Mary Beth and Joe
By lisa h
Mary Beth and Joe
Mary Beth reclined on the sofa, her feet resting on the edge. With one hand, she rubbed her swollen stomach; with the other she held the remote. She flicked idly through the channels, and waited for Joe. A kick rippled her skin, but she didn't notice. Programmes whizzed by without recognition.
A car pulled up outside. Mary Beth tilted her head, and debated sitting up. She considered running from the room. Someone slammed a car door, followed by an electronic beep-bleep. Her hand paused on her stomach, pressing down as she held her breath. Footsteps on the pavement came closer. The baby pushed back at the pressure. She tensed further, her grip triggering the scan function. The television pulsed past channel after channel. Next door, the front door opened and closed. She breathed a sigh of relief, and curled her feet closer.
He was running late. She looked at the clock on the wall. He was due ten minutes ago. Joe hated being late. He was bound to be fuming by the time he walked in the door. He liked to dine out on a Thursday - but not if he was running late. He'd want to eat at home. There was time to run to the shops and buy something tasty, to make him smile. She tried to remember the last time he'd smiled. The last time he put a needle to his arm? She didn't think so. The last time he put a fist to her face? Possibly. Her hand rubbed over hard protrusions. A foot, or maybe an elbow jutted out. Her baby. Conceived during the week Joe wasn't there.
Mary Beth climbed off the sofa and went to the kitchen. She took out a bottle of rum and splashed an inch in a glass. She thought better of it and made a mess trying to pour half back. The lid to the coke bottle came of with a gushing hiss, and a few pathetic bubbles struggled to rise. She mixed the drink anyway. Taking a sip, she walked back to the living room.
She perched on the edge of the sofa for the next twenty minutes, patting her tummy, draining her drink. She rolled the empty glass between her fingers for half an hour. The tumbler nearly dropped to a shattered end when she placed it teetering on the side table. For the last fifteen minutes, she stared at the phone, willing it to ring. Maybe she should call him, find out if he was okay. A small sly thought emerged from a dark corner of her mind and suggested he wasn't all right.
A small knock sounded. Surprised, she fell off the edge of the sofa. She struggled to her feet, her legs asleep and tingling. A second knock sounded, more sure this time, and Mary Beth ran to open the front door.
Her husband stood at the door, supporting his weight by leaning heavily against the wall of the porch. Blood gushed from a wound in his side. Without saying a word to her, he lurched up to the door. Mary Beth moved aside, and Joe staggered inside. He flopped in a comfy chair. With both hands, he compressed his stomach.
"What happened? she cried, rushing to follow.
"That bastard Ritchie.
"You weren't gambling again? she asked, and covered her face with shaking hands. She couldn't bear to look at the blood oozing between his big fingers.
Joe nodded. "He stabbed me. He pushed harder, grimacing as his hands squeezed against torn flesh.
"I'll call for an ambulance, I'll get help! Mary Beth turned circles, looking for the phone. She spotted it next to the television.
"No! he shouted. Then, more softly, "There's no need.
"Why not? You going to bleed to death. She left the room, and returned with an armful of tea towels. "We can use these. I'm going to call for a doctor. She reached for the phone.
"Don't bother. He gave up pressing. A flood poured from the puncture, soaking his shirt.
Mary Beth dropped the tea towels on the floor, by the chair. "I'll wrap you up. Her voice emerged high and squeaky. She fiddled with the tea towels, trying to make a bandage. She couldn't work it out, and bunched a few together.
"I'm already dead.
"Don't be silly, you're right here, talking to me. She tried not to scream the words.
"I'm already dead.
"Stop saying that! she screamed, tears brimmed. He was a hard man, but he was her man. She was having a baby - he couldn't die. She balled the tea towels and pressed them down on his side. To her great surprise, they sank through his body, as if he consisted of quicksand. Mary Beth took a step back, tripped, and fell onto the sofa.
"I told you. The blood from his wound slowed to a trickle, his face bleaching to an anaemic creamy white. "It's too late for me. But you can help.
Mary Beth nodded dumbly.
"You have to follow me, to the alley. You have to find the weapon, so the police can catch Ritchie.
"Catch Ritchie? she echoed.
"Let's go, Joe said. He stood up, straightening to full height with a faint smile on his lips. "No more pain. He stretched, palms pressed against the ceiling. "Nice.
Mary Beth stared at her husband, and then to the chair. Clean tea towels lay in a scrunched up pile. Dazed, she followed him from the house.
"We need to be quick, he said.
Joe ran in a slow motion bob, his feet not quite touching the ground. He turned into the alley at the end of a terrace of houses. In the shadows, under a sick and mostly leafless tree, she could see a dark shape.
"Yea. Joe scanned the alley. He floated away from the tree, to the streetlight. She walked towards the shadows.
"Oh, Joe. She knelt beside his body and took his bloody hand between her own. "What have you done? She placed the palm against her cheek and sobbed.
"Mary Beth, he called from behind some bins. "It's here.
She walked with slow steps, carefully, as if in a thick fog. Joe pointed at the ground.
"Pick it up, quickly.
Under the large leaf of a weed, a blade reflected the light from the alley's streetlamp. Far away, Mary Beth heard the shrill cry of a police car.
"I don't want to pick it up. She turned away from the weapon, her large brown eyes returning to the body of her husband.
"You must, you must pick it up.
He tried to put his arms around her. They fell through her body, with an unpleasant feeling of something wet and cold. She shivered, knelt and picked up the knife. The handle had a coating of wet blood, Joe's blood. Repulsed, she cleaned the knife on her trousers.
"Now go back to the tree.
She moved as if in a trance. Her mind receded inside, reaching down to her womb and to the consciousness of her unborn child. Life outside took on a surreal translucent quality. She trailed the ghost of her husband, the knife held between thumb and forefinger. It swung back and forth as she walked. Sirens shrieked. Mary Beth felt surrounded by noise, and her thoughts became incomprehensible.
She placed the knife on the ground by his feet. With a restrained sob, she looked up at Joe, searching for guidance in his paling eyes. As she studied his face, he began to fade, until his form shimmered in the yellow streetlight.
"It's time to go. Lie with me, Mary Beth. He gave a gentle smile. "Let us lie together one last time.
She collapsed onto the ground, shifted one of his arms, and rested her head upon it. She curled up, her body pressed against his. The sirens reached a crescendo. She ignored the squealing wheels entering the end of the alley. Policemen ran at her. They pulled her away from Joe. She pawed at the body, wailing and struggling.
Four men had to carry her away. They placed her in an ambulance with a policeman guarding her. Officer Garroway read her rights. He asked her to remove her clothes, for evidence.
Mary Beth screamed at them, "Go find Ritchie, he killed my husband!
The officer shook his head. "Ritchie? Who's he?
"He's a bookie, my husband had a tab with him. He killed Joe! She grabbed his arms, smearing blood on his uniform.
Garroway pulled away, "Do you have a last name for Ritchie?
"Or an address?
"No. She hung her head as the paramedic took her blood pressure.
"Did you put the knife at your husband's feet?
"Where did you find it?
Mary Beth pointed. The back doors of the ambulance hung fully open, and she could see the place. "By the bins, under some weeds.
Garroway followed her finger. "That's all the way at the other end of the alley, he said, peering into the dark. "It's thick with weeds. How did you find it?
Mary Beth froze. The blood drained from her face. "I saw it glittering in the light, she whispered.
"So you ran past your dead, or dying husband, to the end of the alley. Then what? You picked the knife up and took it back to his body? He raised his eyebrows, then returned to his notebook, and scribbled away.
"I didn't kill him. Her voice felt far away, unreal and unfamiliar. "Why would I kill him?
"There have been fourteen call-outs to your premises in the past¦ He flipped some pages back. "¦four years. Your husband was not very nice to you.
"He gets tired. She turned her hands palm up. Joe's blood coated her skin.
Offer Garroway made notes in his little black book, glancing up every few words to study her.
Mary Beth stared through the open doors of the ambulance as the paramedic put a monitor around her stomach. She could still see Joe, hovering under the tree. Two men circled the body, taking photos. They walked through her husband three times as she watched. His form slowly faded into shadow, only seconds remained until he disappeared into nothing. She couldn't find the scar on his face. His clothes showed no definition. The tattoos across his knuckles had watered down into a blue-green smudge. But there was no mistaking the cruel smile.
He caught her with his eyes, and placed one hand on his stomach. With the other, he slowly uncurled his fist until one finger pointed at her. Mary Beth looked down at her belly, her mouth hung open, her eyes wide and wet. From across the alley, Joe broke into a full-bodied laugh that echoed in her head long after he disappeared.