Apprehension thickens the already tense atmosphere in the room. I look around. I’m not alone – as usual. But somehow, I feel desolate.
There is a their side and our side. Our side is hushed with an occasional fumble in a handbag. Both sides have monitor screens and cameras and I know somewhere out there is someone observing every move in here. I’m not sure if that is a consolation or a concern.
The other side is empty now, but muffled voices behind closed doors belie the quiet scene. Footsteps echo from bare passages. Although I know the rules, my palms are sweaty. I also know today will be the last I ever set foot here.
My mind chooses an escape to another time.
Everyone was happy then, I thought. Our journey together started the proper way. We followed the pattern. We met, courted, fell in love and got married. I worked as the provider and every day when I arrived home, she was there. It was all so orderly and normal. The house was spotless, nothing out of place.
Every day she waited for me with the same smile and the same kiss and the same
“How was your day, Sweety?” I was content.
Why wasn’t she? What went wrong? Or was it always there and I never noticed?
Maybe the towels didn’t have to be folded exactly that way, but it was a small effort to keep her happy. Or maybe the magazines could have looked as nice without being arranged alphabetically; later it was just easier for me not to read. That was also why I had my own coffee mug hidden under the sink, so as not to disturb the rows of mugs – ears all pointing in the same direction like soldiers on parade. Yes, I managed to make it easier for her.
Until the day they came to fetch me from work. Two stern men in suits. I thought something had happened to her. I was wrong. Everything changed that day, most of all – her.
Crunching keys in overused locks startle me back to the present. Chains scrape in rhythmic unison with shuffling feet on shiny floors. A wordless prayer sprouts from my heart to any entity listening, “Please let her be reasonable today.”
I breathe deep with her every approaching step. It seems to work, because by the time she sits down, I’m calm. Almost indifferent, I observe surprised. Relieved. Indifference is painless.
“Have you missed me?” the sneer comes from behind cracked lips. Pain jumps back at the memory of once kissing those lips, alluring then. She wisps the once sun-kissed hair over her shoulder. Her cold eyes focus on my face; her voice is husky. Cigarette smoke hangs between us, swirling around the metal bars and gratefully diluting other bodily odors. I cannot muster the smile I was planning and merely wipe my eyes. “I used to,” I say instead.
I used to believe she was innocent too.
I used to love her.
I used to think she was beautiful.
I used to hope it was all a misunderstanding.
I used to think the nightmare would end.
“What can I entertain you with today, Sweety?” She cups a breast buried in heavy uniform fabric, suggestively shrugging her shoulders. She laughs roughly at my wince. I look away, finding the pen and open the document I have on my lap.
Her eyes narrow. She leans back and put her feet on the bars between us, dismissing me. I see the guard approaching, baton ready. So does she. She drops down and hisses, “You can go fuck yourself!” I pretend not to hear and surprise myself with a calm and collected appeal, “I can’t come back again for this. Ever. Please just sign it.”
“Don’t you first want to know WHY I did it?” she asks, almost coquettishly.
The guard taps the baton on his folded arms. “We are running out of time” I sigh.
“Just sign the divorce papers. And NO! I don’t want to know. It‘s bad enough to know you actually did it. It’s unthinkable that innocent children had to suffer. It is absurd to know I NEVER knew…” my voice trails off. I feel the familiar strangling choke I experience every day and every night since she was arrested.
I feel my stomach heaving. I know sooner or later I’m going to vomit, but I can’t stop my outburst. “They are still digging up bodies.” I manage to get out, barely audible. “It has been months and still distressed parents must identify little mangled corpses!”
I swallow. Bile sits between my voice and my guts. Bitterness is hard to control, whether physical or emotional. My emotions are now unstoppable, the revulsion pours out, “Innocent children on their way back from school … you lured them into OUR kitchen! Then you processed and packed them as if they were chicken pieces, ready to be packed for consumption.” My head jerks up at the thought.
My eyes meet hers with equal chill. But horror replaces mine when she averts her stare to inspect her short nails casually. “Yes”, she says conversationally, like it is a matter of sunshine or rain. “And then I buried them in the park across the road! Teeheehee.”
I recoil at her giggle. “You are sick!” I managed through gritted teeth.
She shook her head in disbelief, “No, I didn’t bury them myself, Silly! It was soooooo easy to find helpers. You know the municipal gardeners come every Tuesday and every Thursday? Two days a week. So convenient.”
She is done studying her nails and leans closer, nose almost touching the bar. As if confiding in me. “They believed me when I told them it was a biodegradable bag full of lovely compost. So every Tuesday and Thursday they would nourish their precious plants by burying my donation amongst the shrubs.”
The casualness overrides all my willpower. The envelope is still on my lap and I reach it just in time. With my stomach settled, I wipe my mouth on my sleeve and put the envelope carefully in the bin meant for tissues. “And at the time we discussed the horrors of serial killers and the incompetence of the police!”
The document gains a few more marks as I sob.
“All I want is to have nothing to do with you, forever – sign this NOW!”
She makes a small sucking sound between her teeth, smiles and grabs the pen. The guard steps closer. She scribbles dutifully and flicks each page to me glancing innocently at the guard.
I’m exhausted, but feel relief wash over me as the guard taps the clock on the wall and announces solemnly, “Time.”
I gather myself and the messed up pages. In a very calm almost serene voice, she says: “Get a grip on yourself, Sweety. It is very untidy for a man to weep. Or to throw up in public. Oh, and have your shirt dry-cleaned before your next visit.”
I look at her in disbelief. “There is not a next time.” I turn as I say it.
“You can get killed for being messy!” she sing-songs.
A shiver runs down my spine.
Annalie Kleinloog is a born, bred, educated and retired South African dentist. Married with 4 children and living in KZN Midlands. When she isn’t visiting grandchildren, she keeps busy with independent investigative research involving Gong Rocks, Prehistory and Archaeology which fortunately involves many hikes and outdoor time.