The Other Wife hangs in a tarnished frame on Lucinda’s mother-in-law’s dining room wall, lovely in her white lace.
“When are you having a child?” says Lucinda’s mother-in-law.
“It’s not polite to ask,” says Lucinda’s husband.
“We’re trying,” says Lucinda, dropping her eyes from the photograph, setting her fork down.
“It’s been three years,” says her mother-in-law.
“We’re trying,” Lucinda says again, and when the clock strikes seven thirty-one, she says, “excuse me,” to her husband, to his mother, her heart thrumming.
Lucinda locks the bathroom door. She taps her silver bracelet against the sink six times. She opens one drawer and closes it. She opens another, and another, and another, and closes each one, each time.
She bends underneath the sink and feels the soft, mildewed cupboards. She finds hydrogen peroxide and cotton swabs. She finds bandages. And in the back of the left cupboard, she finds the box cut from evergreen.
She stares a moment longer than her ritual requires.
Lucinda knows this box intimately. She has one just like it. She has never reached for it, until today. Today she will open the box.
Lucinda tucks her head under the cupboard to grasp it. It has the weight of a large stone, engraved with her husband’s other wedding date, October third. She runs her fingers over the engraving. Today is their anniversary.
When Lucinda opens the box, she finds a finger.
It is a ring finger, peculiar and translucent. A silver wedding band wraps around its base.
Lucinda touches it and a coolness seeps into her palm. She touches it again. She cannot stop herself from touching it. It is unreal. It is real. It is the Other Wife, in her palm.
Lucinda is wetter that night than she’s ever been. Her husband slips inside her easily. After he comes, they turn off the lights, and Lucinda lies awake in the darkness, thinking of the finger as her husband’s semen runs down her inner thigh. It excites her to have something of the Other Wife’s. It is precious, fragile.
As her husband lies still, Lucinda creeps downstairs, the ring box in her hands. She steals a spoon from the silverware drawer and leaves it hanging open, so as not to wake her husband. She slips boots over her long johns.
The night is crisp and clear. The ground is matted with droppings and felled crab apples. They are the path to the skeleton wood. There are only bare trees, gnarled and familiar. Lucinda sees them each morning as she makes her coffee. She has studied their branches and claws.
Under their canopy, Lucinda digs a grave with the silver spoon. When the grave is sufficiently deep, she opens the ring box. The finger shines, waxen and gossamer. She sets it inside the grave and peers down upon it like a mother. It will be safe for you here, Lucinda thinks. She leans close and breathes in its dankness, ripe with worms and mushroom tendrils. The finger blushes and grows.
Lucinda pushes earth into the grave, completing the spell. She leaves the spoon behind, to mark its place.
In the morning, Lucinda sips her coffee at the table, staring at the utensil drawer, gaping open like a mouth. Her charms, satisfied from the night before, slumber inside her fingertips. She has no urge to close it.
When her husband awakes for breakfast, Lucinda feeds him three eggs with orange yolks. He leaves for work, and she leaves the soiled pan in the sink. She stares at the trees through the window, where it is warm and safe.
Then a shadow appears, as if the wind carried it all the way to Lucinda’s window. The trees fade into the horizon like ghosts.
Lucinda shuts the blinds. Her belly is cool with dread. The shadow lingers in front of the window. The kitchen becomes night.
Her voice is raw, as if she swallowed firewood. “I know you’re there,” the Other Wife says.
“Yes,” whispers Lucinda. She is woozy, enchanted. “I’ll invite you in for coffee.”
She twists her legs together and leans closer to the window. She is terribly curious about the Other Wife, about her likes and dislikes. Many times she has wondered what the Other Wife eats, what she cooked for their husband, what spirits she drinks.
She is finally here.
“I’ll meet you by the silver spoon,” the Other Wife says.
“Yes, of course,” says Lucinda, to a shadow that’s already gone.
Lucinda washes her face in the sink, scrubbing her lips clean of coffee stain. She combs her fingers through her hair. She removes her wedding ring from her shaking hand and sets it atop the soap dish before she opens the backdoor.
The sun is hidden behind the clouds, and the wood is fragrant and humid. Lucinda finds the Other Wife beside the grave, the silver spoon in her bony hands. She is taller than Lucinda had imagined. Her skin is colorless, and her lips are taupe brown with a blue sheen, as if she painted them with crushed moth wings. Her blonde hair is waist length, tangled. Lucinda wants to reach out and touch it, like she touched the finger. She takes a step closer toward the Other Wife.
“Why did you bury me?” the Other Wife asks, twisting the spoon in her hands.
A sourness creeps into the back of Lucinda’s throat.
“It was only your severed finger,” Lucinda explains. “I wanted to keep it safe.”
“You didn’t give it back,” says the Other Wife. “Instead, you did you charms. You put it in the ground. Now it’s no longer mine.”
“I didn’t know where to find you. We can dig it up,” Lucinda starts to say, but the Other Wife shakes her head. “I buried it, that’s all,” Lucinda whimpers. “I’m not the one who cut it off.”
The Other Wife squeezes the silver spoon until it bends in half, and Lucinda feels the lump in her throat blossom. She taps her right leg six times with her right hand. She taps her left leg six times with her left.
“What we don’t repair, we repeat,” says the Other Wife. She holds out the spoon. Lucinda takes it, her fingertips wet on metal. She feels numb, water-light.
The Other Wife wields a knife from the back pocket of her molded jeans. She steps toward Lucinda with her off-balanced gait.
Lucinda gives the Other Wife her left hand, because the air has changed, and the charm has begun.
I am a bride again.
The Other Wife’s touch is a barb. Lucinda gasps as her ring finger is propositioned and cut. She is exhilarated, as her finger falls atop the grave mound, yellow-white, jutting dark grey bone. The grave mound bulges and swallows it. The grave mound bulges and grows.
Her blood drips and nourishes the earth. Sunlight spears through the trees.
We are the same now, Lucinda thinks, as the Other Wife touches her shoulder.
“Look,” she says.
Lucinda looks down.
One small, perfect hand made of two conjoined fingers breaks the surface.
With her bleeding hand, Lucinda reaches. The Other Wife wraps herself around Lucinda’s waist. Together, they pull their child up from the grave.
Patricia Lundy is a writer based in Los Angeles. Her short fiction has appeared in Rosebud Magazine, Strange California, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s currently working on a novel for young adults. When she’s not writing, you can find her re-reading a Shirley Jackson novel. Reach her on twitter @SomthngEldritch.
Artwork: Natalia Drepina