The Shape of Blood

Content warnings: Graphic death

We had bought a house with a widow's peak even though the sea was miles away. The house was a mixture of styles, the top being fashioned after the New England design, and the bottom a California Bungalow. Each window was double-paned and there was a double front door that had two windows on either side in the shape of a half globe. There were days in that year he was gone that I would linger in the widow's peak looking out into the great nothing hoping it would conjure him back. He was not out at sea. He was not off to war. He was just missing. Many nights, I spent wishing he had gotten bored of me and left, but he had not taken his keys or his wallet. The obvious was so inconvenient, the way it would constantly present itself. People around town would stop to say hi in the grocery store, and look deep into my eyes to assess whether I had done it or not as if they could tell from one conversation. In truth, they had already made their minds up, and they felt so incredibly guilty when they talked with me.

Soon people began to realize which grocery store I shopped at, and they started shopping at the other one in town. I was like a magnet that repelled. No one wanted to get mariticide on their sleeves. Some days this made sense. Other days it felt forced, like they didn't care whether or not I'd done it, just as long as they, themselves, looked like they disapproved. Some people are drawn to this sort of thing. I had to watch out for those, too. Strange mail I can only describe as fan mail would appear between the overdue bills and presorted mail. This all happened a year after he had gone missing. The days after his disappearance were so surreal and scattered and I hate to say it, bloody, I can't bear to think about them.

The left side of my bed was always cold and stiff now. I would sometimes line up pillows along the bed to feel his presence. I had no children, no pet, no housekeeper. My family was all dead or estranged, and his family all lived in Oklahoma. When his small portion of the family decided to become citizens, they moved to California. That was several years ago, but it still had the same fissuring effect as abdication. Before he had left, we had talked about having a baby. He wanted one, but I was less inclined. I have no memories of my childhood, so I would not know where to start with play or stories that start with, "When I was your age." I remember him, hugging me from behind, and bending almost halfway over to do so, to say I would make a wonderful mother. I winced. I didn't want to make anything. Now, I wonder. 

Were we closer to the beach, the overcast morning would have had a slightly salty aroma with a manner likely to dissipate into blue. I closed my eyes and fell asleep for a few more moments against the window. When I woke up for good, something was sleeping in my bed, or in my bed sleeping was someone. I jolted out of bed, caught myself in the sheets, and fell backward onto the hardwood floor. This did not wake him. I slowly stood and walked around to his side of the bed. The light was still white outside. I continued to stare at his face trying to find the trick, the wax filling in the cracks on a limestone figure. It was his stillness that beckoned me back to the day he went missing.

Drips of blood like crumbs in the woods told me something was off. I had to use my bare hands because all the cloths had stopped being white and were dripping down into the drain hole of the tub. For weeks after that, I found blood, mostly specks. A goop hanging from the shower faucet that hadn't dried, a dot on a towel. The ones that had turned brown and un-alarming were hardest to find. I would clean the blood for days after, always finding new spots I'd missed. It was almost like he was still there, in the house, dripping from room to room, concealing himself, but now he was there, asleep.

I lay back beside him after failing to find an answer. I had never looked at a person like that before; like he was my newborn baby. The light pressed down over his entire face leaving no shadows. He looked holy. My immediate thought that I pushed to a corner was to parade him through town, announcing, "Look." I wanted to wake him. I had waited a year for this moment; I could wait a few more minutes. By the time the overcast sky was gone, he was still asleep. It was past noon when I decided to wait elsewhere.

I tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen. I started on coffee. The kettle began hissing, so I pulled it before it screamed at me. The white coffee cups gave me such delight to see them being used and to hear the crisp sound they made when I placed them on their saucers. This newfound man had given the cups some life. Before, I used them for guests until there were no guests, and I began using them to cheer me up until I couldn't be cheered up. They began to feel like a placebo, and the knowledge of a placebo in the room tends to make their use void.

I changed places in the kitchen depending on where I wanted him to find me if he came downstairs. I did not want him to come downstairs; I wanted to find him, but just in case. With the two cups and saucers in hand, I tiptoed back up the steps. I set his coffee down beside him on the nightstand and sat beside him. He was facing away from me, as I set my coffee on the floor. When I leaned back up, he was facing the ceiling. I gently touched his ribs, and he felt so warm. I could feel his soul vibrated against my hand. His body looked just the same as it had before, feet dangling off of the bed. I moved the blanket over his feet, a simple action that was rooted inside me. Both arms were above his head in complete trust. I could easily stab him with a knife. He was after all just a body. How dare he be just a body.

When he opened his eyes, they blinked and searched for me. I said, "Hi."

"Hi," he said in a groggy voice.

"I don't understand,” I said.

He blinked more, and pulled his arms down, but gave me no explanation. I didn't want to make a mistake, so I didn't say anything further. He turned his head toward the coffee, "Is this mine?" I nodded. He sat up, picked up the coffee without the saucer, and said plain as day, "I was dead, now I'm not."

"Wrong." I said.

"No." He shook his head, "That is the truth."

"How did you raise yourself from the dead?" I asked.

"I don't know." He said and then added, "I don't think it was me who raised myself from the dead."

"Who, then?" I kept emotion out of my face and voice.

He sat the coffee down and sighed. This process of question and answer was so slow. I was reminded of when I had been in the interrogation room for hours. They would ask me the same questions over and over again, and I had to answer them every single time. After hours of this, I realized what they wanted to hear. They wanted each answer to be slightly different. They wanted to hear something new. I did not have anything new to offer. I came home. I turned the TV on. I waited for him to come home. He never did. Eventually, I added that I changed into my PJs, and that I poured myself a glass of wine, later I corrected it to tea. They pointed that out, I said I didn't have an answer for them. I didn't tell them about the blood. I didn't tell them about the trash bag of blood I took out that was heavy like water. I reported him missing late, they had me there, but I did not want to admit to seeing all that blood, and not being alarmed.

"Where were you all this time?" I asked him.

"I think I was under something like water or buried somewhere. I just know when I woke up, it felt like I could finally breathe."

"How did you...die?"

"I don't know." The way his eyes moved frightened me. I thought maybe he was accusingmme of it, which worried me more. If I were to prove my innocence, I would need the dead man to be on my side. I realized then, that I would need to keep this man secret for some time, until I learned everything I could, until his memory came back.

"Why don't you rest some more. I can make you lunch or breakfast?"

He nodded, "Breakfast?"

I looked out the window, "Why don't you come downstairs with me and lie on the couch?"

He got up and followed me down. I held his hand. It was strange adjusting back to a presence beside my own in the house. I was highly aware of every room's emptiness like a smell that filled up every corner. Every room took its own breath and registered my body as a stick of molecules interacting with the air in the room. That air in all the rooms was now buzzing, highly aware of a new catalyst. I could see the walls inhaling the new scent. I wondered if they remembered him.

He remembered where the couch was and dropped slowly into it. He pulled one of the throws over his body, and his feet lay uncovered again. I wanted to smile at that. I turned on the TV, flipping through channels for him that would be calm. The animal channel seemed too primal, and I worried it would wake something inside him. The news was off-limits. Comedy was in poor taste, so I turned to the drama channel, a bad one that would do nothing to him. There were only eggs as a breakfast food, no bread or milk. He'd have to know I wasn't expecting guests. After he ate breakfast, he fell back asleep. It was like he hadn't slept that whole year.

"When can we let them know I'm back?"

"I'm not sure," I said.

"When will you be sure?" He asked.

"When you remember more,” I said, and wrapped my arms around him while he was sitting on the couch.

"Why? I don't like being here all the time. I want to go out, go to the grocery store with you." His body stiffened.

"I know." I started rubbing his shoulders. "I know. Me too, but it's going to be hard for people to understand you. They aren't going to think that you were dead for that year. They'll think something's off, and I don't want them to turn on you the way they've turned on me."

He leaned into my arms that were wrapped around his neck now, "I'm just so bored, here. Not because of you. Just being cooped up here. I don't like hiding when I've done nothing wrong."

"Me too." I said.

As the weeks passed, he grew more and more antsy, wanting to leave to go anywhere, even just for a car ride he would say. I couldn't risk leaving the house with anybody with me. I couldn't risk being seen in the car with what people would think to be another man. I was being surveilled 24/7 by do-gooders and people with nothing better to do. If my husband showed up on their screens as alive, without memory, and fully intact, it would be good, marvelous even, but he thought he had been dead for that year. Would they take him away from me again? Would they blame me for something, maybe kidnapping? I didn't know, and I didn't know what to do about it all.

I had to change my habits slowly. A sudden surge in buying milk, or bread would set off alarms. He would wait at home, making lists of foods he wanted to try, and I would pick which ones sounded feasible under the circumstances. He was obsessed with lists. He would make lists of places he wanted to go, and those places had lists of their own for things he wanted to do there. He would rank them, and give me long-winded speeches about each place, and the reasons those places were so successful in gaining large crowds of people. Yosemite was a top contender, and he also had it on the list of places he could go and remain anonymous. I reminded him that even places like Yosemite had visitors from our town. He never liked these reminders. Sometimes he would rip his lists up if I said the wrong thing, but the next day, I'd see it rewritten. He'd come hug me and say he was sorry for getting so mad.

During a sleepless night, I walked downstairs to start some sleepy tea. The night air was clear and cold. It was one of those nights that the terrain gave itself over to its other half. The chaparral became desert, and the night was so cold and dry, unlike the hot day. I was verging on happiness with him, and things were going back to a kind of normal between us. Although he could not leave the house, I felt the walls relax around him. He began to talk about having kids again, and although I had not changed my mind, it felt nice to hear him desiring a future. I began to think why not face the crowd? Why not let them have at me?

I riffled through his lists that were stacked on the countertop. One list was called, "Possibilities" with a question mark at the end. He listed things like "amnesia", "car accident", and "God". I smirked as my eyes went down the page. Then I saw, "her", and I stopped dead. My brain started processing without me, and I noticed the kettle start to screech. At the same time, I heard his footsteps. I folded all the papers back as quickly as I could, and his face emerged just before I had caught my breath.

"Hi," I said.

"Hi, what's going on?" He asked.

"I couldn't sleep."

"The kettle," he said. It was still going.

I obeyed him and tended to it. "Did you want some? I think I made enough for two." I looked behind me for his response, and his eyes flickered from the stack of papers back to me.

"Yes, thank you," he said.

After we both drank our tea, we lay down side by side. I was sure he wasn't sleeping just as I wasn't. I was aware that a thought had crossed him, and I didn't know how strong this thought was or how many times it had been returned to, but either way, he had thought I had killed him, or tried to. Perhaps it was all the rules that led him to this thought. I was seeking self-preservation, and he sensed it, but he thought it grew from a different source. I had to figure a way out.

The next night, I made him a special dinner, one that I had said no to several times, and it seemed to cheer him up. He ate it so quickly, like I'd take the dish away from him. After his stomach settled and he had decided that would be all the excitement of the night, I asked him if he wanted to go for a car ride.

"A car ride?" He threw the words back.

"Yes, it's dark out. I don't see there being too much of a problem, if we're safe, cautious."

"Yes, I want to go for a car ride!"

"Go get your stuff, and we can go." I chuckled a little, as he ran upstairs to grab his sweater and socks.

Each house in the neighborhood existed on its own rectangle of a property. Many houses were fenced in by nature using tall Italian cypress trees, or pine trees that fogged the view into their windows. Still, I had him duck as we drove the car from the garage out into the dark night. The moon was nonexistent, and the stars could not take its place.

"Where are we going?" He asked.

"I figured through the canyon. Not many people there, and no one will be able to see into our car."

He didn't respond though I could feel his excitement reverberating through the car. We drove to a cold corner of the road, and I told him he could get out if he wanted. He jumped out. We walked to the edge of the cliff, and I asked him, "Do you remember this place?"

"No," he seemed unsure. "Maybe."

"This is where you died," I said, rubbing the small of his back.

"What do you mean?" he said, "How?"

"I don't know." I added, "I wish more than anything I had someone to blame, but I don't."

I looked at him, and let the silence fill the air. The stars were brighter in the canyon.

"I didn't kill you."

"But this is where I died?"

"Not exactly. You came home bloody at some point, and you got blood everywhere. I was so scared. I didn't know where the blood was coming from, and it was everywhere. I got you into the car, and you died in the car on the way to the hospital. I knew I'd get blamed, so I dropped you here." I looked into the ravine, and I could once again see his yellowed skin, and the purple filling in everywhere. The blood pouring down his mouth and onto the car's floor. My nose brought the smell back, different from the blood in the house. This blood was ironless and putrid. That day it had clung to my nose hairs, and I had to use q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol to get it out. "I dropped you here, and I told myself to forget it." I said, "I'm sorry."

The heaviness of his body filled my arms again. I remembered how hard it had been to drop him there, to leave him. I had heard his body thump down into the ravine. I had sat down on the dusty ledge after the birds that had flown away had gone back to normal. An intense loneliness kicked in, as I saw the red city, a fire on the horizon, far in the distance. I looked down and my hands were shaking, everything was shaking.

"I'm sorry," he said bringing me back to him.

"It's not your fault." I said, "it's no one's fault."

I went to sleep that night, fully expecting to see him the next morning. Maybe I would tell him I was ready to start a family. Maybe we would have seven children, or maybe none. Maybe we would get a dog, a big one. Maybe three dogs, a small, medium, and large one. Maybe we would move to a place where it snows, and the clouds are up for half the year. Maybe we'd move to the Big Bear or Twin Peaks for super cheap, and little yellow daffodils would pop up in the Spring right outside the kitchen window. Either way, I no longer wanted to live in a house with a widow's peak.

Hally Winters is a writer living in and writing about Sunland, California. She received her BA from Berkeley and her MFA in creative writing from California Institute of the Arts. Her work can be found at drDOCTOR, Two Sisters Writing and Publishing, Neuro Logical Literary Magazine, and more.