He made the discovery that would change his life forever three minutes before midnight on the 3rd of July.
It was the pungent odour of cooked meat, like a burnt pot roast, which hit him as he returned his keys to his pocket and closed the door behind him. The house was in complete darkness.
He fumbled for the light switch to his left, his hands feeling their way across the rough, textured wallpaper. He flicked the switch. Nothing. Again. Still nothing. Just the clicking sound reverberating around the deathly quiet house.
He reached into his jacket pocket for his cellphone. The screen offered a glimmer of soft diffused light, enough for him to make his way down the hallway and into the living room. He tried the lights there but they too were dead.
‘Erica?’ His voice sounded like it belonged to someone else. A small child. His mouth and throat were dry and his voice cracked in two when he shouted once more. ‘Hello! Are you home?’
No reply. Just silence. Deadly silence.
Why was she not answering? Was she asleep in bed despite promising that she would wait up for him? He pushed the idea aside. Bed was probably the last place she would be these days, even at such a late hour. Restless legs, violent bouts of indigestion and insomnia had become her regular bedmates more than him lately.
Something was wrong. Deep in his stomach a churning knot of rising trepidation. His breathing shallow, laboured. The shadows cast from the light of the phone bent, twisted and lengthened as he moved from room to room. A silent, ominous dance.
He found nothing, no one.
His heart was beating, blood rushing past his ear drums. His palms were clammy, cold.
In the kitchen he stopped for a second. The lights were on at the Perkins’ house two doors down. Convinced now that a fuse must have blown he made his way to the back of the house and the basement door. He needed to try to get the lights back on.
The door creaked as it always did. His feet heavy on the thin steps. Old wood shouting out in pain as he descended into the cool dark beneath the house. The air was fresher down here. Respite from that foul stench in the hallway.
He found the flashlight on the workbench. The light from its beam comforted him as he made his way to the far corner of the basement. The fuse box had completely blown. He moved the beam of light around, illuminating black marks like gunpowder residue smudged on the white basement wall. He lifted the plastic lid of the fuse box and hit the big red reset button with the end of the flashlight.
The first thing he heard was a loud pop and a bang and he was flying backwards, landing on the basement floor with a crack, his entire body tingling, his hair erect, his heart skipping, the world a blur. The second thing he heard was a movement from all the way upstairs in the house.
He stood up, checking with pins and needles still in his hands that he was in one piece, and retrieved the flashlight from where it had fallen. The feeling of dread that he just couldn’t shake made him reach for a wrench as he passed the workbench once more. It was heavy in his hand. Heavy and reassuring.
He climbed the steps out of the basement looking like a startled clown who had used too much hair gel.
The smell was strong once more in his nostrils as he made his way back along the hallway towards the foot of the stairs. He paused for a moment before ascending, listening. A vehicle passing by on the street outside the only noise. He listened again, this time straining, forcing his ears to tell him what was waiting for him up there. Then he heard it. A small drip followed by a splash and a sound like a chamois leather running across damp glass. Deeper though, more vibration, duller in tone. The sound of someone moving around in the bathtub.
He started to move up the stairs, his pace quickening now, the flashlight in his hands bouncing with the momentum. A giddy pattern of fading purple played across his vision as the light hit the back of his eyes.
He was nearly at the top of the stairs when he heard the sound again coming from the family bathroom. He turned left up two steps and to the end of the landing until he stood in front of the bathroom door. It was closed.
He called her name once more. Once more only silence greeted him. Silence and that god damn awful smell. Here outside the bathroom it was sweet almost, sickly. It seemed to coat his nasal passages as he struggled to breathe the heavy air.
He reached forward and twisted the handle. The air inside was thick like treacle, steamy and hot. The beam of the flashlight hit the steam like headlights on a foggy road at night. He entered slowly and as the air started to clear before him the sweep of light picked up flashes of images he wished he hadn’t seen. Images which made his stomach retch, his mind race and his world collapse.
Her swollen breasts, heavy, sore looking as they lay across her abdomen. The swell of her belly, beautiful and increasingly sexy over the past eight months, now had bath water lapping at its stretched skin of an island. The vacant look in her eyes, glassy like dead fish eyes, and the peculiar angle of her head as she looked straight at him. Straight through him.
It was difficult to see using only the harsh, bright eye of the flashlight but her skin looked mottled, discoloured, pink and red in places close to the waterline. Burnt. Diaper red sore.
A tear started to well in his eye as he walked closer to where his wife lay. It was only as he looked down toward her feet, curled toes locked in a permanent claw of tense muscle, that he saw the black wire dangling in the water. Its multi-coloured loose ends submerged beneath the surface, held in place with duct tape. He let his eyes leave his wife, his beautiful Erica, and follow the length of black cord direct to where it was plugged into the electrical socket out on the landing.
Suddenly everything became clear, certain.
He was surprised at just how calm he was as he pulled out his cellphone once more, slippery fingers mistyping the three digits too many times before finally landing on 911.
It took the ambulance fifteen minutes to arrive, the pulsing blue lights and harsh sirens cutting deep into the Brooklyn night.
Copyright © 2015 Andrew Hanson, All Rights Reserved