University of Miami
Saturday, June 6
He watched as she made her way through the trees toward the parking lot, her lovely head jerking at the slightest noise. She clutched her purse to her right side and her briefcase to her left, as if to draw the air around her for protection. She knew she was being followed, he thought, and her terror thrilled him. He could imagine the adrenaline coursing wildly through her body, impelling her to look around. But she wouldn’t. In the dark, dry leaves crackling underfoot, knowing would be worse than what might only be imagined.
The walkway turned to damp ground, muting her footsteps. Clouds sailed in front of the quarter moon; he heard her suck in her breath. It was a sound women make when they are afraid or aroused, and it grated on his nerves. He ran his damp hands along his slacks, clenching and unclenching his fingers.
The only clear sound now was a train in the distance, hurtling through the warm humid night. Denise, Denise, he thought, it could have been so different. If you’d been good. He dug his hand into his pocket and his fingers closed around the knife. It seemed warm, suddenly heavy, as if imbued with consciousness, with an awareness of what it would have to do.
When the last of the train sounds left the air, she heard him and spun around, a hand flying dramatically to her heart. Then she saw him and laughed nervously, her eyelids fluttering. “Christ, you scared the hell out of me.” An admonishing tone, he thought, one he knew well.
“I called the house.” He smiled. His tongue darted into the comer of his mouth. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of an apology. “No one was home.”
“Viki’s staying with relatives for a while in Orlando. School’s out, you know.” She laughed again. It was an unnatural sound, and he wondered why he’d never noticed it before. “I’ve had the feeling ever since I left the lab that I was being followed. You really frightened me.”
They stopped by the hedge. The trees rustled in a momentary breeze. She cocked her head ever so slightly, her dark eyes coming together in a frown as if she’d practiced this expression in front of the mirror like an actress and was using it for the first time. She brushed a hand through her lustrous chestnut hair. “So, what was it you wanted?”
He wanted to trace her petulant mouth with the tip of his finger. Such a perfect mouth, eyes, such a perfectly lovely face, he thought. That was her sin; she was too pretty, too perfect for another man. Any man. Then he thought of how she’d betrayed him and looked away so she wouldn’t read his intention on his face.
“I didn’t want to interrupt you while you were working.”
“That doesn’t really answer my question.”
His fingers tightened on the knife in his pocket. “I guess I just wanted to see you, to-” The expression on her face stopped him. There was a softness in her dark eyes, a childlike adoration in the way she touched the side of his face. He thought of the way he’d spied on her earlier that night, working with such absorption in her lab. He had watched as she held test tubes up to the light, mixing her magic, scribbling notes. His original plan was to confront her there, in the place she held in the highest sanctity. But there were other lights in the building, another teacher working late upstairs.
“Oh, Bucky,” she was whispering, “it just won’t work for us, you know? I’m sorry for- I mean, we’ve been over this a million times. I- Oh, God. I loved you so much. We loved each other, didn’t we, Bucky? Didn’t we?” Her hands moved to his shoulders. He slipped his arms around her, drawing her against him, remembering what they had done to each other, what she had done to him.
His cheek was against her hair, such soft hair, healthy. Everything about Denise was healthy and beautiful. But she was a whore, a thief, a liar. She had betrayed him.
Her perfume tickled the inside of his nose. He recognized the scent; it was one he’d given her when- No, he wouldn’t think about the past. That part of his life was over. Denise dropped her head back, looked at him with those deep, soulful eyes. “You understand, don’t you? You understand why I did what I did, don’t you?”
He kissed the knuckles of her hand, then her mouth. Everything about her was familiar. For a moment, it startled him, this familiarity. She tasted so good.
“It was fine with us,” she said, pulling back, “fine until the very end, you know?” There were so many things he wanted to say, to confess. How he’d followed her, spied on her, discovered the truth-the many truths. Her life was layered like an onion, and he wished he could peel back every separate layer to arrive at the core.
How many other truths are there, Denise?
He brought the knife from his pocket. Clicked it open. The blade was long, thin, so very sharp. Her mouth pressed against his again. She tasted of honeysuckle, and as he touched the blade ever so lightly to her side, he thought she also tasted of death, as though her body sensed what was coming. Then he pushed the knife hard against the fabric of her dress, and as the blade penetrated her flesh, between the third and fourth ribs, he felt a chill along his spine. You made me do it, Denise, you made me. There was only a moment when she struggled, when that sucking noise started in the back of her throat, then died with her scream as the blade pierced her heart.
She fell limply against him. He removed the blade, guided her gently to the ground, wiped the knife clean on the grass and dead leaves. He touched the side of her face with the back of his hand. “You shouldn’t have made me do it, Denny,” he whispered. You shouldn’t have been so bad.
A sense of urgency nibbled now at the edges of his mind as he thought of the lights that had been on in Denise’s building. Suppose the other woman was already on her way to the parking lot? He slipped on a pair of gloves, glanced through Denise’s purse, opened her briefcase, and went through papers and her gradebook. His anxiety proliferated by the moment. The notebook, where the hell was it? He had seen it many times before, three-ringed, black, the sort of thing in which a little girl might record her secret thoughts. He was so certain she would have it with her. She said she always carried it, and hadn’t she been scribbling in it when she was in the lab?
He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering precisely when she’d told him she carried the notebook with her at all times. He could still see the way she ran her hands along the sides of her dress, too, straightening it. She’d been wearing a wine-colored dress that day, made of a soft, shiny fabric like satin. There wasn’t much he would forget about her. Especially her lies, her betrayal.
He went through her purse again, then squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to cry, scream, rage. She’d taken her secret with her. She’d lied even about the notebook. He rocked back on his heels, struggling to contain his rage, then returned everything to the briefcase, shut it, set it on the grass beside her. His anger abated. He was, after all, a reasonable man. Perhaps there were never any notes; perhaps she was just scribbling away like a two year old, recording nothing.
He heard a noise behind him; his head jerked around. He squinted into the dark but saw nothing. He was jumpy, that was all, and nervous about the other woman who had been in Denise’s building. Maybe she’d started down the path, had seen him, had seen what had happened, and had run off to call the cops. Maybe even as he sat here, smoothing Denise’s shirt, touching her cheek again, the police were circling the campus, closing in on him.
No, no, there would’ve been sirens, flashing lights. Everything was fine, of course.
He kissed Denise on the mouth, fascinated by how lovely she was; by now she looked to be merely sleeping. Her skin was still warm. He peered into her eyes, so dark, so vapid, then closed the lids and glanced around for something with which to cover her. He didn’t want her to get wet if it rained.
Kneeling, he scooped leaves in around her, patted them along the sides of her body, sprinkled them over her chest, legs, around her neck. His hand paused at the side of her face; a finger caressed the cool surface of one of her earrings. His heart lurched. Like the perfume, the earrings were a gift from him. Carefully, he removed them, slipped them into his pocket. He then set her briefcase flat on the ground, close to her right hand, tucked her purse in the curve of her left arm. Just as the pharaohs were buried with the artifacts of their lives, so would he send Denise into oblivion with her personal effects.
Then his sense of urgency tightened its hold on him. He leaped up, glanced once down the path where Denise had come, wondering about the lights in the building, about that other woman. Had she seen anything?
He hurried off through the dark, Denise’s earrings clasped tightly in his hand.