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At times, many women dream of killing their boyfriends, but few are lucky enough to follow through. Ally is fortunate.
A bruised sky, no stars to light it, hangs overhead as she walks hand-in-hand with John down a quiet city street. Summer night, far from the bustle and chaos of the main thoroughfare. She hears only the wind and his footsteps snapping across the pavement. Friday, the promise of a long, lazy weekend stretches out ahead. Late mornings in bed, curled about each other, afternoons with no one else around – hours to unwind.
Warmth seeps from his hand and she clutches it harder, not wanting to let go. He squeezes back, saying, “I’m still here, honey. Always. Not going anywhere.” She smiles, breathes deep the cool night air.
Ahead, a lone, boxy white city bus rolls to a halt, groaning, sighing, headlights carving out cones in the dark. Inside, an old man with a tan tweed cap pulled low stands and walks stiffly to the exit. A short woman, a few years younger, (his wife?) follows, comparatively gliding along. He climbs down the steps slowly, carefully, and turns to proffer his hand. She takes it and gracefully descends, kissing him on the cheek.
A week before, on Saturday, John proposed. They were dating for nearly two years. In Grant Park, on a bench, they sit together as wispy, lamb’s wool clouds drift across the cobalt sky and children bike by, shouting at each other. He turns, drops to a knee. Takes her hand. Offers everything. Says she is his reason for living. Says she makes him happier than he ever hoped to be. Then he promises her love and asks her. She accepts without a second thought.
And a week later, the elderly couple steps slowly away, down the street, the city bus rumbles to life, rolling forward, and Ally shoves John in front of it.
Of course, nothing changes during the week. She doesn’t spot him with a mistress or staring at a waitress. There are no incriminating emails or even any suspicious ones. He doesn’t watch Cubs night games, though he clearly wants to, but instead bends all his attention on her. The same man as always: flawed, yes, (cooking too spicy of food and laughing too loud at sitcoms) but caring, sweet.
They go for walks every night. He gave her a ring in the park, a gold band with a small diamond perched precariously in the middle. It didn’t fit, sticking on her second knuckle, so they brought it to the jeweler. She still doesn’t have one for him. So their hands are bare, but the extra weight is palpable when they are joined.
It is the very same day he proposed, when a car comes fast down the street by their apartment, too fast, that she first has the thoughts
her bumping into him hard, shoulder to shoulder
him tilting sideways, falling, the car speeding onwards,
closer, closer, as his arms reach for her, for help
and subsequently forces them from her mind. It is sick, unnatural. He has done nothing wrong – has only kissed her temple and promised to love her more and more for every day they are together. She grabs his arm, pulling him close instead of pushing away, kissing hard.
Later that night, their floral quilt bunched at the foot of the bed, him on top of her, moving rhythmically like the swells of an incoming tide. She stares past him, up at the light mauve ceiling. A million things to plan for the wedding. The first thing is to choose a date.
His hands brush along her body, almost tickling. She always dreamed of a spring wedding, right as the flowers break into full bloom, the air pregnant with their scent. But John has allergies. At that time of year, his eyes become burning tomatoes, his nose a broken faucet. She can only imagine the wedding photos. She doesn’t want a long of an engagement anyways.
He grabs her by the hips, pulls her to him, pressing deeper. She shifts under his weight, trying to relieve the pressure.
He stops panting in her ear for a moment. Asks, “You alright, honey? Anything I should do different?”
“Keep going.” Grips his back, runs her fingernails along it, makes him tremble.
They set the date for early November. It only gives about four months to plan, but it should be enough. Her mother always says short engagements are happier. Ally has to agree.
She thinks about pushing John into the street every day. Usually, if something is bothering her, she talks to him about it. Or her mother. But they would make a joke of this, turn it into jitters or something sweet, something innocent.
But it isn’t.
On Monday, she leaves for the office, dreading another week of useless tasks, of bosses putting their names on her efforts. He stays home, works there, freelance advertising, mainly children’s stuff. Always at the apartment, in the extra room he calls his headquarters, designing at night sometimes, on weekends, at a drafting table, stereo playing.
She comes home exhausted, a bad day, most are. He is cooking. Pad Thai. Her favorite. The peanutty, spicy smell permeates the apartment. He whistles as he stirs the noodles, tofu, and bean sprouts around the pan. A glass of sparkling chardonnay sits bubbling on their little pub table for two, next to new taper candles, still unlit.
“What’s all this?” she asks.
“You deserve more,” he says.
She wishes it was because he snapped at her when he shouldn’t have, or because he forgot about date night and went for drinks with the guys, hell, because he was caught flirting. But it’s not. It won’t ever be. That night, as they step outside their four-story brick apartment building, she feels the urge growing inside of her, pressing against the giddy, drunk feeling from the wine
his legs cross, he stumbles over the thin strip of grass,
his ankle turns and slips over the edge of the curb,
his mouth gaping, a look of confusion, of terror
and it isn’t the type of thing she wants to be reassured about. She makes sure to walk closer to the street than John so the temptation isn’t as pressing. She knows, just knows, if she doesn’t act, the thoughts will pass away on their own. They have to. She’s not like this.
But, on Wednesday, she starts experimenting. Like the previous days, she carefully sets herself closer to the street. A few blocks on, John gives her a devilish, guilty grin, where only one side of his mouth seems to move and his eyes pinch nearly shut. “Let’s do something bad,” he says. “Let’s get some ice cream.”
He takes an abrupt left at the intersection, tugging her along behind. And on the opposite side, there isn’t even a strip of grass. Just the sidewalk, the curb, then the street. She is nearly shaking as they walk. More than anything, she wants to switch sides, to force him away from the road. But there is a stronger urge to give a little nudge and see that nothing happens. That will set things right. The hairs on her arms prick up. Her breathing, heavy, rasping. How can he not tell?
But she waits until it is safe, feeling the need expand against her ribcage, against her hands so they ache. Then there are no cars. Though they are on a one way street, she looks back several times. One can never be too safe.
“Something wrong, hun?” he asks the third time she glances over her shoulder. “Worried someone will catch us?”
She doesn’t answer. Instead, she lowers her shoulder and gently bumps into him. Playful. But not nearly hard enough. He doesn’t move. Doesn’t budge. Far too tender. She tries again, harder this time, jabbing her elbow into his side.
“Did you trip?” He stops, releases her hand to rub the spot. “Are you okay?”
He has still barely moved, just an inch or two to the side. She either needs more momentum, or she’ll need to use her arms.
“I’m fine.” Grabbing his hand, pulling him forward. “I want some Rocky Road.”
On the way home, she switches sides at every turn, just to make sure he is safe. In the ice cream parlor, she’d looked forward to another chance to test her technique
tilting into the street, his arms flailing,
trying to twist, to brace himself
scoop of cherry vanilla flying, plopping on the pavement
to get his sticky, sweet hands away from hers. But no, she holds him close, her arm hooked around his waist, his resting across her shoulders as he tentatively licks his melting cone. She leans against him, pressing him away from the road.
The next day, she calls her friend Casey and takes a long lunch. They meet at a trendy bistro downtown where the servers wear Castro hats with bright red stars. Like always, it is crowded with people in business casual complaining loudly about unfair lives, so the conversation while waiting for lunch has to be yelled over the din.
“I have to tell you something,” Ally says. “I might want to kill John.” Not blinking, she stares right into her friend’s eyes, which are painted with far too much makeup, lined with green and purple and caked with sticky mascara.
Casey glances away, laughs. “My god, Al, already? You’ve been engaged, what, six days?”
“I’m serious. I’m starting to think I might do it.”
Casey’s plump face hardens, a frowning grimace befitting a Greek tragedy mask. She reaches across the table, holds Ally’s hands. “What did he do? Be honest. All men are pigs. I mean it. If you need a place to stay for a few days, I’m happy to –”
“No, no, it’s not like that. He’s a sweetheart. Last night, he wanted ice cream. He was so excited, like a kid. And he gave me a back massage. I was lying there afterwards, completely relaxed, when he kissed me on the back of my neck. Shivers, down to my feet, swear to god.”
“Gross. T-M-I,” Casey says.
Just then, a server comes by and snatches the plastic number from their table, replacing it with sandwiches that spill out over thick focaccia buns plated next to freshly made chips, still warm from the fryer. There isn’t much talking for the rest of lunch.
After they step out of the restaurant, Casey grabs Ally’s arm. “I want you to stop worrying.” She leans in, kisses her friend on the cheek. “You two are the cutest, happiest couple I’ve seen. Besides, it’s normal. We’ve all wanted to kill our boyfriends at some point. There are several I wish I had.” She smiles.
“But he’s my fiancé now.”
“See what I mean? You’ve already missed your chance.”
Those final words won’t leave for the rest of the day. Ally hasn’t missed her chance. She hasn’t missed anything. The marriage is months away. But even after, she can still walk, can still file for divorce. Nothing is permanent. If she ever becomes unhappy.
Throughout the afternoon, the doubts rumble in the back of her head. It is Casey’s fault. Lunch didn’t work. It was the wrong confessional. The wrong priest. When Ally started going out with John, Casey called them “the old couple” and “Mom and Dad” like they were geriatrics. Sure, John is a few of years older, but still not yet thirty. And Casey is just immature.
That night, Ally barely holds herself in check for the first block. But her feet keep stepping steadily forward, as if nothing is wrong. John mentions catching a movie this weekend, where they will sit in the dark, leaning against each other in the back row and she’ll latch her hand onto his crotch, but he’ll gently move her arm away. Point to the screen. Laugh. Say, “Not here. You don’t want to miss this, hon.” Not an action movie. Not a comedy. But that new chick flick starring the guy with the British accent who seems a bit bad on the surface, but is really a good person underneath.
She still checks for traffic. Once it is clear, she lowers her shoulder and gives him a solid knock, thrusting with her legs. Putting her weight into it.
She gets up under his center of balance and he stumbles to the side. She watches his feet with anticipation, knowing just how it will happen. But instead of falling, he only steps clumsily off the curb, into the street, and plants himself, still upright. Only a foot away.
“What was that about?” Smiling, his hand out, ready to take hers again.
She waits for him to get close and then shoves out with her hands, knocking him away.
He has more trouble with the curb this time, his foot tilting backwards over it, and takes a few steps into the street.
“Come one, hon.” He’s almost pouting. “This isn’t funny. What if there’d been a car?”
There isn’t, but that is the real question. A car would have him
not falling into the street, but stumbling,
only a few feet out, so the car swerves,
horn blaring, front fender clipping him,
throwing him forward, twisting him in a tight spin
spinning, spinning, like a top. She jogs and stumbles forward on the sidewalk, away from him, sniggering. Drunk. He runs after and catches her from behind, folding her into his arms. She plays at struggling, but doesn’t really because it is just a game and is meant to be fun. A game, nothing more. He holds tight.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately.” His breath hot, wet, on the back of her neck.
She twists around, kisses him on the lips, parting hers, gentle. Let him move forward. His arms lose their tightness, they lower until his hands rest lightly in the small of her back. Her nervous date for the middle school dance.
But her arms are free. She grabs his head and forces it towards her own. Turning her head, opening her mouth, she kisses him deeply, there on the sidewalk, flicking her tongue past his lips. Let Casey call them “Mom and Dad.”
“Let’s go home,” Ally says. She takes him by the hand. He follows like an excited dog, almost prancing.
She wrestles him over and is on top that night, propped high, her hands on his shoulders, pressing with her weight. She thrusts her hips down, again and again, trying to force him into the mattress. He grunts softly beneath her, hands trying to caress, trying to pull her close. But she won’t allow it. She watches him squirm. She is persistent, relentless. When he finally finishes, it is with a drawn-out sigh, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, mouth hanging open. It is called la petit mort.
Afterwards, he curls up against her like a child, his head resting between her shoulder and breast. She lies on her back and plays with his hair. It is still thick and dark, but it won’t always be.
This has to be the root of all her thoughts, her worries. Back in college, her freshman psych teacher called it a defense mechanism, a means to divert excess anxiety. She loves John, more than she thinks should be possible. Running her fingers along his arm, she never wants to live without him. That’s what marriage means, getting him for the rest of his life.
But he is a few years older. A male. Statistics aren’t good. He’ll be the first to go. And if it is fifty years down the line, will it be any better, any easier? No. Just harder, harder than she can bear. A whole life spent and gone, only to lose him, only to spend those last years alone.
But it is worth it. It has to be. She isn’t running off now. She looks down at his face, his eyes closed, lips softly twitching. She runs her hand up his back, feeling the solid mass of his shoulders, rubbing them gently, kissing the top of his head.
He tilts his eyes up to look at her. “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing,” she says. “I love you, baby.”
“I love you too.” He smiles and leans up to lightly peck her cheek.
She kisses his temple. “I can’t wait for the weekend. Get you all to myself.”
In the morning, she feels better, cured. She doesn’t want to push him or hurt him. He squeezes her fresh orange juice. She goes to work happy. It’s Friday. Everything is better. She barely works through the morning, writing and rewriting the story on her blog. She tries to include all the details, but tones it down, turns it into an anxious bride story. A joke. She ends it with an a moment
they walk hand in hand down the street,
he trips, stumbles, a car is coming
but she pulls him tight to her side
which is far too much. She considers deleting it, but can see the middle aged women tearing up, nodding with approval. She wants nice comments, supportive ones.
Then she wants to call Casey during lunch to go over it all again – how she found the source of the problem. To tell someone the truth. Instead, Ally pages through bridal magazines in her office’s lunchroom. Better to get the entire thing off her mind.
After work, at home, John has a hurt look on his face. “You wanted to push me in front of traffic? Did I do something wrong?”
Of course he read the blog. She brushes the back of her hand along his face, freshly shaven, smooth. “No baby. Don’t worry about it.”
But he does. “If there’s anything, ever, just tell me. Please.”
“I will.” She won’t, won’t need to. He’ll know before she does. “I love you.” She means it.
She doesn’t think of killing him again. The elderly couple step from the bus. The younger woman. The older man. Him fighting to walk, her gliding. A chivalrous hand. The tiny kiss on the cheek.
As the bus approaches, Ally coils like a spring. She puts her full body into it. Crouches, pushes off with her legs, snaps her arms out. She wants to make sure John gets well out into the street.