Heart Like a Bruise by Terrye Turpin


There are five ways to tell if your boyfriend is a vampire. I can think of only three ways to tell if he’s cheating on you. First, he keeps secrets. I can’t always tell when Derrick’s lying, but I try to keep my eyes open. Like this afternoon, when he finally shows up four hours after we were supposed to go to this farmer’s market.

“What’s that?” I point to the bandage plastered on the side of his neck. “What happened?”

“This? It’s nothing. A shaving cut,” he answers, shrugging. His fingers trace the outline of the bandage and he looks away. The band-aid is one of those silly cartoon things, pink with little flying pigs. There’s nothing like that in his home. I’ve been through his medicine cabinet. You can tell a lot about a person by what’s inside there. Derrick takes pills for his allergies, and he has the usual assortment of out-of-date headache meds, antacids, and ointments. He buys the cheap, generic bandages. The dull tan ones that peel off as soon as you get them wet.

We go to the farmer’s market, even though most of the vendors are packing up. It’s cloudy and windy—the tents covering the display tables snap and pop with each gust. Derrick keeps his sunglasses on and turns up the collar of his leather jacket. His phone chimes every other minute. We stop so I can buy a loaf of sourdough bread from this old woman decked out in gingham, her gray hair in braids past her butt. Derrick takes out his phone and strolls over to lean against an oak at the edge of the market. I can see him scrolling through the screen, a little smirk turning up the corners of his mouth. I want to sneak up, see who he’s texting, but Mrs. Gingham takes her time giving me my change.

“Just keep it.” I wave away her hand, as she’s clutching my dollar and twenty-eight cents. Derrick tucks the phone back in his pocket as I trot over. The second sign—strange phone calls and text messages. After the farmer’s market, Derrick drops me at my place and says he’s going home to sleep. He doesn’t feel well.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say. The edge of the bandage on his neck has curled up a bit. Not enough to see what’s under there.

“I’ll call you.”

After he drives off, I stand in the parking lot and see if I can bring him back with my mind. My therapist says I should visualize positive events, concentrate on the good. I think about Derrick so much sometimes it feels like my brain has a fever. That night, I make spaghetti for dinner and slather the sourdough with butter and garlic. As I bite into the crust, I wonder if I should save some for Derrick, if he would eat it. I polish off the whole loaf, leave nothing but crumbs.

The next day is Sunday. I wait until noon to text Derrick. We don’t have plans, but we usually spend Sundays together, before I have to go back to work on Mondays and he has to go in to the warehouse. Derrick works at night, driving a forklift and loading packages filled with stuff people order online. His work schedule didn’t use to cut into our together time, but he’s been sleeping more during the day. He can’t just go to bed as soon as he gets off work, he tells me.

An hour later, and Derrick hasn’t replied. I decide to go over, surprise him. It’s the Lord’s day, so I wear my grandmother’s cross with my low-cut crop top. Temptation and penance.

I let myself in with the key he gave me last month. Derrick’s cat, Rusty, winds around my legs, purring. I give him a scratch behind the ears before I tiptoe to the bedroom. The thick drapes block out all the light, and I have to stand a moment in the doorway until my eyes adjust. Derrick is curled on his side, one arm hanging over the edge of the bed.

A different bandage covers whatever wound is on his neck. The tape on this dressing is tight on his skin, but I spot a flush of bluish-purple leaking like ink from under the bandage. A bruise? I’m leaning over him, breathing in the scent of his hair, when Rusty jumps on the bed. Derrick’s eyes fly open.

“Jesus Christ, Tracy!” He pops up, wrapping the sheet around him. “What are you doing?”

“You didn’t text me back. I got worried.”

“You can’t just…” He shakes his head and wanders into the bathroom. I try to see past him, to the mirror hanging over the vanity, but Derrick shuts the door.

We hang out, watch football, and order a pizza. Some of his friends come over. It’s late when everyone finally leaves. I tell Derrick I’m too buzzed on pot and beer to drive. “I’ll get up early, go home when you get back,” I say.

He lies down beside me, napping, until he has to go to work. We don’t make out, haven’t down that in weeks. The third sign—lack of intimacy.

We haven’t closed the curtains, and light from the moon outside colors everything blue. Derrick’s skin is cold. His veins stand out like a map of rivers. I close my eyes, but I don’t sleep. Instead, I lie there listening for the sound of his breath. When he gets up to leave, I wait until I’m certain he isn’t coming back and then I rise.

I know what I’m looking for, and I find it on his computer. He’d changed the password, but kept it written on a slip of paper under the mouse pad. She didn’t just text him. I push away from the desk, panting. I wrap my arms around myself and rock back and forth. Pain radiates out from my chest, a dull ache like a stone bruise. At last, I stop, dress, and leave before Derrick gets home.

I call work and tell them I’m sick. It isn’t lying, exactly. I’m empty inside. Hollowed out. If you tapped my chest, it would ring like the tin-man’s. At noon, I make one stop then head to Derrick’s.

His apartment is dead quiet. I wonder if she’s been here. Slept in the bed beside him, her head on the same pillow I used. In the bedroom, I study the outline of his body under the cream-colored sheets. Derrick lies on his back, his arms flung out to each side.

I start to peel back the bandage, my fingers hovering over the flesh-colored tape. The bruise has spread past the dressing, left a stain like dark wine on Derrick’s neck. I could rip off the bandage, see the truth of his betrayal. But it doesn’t matter. Whatever she is, he had to invite her in. And that’s the fifth way to tell.

None of them are certain, though. I realize there’s actually six ways to tell. I pull the sharpened wooden stake from the bag at my feet, hold it over Derrick’s chest, right over his heart. I breathe in deep, and raise the mallet. When I breathe out, I bring it down.


Terrye is a native Texan who writes stories set in her home state and other strange places. In her free time Terrye enjoys exploring antique, junk, and thrift stores for inspiration and bargains. She’s had stories published in small print and online journals. Follow her on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20175116.Terrye_Turpin

Published 8/25/22