"My hairbrush is gone again," she said, through a mouthful of bobby pins.
"Hmm?" He wasn't really paying attention to anything but the squat glass in front of him, squarish and green with numerous imperfections, cradled in his hands with a pool of slowly warming, caramel-colored whiskey nestled in its base.
"My brush. You know how I just bought another because I thought I'd lost the first? Well, this one's gone, too, and--"
She was off on another tirade, probably about the maid service or his brother or any stupid thing. I could see the careful lack of expression on his face from my hiding place in the corner. I remembered that expression. I knew it well from all the times I tried to speak to him as soon as he returned from the office. She was fighting a losing battle here. I could almost feel sorry for her. Almost.
She stabbed the last pin into her chignon and kept talking. It's really quite marvelous, I think, that he keeps picking these tiny tank-like girls, who are so adamant in their organization and their requirements for attention. Do they remind him of me? I don't think I was ever quite so needy, but they say everyone is blind to their own faults until we see them in others.
"And then Elizabeth said that she'd seen a girl who said that her cousin used to work for you and your second wife, the banker, right? Anyway, this cousin said that your second wife's belongings went missing in the exact same ways while she worked here, I think she said her name was Maria? Well, they're all named Maria, aren't they? And you switched maid services and she lost her job, yes, another sob story but I was wondering..."
Was that all in one breath? He's not even looking in her direction and she's talking like she'll be paid by words per minute.
Finally he looks up from his drink and I come out from behind the vanity. I know he sees me. He always has. His hands tighten around the glass, nearly hard enough to break it, and he tosses off the last swallow of whiskey in a rush. When he sets his glass down, hard, on the corner table, I drift over to stand next to him. I smile at him, and staring deep into his blue eyes, I begin to unbutton my dress, the high neck and ribbon collar sweeping down over my collarbone, the livid rope burn still standing out like a brand on my pale skin. It undulates like a finger of seaweed in a tidal pool with my silent laughter, moving up and down across my vocal cords.
It does still hurt, God knows why, but it's all worth it, every long night of moving stupid things around, all these years of having to stay so close to the man who threw me off the twenty-third floor with a nylon rope knotted clumsily around my neck.
It's all worth it, then, because his jaw tightens and in the next instant he interrupts her neverending flow of words and questions to bark, "I don't believe in ghosts." He's still looking at the mark around my neck and the best part is, she wasn't even talking about her missing hairbrush anymore, she's moved on to the weekend's social flurry, and now she looks as if she's wondering if the stories might be true. If the suicide of his first wife might have driven him a little crazy. Or if the other stories are true, and it wasn't a suicide at all.
I steal a couple of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and touch him on the back of his neck. He jumps slightly, and the sweat starts to bead on his temples.
"I'm going to the bar," he says, cutting her off again, and nearly running for the front door. She just stands there with her well-bred little mouth clamped shut, and I pick up a lighter from the hall table, because after all I've been through? At least I don't have to worry about lung cancer.