There was too much calm. A sentiment most people couldn’t stand by, but for Mary it was deafening. The calming sound of the water from the fish tanks, the hum of a laptop. The silent cries of the plastic containers in her sink gently calling a reminder that she was bordering on a slob if she didn’t wash them sooner rather than later.
Her day at work had gone by too quickly. Especially in comparison to how long the sleepless night before was. There was so much to do, and while checklists, to-do lists, and her list of to-be-achieved goals were usually motivating she had managed to find the time to work on everything. It was unnerving. Mary found herself alone, unmotivated and content to not rush.
The winter skies were setting in, and at 8:30 Mary found herself fighting to stay awake. She wanted to relax, but it wasn’t a skill she usually had in her wheelhouse. After three loops around her house doing nothing more than puttering with sleeves of her button down she decided to sit for a minute.
The light from her computer screen illuminated her face. But it had done nothing for her brain. Sitting was no good. Getting up, the room spun around her. Perhaps she needed water. Water after all was the source of all life. At least life on this planet. Walking over to her window, Mary looked out at the stars. Perhaps on other planets in other galaxies other things fueled life.
Mary dreamed of what life on other planets would be like. Digging through her junk drawer she grabbed a lighter. Maybe, she thought, there was a planet whose living creatures were fed by fire. Lighting a candle, Mary took a deep breath in and let the smoky artificial pumpkin flavor fill her lungs. Artificial pumpkin smells and flavors were almost as offensive as vanilla cake scented candles or over sugared, over processed off the shelf cakes. But all eight of her other candles had been burned down to the stubs of the wicks. Their smells infused into Mary’s soul.
The movement of the smoke and the flame usually calmed her. The problem was, she was already too calm. Things were too quiet. Mary blew out the candle and resumed pacing around her house. Tomorrow would be another day. There was an event at work. It would be fun. It meant she had to shower and detangle her long, beachy hair. The shower meant more silence. Mary thought of putting it off until the morning. She knew better.
She would play something on her radio. Something loud and angry. Filled with violence and life. It would be a welcomed contrast to the nothingness wrapping itself around her like a hug from an old aunt. She longed for something. Mary silently chided herself for not knowing what. She wondered if one evening could turn someone mad.
It was too late for coffee she decided, passing through the kitchen for the sixth or seventh time. Too late for a nap or to read the psychological thriller she had picked up the day before. Mary thought about the television, but the couch was too inviting and there would be nothing to peak her interest and keep her awake. Her own sigh sounded like a scream cutting through the air. There had to be something.
Walking past the downstairs bathroom, a shower had to be the answer. Trailing back through the downstairs, Mary found her way up her novel-themed staircase. Reciting each title in her mind as she flounced up them. The classics, not by proper standards, but her classics. The stories she knew by heart; some even by long passages. The characters that graced the pages. The locations and time periods. The stories, her stories, were the closest thing she had to a complete family and she loved them all.
But on a night like tonight, they were only stories. Titles engraved in her stairs.
Mary began peeling off her layers as she walked down the hall. Leaving a trail of pants, panties, socks, a bra, and her flannel in her wake she hoped they would absorb some of the silence. Turning the light on in the bathroom, Mary was surprised by how small she appeared. With a sudden urgency she turned on the radio and cranked it. It was too loud for the small, tiled bathroom. But she didn’t care. She needed the noise. Avoiding further eye contact with the ghost in the mirror, Mary turned up the hot water and stepped into the shower.
The hot water scorched her skin. The music pounded through her heart. She screamed the lyrics she knew at the top of her lungs. Suddenly it was all too much. The steam, the clothes she left behind, the noise. Her heart was racing too fast. Black dots appeared in the peripheral of her vision. It was too much. Mary turned around to face the faucet and lower the temperature of the water. Her elbow knocked the soap off the holder. She hated her soap on the shower floor. No matter how many times she cleaned it the blood – her blood – months old now, it stained it.
Her soap was not meant to touch the shower floor. No soap was meant to touch any floor. It was wrong. It was all wrong. Mary thought about the silence. It was too much, but this…
She had to lower the temperature before her skin melted. Taking a step forward the boiling water burned her chest. Her nipple pulsed in pain. Her foot slipped on something.
The world slowed almost to a stop. Mary felt weightless and free with the comfort of gravity working underneath her. She heard a bang and felt the earth connecting with her. The warm water gently pooled beneath her as the rain kissed her body. There was a ringing, soft and muffled. It welcomed her. For that whole moment, Mary was complete.
Mary’s fiancé was excited to hear the upstairs shower running when he returned home. He had gone on a trip for work and had somehow managed to find Maggie, a Frenchie abandoned and in need. He knew from the second he saw her that she was just was Mary needed. It helped that she had already been certified as a service dog. She was just as perfect for Mary, as Mary was for him. Two years ago had been the lowest of the lows for them. But things had gotten so much better. Mary was healthy and happy, which was all he needed in this world.
Next weekend the two of them would go and meet Maggie. It would be an amazing romantic weekend getaway topped with the perfect surprise. First things first though, Ken thought to himself, I’m going to surprise my honey in the shower.
Ken saw the trail of clothes in the hallway as he topped the stairs. A knot started to form in his stomach. This wasn’t normal for Mary. Panic rose in his chest with each step closer to the bathroom. Her music was blaring. It was too loud for Ken, and he wasn’t the one with sensitive hearing. For eight years they worked on finding the perfect volume for each channel, each streaming device, each and everything that had a controllable volume – including Ken’s enthusiasm for sporting events. Something he who was slightly hard of hearing could actually understand that didn’t rattle every bone in Mary’s perfect body.
Panic twisted around his nose and throat as he opened the bathroom door. The smell bonded on a molecular level with the water, absorbing into his nostrils. Mary’s body was clearly on the ground. The shower curtain spilled onto the floor, the rod half pulled down off the wall. There was no blood in the tub. Only the water and Mary. Both pale blue, one clearly dead.
Ken turned around and threw up in the toilet. Unable to turn back around, he shut the faucet off with the heel of his foot. Doubled over, in a half-crawl half-walk out of the bathroom, Ken made his way into the hallway. Crashing onto the floor, he pawed at the clothes around him. Greedily he piled them beneath him. Resting his head down he inhaled in her scent. When the sobbing had subsided, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Somehow, he managed to call 911. For a moment he thought maybe he could do this.
When responders arrived at the house. Two sets of paramedics went to work. The first, into the bathroom to document the death of a woman four days expired. The second, to attempt to resuscitate a man who appeared to have overdosed on his dead fiancé’s pills.
As the paramedics and officers left the home, locking it up and marking it a crime scene they couldn’t shake the feeling that the house itself was too quiet, even for a house, as if it too had died with those inside.