by Joe Giordano
Artist: Jeff Bergen
I was drawn to Anouk. Slim, elegant, she entered a room and became the center of attention. When I first appeared, she blanched and strode away, but I couldn’t be shed that easily. I followed her everywhere, even to the Ritz Carlton where she schemed to seduce another friend’s husband, gratified that my appearance caused her to flee the room. I listened as she confessed to the priest how she’d betrayed me. Kneeling at the communion rail, she closed her eyes to say penance. Maybe God forgave her, but when she saw I was still there, I relished the anguish on her face.
She fidgeted constantly and forgot appointments. At night, she slept restlessly, often waking with a start. Past every mirror, she self-consciously checked her reflection, and seeing me at her shoulder, made despairing sotto voce utterances. Colleagues recoiled from her depression like she’d sprouted thorns. At Starbucks, they theorized that she was ill, then shrugged before ordering lattes. Men who’d flirted with Anouk backed off. Tedious wasn’t attractive.
I’m Inez. Anouk and I were associates and, I thought, friends. My marriage had deteriorated
– my husband and I reduced to arguing over trivialities. He approached Anouk for advice. Instead of helping, she seduced him. When I detected her scent, I confronted him, and he laughed in my face, so I stabbed him with a kitchen knife. As he bled out on the stone floor, I collapsed beside him, regretting an act that tears wouldn’t erase. My mind became a tornado of hopelessness and anger. Part of me hungered for revenge on Anouk, but wanting to end the pain won out, and I slit my wrists with the same knife, one last joining with him.
At first, haunting Anouk brought satisfaction as I watched her squirm. Only, people looked right through me. Not their fault, but I still resented it. No one understood who’d caused her distress, and accomplishment without an audience dulled the taste. Then, Anouk’s mother died, and for the first time, she forgot about me. At first, she was stoic, but at both the wake and the gravesite she bawled and shuddered pitifully. The priest blessed her mother’s casket, and it was lowered.
When her spirit squeezed up from the dirt, her mother spotted me. She pointed an alabaster finger and shouted, “Evil.” I felt sick and took a backward step. Scowling, she rose out of sight, disappearing into a heavenly mist. Her accusation continued to gnaw at me. She was right, I’d murdered my husband and sought revenge on Anouk – a goal so intense that I sacrificed all to haunt her. What had I become? After the funeral, I trudged alongside Anouk. Sadness over her mother’s passing had made her seem human again. I hadn’t reckoned with that. Her discomfort no longer lightened my step. I sighed, ready to follow her mother, wishing that Heaven would open for me, but I realized that I’d condemned myself, and Anouk was my fate.
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife Jane now live in Texas. Joe’s stories have appeared in more than one hundred magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, and Shenandoah, and his short story collection, Stories and Places I Remember. His novels include, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, and the Anthony Provati thriller series: Appointment with ISIL, Drone Strike, and The Art of Revenge. Visit Joe’s website at www.joe-giordano.com