Nearly all the lights were on, each illuminated window a portion of his life that wasn’t hers. No movement appeared in the front; no bodies in the space between the window frames. She crept around to the back of the house, where the house pressed against the edge of the woods.
The blackberry vines were thick with ripe berries. She felt clumsy like a grizzly bear, stumbling along, hands grasping at branches like paws, biting down on her tongue.
Her intention wasn’t to be seen; it was to see.
She plucked an overripe blackberry and pressed it to her lips, bruising them purple. She dropped the crushed berry to the ground, then crouched behind a fresh cut pile of firewood and peered over the top of the pile into his office. The desk faced the window. Behind it, against the far wall in the dark, were the perfectly dusted spines of books like Tolstoy and Shakespeare, books he never read but thought he should own; the old books she’d felt against her chest where he had pinned her to the wall. She imagined the hard surface of the desk against her back.
The scratch of a record player cut through. A Sunday Kind of Love shimmered and echoed. The disturbance knocked her off kilter and tipped the top log off the pile, knocked the axe to the ground. Her reflection stared up from the sheen of the blade, dark brown hair frazzled; her face unrecognizable.
A shadow passed the backdoor. A movement down the hall, the silhouette of the woman’s sunshine hair—a halo against the forest green walls, wandered out towards the darkness.
Just the sight of the woman triggered a deep pit in her stomach.
She used to be what he did on Thursday nights, but had been replaced by this fox of a woman, smaller, sly. A nuisance, at best.
Her shoulders tensed as if they were growing, expanding, stretching out of the confines of her dress.
The woman stepped outside the back door in her bare feet, dumped a bowl of food in the compost, humming along with the music.
She stepped around the woodpile; her mouth opened wide.
The woman paused, feeling the hot air on her neck. The woman turned quickly in a circle. There was no one, only a flicker at the edge of her vision. A clump of fur tangled in the brambles, tangled in her hair.
She thought the woman’s hair was blonde, the shine of dandelions held up to pale skin, but maybe it was brown? There was no longer humming. She stared into the woods. A mirage in the dusk reflected something back at her she wished she’d never seen.
He was pulling into the driveway. He was whistling. He threw his keys on the side table inside the house and tipped his face into the vase full of sunflowers, breathing in slowly. The record player scratched off the track, cut to silence.
Down the hall, the shadows of twilight looked like deep grooves dashed down the sides of the freshly painted walls. He called for his wife, then stepped into his backyard. Cricket thoraxes formed a chorus of vibrations in the air.
Something glistened in the dual image. He turned to find his wife’s ring on the blackberry vine and plucked the diamond, as if it was ripe and his to keep.
Shilo Niziolek’s nonfiction manuscript, Fever, was a finalist and honorable mention in Red Hen Press’s Quill Prose Prize. Her work has appeared in [PANK], HerStry, Parhelion Literary Magazine, Gateway Review, among others, and is forthcoming in Juked and Pork Belly Press’s zine, Love Me, Love My Belly.
Artwork: Sarah Ann Loreth