He closed up behind him, locking the door in the incredibly convoluted manner he had gotten used to after months of fighting through it. Now the process was a comfortable friend, even though it still took his time and energy to accomplish. At least no one was going to steal his valuables while he was out. On the way to the Mazda Miata parked by the curb, he shrugged on his dark blue nylon jacket and slipped his cell phone into one of its voluminous pockets while simultaneously extracting the car keys from another. He slid into the leather driver’s seat and let out a pent-up sigh before maneuvering out of the tight spot and heading for the intersection at the end of the block.
A light came on in one of the upstairs rooms of the silent house he left behind, flickering into life like a firefly hopping from lamp to lamp. With the shades closed the glow was muted, but still obvious from the street below. She had checked to make sure he was gone, though, before risking to turn on the room’s lights. Her eyes blinked furiously to try and adjust to the sudden shift in perspective, her corneas burning from the direct exposure until she had to shut them again. A hum from the bulbs captured her imagination as the only sound in the room, and indeed in the entire house. Tears began to roll down her cheeks as she collapsed in a heap onto the thickly carpeted floor.
It was deep into mid-winter outside, with snowflakes tumbling down like covers onto a freshly made bed, and birds having long since migrated south to warmer climes. The drifts had begun to pile up, becoming more of a real problem than a mere nuisance, and yet the trucks still weren’t out clearing the streets. She began to hope that they never would, that he would get caught somewhere far away and would take at least a day to return. Then her imagination kicked into overdrive, wishing he would get caught by a drug cartel and mistaken for someone who owed them money. They would torture him for weeks in a dank underground cell, and that made her smile, a wistful sort of smile tinged with regret. But he wouldn’t be detained, she realized. His car had snow tires for just that purpose and eventuality. Her smile disappeared.
The room around her was nice enough, if she didn’t think too much about its purpose. A king-sized bed dominated the space directly across from the small window, the only access to the room aside from the door itself. The window was painted tightly shut. Her aching fingers were a testament to that, the hours she had spent scrabbling at the hardened paint, trying to get some leverage, to get it open even a small amount, and hopefully to get it all the way open. She hadn’t thought past that point, however, although she didn’t think she could honestly jump if it came down to that. The room was on the third floor, probably eighteen feet off the ground, or maybe even more, and her best chance for survival still probably meant two broken legs. Then she would be in pain, and she wouldn’t be able to get anywhere anyway. He would come back and he wouldn’t be happy.
The neighborhood was not gentrified. Indeed, it was sparsely populated, which she was sure was one of the primary reasons he had purchased the house for a pittance in the first place. It had fallen into disrepair like the rest of the block, but he had reinforced it for his own purposes shortly after moving in. She felt so dumb in retrospect, that she hadn’t seen it coming like a huge flashing billboard. “He’s going to kill you!” the signs would have read. First it was the soundproofing of the walls, then the thick carpeting of the rooms, and finally the internal locks that he had installed on certain doors. It was all preparation for a battle that never happened, and that probably never would.
She hauled herself up bodily from the floor, her eyes puffy from the untapped tears that continued to flow unchecked like the heavier snow that had begun to fall outside, replacing the tiny snowflakes. The bed was still unmade from the night before. She hardly ever managed to do any straightening anymore in the confined space of the two adjoining rooms that made up her universe. It was enough that she got out of bed every morning and showered. Ironically he was the one who told her how wonderful she smelled when they first met, and she clung to that vision of herself, the one through his early eyes, even as the world fell apart all around her. She still wore the perfume he had given her as a gift a long time ago, in another world, as she waited to die.
She curled up into a ball in the exact center of the large bed that they had shared not long before, but that felt more like a coffin by the day. The light blazed on overhead as she hummed softly to herself and waited for him to return, and to finish what he’d started. The snow outside began to stick to the window’s glass, etching beautiful designs onto its surface, as if that would be enough to make the world beautiful again.