“Thank you for meeting with us again Mrs. Hamilton.” The detective said kindly.
“Of course. Though, I thought this was a classic, ‘husband ditches wife but doesn’t have the guts to tell her ’kind of case.” I let out a sarcastic laugh. “Unless do you have a lead?” I inquired.
Detective Raymer cleared his throat uncomfortably. “No, we still don’t know where he is. Honestly, we’re just doing our due diligence since his mother requested a full missing persons investigation.” I nod and clutch the scalding coffee cup in my hands.
“Since we’re being honest,” I start, he conspiratorially leans forward. “An awful part of me hopes we uncover another reason. Maybe he didn’t actually want to leave me.” I admit. He sighs and slowly bobs his head.
“I know it’s not easy. But if you wouldn’t mind signing this …” he slides a small stack of papers toward me along with a pen. “Just some documents stating that you’re approving the questioning and we can get started.” I smile amiably and pick up his pen.
I busied myself in the prized peonies Marcus and I planted together years ago. They’re really thriving this year. Marcus’ theory worked. Claiming we had to shock the roots to get them to produce more. We worked on them together but he’s been gone for three months.
“Want some tea honey?” Mariam called from the back door. Marcus’ mother and I used to butt heads all the time. Now, she clings to me like I’m her only lifeline. It’s a nice, surprising development. I nodded as I brushed the soil off my hands, joining her in my kitchen. I scrubbed the dirt from my nails under the running faucet until I heard the glass shatter. Startled, I looked to see Mariam gasp with a hand over her mouth, the other still clutched the pitcher of tea. I followed her gaze to my front door and lost my breath as I saw who stood inside the threshold. The open screen door still grasped in his hand with the setting sun shining like a halo over his head.
Mariam wasted no time as she crossed the dining room to greet Marcus in just a few steps. Her arms circled around her mountain of a son. She looked like a child clutching a parent though it was the other way around. Marcus’ eyes didn’t leave mine and his left hand didn’t leave the door handle as he slowly wrapped his free arm around his mother.
“You’re back!” Mariam cried heaving with sobs into his chest.
“I, I didn’t even know I left.” Marcus said with a slow, hollow voice. Still his eyes didn’t leave mine. I should have been ecstatic. I should have been relieved that my husband returned. I should have run to him just as his mother did. Grasped him tightly in my arms and cried as I kissed his face asking where he had been, checking if he was unscathed. I was dimly aware of the faucet still running behind me as my gaze slipped to his hand on the screen door. Particularly to his ring finger; the sun refracting off the gold of his wedding band like a beacon. My hand slowly slipped into the pocket of my joggers as I wrapped my fingers around the wedding band that rested there. Marcus’ wedding band. The sun’s glare on the ring was a beacon. One of warning. This man, this prodigal son, was not my husband.
It took Mariam a while to calm down and stop crying and she left for her house after placing a loving hand on her son’s cheek. Again, his eyes didn’t leave mine as she did so. Now, I was surreptitiously watching Marcus fill out paperwork to reinstate his credit cards at the table. His left hand worked adeptly as the pen flew over the page. His wedding band taunted me. He glanced up with a quick, reassuring smile as he moved to the other room. I swiftly stalked to the table to view his handiwork. His handwriting was exactly the same as it always was. Smooth curving strokes over the letters of his signature with jagged spikes in all the right places. Except, Marcus was right-handed, and this perfect replica was done with this man’s left hand.
I stood in the shower trying to soothe my overstimulated nerves. I ran through all the differences, as I did multiple times since he arrived. The ring. The fact that he suddenly became left-handed … There were many other oddities too. He would lay on my side of the bed instead of his. Once he watched a television show in French, laughing as though he understood every word. Marcus doesn’t speak French! His second day home I placed a pickle spear on his plate as a test. He claimed he was allergic to them. Although he had a few allergies, I thought this would be a harmless enough test. He would never touch them before, but that day, he bit into it with rigor and a smile as he thanked me for the meal, showing no sign of disgust or discomfort. Later that afternoon he set up my paints by the dining room window and took to painting our prized peony patch he could view from where he perched. My Marcus didn’t have an artistic bone in his body. The flowers this man had painted though, looked as if they were alive. Vibrant pinks and soft whites blended together to form petals that seemed so real I could pluck them gently from the canvas one by one playing a game of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’. “This Marcus is mine; this Marcus is not.” … “This Marcus is not mine!” The accuracy of the flowers was so painfully beautiful I grew sick every time I saw the completed painting that now hung over the bed on our bedroom wall.
I sighed and turned off the shower. I was gaunt, unable to sleep or really stomach food since this man arrived in my home. I stepped out of the shower but froze at the sight of him standing in the door frame. I was certain I closed that door, but it now stood wide open. The mountainous imposter lingering with a hollow look on his face.
“Do you know where I was?” he asked, almost insidiously. I jumped and clutched the towel tightly around my chest. “I’m just trying to…fill in the gaps, you know?” He added a little softer, seemingly to placate my timorous reaction. I mustered up my courage and gently pushed past him, retreating into the bedroom, no longer trapped by him in the bathroom.
“Where were you when you decided to come here?” I countered, hoping to gain answers of my own. He just sighed and slid his hands into his pockets. His gaze slid to the peony painting he created. I shuddered at the reminder of his perfidious new talent.
“You should finish getting ready, my mother will be here soon,” was all he said. I had forgotten she was throwing a welcome home party for Marcus here this afternoon. She didn’t notice anything off and would quickly dismiss my doubts when I expressed them.
Our house was bustling with old friends a short time later. None of them seemed to notice anything off. None of them questioned where he went, or how he suddenly reappeared with no recollection of being gone. It was so strange, their inherent acceptance. I began to start contemplating conspiracy theories as to how an imposter was suddenly in my home. Was he an alien implant? Did I fail to be mined controlled? Or was the reason something far more nefarious, was this Marcus, something else?
I was refilling a charcuterie board as I jumped at the knock at the front door. Marcus slid behind me with a soft chuckle. “You’re so jumpy, Sammy.” He accused with a laugh. I was on edge with my body stuck in fight or flight mode. Marcus smiled at his boss in greeting as he appeared on the other side of the front door. He beckoned me over to join him, which I did. The doting wife I was supposed to be, my spine rigid. I slid on a strained smile in greeting. “Sammy, you remember Mr. Carlisle.” Marcus said as reintroduction.
“Call me Jim, please.” Mr. Carlisle said as I took his outstretched hand in greeting.
“And this must be your wife, it’s nice to finally meet you.” Marcus said, reaching a handout to the beautiful brunette standing next to her husband. My head snapped to Marcus’ direction.
“You’ve met! That’s Angela. We met her during the Christmas party last year.” I reminded him. Hoping to shine a light on his falsehood, but Mr. Carlisle frowned.
“This is Angela, yes. However, she and I didn’t make it to the Christmas party this last year my dear.” He corrected me.
“That’s right,” Angela cooed and cozied up to her husband’s side. “Jim and I renewed our vows in Bora Bora at that time. It was so lovely.” She reminisced. “Oh, these are for you. We’re so happy to have an asset such as Marcus returned to us and thank you for inviting us into your home.” She passed a bouquet of peonies in full bloom in my direction. It was too much; all of this was too much. She can’t be right. I took a jolted step away from the door. My breaths were harder and harder to control as my heart started to race.
“I’m sorry, I just….” I heaved a breath, panic sweeping in. “I just need a moment.” I sped to the bathroom as swiftly as my feet would carry me. I vomited what little I had eaten and clutched the toilet.
“Maybe you should see a doctor, dear.” Mariam said, sipping a glass of lemonade outside hours later. Everyone had left and I was kneeling before my peony patch, trying to ground myself in the soil. I reached for the shears in my gardening tote close by my side to prune dead leaves from the stalks. Clean cuts were always best, opposed to pulling the leaves from the stalks. I hadn’t left the bathroom until the final visitor left, aside from Marcus’ mother but who knows when she would leave. “It is a wonderful thing; his return.” She continued between sips. “Perhaps you suffer from some type of abandonment trauma or something. I’m not a shrink.” Her eyes narrowed on me in judgment. “But you need help.” I didn’t respond.
“I can call and schedule an appointment tomorrow if you’d like.” Marcus supplied as he joined us outside. That finally broke my silence as anger slid over my body in steely resolve.
“Me? Schedule an appointment for me? You’re the one who mysteriously disappeared and returned completely different. Yet I’m the one who needs to see a therapist?” I seethed.
“Oh Sammy, you’re being dramatic and unreasonable. These inexactitudes you’re imagining are really becoming a problem!” Miriam said as she set her glass down.
“Honestly Sammy, I think you should-OUCH!” Marcus exclaimed as he smacked his hand.
“What happened honey?” Mariam asked as she quickly got to her feet.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Sorry. Just a bee sting.” Marcus said, brushing her off.
“I’ll go get you an ice cube.” Mariam said with a smile and started toward the house.
Marcus stood still as a statue. Eyes boring into me while I scrutinized him. I looked down to his hand. Sure enough, just above his gleaming wedding ring was an angry red bump and a bee lay dead in the grass beside him.
Mariam emerged from the kitchen; ice wrapped in a towel in her hand. Neither Marcus nor I moved.
“What’s the matter?” Miriam asked as she came to a stop before Marcus. He stayed terrifyingly silent. Allowing me to supply the facts.
“If you recall, Mariam … my husband, your son, has always been deathly allergic to bees.” My eyes slid to my gardening tote where the EpiPen that we always kept handy was still stashed.
Time seemed to slow as the three of us stood at an awkward standoff. Marcus and I remained with our eyes locked on each other while Mariam looked confused.
Finally, she laughed. “Such suspense!” She crowed. “He must have grown out of it! His hand isn’t even swelling.” Sure enough, you could barely tell that he was stung.
“That’s because this isn’t Marcus.” I finally said out loud. A rush of relief flooded over me for finally expelling the truth. The impostor didn’t move.
“You’re just being-” Mariam started but I cut her off.
“It isn’t him and I can prove it!” I continued maniacally. I could still feel Mariam’s judgmental eyes burning into me as I pulled Marcus’ wedding ring from my pocket and held it up to shine in the light of the sun.
“What is that?” Miriam asked quietly.
“It’s Marcus’ wedding ring.” I stated. She glanced from my fingers to the ring still gleaming on the man who was not Marcus’ hand.
“Obviously it’s not.” She declared, bringing her hand to her chest in a condescending laugh. The imposter remained unmoving.
“Oh, I know it is because I removed it from Marcus’ hand as he died. Just before I buried him under the peonies!” I hysterically pointed at the peony patch with my shears, still holding the wedding band up to the sky in my other hand.
“You … did what?” Mariam whispered as she slunk to her knees. The imposter’s shoulders seemed to slump a little in resignation, but I was too crazed now to care.
“He told me he was leaving me Mariam!” I pleaded as I got to my feet, now pointing the shears at the man who wasn’t Marcus. “He was leaving me for Angela! His boss’ wife. They’d been dating for months!” I waited for her to react, to send an accusing glance in the direction of the imposter, something to show her surprise but she just stared at me with horror on her face, so I continued dumbfounded.
“He told me they were running away together.” I fell to my knees. “And when the bee stung him, I watched him fall. I watched as his face started to swell and I slid his ring off his finger before he swelled too big. I could have reached for the EpiPen, but I wanted to hold onto it. The last shred of our marriage.” I cradled the ring in my hand. “So, he’s under there now. He would have liked it that way.” I glanced lovingly at the peonies.
“Samantha Hamilton, you are under arrest for the murder of your husband Marcus Hamilton.” The feeling of tight, cold handcuffs jolted me back to the present.
“Mmm?” I mumbled.
“You just gave your confession.” Detective Raymer said curtly. He had a completely different demeanor than before. Before … I glanced at his hands as he wrapped up the cords from some device. “You agreed to Augmented Reality questioning.” He motioned to the stack of papers I just signed. They placed suspects into a virtual simulator to force them into a confession or prove their innocence. The suspects still had to acquiesce to it though, and catching a guilty suspect off guard to coerce them to sign is possibly the best trick they can manage. Mariam must have requested it. That bitch always had it out for me.
“It’s all recorded here.” He tapped the device.
“Do you have anything you’d like to say?” He wasn’t asking me. A light went on illuminating another officer with Mariam. She was crying, but there was venom in her eyes. At least I wouldn’t have to stare into those damning eyes again, though I was sure they would haunt me forever. It’s not as though I killed him. I just didn’t stop him from dying.
“Don’t let them destroy the peonies when they dig up the body!” I shouted as Detective Raymer escorted me out of the room.
“Marcus would want them to survive!”
Biography: Patience is pursuing a degree in Elementary education and Aims was her first choice to begin accomplishing her goals. She has had a passion for writing fiction since she was a young girl, but the demands of academia took its toll. As she has slowly gotten accustomed to a hectic schedule, writing for fun has begun to be an enticing premise again. Patience runs a house that may be considered more of a zoo with three beta fish, a hamster, a gecko, two parakeets, three chickens, one Great Dane and three phenomenal sons. It may not be a quiet life, but it’s a beautiful adventure that she gets to embark on every day.