When the window tapping began, Daniel grabbed the gun from the nightstand drawer. We both sat on the edge of the mattress staring at the curtains, drawn closed for the night.
I recognized the voice outside calling my name. I’d never forget that voice. I took the gun from Daniel’s hand and told him to hide. He looked surprised and began to protest but at the look I gave him, he stopped. I must have looked so profoundly broken. Lost. Or maybe he saw something else in me that I didn’t know was there. A strength I was unaware of. Without a word, Daniel nodded, then hid. I crossed the room to the window and opened the curtains to face my ex-husband once again.
“Hi honey,” he said, “can you open the door for me?”
I didn’t reply at first, choosing to simply stare out at him in shock. It took a long time before I found my words at all.
“Hi Ken.” I said.
“Open the door.” His voice was warm and rich, as thick and comforting as cashmere. Exactly as I remembered it … but that didn’t mean I’d forgotten everything else.
I shook my head, “I can’t do that Ken. You don’t live — y-y-you don’t live here anymore.” I stuttered.
“What are you talking about?” He said.
“You don’t remember what happened?” I asked.
“What? What happened?”
That was a loaded question if I ever heard one. I didn’t know how to reply.
“The last thing I can remember was lying in that hospital bed.” He said. His teeth were black and smeared with mud. His face was dirty, glowing and pale in the moonlight.
“The room was blinding and slowly shapes swirled my vision on either side. You were a blur of red and my mother was an orb of blue.” He licked his soiled cracked lips, they parted as he spoke, moving like two little worms in the after-midnight that pooled outside the windows. “You both moved around me, swirling like dim police lights. Then suddenly the world went dark.”
This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be real.
“What happened after that?” He asked.
What happened after that was I’d finally got what my friends had all been urging me to get for years. Freedom and peace. I got my life back. They didn’t understand what we had; not really. I didn’t always think he was a bastard and back then nobody, no matter how convincing the argument was, could convince me otherwise. In the end it hadn’t mattered and it wasn’t my choice. It all happened anyway with a little push from fate and I’d finally gotten away from him.
“Kenny,” I said, “you can’t be here. You’re dead.”
“No, you moron.” he pressed his face against the window where his pale hand was already resting. “I’m right here.” His fingers were drawing dingy smears on the glass. Everything about him was shrunken. Skeletal. Bones wrapped in thin papery skin and caked in dirt. I wondered what might happen if he got in. Forced his way. Would I be able to rip him apart like parchment? He’d rotted away, resembling something ghoulish now … though that wasn’t much of a departure of who he was in life. The difference was he’d have a harder time hiding it from the world.
Still, I tried to be calm with him outside the window. In my earliest time alone after he died, one of the things I began to learn was that I needed to be more direct with people. “This relationship ended a long time ago. I want you to leave, please.”
“Ended? What the hell — what are you talking about? You buried me alive.” He said. “Go open the door and we’ll talk this out.”
I kept my tone flat. He had to know I meant it. “No.” I said. “I’m not letting you in.”
He pounded the glass and stepped away. He said: “I don’t remember whatever you’re talking about. I haven’t done anything. The last thing I remember was falling asleep. Before that moment in the hospital, I was driving at night. Cars were passing just beyond my windshield, going left and right. The lights on their side were green. Then yellow. Then they turned red.” He said. “My light changed and I slowly pressed the pedal to start across the intersection.”
He told me he remembered the sudden lurch. He remembered his head slamming into the window. I stood there, quietly listening to it all. He remembered the shards of broken glass and the sound of metal rending and bending all around him. I knew he was only telling me about any of this to raise sympathy and if he could get me to feel bad enough I might be convinced to open the door. Time and distance opens eyes and heals many wounds. I’d realized what he was a long time ago and I hadn’t forgotten any of that. “I would like you to leave.” I said again.
“It’s my house.” He said.
“Not anymore.” I said. I felt sad. I felt cold — but I stood my ground and stayed firm. My therapists would all be proud.
They say that when death happens to you, time slows; that you have a moment when everything is fine and suddenly time begins to crawl. They say your life flashes before your eyes. Ken says this didn’t happen to him.
Everything sped up.
“The way I recall,” he said, “when the crash happened time became full of gaps.” He had that same manic energy, describing every detail in minutiae. It was one of the things that drew me to him from the start and it had never left. “Holes like swiss-cheese. One moment I was crossing the intersection. I didn’t see the driver that came from my left.”
That was the driver who should have stopped for the red. The next moment his car was crumpled in a heap. Then he says he was in an ambulance as it screamed through the sleeping city streets and its lights bounced all around and the next moment he was lying in that bed — watching us bounce around him too, feeling cold.
After that was when his memories fade. He tries to remember what happens next but there’s nothing. Just the fading shapes of family glowing dimmer as they melted to black. These forgotten moments in his mind happened to be the span of time where I started over. I didn’t mourn him for long in the time he’d been gone. I’d realized very early that I was finally free.
“I couldn’t remember how I got there” he said, “I only remember the moment where I closed my eyes and the moment that I opened them again. Everything was still black.”
At first, he’d thought he must be still in that hospital bed, recovering. The room was so dark. The blackness around him so absolute that his eyes wouldn’t adjust. He said not a single sound stirred in this quiet place. It was more impenetrable than any dark he’d ever known.
“I tried to sit up at first,” he said, “but my head slammed into something hard. My nose broke. Crunched right on the ceiling.” Moving his hands around him, he said he found the walls he’d supposed were his hospital room had grown too close. Too close and made of silk.
He looked so sad on the other side of the window as he begged for entry, but I refused to feel sorry for him. I’d grown wary of his doleful, kind eyes in life. They remained as deceptively sincere in death. It sent a shudder through me.
“The air tasted stale and damp and every inhale reeked of earth and rot.” he said.
“Every movement I made, my arm, leg or neck, I was met with something solid and close. I couldn’t move because everything around me was silk upholstered and hard. It was more claustrophobic than any place I’d ever been.”
His fingers traced the buttons of his shirt. It was still pressed and stiff with starch. He was wearing a suit. He always wore suits when he was alive, but they were never quite this dirty. He said he could tell even in the dark which suit it was. He could tell by the feel of the lapels.
“Why did you put me in this suit?” He asked me. A quiet fire smoldered in his words from the other side of the window, like they were etched in coal on his tongue
“I hate this suit.” he said quietly. He’d spent a fortune on it and only wore it once, burying it in the back of his closet after his father’s funeral. “You know I hate this suit.”
I picked it because it was appropriate.
He began pulling at the filthy collar, “now why oh why? Why in the world did you pick this one?”
“It was nice.” I whispered. “The nicest one you had. Don’t give it any more hidden meaning than that.” I felt the tremor in my voice. I hoped it couldn’t be heard. I willed my face to stay calm and blank. I willed my eyes from looking down at the matte black thing I held in my hand. It was small comfort against a man who was already dead. I didn’t think he could see the gun, but holding it in the dark seemed to embolden me. I felt as though I might finally have some closure here. I might finally stand up to him.
They say that if you find you’ve been buried alive, the most important thing you should avoid is panic. That’s easier said than done. They tell you to keep calm and conserve your breath. They say to keep breaths light. They say to keep them shallow. There isn’t much breathable air inside once the lid is sealed. These things have gaskets to keep the air inside and keep the stink as you rot in too. If you breathe in too deeply, or lose control and before you know it you’ll be gasping in the throes of hyperventilation. Hyperventilation leads to stolen air. Stolen air leads to death. The amount trapped inside the coffin with you is finite and if you don’t retain a level head, they say you’ll waste it quickly. If the first advice they give is to avoid panic, it’s pretty safe to say they’ve never woken up this way, because really…who has? Aside from Ken. They’ve not ever opened their eyes to find they’ve been buried alive. They are operating on theory alone, whoever they are. I could feel the room closing in around me and suddenly had the irrational fear the house would crumble down all around and I might have to feel everything he’d felt in his coffin myself.
Some people believe when you die the world just stops. It stops for you anyway, and all that happens next is black. I never believed that. I always thought that death would be a state to find true rest and I’d find myself in a place to reflect, and we’d have all the time we could need in order to do that. I’d hoped in that time he’d be able to reflect on his actions. The way Ken tells it, everything goes black and I think I’ve been wrong.
He said he regained consciousness and kicked his way out. The first kick accomplished nothing. Neither did a second, third, or fourth. He said he wanted to scream, but he kept it down deep inside. He didn’t see how screaming would help. It would have gone unheard. He said he heard the world splinter at the impact of his fifth kick as it landed against the lid. The only scream he heard was the sound of the wood smashing everywhere above and the dirt as it fell and pressed down on him. I felt my gut turn summersaults.
“It was hard to pull the pieces away,” he said, “it was like an endless rain of soil, It pressed me flat against the bottom. I had to sit up. I couldn’t let it cover me there. So I covered my face with this fucking coat and sat up. I tied the sleeves around my head.”
He said he didn’t want to die inside of his own grave. I don’t think he could grasp the ridiculousness of that sentiment. He never did understand irony or sarcasm. So little had changed.
He said digging yourself out of a grave with your own hands is a lot like digging a normal hole, only backwards. For starters, you’re going the other direction, up instead of down, and if you don’t dig, you’re going to die. This panic and urgency was made worse by the jacket tied around his face. He felt like he was suffocating but at least he wasn’t swallowing mouthfuls of dirt in the process.
“My heart was pounding hard and pumping acid-hot as I forced myself to continue up and up and up.” He said. I felt like I understood this idea well as I stared at him. Keeping my head up. Keeping my eyes locked on him. He began to cry. I still refused to let him inside
“I had a panic attack. Was I sure that up was up? What if I was disoriented?” He asked. “My head was all wrapped up in this…”
He held the jacket out for me to inspect on the other side of the glass. “What if I’d spun around the wrong way? What if I was going down? I was wrapped in this thing and dirt. There was no way to tell.” he smiled ruefully.
“I began to choke hard on the gasps I made then, I felt my lungs burning. There was no oxygen left. I was going to die.” He said, “Then just as I felt myself losing consciousness in the dark, my fingers clawing and clawing up, I felt a breeze on my fingertips.”
He said he felt renewed and managed to pull his head out through the hole above, and to rip the garment away just as what remained of his wakefulness began to fade.
When he woke again it was to gasp cold night air as gentle rain grazed him. Everything from his neck down was still somewhere in the grave, but he found he could breathe deep and ragged breaths in the dark. Above, the night sky churned with dark clouds and he managed to wrench himself free.
I wonder if when you stand and stare at a headstone etched with your epitaph, the feeling is surreal.
Hᴜsʙᴀɴᴅ, Bʀᴏᴛʜᴇʀ, ᴀɴᴅ Dᴇᴠᴏᴛᴇᴅ Sᴏɴ
Hᴇ Sᴡᴇᴇᴛʟʏ Sʟᴇᴇᴘs
I had chosen it because it sounded nice. His mother liked it.
It was nicer than he deserved. There hadn’t been much sweet about him until he died.
Perhaps that wasn’t fair. He was sweet at first, but it didn’t last. He was sweet when he apologized too, and that always seemed real at the time as well. I was stupid and too afraid to be alone so I accepted the apologies for the broken ribs. I accepted the sorry for my broken collar bone. I accepted the nose-job after he’d punched it crooked. I believed I wouldn’t make it without him, yet here I’d been all the while. I was making it just fine.
The cemetery was not far from our house. He must have made the walk in less than an hour if he’d kept moving.
“I passed a few people on the way. Bars were closing up. Most of them avoided me.” He said.
“Kenny,” I said from behind the safety of the bedroom window, “that’s because — “
He interrupted me. “I know I look like a bum.”
“Ken you look dead!” I said quietly, “’cause you’re dead!”
“So stupid.” He said shaking his head, “you’ve always been so fuckin stupid. If I’m dead, I’m not here. But I’m here. I can see my reflection.” He paused and injected some venom into the words as they came out, “I can see that fucker too, hiding on the other side of the bed. My side of our bed.” he spat on the ground. “I’ve seen him the whole time. I been trying to keep my cool out here. Fuckin dirty and wet.” He gritted his teeth. As black as they were, the moonlight still managed to glint off them.
“Open. The. Fucking. Door.” He said again slowly.
I’d hoped he hadn’t seen my new partner hiding in the dark of the room. How good was his sight after so long? Could he also see how much the room had changed? Could he also see the gun?
“It’s not the same bed, Ken.” I said quietly. l didn’t know if I should cry or scream. “You’ve been dead for seven years. It’s not the same life.”
“Bullshit!” He spat.
“Kenny,” I said, “please just go. You’re not supposed to be here anymore. I was healthier. I’ve been happier without you here.”
“Happier?” He said. His eyes raged. “How can you say something like that?”
I felt something then. Something I’d never felt in the presence of Ken before. “How?” I looked at Daniel in the dark beside the bed, “We don’t argue. He doesn’t make me feel like everything I do is wrong. He doesn’t drink. If he disagrees with something I do or say, he doesn’t hit me.”
“You made a promise that day in Boston!” He said, “a vow!”
“Yes.” I agreed, “till death do us part, and I wanted to throw a party after you died. Because I was free. Finally free.”
Daniel stood now on the other side of the bed in the dark. “You’re dead!” He shouted, “now part! Depart! Go!”
“Who the fuck do you think–fuck you.” Ken said outside. The rain began again in earnest, “I’ll kill you.” He said pointing at Daniel, and then turning to me he added: “both of you.”
“Ken,” I said quietly, “just go.”
Daniel reached for the gun in my hand as Ken turned slowly away. He spat at the ground and walked toward the trees, disappearing between the sheets of rain. Daniel didn’t raise the gun or aim it. There was no need.
I began to cry.
Daniel set the gun down on the dresser and came to my side. Touching my hand he said, “you lived through him once.” He said. “I’m here now. You’ll make it again. We’ll make it.”
I nodded and went to the closet. On the top shelf, I found Ken’s obituary in a dusty box. I taped it to the window facing out. Maybe if he returned he’d read it and believe. Maybe he’d leave us alone. Maybe he’d rest in peace.
Hᴜsʙᴀɴᴅ, Bʀᴏᴛʜᴇʀ ᴀɴᴅ Dᴇᴠᴏᴛᴇᴅ Sᴏɴ
Hᴇ ɪs sᴜʀᴠɪᴠᴇᴅ ʙʏ ʜɪs Hᴜsʙᴀɴᴅ Sᴄᴏᴛᴛ Sᴀᴠɪɴᴏ, ʜɪs ᴍᴏᴛʜᴇʀ Dᴏʟᴏʀᴇs Wᴀʟsʜ ᴀɴᴅ ᴛᴡᴏ sɪsᴛᴇʀs Jᴀɴᴇᴛ Wᴀʟsʜ ᴀɴᴅ Fᴀʏᴇ Mᴀʀsʜᴀʟʟ.
Hᴇ Sᴡᴇᴇᴛʟʏ Sʟᴇᴇᴘs ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ Bʀᴀᴅᴇɴᴠɪʟʟᴇ Cᴇᴍᴇᴛᴇʀʏ.
The page was tattered and yellow after seven years, even being stowed and stored away from light in a box of rotten mementos from a time so long past, it seemed like another life.
Daniel and I sat there in the dark. Neither of us spoke. Neither of us dared sleep; we were so sure he would come back again. I didn’t know how to feel. It had taken me so long to move on. So long for the emptiness to leave. So long to forgive myself for letting him slowly ebb me away to nothing. Things could never go back to the way they were. He was legally dead, but standing outside not a few hours earlier.
Would I have to file for divorce? He’d never sign. A stupid errant thought.
“Maybe we should go.” Daniel said after hours of silence. “Just for a few days. Pack up and get away from here.”
“I don’t know.” I said. “That feels to much like letting him win.”
“Well what do we do?” Daniel asked. “Do we call the police?”
It wasn’t ‘what should you do?’ or ‘you should call the police’ and that sentiment, however unintentional, wasn’t lost on me. Daniel and I had spent the last three years together, weaving an intricate life. It was never him or me. It was always us.
Even long before this strange turn of events I’d known that this man was my soulmate. Daniel and I were meant to be a two-man team. For life.
He squeezed my hand as I weighed our options. “We can’t call the police,” I said finally. They’ll think we’re insane.
I never knew Ken could dig so well. I never imagined him digging out from his own grave.
I never imagined his filthy hand punching a hole up through the hardwood while Daniel and I shared this moment. I never imagined his arms rising out of that hole in our bedroom floor just before the sun met the horizon.
His head rose out first and he gnashed his teeth violently as the violet of dawn began to filter through the curtains. The only thing that kept him from us was that the hole was not yet large enough to allow his chest to pass. He didn’t quite fit.
As he struggled through the boards he threatened us with death and disembowelment. “I’ll do it slow.” He said. “You can watch each other suffer. First, I’ll rip into your stomach and pull every last inch of your dripping shit-filled guts out. He’ll watch it happen. I’ll break his legs so he can’t run. He’ll see everything. I’ll start on him while you’re still bleeding out. You can watch eachother until you’re both dead. Then maybe you’ll wake up in a coffin too.” He said. He was growing more and more frustrated with the planks of the floor, trying to pull them away. One of the jagged edges was pressed into the thin skin of his back, piercing in, through and between his shoulder blades. It was holding him there as he thrashed in the dark, sending sprays of muddy rainwater with errant flinging drops from his fingers everywhere around the room.
“Goddammit!” He howled, trying unsuccessfully to pull himself free.
I leveled the gun at his head and fired. He only laughed. I shot again and again until the clip was empty and I kept pressing the trigger in shocked, rhythmic clicks. I was so close, I’d hit him with every shot. It didn’t work. We had no other choice but to run. Out of the house and to the car.
We made it to the on-ramp a few blocks over. I wasn’t sure where we were headed. We both sat in our pajamas.
Daniel said we should just go. “Let’s just drive until we run out of gas.” He said.
“What?” I asked, “and never go back?”
“Why not?” He said. He was shaking with fear and so was I, but he made a point to pick his words. To say things that would calm me.
“What will we do for money?” I asked, “what about our jobs.”
“Fuck it.” He said after a moment, “We can make a life wherever. We can start over. I’m with you wherever you go. I’m everywhere you are.”
After a moment I nodded and put my foot on the brake and the car back into drive.
I was waiting for the right moment to merge into the early morning traffic. The road was busy with all of the sunrise commuters heading ever towards their bleak office jobs. I almost didn’t see Ken, running for us until it was too late.
He was close. So close he’d nearly reached us and his face was awash in the red of my taillights. I hit the gas and swerved into the lane and onto the highway.
I was so focused on making our escape I almost missed the wreck that took his life a second time. A wreck I’d caused swerving from the grass and onto the onramp.
When the commotion began, the echos of cars and trucks being torn apart behind us, the squeeling of brakes — Daniel looked back. He assures me that Ken was left in so many splattered pieces across the asphalt, he wouldn’t be climbing out from his grave a second time.
I began to hyperventilate. I began to cry. I’m not sure why. I was dealing with so many things in that moment that I’d buried deep. Emotions that were clawing to the surface.
When I swerved accidentally, Daniel reached over and steadied the wheel. “Calm down. Watch the road.” He said. His voice was soothing and calm. His breathing was controlled now and he was no longer shaking. There was a finality to what he’d seen that I’d need to work through again … but I knew I didn’t have to work through it alone this time.
My hand rested on the shifter as I struggled to control my breathing. Daniel placed his own hand over it.
“Glad we didn’t die.” He said. “We’re here … you and me. We made it. Alive.”
“You don’t want to leave?” I asked.
“No. I’m right here. Always.”