False Memory

Page 20



Next, she decapitated the sledgehammer.


Then the shovel. Longer handle. Cumbersome. Getting it into the vise was more difficult than dealing with the ax or sledgehammer.


The reciprocating saw tore through it, and the shovel blade clattered onto the workbench.


She sawed through the hoe.


The rake.


What else?


A crowbar. A pointed pry blade at one end, leveraging hook at the other. All steel. Couldn’t be sawn.


Use it to smash the reciprocating saw. Steel ringing off steel, off concrete, the garage reverberating like a great bell.


When she had disabled the saw, she still held the crowbar. It was as dangerous as the sledgehammer, which had driven her to use the saws in the first place.


She had come full circle. She hadn’t accomplished anything. In fact, the crowbar was more effective than the sledgehammer, because it was easier to wield.


There was no hope. No way to make the house safe, not even one room within the house, not as little as one corner within one room. It couldn’t be done as long as she remained in residence. She, not any inanimate object, was the source of these vicious thoughts, the sole threat.


She should have clamped the reciprocating saw in the jaws of the vise, switched it on, and cut off her own hands.


Now she held the crowbar in the same grip with which she had held the hammer. Through her mind spiraled bloody thoughts that terrified her.


The garage-door motor kicked in. The door clattered upward, and she turned to face it.


Tires, headlights, the windshield, Dusty in the driver’s seat of the van, Valet beside him. Normal life on wheels, motoring into Martie’s personal Twilight Zone. This was a collision of universes that she had been fearing since the portentous mental image of a key-skewered eye—Dusty’s eye—had caused her heart to plummet like an express elevator and her lunch to rise like a counterweight.


“Stay away from me!” she cried. “For God’s sake, stay away! There’s something wrong with me.”


Almost as effectively as a mirror, Dusty’s expression revealed to Martie how bizarre—how crazed—she looked.


“Oh, God.”


She dropped the crowbar, but the head of the ax and the head of


the sledgehammer were within reach on the workbench. She could easily snatch them up, pitch them at the windshield.


The key. The eye. Thrust and twist.


Suddenly Martie realized that she had not thrown away the car key. How could she have failed to dispose of it immediately upon getting home, before dealing with the knives, the rolling pin, the garden tools, and everything else? If in fact the vision she had experienced was a premonition, if this hideous act of violence was inevitable, the car key was the first thing she should have mangled and then buried at the bottom of the trash can.


Enter Dusty, and therefore on to the next level of the game, where the humble key of Level 1 now becomes a powerful and magical object, equivalent to the One Ring, the Master of all the Rings of Power, which must be conveyed back to Mordor and destroyed in the Fire from which it came, must be melted down before it can be used for evil purpose. But this was no game. These horrors were real. The blood, when it came, would be thick, warm, and wet, rather than a two-dimensional arrangement of red pixels.


Martie turned away from the van and hurried into the house.


The car key wasn’t hanging on the Peg-Board, where it should have been.


The sweating glass of unfinished ginger ale and a cork coaster were the only things on the kitchen table.


Draped over a chair: her raincoat. Two deep pockets. A few Kleenex in one. The paperback book in the other.


No key.


In the garage, Dusty was calling her. He must be out of the van, picking his way through the debris that she had left on the floor. Each repetition of her name was louder than the previous one, closer.


Out of the kitchen, into the hail, past the dining room, living room, into the foyer, Martie fled toward the front door, with the sole intention of putting distance between herself and Dusty. She was unable to think ahead to the consequence of this mad flight, to where she would ultimately go, to what she would do. Nothing mattered except getting far enough away from her husband to ensure that she couldn’t harm him.


The foyer carpet, small and Persian, slid on the polished-oak tongue and groove, and for a moment she was floor-surfing. Then she wiped out and went down hard on her right side.


When her elbow rapped the oak, wasps of pain took flight along the nerves of her forearm, swarming in her hand. More pain buzzed along her ribs, stung through her hip joint.


The most shocking pain was the least acute: a quick jabbing in her right thigh, sharp but short-lived pressure. She had been poked by something in the right-hand pocket of her jeans, and she knew at once what it was.


The car key.


Here was incontestable proof that she couldn’t trust herself. On some level, she must have known the key was in her pocket, when she had checked the Peg-Board, when she had scanned the table, when she had frantically searched her raincoat. She’d deceived herself, and there was no reason to have done so unless she intended to use the key to blind, to kill. Within her was some Other Martine, the deranged personality she feared, a creature who was capable of any atrocity and who intended to fulfill the hateful premonition: the key, the eye, thrust and twist.


Martie scrambled up from the foyer floor and to the windowed front door.


At the same instant, Valet leaped against the outside of the door, paws planted at the base of the leaded-glass pane, ears pricked and tongue lolling. The many squares, rectangles, and circles of beveled glass, punctuated by jewel-like prisms and round glass beads, transformed his furry face into a cubist portrait that looked both amusing and demonic.


Martie reeled back from the door, not because Valet frightened her, but because she was afraid of harming him. If she were truly capable of hurting Dusty, then the poor trusting dog was not safe, either.


In the kitchen, Dusty called, “Martie?”


She didn’t answer.


“Martie, where are you? What’s wrong?”


Up the stairs. Quickly, silently, two steps at a time, half limping because pain lingered in her hip. Clutching at the railing with her left hand. Digging in a pocket with her right.


She reached the top with the key buried in her fist, just the silvery tip poking out from her tightly clenched fingers. Little dagger.


Maybe she could toss it out a window. Into the night. Throw it into thick shrubbery or over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, where she couldn’t easily retrieve it.


In the shadowy upstairs hail, which was lit only by the foyer light rising through the stairwell, she stood in indecision, because not all the windows were operable. Some were fixed panes. Of those that could be opened, many were sure to be swollen after a long day of rain, and they wouldn’t slide easily.


The eye. The key. Thrust and twist.


Time was running out. Dusty would find her at any moment.


She didn’t dare delay, couldn’t risk trying a window that more likely than not would be stuck, and have Dusty come upon her while she still held the key. At the sight of him, she might snap, might commit one of the unthinkable atrocities with which her mind had been preoccupied throughout the afternoon. Okay, then the master bathroom. Flush the damn thing down the toilet.


Crazy.


Just do it. Move, move, do it, crazy or not.


On the front porch, muzzle to the jeweled window, the usually quiet Valet began barking.


Martie dashed into the master bedroom, switched on the overhead light. She started toward the bathroom—but halted when her gaze, as swift and sharp as a guillotine, fell on Dusty’s nightstand.


In her frenzied attempt to make the house safe, she had thrown out gadgets as innocuous as potato peelers and corncob holders, yet she had not given a thought to the most dangerous item in the house, a weapon that was nothing but a weapon, that did not double as a rolling pin or a cheese grater: a .45 semiautomatic, which Dusty had purchased for self-defense.


This was one more example of clever self-deception. The Other Martie—the violent personality buried within her for so long, but now disinterred—had misdirected her, encouraged her hysteria, kept her distracted until the penultimate moment, when she was least able to think clearly or act rationally, when Dusty was near and drawing nearer, and now she was permitted—oh, encouraged—to remember the pistol.


Downstairs in the foyer, Dusty spoke to the retriever through the window in the front door—”Settle! Valet, settle!”—and the dog stopped barking.


When Dusty had first purchased the pistol, he had insisted that Martie take firearms training with him. They had gone to a shooting range ten or twelve times. She didn’t like guns, didn’t want this one, even though she understood the wisdom of being able to defend herself in a world where progress and savagery grew at the same pace. She had become surprisingly competent with the weapon, a thoroughly customized stainless-steel version of the Colt Commander.


Down in the foyer, Dusty said, “Good dog,” rewarding Valet’s obedience with praise. “Very good dog.”


Martie wanted desperately to dispose of the Colt. Dusty wasn’t safe with the gun in the house. No one in the neighborhood was safe if she could get her hands on a pistol.


She went to the nightstand.


For God’s sake, leave it in the drawer.


She opened the drawer.


“Martie, honey, where are you, what’s wrong?” He was on the stairs, ascending.


“Go away,” she said. Although she tried to shout, the words came out in a thin croak, because her throat was tight with fear and because she was out of breath—but perhaps also because the murderess within her didn’t really want him to leave.


In the drawer, between a box of tissues and a remote control for the television, the pistol gleamed dully, fate embodied in a chunk of beautifully machined steel, her dark destiny.


Like a deathwatch beetle, its mandibles tick-tick-ticking as it quarried tunnels deep within a mass of wood, the Other Martie squirmed in Martie’s flesh, bored through her bones, and chewed at the fibers of her soul.


She picked up the Colt. With its single-action let-off, highly controllable recoil, 4.5-pound trigger pull, and virtually unjammable seven-round magazine, this was an ideal close-up, personal-defense piece.


Until she stepped on it while turning away from the nightstand, Martie didn’t realize that she had dropped the car key.


26


Falling off a roof, Dusty had not been this scared, because now he was frightened for Martie, not for himself.


Her face, before she dropped the crowbar and ran away, had been as stark as the face of an actor in a Kabuki drama. White-greasepaint skin, pale and smooth. Eyes darkly outlined, not with mascara but with anguish. Red slash of a mouth.


Stay away from me! For God's sake, stay away! There's something wrong with me.


Even above the engine noise, he’d heard her warning, the terror scraping her voice raw.


Debris in the garage. A mess in the kitchen. Trash can on the back porch, at the open door, stuffed full of everything but trash. He couldn’t extract meaning from any of it.


The downstairs was cold because the kitchen door wasn’t closed. He found it too easy to imagine that part of the chill resulted from the presence of an icy spirit that had come through another door, one not visible, from a place infinitely stranger than the back porch.


The silver candlesticks on the dining-room table appeared to be as translucent as they were reflective, as though carved from ice.


The living room was filled with the wintry glitter of glass bibelots, brass fireplace tools, porcelain lamps. The grandfather clock had frozen time at 11:00.


On their honeymoon, they had found the clock in an antique shop and acquired it for a reasonable price. They weren’t interested in its value as a timepiece, and they didn’t intend to have it repaired. Its hands were stopped at the hour of their wedding, which seemed like a good omen.


After silencing Valet, Dusty decided to leave the dog on the front porch for now, and he quickly climbed the stairs. Although he ascended into increasingly warmer air, he brought with him the chill that had pierced him at the sight of Martie’s tortured face.


He found her in the master bedroom. She was standing beside the bed, with the .45 pistol.


She had ejected the magazine. Muttering frantically to herself, she was prying the bullets out of it. Jacketed hollowpoints.


When she extracted a round, she threw it across the room. The cartridge snapped against a mirror without cracking it, rattled onto the top of the vanity, and came to rest among the decorative combs and hairbrushes.


Dusty couldn’t at first understand what she was saying, but then he recognized it: “. . . full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women. .


In a whispery voice, pitched high with anxiety, a voice almost like that of a frightened child, Martie was reciting the Hail Mary, fingering another round out of the magazine, as if the bullets were rosary beads and she were paying penance with prayer.


Watching Martie from the doorway, Dusty felt his heart swell with fear for her, swell and swell impossibly until the pressure made his chest ache.


She flung another bullet, which cracked off the dresser—and then saw him in the doorway. Already sufficiently white-faced for a Kabuki stage, she grew even paler.


“Martie—”


“No!” she gasped, as he stepped off the threshold.


She dropped the pistol and kicked it across the carpet so hard that it traveled the length of the room and clattered noisily against a closet door.


“It’s only me, Martie.”


“Get out of here, go, go, go.”


“Why are you afraid of me?”


“I’m afraid of me!” Her fingers, sharp and white, plucked at the pistol magazine with carrion-crow tenacity, extracting one more cartridge. “For God’s sake, run!”


“Martie, what—”


“Don’t get close to me, don’t, don’t trust me,” she said, her voice as thin, shaky, and urgent as that of a high-wire walker losing balance. “I’m all screwed up, totally screwed.”


“Honey, listen, I’m not going anywhere until I know what’s happened here, what’s wrong,” Dusty said as he took another step toward her.


With a despairing wail, she threw the bullet and the half-empty magazine in different directions, neither at Dusty, and then ran to the bathroom.


He pursued her.


“Please,” Martie pleaded, determinedly trying to close the bathroom door in his face.


Only a minute ago, Dusty would not have been able to imagine any circumstances in which he would have used force against Martie; now his stomach fluttered queasily as he resisted her. Inserting one knee between the door and the jamb, he tried to shoulder into the room.

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