by Caroline Crook
You weren’t home yet, and he knocked so politely. Nobody knocks around here; hell, plain nobody comes around anymore, then or now.
He loomed large in the doorway, a dark silhouette in the setting sun. Caked head-to-toe in muck, and naked as a jaybird. Hair hanging in long, mossy snarls. Skin almost green from all the mud and marsh water.
I think it was the quiet that did me in. You were quiet too, watchful, but in a different way. Like you were waiting for me to land so you could trap me under a jar, label it “WIFE” in big letters and stick me on some shelf.
Not like him. He stood still, let me make my mind up about him.
Together, we made a slow path through the house to the bathroom. When I flicked on the light, the first thing I saw was a pair of ratty drawers, your ratty drawers, hanging off the bathroom faucet. I tossed them in the trash, blushing like hell.
I led him inside, sat him down on the toilet lid, perched on the edge of the bathtub and ran a washcloth under the tap. He was watching me when I turned back to face him – in the new light, I realized his eyes were huge and bright black. No pupil or iris.
When I reached out to his face, he leaned forward and settled his chin gently in my hand, blinking at me like a tired animal.
His skin was green, and so, so smooth.
You would never have let me touch you like this. Not anymore. Not in a million years.
“Where’d you come from, honey?” I asked him softly, fingers curled around his jaw.
Slowly, he reached up and wrapped his own clammy fingers around my wrist, holding me in place. He leaned closer, closer, until his cold cheek brushed against my temple. The bathroom felt so small and humid then – I could feel my hair begin to curl.
His voice was beautiful. A low, velvety murmur, like something on the radio at night. He told me about teeming, crawling places, far out beyond and beneath the marsh. He told me about creatures that find home in the murk, and things that never stay deep in the ground for long, not in the way that they should.
When I try to think of the words now, what exactly he was telling me, I only see flashes of things that don’t make sense. Snake eggs gleaming pale in dark mud. Flies buzzing around one wide, unblinking eye. A trail of bubbles in black water.
I jumped up, snatching myself out of his grip, and backed away from him. He watched me stumble out of the bathroom, shaking, and run right into you.
That’s right honey, that’s where you come in. You were behind me – you were home early, remember?
He stayed in the bathroom while you dragged me backwards into the kitchen.
You probably thought he was the only thing on my mind, the big green naked man you caught whispering with your wife, but it’s just not true.
For example, when you shoved my head down on the kitchen counter, I only thought about the unpeeled potatoes inches from my eyes.
When you sank your hand into my hair and yanked hard, I only thought about the color red.
And when I reached for that knife, the big one, my grandmother’s, it was like he had never been here at all.
“I’ll come back.” Your last words, a croak I still wonder if I heard right. I sat on the floor next to you, watched blood bubble up between your lips. Even then, I didn’t think about him. I shut my eyes and thought about lipstick.
You bought me red lipstick on our honeymoon in New Orleans – you told me it looked best in a smudge on my champagne glass. I left a big sloppy kiss print on your shirt collar for you to find. You didn’t get mad, you weren’t mad back then. You laughed, kissed the mark over and over, made sure the stain would never come out.
I felt cold, smooth fingers on the back of my neck then, sliding up through the roots of my hair.
Honey, for one long, cruel moment, I could’ve sworn it was you.
He gently pried the knife out of my hands. He murmured to me again in that voice of his, and the words were a fog in my eyes, misting down the length of my spine – go to bed, he’d take care of you, he’d come back to get me in a minute.
And the fog carried me up and out of the kitchen, tucked me into our quilted bed at the back of the house, pulled me under a deep, dark sleep.
But when I woke up, you were both gone, a bloody trail dragged out the back door.
Every night since then, I microwave a cup of black coffee from the morning pot. I eat my dinner standing over the kitchen sink. I turn out every light except the bug zapper on the front porch, and I sit out in that blue glow, with your old shotgun over my knees.
I listen out beyond the cicadas, beyond the bullfrogs, beyond the live oaks creaking in the wind. I listen for mud bubbling up in a cold boil, like the champagne in New Orleans and the blood in your mouth. I listen for birds and bugs, mice and snakes, all falling silent in the wake of slushing, scraping footsteps.
No need to knock this time, either of you. I’m expecting company.
Caroline Crook is a DC-based part-time writer, full-time cryptid. She can usually be found lurking in a tree somewhere in Rock Creek Park.