by Brittany Micka-Foos
I never wanted to live in this house. I didn’t want to live in the city at all. I wanted to move out West, on the Pacific—maybe Hawaii or California. Someplace where you can see the ocean, feel the breeze. The air is cleaner out there. It keeps your mind clear, fresh. And the people are more relaxed, laid-back, hair-down types. I had always planned to move out West after I finished school, but then I met my husband. He’s from around here, Ivy League. He’s a businessman—all suits and ties and Wall Street. I fell in love, got married, and now I live here. It gets a little stifling sometimes and a little boring. There’s a lot of cleaning to do, and I’ve never been much of a housekeeper. I can get overwhelmed easily, and sometimes, I get lost in my own thoughts. Sometimes the past comes back to me like a flash; other times it creeps up on me like an unsolicited visitor. Fragments and shards of memories, sharp and painful as glass. As fragile as eggshells. I do not like to dwell on the past, but I do like to think of things as they were back then. We had some beautiful times together. Of course, we had some bad ones too. Sometimes we’d quarrel, but it was always about petty, insignificant things—how he worked late or how I needed to keep the dog off of the sofa. But I try not to think about the bad times. Especially on days like today, when the sunlight creeps out from under the blinds, making bright streaks on the carpet.
These are the days I like to remember the good times.
I remember our honeymoon by the bay. The sun was bright there, too. We could look out the window of our hotel room, and all we saw was the Saguenay stretched out for miles and miles, making the clean cut of the fjord. You could follow the barges down the river. We would watch them for hours as they slipped out of sight, don’t you remember? The muddy banks and those tall trees that extended over the cliffs, so thin and brittle. I had never seen a fjord before—neither of us had—and I felt then as if this was the start of a great adventure. Some great undertaking. I know it seems silly, me thinking that way, but I was so struck by the scenery. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.
And we could see the farm on the hillside, just outside our room. It was so far removed from where we had come from, so quaint, with its large, towering Victorian, the wooden fences cowering in the back. And so many animals! It’s so clear to me, even now. The tractor on the slope, old and decaying, tall grass sneaking out its sides. Flowers blossoming in patches around it. Everything was growing. It was summer then, and the whole world smiled at us. It was a secret smile, one reserved only for those madly in love.
Beyond the farmhouse was the town itself. A small, but self-sufficient town with one little main street dotted with a bank, a café, a church. The road beside curved and stretched along the bay. Up ahead, we could see the red pyramid, the light gleaming off the aluminum siding, its image reflected in the still waters. It made me so happy to see it: that great monument, that towering omen. You laughed and said, “When you are looking for something, you tend to find it.”
I’m sure you remember, the quaint little French café downtown, the one with the beautiful French waitress, tall, with tattoos all over her forearms. I thought she seemed unfriendly with her tight smile, grasping at plates and paper napkins. She wouldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak French, and we laughed when you had to order my coffee because I was too shy to say “un café,” for fear of exposing my teeth. You would often order for me, back then. You knew what a difficult time I had had, and you understood.
We would spend our days looking at the cliffs at the Cape of Eternity, and trying to find faces in the rocks. And don’t you remember how desperately I cried then, because I didn’t want to leave our oasis, our holiday, our lune de miel? The truth was, I didn’t want to come back here, and you knew that. And you held me and told me how silly I was, and how there was nothing to cry about, after all.
Of course, we had to return home. You had your business to attend to, and honeymoons can’t last forever. Still, leaving felt so violent, like a tearing apart, and I could feel those familiar specters rise up once again. Shadows grew longer, darker, more wild. Things changed for both of us. It was no longer just you and me.
The nightmares returned with us. In my dreams, I would bite down on something hard and unyielding. The taste of iron filled my mouth. The sickening sound of tooth striking tooth. I tried pressing my teeth back into the gums, holding them there against their will. It was no use. They wouldn’t stop, they just kept falling out. Every night I’d end up with a soft, empty mouth. And when I awoke, my gums would ache and scream. Phantom pangs, you called them, and of course you were right.
We were so young back then! We spent all our time laughing. And we had all the time in the world, just for each other. All those days spent in bliss, spent in the shadows of the pyramid. That mysterious, benevolent monolith. It almost seems like a dream.
We ate at that same café every day. It was so small, only a few tables. We always had that same waitress. The one with the very French name. Her long black hair, never pulled back, falling past her waist. Oh, I am sure you remember her. She wore those strange shoes that drug heavy across the floor. Every time she came over to our table, you would hear her shuffling: “Karannn, koronnn.” Such a terrible sound! “Karannn, koronnn,” reverberating against the walls of the quiet café. The kind of sound that gets stuck in your head, the kind you feel in the roots of your teeth. “Karannn, koronnn.” You could always hear her coming.
We had our corner hotel room, our private view of the bay and the rural countryside—that small farm where we would watch the farmer tend to the cows, ferrying bales of hay and animal feed across the slopes. Every single morning, we woke up to the roosters, and watched the farmer’s little brown dog run wildly in the mud. It would chase the chickens. They would run like mad, in frantic, startled movements. The dog would chase them right into the farmer’s outstretched arms. We would watch how skillfully the farmer would pick the chickens up—snatching them up by the legs, one by one. And then he would throw the feathered body on the tree stump, one broad hand holding it down, the other high above his head. Metal glinted in the sunlight. It all happened so fast, one swift motion and a storm of white feathers. The sounds of struggle were brief, and then it lay calm. A perfected, calculated system. The pool of red grew. The dog barked—this time, a far-off sound. Blood flowed into the bay.
I wish we had more memories together. Time flies so fast, doesn’t it, darling?
Though we fought about it bitterly, I was resolved. I went to the dentist and found I had a cavity that needed to be filled. I was so nervous, sitting there alone, swallowed up by that big chair, surrounded by metal, sharp and pristine and menacing. The dental hygienist asked me all sorts of invasive questions. Where I lived, where I worked, if I was seeing anyone. I told her I had recently returned from my honeymoon. She smiled carefully, as if guarding something—for her sake or my own? I wouldn’t be taken in. “What do you do for fun?” she asked. “I made a lot of beautiful quilts during my first marriage,” she continued, “it kept me busy during those late nights.” “Uhumm,” I gurgled, as she suctioned out my mouth. “My first husband worked a lot. I spent a lot of time alone.” She pulled out a thick strand of dental floss. “Just me and the quilts. I was so unhappy back then, and I didn’t even realize it. But I’ve remarried now, and I’m finally happy.”
“I try to keep busy,” I said, noncommittally.
She smiled weakly. I spat out blood.
Other nightmares have arrived. I hear voices outside, the sound of heels crushing leaves, like eggshells or bone. The sound of something very heavy being dragged along the ground. Illicit visitors in the night. I can hardly look my husband in the face. In bed, I slink away from him, avoiding his gaze. I no longer want his attention. Sometimes he will lean in to kiss me, and I wonder if he is thinking of her. I think of all those other women, the ones he loved before. He tells me I am no longer the girl that he married. He calls me a jealous hag. He says I am duplicitous and that he doesn’t recognize me anymore. Perhaps he doesn’t. Perhaps in his secret heart, he imagines that I am her, that I am someone different. Still, I do not think he is a man capable of cruelty. Rather, he seems driven by some strong force that he is unable to resist. In his sleep, he seems bewitched. I can’t understand the words he mutters. My French isn’t very good. He knows that.
As I lie in bed, I can hear her in the sounds of his sleep, his breathy, secret confessions. “Karannn, koronnn,” he whispers in the dark.
One day, it happened, as I always knew that it would. My husband did not come home. I sat at the window, listening through drawn curtains for his footsteps on the pavement. I held my breath, like I had so many times before. It was late, yet it was still so bright. The beams of the moon crept from under the curtains, streaming onto the floor like honey, like snakes. I saw figures in the shadows and I remembered what he had so often told me. “When you are looking for something, you tend to find it.” My dear, departed husband was right about that. And here it was all along! The thing I feared more than death: I looked in the bedroom mirror; a wide toothless grin reflected back. It was late now. I crawled in bed and slithered into a stranger’s outstretched arms.
Brittany Micka-Foos is a writer residing in La Conner, Washington. A former victim’s rights lawyer practicing in Washington D.C., Brittany turned to writing after the birth of her daughter. She has published a smattering of poems and short stories in various publications. She earned her BA in English at the Evergreen State College.