I felt a pulsing deep inside me as I zoomed in on Sara’s sweetheart-shaped face bathed in the warm glow of the nursery nightlight. I drew closer on her chest rising and falling beneath the bodice of her dress. Gently. So gently. Whenever she entered the room, she unbuttoned the top button and revealed a tasteful hint of cleavage. Sometimes I wondered if she was toying with me.
She strolled to the baby’s crib and peered inside. Her gray eyes glistened with such love that I couldn’t breathe. If only she looked at me that way. She reached in and caressed the baby once, and then she moved to the window and leaned against the frame with a bare shoulder. Sara never wore a sweater, always sundresses, even in the middle of a bitter winter. Tonight’s dress was yellow and baby blue, the same as the nursery décor. About a month ago, Sara repainted the room with thick blue stripes, added a border bustling with pastel-colored jungle animals, and hung mirrors of all shapes and sizes on all the walls. Very arty, so like her. When she had finished, she’d taken in the room, hands on supple hips and smiled. That smile had nearly floored me.
Tonight, there was a wistful sorrow in her eyes. Her lower lip began to quiver. She steadied it with her teeth and curled a lock of her ebony hair around her finger as she watched the snow flying sideways outside. If only I could touch her and make her smile again.
The hands on the lion clock that was hanging on the wall nearest the crib crept ahead: one minute, two, three. Ten minutes later, Sara still stood at the window, coiling and uncoiling her hair. Finally, she heaved a sigh. Hot breath coated the window. She sketched a sad face in the middle of it and embellished it with long strands of curly hair. When she added dots falling from the eyes, I realized Sara knew what had been happening in the nursery. She wasn’t blind. She was smart. She spent her days as a trial attorney, but I think she secretly wished she could be an artist. At least three times a week, she brought her paints and canvases into the baby’s room. She painted pictures of him playing with his rattle, and pictures of the corner of the room where many of the stuffed animals sat in piles, and sometimes she painted the view out the window, focusing on the gargoyles on top of the building across the street or the sidewalk and the people strolling along it. She never painted pictures of me, but she didn’t know that I was watching her. Not really.
With a shudder, Sara opened the window a crack. The snow had turned to sleet. It spit against the window with an angry rat-a-tat. Sounds of the Boston harbor, the squeal of a gull, the moan of a foghorn followed in the sleet’s wake. Facing the window, Sara spread her arms wide, raised them over her head, drew in a deep breath, and blew it out. She repeated her yoga moves three more times before muttering, “Futile.” As she shook her head, her curls tumbled about her shoulders like kite tails blowing in the wind. She seized them, imprisoned them in a silver hair clip that she fetched from the pocket of her dress, and then attempted one more series of deep breathing exercises. In the end, she sighed, “Hopeless,” and returned to the baby’s crib.
With a graceful hand, she switched on the lamp beside the crib, the new one she’d purchased last week with the teeny giraffes on the lampshade. Golden light bathed her beautiful face. I drank in the rose of her cheeks, the misty gray of her thoughtful, vulnerable eyes. I could look at her all day if she’d let me. She didn’t. She’d leave the room and ruin my vantage point. If only I could confess my love.
Sara bent forward. Her forearms disappeared beneath the rim of the crib. Streaks of light from the lamp cut through her dress. Her silhouette beneath the sheath was thin, muscled, perfect. My insides zinged like they might go into warp-speed.
Sara began to sing. I’d heard the song a hundred times. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird, and if that mocking bird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.” Tears streamed down Sara’s face as she warbled verse after verse in her honeyed voice. When she finished, she mopped up the tears and lifted her boy from the crib. He was swaddled in a white blanket with light blue trim. Out of the top poked his tiny head, his hair as dark as Sara’s, his eyes curious.
She clutched him to her chest as if only he could provide her with a heartbeat. “There, there, my precious Tommy,” she said. He wasn’t crying. She always said, “There, there,” and added, “Mama’s here. And she loves you. Yes, she does.”
I could imagine the child, a year from now, racing around the townhouse, his footsteps pitter-pattering on the hardwood floors while he yelled “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” Would he understand why his mother cried so often?
She whispered something to him and then ran her index finger around his ears and under his chin. He wriggled with laughter. How I wished she’d touch me that way. She had once, years ago, the day we met. She’d called me Cam. I’d loved the nickname. She wouldn’t remember, but I’d never forget.
Someone pounded on the door. Had she locked it?
“Open the damned door, Sara!” a man yelled. Thomas, Sara’s husband. Thomas Andrew Jacbosen the Third. Big Tom. The Jerk.
Sara whirled around. Her body shuddered with fear.
“Open it, Sara, or I’ll break it down.”
I couldn’t get to the phone or I would have dialed nine-one-one.
Sara stowed the baby in the crib, secured the top button of her dress, then scurried to the door and turned the lock. The door flew open. Sara stumbled back.
Tom stormed in, his gaze livid, strands of thick hair sticking to his sweaty forehead. His hulking shoulders pressed at the seams of his coffee-stained tee-shirt. The man worked at home and rarely put on more than sweatpants and a dirty tee-shirt with some sports logo on it.
He grabbed Sara by the elbow. The narrow strap of her dress slid down her upper arm. She wrenched free and hastily pushed the strap back in place. Then she crossed her arms in front of her face.
“What the hell is wrong with you, babe?” Tom hissed. “Put your arms down. I’m not going to hit you.” He rubbed his broken nose with the back of his hand and sniffed. I’d never seen him do drugs, but I was pretty sure he did. Just because he had the III after his name didn’t make him intelligent. “When did you get home?”
“A few minutes ago.” Sara lowered her arms but the quivering fabric of her dress gave her away. She was scared. Tom had hit her before. She hadn’t called the police, but she had locked herself in a closet. “Tom…” she began and licked her lips as if the effort of putting words together was more demanding than crossing an arid desert. “I want a divorce.”
“What?” he roared. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard him speak in a loving tone to Sara. I’m not sure he ever had.
“I know what you did.”
Tom jutted a hip and folded his meaty arms across his chest. “What did I do this time, Sara?”
“No, I don’t.” He lumbered toward her, eyebrows slamming together in a frown. “You tell me.”
Sara backed up to the window, arms pinned at her sides, hands fisted into balls. “You slept with her.”
“Cassandra. You had sex. In this room.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You think I don’t know?”
“You don’t know squat.”
Sara took a defiant step forward, and every fiber inside me tightened. I wanted to help her, but I couldn’t run to her side. Hell, I couldn’t even walk.
“I may work all day, Tom,” Sara said in a controlled, decisive voice, like the one I imagined she used in court. “But I have eyes. I’ve seen the way you look at her.”
“I look at a lot of women.”
“Not like you look at her.”
“Yeah, okay, she’s pretty, I’ll grant you that.”
“She’s a cow.”
“With big tits.” Tom barked out a laugh.
“You’re a pig.”
“The Farmer in the Dell, babe.” Tom swaggered toward her, arms spread, inviting Sara to come into them. Sara didn’t go to him, and I wanted to cheer. “So what if I look, huh?” He reached out and ran his finger down Sara’s bare arm. “You sure don’t give me anything to look at, do you, babe, in these stupid, boxy dresses you wear? Where’s the hot chick I married, huh?”
Sara recoiled. The insult hit her hard.
Tom grinned, one side of his mouth rising more than the other. He knew he’d scored a point. Why didn’t Sara have confidence? She was so beautiful and intelligent. She gave of her time to the neighbors, to the community. But Tom, the heartless bastard, disregarded everything about her. Why had Sara married him? I still found that baffling. Maybe, in the beginning, she had fallen for him because he was an architect, an artist like she wished she could be. Maybe, because he worked out of the home, she thought he would be the perfect house husband, someone who would tend to the house and his job and the children, too.
Once, a long time ago, I’d heard her say she wanted more children. Tom didn’t. He’d made that clear. In fact, he demanded they hire a nanny for the baby. God forbid he change a diaper or burp the poor kid. And as for being a loving husband? Tom had become rude and dismissive to Sara. On more than one occasion, I’d heard him humiliate her. He said she didn’t have enough talent to draw stick figures. He claimed her features were too big for her face. And she was fat. She wasn’t. If anything, she was too thin. Sara never cried until Tom left the room. I admired her for that.
“So when’s dinner?” Tom said.
Standing a little taller, her shoulders squared, Sara said, “Make your own damned dinner.”
Tom grabbed her arm. “You’ll cook and you’ll like it.”
Sara pried at his fingers. “Let go of me.”
“Not until you admit you had sex with Cassandra.”
“I won’t admit anything.”
“I’ve got it on tape.”
Tom released Sara and shoved her backwards. “You’re lying.”
“No, I’m not.”
Tom looked around the room. “Where is it?” He scanned the shelf that circled the room, the one just below the new animal print border. The shelf was filled with books and stuffed toys. “C’mon, Sara, where is it?”
“I’ll show the tape to your father, Tom. He’ll cut you off. He doesn’t think a husband should cheat on his wife. He’s preached it to the pulpit, to the Senate, on the news.”
Tom’s father was a nationally recognized therapist who, because his own father had abandoned the family, had built up his career by moralizing to the nation. Family above all else. He offered no latitude for cheaters.
“Call me what you like. I’ll do it and you know I will.” Sara pivoted and crossed to the window. As she raised her hands to close it, Tom ran at her. He lunged. I tried to scream, to tell her to duck. No words came out. Nothing ever would. I was mute, trapped within a useless body. I hated my life, hated how much I had to rely on other people.
Tom boxed Sara’s ears with his hands. He grabbed her throat. Sara flailed like a rag doll for what felt, to me, like hours but could only have been seconds. She regained control of her arms and clawed at Tom’s forearms, but she wasn’t strong enough to pry his fingers from her throat. She reached out with her left arm. Her fingers struck air.
To the right, Sara. Grab the lamp. Whack him with the lamp.
As if she’d heard me, she shot an arm to the right. Her hand landed on the base of the lamp. Her fingers crawled up the stem and latched on. Sara swung the lamp at Tom. Hit him in the face. He faltered, released his grip, but within a nanosecond, he was on her again. He reeled back with a fist and punched her in the solar plexus.
Sara coughed. She stumbled. The backs of her thighs rammed into the window sill.
The baby cried a harrowing, screeching howl.
I wished I could echo his outrage. Attack, Sara, attack.
Sara glanced in the direction of the crib. Horror etched her face. As if fortified by her child’s terror, Sara pushed up and kicked at her husband. She nailed him between his legs.
Tom doubled over. He groped for Sara but missed. “I’ll kill you for that,” he said, but he fell to his knees and didn’t budge.
Was he temporarily paralyzed?
Using two hands, Sara yanked the lamp cord from the wall. In the glow of the nightlight, she gripped the cord, wound it once around each hand, and snapped it taut. The lamp swung like a heavy appendage, but that didn’t seem to bother Sara.
With teeth clenched, Sara charged Tom. She wrapped the cord around Tom’s neck and pulled tight.
Tom heaved and bucked. He scrambled to his feet, but Sara didn’t let go. She dangled like an albatross around his neck, her feet off the ground. Gagging, Tom scrabbled at the cord around his neck. Sara held on, her muscles rippling, her breathing intense, her eyes watering from the strain. Tom squeaked out his rage.
Sara remained strong, committed. Her hands turned bright red from cord as it tightened around her knuckles. She said, “You should have agreed, Tom. You should have said you’d stop sleeping with Cassandra.”
Tom gurgled something.
“Don’t defend her, Tom. She’s as guilty as you. She never should have betrayed me. I offered her my friendship. I paid her salary.” Sara’s eyes widened as a new idea came to her. “Oh, get this. I’ll tell the police she strangled you, Tom. You rejected her and she lashed out. They’ll believe me. A woman scorned. It’ll make the front page of the news.”
Tom’s knees buckled. He sank to the hardwood floor.
Sara held on fast. As her feet hit a firm surface, she spread them for balance. “I know just what photo I’ll provide.” She barked out a laugh. “Remember that time Cassandra came home drunk? I snapped a photograph in case I needed to use it when I fired her. It’ll be an open and shut case. She has no family. No one will stand up for her in court. It’ll be your fault, Tom. Happy, babe?”
Tom toppled to his left. Sara fell with him. His shoulder hit the floor with a thud. His body trapped one of Sara’s legs. She wriggled it free, released her hold, and climbed off of him.
“Tom?” Her face was slick with perspiration, her face set in a gruesome sneer. “Tom?” With two fingers, she checked for a pulse. After a long moment, she stood up, smoothed her dress, then tiptoed to the crib and peeked in.
As she reached for the baby, a blast of a siren sliced the air. Sara snapped upright. Her gaze darted around the room. She glanced at the open window. The siren’s blare quickly faded and Sara breathed easier. A crisis was occurring somewhere else in Boston. Not here. Not in her house.
Tommy let out a wail.
“Yes, sweetheart. Sweet Tommy. Mama will hold you in just a minute. Be patient.”
Sara raced to the lamp and bent down. Using the hem of her dress, she wiped her fingerprints off the base, the stem, and the cord. Next, she snatched a Kleenex from the tissue box and dabbed Tom’s neck and his face, probably removing evidence that she had fought with him. Last, she hurried to the window and closed it.
When it snapped shut, she glanced at me, a plea in her eyes.
I knew what she wanted. My silence. I loved her so much, I had to comply.
I rewound the videotape inside me, erasing as I did. The police would accept the erasure as a glitch. Nanny cameras weren’t infallible. When the task was completed, I turned off my LED light, and I went to sleep.
DARYL WOOD GERBER aka AVERY AAMES pens the Agatha Award-winning, nationally bestselling Cheese Shop Mystery series. As Daryl, she writes A Cookbook Nook Mystery series, featuring a culinary bookshop and café owner. Daryl’s short stories have been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony , and other awards. As an actress, Daryl has appeared in “Murder, She Wrote” and more. Visit Daryl & Avery at www.darylwoodgerber.com.