For many summers when I was a girl, my family visited a cabin. While triple-digit sunshine fried neighborhood lawns and sidewalks, it stayed green and cool in the woods. I felt safe there before I learned of the tiny invisible things that lurk in sunless crevices, waiting to rot their surroundings. This happens to neglected places. Neglected people, too.
I shake off a sweaty doze, rejoining time. The cabin’s a dozen years in my past. It’s after midnight in my apartment. My phone’s about to ring. I sense the psychic trash fire of my ex-husband Paul, who calls when he’s strung out and can borrow a friend’s phone. Somehow, he hasn’t killed the brain cell that stores my number. The digits are tattooed in his limbic system, next to the controls allowing blackout drunks to find home. I’ve blocked two of his phones and six belonging to his friends. I won’t change my number because fuck him. He’d wheedle it from another mutual acquaintance who’s not up to speed on our relationship. Huntsville’s not a big town, but big enough to lose touch. The day I get serious with someone new, I’ll take permanent steps to blot Paul from existence. For now, psycho-baffling technology lets me blacklist his avatars at will. Hateful chatter is all that remains of him. He’d never have the stones to confront me in person. If he can’t bully, he shrivels. I doubt he can hold down a job. He might scam some disability pay, but he’ll be dead soon.
Despite all self-assurances my breath falters. I drive a fist into my mattress. “Damn, damn, damn you!” I hiss, meaning the curses for Paul but grazing myself. I’ll outlast him, but meanwhile he wakes me up every other hour in the middle of the night. I’m losing my cool, pissed off but not afraid. Get it together, Claire! You can’t be afraid! Mopping my eyes, I tell myself with fading conviction that every abusive overture is a gratifying reminder of how Paul has unraveled. I summon memories of life before him, including the cabin, but when my eyes close, he lurks there too.
I mistake a buzz in my ear, just after dawn, for more bad tidings. I thrust a hand from under my sheets, but my cell isn’t ringing. The sound circling my ear is a housefly – one of those giant chrome-green bastards that smash open like nasty pimples.
I grab a hefty Ann Rule paperback. My vices are mini-mart powdered donuts and true crime. Sugar dust in my living space attracts bugs, but big blocky murder books are excellent for clubbing them to death. I swing the book backhand over my face, feeling it connect. Nailed it! No entrails on the spine – a clean blunt force kill.
Checking my phone as the coffee pot brews, I delete several chapters of pornographic mind-puke from Paul. There’s also a message I was hoping for, from Brian Adler. I thought he must have changed his number, but I got through. He says give him a shout in the afternoon.
Brian’s family owned the cabin that looms in my memory. They weren’t blood relatives, but close enough, until the Adlers and my folks had some falling out. I tried keeping up with Brian and losing touch with him is a concession I regret making for Paul’s sake. Brian never acted resentful, but it must have hurt his feelings for me to vanish down my black hole of a marriage, bound to a jealous prick who denied me any male friendships. Considering a reversed scenario with Brian as the husband, Paul the castoff playmate, Paul would have cursed me for a faithless bitch as he now does anyway.