It was the last thing he said before the accident.
They had spent their first summer without the kids at her family’s lake house, wine drunk and constantly naked. She began to relish her morning hangover, lazy hours spent prone in recovery while he doted, tender in middle age. Half-cooked eggs and burnt toast, weak coffee and bad tv until the midday sun pulled her out of bed.
The month before the accident, they had gotten into true crime. Unaccustomed to free time, she felt the need to study. He grew perplexed, then fascinated, then terrified. Phantom crime scenes spilled out of his imagination, stalking his wife unseen through the corners of empty rooms. In his heart, he panicked, quietly pulling her close when he passed her in the hall. He studied the curve of her face after a documentary on The Black Dahlia, tracing the line of her cheek as if she’d just survived something.
They spent weeks examining the gulf between them, comparing old wounds while they learned about monsters. They followed the through-line of their lives. Jonestown after her right-wing mother. Patty Hearst after his hippie father. Zodiac for their California childhood. Their long days on the lake gave way to long nights; hands held while the unspeakable unfolded before them, glass after glass of wine taking them from the couch to the bedroom.
The week before the accident, they moved to family annihilators, grimacing in disbelief. She looked through old pictures of the kids, birthday parties and graduations, but all he saw was old stories about fresh scars and all of it his fault. They called their daughter at Tulane, their son in Atlanta, chatty and awkward, their voices rambling with rosé and apology. He learned to cook eggs and finally mastered coffee, but the toaster remained just a little bit broken. She drank less and slept more, waking him sometimes with a lingering hand, teasing him awake just below his ample belly.
On the day of the accident, they had moved on to Ted Bundy. They held hands in the car while Ann Rule described him. It was an hour into town and an hour back, all quiet highway and antique upstate main street cobblestones. They followed Bundy from Seattle to Colorado to the sorority in Florida whispering no, no, no.
How could they not see it?
She shook her head. She was talking about Bundy’s girlfriend, about Ann Rule, about every girl that disappeared into his VW Bug. Before the accident, he looked at her. He saw every line and freckle on her face, every day and hour between them. Before the accident, he squeezed her hand and asked her.
How could you know?
Joaquin Fernandez is a recovering filmmaker and Miami native perpetually drifting west like an errant rain cloud and tinkering with his first novel. His fiction has appeared in Okay Donkey, Cotton Xenomorph, Rhythm and Bones among others. He can be found on Twitter @Joaqertxranger and on his website joaquinfernandezwrites.com.