ometimes when Jessica is sleeping, Kyle thinks of ways that he could kill her. It would be easy, with a pillow or with the knife she insists on keeping in the nightstand in case of intruders. She’s scared that they’ll come so close to her that she’ll need something powerful, like a knife, instead of just her cell phone to call 911. She watched the E! special about unsolved murder mysteries last Sunday and knows that everybody is not what they seem. She watched the show lying on her stomach with her nose stuffed in the musty, pilly brown pillows that line their couch, and she lifted her eyes just high enough above the fabric to see a middle-aged overweight actor re-creating the murder, going into a house of the woman he was about to kill.
“The children were in the house,” the narrator of the show said. “In the house,” Jessica heard the narrator whisper more softly, for effect.
Jessica got up off of the couch and walked into the kitchen where Kyle was doing a crossword, sitting on top of the counter like he always did.
“The kids were in the house when he shot her,” Jessica told Kyle, pushing past him to get into the cabinet where the Cheez-Its were. “Isn’t that horrible?” A Cheez-It crumb flew out of her mouth and landed on the counter next to Kyle’s thigh.
“That’s horrible,” he said, and folded the crossword over so he could only see the “Across” prompts and finish them first. “People are sick.”
Their kitchen always smelled slightly of cat food and bananas, even though they didn’t have any cats. The people who lived in the house before them did, though, which Jessica found out shortly after they’d moved in the year before, when she was looking in her closet for shoes. They were still unpacking and she was expecting, after four years together, to find a ring hidden underneath a suitcase or shoved in a sock drawer, but she didn’t. Instead she found the height markers.
“What is this?” she’d asked, crouching over to see the marks on the doorjamb, little lines with numbers next to them. Eight inches, nine inches, 11.5 inches. The numbers were written with black marker but the lines were scraped into the woodwork. Kyle hadn’t been home so Jessica had talked to herself, like she always did when she was alone, and sometimes did when she was with others. “They’re too small to be kids’ markers.”
They were for the cats. Jessica had found gravestones in the backyard for the cats and then realized that the markers in the house were for their growing, too. There were none marking the children’s growth spurts. Only the cats.
“I want cats, one day,” Jessica had told Kyle. “Do you?”
Kyle had shaken his head, no.
Jessica also likes to watch infomercials, even though she refuses to buy anything on them. When the E! specials are over on Sunday mornings, Jessica flips the channels until she gets to the ones advertising the onion choppers and closet miracle hangers. Her favorite is the P90-X.
“I want that,” Jessica said the first time she saw it on the infomercial. The girl on the screen was ripped, too ripped, thought Kyle, and her muscles bulged out of her tiny sports bra and skintight biking shorts as she demonstrated how she got rock-hard abs in just 90 days.
“Why? She looks horrible.” Kyle sat next to Jessica on the couch and reached behind him to open the blinds.
“Don’t,” she said, “there’ll be a glare on the screen.” She moved closer to him and curled her legs up on the couch. He put his palms on the fabric, feeling the pilly covering as he adjusted himself closer to her, too. Jessica pulled the box of Cheez-Its nearer to them and delicately ate one.
“I guess I shouldn’t eat Cheez-Its if I want rock-hard abs like that girl,” she said, putting the box on the other side of Kyle so she couldn’t reach it.
It was stale in their house and Kyle badly wanted to open the blinds but he knew Jessica liked these Sunday mornings, lazy, dark.
“You don’t need rock-hard abs,” Kyle said, reaching his arm around her waist and pulling her tighter. “I love you.”
Kyle could see Jessica smile under her mass of curly red hair, which was snaking its way up into his face as she put her head on his shoulder. Jessica told him once that she’d fallen for him because he’d never tried to imagine what she could be like, if she were someone else.
He imagined that was probably the only reason she’d stayed.
* * * * *
ometimes when they’re lying in bed and Kyle is thinking of ways that it would be so easy for her to die, Jessica plops over onto her back and sighs, rubbing her eyes in her sleep a little bit, and Kyle’s stomach drops and he wishes that he didn’t even think about her dying.
Kyle gets out of bed and picks up the socks that Jessica left on the ground, going downstairs to get breakfast. He sits on the counter and does the crossword with one hand while eating a granola bar with the other. The counter is cold because it’s November and New Hampshire, but Kyle doesn’t mind because the bedroom was way too hot and stuffy. He doesn’t want to go skiing today.
The house is dark and dingy. It was built in the ‘60s and there are still some of the original carpets there, the kind that creep up into your feet and up past your ankles when you walk on them, or maybe your feet sink into them. Either way, you shrink a little bit, and for some reason it’s always wet. Every surface is laced with a layer of dew, at all times of the year. Kyle reaches down from the counter and feels the wetness of the table and the wetness of the floor, his feet bare and getting wet against the cold tan kitchen tiles.
Jessica wants him to sleep with her on the kitchen floor. She’s said this before, and he knows it, but he’s been waiting for the right moment for it to happen.
“Like in When Harry Met Sally,” she’d said, “how she says they never have sex on the kitchen floor, even though they’re able to and have no kids, because the floor tiles are so cold. I want to do that, one day. Like your elevator fantasy,” she winked, “my kitchen floor fantasy.”
Kyle pulls his pajama pants looser around his stomach and puts a bucket of flowers on the counter. He picked them the day before but didn’t put them in water yet, forgot them on the counter. They’re daisies because that’s what Jessica likes and because that’s what’s left in the field outside their house, for some reason, even though it’s November. He wants to make it special for her. The bucket is the blue one they got when they went to Hampton Beach last year, some shitty yellow handle that almost broke off right after Kyle won it at one of the boardwalk games.
She comes downstairs with her hair curly and frizzy. He told her once that her hair looked like Robert Plant’s in the morning, but she didn’t like that, so he’d grabbed her hair and twisted it in her fingers, kissing her hard and long.
“It’s a compliment,” he’d said in between breaths, “I love your hair.”
When she comes into the kitchen, she pulls her hair back into the elastic she’s taken to keeping around her wrist while she sleeps, but she misses a strand and it stays stuck to her cheek in a frozen red curl.
Kyle puts down his granola bar and wipes a piece of chocolate off the corners of his mouth, thinks he probably should have brushed his teeth if he really wanted to make this perfect, but he wraps his arms around her waist, just a little low on her hips so he can feel the bulge of her butt underneath his fingers, and leans down to kiss her, tasting her mouth of Listerine and Chinese food from last night, but he doesn’t care, not really.
He pushes her against the counter and then thinks that this will be difficult, to get down onto the kitchen floor gracefully without dropping her, so he sort of slides her down, pushing her back against the cabinets to keep his balance, feeling the bumping of her body as they glide over the doorknobs of each cabinet.
“Ow,” she says, pulling away and rubbing her back, but he just smiles and puts his hands behind her back to cushion the cabinet doorknobs and to warm the cold, wet floor tiles.
“What is this?” she mumbles between moments, and he doesn’t think that he needs to answer because she should already know, she should know that this was coming, that he’d been planning it since she mentioned it three months and two days ago, like he plans everything, with her, because he loves her.
* * * * *
hen Kyle thinks those things about smothering Jessica with the pillow or cutting her with her own knife, he feels terrible, because he knows that he’d never do it, yet for some reason, he wonders what it would be like to watch her die. He wonders if it would feel like he was dying, too, because that’s what it always seems like in the movies.
Jessica looks over at him driving. She smiles, her hair straightened and tamed for the day. She squeezes his thigh and he remembers why he could never smother her with a pillow. But he thinks of driving off the road, like in Thelma and Louise, one of many chick flicks that Jessica’s made him watch. He wonders if she knows that these chick flicks stay with him because they’re all tragic; but nothing in their relationship is tragic, he tells himself. He knows.
“You okay?” she asks, and squeezes a little tighter. She loves him but she shouldn’t; if she knew what he was thinking, she wouldn’t.
“Yeah,” he says, and stops at a stop sign half covered in snow. It’s barely winter but up here there’s snow almost all the time, and he can feel the wheels trying on the ice. He’s used to it.
Jessica’s ski gear takes up most of the backseat, but Kyle doesn’t take much with him to go skiing. Just a hat and gloves, sometimes a helmet. Jessica takes two pairs of ski pants and two jackets, just in case, and a hat and earmuffs and toe warmers.
She smells like the mac and cheese they had for lunch as she leans over and whispers in his ear, “I love you,” and she’s so close he can feel the moisture from her words.
“I’m thinking bad things,” he says in return, staring ahead at the windy, salt-covered road and trying not to think about what it would be like if her heat wasn’t next to him in the passenger seat.
“Stop,” she says, pulling back and squinting at him, used to him saying this, now. She knows everything. “Just don’t think them.”
“I can’t help it.”
“You don’t actually want them though, right?” she asks.
He shakes his head. “No,” he says. But then that’s lying, because sometimes he does want them. Sometimes he does want to know what it would be like to feel her loss, to feel her slipping and slipped away, just to see how people would react to him. Sometimes he does want to see her dog get sick, just to be able to show her how much she means to him by making her feel better. To show her how much he’d be there. Sometimes he wants her sister to get in a car accident, so he can show up at the hospital faster than anyone else.
“Yes,” he says instead, “I don’t know. Sometimes I do, but not really,” he says quickly.
She takes her hand from his thigh and puts it in her lap, staring at him with wet eyes.
“I don’t,” he says, “not when I really think about it. Just when I sort of do, in the hypothetical.” But she’s not listening because she’s heard what he said and what he’s said before, many times, now. “I love you,” he says, softly, because that’s all that’s left, and she either believes him or she doesn’t.
“You need to stop,” she says in reply this time, her mascara running but her eyes not red, clear white.
“I know,” he says. He tells her these things not to hurt her, but because he thinks that if she knew what was going through his mind, she wouldn’t love him back, and maybe he should tell her so that she knows everything, absolutely everything, about him. That way she can decide for herself if she loves him, all of him, even the bad, horrible parts of him. That’s why he always tells her these things.
“It’s going to make me love you less,” she says, and he expects her to speak softly, or whisper, but she doesn’t. She says it loudly, almost too loud for the small car, almost too loud for this road and this state and these ski mountains.
* * * * *
he ski path gets more crowded as Kyle tries to think of ways that he can make it up to her, because he does love her, so much that it hurts. Kyle hates skiing. He hates the coldness on his face and how the snow gets everywhere, inside ski boots and hats. Jessica told him once that if he brought more gear, like she did, he’d be warmer and then maybe he’d like it more.
She’s ahead of him, and he can see her below him on the trail. She’s beautiful. He can’t see her face but he can see her hair, red and curly underneath her blue helmet, her blue ski pants, blue jacket. She skis faster than some of the little kids but always lets them go first anyways, because she knows how much they love that.
Kyle tries to call to her, but she can’t hear him over the kids’ yelling and the wind on the mountain. It’s cold and he can see all of the trees below, and almost the lodge, but not quite because it’s so far down. There’s a string on the inside of his right glove that he can feel loosening, and he tries to pull it but it won’t come out. He fiddles with it, twirling it around in a tiny knot inside his glove’s fingertips, back and forth, feeling the smooth strong crease of the string against his fingers.
“Jessica,” he yells again, but she still doesn’t hear him. She waves him on, waiting for him halfway down the mountain, after the fork in the paths. This fork is why people come to this mountain; you can ski down one way with one person and one way with the other, but all of the forks end up in the same place at the bottom of the hill. She’s chosen the middle one, like she always does, because it’s the easiest for Kyle.
He thinks about what would happen if a snow groomer plowed into her, right in front of him, as she waved him down.
He tries not to think about what would happen, but he can’t. He gets hot beneath his ski jacket and begins to get dizzy, fuzzy, and he knows he needs to tell her, has to tell her what he’s thinking because what if he doesn’t tell her, and then she feels the same about him, but if he chooses to tell her, and after hearing, she feels differently? It’s not fair to her to have to love most of him and not know the other horrible parts of him, those thoughts that come into his head and he can’t seem to shake.
Jessica’s hat is a lighter blue than her ski coat, and she stands out against the white of the mountain and the myriad of red and black ski coats darting past her. She tilts her head a little bit, gesturing harder this time, come down, I’m waiting.
All he can picture is her own scene from Final Destination, or Thelma and Louise, or The Shining, Jessica dying in a million different ways right in front of him on the ski slope, trapped in coldness and ski gear and snow, wet and freezing beneath his fingers.
* * * * *
Alessandra Siraco recently graduated Trinity College and is currently an M.F.A. student at Emerson College. She is working on her writing while employed in the insurance industry. She most enjoys writing short stories, reading anything, shopping, and drinking coffee. Alessandra is from Boston and, although she doesn’t sport a Boston accent, she loves everything about the city.