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In Her Design

by Ashleigh Gauch

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

part 1

The first indication that something was terribly wrong was the bloody thumbprint on my prized silver pen, which had been turned slightly askew from where it had been left on the dining room table, as though to call attention specifically to itself. The second was not something in and of itself but rather a collection of things, the absence of which became readily apparent at the sight of that pen: the bubbling of the coffee pot, the hiss of the frying pan, the gentle greeting that Amy gave each morning as I rounded the corner at the foot of the stairs into the kitchen to be with her.

The key I wore around my neck each night clinked against its chain, a reminder that it was still there and that the vial inside my lockbox was safe. Whatever had happened during my slumber had taken long enough to clean; that much was clear, and only Amy could have cleaned it so efficiently. She knew exactly where I liked everything to be when I awoke. Why didn’t she leave a note? Out of everything to leave askew, why my silver pen?

It sat close to where it should, at my spot on our cherrywood table, though not in perfect alignment with the edge of the newspaper, where it usually awaited me each morning. The tiny splotch of crimson that marred its smooth surface had just barely begun to oxidize, as though it had been placed mere hours before. Though I was sure the police could collect DNA from it and even identify who the print belonged to, I was certain that was not what she had intended. The risks of a search would be much too great.

The unease trickled slowly from my mind and into my arms, which began to tremble. Why was I shaking? Low blood sugar, it must be that. With Amy absent, no food was made; that could explain it. Cooking is woman’s work; I generally left it to her, and this time was no exception. The mental fog of morning coupled with my shakes seemed to give no indication of passing any time soon. I needed clarity, the kind that could only come from one source: the vial in the lockbox.

My beautiful poison, my life’s work, my liberation. Amy would call it my addiction, though I fervently disagree. Who would want to go through life with only half his mind available to them? Before these thoughts had even fully formed, I found myself in our bedroom, fumbling through my desk drawers for a clean, sterilized needle.

A loud crash somewhere behind me caused me to jump and my eyes to dart first to the lockbox and then to the door. Had someone heard what happened with Amy earlier? Did they call the police? Did she call the police?

My hands shook more violently as I stood hunched down slightly with my hand halfway to the fallen needle. The silence, which should have been a comfort given the source of my fear, suddenly smothered me in its totality broken only by the sound of my own heartbeat thundering through my head.

I don’t know how long I waited for that terrible silence to be broken, though when I finally willed myself to move, I discovered the source of the noise. The violence with which I yanked open the desk drawer had knocked down two of my more prized possessions from their homes atop our custom redwood wall shelving.

My beautiful, ancient jade statuette from our vacation in China lay snapped messily in half on the ground, crushed under the weight of the graffiti-covered brick from the Berlin wall that was our wedding present from Amy’s parents. Her face, once radiant and smiling, was smashed in, seemingly obliterated under the weight, along with many of the minute details of her ornate dress.

All trace of the delicately carved hand laid across her breast and the fan it carried were shattered. The crumbs lay scattered across the soft carpet, marring its smooth inky blackness like tiny green drops of blood. They twinkled in the faint light, the few that weren’t absorbed by the dark green curtains or deep brown paint on the walls.

Amy had always described our room as “dank, like a cave,” though, like all things in my home, it served a purpose. Many volatile compounds break down when exposed to sunlight, and I needed all of my ingredients to be at full potency if I wanted my work to see the market.

The labels on each of them were swallowed by the darkness, though I knew what each of them were, sitting in alphabetical order, pressed against the wall at the back of my desk, though that was no matter. The vial I wanted had no label, and right now was not the time for tinkering with the formula. For now, the clarity I needed was within arm’s reach, buried under a false bottom in the largest of the three drawers on the side of my desk, locked in a box for which there was only one key.

A gentle press on the lower-left edge of the drawer’s false bottom revealed the keyhole. The shakes were nearly unbearable now. Even when I had managed to free the key from around my neck, it banged fruitlessly against the edges of the lock and the wood surrounding it. My muscles felt as if they were melting beneath me. What if they failed entirely? Without the clarity and calm that my work brought me, how was I ever to determine what Amy was trying to tell me?

With a grunt of effort, I forced my muscles to obey, shoving the key in more forcefully than I intended. The vial was there, the deep crimson liquid splashing inside of the sealed jar as I plunged the recovered needle into its depths, liberating my desire. Thrusting it into the indentation in the crook of my arm brought the relief I knew it would. The trembling ceased. Every vibrating string of light that composed the matter around me shone clear, shimmering and beautiful.

“Shooting up again? You’re utterly predictable.” My vision swam as I turned my head to face her. Red anger spread through my veins with the heat of the drug. Somehow, despite my heightened senses, her voice rang through my head, yet her steps had fallen silent, swallowed by the thick carpet, immune to the squeal of the floorboards at the entrance to our room.

“Where have you been?” I demanded. The words exploded from me in a shower of red, though to my surprise she did not recoil from it despite its ferocity.

“Cleaning up. Not that you care.” The pen appeared in my lap, the perfect thumbprint that marred its surface smudged and nearly indiscernible. Pinpricks of pain spread from the impact. I followed the line of red from my leg to her delicate hand. Her ghostly pale skin and luscious red-orange hair were devoured by the tongues of crimson, even as the look of disapproval in her jade green eyes bored into me.

“Cleaning up what?” Fear spread through me, green and fetid, like a slime I couldn’t free myself from. My vision blurred.

“Not what, but who. The dealer became impatient. He broke in last night. You didn’t have the courage, so I took care of it for you.” The contempt in her tone was unmistakeable.

“David? Of all people, I would think, given how long we’ve been friends...” I trailed off, unable to collect each word from the muddy morass that was my mind. Each word seemed to float in the bog for a moment before it sank and dissolved before I even had the opportunity to retrieve it.

“You’ve been putting off the sale for almost three years! Of course he’s going to get impatient!” Scarlet surrounded her, this time all her own. She blinked in and out of existence as I struggled to keep my focus on her.

“It’s not ready! Introduced to the market now, it would become Schedule One before I could ever see a dime!” The red seized my hand and carried it across her face.

She crumpled to the ground in a heap. “Neither are you. You’re addicted.”

Tears cascaded down my face, lost in the endless swamp that surrounded me. I sank into the bog, swallowed by thoughts the color of blood, clawing at the surface and gasping for air even as I drowned in fear and rage. The truth of her words, as hard and merciless as steel, cut through it all.

“Maybe I am.” The shakes, the key, the jade statuette. A million images spun me into darkness. Ripples of jade and scarlet transformed the swamp, anger to fear and back, again and again. I floated in the green abyss not knowing if she would be there when I awoke or even if she ever truly had been to begin with. “Maybe I always was.”

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Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2015 by Ashleigh Gauch

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