By Patricia Harrington

Marion huddled in fear, listening to the sounds, hoping they were just figments of her imagination running wild again. She closed her eyes. Yes, that was a creak from the floorboards in the hall leading to the bedroom. She waited, eyes closed, the better to hear. Yes, that was a dresser drawer being slowly opened.

Marion was furious that Norman had chosen to be away on their anniversary. But her fury wasn’t great enough to overcome the fear flooding through her as she sat naked and shivering in the bathtub. She almost wept but bit her lip instead. Norman knew how upset she got staying in this old house alone. Her temples throbbed, and she felt one of her terrible migraines coming on.

“I have to stay calm,” she whispered, finding comfort in her own voice.

Marion knew that Norman would scold her if he were there. He was always saying that her babbling made her “sound dingier than a three-dollar bill.” But he’d told a different story when he was courting her. Then he said that it was cute the way she talked to herself all the time.

Back then, she’d thought of Norman as the strong silent type. She’d dreamed that their love would last and their marriage would be perfect, just like in the romance novels. She’d been wrong about the “strong” but right about “silent.” But at seventeen, what did she know? After they were married, Norman didn’t talk to her, just at her. He’d tell her to clean the house or yell, “For godsakes, rinse the dishes before you dry them.” Then he’d accuse her of being in “lala land again.”

Sometimes, his words hurt worse than blows. Norman had promised to mend his ways and talk to her more—and nicely. She’d promised to stop being so absentminded and quit mumbling all the time. They both had tried, but somehow their efforts hadn’t lasted long. Marion sat in the bathtub, arms crossed protectively over her breasts, afraid to move, not knowing what to do. Steam rose from the bathtub water that she’d scented with oil of lavender. The votive candles on the edge of the bathtub flickered from the wind slipping through the cracks around the window behind the clawfoot tub. The whole house had old windows in it.

Tears stung Marion’s eyes, and she said softly, “Anybody could pry the windows open. Haven’t I told Norman over and over to fix them . . . begged him? But no, he just says he’ll ‘get to it later.’”

Marion nodded, agreeing with herself about the sad truth.

She looked around the bathroom, seeking a hideaway, searching for something to defend herself with. The old, narrow bathroom held no hiding places, not even a cupboard or vanity. She didn’t move for fear that her wet hands might squeak on the side of the tub, or that the sound of her feet hitting the linoleum floor would filter through the locked bathroom door. “I did lock it,” she assured herself, just as she’d checked and locked the front and back doors before taking her bath. Anger briefly took hold of Marion again. She looked down at her carnation-red painted toenails. “How many times have I told Norman to fix the windows? A hundred? Has he ever really listened to me? No!”

Yesterday, he’d said, “Honey, nothing’s going to happen to you. You have too much imagination, always making something out of nothing. We live out in the country, and we’re not on a main road. No one’s going to rob us. I’m only going to be at the conference for two nights. I know you don’t like being alone, but it would make it way too late to come home after the awards banquet. We’ll celebrate our anniversary this weekend.”

Marion stifled a sob. “He’s at that banquet now, drinking, having a good time while I’m about to be murdered . . . probably raped and beaten.” She whispered, “Oh, my God,” and shivered again, despite the hot water.

Her headache was getting worse and making it hard for her to think. She struggled to pull herself together. She said carefully, trying to be logical, “The intruder won’t find anything of value . . . maybe Mother’s cameo brooch or the stereo. But he’ll have to walk down the hall to the living room to find it. Then he’ll pass the bathroom and wonder why the door’s closed and then he’ll want to look in.”

Marion gasped and looked at the locked door. It was all that stood between her and certain death, a painful one, she had no doubt. She pictured her bloodied and bruised body lying on the floor and Norman crying over it, saying he was so sorry he’d left her alone. She listened again, but heard nothing. The intruder wasn’t moving about.

She looked around for an object to use as a weapon. The candles were too small, though she might be able to fling hot wax in his face. She spied her White Diamond dusting powder on the shelf. She could throw it in his eyes and then run past him. But where could she run naked? The car keys were in her purse in the bedroom. Marion looked at her pantyhose and underwear on the floor where she’d dropped them. If she surprised the intruder, maybe she could slip the hose around his neck and pull the legs tight so that she cut off his wind. She looked at the bathroom sink with the gingham skirt she’d hung around it. Underneath the sink were the ugly pipes that Norman was replacing. As usual, he hadn’t finished the project. Marion straightened in the tub.

Her mind raced careened frightening images. “I must figure out what to do,” she said, willing herself to ignore the scary scenes playing in her head. She closed her eyes but then quickly opened them and glanced at the skirted sink.

“Norman’s tool kit!” she almost shouted. “He probably left it there, just as he does everything else he half starts and never finishes. He’s always leaving his tools lying around and rusting outside. Oh, why did he insist on buying this fixer-upper farmhouse? I have to suffer just because he has delusions about being a gentleman farmer. All he does is play with his tractor and talk about his ‘plans for the place.’”

Marion made a face and jerked her thoughts back to her predicament. She had no choice; she had to get out of the tub. She was pretty sure Norman kept a big wrench in his toolbox. If she got hold of the wrench, maybe she could hide behind the door, and when the intruder opened it, she’d crack his head open. Heart thumping, Marion put her hands on the rim of the tub, pulled herself up, and placed first one foot and then the other on the bathmat. She tiptoed, dripping, to the sink and pulled the skirt aside. The toolbox was there. She held her breath and listened. With shaking hands, she flipped the latches quietly and lifted the lid. She blew out her breath. The wrench was there!

Marion wrapped a towel around her and then took out the wrench. It was cold and hard in her hand, she observed rather distantly, feeling dizzy. Her hand was pale, almost translucent like a jellyfish, and she could see the bones and veins in it. She shook her head, frightened at what had just occurred. She looked at her hand again and sighed in relief. Her hand was fine, though she noticed that the nail polish on her thumbnail was chipped. But then doubts began swarming in her head like unwanted flies, and she tensed again.

Marion heard the fear in her voice, which made her situation seem even worse. “What if I don’t knock out the intruder but just make him mad? He might keep me a prisoner. Maybe he’d make me his love slave! Norman Sather, I could kill you for leaving me all alone!”

Marion covered her mouth to stifle a scream and groaned. “Why, why, why me?” She could see the intruder, a crazed killer, prowling through the house sensing that someone was in it.

Suddenly, a small ray of hope, a thought, broke through her pain and fear. She hadn’t explored all of her options.

“Even if the intruder is a killer, not a rapist, I could offer him something—someone—other than me? Maybe, he’s not looking for money. Maybe he’s a rapist and just wants sex.” She paused. “Maybe . . .just maybe, I could make him a proposition: my body for Norman’s life.

Marion pulled her chin up, her shoulders back and hitched up her towel.

She smiled as her plan unfolded and acted it out. “I’ll keep the intruder busy in bed until Norman returns in the morning.” She pictured the man as rugged, of course, masterful with her giving in to his heaving body, her moans exciting him to a fevered frenzy that consumed her with unrestrained passion. “I could beg the intruder to kill Norman and leave me. He can take any valuables. I’ll call the police afterwards and say that Norman caught the man breaking in but he got away after he hit Norman over the head.”

The whole scene unfolded so rapidly that Marion knew in her heart that it must be right and meant to be. “I’ll lie about the intruder’s description and share the insurance money with him because, of course, he’ll want something for his trouble,” she reminded herself.

Marion pressed the wrench to her chest, feeling that finally, fortune was smiling on her.

“Free! I’ll be free of Norman and of this horrid house. I’ll sell it and move back to the city and have a whole new life. I’ll find someone who truly loves me.”

Marion’s happiness dissolved, leaving her deflated, and angry. Would she have enough time to talk the intruder into her plan? Would he strike her and then leave? She had to be able to talk to him, to seduce and convince him that she had an option for him that was worthwhile. She dropped the towel she’d been clutching and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She’d have to detain him long enough, and there was one sure way to do that. She sucked in her stomach and stood sideways.

Lately, she’d hated having Norman’s callused hands groping over her body and wouldn’t even look into a mirror at her naked body. But now she did. Jutting out her breasts, fondling them so the nipples stood erect, she ran tosseled her hair, letting a strand fall over one eye. Once again, she felt desire rising, and it almost dulled her aching head.

From the corner of her eye, Marion saw the doorknob turning, and with pulse racing, she slipped beside the door, reached over and turned the lock. Then she stepped back with the wrench raised high. The door cracked opened and slowly widened. A hand appeared around the door’s edge.

Marion yanked the door open, her bosom heaving. Norman stood in the doorway staring at her. He held a bouquet of roses in one hand, a ribbon-wrapped box in the other. His eyes focused on Marion’s bare breasts, and a silly grin spread across his face. “Surprise! I’m home early, and am I glad!”

“Well, I’m not!” Marion swung the wrench with all her strength and cried, “Now, you’ll stay home.” Norman pitched to the floor, the side of his head crushed, blood seeping on the linoleum. Marion studied her husband’s crumpled body for a minute, and stepping over it, pictured the police arriving and her greeting them, distraught and hysterical. She viewed the scene as a theater critic would and decided it played well.

She held her hands to her breast and made her voice quivery, wanting just the right effect.

“Officer, I thought my husband was an intruder. He was supposed to be at a conference. I had no idea. He never said a word about coming home early.”

For a moment, Marion’s face clouded as an ugly thought surfaced. Surely, the insurance company wouldn’t put up a fuss about paying on the insurance policy. Marion contemplated the idea and then shrugged it off, reminding herself that Norman’s death was just an unfortunate accident.

She looked down at his body again and slowly realized that her headache was gone.