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by Alexandra J. Ash

The funeral director says I can take as long as I like. I can’t, though, truth be told. I want to leave before I forget how you looked alive. He did a great job on you, but you’re still starting to look truly dead.

Yesterday, you looked like you were sleeping, oddly formal with your hands clasped over your chest and your head tipped forward, but today, during the service, I noticed that your left eye was bruising, as if some burglar came in last night after we all left and punched you in the face. Of course, that’s my doing. Or my husband’s. Or maybe yours.

But before I leave, I want to tell you what happened. Why this all came about and whose fault is what. So here goes.

You didn’t believe me.

That’s what it comes down to, really. I told you, warned you even, but you went to him anyway and probably laughed about it. He has the worst laugh, explosive and aggressive, like a horse.

And still you went to him, even after I told you I’d kill him.

He came to the funeral. Can you believe it?

If you could still open your mouth, you’d probably be laughing at me now. I can hear you, but I don’t mind your laughter. It’s rich and healthy, full of life. Or it was. Then you’d say that I should have hired someone, like I’d threatened to do in the first place. That of course I’d messed it up, trying to do it myself. That I mess everything up, trying to do it myself.

Remember Halloween, the pumpkin pies we were supposed to bake for the church bake sale, you’d say? How I tried to do them before you came over, because you were running late, and they came out flat, like pancakes in the bottom of the pans? And I’d say yes. Yes, I remember.

But I couldn’t pay someone to do this. It had to be me. I had to see him go down with my own eyes, to know that my finger, with the manicure he paid for, pulled the trigger.

If it’s anybody’s fault you’re dead, it’s actually yours. You got in the way, didn’t you? You stepped in at the last possible second and saved him, just like always.

That should have tipped me off, you know. You told me to forgive him last year, a best friend’s loving advice, even though he came home with his shirt on inside out and smelling of sweat. You told me he was probably working out. Yeah, working out. In a way, right?

The funeral director said to take all the time I need. He was shaking when he said it, though.

It was a beautiful service, just what you always wanted. Everyone showed up, dressed like Sunday, and they all cried, every last one of them. You were loved. But then you knew that. I even told you, that night in the kitchen, right after you told me about you and him.

I also told you I wouldn’t let him have you. He’s not your equal, I said. You’re better than him, I said. I tortured him for years, you said. It was his turn to be happy, you said. What about me? I said. That’s when you left. And I followed. All the way to your hideaway, your nest. Where he waited.

Of course you know how it happened then. You went in and hugged him, and he made you a drink. You sat down on the couch, looking tired, and rubbed your eyes the way you do. Then you saw me out the window, poised and angry, and you stood up in front of him. What you don’t know is that he never saw me. Not even a shadow. If he had, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.

He suspected, I’m sure. That’s probably why he came to the funeral. But he never saw me.

They dressed you just as I asked. Your mother couldn’t come to the service, too sick, so I took care of everything. I even gave the funeral home a picture of you so that they could do your hair the way you always did it. It was that one of us at the beach, in our bikinis last year, remember that?

That trip was so much fun, just the two of us, best friends, no boyfriends or husbands. Of course, I didn’t know until later that my husband was your boyfriend. It would’ve been cheap to bring him along, I suppose. Only one extra plane ticket instead of two. And we all could have shared a hotel room.

I’m being sarcastic. I’ll stop. I don’t have much more time anyway. The funeral director said I had all the time I wanted, but the cops seem anxious to leave.

I really brought the gun to the service only to get rid of it. I had this crazy idea to stick it in your coffin with you at the last moment, let you take your own murder weapon to the grave. Seems fitting, doesn’t it, since you basically killed yourself. But then he showed up. Here, can you imagine? I can’t believe he had the gall.

He ran after you were shot. Left you lying there and just flat out ran. He never even came home after that day. Probably thought the cops would think he’d done it. It was his gun, after all, although he didn’t know that. The one he kept in the top of the hall closet and showed me how to use so we would be safe when he was kept late at work. And later, when he was kept late with you, huh?

He was always a coward, and hiding for three days just proves it. But he just had to show up at the funeral. He was never that brave before. Why start now? So I’m sitting there at the service, looking at your poor face and thinking about how he used you. I couldn’t take my eyes off your poor bruised face. So when he came in during the prayer, I heard. I turned around and saw him, while everyone else was heads down, eyes closed, talking to God. And I just couldn’t believe his gall.

When the gun went off, it wasn’t as loud as I remembered. Sort of like a tiny bomb, a sharp pop. Not like the first time, outside the window. Then my ears were ringing afterward. And I kept seeing you fall. I still do, at night.

I didn’t plan it, I said. But I probably couldn’t have planned it any better. The pallbearers pulled me off him, covered in his cheating blood and screaming about how it was his fault, he killed you, he was a murderer. He was dead, what could he say to defend himself?

So when the cops came and heard the story from the other people, the first question to me, the shocked and brutalized wife, was how did I find out you and he were having an affair? Did I have any proof? Of course I did. All those letters you had in your bureau. Did I mention I picked out your clothes personally?

They think it was him. I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong. I’ll get off on temporary insanity. Who could blame me? My lying best friend is killed by my cheating husband, whom I then shot in a fit of grief and jealous rage. It’s actually almost the truth. And now I have an explanation for the powder on my hands, should they test. Witnesses, even.

The cops have come in and the funeral director says maybe I should get moving. He’s stopped being so accommodating and is just shaking now, looking stern. He’s right, I should go, but I’ll just close your lid first. That bruise is looking worse and worse and I want to remember you differently. Not like that. Like last year, at the beach. Just us. Perfect.

Copyright © 2010 by Alexandra J. Ash

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