monster–but I’m not stupid, either. The chance to let him out without a fuss is long gone. After the first few minutes, hours at most, maybe we could have worked something out. This, though. This is some fucked up shit. I would tell him I’m sorry, but that might encourage discourse. He had his chance to talk about it–to talk about us–in couples’ therapy.
It feels like there’s an electrified bubble in my ribcage all the time, pushing on my bones from the inside. I won’t go to prison. I won’t let him out just so he can turn me in. I am really into self-preservation. I am 90% coffee and spent adrenaline.
He’s yelling again. Trying to yell. Raspy now. I haven’t fed him since Wednesday. I’m sure some part of my brain registers what he’s saying but I can’t decipher the words, and I’m breathing hard, like I just ran a few laps around the house. My mouth is dry. I know he’s thirsty, too, dry like the desert where I’ll bury him is dry.
Just die already, I think at him between pulses, my thudding heartbeat muffling my ears like hot cotton.
I wish I could say he deserved it, but if anyone’s the bad guy here, it’s me. He could be a dick sometimes, but I gave as good as I got. Even that time I caught him in bed with a blonde checker from the Safeway, well, it wasn’t like I hadn’t cheated on him at least once or twice. Four times, actually. In a fair world he’d come careening out of there somehow and kill me dead.
I’m pretty sure it’s that thought–imminent karma, storybook justice, whatever you want to call it–that has my blood practically humming under my skin. Like my body’s anticipating the comeuppance I know I deserve.
Then there’s my reluctance to kill someone. A human being like me, with blood and guts and skin like me, with fear like mine. It’s Brian, for god’s sake. I’ve fought him and I’ve fucked him and when he stops breathing–and it’ll be soon–it’ll be because of me.
* * *
Day fifteen I’m smoking the only cigarette these walls have seen since we bought the place back in ‘98. The smoke curls around in the yellow light of a naked bulb overhead and I watch it for a while because I don’t want to look down.
The basement stairs are old and one of them is broken now, where Brian’s foot punched through the wood and pitched him onto the concrete floor below. I bleached the spot where he bled but I can still see the outline there, a faint red-brown blob thickest around the outside edge, like a soap bubble. The cabinet is locked shut. It looks the same as I left it the day I decided to stop feeding sandwiches into the vent near the top.
Heh. Like a letter through a slot. It makes me laugh to think of myself as Brian’s mailman. It’s not a good laugh, though. It’s too screamy; I need a shower.
Even from the top of the stairs I can smell peanut butter under the stink of unwashed meat.
I think about going down there for a long time, but in the end I just turn around and shut the door. It’s not like he’s going anywhere.
* * *
I typed a resignation letter and mailed it to his work. It was measured, coherent, and probably not very like him. By now everyone must have guessed what’s happened here, yet the police haven’t stopped by or even phoned. No one comes to the door. When the phone does ring I let everything go through to the machine. A robot wants me to refinance. A robot wants me to consolidate our credit cards, the ones with Brian’s name still on them.
* * *
If I hadn’t left the keys dangling from the lock I’d have dropped them into the blood circle on the floor. My hands won’t work. My body won’t move. In the bottom of the cabinet is a pile of sandwiches, looking dried up and crumbly around the edges but otherwise fine. The smell of rot is gone. There is no body.
There’s a knock at the front door. From the top of the stairs into this crypt I have made, I can see by the light coming through the blinds that time has passed.
The carpet is soft and I walk slowly so my visitor won’t hear me and know I’m home. I feel dry. I want to drink a bathtub’s worth of water. The knocks have stopped, but someone is talking. He says my name.
“It’s Brian,” I hear. “Open the door. We need to talk.”
I can’t breathe. I sit on the carpeted steps that lead up to my bedroom, waiting for my lungs to work again. My mouth feels tacky, like Elmer’s glue on a kid’s school project. Brian always wanted kids. I wonder if that’s the reason he’s in the cabinet.
“I’m worried about you.” It sounds like truth, but I know it’s a lie. I grip my knees to stop my hands from shaking and wait until I hear him leave, then puke my guts out all over the landing. How many times do I have to kill him?
Things would be so much easier if he’d just stay dead.