Marianne pulled off the duvet, surprised the girl’s heady scent of lavender remained in her husband’s bed. She had prepared herself for this. His muddy boots by the door, desiccated bags of Darjeeling tea and his notebook laid open waiting to be filled. She was still cleaning up after the man almost a year after his death.
A few of his shirts she had kept in a sealed box when she wanted to remind herself. To breathe in his scent of resin and musk, but that would bring back the other memories she wasn’t ready for and she wrapped the box back up and shoved it under the bed.
She should have cleaned out the guesthouse sooner. The police had made a thorough mess of it, but the winter hadn’t gone as planned and Marianne found herself busier than expected for a new widow. As the winter wore on, she’d look out the window, down the wooded path to the guesthouse buried in snow, the frozen pond beyond, and she preferred it that way.
But the spring and then the summer beckoned, and she wandered down the stone path almost expecting him to leap up from behind a boulder. The bruises had healed in the weeks and months that followed, but his absence didn’t feel absolute, waking with a burning in her throat, gasping for air like breathing through a narrow reed. His fingers hot on her neck. She’d burned a bushel’s worth of sage, enough to keep the worst at bay. More would be needed to remove the imprint he’d left.
She opened the windows to get her scent out. It didn’t belong here. Marianne would lie in bed alone and wonder if he hurt her too while he bedded her in the small brass framed bed under her mother’s quilt.
Not that she could blame the girl. Jacob had been charming and attentive and she was not in a position to decline him. Marianne read his poems and pretended that he still wrote about her. They were both certain it was better for him to live in the guesthouse. He was in better spirits, fewer things were broken, and more of his writing finished. She was also less sore, making the running of a household less disagreeable.
Drowning wasn’t the death she had pictured for him, but it was a lovely pond and it might have called to him on that moonlit night.
She swept underneath the bed and picked up a folded piece of paper and read Jacob’s familiar scrawl on the back.
In the dark the only
Light is you and it is then
I know what it means and what
I must do
She turned the paper around. Columns of blocky numbers, a scorecard of some sort. Jacob and Randall would play chess or Yahtzee and drink whiskey by the fire. Jacob would write down lines whenever the urge came. He’d come home and undress and Marianne would find his forearms inked in hurried scrawls he transferred to paper at his desk. His devotion to his art was one of the things she had first loved about him.
A light rapping sounded at the front door. Marianne crumpled the paper and placed it in her pocket.
“Ms. Rivers, I hope I’m not bothering you.”
She clutched the wadded paper in her pocket, but Detective Swenson’s blue eyes twinkled in the late afternoon sun and held no air of discontent. Taking up most of the doorframe, he could be considered foreboding if not for the way he sloped his shoulder to look down at her.
“Not at all, what can I help you with?”
She motioned for him to come inside. He knew his way around the guesthouse well enough after the investigation.
“Well, I know it’s been nearly a year since Mr. Rivers’ passing and I thought I’d see how you’re getting along.”
Marianne stood at her full height, which made her look down on a fair share of men, but not Detective Swenson. “As well as expected. I do have a life to keep living and others to care for. And I intend to.”
She neglected to mention the strange odors and tingling sensations she felt in the night. Those she would address herself.
He fingered the brim of his hat that he held in front of him like a shield. “I’m glad to hear it. The investigation is completed, but I wanted to you to know I’m available. Should a need come up, I mean.”
Now the detective was lanky and awkward, but details weren’t lost on him. She had felt his eyes on her neck and his unease at watching her limp around the house.
“I appreciate it.” There wasn’t any more to say on it.
“It’s also kind of you to take in that Robbins girl, being pregnant and all. I still can’t get over how a man could run off like that.” His eyes never left her as he spoke.
“We have to take care of each other.”
He nodded. “I’ll be on my way then. I just wanted to stop in and say hello.” He ducked his head and stepped back into the dappled sunlight.
Marianne had only wanted a life tending her garden, a quiet little life. She told herself she wouldn’t dream for love anymore and threw the crumpled paper in the fireplace.
“Detective, I’ll walk you back to the house. You can stay for tea if you want.”
“I’d like that.”
They walked in comfortable silence to the main house. The girl laid on the grass near the lavender bushes with her baby. A glance was shared between the two women. Their words and their deeds now held by the deep.
Christina Brown is a writer and reader of speculative fiction, who enjoys creating strange and beautiful worlds. She will be studying creative writing at the University of Oxford and currently lives in Alaska. She can be found online on Instagram at @christinaiswriting.