For twenty-five years—more than half my
life—I bowed to Duncan’s whims, gave in to his arguments, and gave up on trying
to compromise on anything. He was stubborn—as his mother gleefully told me when
we were newly engaged. No, I should’ve told her, he was a bully. Subtle in his
methods; if he’d been a woman, folks would have called him manipulative. He was
a master in the art of gas-lighting. I suspect he learned it at his mother’s
Well, I’d had enough. He always promised
me whatever he thought would shut me up—a ski trip this winter holiday, for
sure! A visit to my aged aunt in the Midwest, just as soon as he finishes this
project at work! A new car when we get our tax return! That gorgeous pearl ring
for our tenth anniversary—the one in the MOMA catalog!
Fifteen anniversaries later, still no ring. But what he did give
me was a trip to Vail. Well, he went to Colorado with his “business associate”
Camellia. I got to stay home.
So when he returned, two weeks later,
with a new found love of raw oysters, I asked if he’d found any pearls embedded
in those slimy globs. You know, for my promised anniversary ring. He laughed,
as much at my question as at my new hair-cut. Loves to make me cry. A real
keeper, this guy.
Seeing my tears, he had an
uncharacteristic moment of remorse. Or did he? He suggested we should go out to
eat, to a nice place. Dress up and get an Uber. I know what he’s doing: Get me
out in public and drop bad news in my lap—see, if we’re in a nice, crowded
place, he knows I won’t make a scene. He’s done this before.
He even lets me choose the
restaurant—this really bleeps my radar. I pick Chauncy’s, the most hoity-toity
seafood restaurant here in this congested, cement-smothered city. I expected
him to argue for some place cheaper and less posh, but he doesn’t. Now the
needle of my internal alarm is in the red. I make a reservation for Friday
Date night comes and finds us seated at
a table covered with an imported Irish linen cloth, little silver salt-and-pepper
shakers, and a single flickering candle in a tasteful cut-crystal holder. Would
have been romantic if we still loved each other.
He insisted on ordering oysters for our
appetizer, smiling at me as he did so. It was either his “I know a secret
smile,” or his “I’m going to educate you on the finer things in life you sad
little lumpkin” smile. Actually, both smiles are the same smile.
Oysters came with a fresh basket of warm
bread and chilled butter. Duncan dove into the platter of oysters, sucking them
down one after the other. Did he even taste them? I took a crusty roll and a
bit of butter. The butter knife had an ornate, weighted handle. I never
understood why butter knives had such dull, rounded tips. Shouldn’t a knife
have a sharp end?
Lost in this train of thought, I didn’t
notice Duncan was in distress until he slammed his fist on the table, knocking
over both his glass of Merlot and the burning candle. Jeeze, set the place on
fire, why don’t ya? I slapped out the fire, which did burn the table cloth, as
he fell over backwards in his antique Chippendale chair. I think I heard it
crack as he hit the floor. Between the ruined table cloth and the broken chair,
how much was this dinner going to cost us?
Dutiful wife that I am, I rushed to his
side, waving the concerned waiter away. “He’s choking!” the white-coated teen
exclaimed. “Yes, I know,” I said, feeling calmer than I’d ever felt in my life.
I reached up to the table and grabbed what was handy—the butter knife. “We have
to open his airway,” I said to the flailing waiter. “You go call for an ambulance,
while I take care of him.” The server ran off in a blind panic.
Duncan looked into my eyes. He was
terrified; for the first time in his life, he had no control over anything.
“Not to worry, big guy. I’ll fix you right up.” I held his head back by the
hair with one hand, and with the other wielding the butter knife, I dug into
his throat. “Gotta get some air in there,” I said as he clutched at my arm.
“Let go of me, that hurts and you’re going to leave a mark,” I hissed under my
breath, so that the other diners couldn’t hear.
I shoved and twisted that dull butter
knife—there was more resistance than you’d think, what with the skin and muscle
and tendons and blood—all that blood. All over the restaurant’s plush carpet.
It will cost a fortune to clean. I wonder if it would be more economically
feasible to just re-carpet the dining room.
And there it is! The source of all this
drama: A pearl, misshapen but beautiful. As big as your thumbnail, too. How could
he ingest something that size, that solid, and not know it until he choked? But
that’s Duncan: Always in such a thoughtless hurry. I held the blood-wet pearl
up to Duncan’s unfocused eyes. “Looky here,” I whispered close
to his ear as his consciousness faded,
“a pearl for my anniversary ring. At last!”
I put my napkin over his face to spare
the other diners his expired gray countenance, grotesquely twisted in agony as
it was. Death ain’t pretty. But my new ring sure is!
lives in southern Arizona, where she is the founder of and editor for
Subsynchronous Press. She’s lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states
in the U.S. Her stories have appeared recently in Theme of Absence, Black
Petals, 365 Tomorrows, Night to Dawn, Eternal Haunted
Summer, and numerous horror anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com