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Things Best Left Alone

by Angela Slatter

I made her swallow it, just before she died. Her blue eyes washed pale with fear.

‘So you’ll come back,’ I said.

She was frail, so light she made no dent on the mattress. Her hair was bleached by the surf, from the days when she would ride the swell, thinking of ways to leave me. It fell out in clumps on her pillow when she tried to move, to relieve the ache wading through her bones.

When finally her eyes rolled back, I picked her up. She was bird-light.

Four years together. We were perfect. She’d loved me for so long without my knowing; when she declared, I was amazed, grateful, bewildered, ecstatic. Eventually I believed in only us. I had not truly seen her before. Everything became peripheral to my obsession: her taste, her touch, her voice, she became breath to me.

Then she decided to leave. Said I smothered her, that she no longer recognised the woman she had loved. That, in being so immersed in her, I had become less than I had been. She thought I didn’t hear the furtive phone calls, didn’t see the flirty emails.

She stopped noticing me. I tried to speak of the clever things I once knew and embraced, but I’d forgotten them; or they had forgotten me and were not forgiving. And I had cast aside my friends long ago.

I carved it from wood, hollowed out the small oval, stuffed in clippings of my hair, dripped in menstrual blood, sealed it up with bees wax and whispered over it. I cooked all her favourite dishes. When she started to get sick, she needed me again.

Six months ago I laid her in the ground. I’ve bided my time, letting the need build until tonight. I whispered her name, spoke the words to the earth so they’d seep into her bed of dirt.

It’s a moonless night. I hear the door creak, familiar and sad. The bed moves. I smell decay and things best left alone. The bitter taste in my throat may be regret, may be fear. I thought the arsenic would have preserved her better. She slithers across the sheets and settles her rotting flesh against mine, her fetid mouth pressed to my ear and whispers, ‘I’m home, my love. I came when you called and I’ll never leave you.’

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