Tipped, by Nemone Smith
I had forgotten to put the recycling bin out that morning; the one for compost.
As I drove home from work, along my street, I could see bins at the ends of driveways, some with lids opened, some upturned, after the trucks had been and emptied them. My bin was by the back gate, lid closed, full.
In my rush that morning, I’d forgotten to put it out.
To be fair, I’d had a lot on my mind. My husband, Bill, had left the night before — I’d be saying he’d left late at night, while I was sleeping. Technically, he’d left around 8pm.
I had already dropped hints at work all day. I’d told people that he wasn’t answering his phone. I’d told people we’d been having trouble lately, that we’d been fighting.
I hadn’t told anyone about Ian. When people asked why Ian wasn’t at work, and if I knew anything, I just shook my head and looked puzzled. How would I know?
Ian was probably across the border by now. He’d have picked up his own car, and driven to Canada. I couldn’t contact him, that would be stupid. I would wait, like we’d agreed. I would wait a good six months before even talking about quitting my job and moving away.
I went inside the house. I needed to sit down, have a cup of tea and settle my nerves. Crystal, our cat, didn’t come out and rub herself against my legs like she usually did; she didn’t come looking for attention. I saw her, sitting under a dining room chair, looking out at me. Wary.
“Bill? Bill, are you home?” I wasn’t sure who I was doing this for. It calmed me to live the pretense every minute. I thought it would be good practice; it would help me be more convincing when I’d have to do it for real.
“Well, I don’t know where he could be. Do you, Crystal?” I tried to coax her out from under the chair, even got her a cat treat, but she wasn’t budging. I put food in her bowl, but she wouldn’t step foot in the kitchen.
The kitchen was clean, floors newly washed. Even the baseboards didn’t have their usual coating of dust. The whole room smelled fresh. I looked at the counter, by the stove, where I always kept my marble rolling pin. It wasn’t there, of course, but I couldn’t help looking.
I wondered how long it would take before I heard something. Would I hear about it on the news first, or would the police come? I’d half expected to hear something while I was still at work. It couldn’t have happened somewhere that was too hard to find. Ian knew he had to do it somewhere that Bill would have reasonably been driving to.
I was hungry, but being in the kitchen made me feel a bit queasy. “Act normal” I told myself, and went to the fridge to get some leftover take-out. Last night, I’d placed our usual order with the local Thai place. I’d made sure to seem I’d been checking with Bill, to see if he wanted spring rolls or not. When the delivery guy had shown up at the door, I’d shouted back toward the kitchen, while I was paying. “Honey, the food’s here!”
I forced some food down, and then sat in the living room, and waited. Nothing happened. I scrolled through the online news sites. There was no news of a traffic accident, no news of a fatality. I wished I could call Ian. Just hear his voice. He had been so supportive through all this. He had taken care of everything.
There had been a charged attraction with Ian the minute he’d started working at the office, about a year ago. It had been so exciting, trying to figure out if he was flirting or not. He would take things just far enough not to have a complaint filed, in case the interest wasn’t mutual. He’d brush past me, raise an eyebrow. After awhile, it became obvious. The compliments got more personal, more about my body than my clothes. I didn’t file a complaint.
The first time he kissed me was at the loading dock. I was signing for an order, and he was unloading the pallet. He got me behind a shrink-wrapped skid of paper, and held my face; a sweet, gentle kiss, but with the promise of passion.
There had been passion, with Bill, years ago. It was unfair to say there never had been. But that had been when we were kids, too young to really know ourselves, or to know each other. After the first few years, at most, we’d had companionship.
“Are you willing to settle for that?” Ian had been leaning up on an elbow, lying next to me, both of us at a motel on the other side of town. I’d told Bill I was working late. “No-one’s saying Bill isn’t a nice guy. But really, when’s the last time he asked you what you want?” Ian’s voice was low, intense. “Tell me, Susan, when’s the last time you had a conversation with him about something other than…than, laundry. Or paying the bills. Or complaining about you turning the thermostat up.”
From there, the conversations had expanded. Why should we keep sneaking around? Why should I lose half my savings, half the house in a divorce? Why should we both have to keep working for the next twenty years? Ian was going to help me take charge.
I couldn’t just wait in the living room for something to happen. I should be in bed by now, stick to my normal routine. I went back to the kitchen to turn off the light. Ian had kept his word. It was spotless. I looked again, where the rolling pin had been. By now, it should be at the bottom of a lake.
I went up to the bedroom. I tried to get the cat to follow me up, like she usually did. She recoiled when I went to touch her. “To hell with you!” I said, and walked up the stairs. She’d always preferred Bill.
I woke up, hearing a clattering noise outside. My heartbeat quickened; it took me a few seconds to remember things — where I was, what time it was. Who wasn’t in bed beside me. I heard the noise again, and then the shrieking squabble of raccoons. They’d gotten into the damned recycling bin. Tipped it over. God, it would be a mess out there. I’d have to clean it up in the morning.
When I closed my eyes, to try and sleep again, my mind went back to the night before. I could see Bill, walking into the kitchen. He hadn’t known that Ian was in the house — Ian had let himself in, earlier in the day, with a key I’d given him.
We’d had to surprise Bill. If it was going to look like a car accident, we’d have to hit him in the front of the head, in the face. That meant I had to do it, so he wouldn’t try and run away, or put up a fight.
I’d started an argument with him, when I’d gotten home from work. It was over nothing, but I’d fumed and yelled, and picked up the marble rolling pin. There had never been a moment of violence between us our whole marriage, so he didn’t think anything of it. Then, Ian came into the kitchen behind Bill, and held his arms. I can’t believe I did it, but I struck that first blow, knocked him down. “Go! Give it to me, and I’ll finish it. Go!” Ian had grabbed the rolling pin from me and pushed me away.
I’d stood in the living room, hands over my eyes, and had heard Ian smash Bill in the face two more times. It was over so quickly. Bill hadn’t even had time to cry out; all I’d heard from him was a stifled gasp.
From the kitchen door, I’d watched Ian wipe the sweat from his eyes, still holding the rolling pin. “Oh my God.” I’d said. “Ian, oh my God — should there be that much blood?” Bill was lying on his back, his face pulpy, with blood pooling around him, blood splattered on the fridge, on the baseboards. I saw patches of flesh, hair on the rolling pin.
I was quickly becoming hysterical, could feel the urge to scream, to shake. Ian rushed over to me, he grabbed my arm. “Baby, it’s OK. Go upstairs and take a long shower. Leave this to me. I’ll take care of it. I’ll tell you when to come down, and I swear, everything will be fine. It will be like nothing happened.”
And he’d been right. The hot shower washed away the fear, washed away the panic. I imagined our future together; me and Ian starting a new life in a new country. We just had to get through this, and it would all be fine.
An hour later, he was leaving. “It was a bit more of a mess than I’d thought.” He said, and shook his head. “But it’s all cleaned up now. And he’ll be so mangled after the accident, it will be fine.”
“But, how did you…? I mean, all the blood…” I didn’t want to think about it.
“Susan, it’s done. Just trust me.” He put his hands on my shoulders, and kissed the top of my head. So tender.
The plan was for Ian to drive Bill’s car, with Bill in the trunk, to a ravine he knew about – he wouldn’t tell me where. Then, he’d put Bill in the driver’s seat, and push the car over. Ian said the crash would send Bill’s body flying – it would look like the accident killed him. Then Ian would go and get his own car, and he’d drive to Canada. The story would be that he’d skipped town because he had some bad debts he couldn’t pay. “The best part about it, is it’s the truth.” He’d said, and laughed.
And then I had to be the grief-stricken widow. I needed to mourn for six months, collect the insurance money, and then tell everyone I needed a new start. A new start, in Canada.
But first, I ordered the Thai food, after Ian left. It was all part of the plan to make it seem like Bill was still in the house. To make everything seem normal
I had written out what I would say: Ian had told me too. He said I should think of it as an acting role. Write it down, read it off, then rip it up and flush it down the toilet.
Through sheer fatigue, I must have dozed off again. I woke up to the doorbell ringing. I grabbed my housecoat and looked out the bedroom window. It was getting light outside; there was a police car in the driveway.
I tried to get everything right, just like I’d rehearsed with Ian. At first, I seemed surprised to see the police, shocked when they’d told me about the accident. I sobbed, made coffee, and agreed to try and answer a few questions. The officer asked if there was anyone they could call for me. I said no, and phoned work, so they could hear me break down as I told my boss why I wouldn’t be in today.
The police were asking me again about when I’d last seen Bill. I’d let the cat out, and now she was scratching to come back in. I excused myself, and went to open the back door for her. I glanced down just in time to see that she had something in her mouth. “Crystal! Drop that!” I shouted, but she ran past me, back into the living room.
“Oh dear, I think she’s caught a mouse. I’ll get rid of it.” Crystal was guarding something dark, something bloody with flesh hanging loose. We all froze. It wasn’t a mouse.
Ian had taken care of everything. Had made the plan, told me what to do. He’d cleaned everything up, just as he’d promised. He’d mopped up the blood, the stray bits of skull and skin. He’d moved the body, staged the accident.
And now, strewn across my backyard, among the coffee grinds and egg shells, there were clumps of bloody paper towel, scraps of hair and skin, from where the raccoons had ripped the bags open, out of the compost bin.
I had forgotten to put the recycling out.
Nemone is nothing all that different from the ordinary: she has a day job, is part of a writing group, has family members, a dog, lives in a house. In trying to enjoy her blip of existence on this planet, she’d like to share some of the words in her head. Nemone lives in Canada.
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Tags: accidents, affairs, murder, Nemone Smith