Continued from: Earworm: Part 60 — Need for Remedy
Emily’s heart plunged to her stomach. Her husband sat on the couch in his usual way. Feet up, legs crossed on the coffee table, hands folded on his belly, eyes staring at the television set. But the fact that the television wasn’t on was not the only thing askew with this picture. Emily regarded her husband’s staring, purple-ringed eyes. They glowed as if lit by some internal luminance, like an insect’s. She thought this might be caused by the mid-afternoon light streaming in from the front window, or maybe his eyes were so wide that she never noticed that much of their whites before. But it was more than that. His eyes burned with an intensity she never saw before… in anyone. She began to back up, a step at a time, hoping Glenn was too deep in his… thoughts—it didn’t seem like thoughts, more like some festering mood never given a classification, a kind of hopeless rage—to notice she was there, but his voice stopped her.
“What are you doing to me?” he said, his eyes never leaving the blank television screen, his body without the slightest movement. Emily was unsure if he was talking to her or talking to the television. “What’re you two like witches or something?” It didn’t sound like Glenn’s voice. It had the potential danger of a bear trap about to spring, and Emily decided she would have to cut through the dining room to reach the stairs. A slight detour to leave that bear trap alone.
She needed to get her money. And more importantly, she needed to get William.
Glenn then said, “I’ve seen you and that girl sneaking off into the woods around the bridge, dancing around fires, you little pagan whores with your demon pimps.” Glenn still didn’t move a muscle. His words seeping from him like the sulfur stench from a fissure. “You guys just dancing and laughing and chanting your spells and… I can feel you in my head.” Glenn’s gaze flashed onto her. It was like viewing a statue opening its eyes, and Emily gasped, her blood reaching absolute zero. Still, through some animalistic instinct, she stayed focused on her task, to get her son out of the house. Maybe she was somehow prepared for this moment by months of watching her husband’s slow, mental decline. Or maybe it was because she knew that Glenn was terrified of her. And why wouldn’t he be? But the true reason she remained focused was her single-minded instinct as a mother.
“Glenn, I need to leave for a time,” Emily said. Her voice eerily calm. “And I’m going to take William with me.”
Should she have said that?
Glenn didn’t respond. He just returned his attention to the blank television screen and sat still. Emily backed out of the living room, never taking her eyes from her husband, and then she darted through the dining room with the frantic speed of a mouse in a maze. She made it to the stairs, and as she placed her foot on the first riser, she caught a glimpse of Glenn—still sitting as if part of the couch—before fleeing up the steps. Should she grab William first, or should she risk getting the cash from her music box? Her cousin, Greta, had given the music box to her when they were young. The thing didn’t work anymore, but Emily never had the heart to let it go. When Emily decided to start squirreling away the cash, she removed the music box’s gears to create a false bottom. Emily needed that money. She wasn’t going to run far on credit, especially when the credit cards were all in Glenn’s name. She doubted he would sponsor her flight.
Was that what this was, a flight? Funny, because it felt more like desertion. But she loved Starling. She needed to run from this life. She needed to run from that look in Glenn’s eyes.
The look I created, she thought, barely realizing she’d floated into her bedroom on numb feet—knowing how Jesus must have felt walking on water.
She whisked into her closet and dug the music box from beneath an intentional tangle of old clothing. She flipped the music box open, popped out the plastic ballerina—the figure’s paint chipped from years of pointless spinning—and knocked out the false bottom. She took the faded tens and twenties and tossed aside the box, stepping from the closet, starting for the door with money in fist. She stopped. Glenn stood in the bedroom’s doorway, head buried in the crook of his elbow, forearm leaning against the jam as if counting to begin a game of hide-and-seek. With his face hidden, he said, “What’s that? Whore money?” Emily regarded the man in the doorway. A man looking as if weeping into his arm, sounding as if lost in a dream. But she knew better. He was lost in reality. She reviewed her options, which came in frantic scenarios. Fight her way past him? Talk her way out? Or should she ask him to start counting and give her a head start?
Ready or not, here I come.
But what about her son? She wasn’t leaving without William.
“Glenn,” Emily said in her over-calm voice, “I’m going to go now… and I’m taking William with me.”
“Mm-hm,” he mused in a sopping voice. Was he crying? Emily took a tentative step, forgetting about the money clenched in her hand—“whore money,” as Glenn called it, but actually the cashed-in change she saved since childhood in a water-cooler jug—her sole intention to get her son, and get away from this man’s warped mind. And who warped that mind? Who walked him down that path? Emily and Starling thinking it a joke to noodle around in her husband’s mind. It was a childish game no one thought would come to harm. Emily thinking the man-hunting deer dream—Starling’s idea—was especially funny. Emily justifying this… torture? Bullying? As liberation from Glenn’s possessiveness. But Emily knew it was really revenge for the wasted years she spent pretending—be fair, believing—she loved him. Now, Emily was faced with taking responsibility for the mind she’d warped. She regarded the man she’d seen almost every day for the past seemingly countless years, but who now stood before her as a man she barely recognized. She took another step forward. Then stopped. Gauging his reaction, the pendulum swing of her will providing her with intense courage one moment, only to steal it away the next. She tried to hold onto that final upswing and ride it forward through the hellish tollbooth in the doorway. The image of William lying in his crib rose in her mind, and she sucked in her breath, creeping forward like someone trying not to wake a snoring guard dog. It occurred to her that she might be able to step right past him. He didn’t seem aware that she was even there. Or that he was even there for that matter. And with a fleeting flash of nausea, she realized he probably thought he was dreaming at that moment. He was leaning against that doorjamb, probably trying to wake himself up. She continued forward, turning her body to squeeze past him, watching his shoulders rise and fall in slow, deep waves, stopping, gathering the courage to make the final squeeze past him.
Without peeking from behind his arm, Glenn struck Emily’s hand, and the money spilled from her grasp. She watched the bills flutter away like gulls scattering for scraps.
“I feel you in my head,” he said. “You crawl around in there, somehow poisoning me. I can feel it in my body, running through my veins.” He spoke in a voice both desperate and direct. “You’re not going to steal my boy, you and that other witch. You in her head too? Is that how you do it? Or is she in your head? Or…” his eyes rose to the ceiling as if never noticing it before, “are you both able to do it? Couple of minions for the devil are ya? Because I can feel his hand in this. You see, I can feel the evil blanketing this world, and it spews from you. You and that girl next door. I’ve been watching you, just like you’ve been watching me in my dreams.” His eyes returned to her. “I can see right through you.”
“I’m leaving, Glenn,” Emily said. She spoke in a steady, almost reassuring way.
He looked around the room as if expecting answers to be written on the walls. Tears filled his eyes and a heart-wrenching sob broke from deep inside him. He now seemed less like the bear trap and more like the animal caught in it. “Why?” he said. His voice was so full of breath, it came out as a whistling whisper.
“I need to go. I’ve been living your life, not mine.”
“I thought it was our life,” he whined, and for a moment, Emily spotted the face of the man she married shine through the mask of the broken man he’d become.
“I don’t love you,” she said, touching his arm. “I thought I did, but there was supposed to be more. You still have the familiar comforts of your life. I don’t. I need to find my place, that’s all.” She squeezed his arm. He didn’t respond. He stared at the far wall, his shoulders continuing to rise and fall in their slow, steady waves.
Emily gathered up the money from the floor and with a final look at her husband, she walked out the bedroom door.
But she never actually made it out that door. She wasn’t sure when it happened—there was no quick movement or motion—Glenn’s hand simply appeared on her arm. She stared at it for a moment, like a person trying to banish a hallucination, and then she looked into his face. Some horrific Kabuki mask had replaced his features. The distant, stone glare of a man treading water between reality and the askew plane only visited when sleeping.
“So how’d the two of you do it—robbing me?” He nodded to the bills on the floor. “Robbing me of my money, of my pride, my honor, the two of you stealing into my mind?” His voice rose into a deep growl. His pupils floating in an ocean of white, his eyes still seemingly glowing. “And now you think you’re taking my son?”
Emily tried to wrench from his grip, the calmness of her voice breaking into frenzied screeches, “Let go of me. I told you, I’m leaving.” The sound of her panicked voice bringing wails from William’s bedroom, her child’s cries reinvigorating her desperation to reach him. They needed to escape. Starling had bought Dano’s van, and she was waiting at the bridge to begin their run west to Vegas or California. But Emily’s hopes were quickly airbrushed away, fading into streaked, blurring smears. She not feeling the vice-grip of Glenn’s hands. Feeling no pain as he slammed her body against walls and furniture. And the inarticulate ranting of the man beating her was white noise. She heard only the shrieks of her child, and she fought, relying on her will as a mother to reach him. But she was up against a stronger will. The will of insane hatred. She clawed and gnashed, but the blind strength of her husband—a man whose mind she had a hand in collapsing—overpowered her. She tried to fight her way off the floor, not even noticing the flashes of light each time Glenn’s fists rained down on her.
When Glenn finished his beating of her, he stood up. Emily struggled to find her feet. She looked up at her husband, and in a detached, onlooker sort of way, she watched him rock and topple the armoire—the one her grandmother had left her. The armoire falling in a slow, timbering arc. And in a calm, reassuring manner, she thought, That didn’t just happen. Even as the armoire crushed her ribs and back, her mind still insisted she was going to get her child, she was going to drive west with Starling. And then Emily lay alone for an unknown span of time. Her broken body hemorrhaging. Her mind floating in a blurry, hazy daze. But true panic only frothed, like the spray of a crashing tide, when she saw the looming form of her husband fill her vision, the flash of a steel blade, and Emily could no longer distinguish between her son’s wails and her own.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 62 — Face Off
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