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An extremely brutal death

A story about a woman coming to terms with the suspicious death of her beloved husband. *TW for allusions to & mentions of violence, death, and abuse*



Bridget

“Ma’am, where were you the night your husband was murdered?” 


One thing I’ve learned in life is that the past is the past. It’s best if you just … keep it there. Old wounds have a habit of bleeding fresh when you pick at them, digging too deep under the faded, keloided skin in search of a long-awaited reprieve from the aching. The ever-present, beneath the skin itching. But sometimes there’s no other option but to open up the wound, lest you risk it festering and eating away at the rest of your flesh.


“Ma’am?” 


“Huh?” With a yank, I pull myself out of my thoughts and refocus on the officer in blue in my foyer. Police are already a source of anxiety for me, and this time is no different. Standing in my house, a gun on his hip and a badge on his chest, this baby-faced rookie makes me want to jump out of a window and into a thorny bush to get away. “Sorry. What’d you say?”


He sighs and repeats his question, likely for the third or fourth time. “Where were you the night your husband was murdered?”


“I was home.” 


“All night?”


I nod my head and force myself to find his eyes with mine. “All night.” 

I can tell he doesn’t believe me, because he squints his eyes and makes a note in his little Blue’s Clues pad. “And is there anyone who can verify that?”


I nod again, a lump growing in my throat. “Yes. My friend, Ayja. I called her before bed because I was worried about Jared. He hadn’t come home yet, and it was getting late. Now that I know…” 


Gulping, I try to settle my jumpy nerves, because the reality is suddenly hitting me. He’s gone. Murdered, in fact, and an officer of the law is in my home investigating the suspicious circumstances of his death. If I had a mirror nearby, I’m sure it would show me bug-eyed and slack-jawed. My skin feels dry, because I’ve been crying all morning, and my fingers ache from holding them in tight fists. There’s an iron grip around my brain that has me yearning for death and makes it hard to keep my eyes open, never mind focusing them on the blue-cladded agent of the State. 


“Do you know if anyone had any grudges against your husband? If there’s anyone who might’ve wanted to hurt him?”


Jared was a personable man, who made friends everywhere he went. People were drawn to his loud, brash personality and his overt friendliness that was simultaneously off-putting and endearing. It’s what drew me to him all those years ago, and it’s the same dark charisma that kept me by his side. Through thick and thin. I relay this to the officer in carefully-chosen words and manage to keep my twitching fingers behind my back. In the midst of explaining what a beloved man my husband was, a fresh wave of grief hits me, and I find myself choking on the pain it causes. 



“We’re still very early in our investigation,” the officer explains, tucking his notepad in his breast pocket and frowning his eyebrows at me in a tragic display of sympathy. “But we want to make sure we pursue every angle of this. He had his wallet on him when we found him, so I’m pretty sure you won’t have to ID the body. Since he wasn’t missing any personal effects, and he still had his wedding ring on, we can probably rule out robbery. However – and I’ll spare you the ugly details – the coroner will confirm it was an extremely brutal death, ma’am.”


An extremely brutal death. Those four words circle my brain like vultures over a freshly rotted corpse, and it takes me several tries to finally ask, through hiccups, “So… h-he suffered? Is that w-what you’re saying?”


The officer nods. “Yes. I’m sorry.”


I nod back, tears blurring his face. He’s sorry. He’s sorry my husband was murdered. He’s sorry it was a gruesome and bloody death. He’s sorry they have no leads. He’s sorry, and I have a migraine, a mountain of laundry to do, and no spouse. 


An extremely brutal death. 


“I’m going to need to verify your alibi, but stay near the phone in case we get any more news or have other questions. Okay?”


Silently, I acknowledge his directive. “How could this have happened?” I ask. They say they found his body while on patrol, as the sun was on its way above the city. He was laid out in an alley near downtown, with a bullet in his back that was probably non-lethal. What killed him, they told me, was the butt of the gun to his temple and internal bleeding near his ribs. Likely the result of a pretty severe beating. 


An extremely brutal death


“Well, ma’am,” he starts, and before he can continue, I already know who he’ll blame. “Crime has been on the rise in the city again. The gang activity is crazy, and it’s easy to get caught up in it. If he was out too late, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time…”

A sob bubbles up my throat, and the sound that rips out of me is ugly and sorrowful. 

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Is there anyone we can contact for you during this time?”


There’s no one. I’ll have to call my parents, and likely Jared’s as well. Then it would make sense to phone my good friend and let her know that I’ll be closing myself off from the world for a while. Long enough to grieve in private before I have to do so in public. 


“No.”


“Well, alright,” says the man in blue, with his loaded gun, his baton, and his useless notes. “You be sure to call us if you think of anything. Here’s my direct line. Just ask for Officer Turner.”


I take the man’s card and run my fingers over the thick, embossed lettering. Expensive. “Thank you, Officer Turner.” 


An extremely brutal death


Before the cop leaves, he gives me one last look, scanning my body from head to toe, as if to glean the full truth, something other than what I’ve told him. I’m too steeped in pain to think anything of it, so I simply open the door for him. As he’s stepping off my porch, he says once more, “I’m sorry, ma’am.”


He’s sorry. I still have a migraine, a mountain of laundry to do, and no spouse. 


“Thank you, Officer. Goodbye now.” 


When he leaves, I toss the card on the hall table with the mail and my husband’s keys to the car he’ll never use again. I wonder what he had on him, why he was out so late at night, and how he had planned to get back in the house if he left his keys here. I work myself into a dizzy spell trying to understand the last fifteen hours. I think until it feels like my brain will explode through the cracks of my skull; until I can’t think anymore. 


And, by that point, I’m numb. The tears continue to spill from my eyes, but I blink through them, unfeeling as I trudge through my empty house, down the back stairwell, and into the basement. 


The cop is sorry. I have a migraine, a mountain of laundry to do … and a dead husband. 


“First the laundry,” I tell myself, bending over to sweep a small pile of clothes off the floor and into the wash. “Then I’ll sleep the headache off.”


There’s nothing to do about my spouse. About the man I loved for decades, the one whose pain I bore and whose special brand of love I had tattooed on my skin, being gone from this Earth. Forever. 


An extremely brutal death.


My mind is spinning. My hands hurt. My feet are throbbing. I don’t even pay attention to the red t-shirt that enters the washing machine with the white tank top and gray joggers I’m planning to wash. It doesn’t matter. Let the colors bleed. My spouse is dead, and all I have now are the empty apologies of the officer trying to uncover his murderer. 


 

It takes me two full days to pull myself out of my anguish, and when I do, my hair is stinky from sweat. My covers reek, because I haven’t moved from the bed except to relieve my bladder and grab a poor excuse for a meal from the pantry. Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its, and saltine crackers have been my sustenance since Officer Turner left my doorstep. 


My mom’s calls have come once an hour since I told my parents about Jared’s death, but I keep letting them go to voicemail. There’s no way I can talk about this right now. Not with her. Not with anyone in my family. They’ll tell me how sad and tragic this is, as if I don’t know it enough on my own. Their grief will compound mine, and I can’t suffocate under the mountain anymore. Not with the police still calling to give me updates, and when the business of Jared’s death needs to be tended to. There’s the matter of closing his bank accounts, notifying his job, planning the funeral, and figuring out what to do with all of his possessions. The two luxury cars in the garage. The storage unit. The expensive clothes in our shared closet. The beautiful necklaces I found hidden in the back of his underwear drawer, with the letter N engraved on gold-encased diamond stones that twinkle in the light. 


I can’t deal with everyone else’s pain and also lay my husband to rest in the way he deserves. 


So I decide to make a list, because lists help me organize my thoughts. I sit at the kitchen counter in an old, cotton robe that comforts me, and worn slippers that scrape against the floor when I walk, and begin to plan the next few days. It takes me well over an hour to work through my brain fog and figure out what actually needs to happen, and in what order. 


Once that’s done, I manage to shower and get dressed, which takes another two hours of forcing my body to move. Of screaming at my limbs and begging them to do as my brain insists. Eventually, one agonizing step at a time, I find myself back in the foyer, a fresh wave of tears streaming down my cheeks as I enter the expansive four-car garage attached to the side of our – no, my home. My home alone, because I am now a widow. 


A woman whose entire life was once defined by her marriage and will now be defined by the absence of such. By the extremely brutal death of her husband. The tears stay with me all the way to the bank, and the teller is impatient as I try to speak through my racking sobs to explain that I need to close my husband’s accounts. 


“Ma’am, you need an account to transfer the money into,” she explains. “Otherwise, there’s nowhere for the money to go.”


A wave of embarrassment rises to accompany my grief, and I cringe as I tell her, for a second time, “I don’t have any bank accounts of my own. My husband managed all of our money.”


He was the breadwinner, the accountant, and the approver of any spending. He controlled all of it, and before today, I never thought of it, except for days when wishful thinking got the better of me and I fantasized about having my own. But I knew better. I’ve always known better.


The bank teller sighs, her impatience so palpable, I can almost feel it bodily. “Well, I’m really sorry about your loss, but we can’t do anything without transferring the money. Otherwise it would sit there.”


“And then what?”


“It might be seized by the state, if he has debts to repay, or if there’s a will, this pot of money would just be added to it.”


Jared hadn’t gotten around to writing a will. He planned to be on this Earth for far longer. I’d planned on it, too, and the thought of being unable to provide for myself in the event of his death had never even occurred to me. 


My confusion and stress must be written plain as day on my face, because the teller gives another sigh, but this one is more sympathetic. “There is another option. If you have your marriage certificate, we can create an account under your name and transfer the funds over.” 

 

Relief crashes into me, heavy as a bag of bricks. “We actually keep the certificate here, in a safety deposit box. I have the key.” I tug the keyring out of my purse with shaky hands and wave it to her like a child at show-and-tell. 


A tight smile cracks her otherwise unbothered face, and she tells me, “Great. We can go retrieve that and see about opening the account.”


3The marriage certificate is there. Our signatures are scribbled in bold black ink in a cursive so big and excited, it spills over the dotted lines. I almost faint when the teller pulls it out and leads me back to her desk. “I’ll need your name, a government-issued ID, and your social security number.”


“Looks like you’ve been approved,” she says, and this time my brain does spin more than a little, “but we have a slight problem.”


The relief halts instantly. “What problem?”


The teller turns her monitor to me, and I stare at the jumble of words and numbers that I can hardly understand in my current state. “This here is his checking account, and it has roughly six-thousand in it.”


“Okay…” This doesn’t seem like a problem. Certainly not a lot of money, but more than I have a claim to. 


“But these,” she points to another part of the screen, “are his savings. Together, there looks to be a combined oe hundred and fifty-six thousand, eight-hundred-and-seventy-two dollars and sixty-four cents. That’s going to take at least five business days to process to your new account.”


The teller’s face goes blotchy with spots of black that ping around my field of vision, and I grip the chair and blink several times until the world seems back to normal. I take several deep breaths that stretch the edges of my lungs, but that does very little to quiet the high-pitched ringing in my brain. “Can you say that again, please?”


“Um.. okay. Between these three savings accounts, there’s about one hundred and fifty-thousand dollars here, but it’s going to take longer than we anticipated to transfer it over to your new account.”


“That’s what I thought you said. I just…”


“It’s a lot of money, I know. Were you not aware of it at all?”


I shake my head, staring up at the ceiling and trying to stop a fresh wave of tears from descending. Jared was a provider and proud of it, so the fact that there will be money for me to rely on now that he’s gone shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Still, fresh pain threatens to overtake me, so I force myself to breathe through my panic and respond.

“N-no. My husband … He … He managed everything. I was a stay-at-home wife, so I didn’t really pay attention to the money.”


“Ah, okay. That’s not uncommon. So, is it safe to say, you also weren’t aware of the trust he had set up with us?”


“The what?”


More pointing at the screen, more numbers blurred by my tears, more questions flying through my brain. “A trust is typically set up to go to listed beneficiaries at a given point in time. Either when they hit a certain age, or when the grantor passes away. Your husband set one up, and it currently has a little under one million dollars in it. Nine-hundred-thousand, nine-hundred-and-sixty-eight dollars on the nose, to be precise.”


“What?” I ask, but it comes as barely more than a whisper. I’m amazed I can even muster that much while my lungs are constricting behind my ribs. 


“There’s no beneficiary, but there is a note? It says, for N. Do you know who N is, ma’am?”

A million and one ideas spark at once, but I settle for the second one that comes to me and let it fall from my lips like water through a holey bucket. It doesn’t even taste like a lie. “We lost a daughter a few years ago. We were going to name her Nyomi.”


“I’m sorry.” This time, I believe her. “Would you like to transfer money from the trust as well?”


My answer comes immediately. “No. Just the savings will do for now.”


“Okay. We can always add you as the sole beneficiary of the trust if you’d like, which will prevent it from being garnered for debts or anything else.”


“Yes, let’s do that for now. It’ll give me time to figure out what to do with the rest.”


“Okay, ma’am. I’m sure this is a lot to wrap your head around, so take your time. If we give you power over the funds, you’ll be the only one to say how they’re used.”


By the time I walk out of the bank, I have six grand in a new account, and my migraine is back. I cry in the parking lot, thankful for the dark tints that allow me to hide from prying eyes while I try again to make sense of my life. To make sense of the ambiguity that lies ahead, leaving me feeling stuck and paralyzed, even though my list is right there in my purse. Even though I’ve already mapped out what I need to do to continue putting my murdered husband to eternal rest. 


I am stuffed full of these awful emotions and the knowledge that all the money in the world won’t—can’t erase my pain. 


 

“Hey, Bridget. How are you feeling, boo?”


I step across the threshold and fall into my friend’s arms. Ayja’s embrace is warm against the cold loneliness that grips me. She leads me into her living room and places me down on the couch, her face twisted in concern as her eyes rove over my body. I’m clad in a dress that reaches my knees and wrists, despite the warm spring air, and it’s dark enough to match the cloud overhanging me. I didn’t put it on intentionally, rather out of habit, but it shrouds me the same way my despair does. And it feels befitting, given my intense, days-long mourning.


When I don’t answer Ayja’s question, because the crying has morphed into belly-born moans that sing my pain, she settles on the couch next to me and wraps an arm over my shoulder. “Let it all out. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”


So I do. I scream into her shoulder until my throat aches and my brain throbs, then I pound my fists into the couch cushions, letting loose what feels like years of unexpressed anger and hurt. Years of words unsaid and time lost, and it feels like my body comes apart in my best friend’s living room. 


My bones break and snap in half. My organs swell with blood then pop with sudden, painful force. I give up on holding it in and let it erupt out of me, hot and forceful like a geyser, for long, neverending minutes. By the time my wailing quiets into hiccuping whimpers, my body feels like it’s been twisted in opposite directions and wrung dry. 


“That’s it,” my friend coos, her voice watery as she rubs soothing circles on my back. “Deep breaths, Bridge. In and out, in and out. That’s it.”


I’m finally able to speak after ten more minutes, and instead of trying to communicate my feelings, I settle for the mundane details of death. Of closing the book on someone’s life. 

“The police said I won’t be able to bury him for another few weeks while they finish their investigation. I’m not even sure when I’ll be able to do the funeral. I’ve been trying to handle all the money stuff this week so I can afford it, but that’s so exhausting. I’m exhausted, and my husband is dead. He’s gone.”


“Oh, sweetie. You should’ve called me. I would’ve helped you figure that shit out.”


She’s right. Ayja is one of the few people I’ve been able to maintain a true friendship with over the past few years of living in this small town. Jared moved us out here a couple of months after we wed, and since it’s hundreds of miles away from my family and anyone else I know, I was desperate for a friend. Someone to rely on and spill my deepest, darkest fears to. Someone whose advice would help get me through tough times.


“I know,” I tell her, drying my face as best as I can while the tears have stopped momentarily. “I’ll probably need your help to actually plan the funeral. You know his parents are going to want a whole big ceremony, and I don’t know if I’ve got it in me to plan all that.”


“You know I’ve got you, girl. We can start putting it together this week, but I think you need to focus on yourself.”


I look up at Ayja, noticing the film of wetness that covers her eyes, and offer a small smile. I know she’s hurting, and watching me fold over with grief isn’t helping. “Sorry for bawling all over you like this.” Sniffling, I wipe the snot from my nose and mouth. 


“Please.” Ayja huffs a dry laugh and reaches for a box of tissues on her side table. “Don’t apologize. Your husband just died, Bridget. I think you’re entitled to grieve, and be as loud and messy as you want with it.”


“Did the cops tell you how it happened?”


Ayja freezes, her wide, panicked eyes clashing against mine. She must know some of what I’m about to say already. “Um, they told me a little bit. Just that they found him in an alley.”


“Yeah. He–” I choke on my breath, and it takes me several seconds before I find oxygen again and force myself to speak the grisly details aloud. “He was shot in the back once, and then they must have beat him with something heavy, because there were bruises all over his body. His ribs were cracked, a lung was punctured, and there was bruising on his brain as well. F-from the butt of the gun. They shot him and beat him to death, Ayja, and they never found either weapon.”


It’s the third or fourth time I’ve relayed the ugly particulars of Jared’s death to someone, and the tenth or eleventh time I’ve heard them myself. 


“I think I’m gonna be sick.”


Without a second thought, I leap off the couch and race down the hall to Ayja’s half bathroom. I barely make it to the toilet in time before the paltry breakfast I tried to feed myself comes hurdling up my esophagus and into the shiny, white bowl. The gagging is excruciating, painful enough to draw beads of sweat on my forehead and break the dam on the tears I’ve kept at bay. When I’m finished, there’s nothing to do but cry. 


“Do you need anything, babe?” Ayja asks from the other side of the door after a few minutes of nothing but my hacking sobs. 


“Water, please,” I mumble, then force myself up off the floor. Wash your hands. Rinse your mouth. Breathe. I tell myself this a few times, and eventually I do it. Wash my hands with hand soap. Rinse my mouth out with water and a waterfall of mouthwash. Take shallow, shaky breaths. 


I finally look at myself, and find an empty husk. A shell of the woman I used to be, but it’s a reflection that has been with me for years, so I’m not unsurprised by it. I tug up the neckline or my dress which has fallen and revealed the purple bruises I’ve become so adept at hiding. 


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