"...those who enjoy the darker side of the genre are in for some serious thrills with this..."
Laura Wilson, The Guardian
Published in the UK by Polygon (March 19th, '09) and in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Nov '09).
by James McKimmey
Binny Wade came slowly awake Saturday morning. She lay stomach down with her face against a pillow. She opened her eyes carefully, looking at the night stand where the clock rested. For a moment her vision was blurred, then, slowly, the clock came into focus. It read nine-ten.
She lifted her head slightly. Crashing waves of pain flashed through her head. She moaned softly and dropped her head back to the pillow. The flashes of pain settled into a steady, vicious ache. Dear God, she thought. Slowly she rolled onto her back, realizing that she had been sweating beneath the covers. She looked at the ceiling. Where was she? The pale green ceiling was familiar.
Ah—she was home. She sighed, the aching of her head seeming to subside for a moment. Hung over a little, maybe, she thought. But now she was safe in her nice home. What had she and Jack done last night? Must have gone to a party. Then had a nightcap at home and no late-at-night sandwich. Shouldn’t miss that sandwich—always coffee too, Aspirin then. And you never felt a thing the next morning. Maybe, she thought, a faint smile appearing, they hadn’t been able to wait, and just went to bed. Jack always got a little sexy when they’d come home tipsy. She laughed softly. That had to be it.
She stretched, hoping the pounding of her head would not remain too long, realizing that she was terribly thirsty. She was also aware of some other annoying pain, though her mind had not yet become clear enough to pinpoint it.
Ah, this house—she loved this house. It made her remember how she’d never liked any of the other places she’d lived in, when she’d been shuttled here and there as a foster child—just that one, that place where the woman had been large and strong but with a softness of voice and disposition, so that she controlled beautifully that stocky little bantam of a husband. She’d liked it there, until the stocky little bantam had made a try for her in the middle of one night. That had been all of that—it was why she’d always hated that Sansome fellow across the street, because he reminded her of that bantam long ago; she had always wished that the Sansomes had never moved into a truly nice neighborhood like this, ruining, a little, the best place she’d ever known.
Because the other places of her childhood had simply been places to stay, with a wall of impersonality between her and those who fed, clothed and housed her on the money allotted them from the institution. She’d been certain, during all of those years, that none of these people had wanted her for any other reason but the allotment.
But now she had Jack and this home. And what was most important, Teddy.
The image of the small, square-shouldered, tow-headed little boy flashed into her brain. She smiled pleasurably and forced herself to swing her legs out of the bed.
The pain in her head flashed again, with increased pressure; and she felt dizzy sitting on the edge of the bed. They must have had a ball last night!
Then she realized that she was nude. She laughed again, looking down with pleasure at her good body, noting the sharply contrasting whiteness of her breasts and belly against the deep tan of the rest. No nightgown—they must have made love all right.
She stood up, trying to remember whom they had hired for a sitter last night. She could not remember. Swaying, stopping twice to regain her balance, she walked to the door that led to the adjoining bedroom where Teddy slept.
The bedroom had a sterile, cold look. There was no small bed, only the guest bed, a few pieces of other dead-looking furniture, all resting in the unused silence of the drape-drawn room.
At last she came to full consciousness. She stood there, the smile leaving her face. Teddy, she whispered, tightening her hands into fists. Baby…
She suddenly remembered that long-ago morning. How she’d wheeled Teddy in his wagon to the supermarket three blocks away. How, at the last minute, she’d asked the checkout man for a half pint of vodka. How, when she’d gotten home, she’d poured half of it into a glass of orange juice.
It had gone down swiftly, and she’d felt so much better. Then she’d had some more and finally remembered Teddy. He must, she’d thought, have gone out the back door to the yard. She went out, calling his name—too loudly, she’d realized, feeling a pleasant dizziness from the liquor that gave her the momentary assurance that nothing good in her life was ever going to get away from her again, as it had always seemed to all of her life. No, he hadn’t been in the patio. She’d gone back inside and noticed, finally, that she had failed to lock the front door as she always did. It was ajar. She had just started out the front way, when she’d heard the wild shrieking of skidding tires.
Outside, she’d seen the car go hurtling out of sight around a corner, the last anyone had seen of it. Then she saw the small crumpled form on the street and knew that once again she’d lost. Everything had become a jumble of confusion after that—except how, even in her screaming hysteria, she’d secretly smashed that vodka bottle in the bathroom, then swept up the pieces and pushed them deep into the garbage can, all after she’d carried the still figure inside and put him on the sofa in the living room, all before the neighbors arrived in response to her steady screaming.
Then, with the neighbors clustering into her house, the doctor, the police, Jack being called, she’d retained an animal instinct to protect herself and she’d put herself face down on the bed, so that when Jack, white-faced, had gotten home, he’d never suspected that she’d been drinking that morning. It was peculiar, she thought now with a sick bitterness, how the most she remembered of that day when her son had died, was making certain that Jack never found out that she’d been drinking.
She shook her head, staring at the empty room wearily. Baby, she thought; baby. But there wasn’t any baby any more. She hadn’t even been able to think of having another because of the guilt—you couldn’t get a new one, like a doll, just because the old one was broken. Dear God, she thought. No baby any more. No anything any more. Not like it had been once. In the beginning it had all been fun, and Jack had loved her. Even in her own mirror she’d seen the sparkle that had come from knowing she was Mrs. Jack Wade, knew that her delight put the same sparkle in his eyes. It was a wonderful time, when they’d first met, and she’d been so breathlessly alive that he had responded with the same aliveness, the same urgency for this marriage of theirs that had now rolled downhill.
Why? she asked herself. Why had it gone downhill? And when she tried to answer, in her own mind, she could not. The drinking, the gambling? Yes, the obvious and outward. But it was also something else, some little thing deep in her brain that she’d never been able to control, something that had always made her do things too hard, too long, with no reasonable good sense. And so the drinking had taken over, and then the gambling, because it gave her more and more freedom, covered the constant feeling of insufficiency, insecurity, and gave her the momentary courage she could not live without.
The trouble was the years, because when the years caught up with you, you had less to meet them with, and so they were harder, and you could no longer laugh with them, be gay with them—not without the help of something like the drinking and the gambling. Oh, yes, losing Teddy, that had broken something deep inside and let this other thing, deep in her brain, take more and more control. The drinking had steadily increased, the gambling had started too, and the control had been lost. And with that went much of the sparkle, the gaiety, the breathlessness, the aliveness, all of which had so attracted Jack in the first place.
But what could hold him now? She refused another pregnancy. And now, dear God, even that was ruined, that single spirit of denial which might even have seemed nobly human to Jack, because there was a new life within her now, just starting, and it wasn’t even Jack’s. . . .
Copyright© 1962 James McKimmey