Jim W. Shoemaker
I lost my mind the moment the divorce papers were served.
It was Wednesday. Sakura was full of the lunch-hour crowd, the usual horde of 30-somethings lining the booths and sushi bar, ID lanyards brushing the tabletops or hanging idly from hip pockets and belt loops. The process server stuck out like a wolf among sheep, with his black leather jacket and slicked-back hair. He came through the door and waved away the host, craning his neck above the fray as though he were the fourth member of an incomplete dining party. In a way, he was.
I should have seen him long before he found me at my table with Kent and Joelle. I should have known he was coming. Hell, I should have steered clear of my friends until I knew for sure it was over. Should have…
“Kathleen Warner?” he said.
I looked up at this stranger. “May I help you?”
“Are you Kathleen Warner?”
In the half-second it took me to say “Yes” and nod my head, I understood what was happening, and I hissed out the final sound of the word like a snake. In that same moment, as though trained to see even the most incipient signs of an affirmation, the process server reached in his back pocket and withdrew a thickly-folded envelope.
“You’ve been served,” he said, and walked away.
It was over like that.
“Wow,” Kent whispered.
“Oh my god,” Joelle said.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even put my hand down; I kept it raised, holding the envelope dumbly.
“I didn’t think they did things like that, you know, in real life,” Kent said. “I thought it was just for movies and stuff.”
“Don’t be a dick, Kent!” Joelle snapped. She turned to me. “Honey, are you alright? What is it?”
Sakura seemed to have grown very quiet. Maybe people were looking at me, but I didn’t notice. All I could see were the envelope and the tepid bowl of miso behind it on the table. I opened my mouth, but only air came out.
I was rescued by our waiter.
“More plum wine for you folks?”
“She’ll have a shochu, a double, on the rocks,” Joelle said. “Hurry up too.” The waiter scurried away.
“Are you going to open it?”
My mouth was still hanging ajar. I looked at Joelle and handed her the envelope. “You open it.”
“Honey, are you sure?”
She tore into it without waiting for an answer, belying her sympathy. I turned to Kent, who looked profoundly uncomfortable.
“It’s Alan,” Joelle said, reading the first of what looked to be a dozen pages. She glanced up at me and made a pained expression with her face. “Do you want to know?”
“It’s divorce,” I said.
“Double shochu,” the waiter said, saving me again. He set down a glass and Kent’s plate of tempura maki. “Anything else for you right away or – ”
“We’re fine,” Joelle snapped, sending him scurrying away again.
I took a woefully inadequate sip of my drink. It tasted like lighter fluid. I slammed the rest back in one gulp.
Joelle was scanning the other pages. “It’s pretty standard. Why did he serve you, though? Are you ducking him?”
“No,” I said, finishing my tiny glass of plum wine and helping myself to Kent’s half-full one. “He’s an asshole, that’s why.”
Both of them were silent. Kent was trying to make himself so small that it looked as though he were priming himself to never speak to me again, as though this were mortifying for him.
“This seems so unlike him,” Joelle said.
I scoffed. While serving me divorce papers in front of my friends in public may have seemed unlike Alan, it was very like Joelle to pontificate on my husband’s motivations. Her thirst for information was not quenched by mere gossip; she was a consumer of social coincidence, the why and where and how of people’s actions. Kent, meanwhile, who was suddenly intensely interested in his maki roll, was the opposite: the less he knew, the better suited he was.
“It’s not unlike him at all,” I said, snatching the papers away from Joelle. “This is exactly the kind of center-of-the-universe shit he lives for. Even if he’s not here, he’s got to make his presence known.”
“I didn’t even know you guys were having problems. Has he talked to you about it?”
“All he does is talk,” I said. “And if he can’t talk, then he’ll hire a friend of the court to do his talking for him.” I brandished the papers in front of me.
I suddenly felt very ill. I stood up and almost fell over as boozy blood rushed into my head.
“You’re not going back to work?” Joelle said.
“No, but I need to get out of here.” The collar of my blouse was strangling me.
Joelle looked at Kent, failed to gain his attention, and slapped him on the shoulder. She gestured her head at me.
“Oh,” he mumbled. “Right. I’ll give you a ride home.”
After we paid the bill, I walked out of Sakura in a daze, clutching the divorce papers in one hand. Joelle was rubbing my back, and Kent lagged well behind us. The streets were transiently busy with noontime pedestrians. If I hadn’t been so distracted, I might have noticed the man with the wound on his neck, the man who looked like my husband Alan, sitting at the window counter of the restaurant, no food or drink in front of him, not even water.
And if I had noticed him then, I would have known I had gone crazy. But, to my peril, I didn’t find out until later that day.
Kent barely acknowledged my thanks before he accelerated away, leaving me alone in front of my seafoam foursquare. There was a moving truck parked in front of the house next door (“Goehst & Sons Movers – We’re So Efficient, It’s Spooky!”). I gave it a cursory glance and walked up the concrete path to my front door. New neighbors were Alan’s territory; I was certainly no pie-wielding welcome-wagon, and I hated to make small talk. Alan was always the talker.
The house was empty of his possessions, as it had been for the last two months. A few stuffed chairs and desultory side tables littered the atrium and living room. A woebegone chifforobe was pushed into a corner, as though I were punishing it. I didn’t think I had ever been so sad, standing at the threshold of my home, looking in on the ruin of my life.
The alcohol had foregone its pleasurable effects and skipped right to giving me a headache. I trudged into the kitchen and wrenched open the medicine cupboard, pushing aside a cake plate to get at the Advil bottle. I shook a few out and filled a glass of water at the kitchen sink. Peering out the sink window, I saw my new neighbor for the first time.
He stood in his kitchen, unpacking a box of dinnerware that looked conspicuously like my own. His dun hair and eyes reminded me of Alan, at first, but his movements were thoughtful and deliberate, unlike Alan’s performative gesticulations. He was handsome, I noticed right away, though his chambray button-down appeared to hide a thin frame. He wore a scarf low on his neck, and tied with a knot that hung down on his chest. The scarf was unusual. If it was fashion, it was uncoordinated; if it was for warmth, it was out of season (it was August, and hot). No, it struck me that it was a security textile, like a child’s blanket.
He looked at me.
I jumped and hastily looked away, pretending to wash the cup I had just used. After a few seconds, I looked up again. He was still peering at me, but his gaze was unembarrassed. He raised his hand in greeting; I smiled and returned the gesture.
My cell rang. I dried my hands and pulled it out of my purse. The display told me it was Alan. I answered it and put it on speaker.
“You’re such an asshole,” I spit.
“Hi, Kathy,” he said.
“How could you do that to me? How could you have that…man embarrass me in front of my friends?”
“Woah, woah,” Alan said, as though I were a horse. “I had no control over when and where they were going to do it. I didn’t even know it was going to be a man.” (As though that mattered!) “He served you in front of your friends? Was it Joelle?”
The question seemed asinine and unimportant to me, so I ignored it. “Why would you serve me in the first place? It’s not like I would avoid the hearing. Why not do it yourself?”
“Because I – ”
“You did it because you love to make a show of everything. Giving me the papers yourself would have been too unglamorous.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Fair or not, it’s true, and you know it.”
“I want this to be amicable.”
Amicable. What atrocious legalese! “You’re off to a bad start then!” I shouted.
“Maybe we need to sit down and talk.”
“Maybe you should have thought of that before you hired a process server!” My voice had risen to a shriek. I took a deep breath and paused. I could hear him breathing on the other end of the line. It infuriated me to think that he perceived himself as the adult in this situation, calmly waiting for an end to my childish hysterics.
“I can’t talk to you right now,” I said.
“But we should – ”
“I know! I know how much you like to talk. But not right now. See you later.”
I stabbed my forefinger on the red End button. I stared at the phone, numbly, until it buzzed with a text alert. I unlocked it and read the message. Alan, of course. He always needed the last word. When you’re a little more yourself, we can schedule a date for the hearing. Don’t blame me, darling. Properly punctuated and capitalized. Even his text messages were maddening! It took all my strength not to smash the phone on the tile floor.
I looked out the kitchen window again. My neighbor was still there, observing me. His mouth was set in an expression of sympathy, and he appeared to shrug, as though he had been listening in on my phone call. I smiled weakly at him and retreated to the living room, where I sat down on the floor and wept.
Maybe it was the shrug. Maybe it was that he was handsome. Maybe it was that I was three drinks deep by one o’clock in the afternoon. But something compelled me to his house. I extricated myself from the floor, grabbed my most expensive unopened bottle of wine, dried my eyes, washed my face, and moved my legs until I stood in front of 13 Margaret Street, my new neighbor’s vinyl-sided split-level. The door was left open so the movers of Goehst & Sons could stream in and out with armfuls of furniture and boxes. Before I could think better of it, I stuck my head through the doorway.
“Hello?” I called.
A pair of khaki-clad legs appeared at the top of the half-flight of stairs, then the chambray button-down, then the scarf. (That odd scarf.) Finally, his face appeared.
My neighbor’s resemblance to Alan was not just passing, as I first thought when I glimpsed him through the window; it was uncanny. They could have been brothers, or have shared some distant progenitor, like a great-grandfather. My neighbor’s brow protruded slightly to canopy his eyes, just like Alan’s did, and his mouth was set in the same perpetual expression of irony, as though he were privy to a joke being played on everyone but him. The only real difference was in their eyes. Alan’s were cruel and condescending, and this man’s were gentle and avuncular.
“Hello,” I said, still rattled.
He nodded back to me and gave a little wave with his hand.
If I thought it was strange that he didn’t respond with his voice, then I don’t remember. What struck me at that moment even more than his resemblance to Alan was the…ethereal quality of his presence. He was at once there and not there. His edges were diffuse, chameleonic, as though trying to blend into the background to conceal himself from some unseen predator. At the time, I attributed this impression of my neighbor to the double shochu. But, of course, it was all too real, and at the same time unreal.
He seemed to mistake my silence for impatience. He pointed at the scarf. I was so baffled that I didn’t understand. He made a duck with one hand and mimicked talking, then pointed again to the scarf and shook his head.
Recognition dawned. “You can’t talk.”
He smiled and nodded.
“Laryngitis?” I joked.
He shook his head again, then looked around, as though embarrassed. Slowly, he began to unravel the scarf around his neck.
“Oh, you don’t have to – ”
He interrupted me with a kindly gesture and continued to spin the scarf off. I suddenly felt a strong aversion to seeing whatever lay buried under there, even if it was just his naked flesh.
Beneath the scarf was a swath of gauze covering his suprasternal notch. A daub of blood had leaked to the surface. My neighbor leaned forward, as if he meant for me to examine the wound.
“My god,” I said. “Are you alright?”
He shrugged and smiled.
“Get your thyroid taken out?”
No, he gestured. Then, he made a fist and swung it towards his neck in a stabbing motion.
“Someone attacked you?” I asked, horrified.
Another shrug, another smile. He made a dismissive wave and pointed to the bottle of wine in my hand, raising one eyebrow.
“Oh,” I said, coming back to myself. “I’m Kathy from next door. I just wanted to come over and welcome you to the neighborhood.” I handed him the bottle, awkwardly. “I hope you like cab.”
He nodded, a wry little grin creasing his face. He bowed slightly to signal his thanks, then threw his thumb over his shoulder and looked plaintive. The meaning was clear.
“Sorry, of course! I’ll let you get back to work. Just wanted to say welcome. Holler if you need anything.”
I cringed when I realized my mistake, but my neighbor didn’t miss a beat. He cupped his hand at his mouth and mimed shouting, a sardonic little lift of his eyebrows.
“I’m sorry,” I said, laughing, “I’m an idiot. Just don’t hesitate to let me know if I can help unpack or show you around or anything.”
His smile grew a little wider, his dimples reddening. Before I could make an ass of myself further, I retreated out the open door and back into my house. It wasn’t until I was back in my own kitchen, peering back out the window, that I realized I had been flirting.
A few hours later, I got another text from Alan. It was hard to see you like that. You’re not yourself. I stared at my phone’s screen, perplexed. It was hard to “see me” like that? I hadn’t seen Alan in weeks; I avoided even the part of town it was in, in fact. I shrugged off the message. He must have been referring to when we talked on the phone earlier and mistyped what he meant to say. Even he could get things wrong sometimes.
The small victory I felt at his mistake was stultified. You’re not yourself. It was the second time today he had accused me of such a thing, as though I were betraying myself, acting differently in some vague, existential way. The idea that he thought he knew me well enough to typify and categorize my behavior made me want to laugh. Hell, I had never been served divorce papers before; who could possibly have said that I was acting in an unusual way? But that was Alan through and through. He thought he knew everything, when really he knew nothing and everybody else knew that about him.
At least he hadn’t called again. I wouldn’t have been able to stand hearing him talk, talk, talk.
As I predicted it would, Joelle’s car swung into my driveway at 5:30. I set my teeth as I watched her exit the car. Despite the consuming loneliness I felt, paradoxically, I didn’t want company.
Actually, that wasn’t true. I peeked out the side window to 13 Margaret. I couldn’t see my neighbor, but there were lights on in his house. The van of Goehst & Sons had moved on. Inexplicably, I felt a tingling warmth in my body. The thought of being pulled into those chambray arms, of sinking into his comely, genial eyes, appealed to me ferociously. I could swim in his silent presence, forget about Alan, forget about the divorce. The longing I felt was tinged with feverish need; I desired him then.
Joelle’s knock at the door snapped me out of my reverie. I was surprised to find myself standing in my atrium and not in my neighbor’s arms. What was wrong with me? I had only met him once, didn’t even hear him speak. He was too unfamiliar for girlish fantasies.I shook my head and opened the door.
“Oh, honey,” Joelle said as she pulled me into an embrace. She wouldn’t let go, even when I dropped my arms to my sides. “I’m so sorry. Don’t worry, I covered for you at work. Stillman said that if you need the rest of the week, you can go ahead and take it.”
I bit back a groan. If I had it my way, Stillman would never have known about the divorce; now she and surely the whole office knew.
“Thanks,” I muttered, unable to muster the wherewithal to scold her.
“And sorry about Kent. He’s such an idiot. He doesn’t ever know how to act.” She cocked her head to one side and frowned. “How are you?”
“Are you really?”
“I mean, I guess not.” I didn’t know what answer would please her.
Joelle shook her head. “I can’t believe how horrible that was. The way that man said your name and then just…gave you your divorce papers. It seemed so cruel.”
“Come in,” I said.
She took her shoes off and padded into the living room; she glanced around at the emptiness, I’m sure, silently inventorying the lack of furniture, photos, art, everything that might help to classify me as the lonely spinster I was surely destined to become.
“Where’s your stuff?” she asked.
“This is it.”
“My god, did he move out this morning while we were at work?”
I took a deep breath. “He’s been gone for two months, Jo. He got an apartment over in Phalen.”
“What?” She looked shocked, then hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Pardon me for not wanting to shout it from the rooftops that my husband and I were breaking up.”
Now she looked even more hurt. “I thought I was your friend.”
I had to swallow my impatience. It seemed morbidly unfair for Joelle to expect a role in my little drama. And plainly, I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to know who to tell what, to know exactly the strength of each of my relationships and what each of my friends was entitled to know. What felt natural to me was to say nothing, so nothing is what I said.
“I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my Mom.”
Because it’s no one’s goddamn business. “Because I was embarrassed, I guess.”
“It’s not healthy to keep things in. That’s probably why it shocked you so much today. Because you hadn’t dealt with it right away.”
She had begun to sound like Alan, telling me exactly what I did wrong. I clenched and unclenched my fist. Instead of throwing her bodily out of my house, I gestured towards the kitchen. “Want something to drink?”
I uncorked some pinot noir. Alan had an elaborate ritual of decanting the whole bottle while dinner guests waited anxiously for their glass; I was glad to defy it by taking a swig right from the bottle before I poured for Joelle. We sat on stools at the peninsula, bathed in the soft recessed lighting. I felt a pang of guilt, angling dangerously towards despair.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “This just sucks so bad.”
I think Joelle knew she had overstepped too. She took my hand and squeezed. “I’m sorry too. Kent’s not the only one who doesn’t know how to act, I guess. I’m just surprised, is all. You and Alan seemed so good.”
“He was good,” I said. “He was so rigid, so set in his ways. He didn’t have room for me, especially if I didn’t conform to the way he wanted things to be.”
“He could be an asshole,” Joelle conceded.
“He was just so disappointed in me all the time, always lecturing me about how to behave, about how I misbehaved. But it’s funny, the more he tried to change me, the less I gave a shit. I think that’s why he left.”
I laughed, fingering the stem of my wine glass. “I mean, I can’t be sure. Towards the end, whenever he opened his mouth, I just stopped listening.”
“I can just see how much he would love that.”
“Yeah, he didn’t have a captive audience anymore. Without that, I was useless to him.”
The frankness of that thought, the statement of my uselessness, depressed me utterly. She frowned and rubbed the top of my hand with her thumb.
“I know you’ll get through this,” she said.
It took all of my strength not to cry. “At least one of us does.”
We each had another glass. I set out some charcuterie. We talked idly about work and Kent and family. I told her I wanted the divorce over as soon as possible, and that I would give Alan everything he wanted, within reason. It was just easier to go along with him, and I figured this was the last time I would ever have to do it anyway. I opined that I would need to give up the house; I couldn’t afford the mortgage on my salary alone. The idea of moving back into an apartment was loathsome, but I didn’t have much of a choice.
“Why don’t you move next door?” Joelle asked. We stood at the kitchen sink, washing our dishes. Joelle inclined her head out the window towards 13 Margaret. “It seems like that place has been for sale forever. It’s gotta be cheaper than your house.”
“Actually,” I said, blushing. “Someone just moved in today.”
Joelle set her hands on the edge of the sink and shrugged. “Looks empty to me.”
I promised Joelle that I would call her in the morning. I watched from the door, waving, as she backed her car out of the driveway and drove away.
I learned then that nights would be the hardest time for me, even after I went to prison. The somnolent quality of the dark triggered a depression that seemed to fill up my very core, so that I was less me than I was sadness itself. When I reflect on how the nighttime affects me, it’s no wonder that I did what I did (if I, in fact, did it; I’m still not sure). In those early days, I had no idea how to cope with my loss, which dragged me into the realm of madness without my knowing it. Of course, I didn’t find this out until it was too late.
I had nothing to do, nothing to tidy, no plans that could be made at that moment, so I sat in one of the remaining chairs in the living room and opened a book. The next thing I remember was snapping awake to the sound of the doorbell. I set my book aside and opened the door.
My neighbor stood at the threshold. In one hand he held the bottle of wine I delivered to him earlier; in the other, he suspended two wine glasses upside down by their stems. He smiled and wagged his hands at me. Would you like to have a drink?
His kindness broke me. Before I knew it, I was on the floor, sobbing. He set down everything he held and knelt beside me, one comforting hand on my shoulder. I drew him into my arms and wept, too ruined to be embarrassed.
Everything that had happened that day came flooding out of me. The process server’s emotionless voice, Kent’s discomfort in my presence, the phone call with Alan, my decision to hide our break-up from my friend, everything. The recent past was a component part of my tears. It was no wonder I had gone mad, given the traumas I suffered that day. As it happened, I simply didn’t have the emotional nous to see them through. I thought I could handle it by allowing my emotion to crest in my neighbor’s arms but, of course, that soon proved itself to be a wholly inadequate response to my grief.
“I’m sorry,” I croaked. “I’ve just had a…a shitty day.” He held me in silence. My tears wet his scarf and the shoulder of his chambray shirt. “You must think I’m nuts.”
He shook his head. We released one another. He took my hand and raised me up off the floor, wrinkling his forehead into an expression of concern and enquiry.
“I just…” I started, hesitant. “I’m getting a divorce. I just found out today. The son of a bitch served me papers in front of my friends.”
My neighbor turned towards the door and motioned toward it. Should I leave?
“No! Please. It was so nice of you to come.” I laughed, a choking sound. “How about that drink?”
So, for the second time that evening, I uncorked a bottle of wine and poured out two stiff measures. My neighbor accepted his graciously, inclining his head in thanks. We stood at the kitchen peninsula awkwardly for a moment. I searched for a suitable subject to raise; propriety had been thrown out the window when I collapsed on the floor, so I just kept on talking about Alan.
I told my neighbor all about him, his controlling rigidity, his perennial disappointment in my failure to meet his expectations. I simply couldn’t do right by him, and the divorce was shaping up to be a similarly poor performance on my part, at least in his eyes. My woeful inadequacy was made manifest by the fact that I couldn’t readily accept my fate as a divorcee. I was being too contumacious, too loud, and that was no doubt also unacceptable for Alan.
“You know, you remind me of him a little bit,” I said. “Not how you are, but the way you look. You look like him. He’s a handsome man.”
“Will you tell me your name? I have some paper, could you write it down? I feel terrible that I’m going on and on and I don’t even know your name.”
Something changed in the room then. The atmosphere was suddenly heady and cold. Everything I had just told him, my harangue against Alan, hung in the air, a malingering presence that I desperately wanted to escape. My breath was tight in my chest. My neighbor cocked his head and raised one hand in a fist. Then he made another gesture with the same hand, then a fist again, then a final gesture.
“Oh!” My voice broke. “I’m sorry, I don’t know ASL.”
He waved me off, then crossed over to my refrigerator. There was a white board suspended there for reminders and to-dos. He took the dry-erase marker and wrote his name. I almost dropped my glass of wine.
He couldn’t have been playing a joke on me. I hadn’t even used Alan’s name, only referring to him as “my ex-husband.” The coincidence rattled me deeply.
“That’s…that’s my ex-husband’s name,” I said.
He nodded as though he knew that already.
His hand shot up suddenly to his scarf. I jumped. The room felt deathly still. He gripped one of the frilly ends of the scarf and pulled it away from his neck, unraveling it.
“Don’t,” I said. I was scared.
His mouth dropped into a frown and his eyes went wide. His whole demeanor changed, yet somehow he looked more like Alan than ever before. I could hear his labored breathing, and I saw a terrifying little pulse in the scarf at the base of his throat. He continued to unravel it.
“Please!” I shouted. I put out my arms to stop him, and he threw me against the counter. He didn’t pursue me, only continued the inexorable undressing of that scarf.
Finally, it slid off his neck. As before, there was a piece of gauze taped onto his jugular arch, a tiny spot of blood crimsoning the middle of it. I grunted in pain as I rose back to my feet. My back was on fire from where I had struck the counter and stumbled down to my seat. My neighbor seemed to be waiting for my attention. When I was upright and staring in horror back at him, he reached up to the bandage and yanked it aside.
I screamed. The wound beneath was grotesque, a long aperture through which I could see muscle and sinew. It seemed to open and close with every breath he took, yet it bled little. It looked about the width of the blade of a knife.
“You’re not yourself, darling.”
My neighbor’s mouth didn’t move, but the words distinctly came from him. It was the wound itself that spoke. The low susurrus of breath flapped the edges of it in and out. I screamed again and backed away.
He advanced on me.
“Don’t blame me, darling,” the wound said. Again, his mouth didn’t move. The voice was raspy, unmistakably Alan’s, my husband’s. “You’re not yourself!”
“Get away from me!” I screamed. I made no move to run. I was paralyzed by fear, fixed in place.
“We can talk when you’re more yourself. DON’T BLAME ME, DARLING!”
He rushed towards me. I caught his outstretched arms in my hands, but he overpowered me and threw me to the floor. I kneed him in the groin. He doubled over, clutching at himself, hissing voicelessly. I drew myself out from under him and scrambled to my feet. I grabbed the bottle of wine and wielded it like a club, upending the liquid all over the floor.
His eyes were wide with rage, but he remained supine. The wound sputtered, opening and closing with every breath. I brandished the bottle like a killer from a cheap horror movie. He held out his hands. Once more, he spoke without moving his mouth, the sound issuing from the base of his throat.
“You’re not yourself, Kathy.”
In an instant, he was on his feet again and rushing toward me. I knew then that he meant to kill me. I was backed into the counter with nowhere to run. His hands were coming closer and closer, his face a rictus of calm while that horrible wound ululated and flapped. I broke the bottle over his head. Still, he advanced. Before he could get his hands around my throat, I plunged the sharp broken bottle into the talking wound.
They tell me I killed Alan.
My husband, who never became my ex.
They tell me that I stabbed him in the throat with a broken wine bottle in his apartment in Phalen. I have no memory of this. I have no memory of seeing him at all that day. But they tell me I did see him. Twice. My lawyer informs me that witnesses will testify to the fact that I went there in the same afternoon the divorce papers were served, that I was distraught, threatening to kill him and myself if he didn’t take me back. This first visit was precisely coincident with my visit to my neighbor’s house at 13 Margaret, when I brought him the bottle of cab that we later shared.
Later that night, after Joelle left, I went again, and I killed my husband, so they say.
I never killed Alan, my neighbor.
He isn’t real, so they say.
“But he was in my house,” I argue. “I spoke to him.”
“Honey, nobody lives there,” Joelle says through the plexiglass partition.
“But there were movers…”
She looks at me pityingly.
Was neighbor-Alan really a hallucination, a simulacrum of husband-Alan? Was I actually visiting one when I thought I was visiting the other? Did husband-Alan try to attack me, as neighbor-Alan did, and my killing him was an act of self-defense? These are questions with no answers, since all parties involved are insane, dead, or not real.
Stillman is my reluctant attorney. I know that Joelle convinced her to take my case. I wonder when I’ll no longer be able to afford her. The plea of temporary insanity doesn’t look good, particularly considering that first visit to Alan’s apartment when I threatened him, something that looks a lot like premeditation. Whether a jury finds me guilty is out of my hands. I know that I’m insane. I am too vestigially sane to believe otherwise. I know that I lost my mind the moment the divorce papers were served. I wish I had realized it before it was too late.
Jim W. Shoemaker writes fantasy and other forms of speculative fiction, much of which is influenced by his graduate studies in Early Modern Mediterranean history. When he isn’t writing, Jim is glued to a good book or video game, occasionally taking a break to make an income as a University administrator. He has also been published in The Arcanist.