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This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I awoke on a cold tile floor. Lydia, the woman, is here with me now, and so I’m not alone, though she isn't much company at the moment. Not that it’s her fault. It was Lydia I first saw, the very first face I ever knew. She picked me up and put me back where I belong. Such a beautiful face, such a kind woman.

Bertrand, the man, has been a nearly constant presence, but he’s gone now. So much has happened. I'd like to get this all down before I forget, before I can't think any longer. While I still have my wits about me. 

All I can see now is Lydia's scraggly black hair, which she tied back with a red handkerchief before she made dinner for Bertrand, who was late coming home from work. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Lydia and Bertrand live in this house. From what I can tell, it is a nice enough house, neither too big nor too small. There is enough room in the kitchen that Lydia and Bertrand can cook together, which they do often. Nothing fancy, just simple, clean food. Lots of vegetables, which I enjoy chopping, and lots of lean meats, which is harder work. In truth, I dislike slicing through flesh, especially when it’s cold and slimy, like chicken breasts. But I digress. 

Of late, Lydia and Bertrand have done nothing but disagree – about the dinner menu, about redoing the old chestnut floors, about how to spend their evenings together (read or watch a program on television?). But the biggest source of their marital tension is whether to have a child. Lydia believes time is running out. I tend to empathize with her – I helped her cut the cake at her most recent birthday, when she turned 38. Bertrand is younger, just 33, and he doesn't seem to understand. He's taken to drinking more in the evenings, and if I can be honest, it’s starting to show in his gut, the only part of him that looks out of place, a gently sloping hill on the otherwise flat terrain of his frontside. 

Sometimes – most times, actually – he drinks alone. Even if Lydia is around, she abstains. She used to have a glass of wine with her meal, but even that has stopped, and now she sips herbal tea by the fire with one hand resting on her stomach. I can tell she’s angry by the set of her lips, which get thinner the more trying Bertrand’s behavior becomes. She really is quite lovely, with big brown eyes, angular cheekbones that give her thin face into a jagged heart shape. The rest of her is thin, too, and her soft shawls and dresses almost swallow her whole. That makes Lydia sound frumpy, when she’s anything but – she is an artist, a waif, an otherworldly creature flitting in and out of the kitchen like a sprite. 

Bertrand is Lydia’s opposite in every way imaginable. His tall frame, while slender, is imposing, and when he sits down to dinner with his wife, his body occupies every nook and cranny of the table and chairs, his elbows knocking into dishes as he leans over his plate to scoop up his food, his knees knocking into Lydia’s legs as he reaches for a napkin. She lets him, and I can see why. Bertrand, though large, is not a brute. He has a sensitive face with watery blue eyes framed by thick brown eyebrows, and a very nice, strong chin. When Lydia chides him for his clumsiness, he tucks his face down and looks up through thick eyelashes, smiling at her like a little boy. That sounds strange, too, but it’s not – Bertrand’s sweet childishness charms Lydia. It charms me, too. 

But Bertrand gets angry, and the rage that boils inside him turns his skin bright red. He’s been red more and more this past week, and it frightens Lydia. Two nights ago was the reddest I’ve ever seen Betrand’s face.

It started with steak. Lydia and I spent the afternoon preparing a lovely meal – two large ribeyes, a simple salad, and a side of fresh sweet potatoes with butter and brown sugar. I love chopping vegetables, feeling the satisfying slice as they’re severed into smaller pieces, bite-sized chunks for Lydia and Betrand. I like feeling useful. And, of all of the meats we prepare together, steak bothers me the least. Lydia does all the hard work with steak. My domain is the vegetables, and sweet potatoes are a particular favorite. I also love Lydia’s salads, which she packs full of cucumbers and carrots and peppers, all of which produce a delightful crunch when cut. The tomatoes are the messiest, but slicing them just right feels like a victory, and I like a job well done. 

After an hour of working together, Lydia had just set the table when Bertrand walked into the kitchen, his shoulders hunched, his cheeks flushed from walking home from the train in the cold wind. 

“Have a seat, Bert. I made you a steak dinner,” Lydia said as she sat down, folding a napkin across her lap and resting her hands on her belly. She smiled up at her husband, waiting a moment to see if he reacted, if he understood. “We have big news to celebrate.”

Bertrand’s face changed. It wasn’t just the purplish-red of his skin, it was the bulge of his eyes, which squeezed almost out of their sockets. His jaw clenched, as did every muscle up and down his arms, neck and back. His hands gripped the edge of the table, and everything in the room stood still. It was Bertrand himself who broke the silence, with a roar that made the dishes shake. 

“NO!” he yelled. 

Lydia stood up and backed into the cabinets, turning her back on her husband and wrapping her arms around her waist protectively. She started to cry softly, and the tears streamed through tiny gaps between her eyes, which were closed in an effort to shut out the terror that filled the room. Her crying only increased as her husband began pounding the table, partly to egg her on and partly, I think, in an attempt to rid himself of the rage that coursed through his veins. Lydia began to whimper like a small, frightened dog, and that was what finally did Bertrand in.

“ENOUGH!” he screamed. With one hand he moved the kitchen table out of his path and made for his wife, who shook violently. That was when I caught his eye. How I wished I could’ve slid out of view, but the light was reflecting off my cool metal blade, and some violent impulse inside him made Bertrand reach out and grab me. Before Lydia could stop him, he’d plunged me down into her side, and she screamed as we both fell down onto the cold tile floor. The fall pushed my blade deeper into her flesh, and she groaned in pain as she reached down and pulled me out, dropping me onto the floor beside her. 

Bright red blood seeped out of Lydia like seeds from the over-ripe tomatoes we’d sliced half an hour earlier.  

Lydia kept crying, and while I hated to hear her pain it comforted me to know I hadn’t killed her, that she was still alive. We laid like that for hours, until I could see red and blue lights shining through the front window into the back of the house, heard the pane of the front door smash and the handle turn, then the sound of heavy boots clomping back toward us. A man in a dark uniform knelt down and felt for Lydia’s pulse, then scooped her up like a child and carried her out of the house.

“We’ve got to get her to the hospital, fast,” he called to another man who was standing in the door.

Her eyes fluttered open and closed as she was carried away. I like to imagine that she saw me there, where I’d held watch over her until she was safe again. Sweet Lydia, who didn’t deserve this. Who I never wanted to hurt, only to love. To me, Lydia was love. Now that I know she’s all right, I can go. I’ll close my eyes again now. I hope I never come back. 

February 29, 2024 18:38

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1 comment

Timothy Rennels
22:37 Mar 04, 2024

Your character descriptions were excellent, and I gasped when it hit me who was narrating...or what! Well done Hilary


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