My dearest Beth,
I’m not sleeping well… Just when I’m about to drift off, I catch a whiff of your shampoo and I’m jolted back to reality. It doesn’t matter how many times I wash our bedding.
I found some sleeping pills in the bathroom, and I’m hoping they’ll help tonight. Have I taken any? You know, I can’t remember. Surely, I would remember if I had.
It’s not just the bedroom where I think of you. I no longer go into the corner of the yard by the shed. In fact, I’ve taken to keeping the blinds closed; just looking in that direction causes the hair on the back of my neck to rise. I thought I saw you there a couple of days ago, sitting in the hammock where you liked to nap on lazy summer afternoons. I was certain I caught a glimpse of your favorite green dress and the sun glinting off your hair. Of course, when I turned, heart beating wildly in my chest, you weren’t there at all.
Other odd things are happening too, things that are even more unsettling. Yesterday, I realized I had turned all of our gas burners on “high.” It seems an odd thing to do when sleep-walking, but what other explanation is there? I shudder to think of what would have happened if I hadn’t come to my senses when I did.
Perhaps more shocking, just this morning, I found myself in the middle of dialing the police. The POLICE. Can you imagine? It was the oddest thing. One moment, I was reading in the study. The next, I was in the kitchen, dialing 9-1-1. I must admit, it shook me up. It wouldn’t do to call the police… no, that wouldn’t do at all. Not when our wait is finally over. Seven long years, but it’s over.
Remember how angry you were when you found out your dear-old-Dad hadn’t just left you your inheritance outright – that you’d have to wait seven years to receive what was yours? “How dare he,” you ranted, full of rage rather than grief.
Oh, how Gordon’s estate lawyer squirmed under the intensity of your ire. I remember how his hand shook as he handed you the list of conditions you’d need to meet with your personal finances – with our finances. If you failed to abide by the rules, your inheritance would pass to charity. Such an outrageous stipulation, but we played the game. Oh, yes. We played along.
We set to work, you and I, meeting all of Gordon’s arbitrary requirements and filing deadlines. We were so close – the end of that seven-year wait was in sight.
Why’d you do it, Beth? That’s something I can’t stop asking myself. I suppose I’ll never know. I’ll not pretend things hadn’t soured between us, but how is it that I never saw the signs?
When I came home that day and found you in the hammock, empty pill bottle clutched in your fist, I was so angry with you. I’ll admit it. Sure, I was shocked and sad. Mainly though, I was mad. It was just two weeks before the seventh anniversary of Gordon’s death; just two weeks before you could claim your inheritance. Our inheritance.
I sat for a while there in the yard that day, next to your stinking body, thinking. I could have called the police then, sure. That would have been the right thing to do – the legal thing. But, why shouldn’t I still be able to inherit? It’s not as if you could use the money after you’d died. Our money. My money.
After I’d made up my mind, it was surprisingly easy to carry on as if nothing was amiss. In an odd way, I think you’d have been proud of the way I managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. You always did like a good scam.
It helped that you’ve been little more than a hermit these past several years; we rarely ventured out. I resented you for that for a long time; did you know that? We never spoke of it. Just another symptom of our dysfunctional marriage, right? In the end, I was grateful there were no nosy friends or neighbors trying to contact you. With both your parents gone, I didn’t need to worry about nosy in-laws either.
The internet has been most helpful. Why, do you know it only took me a few hours to guess the password to get into your laptop? From there, you made things easy for me by having your other login credentials documented. Through your email account, I was able to keep up your correspondence with your father’s attorney. I did have to work a bit to make sure the tone of my communications matched yours, but there was never any inkling that he didn’t believe “you.”
I’m almost giddy, Beth, to tell you that the money you inherited from your father’s trust was deposited into your account last week. “You” subsequently transferred it to our joint account. Just shy of $4 million, when all’s said and done.
Perhaps I won’t need any of those sleeping pills after all. You know, I can barely keep my eyes open.
I don’t know why I feel this strange compulsion to write you this letter. The act of confessing is… cathartic. I’ll bury your body – and this letter – in the morning. You’re still in the shed, you know. I suppose I’ll have to report you missing at some point. Maybe not though; maybe I can take the money and start a new life somewhere. You wouldn’t begrudge me that, would you, Beth?
You know, it’s odd; were there pills in this bottle? I was sure it was half-full, but it’s empty now. I can smell your shampoo again, and it’s almost as if you’re standing right behind me. Are you haunting me, love?
Author’s note: This was my entry into the 2017 Summer Fiction War competition, in which I was challenged to write a story of no more than 1,000 words, to the prompt “Seven Years.”
I found out yesterday that I did not make the cut to be a finalist, so I’m free to share this one with whomever I want.
It is dark, but I hope you enjoyed it (if you enjoy that sort of story.)