I placed her body in the trunk of a gold Toyota Camry.
I gazed down at her with my hand still holding the trunk lid. Her dark eyes were glassy now and stared up at me, lifeless, and somehow accusing. Her form was bent out of shape and her thick, dark hair was mussed with just a hint of dark blood smeared in it from a single wound.
“Dead,” I thought and closed the trunk.
One year earlier …
It was a sunny fall afternoon. The sun shone through the sliding-glass door and woke me up. My blue eyes fluttered opened, and I looked out the slider toward the pool area where our white standard poodle Maisy slept curled up in her fleece bed. Brown, crisp fall leaves had blown up on the porch and piled around her dog bed. I was alone as my husband Paul had taken the kids to school already. We switched mornings, and this morning I got to sleep in, which I enjoyed. He was always a prick about it, though. Said it wasn’t his job and had once told me he was just going to stop doing it. I was perplexed and wondered, “How do you just decide to stop taking your kids to school?” Well, that was Paul anyway – total jerk.
As was typical, I got up and started to make the bed. The cream comforter had beautiful brown and blue leaves swirling over it. I took pride in my bed. I loved to create a gorgeous bed space, with matching linens and pillows galore. Pillows that Paul also had pitched a bitch about and had asked in his irritated voice, “Why so many pillows? We don’t sleep on them. Get rid of them.”
Well, eventually it didn’t matter. Paul’s sciatica and horrendous snoring made him sleep alone in the spare bedroom next to our second daughter Lulu’s room. Lulu naturally had complained, “Daddy snores really loud,” and then she had giggled.
Lulu was a brilliant, happy six-year-old with curly blond hair and bright, sparkling blue eyes. As I thought of Lulu’s sweet giggles, I sneered at the thought of the snoring. We had been married 15 years. I swept my hand across the comforter and stopped for a moment. Our anniversary had just passed. We had taken a trip to South Lake Tahoe so Paul could gamble and play poker. I didn’t like card games, and I hated the smoky smell of casinos. I had suggested we take our anniversary trip to Greece.
“Greece?” he had asked. “Mia, we don’t have that kind of money.”
Money (or lack thereof) was his go-to answer for everything. First, we were wealthy – in fact, most people would say rich. We lived in a modest two-story adobe-style home, but on the upscale side of town where acreage was rare but available. I owned a multimedia and marketing company, and Paul owned a successful software consulting group. Not to mention, I had five Fortune 500 clients to whom I was the brains behind their branding campaigns. Rumors were even flying that one of my clients might go public, and I owned a chunk of stock that would make me wealthy to the tune of millions – that is, if they did go public and hit it big, which was a question at this point. They had paid the stocks to me when their cash flow was low, and they had wanted to give me an incentive. I remember the marketing director commenting on how they were lazy with their stock-option programs and often used programs from new subsidiaries that they didn’t have much confidence in. It was a risky way to get paid, but I went for it anyway. It was like playing professional Lotto.
We did pretty much what we liked to do, and this included traveling whenever I wanted to go somewhere, but I went alone if it was a place I really wanted to visit and Paul scoffed about. Paul’s complaints were usually what I felt was prejudice. “I don’t like French people,” he had said when I wanted to go to France. Now the subject of Greece was at hand.
“We could work it out,” I replied as I stood at the kitchen sink, rinsing dishes and not looking at him.
I didn’t like to look at him anymore. He looked angry, and age had not been kind to him. He was two years older than me, but he looked 50 instead of 42. He had gained weight, and the years spent water skiing without sunscreen had made his tan face look leathery. He loved to tan even though so many experts suggested that lack of sunscreen was unwise. He ignored them in favor of sunbathing on his friend’s motorboat in Folsom Lake.
“Ah, come on, honey,” he said as he stood in the doorway, arms folded. “You know work has been slow.”
No, I didn’t know if work had been slow. He never specifically told me about the books or the income for that matter. He was the owner of a software consulting company. In the early days, he had developed websites and software systems, and he had been smart enough during the IT bubble in 2000 to get out with a tidy sum of cash squirreled away before it burst. He had a tall, black safe in the garage loaded with cash hidden from the IRS and gold and silver coins along with stocks and bonds. We never talked about money much. We had separate bank accounts.
“Well, what then?” I asked tersely.
“Let’s go to South Shore, gamble, drink, have some fun?”
“I don’t gamble or drink, you know that.”
“Oh come on! It will be fun.”
I stared at him. I knew better than to argue. He would force the idea no matter what I said. I slowly nodded.
His face brightened, and he unfolded his arms.
“Great! Make reservations.”
“Hmm. Okay … but where?”
He walked over to the edge of the brown granite counter and grabbed a red apple from a square crystal bowl.
He crunched and said with his mouthful, “Figure it out.”
He went to kiss me with his juicy mouth, and I turned my lips away so he caught my cheek. As soon as he left out the backdoor, I wiped the juice off my cheek with the long sleeve on my burgundy t-shirt. I looked down at the reflection of my face in the dishwater. I hated the thin line that had formed between my eyebrows. What was the face? A look of what? Numb disappointment – that is what I felt. Did I look angry? Sad? I hated that line.
I momentarily thought about Botox. My best girlfriend Erica would be miffed if I told her I wanted to Botox my brow and erase ugly fine lines. She was a natural enthusiast who only bought those pricey organic produce items and bathed in cruelty-free shampoo, and she wore woolens and empire-waist dresses with Birkenstocks. Her face, though still beautiful, had blond hair on her upper lip and chin – and she refused to wax or laser it off. I couldn’t imagine she would be supportive of Botox. I shrugged the thought away and figured we didn’t apparently have money to squander on cosmetic enhancements – at least according to Paul we didn’t, and I thought this for about a week until …
Paul came home early one afternoon. He was just so excited and flushed when he rushed into my office. I was annoyed when he came and bothered me while I worked. He completely disregarded the idea that my business was just as real as his own. I didn’t interrupt his workdays. Besides, if I dared, he would yell at me about respect and business.
I was on the phone with a client.
“Honey!” he shouted as he burst into my office. “Come …”
I put my hand over the phone and said, “I’m on the phone.”
I rolled my eyes in frustration and said into the phone, “Grace, can I call you right back?” I hung up and looked up at him, “What?”
He grabbed my arm and pulled me up and out of my black leather office chair. He dragged me down the hallway, out the front door, and right to the expansive driveway where before me I saw it – a brand new, royal blue and white motorboat.
“It’s mine!” he shouted as he pulled his lumbering body up into it. “Isn’t it sexy? We can ski all summer.”
“I thought we had no money.”
He brushed the thought away with his hand. “We’re fine! We’ll take it on our anniversary trip to Tahoe. Gamble and ski – it will be really great.”
As he said this, he ran his hand lovingly across the surface of the side like he was petting Maisy, our dog. He hardly noticed when I turned and headed inside to call Grace back. He was now enraptured with the cream-colored leather seats.
As I fluffed the pillows on the bed and placed the last dusty-blue one in the center, I stood back.
“Perfect,” I said aloud and smiled.
I thought some more about Paul. What did I feel toward him? Blank nothingness is what I felt. Was this mature, 15-year love? Why didn’t I feel anything about him? Shouldn’t I love him with all my heart? Why didn’t I feel that flicker of passion or even gentle, mature love? Was this what love became after a 17-year relationship? We didn’t even kiss anymore – not casually to say “hello” and not while we had sex, which I wouldn’t call making love but more like (and excuse the harsh truth) fucking. He never tried to excite or pleasure me. I pleasured myself. He didn’t initiate anything. He had sometimes pounded me right into the bed so that I had hurt so bad I had prayed he would orgasm and get it over with. In fact, I had once actually said, “Just get it over with,” while I had clenched my teeth and had cried out, “You’re hurting me!” to which I had been pounded even harder. He never said I was beautiful or even pretty. I got an occasional, “You look nice,” but mostly he sneered and said I wore too much make-up, which most people would describe my barely-there eye shadow and gloss as natural-looking.
We had dated for two years while I finished my degree before we got married. He had courted me sweetly and brought me red roses, wild flowers, and little gifts like a thin silver bracelet with a heart on it. One time, he had brought me his aunt’s chicken casserole after I had completed semester finals. He had worried I was stressed from studying. He had wanted me to eat – I was too thin and tired-looking for a 21-year old.
As he walked into my one-bedroom apartment, he set a glass tray down on the end of the kitchen counter. I looked from him – all rugged, dark-brown hair, bright light-green eyes, and a stocky but muscular frame – to the casserole.
“What’s this?” I asked, grinning at him.
“Dinner,” he replied. “My Aunt Susie made me bring the leftovers. I told her you were stressed about finals and had lost weight.”
He went to the cabinet to get plates. I watched and lifted the see-through plastic wrap to smell the rosemary wafting off the chicken. It smelled amazing. I then watched Paul happily take a spatula, cut out a square, lift it onto the plate, and hand it to me. He grabbed and stuck a fork into the top. He had looked infinitely pleased with himself. I just smiled, looked at him, and set the plate down. As I leveled my eyes at him, I looked up and moved to my tiptoes since he was six-feet tall and I was 5’ 9” and started to slowly kiss him. First a lick on his lips to gently pry them open, and then a full-on kiss. He had wrapped his arms completely around my small waist, and he pulled me toward the bedroom.
As I came out of my memory, I stared at the bed – the bed that we hadn’t made love in for over a year. What did I care anyway – at least no one was pounding me from behind and forcing my hips into the mattress as he went at my body like a thoughtless jerk. His sex drive evaporated in the last four years. He used to push to have sex all the time, but on our honeymoon things had uncomfortably shifted. During our courtship, he had been always assertive sexually with me, and he had pursued making love. From the honeymoon on, that had changed. As I said, he had stopped being the aggressor, and on our wedding night he had been too tired and had refused to properly consummate the marriage.
“Honey, honey, get off me,” he had said as I crawled on top of him in the beautiful, sheer-white nightgown Erica had given me for our wedding night. It had organdy and lace on the bodice and a sheer, see-through robe that fit over the top. “I’m too full of rubber chicken and cake,” he groaned. “You know I don’t like to fuck on a full stomach.”
“Fuck?” I had thought to myself. “Were we ‘fucking’ on our wedding night or making love?” I had thought that making love applied to your new wife. I had rolled to the side and onto my back so I faced the ceiling.
“So, we’re not going to make love on our wedding night?” I asked incredulously.
“Go to sleep,” he said as he began to snore – he always snored as fast as he closed his eyes.
I stared at the ceiling.
“Shit!” I had thought. “What the hell did I just do?”