No one to blame but Marlee
Two years earlier
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Marlee said. She’d known as soon as she’d spied Jack’s boss, Tony, through the peep hole.
“I’m so sorry. I know it won’t be any consolation but the ambos said he died instantly. The boys are already taking up a collection for Jack. We’ll look after you, Marlee.”
The room began to spin and Marlee closed her eyes against the vortex. The space was too full with Tony sitting there, watching her reaction. She had to get rid of him.
“I’ll need to make some calls. Thanks for coming around to tell me face to face, Tony.”
Tony looked torn, but escape won out.
Marlee was alone.
Emotion leached out of every pore. Her eyes streamed with tears, and her body shuddered as primal sounds escaped her throat. The silence of the house beyond her crying jarred against her eardrums as though someone had turned off a rock concert mid song.
She clutched at her upper arm, still bruised from the last time. Never again. Never. Again.
Marlee jumped up, screamed at the top of her lungs, hysterical with joy. She knew the neighbours wouldn’t hear, they never did.
When at last her body was spent, she lay flat on her back on the floor, exhausted, staring at the ceiling.
At long last it was over.
“Better to have loved and lost, darling Marlee,” Clare said, clutching her friend to her.
Marlee laughed then looked at Clare, her eyes clear, voice resolute: “I’m glad he’s dead!”
Poor mouse, Clare thought, she’s in shock.
“Hush now, Jeremy’s bringing my valium.”
Marlee nodded, eyes wide and wild. She seemed alert, more than Clare had ever known her to be.
The doorbell sounded and Clare felt Marlee spring back. The poor girl was tensioned tight as a coil.
“How is she?” Jeremy asked as Clare welcomed him into the narrow hallway.
“Not good. I think she’s terrified. It might be a good idea for you to stay the night.”
“Why don’t you stay?”
“I can’t, I have the AGM tonight. I’m the president, I can’t skip it.”
“She’ll be knocked out on this stuff anyway,” Jeremy said, shaking the bottle. “What difference will it make if I’m here or not?”
“Oh, stop making excuses! She’s just lost her husband; she needs a man around the house.”
Jeremy shrugged his shoulders.
Later, Jeremy eyed the blankets and pillow that Clare had arranged on the couch in the room at the front of the house. He’d slept on worse.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He sighed.
“How is she?” Clare asked. “You should check on her. You know, see that she hasn’t … self-harmed.”
“She’s off with the fairies. I really don’t think you should have given her two valiums. She was talking absolute shite about an hour ago so I suggested she have a lie down. She’s fine.”
Clare’s silence was as sharp as a slap and just as effective.
“Ok, Ok, I’ll check on her.” Jeremy knew that protest was futile.
He eased the door to Marlee’s room open.
The brightness of the full moon through the open curtains cast a gentle light across Marlee, prone on the bed, her slip dress made shorter by the position of her arms above her head, the hem finishing just at the base of her knickers. He could see the outline of her breasts beneath the cotton, rising and falling gently with her breath.
But it was her face that caught Jeremy off guard.
She looked serene, her skin smooth and almost translucent in the moonlight. Her features were different. Her thin set mouth, normally taught, was now fuller, lips just parted, the corners turning ever so slightly upwards into the barest hint of a smile. She was ethereal.
His body lurched with recognition. He had thought that the past three years of trying had killed his libido for good. Sex had become a duty, an appointment he had to keep. After Clare had started IVF they’d stopped doing it at all. What was the point?
He looked again at Marlee, his desires awakening, his blue eyes widening.
Jeremy stepped into the room.