By Lia Mulcahy
It would not take a skilled hunter to follow the trail his wife had left in the foyer.
Her heels had been neatly stepped out of, her pale scarf draped over the bannister like a sheaf of woven moonlight. There was a chaise lounge that he liked and his wife tolerated by the staircase, and her coat had been thrown over the back of it, dark and rich as panther’s fur. If he pressed it to his nose, it would smell of a perfume that had not been in production for thirty years.
There was also an emerald tie, lying abandoned on the ground. He only wore red ties, or black for funerals.
The further up the stairs he went, the more of his wife’s spoor he found. It was unlike her to be so careless with her belongings, but she had told him she was ill—that he ought to hurry to work and let her slumber on. She told him she’d occupy herself when she woke. It certainly seemed she had.
He stepped over a man’s white shirt, crumpled on the carpet like a dead lily, and into the master bedroom. His stomach rumbled mutinously. He’d skipped lunch to come home early, to tend to her.
The room was dark, and familiar furniture cast menacing, humped shadows as he opened the door. A thin shaft of light speared directly onto the carnage of the bed, revealing a chimeric tangle of sheets and ghost-pale limbs. Bodily fluid too, and lots of it, which was a pity; it would almost certainly stain, but he thought it would be best not to mention it yet. No doubt his wife would be suitably penitent when she woke.
He approached the bed with the soft tread of someone trying not to startle a bird or a doe, although he needn’t have bothered. His wife lay very still. The gentle slope of her white shoulder seemed to melt into the sheets, and her hair fell in a rich inkspill.
The blonde head beside her did not stir. He ignored it, and leaned low to the seashell curve of his wife’s ear.
“Hello, darling,” he said softly, letting his tongue curl lovingly around the endearment. “I’m home.”
A slow second passed, molasses-sweet with anticipation, then her eyes fluttered open, as gracefully as if she were the heroine of a fairy tale, lying in enchanted repose. No drooling or sluggish snorting from her—his wife was the picture of elegance in everything she did, including wrestling in their bed with other men.
“Honey,” he said. “How’re you feeling?”
She looked at him, and he watched what slid behind her eyes, quicksilver-fast—sleepy confusion, affection, stabbing realization, and finally, guilt. There was a smear around her mouth that might have been red, red lipstick. It wasn’t.
“Shit,” she said.
“None of that.”
“Shit,” she repeated, stricken, pushing herself up to her elbows. Her accent sharpened the words like spearheads. He eased her back down with a gentle hand as she continued, “My love, I am so, so sorry, I was careless. The sheets…oh, I have left a terrible mess for you, haven’t I?”
“Hush now. You weren’t well, and you weren’t thinking clearly. Nothing to apologize for.”
“You’re too good to me by far,” she murmured, and pressed a delicate hand to her forehead in dismay. The movement dislodged the position of the blonde man beside her, who stared sightlessly at the ceiling. “I’ve ruined the bed. And I have prepared nothing for your dinner.”
He shrugged. “It’s the modern age, my darling. Men cook now, or so I’ve heard. I’m glad you’ve eaten, that’s all.”
She wiped delicately at the corner of her mouth, and most of the red flaked off easily enough. “I feel all the better for it.”
She watched him, tenderly. Her teeth shone when she spoke.
“You must be hungry, my love.”
“A little,” he told her, and reached across her to drag the corpse closer to himself. The dead man’s head lolled, a slow, lugubrious motion. His neck was torn open like the skin of an overripe orange.
His mouth watered.
“There’s leftovers,” said his wife, smiling with all of her lovely, sharp teeth. “Help yourself.”