know my wife," Tom told the grocer, "and you know what they
say, happy wife equals a happy life."
grocer smiled and nodded despite the fact no one had seen Carmen
Sloane for five years. Her husband, Tom, on the other hand was always
around. Tom stopped by weekly and purchased the same thing every
time: box of Fels-Naptha, four large pork roasts, and a gallon of
apple sauce. The grocer rang up the total, watching with a pained
patient smile as his best customer counted out spare change. Tom
ignored the exasperated sighs of the people queuing behind him. A few
patrons put their meager items back or dropping them where they stood
before bolting for another bodega.
grocer spoke up, "Tom, I--"
Tom asked without ceasing his count.
just wanted to let you know that, there was a detective come in
yesterday asking about you."
you--your wife mainly. I told him you were one of my best customers,
like clockwork. He wanted to know what items you bought."
you tell him?" Tom asked finishing his math.
I told him to beg off."
shouldn't do that, not to a policeman, they have a tough job. They
deserve our respect.
Listen if you see him again tell him where I
live, I'd be happy to answer any questions he might have."
sure you wanna do that?" The grocer said sweeping the coins into
his tray without recounting them.
me and Carmen got nothing to hide."
gathered his purchases and left. He pretended the news of the
detective didn't bother him. He ignored the whispers behind his back
as he walked down the street. Suspicious words about the man whom
everyone believed murdered his wife. Tom knew Carmen was very much
alive. He knew too that no one, in her present condition, could ever
see her to verify that fact.
damage to his reputation and her good name would be catastrophic. So
he allowed the hushed accusations to continue unabated. He donned an
air of unflappable good humor and took the time to chat up
acquaintances anytime they passed. Always assuring them of Carmen's
good health. All part of his daily regimen. Tom knew the truth. And
since Dr. Fielding's accident Tom was the only one left alive who
knew. Although Carmen lived, her quality of life remained
knew, it wasn't always this way. In the beginning, like all
beginnings, Carmen's beauty turned heads everywhere she went. Tom
sometimes wondered, how he got so lucky to have met her, wed her and
bed her. But he did. He fell into the euphoria of love. The euphoria
never stays long once the honeymoon is over and both spouses reveal
their warts and farts. How does one maintain a marriage, without it
falling into humdrum boredom or completely apart?
stressful times, Tom remembered the vows he spoke that warm day in
June so many years ago. Anytime he felt overwhelmed, Tom remembered
his promise, in sickness and in health. It pacified most notions of
felt certain other men would've fled at the first sign of trouble. If
the shoe were on the other foot, he prayed Carmen, with her charming
good looks, would've kept her vows too. Personal sacrifice, he
reasoned, is a learned trait.
day he walked the twelve blocks to work and home. He didn't mind the
trek, it established a mind-clearing routine and provided good
exercise. He'd return home later to care for his wife and agonize
over the mountain of medical bills. He could file for bankruptcy, but
he knew he'd lose not only his wife but his small business as well.
SLOANE'S SNACKS was the only mom and pop vending machine company left
he met Carmen, his business was his pride and joy. These days
however, just a means to an end. At its height, SLOANE'S SNACKS
profited two million a year with a fleet of seven trucks and twenty
employees. When the law passed making junk food and soda almost
forbidden, all of Tom's business slimmed. He still owned the
warehouse and their apartment building, but they were the only
tenants and he was the only one loading the truck, driving the route
and collecting coins. The number of machines dropped just enough to
keep the lights on in Carmen's room.
grew agitated and thrashed about anytime it went dark. Tom
empathized. He'd be disgruntled too, if he'd been plunged into a
black solitude with little communication, besides muffled grunts. But
he loved her all the same and knew the feeling was mutual.
Tom entered their apartment he could already smell her from
downstairs, a moldering fetid aroma. He realized he couldn't remember
the last time he'd checked in on her or given her a bath for that
matter. How long had it been? Tom feared his days blended together.
Surely it hadn't been longer than a week at the most.
her room Tom installed a drain pipe that led to the downstairs
kitchen sink. This drain became necessary when Tom realized Carmen's
mobility was no longer possible. He ducked under it setting aside the
soap, apple-sauce and put three of the four pork roasts in the
fridge. He knew she'd be hungry but it would have to wait. Her body
odor demanded tending. When he passed by her room, the one they'd
reserved for a nursery, her stink repelled him.
bit his lip in disgust pressing onward for the upstairs bathroom to
fill the five buckets with soapy water. He sat on the edge of the tub
as water gushed out the spout. It needed to be hot, by the time he
carted each bucket to her room the water would've begun to chill.
Carmen never responded well to a cold bath, and He wanted to avoid
anything extraneous tonight. Besides it was the little touches that
reminded her of his commitment.
let the water and his mind run. He remembered after their honeymoon
Carmen expressing a desire for a baby. Tom was more than pleased to
make his beautiful wife happy and relished every romp.
tried for months.
time, Carmen checked her status she saw the same pink dash, like a
sinister hyphen between their vows to each other and the family she
wanted. She would go on for days, in distraught fits and rages. At
the height of this despair, Tom often worried Carmen might leave him.
for lack of pregnancy, Tom considered their marriage comfortable, yet
Carmen saw their inability to conceive as monumental.
visited their physician, initial tests revealed nothing wrong on
Tom's part, but Carmen's tests were inconclusive. At their
physician's recommendation, the Sloane's submitted to the
In vitro fertilization at the time cost ten thousand dollars a pop. Tom
was happy to write the check, besides business boomed. Each IVF
treatment, just a drop in the bucket and it pacified Carmen's growing
anxieties. A happy wife doesn't guarantee a happy life, but it's a
good start. However, after the eleventh failed treatment. Tom wanted
to pursue other options.
began their relationship with Dr. Fielding’s Fertility Clinic.
Fielding suggested they try his new, unorthodox approach, the Athena
Process. Tom's semen would be injected directly into Carmen's
ovaries. During her cycle, at least one already fertilized ovum would
drop into her uterus, partially formed. The Athena Process sounded
like the right medicine for the Sloane's despite its ridiculous
Fielding warned the couple about minor side effects. Tom brushed this
off as typical fine print, insisting on trying the Athena. Dr.
Fielding stopped speaking and looked at Tom. Tom looked into Carmen's
eyes, smiled and signed all waivers. After the two separate
six-figure checks cleared, Dr. Fielding performed the twenty minute
time will tell," Tom remembered the Doctor saying.
the month passed with no changes.
Fielding suggested they try again. Tom wasted little time writing a
second set of checks, even though Carmen seemed less than enthused.
a lot of money, honey,” Tom recalled her saying, although he
couldn’t place his own response. He noticed a growing divide
between them. Right around the time SLOANE’S SNACKS began tanking,
Carmen spent less time at their apartment. He’d return to a dark
home. No food in the kitchen. No wife by his side. She returned later
with distance in her voice as she offered plausible excuses: a sick
friend, et cetera. However Tom, certain of her duplicity, couldn't
help harboring a suspicious heart. One day Tom lied about going to
work. He waited around the corner and followed the taxi driving her
into the city. To a high rise apartment. To him, her lover.
the confrontation that followed, Carmen begged and pleaded for Tom to
stop. He remembered how she swayed him from killing the other man.
How pitiful she looked on her knees groveling and blaming herself.
Oh, how she made promises, confessing nothing but love for Tom and
only Tom. The gasping whimpers from her lover’s bloody body angered
Tom, but when he looked into Carmen’s crying eyes he couldn’t
help believing her. He told himself, this is just a bump in the road.
What is a successful marriage without them?
forgave her and contacted Dr. Fielding’s clinic. The doctor was
hesitant, but Tom doubled the check’s amount and all parties
month passed and finally the glorious day came when Carmen saw a pink
the Sloanes made their follow up, Fielding's expression seemed
downright shocked. He breathed deeply and folded his hands across his
allow me to speak frankly. If I seem surprised it’s only because
you’re the first successful patient who’s gone through the
many have you had?" Carmen asked.
not at liberty to say, as tests are ongoing. But I'm very happy for
you. And everything looks normal."
felt steam rising off the tub and began filling the buckets,
remembering Carmen the night she found the first lump.
appeared between her breasts near the end of the first trimester.
Soft, squeezable and yet firmly rounded as if she'd grown a
superfluous third breast. The Sloanes visited their regular physician
who ordered a biopsy. The results came back negative for cancer, and
the young physician stated that it was a benign tumor filled with
healthy cells. He sighed at the couple then added, "I've never
seen anything like it before…I don't really know what it is."
Carmen was pregnant, surgery would be put off until after delivery.
Carmen became despondent over her tripled bust. Tom, try as he might,
failed to soothe her. One morning, she awoke to find a new growth on
her lower back. A week later, Carmen developed a pair on her abdomen.
That morning, the Sloanes stopped by Dr. Fielding's for a sonogram,
only to discover their fetus was abnormal. Small and embryonic, far
behind schedule for the second trimester. Dr. Fielding sat there
perplexed and muttered, "This just can't be."
doctor?" Carmen asked.
Fielding parsed for the correct explanation, "The fetus has
regressed to an even earlier stage of development. It appears to be a
lined the buckets of water outside Carmen's room. When Tom pressed on
the knob, the door didn't budge.
streak of anxiety rippled across his face. How could she lock the
door from inside? Tom leaned in and pushed, hearing the hinges give
and squeal. He felt strange pressure from the other side. He pushed
again and the door inched open a crack, a sliver of light splashed
from the top of the doorway. Tom stepped back realizing to his horror
what blocked the door. At once he saw the entire awful picture. He
didn't bother asking himself why. He'd known all along that
eventually something like this could, nay, would happen.
night Dr. Fielding died, he called to explain his hypothesis. The
Athena had accelerated her fertility and ovulation beyond a
quantifiable measurement. Now, Carmen's ovaries, literally contained
hundreds of thousands of fertilized eggs that, bombarded her womb
every day. This state of constant ovulation, forced her body to
reject each old fetus for the new one. But instead of passing them
normally, her body absorbed the growing child inside her. Which led
Dr. Fielding to conclude, the tumors which emerged at an alarming
rate, were in fact fetal manifestations. And worse, she would soon be
overtaken. The only way to reverse the condition, required a full
hysterectomy. This meant they could never have children of their own.
pressed harder against the door and the crack inched open. His
fingertips brushed against the flabby flesh that spilled out of
Carmen's stinking room.
must've fallen over," Tom told himself picturing her body
breaking free of the tresses and moorings he'd installed, ”Carmen!"
moved a knee into the works heaving into the room, barricaded by
Carmen. Her swollen blob-like skin seeped into the hallway. Tom knew
he needed to find her face. He needed to check her airway was clear.
Tom chucked a hand against her loose billowy body. Tom felt its soft
dampness as he clamored his head through the crack and scanned the
of naked flesh rippled from wall to wall almost reaching the ceiling.
gripped a fold pulling himself through, crawling delicately across
her, sticking his hand in every crease looking for any sign of her
hair or her face, but the roomful of sore-covered skin offered no
was everywhere, and yet she was nowhere to be found.
traversed this epidermal landscape and slid off to a rare square of
floor. On his feet he
muscled under her frameless form as this heavy
ocean engulfed him.
smell was worse than ever before, as he crept in the reddish dusk of
her body. After much pushing he pressed on, finally finding an
eyebrow. He knew the rest of her face was around somewhere. His mind
reeled and he remembered, shortly before her body rejected her
skeleton and grew out in all directions, the last full words she said
Tom, if we don't find a cure, please don't let me go on like this
not hideous," Tom said ignoring the fact that her forehead
drooped over her eyes and her cheeks sagged past where her chin once
don't want to live like this…if there's no cure."
me my darling, Dr. Fielding and I won't let that happen."
that point, Tom was in no condition to tell her the truth. That a
patient's husband had rampaged into his clinic, and shot Dr. Fielding
full of holes.
could've taken her to see their regular physician for the operation,
but he just didn’t do it. Besides if she had the operation, she'd
never have children, and Tom couldn't bear the thought of her leaving
he needn't worry.
could not bring himself to admit this to her. And on the last day
she was able to speak words, he assured her that he loved her and
he'd never leave her. For that was the only truth that mattered then
as it did now. He knew how lucky she was to have him as her husband,
lover and caretaker. Not to mention, father of their children.
navigated his way to her red mouth. The only part of her body that
remained attached to her bones. Tom quickly realized she was not
breathing. It was too cramped to attempt CPR or any other lifesaving
was too late.
took her misshapen face and held it close to his own. He was seized
with grief. But this grief, quickly dissipated into anger, when Tom
realized they weren't alone. Somewhere under the vast corpus of his
wife, he heard the tiny muffled coos of another one of those things.
frantically pushed and plodded until he found the source of the
noise. And there, bloodied on the floor lay an infant girl still
attached to an expelled placenta.
cursed it madly before collecting it and pushing his way out from
under Carmen's dead girth into the hallway. He cut the umbilical cord
and swaddled it in a dish rag, just like he done for all the others,
and made his way to the bathroom.
he twisted on the cold water, He remembered fondly that first one, so
many years ago and how unprepared he was for it. It appeared normal,
but Tom knew better. This little pink thing twitching in his hands.
Its little toes and fingers fanning out in a state of newborn shock.
And then he remembered the noise. The god-awful screams of this tiny
creature. And Carmen, his poor dear Carmen, unable to hold the thing
or breast feed it, or help Tom in anyway. How she just lay there,
propped against the wall in her room. He remembered looking down at
the first one with awed disgust, and how much he hated it.
that small parasitic life form had destroyed his wife.
remembered how clumsily he disposed of that first one, which Tom
recalled distinctly as male. A year would pass before he stopped
keeping records of boys and girls. By then he'd fully embraced the
parasites arrived once every two weeks.
arrived in pairs.
Carmen's care his top priority, there was no room in Tom's life for
these other things that kept falling out of her. She needed
uninterrupted attention, and Tom was more than happy to provide for
her, as he'd always done. He was not, however, willing to suffer
these horrid creatures any longer than needed. Tom would've preferred
to drag out their deaths for he knew, they deserved to suffer, just
as they made his wife suffer. But their mere presence aggravated him
and he wanted rid of them as soon as possible, so he drowned these
horrible things in cold water. The furthest thing from a mother's
became very skilled at carrying out the process, and found that it
gave him a thrill like no other. He felt like a superhero or Carmen's
very own white knight, gallantly arriving and slaying the screaming
demons. Once the little things stopped moving, their executioner,
would bury their remains in the cellar. Just another set pattern in
the routine of his life. No different than brushing one's teeth or
picking ticks off the family dog.
placed the stopper in the drain. The lime encrusted spout droned out
any audible noise from the bundle of cloth on the tiles.
water rose and rose. He moved a hand through the water to check the
temperature. Satisfied, Tom twisted off the tap. He collected the
thing, stood above the tub and submerged his charge in the water. He
held her there counting the seconds, one Mississippi, two
Mississippi, three...Tom enjoyed watching the life float out of these
vermin. He gazed down at the thing under the water and smiled
triumphantly at his work.
couldn't help but note certain similarities. The thing looked
familiar. He knew in the genetic soup of the womb, each one was
different and unique, yet all the same. This pest was particularly
cunning, for it had developed certain features of its mother.
mother it would never know. A woman whose beauty was beyond compare.
A woman who had loved Tom, despite everything and vowed to be his
wife until death separated them. A sacred vow for a wife whom Tom
cared for relentlessly over the years, forgiving all her
transgressions. Who, now, was just a moldering lifeless blob.
felt his arms slacken. His wrists relaxed. His fingers still clutched
the evil thing, but his mind soared elsewhere. Tom's emotions swelled
in him, as he realized that this baby, would be the last one ever.
He’d never again feel the joy of being Carmen's champion. Slayer of
her demons. Killer of her disease. Keeper of their vows.
pressed forward, if it was going to be the last one, he needed to
make it count. He was going to execute it with supreme malice. He
stared with dagger eyes at the tiny thing in his hands. But it only
smiled back at him from below the water's surface.
thing appeared calm.
looked just like--
looked at the drowning child's face and realized that this need not
be the last one ever.
He'd need to change his routine, go on an
extended hiatus, but in the meantime he'd have someone to care for.
Not just anyone, but a newer version of--
lifted the baby out of the water and patted her intently. The baby
appeared to be unharmed by the ordeal. She held no grudge against him
and breathed in a calm hiccuping rhythm. Tom looked over this child
with awed amazement and christened her, Carmen, in honor of her
noted the small size of the child cradled in his arms. He counted ten
fingers and toes. Two eyes and a very hungry mouth. To Tom, Carmen
appeared healthy, which to any new parent is a moment of great
relief. He was now, after waiting so many years, going to be a
father. And he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would protect
her from all the evils of the world, especially when the time came,
for Carmen to have children of her own.
delightful coos soon turned as she became visibly upset. He knew at
once what his crying daughter needed, warm milk or formula. The pair
headed for the door, but he stopped short of opening it.
realized he couldn't go shopping with baby Carmen. The grocer would
ask questions. He countered that he could present Carmen as a
foundling, but then foster services would surely take her. He'd again
lose his Carmen. She'd come of age never knowing anything about her
parents and how they loved each other, and what lengths they went to
bring her into this world. Then he thought of the basement and the
buried treasures that they’d discover there.
just won't do."
at once formed a plan. They would walk the twelve blocks to the
warehouse, climb into the delivery truck and drive to the country
where they would start a new life together. The city, after all, was
no place to raise a family.
lay Carmen on his bed, packing a bag with clothes. He paused for a
moment outside her mother's door and thanked her for everything.
together they scrambled down the stairs and hurried towards the door.
In this haste, he failed to see the flashing red and blue lights
outside his windows. As he pressed the knob the doorbell rang. In one
swift movement the door opened and Tom faced a bewildered cop on the
stoop. A neighbor had phoned in a complaint about an awful smell
coming from his apartment and they'd come to investigate.
cop's bewilderment subsided instantly once the opened door emitted
the rancid reek wafting from upstairs. He recognized at once the
putridity of dead flesh and drew his sidearm. The neighbors crowded
the sidewalk and whispers chattered amongst them, about the man who
murdered his wife.
stood smiling in the doorway, unflappable as always, and displayed
baby Carmen to the onlookers. Then beamed with pride at the policeman
and said, "We couldn’t be happier. She's what my wife always