James let a resigned smile take his heart. The coffee warmed him inside. He looked at the telly. The asylum breakout was on CNN. Anderson had someone in the studio, some celebrity doctor with a stage name and tv-reputation. The images flash in front of his distracted gaze. It was out of focus, vague but familiar. His mind was in a plane of its own, racing the track wildly, turning a hundred thoughts in his head; past, present, possible future. Good. Awful. Fantastic. It overwhelmed him. He just sat there lifeless as a bag of beans, just like the last time she had left him sprawled on the kitchen floor, soaked in his own blood and dishwashing liquid. He fumbled a bit on his phone.
The scent of the hair tonic was strong and sickly. It smelled worse than it had all those years. It drew his deepest, personal feelings of a life and marriage gone awry. He had loved it when he first smelled it in this same room, on a very similar couch in front of an old black and white tv.
That was eight years ago. He was young and she as naïve, which meant well for both of them. She wasn’t that sort of childhood sweetheart, but she was close. They got married after some months of courtship. The happily ever after lasted a year or two, before neglected cracks began to grow and spread. He quit, called in the doctors, lawyers, police in that order. It was over.
Today proved one more time that it wasn’t really over.
Anytime Mary went into her fits, she was terrible. Her morbid cruelty turned those sweet, loving eyes into windows from which a dark spirit looked at a fallen world, and into which he saw that little devilish soul. She was the closest thing he had had to a religious experience. One of the most unwholesome sort.
When she slided into that character, she became a shriveled Gollum, beaten and vicious, afflicted, a thing to pity. It was easy for him to do the pitying. It is a natural fruit of love. His kind of love, to be exact. He had learned later that love came in different coats.
But James was himself always, and his old habits hardly died. He still called her "May" even when she slit his thumb open with a broken bit of their old picture frame while they argued about what to name their child. He remembered when she tried to poke his left eye out with a knitting needle after...he tried to recollect.
"May", he muttered the name to himself again, pleading with her in his head (that place was where he fought his fiercest battles with her) hoping to calm her down. The sound of her breathing was heavy as it came through the doorway like some berserk ogress descending a grim staircase. Her steps were heavy and weighed the old wood of his parent’s house down. This was not Mary. Not his May. It was that hateful thing, seeking destruction. It was that creature with a morbid point of view, one which assumed that he was everything to it. When it loved, it was complete, but when it hated, it could kill and destroy. And in that character, it only saw him. And it hated him bitterly.
Shiva. They called it Shiva. James had first seen the name in an old highschool poem she wrote. It was scribbled in a little green book she always kept behind the right leg of the bed, just a little bit out of sight, always covered with dust kitties, grime and cockroach eggs. She scratched with a pencil in that book. She knew it was not secret to him, but that odd part of her, the bit he had fallen in love with, felt it was safe where it sat – for years.
She wrote in it as though under a trance on those sleepless nights disturbed with dreams and sobbing. After a first uncomfortable brush with the complexity of her inner persona (which first signaled to him that something about her was off and not exactly lovable in that sense), James pretended he never knew about it. But every curious husband will pick up after his wife.
He read it, delighted and charmed, tickled on his dark bone. But he was never concerned until she assumed the spirit of Shiva.
“Home early, darling?” She welcomed him in Shiva's voice, laced with sadistic overtones.
“May my love” he gasped, trying to keep calm.
“It’s delightful isn’t it? All those white gowned men with their silver implements and cold, caring eyes.” she twirled in a stained frock. It was the one his mother had worn when her cancer took her. He cherished the memory of her sweet last days in it, and so had kept it and given it to his beloved wife.
“And there was Dr. Martin, the old bearded fool with a frown. He cleaned my blood and fed me pills from a teaspoon. A sweet, poor chap.” She went on, half to herself, and half to no one in particular. For a moment she might have forgotten his presence. She went from drawer to drawer, removing and putting books in order and out of order, touching the mantelpiece here and there, dusting with the lifted hem of her frock. When her hands were dirtied, she wiped them on her shaven scalp.
James looked at her from behind the seat, peering just over the edges to catch a brief glimpse of what was left of dear May. She had been through mother’s old makeup kit, another odd memento he kept. Her eyes were coated with purple shade, and she had lipstick drawn like a clown’s frown. Mascara made groves of wetness down her cheek, as though she had been crying. Stuck in the breast of her frock was a headless doll (the one that lay about on the bedroom floor, that no one wanted to throw away), and in her hand was an old wig. She would pause from her monologue to pet the poor doll, whispering to it like she did to Nelly when her only child was younger. Then she would dust something with the wig, and throw it on her head.
Mary told herself a macabre joke and cackled wildly, cutting it short when her eyes met his. He was standing before her, looming like some malevolent lord. He looked lovingly at her. She stared back. There was a brief moment of dead face, with no identifiable emotion. Then the horrid contortions of bitter rage coalesced, and she flung the pot of boiling water at him. He ducked but got splattered at the top of his head. James writhed in pain, but endured it. He endured the pain of his love. Mad or mellow, May was his own.
The onslaught was stopped by the sight of a crawling gecko on some business of his. She reached for the fellow. It wormed helplessly between her two fingers, and did not look at all pleased at her poking in his business. Then she lowered him into the fire and listened amused at the little pop and poof! Burned gecko flesh and stinking insides. It danced with the last impulse of life, going to a silent death. She picked the carcass from the flame. James was not sure if that meaty smell was the gecko or his May’s fingers.
Mary crushed the ashes and watched them fall to the table and the tiled floor. Then she had other ideas. She dropped a napkin on the fire. It caught flame, at which the startled husband mastered himself and got up from his perch.
“May, love please stop it.” He dared to draw close again. She was unconcerned, and looked for new things to burn. Being in a mad house had kept her away from a curious thing called fire.
“Sweet May” he crept toward her. She stiffened, sensing something familiar. Then she flipped out, bellowing “I hate you James!” and flinging a knife at him. She missed. He pleaded with her, trying to look for an opening.
Mary backed away like a hunted scorpion, prone to harm herself. Her gaze was inhuman and fierce. She breathed like a wild animal. She looked like one. “Liar!” she screamed to her voice’s edge, landing a feeble blow that he caught. He spun her round and grabbed her, pinning her arms behind her and lowering her, so she resigned on the floor.
She kicked and grunted between tears. He bore down on her and tried to kiss her mouth. She bit his lip and he liked the blood off. He was turned on. He managed to snuggle his way, not bothering to fondle her. She was wasted already. There wasn’t much time to have his way on her. Officer Lucas would be at the door step any minute. Its best to present the best picture.
“You cheat! You lying bastard!” she said. She was frantic. He was frantic. “Sweet Mary, lovely May.” He called to her in her ear, and passed his lips on her nape, drawing in a full breath to savour her scent. There was a ring of the door bell.
“Open it!” he called over his shoulder, as he pinned down his mad, mad wife.