My mother-in-law came to visit when my wife was out of town. She’d bought her plane ticket right before Melody got sent to Maine for work. The flight would have been a thousand dollars to change. I assured Melody I could entertain her mom until she got back. I genuinely liked her mom, whose name was Harmony. We probably wouldn’t even see each other much, me having to work, her going to bed early. Time would fly.
I picked up Harmony at the airport and we stopped for dinner. She ordered soup and bread and didn’t eat most of it; I gobbled down her soup. I settled her into the guest bedroom and she wanted to just sleep—she was ahead three hours, so that made sense. I didn’t see her again until after work the next day. She’d made a frozen dinner and was watching the news when I came in, talking heads spouting politics. Melody called later to ask how it was going and I had nothing to report—her mother had barely registered.
The next day after work, I walked in on Harmony in the bathroom. She’d been sitting down, but when the door opened, she stood up. It all lasted a second, but I still saw her naked, the lower half, her white legs and dark pubic hair, hands trying to cover up. I shut the door and went to the kitchen. I poured a glass of gin and drank it and poured another and drank that, too. I made toast for some reason, and as soon as it popped, Harmony came out of the bathroom. I asked her if she was hungry, if she wanted any gin. She said she was sorry, that she hadn’t figured out how to lock the door. I pretended not to hear her. She insisted she was sorry, moving closer to me, putting her hand on my back. She directed me not to worry about it, that we were adults, not to mention family. She did ask, before disappearing into her room, if I wouldn’t tell Melody, that there was no reason for her daughter to know. She said please, a few times: “Please, please, please.” I said all right.
Later, I called Melody to say good night and kept my promise to her mother. I didn’t feel like talking about it, but also wondered if Harmony could hear me through the walls, our rooms adjoining. Melody would be home the next day and I could revisit telling her then.
That night I didn’t dream—I don’t think I was ever asleep. I had constant thoughts. After an hour or two, thoughts turned into scenarios. I wondered if I would tell Melody what’d happened, despite Harmony asking me not to. Melody was my wife; her mother wasn’t. I also didn’t want it to come out, for me to not have told her and her wonder why, be mad I’d kept it from her. That would be worse, suspicious. I pictured Melody telling me I’d betrayed her. I pictured Harmony saying the same thing.
I considered the notion of bad intentions. Harmony was hoping I’d walk in so she could tell Melody what’d happened, then how I kept it from her. Harmony had always liked me, but maybe I’d been wrong about that. She could make it out to be worse than it was. Me staring. Me not leaving. Me reaching for her.
Maybe Harmony did it on purpose and didn’t want Melody to know. The plane ticket fiasco, her coming anyway: All of it planned. Right then she was in her bed, down the hall. Maybe she was thinking about me. Maybe she was touching herself. Maybe I’d wake to my door opening, Harmony crawling on top of me, putting her finger to my protesting lips, whispering Shhhh as she kissed me.
Morning would come too soon. We’d have to stop, pull ourselves off each other before Melody came home. We’d wash my bedding, reshuggle the sheets, disregard each other in Melody’s presence. We’d spend time getting our stories straight, stealing glances and touches.
Or we could tell Melody as soon as she came in the door, perhaps over dinner, me scooching closer to Harmony, grasping her hand, Melody’s eyebrows rising. We’d squeeze tightly as Melody reacted then overreacted to the news, disbelief followed by confusion followed by hurt feelings followed by rage.
There’d be yelling. There’d be tears. There’d be threats. Melody’s suitcase, already packed, would make her the better candidate to leave. Someone would be in a doorway, the other trying to pass, incidental contact. Someone’s head would catch the corner of the cabinet, the countertop edge. It would seem like a bump, no big deal, but then there’d be wooziness. Then fainting. There’d be blood—there’d be a lot of blood.
We’d call the police, claim it an accident, two practiced testimonies ultimately believable. Why would anyone suspect foul play?
We could also dig a hole. We’d claim Melody never came home from the airport. There’d be a hunt. We’d be on the news, pleading for information, friends sending over casseroles, offering to comb the woods, to contribute to a reward. Digging a hole wouldn’t explain Melody’s car in the driveway, or anyone who’d seen her pull in, heard the shouting. Neighbors. Toll records. Traffic cameras. Our story would fall apart. We—most likely I—would be in handcuffs, booked, arraigned, on trial for murder. I’d make plea bargains, sign what they wanted, protect Harmony at all costs. I’d face the chair.
Digging a hole was out. If Harmony and I wanted any kind of a life together—and we most certainly would want a life together—there’d be no hole. After all we’d been through, we’d have to make sure no one was suspicious, that we were in the clear. We’d do what we had to do to ensure our future, to live happily ever after, just to make it all worth it in the end.
MICHAEL CZYZNIEJEWSKI — Michael is the author of four collections of stories, including the forthcoming The Amnesiac in the Maze (Braddock Avenue Books, 2023). He is Professor of English at Missouri State University and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Moon City Press and Moon City Review, as well as Interviews Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.
Art by JAMES READE VENABLE — James was born in Manhattan, New York. He has been published in Black + White Photography, Dodho, F-Stop and many more. He is a 2x London Photo Festival Monthly Competition Winner and was on the Shortlist for the Storytelling category in this year’s 500px Global Photography Awards. He is also an actor and will be seen in the new season of the Irish series Hidden Assets. He lives in New York City at the moment.