Hearing the words from the sheriff hadn’t made anything more real than seeing it with my own two eyes. I had discovered him, facedown in the kitchen. I had rolled him over and searched for a pulse. I had touched him, cold and unmoving, had called for the police, and waited, watching still, staying in the same room, as though somehow he might ask for something, like a glass of water.

I had seen the county coroner’s office come in, had been asked a hundred thousand questions, trying to keep him in sight even while the investigating teams meandered around with cameras, plastic bags, booties on their shoes and gloves on their hands. I watched as someone shoved a meat thermometer into his abdomen through the blue waffle-knit shirt I’d bought him. I’d seen enough CSI to know what they were doing, and why, and I understood what it meant, and I even watched the black plastic zip closed over his face.

I finally looked away from the spot he’d been, turning my face toward the officer who was watching me with what I had to assume was a mixture of concern and suspicion, frosted with expectation. “Ma’am?” he wondered.

“I’m sorry, officer, did you ask me something?” I was as polite as always; there was no reason to be anything less than perfectly civil. The sheriff hadn’t done it — if I’d come home earlier and caught Matt before it happened, before he did it, or even as he’d done it, it’s likely the sheriff would’ve gotten here in time to make a difference, rather than simply clean up.

“I asked you if there was anyone you wanted to call,” he offered.

“His, ah… his family’s all gone,” I said, frowning slightly. “Mother and father. Little brother,” I murmured. “House fire, when he was a little boy.”

“I see. I’m sorry,” the officer answered, the sympathy hesitant and awkward, but genuine. “Is there anyone we can call for you?”

“I don’t talk to my mother,” I said, and looked down at my hands. “Dad’s long gone. Haven’t seen my sister since…” My voice trailed off, and I looked back toward where Matt wasn’t anymore.

“A family friend, maybe? A pastor?” he offered, honestly trying to figure out where I could go, where I would fit, because they wouldn’t be done here, and I couldn’t be allowed to stay while there was an ongoing investigation. I’m sure it was something as easy as that, but I couldn’t bring myself to be any more helpful.

“I’m sorry, I don’t–”

It was then that an odd scuffle seemed to be coming from the front of the house. Voices were raised in irritation, and the officer with me turned to see what the commotion was.

“Sir, you’ll have to wa–”

“Like hell I will. Karen? KAREN! Where’s my wife? Get out of my way–let me IN!”

I looked up at the sound of the voice, and began to back up, away from the door, just as the officer took my body language as a cue to step in front of me, one hand straying near the gun at his hip. He blocked my view of the doorway for a moment, but when I looked around him, a wild-eyed man was standing there, fighting to free himself from the grip of other officers, shouting “LET ME SEE HER, KAREN!”

The sheriff turned to look at me, as I stared, apprehensive, toward the commotion, and then looked back at him. “Sir?” he wondered, looking at the man in the doorway. “Matthew Donovan?” he asked.

“Yes,” the man snapped, frustrated, yanking his arms out of the grasp of the other men, who looked a little shocked, and let go. “Yes, that’s me, now where’s my wi–Karen!” he said, looking relieved. “Karen, what happened?”

Before he could reach me, I ducked behind the sheriff, who immediately moved to push the man back. “Is this your husband, ma’am?”

“Am I her husband?” the man said, looking incredulous. “What is he talking about, Karen?” he asked, looking at the policeman, and then at me, shocked and confused. “Of course I’m her husband!”

“Is he?” the sheriff asked again, his eyes narrowing.

“No,” I said, shaking my head, feeling queasy and afraid. “No, officer. The coroner just left with Matthew’s body — I’ve never seen this man before in my life.”

About Catastrophe Jones

Wretched word-goblin with enough interests that they're not particularly awesome at any of them. Terrible self-esteem and yet prone to hilarious bouts of hubris. Full of the worst flavors of self-awareness. Owns far too many craft supplies. Will sing to you at the slightest provocation.
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