HE DIDN’T SO MUCH WAKE UP as come to, lying on the couch in the living room. It was dark outside, and he had a dry mouth, a splitting headache and a knot in his stomach — the body’s way of reminding him he’d been blind drunk. He also needed to pee in the worst way.
He tried to look at his watch, but it wasn’t on his wrist where it was supposed to be. Had he lost it in a bar somewhere? Had he taken it off when he got home? What happened when he got home, anyway? Had she made a scene again? She always did, never understood. But he loved her anyway.
There seemed to be a dim light coming into the living room from somewhere. Maybe the kitchen. Maybe he’d gone in there and taken off his watch.
He started to get up, but groaned and slumped back on the couch. The need to pee was competing with the nausea, and the nausea had just won the first round. He knew he couldn’t let it win, and after a minute forced himself up enough to see over the back of the couch.
The kitchen light cast some illumination on the wall he was looking at — enough for him to see the blood spatters.
He didn’t immediately realize what they were. For a few seconds, he thought he was seeing spots before his eyes, in addition to everything else. Then his eyes drifted down to the body on the floor.
It was her, lying in a grotesque pose, utterly still. He knew she was dead, just as he knew it was her, though her face, smashed to a bloody pulp, was unrecognizable.
That was his first thought. The second was:
Did I do this?
I couldn’t have, he thought. I was out drinking last night. What do I remember? Think, think. I remember playing darts at the bar and getting into the car, hoping there wouldn’t be a Highway Patrol car or sheriff’s deputy between there and home. That was, what, eleven o’clock?
After that, nothing.
With all the effort he could muster, he forced himself to get up, move around the couch and kneel by her body. He reached down to touch where her face had been and didn’t notice that the cuff of his shirt picked up a smudge of blood.
A hammer was lying on the floor, a few feet from her body. He took it in his hand and stared at it. It looked like theirs, but it was a brand sold by the local hardware store, so he couldn’t be sure. He could, however, be sure it was covered with blood. Her blood. It had to be.
Did I do this?
He asked himself the question again and realized he couldn’t be certain. Strain though he might, he could remember nothing after getting into the car.
I couldn’t have done it, he thought. I loved her. I loved her no matter what, and she loved me.
Suddenly overcome with emotion, he began to cry — wracking, heaving sobs that jerked his torso in a way that further agitated his stomach and caused the nausea to overwhelm him.
He tried to get up, but found it impossible to stand up straight. Bent over and stumbling, he barely made it to the toilet. For five minutes, he leaned over the toilet bowl on his knees, alternately retching and sobbing, his entire body shaking. When he finished, gasping for breath, he realized he had wet his pants.
I need a drink.
Feeling better, but only marginally, he stood up and began the rounds of the house, looking for a bottle in all the usual hiding places.
He came up empty. He was sure there had to be a pint somewhere, but he couldn’t find it. Damn her. Had she gotten to it first and thrown it out? Too late to do anything now. He’d have to take it from here without the comfort of alcohol. Or, more precisely, without the comfort of any more alcohol.
The nausea was coming on again, but he had to make the call first. He’d ended up in the kitchen, and picked up the phone there. He heard a dial tone, which meant it hadn’t been disconnected for non-payment.
With shaking fingers, he punched 4-1-1 on the keypad.
“Directory assistance,” said the voice on the other end.
“Shit!” He slammed the receiver down. He didn’t know if he could make it through another call without vomiting, but tried anyway.
“Nine-one-one,” said a no-nonsense female voice on the other end. “What’s your emergency?”
“She’s dead,” he blubbered into the receiver. “She’s dead.”
“Who’s dead, sir, and what’s your address?”
“My wife is dead, and I don’t know what happened.”