Mrs. Po drove home early from her job as an office assistant. Her workload for Wednesday was done. There was nothing more to do and the manager said go. Her husband wouldn’t be home for hours, so she had extra time to catch up on gardening before making dinner.

As she turned the corner of their street, she saw an unfamiliar car parked next to the curb in front of their house. It could have belonged to the neighbor. It was odd, but her preoccupation with her flowers was of greater concern. Mums had been purchased last week and she hadn’t dropped them into the bed. The leaves had started to wane and needed to be put in the ground.

Mrs. Po unlocked the front door, hung the keys, and headed to the kitchen to make a sandwich. If she didn’t eat, she’d get nauseous for lack of food. Suddenly she heard a stifled laugh. She froze. Listened. Had she heard a laugh? Or settling walls? Maybe the AC kicked in? Silence followed. Was someone in her house? Not her husband, he was at work.

The giggle repeated in her head. Her left knee buckled; her empty stomach growled. Nausea hit her esophagus and almost made it to her throat. Uncertainty clung to her as though she had entered a grotto of beasts.

She breathed quietly as shriveling fear crawled on her arms. How long should she wait to move? If someone was inside how long would they wait to move. Maybe they were moving.

Mrs. Po gently placed one foot back, but the board creaked despite her effort to be silent. She put down another foot, carefully retraced footsteps to the front and hoped to God she imagined the sound. She lifted her keys, opened the door, and paused. No one rushed out but doubt stayed. She stepped onto the porch and continued moving until safe in her Honda.

She studied the strange car next to the curb. The vehicle not particularly notable. A four-door sedan with an aftermarket flat navy paint job; rust spots on the trunk and no distinctive markings from the car industry. A teenager might drive this car. They didn’t have kids. If they did, they would be teenagers by now or older. They had been married twenty-five years.

An uncomfortable thought came to mind. It’s possible her husband was home. He was his own boss, made his own hours. Maybe he was inside with a vendor or sales-person of sorts. They were always getting estimates to fix their house. Her husband parked in the garage, usually. She’d have to go back inside to check the garage, see if he was home. Ambiguous anxiety rose in her throat. He hadn’t mentioned anything about coming home early. But they had gotten to a point of not mentioning anything about anything. She could call him, ask if he was at work, but he’d be angry she bothered him.

Whoever it was, maybe she would find out later. She waited. She could run to the store, buy fruit. But if she left, she might miss something. If she stayed, she might find something she didn’t want to. If her husband was at work she’d have to wait hours for his return.

Suddenly the curtain in the living room gently shifted. Unwittingly she looked down. Had a person peered out? Her heart jolt like a snapped pencil. She quickly looked up. The curtain moved again, air from a vent.

In a short amount of time the Honda warmed with choking heat. She put the windows down halfway but no breeze blew in. Sweat showed up on her work shirt; she wouldn’t be able to wear it tomorrow.

Frustrated with this inconvenience and the uncertainty, Mrs. Po started the car and drove. She passed rows of massive, fortified oaks. She was nothing like an oak; more like a pine, easily broken, but still a tree. She chuckled. A tree, she was like a tree. Maybe she could be one with the tree, slam her car into a tree, oak tree. Disturb her tepid existence and her husband’s.

After a couple miles, she stopped to call the police but hesitated. Why would they come? They would ask questions. What would she say? Someone was in her house. Someone who shouldn’t be there, but she wasn’t sure. Could be her husband. They would ask, “Are you home?” No.

Mrs. Po sat for five minutes, undecided, jittery. Finally, she drove back. When she pulled up the strange car was gone. She waited in the driveway; her hands tingled. Her neck felt clammy. In the rearview mirror, her natural skin tones had been replaced with dark blotches as though she lived in a cave deprived of sunlight. Did others notice? She felt ridiculous. All she wanted was to spend time in her garden. It wasn’t too much to ask. Who was in her house? This disruption made her feel like an alley dog gnawing on bones.

She had to do something, only one thing came to mind. Go inside. Whether it was wise or not, it didn’t matter. She had a right to be in her own home and not waste the afternoon just because she happened to arrive in the middle of the day and heard laughter. Or thought she heard laughter. She didn’t know what she heard.

Mrs. Po walked in like she had before, only this time tried not to touch anything. If she had to touch something, she used a tissue just in case fingerprints might prove useful. She listened, heard ticking clocks. All sizes, all battery run. Funny she hadn’t heard them before.

She headed to the back where she thought the previous sound had come from. In the bedroom she didn’t see anyone, and nothing looked out of place. On the chair clothes hung as they had when she left that morning for work. The bed was made exactly as she had made it. She pulled back the cover and touched the sheets with her hand. The bed didn’t feel warm, no unusual smells. She continued, searched the entire house, opened closets, looked behind curtains, checked drawers, floors, countertops, windowsills – all seemed fine, no evidence of an intruder.

Later, her husband came home, cordial, a personality he had grown into. He said nothing about his work or their house. Generally, he said nothing and asked nothing and Mrs. Po asked nothing as well.

They ate dinner in front of the TV as usual and got ready for bed. She wanted to tell him about what she experienced earlier. He would say, “Darling, you’re so insecure. You always imagine things; it makes you jealous for no reason at all.”

It didn’t matter how she described what she heard or saw. Her husband always responded the same. He’d quietly point out her worst weakness, insecurity. She was insecure, like eggs on a floor, “Don’t walk on me or I’ll break.” That was her hell. She was sensitive. Her husband often told her she was more sensitive than others. She guessed that’s why he loved her. But guessed that’s why he had grown to hate her. He didn’t say it, but she knew it and one day he would say it.

They both went to sleep. Mrs. Po dreamt her husband ran after a young girl who waited for him at a bus depot. She saw him and wanted him to see her. Only he didn’t. He only saw the young girl. Mrs. Po screamed his name, louder and louder until she felt a hand on her shoulder. He stood behind her and the young girl stood behind him wearing no clothes. Mrs. Po felt steamy indignation. She wanted to hit him but couldn’t determine the exact fault.

The dilemma in her dream woke her. She looked over and saw her husband, asleep. Her muscles ached from being unsettled. She looked around and saw a chasm of shifting shadows. Her chest felt tight, making it hard for her to catch a breath. She realized how much she disliked their bedroom set. Her husband’s taste, cathedral style mahogany furniture, each piece adorned with a carved gothic window. Was the room going to look this way the rest of her life? She was tired of him and his smug statements. She wanted different answers; she needed to know something new. The dead hours in their relationship had sucked her into a cesspool of nothingness. Every time she tried to pull herself out, she saw betrayal. Had he betrayed her? Had he been betraying her? For how long? How would she know? His life had become a secret. A secret she seemed unable to expose and too afraid to do so. Afraid of what she might find.

Mrs. Po sat up and stretched her arms into the air. Her husband snored with a rattle; the snore changed and became thunderous. Even if she hadn’t woken from the dream, his snores would have wakened her.

In the dark, Mrs. Po put on slippers. Quietly, she walked to their closet, found the baseball bats her husband stored in the far corner. Grabbed one. A heavy, solid wood bat. It felt good to hold, would feel good to swing. Her grip tightened like she clung to a life jacket on a stormy sea.

Mrs. Po looked at her husband, positioned the bat next to his ear and imagined striking until his brains flew. She would know the truth and the truth would set her free.

She held the bat steady as she inhaled and blew hot air. The truth would set her free or put her in prison.

Mrs. Po returned the bat to the closet, got into bed and rested for the time being.

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
DM Frech

DM Frech attended New York University, Tisch School of the Arts completing a BFA and MFA in dance. After 16 years in NYC moved to Virginia, worked at the Governor’s School of the Arts, got married, had two sons, worked as a realtor, with continuous attendance at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk. Presently writes poetry, children’s stories, fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, her photography is on Streetlight Magazine’s website, looks for shooting stars and hugs trees.

Her chapbook, WORDS FROM WALLS was published in 2022 with Finishing Line Press and a second chapbook QUIET TREE has been recently published by FLP.