His body was especially beautiful naked: lean, hard curves of muscle along his shoulders, the taut slope of his back, sprawled limbs across tangled sheets. She studied the way the squares of light from her bedroom window illuminated the red undertones of his hair. He was perfect, even with his neck broken.
She hadn’t meant to. Hadn’t known she was capable of it, even on accident. But she also hadn’t realized, until an hour ago, that she really was the woman of her husband’s accusations, the kind of woman who’d let her new neighbor corner her into bed. She’d spotted him across the dim-bulbed hallway, pushing a bookshelf through his front doorway, and let him catch her eye. Thinking: her husband would notice the neighbor soon enough, would build his own theories around the square of the man’s jaw and the quickness of his smile, and would take his jealousy out on her, using his imagination as evidence and his hands as judge and jury. It wouldn’t hurt her any worse to look a little. To admire the newcomer as he crossed the hall and leaned against her doorframe. To let him breathe flirtations in her ear. Gentle. Different.
But then he’d put his weight behind that old expression, being forward, each kiss a nudge in the bedroom’s direction, her retreating half-steps as small as she could make them, staying faithful until she’d felt the mattress hit the backs of her thighs. She imagined how it had looked from above: the knight’s angled pursuit, the queen’s slow gambit through the grid of the apartment, allowing herself to topple. Afterward, after they’d climbed back out of bed, she’d twisted her ring around her finger—a thin, cheap band, easy to miss except when it was the only adornment on her body—and felt the alarm hammer of her heart clanging at the edges of her rib cage. She’d lied to herself, let things go too far. She’d told him he had to leave. Now, she’d told him, and kept twisting that wedding band. He’d lunged at her. Not so different, after all, from the men she’d spent a lifetime loving and hating in turn.
She hadn’t flinched or cowered, the way she did with her husband. As if, after so many years, her body had lost the capacity to move backward and forward. Instead, diagonal: a sidestep, her fingers gripping his hair and his temples pulsing between her palms and the heels of her hands against the edges of his eye sockets, and then a desperate, twisting motion as she’d flung him toward the bed, away from her. The crack as his skull collided with the headboard at the wrong angle. The odd, painful L-shape of his neck. And now she leaned against the nightstand, her body as naked as his, though far less beautiful, her hands clasped behind her back, no longer trustworthy.
She heard, too soon, the front door open and shut. Heard the jangle of her husband’s keys as he tossed them into the dish. Heard his whistle—jaunty, quick-tempoed—and knew how quickly those notes would sour as soon as he bulled his way into the bedroom.
Her hands found the nightstand drawer, opened it, fumbled until they grasped the scissors she kept there. The window’s light dappled across the bedsheets. In the other room, her husband’s movements were as slow and deliberate as a king’s: one step at a time, in any direction. He paused, called her name. Started whistling again, took a step toward the bedroom. Thirty more seconds before his tune would change. Half a minute. She clenched the angled blades against her spine and waited.
Rachael Warecki’s fiction has previously appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere, and she received a 2014 Best of the Net nomination for flash fiction. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles, has previously attended the Tin House Writers Workshop, and was selected as a 2017 Emerging Voices Fellow at the Wellstone Center. She is currently (perpetually) at work on a novel. More information is available on her website.