For Hire

by Justin Follin Smith

When my husband goes to see his mistress, I wait for his return by elaborately constructing my murder in our living room.

It was something we had done together once, a murder-mystery date with his friends. He’d snuffed out the culprit in five minutes and gloated about it for the next week, his chest puffed out and his eyes holding the tiniest spark of joy, though we never returned. Even when we were happy, he was always too busy.

I started the day he came home smelling like her, that overly sweet, artificial scent that clung to his clothes and nestled in the sharp edges of his beard. I wish I hadn’t known so immediately.

They were recreations mostly, of Sharon Tate’s murder, Nicole Brown-Simpson and the Black Dahlia. When my husband returned, he’d call out something wrong with the scene within seconds. An inwardly-turned left arm that should’ve been outward, a stab wound to the second rib that should’ve been to the third. He used words like sloppy and obtuse. I was inexperienced,  ignorant of the finer details. Lost in mourning. He never dismissed them outright, however, and so on I went.

The real game began when I started creating my own, often brutalistic, murder. It was like we had returned to the scene of our happiest crime, our hands held tight as my husband prophesied the answer, everything almost in its place. I found my chest less constricted when this other woman’s handkerchief fell out of my husband’s pocket as I did his laundry, or that my tears were not quite so full when he disappeared for days at a time. There was something to look forward to, hope that we were mending what was broken in our own way.

Now I spend hours concocting the most lavish and incendiary ideas, scenes so surprising my husband is forced to stalk our apartment, pulling at his eyebrows and muttering to himself as he pours over every detail until he’s able to determine my fate. He won’t let himself ignore it.

Today he returns to one of my best: the stove has been turned on, slowly leaking gas into our apartment. Eight candles are arranged around my body in a pyramidal pattern, with a 666 arrayed in tea leaves above my head. The kitchen table and bookshelf have been overturned and both my legs spew fake blood, buckets of which I have delivered weekly for this very purpose. I have thrown the couch out the window for effect. Sometimes I worry about the expense, ruining our apartment for a game, but we never speak about it. He always has the money to replace these things.

I lay still, making no movement or sound as he hulks over me. My breath catches as he steps over my legs, pausing to consider the way the fake blood has pooled on the floor. I want to reach out and grab him, pull him down to me, show him that I can be all he needs, but I know I can’t. He moves on.

“They came in and threw the bookshelf on you as you tried to run away,” he says. I moan, which means he’s getting warmer.

“Once you were trapped, they started to take their time. Maybe walked around the apartment, rifled through some of the drawers, obviously surveyed our candles. Then turned on the gas to start the process,” he says. His voice grows high-pitched as he gets more excited.

“I don’t get the feeling this was some sort of devil sacrifice, though,” he says, hovering over me. I moan again. He’s good. “And it wasn’t a robbery, either.” Which means he’s noticed the missing couch. His phone rings, but he ignores the call and puts it away. A sharp thrill tingles the base of my throat.

He takes a few more laps around the apartment, every step carefully measured. I lift my head to peek at him turn the dials on the stove, raise and lower the kitchen table. His hand brushes my thigh as he reaches down to touch a candle. My heart jumps.

“Yes,” he finally says. “Okay.” He knows how I died. He always does. I clean up and make us dinner while he showers.

“That was tricky,” my husband says when we sit down to eat.

“I had hoped,” I say. He smiles, just meeting my eyes. A warm gust of wind rattles the couch-sized hole in the window. I reach out to hold his hand, and he lets me for the briefest moment. I imagine us in love.

Justin Follin Smith is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, 7×7, and Word Riot.