What just happened? That wasn’t Peter. No.
Not her husband, the kind, caring man she loved.
That grin on his face –
That tone in his voice –
Those angry eyes –
– someone else.
She unfolded her legs and stood slowly. Her hands were still shaking, but she felt a little calmer now. Do something. But what?
Give him some time, have some tea… then go upstairs and see if they could talk about it.
About what? The painting? His shouting?
Or was there something else?
Because that wasn’t just anger in Peter’s eyes. That wasn’t just anger at all, was it?
No, it was more than that.
That’s why I’m shaking. I just don’t want to see it.
That was murder.
Right, she thought, and wiped her eyes. Get some tea.
She walked to the hall, and stopped. No. Don’t look at it. Not now.
The face was behind her, across the room. And she felt its eyes on her, burning into her back, heavy on her shoulders. And yet, she wanted to turn around, lock eyes with it again like that first day, and face it.
Face it. Deal with it. She spoke with it the day it came, and she could do it again.
She was half-turned when she heard the laughter again. Not like that morning two months ago, but now it was a snicker, a nasty giggle that filled her ears like little spiders, her head, the living room and the house, loud as a thunder.
She froze into place. Peter can hear it. No way he can’t hear it. It’s so loud… please, hear it. Please. Please. PLEASE…
… and then it stopped.
She never made the tea. She stood there for a long time, half-turned towards the face, long after the laughing stopped and everything was quiet, and she knew, she knew that only she had heard it.
When she did manage to move, it was a good twenty minutes later. Only then could she look at it.
There it was, this token of Peter’s friendship to an old wino, hanging over the mirror. It didn’t look any different. Except…
… except that a large pink tongue was sticking out of its lips, and the eyes were wide gaping black holes.
She almost screamed, she took a step back, and fell on the sofa.
Of course, when she looked up again, it was just the same painting Peter had brought in: no tongues, no lips, no mocking, no holes.
Just a face.
She climbed the stairs and entered their bedroom silently. Peter was already asleep – but then again, it never took him long. She looked at him for a while, watching him snore under the covers, and something like a smile parted her lips. She loved him, and she knew that he loved her too. And she felt at that moment that as long as things remained so, if love was there bonding the two of them, then everything was going to be alright. Love conquers all – where had she read that? – and love could get them through – through what? – and love could beat the face downstairs and bring peace back into their home – why had it left in the first place?
Love. She lay beside him and caressed his shoulder tenderly. She was not going to give him anymore trouble about the painting. Love lives on sacrifices. And with that firm resolution, Jane fell asleep.
Her eyes tore open and she could feel her pulse pounding on her temples. It was still dark outside and she glanced at the alarm clock. It was nearly 3 am. And then she noticed what had roused her.
Peter was gone. On his side was nothing but ruffled sheets and covers.
Normally, Jane would have fallen back to sleep, sure that her husband had simply gotten up to go to the bathroom or something like that. But lately things had been far from normal and if she knew anything, it was that she couldn’t rely on rituals anymore.
She sprung out of bed and put her bunny slippers on. Then she walked to the door and listened before opening it. She thought for a moment that she could hear voices, a soft murmur of a conversation scraping on the heavy silence that wrapped the house. She strained to listen more carefully. She couldn’t make out any words, but the murmur came from somewhere like a tunnel or a cave or something, because whatever was spoken dragged a tail of echo behind it.
Jane put her hand on the door handle and pressed it downwards. It was unusually cold, almost frozen. Now she was out of the bedroom and she could hear clearly that the voices were coming from the living room, and she could catch a glimpse of a blue light at the bottom of the stairs. Did they buy a new lamp she didn’t know about? But she was sure that one of the voices was Peter’s – the soft, raspy murmur she was used to hear on those timeless moments after they had made love. Actually, his whispers had the same tone now. She walked down the stairs slowly, hesitant, fearful, each step bringing her lower and closer to the echoing murmurs, and the blue light grew brighter and brighter. She shivered when it touched her bare ankles.
She was standing on the floor now, but she could not let go of the rail. The murmurs were loud now, and the echoing reverberated through the house.
But still she couldn’t make out the words.