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APRIL 11, 1995

Yellow light from the bathroom played on her small breasts as she lay on the coverlet, her belly rising and falling. She gurgled in the dark room.

He felt strangely peaceful considering the circumstances. Fear and shame, the guiding forces of his life, had been purged in a few joyful moments. Now he felt tall and strong and peaceful. Part James Bond, part Buddha.

“Mama?” she said, her voice weak and thick with sleep.

“She’s not here.” Outside, a car rolled up the gravel alley.

“Call Mama.” She furrowed her brow like a serious infant. Baby face, soft skin, shivering in the warm room. The little cherub who brought him peace.

He spoke in lullaby tones. “You called. She wasn’t home. You got me.”

An empty Valium bottle lay on the worn braided rug by her single bed. He put it on the nightstand. It was time to go.

In the tiny bathroom, he wet a washcloth, then wiped any surface he might have touched: the faucet, the pill bottle, the doorknob. He was about to leave when his shoe hit another pill bottle.

“Jesus,” he said. “How many of these did you take?”

Her head arched back and she choked for air.

In a rush his blood pressure shot up and all his fear and shame came back, all his self-loathing, as it hit him: She could die! She was full of his DNA. He’d be charged with rape, maybe murder. Arrest. Court. Prison. Hell.

He stumbled into the bathroom and ran hot water into the tiny claw-foot tub, then stepped back to the bed. He had to lean close to hear her breaths, short and shallow. He settled his arms under her neck and knees and hoisted. She hung like dead weight, collapsing in the middle. He strained to hold her up.

He moved sideways through the bathroom doorway and lowered her into the tub. She gasped from the hot water and again when her head hit the enamel. He turned on the cold, swished the water around, raised one of her eyelids. She stirred but didn’t register him.

“Oh God!” he muttered. “Oh God oh God oh God.”

The water rose to her chest and he turned it off.

Find the washcloth. Where’s the washcloth? Wipe the tub. Wipe the floor where he stepped. Wipe the pill bottles.

He heard her throat catch again and he watched from the archway. She began to tremble. Then she began to quake. She was having a convulsion, a seizure.

“Oh God,” he cried, softly as he could.

Then he wiped the doorknob with the cloth, stepped out, closed it, wiped the outside, hit the rickety wooden steps and ran down, down, down.


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