It was the dog’s barking that roused me. I sat up in bed, prickling, and went to the window. In the early light, the blossoms floating from our trees looked like blood-washed snow. Beautiful; and quiet, like breath held. The washing line snapped, whip-like. The dog yelped and murmured.
A woman was out there. Her faded sleeves were pushed back and she flipped her long auburn hair this way and that, though she was alone in my garden and petting my gullible dog. The tin can clattering of bangles. The virgin light was still crystalline with dew. The audacity of her trespass provoked my hand to the window, but then she turned her face to me and I placed a blank hand on the glass. Her face was a chimera — assembled from secondhand memories and hidden holiday photographs — that set fire to the recesses of my brain. It was a chasmic wrench to retrieve it from the dark.
Because hers was a lost face. I’d never seen it living and yet there it was.
She was as beautiful as I’d feared.
The air from my lungs left a pale cloud on the glass; I drew a big X in it and then smeared it away. The beauty reemerged and my hand fell, then, from the window to the sill, to the radiator and to my lap as I fell back upon our bed. I touched my husband’s shoulder. He opened his eyes and I pointed out through the glass.
‘Did the alarm go?’ he asked, rubbing his fists hard into his eyes, like an eraser scouring paper. Had he seen stars, or something else?
‘You need to come and look,’ I said.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, moving towards the window. ‘Is something out there?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘your wife.’
‘Your wife. Look. There she is.’
And then my husband became a different man: more alien than the panicked bystander he’d become whilst I was in labour, more erroneous that the man who released bloodcurdling curses into traffic. His hands gripping the sill, he concaved towards her — the dead woman — as she ambled across our grass. The air around her was white and damp, so I said this to him, aloud. He raised his eyes and met hers – I saw it, the moment of old, intimate contact — before he ran to the bathroom and vomited. Something old, something sour.
As if nothing was wrong, she rapped on our front door and waited.
I stumbled downstairs, hands out, a pale splinter inadvertently piercing in my palm. I touched the door knob — brass, cold — and it occurred to me that she might have touched it, a moment before, from the other side.
So much we had in common.
I inhaled, and I let her in.
She gazed at me, and I stepped back, dumb. She saw my husband on the stairs and moved towards him, opening her arms, her mouth, her hands. She brushed me aside, occupying my space, as she might have always done. Or had I occupied hers? Then her hands were upon his and he found his wife to be alive — gasping, admonishing, touching — and I heard her smile, and could feel her teeth. I sank to the floor like blossom. The front door remained open and my nightgown was insufficient. I looked away from them, out and over our grass.
‘But James, but James-‘ she said, her cut-glass urgency building. I knew her upbringing had been expensive but her vowels were really something, I thought, my cheek and palms flat against the carpet.
‘Kate, the taxi driver: they charged him, they killed him, for Christ’s sake. His clothes were wet with blood,’ he said. ‘I stayed — long after it was all done, long after it was pointless. Until work couldn’t wait anymore,’ and he broke down, hands wrinkling with his tears, and perhaps mine too, as he joined me down on the carpet. She stood tall over us: white linen, a flawless pedicure.
He mumbled, ‘Kate, my darling, you’re dead.’
I kicked the door closed and rolled over to witness her reply, which would come out of her body, which she once again possessed. She froze my assertiveness mid-roll, however, so I sat like a child at her feet.
‘I wasn’t happy, James,’ she said, flipping her hair again, inches of bangles jangling up her tanned, scratched arms. ‘I hadn’t been happy. So when I ran away from that terrible man — he deserved it all, James – and into the undergrowth and then onto a boat, the sun kept rising and falling and I started forgetting myself and looking for something else.’
Flip, her hair went. Flip.
‘And did you find it?’ I piped up, hands in my lap. I bore a tombstone in my chest. My kneeling husband bobbed and gurgled. I reached for him and he shuddered from me, from all of his wives.
‘I did, but the world told me to return to you, James; it told me that you still called out for me, late into the night. It took me a while to gather myself,’ she said, scratching, ‘but I understood that it was time to come home. And you are my home, James. My journey, my long absence, was so I could self-actualise, and return to you whole. As the woman that you love.’
My husband’s low hand stubbed at my ankle. Upstairs my son wailed for love. I began to howl like a wounded animal — blindly, aimlessly — matching the sounds of the outside to those within. I ran out of air and inhaled again, and in that moment I became my son and my scream and a person without status, and my husband became a bigamist, out of time and the sequences of love.
Our dog thudded into the closed door. My husband’s wife smiled with her teeth.
‘I’ve come to set things right,’ she said. Flip.
Lyndsay Wheble’s work is forthcoming or has appeared in Crack the Spine, Sein und Werden, Danse Macabre, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Inkapture, The Bicycle Review, Side B Magazine and Who We Are Now, amongst others, and on the long-list for the Granta-sponsored Festival of Garden Literature in 2013. She is currently editing her first novel; please see lyndsaywheble.com or @lyndsay_wheble for more information.