I know that the strange woman sitting in Jim’s favorite armchair is waiting for a response from me. I’m not sure of her motives and not quite sure why I have let her into my house. She is dressed well in a worn leather outfit as if she is an aging rodeo queen in her finale get-up. She has an air of expectation around her as if she wouldn’t be surprised by just about anything coming around the corner. This is disconcerting. I don’t know what she expects of me or why I am so intrigued by her presence. She wants something from me, I can tell, and by now that several moments have gone by, I know she also wants an answer to her question about myself.
“Me? Oh, no. I’m not as interesting as all that,” I say as I put down the coffee tray as quietly as I can. She raises her eyebrow at me as I sit across from her, straightening my blouse, apron, and skirt before leaning in to pour her a cup of coffee.
“Nothing for you?” She says with a slight singsong to her voice.
“I try not to drink after midday,” I say as she waits for more. “My, uh, husband thinks it contributes to my restlessness when he is trying to sleep. He’s an important man with a strict schedule and I try my best to comply with those wishes.” I can see that she has a bemused smile and is now paying very close attention to my mouth as I’m talking which makes me close it and sit taller.
“Well, suit yourself. Husband, huh? Well, now we’re getting somewhere.” She cackles a bit as she drops two cubes of sugar into her coffee and raises the cup to her lips.
“I’m not sure what you mean.” I am trying to keep my hands from shaking from nervousness and I start to think of my counting exercises, to keep the growing lump in my stomach from gurgling into my throat.
She leans back in the armchair, looking around the room, sipping from her cup, and eyeing me carefully.
“You have a lovely home here.”
“Let me ask you something. Have you ever had your tarot read?”
“You know, tarot, like the cards?”
I shake my head. She leans forwards to grab a silk-wrapped bundle from an inner pocket on her leather jacket. As she unwraps it, I can feel my scalp twitching. She splays out the cards onto the table. I can see how ornately the ink is drawn on them with swirling patterns of deep purples, greens, and reds. I try not to recoil impolitely, but I also want to touch the slickness of the gloss on the cards. I try to sit as still as possible.
“No. No. I’m sorry. I can’t. Jim would definitely not approve.”
“Your husband, I take it?” She says as she sighs and wraps up the bundle quickly. It is stashed away as if it never appeared.
“Listen. Thank you for the coffee. I won’t be bothering you anymore.”
“No!” I shout, which surprises us both. “I’m sorry. What I mean to say is that my husband will be home any minute now and he prefers to know when we have company. Maybe, you can come back a different day this week.”
She half smiles, revealing her yellowing tooth. “That sounds good to me.”
I fancy myself a good girl, but I’m not. Jim had come home and I told him nothing about the red van lady’s visit. I had plenty of time to wash and put away any sign of her. He seemed distracted about work and talked endlessly over dinner.
I hold my small secret like an injured bird within my chest. It thumps against my ribcage every once in a while just to remind me it’s there and needs tending.
While staring at his balding head in bed, I imagine leaving. What would my life look like? What would it do to Jim? I think about the house we live in together, cut in half. Half of the furniture, half of the decorations and linens and food or just completely empty. It would echo when he walked through it, like a wooden stage. I am standing on the stage and I can’t barely make out the seats in the audience.
I can feel the velvet of the seat covers and how the plush cushions would feel to sit upon. There is a figure in the back, waiting for me with clasped hands. As he watches me, he steeples his fingers. I can sense impatience beyond his placid face, never taking his eyes off of me.
Scared, thrilled, exhilarated, my heart and stomach want to leap from my body onto the floor in a bloody, squishy mess. I have to step forward toward the man and make my way up to the aisle to him. I do not know what he is going to do to me once I get there. I do not know what dangers and or adventures lay within his power.
Before I step off the stage, I wake up screaming. Jim moves further away from me and mumbles, “You shouldn’t drink coffee, my dear.”
I rouse myself to go down to the kitchen and touch the porcelain tiles; their coolness always soothes my shaking hands. I wish I could get up and lay down on the counter, but Jim wouldn’t approve. He can be very exacting in his opinions of how people should live. He prefers me as “prim and trim as possible.” I want to be the perfect wife for him. To win his approval; I work hard for it because I have nothing else.
To be continued…