“That’s weird. No offence, honey, but it is”. Peter tied the four corners of the towel in a knot and handed it to his wife. It was Sunday morning. Next day. Peter had brought Jane into the bedroom, put her on the bed and brought her a towel filled with ice.
Jane pressed it on her bruised face and sighed. “I know”, she said hoarsely. “And I ‘m scared. All this time, ever since that painting came into the house, I feel like I’ve been losing my mind.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m seeing it change faces, do things, speak, laugh… and then I’m having a nightmare about you sleepwalking, but no, it’s me sleepwalking and falling down the stairs!” She began to sob.
Peter stroke her hair gently. “I don’t know”, he said. “Maybe it was me yelling at you like I did last night. I ‘m really sorry about that, honey. Don’t know what got into me.”
She managed to smile under her bruises. There was her Pete. “It’s okay”, she whispered. “I know that painting means a lot to you.”
Peter waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t matter. I love you more than anyone else, including myself. If that thing is disturbing you, it’s gone.”
Jane was surprised. “Really?”
Peter took her hand into his. “That’s right. Actually, I’m going downstairs right now and taking it off the wall. Our peace – your peace – is more important than any gift.” With that he stood, kissed her softly on the brow and turned to make good his promise.
“You know, I was just wondering about what you said in the dream. About your lost dream, about trying to find happiness and all. I just wanted to ask you about it.”
He laughed. “Honey, it was your dream.”
“Yeah, I know, but – well, you know what they say about dreams.”
“Do you really feel like that? Unhappy?”
He looked down for a moment, and put his hands in his pockets. Jane knew that posture; it was his body language for deep thought.
“Oh, come on”, he said in the end. “Do I look unhappy?”
“I’ve got a great home, and I ‘m married to the woman I love. What more could a man want?”
“His football career, perhaps?”
He looked at her, a little sternly, and she wondered if she did well to ask the question. Then his face changed and she knew that she could expect an honest answer. “Look”, he said. “Sure it bothers me – ruining my knee and my quarterback career in one go ain’t exactly the best thing that ever happened to me. But what am I going to do? It was an accident and I have to live with it. That’s the way things are. You lose some, you win some. So in that sense, yes, I could say that I’m unhappy. But when I look at you”, his face brightened here, “I know that happiness doesn’t come from only one place. Life goes on – and I can say I’m happy it does.”
She smiled at him, her tears now of joy. “It does, babe. And I love you too. I know how hard it must be – I see your face every time a game’s on. And I think you are a strong man to be able to see past your losses. Ouch.” She put the ice back on her aching face that was throbbing now with all her talking, and smiled sheepishly. She could feel it – the peace of the rituals was coming back.
“Well, enough sugar for today. I’ll go lose the painting.”
In the evening, as she came down to make his black coffee, Jane stood on the lower step and looked into the living room. She stood there for a while, savouring the empty space where the face hung until the day before. She felt a weight lift off her, and she sighed with relief. She was going to make her husband the best coffee in the world.
While she watched over the boiling water, feeling the hot steam on her swollen face, she wondered a little about it. It was off the wall and out of the house, but what had he done with it? After he left in morning, she had slept for most of the day.
Oh well, she thought. It’s gone. Hopefully he’ll dump it in the swamp. Or burn it. I’m good with either.
A car pulled up the front driveway. Before she looked out of the window, she knew that it was not Peter’s truck, familiar as she was with the deep, rumbling sound of its engine.
It was a patrol car. Jane was at the door before she had a chance to wonder what the police were doing at her house.
The young officer looked solemn when he came out of the car. He was in his mid-twenties and obviously new at giving people bad news. When he told Jane about Peter’s accident, he fumbled with his cap. When Jane screamed and began to weep, he cried too.
The waiting room in the hospital was crowded. It took time for Jane to realise that all those hysterical people were somehow related by the same accident. From fragments of sobbing stories, she got the whole picture before she went in to see her husband.
Peter had been heading down Highway 23, the one that passed by river. It was early and still dark. The road was wet too – it always was over there, especially in the winter when the banks flooded.
Pater came at a crossroad but for some reason, he didn’t stop – not even when he saw the massive lights of an oncoming semi coming from the opposite direction. Neither did he seem to hear its blaring horn. He just let his vehicle cross over to the semi’s lane and, just before collision, he swerved to the right.
After the semi smashed into his side, Peter’s truck was pushed for about a quarter mile, falling on its side, co-driver’s seat screeching on the asphalt, hitting three pedestrians and taking two sedans and a motorcycle with it.
Strangely, Peter’s truck slid away even after the mass of twisted metal and torn bodies had stopped – some six hundred yards from the initial point of collision – and disappeared inside a ravine. When the police arrived, they found Peter’s truck with its face immersed in water, the carriage sticking out of the slimy, brown surface, loaded with the weirdest painting they had ever seen.