picklzzz - Fly on the Wall I was always a bit too curious about other people. I often wondered, or even obsessed, about what drove them, what their innermost truths were. I don’t know what prompted this unnatural inquisitiveness, but sometimes it took hold of my attention like the jaws-of-life to a wrecked car, incessantly pulling and prodding until its contents were ultimately released. Wide-eyed on many nights, sleep but a whisper of hope extinguished by my churning speculations, I wished I could be a fly on the wall in others’ minds, sharing their secrets and desires, understanding their motivations, making sense of those I found senseless. However, when I finally got the chance, the experience was not what I imagined. It was much more terrifying. It had been a Tuesday in early September when my wish was granted. I was a passenger in my sister’s silver convertible coupe, enjoying the chance to be a part of her life again. Two years of therapy had somewhat convinced me that my disapproval of Darla’s choice of husband was not welcome and was eradicating any chance of a relationship between us. I did not accept Luke Colby in any way, mind you. His offensive behaviors I questioned on many occasions, to myself mostly but at times to her. However, pretending to approve of their marriage was the only way I could have my sister back; my shrink finally convinced me of that. I felt Darla was well worth the charade of niceties I was forced to display. Sometimes, I had to excuse myself to puke my guts out in the ladies’ room, but it was a small price to pay for the chance to be in her good graces again. It wasn’t hurting my figure either. We were rolling into the parking area near the baseball fields when Darla slammed on the brakes, almost causing a couple walking nearby to topple headfirst into the backseat. “What?” I cried, glancing toward the couple as they glared at us. “I forgot the mitts!” she yelled, punching into reverse and zig-zagging around a row of cars back towards the entrance. It was the first game of the season, and Darla’s principal at the elementary school where she taught had roped her into being the assistant coach that year. Although she was already overworked, he hadn’t accepted her refusal. So, instead of complaining, she embraced the challenge, putting all of her efforts into it. “Stop! You can’t go home now. They’re expecting you. Why don’t I go and get them while you get the kids ready?” She slammed the brakes again. “Yes! Great idea! Just hurry or they won’t be able to catch anything!” She jumped from the car, heaving a duffel bag over each shoulder and retrieving the bats from the backseat. “Thanks a million!” she called, heading over to the field. I wound my way through the subdivision and back to the main road, fighting the incoming traffic as teams arrived for their games. I hurried to Darla’s house, opening the garage with the remote in her visor. I was relieved to find it empty; I had no desire that day to trade pleasantries with Luke. My stomach was in good shape, and I could not afford the time to part with my lunch when Darla was waiting for me. I realized as I entered the house that Darla did not mention where she kept the mitts. I scanned the garage, but I didn’t see anything except a few cans of paint on a shelf and some basic tools perched on a workbench. There was a storage area in the yard, so I headed across the sunken living room towards it. As I cut through the foyer, a sparkle out of the corner of my eye stopped me cold. A chain attached to a quilted black purse hung off the corner of the foyer table, glinting in the light that poured in through the massive Palladian windows. It wasn’t exactly the style my sister would wear; the jewel-studded buckle, black tassels, and garish rhinestones clustered along the edging were characteristic of a clutch a teenager would select for her senior prom. Maybe Darla got it as a gift. I continued on, passing the stairway, and that’s when I heard the giggling. “Stop it, Luke! You’re hurting me!” a voice begged. “That tickles! I said, stop!” An animalistic sound reverberated through the two-story foyer, ricocheting off the crystal chandelier, followed by cry of delight. The voice sounded quite young, and more important, it certainly wasn’t Darla’s. “Seriously, Luke, we have to talk!” I crept up the stairs slowly with my ears pricked up like a dog’s. My face felt hot, and I pictured my shrink clucking his tongue at me. I pushed the image away, letting my curiosity escape his hold and my own “Okay, let’s talk. What is it you want me to say?” The girl’s voice was whiny and shrill. “You need to leave her, Luke. I can’t watch you go home to her every night like this. It’s not fair to me, and to us. You know I love you, but there’s so much I can take!” I peered through the spindles of the banister, getting a good look at my sister’s husband curled up with a blonde in nothing more than the bed sheets. Luke sat upright, his gaze almost meeting mine. I ducked down, my heart hammering in my chest. I waited without breathing. Luke sighed loudly, and then I heard footsteps. They were coming toward me. “You can’t rush these things. As I told you before, I’m working on it.” He sounded like he was practically standing over me. I stared at the fibers in the Berber carpeting, hoping to fade into them. After a beat, his voice retreated. I dared to take a breath, exhaling slowly. “What does that mean, exactly?” the girl’s voice demanded. Just then, I felt something grab me from behind. I let out a gasp and kicked away whatever had suddenly gripped me. I heard a yelp and turned to see Flozzie, my sister’s beloved Springer spaniel, tumbling down the stairs. I jumped up in horror, knowing as I did that it was too late, and as I witnessed the poor pooch make her final dismount onto the granite floor below, my sister’s husband charged out at me. “What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded, his hands on bare hips. I stuttered a bit, trying to explain, but the words were coming faster than my lips would allow. The gibberish I emitted sounded like those of a suffering dental patient trying to express discomfort as the dentist pressed on with his drill. Finally, my outrage erupted through my momentary fugue, and I pointed to the naked woman behind him. “What is she doing here? That’s the better question.” The girl glared at me, folding her arms across her overly-endowed chest. “Who the hell is she, Luke? Get her out of here!” I lunged then as if Luke wasn’t even there, and as the woman shrank back, hitting her head on the doorframe, Luke caught me. I pushed forward, but he was too strong. “Stop it!” he yelled, but I didn’t hear through the rage that boiled within me. I lurched again, kicking outward, clawing at his skin. His large hands clutched me until I could barely breathe, squeezing tighter and tighter as I fought against him. Then suddenly, they released, and instead of the breath I desperately needed, out came a scream stifled by my new reality. I flipped again and again, my face meeting with the strands of Berber as I twisted and bucked, until soon I joined Flozzie on the cold, hard floor of the foyer below. *** She doesn’t think I’m working on it, Luke thought. She’ll see soon enough just how hard I’m working to be with her. I saw his thoughts typed up in black squares on a screen, the way they appear on the t.v. at the bar when the sound is turned down. Luke stared at the back of Darla’s head as she leaned forward over someone, and he sneered. He pictured his hands wrapping around her slim, white throat. Somehow I saw this as it flashed on the screen of his mind. I followed Luke’s gaze past a weeping Darla until they landed on the person whose hand she held. It was like someone pulled the chair out from under me. As the monitors in the room started beeping wildly along with my frenzied heartbeats, I realized the hand she was holding was mine. The nurses rushed in then, pulling Darla from me, but instead of focusing on what they were doing and why I was laying there, Luke’s thoughts captured my attention as they appeared in a torrent across the screen. Let that bitch die, he pleaded fervently, clasping his hands together with his silent prayer. Things will be so much easier without her in the way. Then, only one more hurdle before I can get my hands on that money. Darla thinks she’s so clever, keeping it hidden from me all this time. Thinks I actually married her because I loved her. Hah! Pretty soon, it’ll finally be mine. And then, maybe I’ll bring Jessica along and maybe I won’t. “What’s happening?” Darla cried. She grasped Luke’ shirt until her knuckles were white, looking on as doctors came in to tend to me. “I don’t know,” he muttered, and I saw his prayers for my death continue rolling across the screen. *** I faded in and out of consciousness, but for some reason, I couldn’t open my eyes. Nor could I wiggle my toes, and the itch that started on the ball of my foot slowly crept upward, spreading and taunting every nerve, creeping closer and closer, until it was at my knee. I couldn’t bend to scratch it, so I lay there helpless while a scream worked its way from my throat. When I opened my mouth, nothing came out. The panic rushed at me in a wave, swirling and swelling until I thought my chest would implode. The beeping of the monitors roared in my ears, and soon I was fading into an abyss as the nurse injected something into my IV. My eyes snapped open, and the darkness dispersed. I was in a movie theater, popcorn in hand, staring at Darla as she wiped her eyes with a tissue. “What’s going to happen?” she asked, blowing her nose. Hopefully, her heart will stop. “I don’t know,” Luke said instead. “Nothing we can do right now. Let’s go home and get some rest.” Darla’s eyes widened. “You expect me to leave her like that?” “You can do whatever you want. But, I need to go.” Darla looked toward her husband in desperation, but he’d already turned towards the door. I felt as if I were watching an insipid drama on Lifetime and couldn’t change the channel. “Don’t leave us,” she called out, choking on her tears. The screen went blank. Luke was already gone. *** The popcorn was stale and too salty, leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I chewed on it anyway, watching Luke as he left the hospital. He weaved around light traffic, suddenly making a sharp left into a parking lot. Finding a spot, he bolted from the car, barreling past slower customers into the Walmart. He headed for the automotive aisle, humming an unfamiliar tune as he grabbed two large gas cans. From there, he headed toward the bedding aisle, picking up several packages of cheap white sheets. Next, he headed to a nearby gas station. He filled the two containers, threw them in the trunk, and made his way home. Parking on the street, he pressed the garage opener and lugged his purchases into the garage. Although he subsequently closed the door, the movie on my screen showed him stumbling around the garage to gather supplies. He stood on a ladder, tinkering with the motor that controlled the garage door. I threw my popcorn away, a kernel sticking in my throat. What the hell was he doing? I kept wondering, but I couldn’t ask him. There was no on in the theater to question, and my lips wouldn’t move anyway. I tried to get up to leave, but my arms wouldn’t budge. I looked down then, and I realized my wrists were bound to the seat with heavy chains. A chill curdled up my spine. Hands reached out of nowhere and held my head firmly upright, pried my eyes open, so that I was forced to watch Luke as he puttered around the garage, humming that nameless tune. He started ripping open the sheets from their packages, throwing them in a pile on the floor. He twisted each, knotting them haphazardly, and then he connected them. He picked up one of the gas cans and doused the fabric completely. He gathered up an end of the long chain of sheets gingerly, crawling up the ladder again, and he tied the end to the door’s motor. He carefully wound the sheets around the metal rail that connected the front of the door to the back, and then wrapped it around a stud so it fell down the wall. He poured the other container of gasoline in a line from the bottom of the sheet to the front of the garage, spreading out his markings until they covered nearly half the floor. He cleaned up after himself, tying up the packaging in a plastic bag and returning the tools to their box. He whistled his tune as he exited the back door. I saw him throw the plastic bag in his trunk before he raced off. There was an intermission in the movie of Luke’s mind. I was thankful for it. My wrists were released, and the hands that held me at attention relaxed. *** “Marie, please don’t leave me,” Darla was saying as my eyes fluttered open. She was a blob of dark hair, a hole in the center moving rapidly. I couldn’t focus exactly, but I knew it was her. I tried to reassure her I wasn’t going anywhere, but I was in the dental office again while the dentist pressed on with his drill. Spittle formed on my lips as I attempted to form words. “You’re awake!” she cried, and she gripped my hand tightly. “Don’” I gushed. “What? Don’t try to talk. Let me get a nurse!” She tried to let go of me, but somehow I held on. “Don’ go.” Why was it so hard to tell her? “I’m not going anywhere, Sweetie,” Darla said, stroking my forehead with her free hand. “I’m so glad to have you back! I don’t know what I’d do without you.” “D – “ “Save your strength. You had a bad fall today. Really bad. Luke said you tripped over something on the stairway at my house and fell all the way down. You’ve been in a coma for several hours now.” “Don’ go home,” I finally spat out. My chest heaved with the exertion. “Of course I won’t,” Darla said. “I’m right here with you.” No! Don’t go home ever, I tried to say. It’s a deathtrap! Luke doesn’t care about you in the slightest! You’re in danger! Run far, far away! The more effort I put forth, the harder my heart beat, until suddenly I was floating. I saw Darla holding my hand; I looked down on my pale face as the monitors roared to life. As the doctor’s rushed in, Darla flung herself on top of me. I watched from above, my tears falling and dissipating as I drifted further and further away. “No, she was just awake! She spoke to me!” Darla cried as a large orderly pried her off my body. The orderly tried to comfort her, but when she insisted on lunging toward me again and again, he had to restrain her. A nurse injected something into her arm. She melted into a chair, watching in horror as the line went flat on the monitor. Hours later, unable to reach Luke, my sister drove home in a daze. I knew it was just a matter of time before she would be joining me. Although I couldn’t do anything about it, there were certainly far worse alternatives. Her life with that man, for one. Luke instructed Jessica to pull down the block so they’d have a good vantage point of his house. She looked at him quizzically, but he just told her to keep her eyes forward. His wife’s silver coupe pulled slowly into the driveway. “Here’s what I’m doing about our situation,” he said, and moments later, the garage exploded, sending up a large fireball into the sky so high that it warmed my face. My sister joined me in the theater, but now we had better things to watch.