When the police call, you know it failed. You were the one to call, the one to cry, to scream, beg them to come. You’ve rehearsed the shock in the tone of your voice, exercised face muscles to sculpt a perfect panic expression. She told you the words you should use, what not to say; she told you what the police would be asking about. Instead, the detective tells you to rush.
Fingers curled around the steering wheel tremble when you navigate through the evening streets of New York. You should be rushing but you drive slow. Tonight you’re grateful for jammed intersections, streets packed with pedestrians, red traffic lights. They impose on you the time you need to think and you’ll use them as an excuse that it took you so long. Tonight, they work in your favour.
With every mile, the closer you are, drops of sweat multiply on your temples, chest, staining your shirt; your throat dries although you don’t speak. You try to breathe slowly to lower your pounding pulse but the air chokes you as you imagine possible scenarios. You don’t know what to think, except that somebody must have noticed, or heard him. The last inch of his shadow, the echo of the gunshot.
As you approach your neighbourhood, you see your lawn sealed with tape; red flashes hit the evening from the top of the police cars. There are people standing on the road in flipflops and nightwear. They hug each other and point at the broken windows. Your next door neighbour shakes in front of the policeman taking notes, and as you pass, you hear people whispering to one other.
I heard shrieks… I thought it was a fox or dogs fighting… She thought it was somebody screaming but then she heard sirens… They stand on their tiptoes peeping at the glass shattered in the driveway. It’s a quiet neighbourhood, people will be terrified from now on. They won’t let their children play ball after dark, they will close their windows at night, buy guard dogs, move out. You feel responsible.
Earlier in the morning, you got everything ready, and as she stressed to you, made sure everything looked ordinary. You packed your briefcase for work, ironed your shirt, made sure the windows were closed, and the back door was locked. Waiting for the water to boil, you looked at the awards hung on the walls of living room from her time in the force. The medals, certificates of her achievements, special recognitions. And then at the photographs from your holidays in Italy, the hiking trips, marathons, mountain climbing, and the last one you took of her, holding a gold badge on her promotion ceremony, two weeks before the accident.
You then brewed black coffee and made her hot porridge and sat on the edge of her bed helping her swallow, wiping smeared oats from the corner of her lips.
‘It’s today’ she said.
You wanted to tell her about the new nerve cell regeneration programme and the renowned neurosurgeon in Germany, but she interrupted you.
‘Don’t, no more.’
So instead, you stroked her forehead, cheeks, moved your fingers back and forth across her lips, the parts that could still feel, and looked at her immobile limbs, her fingertips that couldn’t touch your skin, her muscles that haven’t voluntarily contracted for the last seven years, and watched how, across her face, sun beams glimmered, brushing her skin with warm yellows and violets.
Before you drove off to work, you sat in the car staring at the key ring, a souvenir from your honeymoon in Sicily, and recalled far back, when you had first seen her muscular hands, dark-flamed long hair, slim waistline in tight leather trousers, and how she had pulled you towards her to kiss, later telling you that everyone in the task force called her ‘bullet’. You remember how later that night, with the tip of your finger, you copied her tattoo, a black inked handgun, from her shoulder blade to her chest, breast and thighs. Then a memory crept upon you, that is always unwelcome, the night she was shot, her spinal cord broken. To shut it out, you started the engine.
At work, you did your best to act normal, you spoke with the clients, asked for your coffee, but forcing the routine only escalates the speed of the dreaded thoughts grinding your head. They sneaked through like slithering cobras, between sips, biscuits bites, reciprocated smiles. While in the meeting with the CEO’s, as you discussed and passed new company laws, you stared at your watch, watched the seconds pass, the thin hand that moved from point to point, precisely and quick, like a gunshot. You imagine the blood spatter, shattered bones, her debris, and try to convince yourself to believe in her words: that it is salvation. You recalled the day when you had finally agreed; the day she had choked on her food and couldn’t breath. That evening she asked again, and you said yes. But it wouldn’t be you—you just couldn’t, didn’t know how.
There are policemen standing on the lawn, guarding the front door to your house. They lift the tape above your head when they hear you are the husband, the detective guides you through the driveway. The shattered glass crunches under your feet as you walk up the staircase. Inside, people covered in white plastic suits bend over carpet and hide what you can’t see in plastic bags.
You look to the end of the hallway, at the half-opened bedroom door, and see the wall above the bed spattered with blood, and crimson drag marks swivelling along the floor. You gasp, stop for a second, but there is a sudden pressure on your left shoulder, the detective pushes you forward inside the living room and points at the sofa.
‘We received a phone call from one of your neighbours who noticed an intruder sneaking into the house,’ he says. ‘I’m very sorry but your wife was injured.’
You half-open your mouth, pant.
‘We can’t say yet what happened here, the team is sweeping the house. It might have been a burglary, but nothing seems to be taken.’ He points at the TV screen and the laptop.
‘Do you know anybody who would want to hurt your wife?’
Your heart races, heat spreads through your cheeks, reddens your face. You grab your hair, stare in his eyes.
‘I can’t think of anyone, everything was locked before I left for work, made sure she was safe.’ You swallow to get your shaking voice under control, block physiological signs of nerves. ‘What happened to her?’
‘An ambulance took her to the hospital with gunshot wounds just before you arrived,’ he sighs. ‘I’m truly sorry. I knew your wife from before, when she was a DI. Before her accident, she was the best shooter in the force.’ He squeezes your shoulder. ‘My colleague can drive you.’
In the waiting room, you sit for hours, moving from one chair to another, staring at white walls, smelling bleach-cleaned corridors. Overhead lamps blind your eyes with neon. You follow the hands of the clock fixed on the opposite wall, watch the seconds pass, the arrows move, somehow slowly, and jump up for any sight of a person coming out the operating theatre. For a moment, you wish you had faith, belief in God, and wonder where the chapel is, the golden altar in front of which you could kneel and clear yourself of all the sins. Hope the strength of your prayer would influence the precision of the surgeon’s blade, so she could be saved.
You picture yourself crouching in front of the figure, his hands stretched to the ceiling and dripping blood painted on his chest, to beg for his forgiveness for your recent actions and words. The intricate plan, the phone call, the burner phone you’ve smashed and drowned in the murky Bronx river, the words you’d never thought you’d pronounce. ‘One bullet, in the head.’
Door rumbles snap you out of your thoughts as a figure in a green scrubs walks towards you, his face is pale and motionless, a death mask.
‘I’m really sorry. The damage was extensive, shreds of the bullet stayed in her brain. She’s in a coma,’ he says as he squeezes your shoulder. ‘But lucky to be alive.’
The recovery suite has cool green walls and an eerie glow, monitors beep with precise persistence. You walk towards the bed, sit on the edge and lift her palm, warm, unaware, and picture yourself moisturising her skin with her favourite tea tree lotion, like after that first surgery, when she still had hope, strength for more.
You recall different hospital beds after many operations, with each new hope that the nerves would heal, muscle mass stop retracting, telling her miracles happen, and she will do again what she does best: run, chase, shoot.
Moving your fingers across her forehead, you look at her sealed lips, closed eyelids, frozen body, and how dozens of outside lights reflect on the wall above her head, twinkling with life. The city pounds. People travel back home, to their mothers, fathers, lovers, to hold their warmth, see them smile, dance; hear them laugh. And you think of the stars that blink above you both, the earth that makes another turn around the sun; the motion of life.
Lina Carr is fiction writer with a particular interest in short story. Her debut fiction ‘For Your Own Good’ appeared in Bandit Fiction in August 2020, and she has also been published in Clover & White Literary Magazine. She lives in London. You can find out more about her at www.linacarrwriter.com or follow her on Twitter @LinaCarr_Writer.