in every bite. She watched the man of the house eating, enjoying each mouthful, and she imagined his pleasure fading, his smile freezing, his heart stopping….
“Emma? Is that you?” Michael leaned back in his chair, his head cocked toward the corner she was standing. “I didn’t even see you back there.”
But all Emma could do was stare. The vision had strangled her words, smothered her voice.
She ran out of the room, terrified.
Seasons passed. The poison never erected itself again, except in Emma’s heart.
She became bitter, filled with violent images of her husband’s destruction. Wagons, tractors, men tearing him apart, limb by limb, piece by piece, as he had done her soul. On the few nights she found him asleep in their sitting room, one leg dangling off the sofa, or passed out on the barn floor, hay stuck to the beads of sweat across his forehead, his mouth ajar, his breathing heavy through thin nostrils, she leaned over him and whispered death, begging the heavens the privilege of witnessing his last breath, the honor of watching him draw in the last bit of air cursed enough to fill his lungs.
Every sign of hatred, every wretched thought of his demise, she kept hidden deep inside, reined under a shawl of grace, the guise of a lady, but inside she raged. She was always able to control her fury, except for one drizzly summer evening.
She was reclining, rocking in the white paint-chipped swing on the front porch of their colonial, watching the sprinkle of rain when the front door swung open and Michael stepped out, a gust of wind blowing the wild curls of his hair back over his forehead.
He glanced at her and started for the steps.
“Where are you going?” she found herself asking.
He didn’t answer.
“Where are you going?” she asked again, the question clipped in anger.
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” He didn’t even turn around, just waited for the submissive silence sure to follow, then jogged down the steps, but when his feet hit the gleaming grass below, something in her raced. She saw herself going after him, had thought it was just in her mind, but before she knew it, she was moving to the edge of the porch, walking down planks of wood, marching, running, sprinting toward him, her heavy dress swooshing around her legs, confining her movement only slightly because what was in her burst loose. She sprang forward, leapt on his back, her arms locked around his neck, scrambling, gripping, screeching at him, beating his flesh with tiny fists, pounding him, slapping against his skull. He swung around, grabbed at the legs wrapped around him, but he couldn’t shake her. She held on, snatching his damp hair from the roots. Swearing, he stooped, tumbling her forward, farther on top of him now, her stomach curved over the crown of his head, her hands gripping his ears, she grappled, bit down, tasted the hot salt of his cheek. He swung hard, his elbow jamming into her ribs, and threw her off of him, but not before her fingernails dug deep, streaking his neck red.
She scrambled up in the wet grass, heaving, watching, waiting.
He gripped his sun-parched neck, blood dripping down the square nails of his fingers and his cream collar, his back bent as though the weight of her was still upon him. His narrow eyes said everything she felt, but to her surprise no sound came from his lips, just a quiver he bit down against. Not a word exchanged between them.
She swept her hand over her hair, swiped her forehead with her trembling palm, and pulled her dress straight as she staggered to her feet. She took a deep breath and left him in the field alone.
Neither mentioned that day, never spoke of it. In the morning, she had thought it a dream, until she saw the bunched-up shirt in the wicker basket of soiled laundry. She picked it up, the smell of lust still clinging to its fibers, the drops of blood at its collar. She scrubbed it endlessly but never could remove the