How’s the Wife?

I come to these woods for solitude. I come when I’m tired of being bothered. Here, no one troubles me with pestering questions, like “How’s the wife?”

I come to these woods for the company they provide: the whisper of the leaves before they plunge suicidally from their branches; the knotted faces of the trees; the scavenging rodent who burrows in the detritus, following the scent of decay.

I come to these woods for escape.

The wind stirs the leaves at my feet, raising them in a slowly revolving cyclone of red and gold and brown. “How’s the wife?” they seem to sigh, but I know they don’t really. It’s just their frayed edges rubbing aginst each other as invisible fingers toss them through the crisp air.

Invisible fingers, like the ones that run through my hair each night when I try to sleep.

Kneeling down, I brush the leaves aside, removing layer after layer of rotting foliage until another face leers back at me. It’s riddled with holes, some from the parasites that squirm their way between the crumbling flesh, others too perfect and large to be the work of insects. Another sweep of my arm reveals the body, hardly recognizable as a woman anymore.

Let it work this time, I think to myself as I straighten my knees and reach into my pocket, shuddering as I feel a cold touch against my arm. My fingers close around the handle, pull the gun from its place, and point it at the corpse, aiming for a patch relatively free of bullet holes.

The woods, so tranquil, threaten to collapse as the echo of my shot rips through them. I hold my breath for a moment, reaching out with all my senses as I try to ascertain if I am alone. I certainly feel alone, but by now I know that it’s too soon to hope. Better to wait until I get home. Better to get a good night’s sleep first, to look someone in the eye when asked “How’s the wife?” and answer back “Good as always.” Then—only then, when I don’t feel that icy touch on my shoulder—will I know.

Please darling, rest in peace!

James Colton

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