She was thinking of ways to kill her husband.
Martha Hart, called Mattie by everyone but her mother, who regularly insisted Martha was a perfectly lovely name -- "You don't see Martha Stewart changing her name, do you?" -- was swimming back and forth across the long, rectangular pool that occupied most of her spacious backyard. Mattie swam every morning from the beginning of May until mid-October, barring lightning or an early Chicago snowfall, fifty minutes, one hundred lengths of precisely executed breaststroke and front crawl, back and forth across the well-heated forty-foot expanse. Usually she was in the water by seven o'clock, so that she could be finished before Jake left for work and Kim for school, but today she'd overslept, or rather, hadn't slept at all until just minutes before the alarm clock went off. Jake, of course, had experienced no such trouble sleeping and was out of bed and in the shower before she'd had time to open her eyes. "Feeling all right?" he'd asked her, already dressed and out the door in a handsome blur before she was able to formulate a response.
She could use a butcher knife, Mattie thought now, pushing at the water with clenched fists, slicing the imaginary foot-long blade through the air and into her husband's heart with each rise and fall of her arms. She reached the end of the pool, using her feet to propel herself off the concrete, and made her way back to the other side, the motion reminding her that a well-timed push down a flight of stairs might be the easier way to dispatch Jake. Or she could poison him, add a sprinkling of arsenic, like freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to his favorite pasta, like the kind they had for dinner last night, before he supposedly went back to the office to work on today's all-important closing argument for the jury, and she'd found the hotel receipt in his jacket pocket -- the jacket he'd asked her to send to the cleaners -- that announced his latest infidelity as boldly as a headline in a supermarket tabloid.
She could shoot him, she thought, squeezing the water as it passed through her fingers, as if squeezing the trigger of a gun, her eyes following the imaginary bullet as it splashed across the pool's surface toward its unsuspecting target, as her errant husband rose to address the jury. She watched him button his dark blue jacket just seconds before the bullet ripped through it, his dark red blood slowly oozing into the neat diagonal lines of his blue-and-gold striped tie, the boyish little half-smile that emanated as much from his eyes as his lips freezing, fading, then disappearing altogether as he fell, facedown, to the hard floor of the stately old courtroom.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached your verdict?
"Death to the infidel!" Mattie shouted, kicking at the water as if it were a pesky blanket twisted around her ankles, her feet feeling unexpectedly heavy, as if newly attached to large cement blocks. For a second, Mattie felt as if her legs were foreign objects, as if they belonged to someone else and had been grafted haphazardly onto her torso, serving no other purpose than to weigh her down. She tried to stand, but the bottoms of her feet couldn't find the bottom of the pool, although the water level was only five feet high and she was almost eight inches taller. "Damn it," Mattie muttered, losing the rhythm of her breathing and swallowing a mouthful of chlorine. She gasped loudly, throwing herself toward the side of the pool, her body doubling up and over the edge of the pool to rest against its border of smooth brown stone, as invisible hands continued to pull at her legs, trying to drag her back under. "Serves me right," she muttered between painful coughing spasms. "Serves me right for having such evil thoughts."
She wiped some errant spittle from her mouth, then burst into a fit of hysterical laughter, the laughter mingling with her coughing, one feeding off the other, the unpleasant sounds bouncing off the water, echoing loudly in her ears. Why am I laughing? she wondered, unable to stop.
Copyright © 2000 by Joy Fielding
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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