Friday, September 25, 2009

Till Death Do Us Part

Fiction Friday

Editor’s Note: For your readying pleasure, a scene from—well I’m not sure what it’s from, but I hope you enjoy it.

It was dark in the cemetery as he began his work, but he had enough light to see without the aid of a flashlight. The full moon shined down on him from high in the sky. He planned it that way. He needed the light of the moon so a flashlight wouldn’t draw attention to him. The pole light over by the little church helped too. Mostly, it lit up the area around the big silver propane tank, but it helped.

He heard the singing tires of a car on the highway. He crouched down and waited. The car slowed to round the curve. For an instance, the headlights swept the cemetery, making the shadows from the tombstones look like ghosts moving in the night. The car sped up and went on down the road. Ryan didn’t have time to worry about ghosts.

The flowers had to go first, but that was easy. He pulled them off the small mound of dirt and set them off to one side. They had begun to wilt, but they had severed their purpose. They had lived a short life of beauty and then they died, like the man whose name was on the headstone, still missing the date of death. But Ryan didn’t care about any of that. He sunk his shovel into the loose dirt, scooped it out and lay it to one side. The work went easy at first. The gravediggers had used a backhoe, but it had broken up the dirt enough that Ryan didn’t have to press hard on the shovel to get it to do its work. It helped that it was a new shovel. It still had the point at the end and he had used a file to sharpen the edge.

By the time he removed two feet of dirt from the grave, sweat stung his eyes and his back ached. He sat on the headstone, rested his chin on the shovel and wondered why he hadn’t thought to bring water with him. He kicked at the blue tarp. It flopped over, revealing a woman’s face and hand. Her eyes were closed and in the moonlight she looked like she did when she slept. She looked like she could wake up at any moment. Ryan reached down and felt of her hand, just to make sure. It was stiff. Her rings glinted in the moonlight. Ryan pulled those off and slipped them into his pocket. He pulled the tarp back over her face.

He kept digging, taking very few breaks, until the shovel hit the top of the vault. He didn’t uncover the rest of it, but lay the shove aside and pulled at the tarp until it and the body fell into the hole with him. He pulled the tarp free from the body and climbed out. He folded the tarp neatly and set it near the flowers before he picked up the shovel begin moving the dirt back into the hole. It would have been easier work, had he not been tired from scooping it out. But it had to be done and it had to be done quickly. He couldn’t see it, but Ryan sense that the sun was nearing the eastern horizon.

When the flowers were back in place, Ryan picked up his shovel and the tarp. He threw them in the trunk of his car and left the cemetery, content that he was free of his wife at last.

He hadn’t noticed it so much in the cemetery, but in the car, the smell of dirt filled his nose. He reeked of dirt and sweat. He grabbed a tissue and blew his nose to get the smell out, but it filled the car. He turned on the interior lights. He held his hand up in the light. Dirt—on the skin and under his fingernails. He looked down at his pants legs. There were streaks of dirt. He tried to brush it off. His right tire hit the gravel on the side of the road. He jerked the wheel to the left, pulling the car back to the road, just as he came to a curve. He slammed on the breaks and slowed just enough that he didn’t go careening into the trees.

The road straightened out and he saw another small church off to the right. He pulled off into the gravel parking lot. The chat was packed hard and there was grass growing up so that it was hard to tell where the lawn ended and the parking lot began. He shoved the transmission in park. He opened the glove box and pulled out a small package of moist wipes. There were only a few left, so he made a mental note to ask Shirley to buy more when she went to the store. He laughed at himself. Shirley wouldn’t be going to the store—not while her body lay buried in that cemetery a couple miles back. He would have to be the one to go to the store now, but that was a small price to pay.

The dirt on his hands came off easily, except for what was under his fingernails. He tried to clean his trousers too, but the wipes just turned the streaks of dirt into streaks of mud. “If you ever do this again,” he said to himself, “pick somewhere that doesn’t have so much clay.” He folded the muddy wipes and put them in the trash before he pulled the last wipe out of the package and cleaned his hands one last time. He stuffed it in the trash bag too, being careful that he didn’t touch the other wipes or the sides of the bag.

The morning sun blinded him as he approached the city limits of Cape Girardeau. He hadn’t planned for this. He had planned to be home and in bed before the sun came up, but who could have guessed that digging a hole would take so long. But it was done and he knew to allow for variations in his plan.

When he pulled into his drive, he looked at his neighbor’s house. The blinds were still closed, so if he worked quickly, his plan might still work. He pulled into the garage, shut off the engine and pulled the lever to pop the hood. He grabbed the wrench he bought especially for this purpose from the garage and raised the hood. More filth. He loosened the connections on the battery and pulled it out. He was sure his hands would never be clean again. He hid the battery behind some boxes in the garage and checked his neighbor’s battery charger. The other battery hadn’t charged. That much was going according to plan.

Ryan stepped into the shower and let the soap and hot water wash the filth away. There was so much of it. He could see the reddish brown mud, running down in a stream toward the drain. He washed it out of his hair and somehow managed to get it out from under his fingernails before he stepped out and dried himself off. It felt good to be in clean clothes. Put the others in a plastic bag. He had planned to wash them immediately, but he hadn’t considered how dirty they would get and he didn’t want to get that filth in his washing machine. He would take them to a Laundromat and wash them there. Then he would throw them away. Wearing them again would be out of the question.

The doorbell rang. As Ryan went to answer it, he looked at the clock on the mantel. Seven o’clock. It was early, but he had expected that.

“Are you ready to see if we can get your car going?” Ryan’s neighbor asked.

He wasn’t a big man, but bigger than Ryan. He looked like the kind of man who would let dirt fester under his fingernails for days and do nothing about it. By Ryan’s standards, he was quite stupid, but he had a decent paying job at the paper plant outside of town.

“Let me go open the garage door,” Ryan said. His neighbor turned around as Ryan closed the front door.

In the garage, Ryan flipped on the light and did a quick scan of the area to make sure nothing incriminating was in view before he hit the button to raise the door. His neighbor stood at the door, watching it go up, like an idiot.

“I hope I’m not keeping you from going to work,” Ryan said.

“No, not at all. I’ve got the day off.”

Ryan knew that. He had planned it that way.

“I hope we can get this thing working,” Ryan said. “I’ve got a class at ten. And then I’m supposed to pick up my wife at the mother’s house.”

“We’ll get it working by then. I’m sure it’s just the battery,” his neighbor said. He walked over to where the old battery was connected to the charger. “Would you look at that? It isn’t taking a charge at all. I’ll drive you down and we’ll get you new battery. That’ll take care of it.”

The parts place didn’t open till eight, so Ryan had to put up with his neighbor’s rambling until then, but it gave Ryan an opportunity to further convince his neighbor that he had to have been home all night, since his car was parked in the garage with a dead battery.

He let his neighbor find the battery they needed and do all the work. If his neighbor thought he couldn’t replace a battery in his own car then so much the better. What he needed most was a good alibi that didn’t look like he had created an alibi.

The call came as his neighbor was connecting the battery.

“Shirley disappeared,” his mother-in-law said.

“What do you mean she disappeared?”

“She isn’t here. I got up this morning and she isn’t here.”

“She must have gone for a walk or something,” Ryan said. He fought the urge to suggest that someone had kidnapped her during the night. He wanted to get the sheriff involved as soon as possible, but until Shirley had been missing twenty-four hours, the sheriff’s department wouldn’t do much, unless they were bored. It was better to let it play out. Her mother would call the sheriff soon enough.

“But I’ve been up for a good two hours!”

“I’d give it a while longer,” Ryan said. “Sometimes she likes to take long walks.”

“Is something wrong?” Ryan’s neighbor asked.

“Hopefully not,” Ryan said. “My mother-in-law got up this morning and my wife was gone. I told her she probably went for a walk, but with the way the world is these days, you never know what might have happened.”

“I hear that,” his neighbor said. “Go crank the key for me and we’ll see if it starts.”

Ryan turned the key and the little engine came to life. His neighbor closed the hood and Ryan shut off the engine.

“I told you we’d get it working,” his neighbor said. “It’s running so good, your wife may think you’ve got a new car.”

Ryan laughed, but knew his neighbor was wrong.

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