It all started with a simple glass of water.
Conrad Jacobs woke to see the glass defiantly sitting on his antique dresser. The same glass he asked his wife to move several times. The very same glass that left a water mark so complete, the wood beneath was worn and pale.
“Aubrey!” he called, but she didn’t answer. She rarely answered him these days.
They were fighting all the time now, and Conrad didn’t know how much more their marriage could take.
“Conrad, you’re killing me with your nit picking,” Aubrey yelled when he reminded her about the glass on the dresser. “No one, and I mean no one, can live up to your standards.”
“I just asked you to move the glass.”
“It isn’t just about the glass. It’s about my shoes, my jacket, the errant fork in the sink. It’s about you being so tightly wound that you can’t handle anything you deem out of place.”
“Well maybe if you just tried a little, Aubrey, just met me halfway.”
“Ha, halfway! I have gone out of my way to please you, Conrad, but it’s never good enough.”
That was the last conversation they had, and it really was more of a shouting match than anything else.
Conrad hadn’t seen much of his wife since those last salvos were thrown.
Aubrey used to think Conrad’s need to be tidy was cute. She’d smile when he said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
“You know that’s not in the Bible, don’t you, Conrad?” she’d tease.
“Well, it should be,” he would reply with a wink.
Playful and carefree, that was how the Jacobs used to be. Now their conversations had been diminished to curt exchanges that usually involved Conrad scolding Aubrey like a child and her openly mocking him.
Like the other night.
“Aubrey, please don’t put your feet on the table.”
Aubrey rolled her eyes.
“Aubrey, you’re getting crumbs everywhere.”
She shook out the napkin and released the crumbs on the rug right in front of him.
“Aubrey, for god’s sake, use a coaster.”
Well, we know how that turned out.
Conrad stared at the damage on the dresser he’d worked so hard to restore and marched out of the room to find Aubrey and talk with her.
Keep calm, he told himself.
But Conrad wasn’t sure he would be able to.
Conrad looked for Aubrey in the kitchen first. She was usually there each morning making a pot of coffee; the one holdover from when they were a happy couple.
It was hard for Conrad to remember when his love for Aubrey used to occupy nearly every moment of his day. If work was stressful, Conrad would think of Aubrey’s beautiful red hair, and how it fell in soft ringlets just below her shoulders. He would recall the playful way he traced the freckles that ran along the bridge of her nose. Conrad would imagine her big, green eyes comforting him, and his day would immediately improve.
Now he only saw disdain in those beautiful eyes as she waited for him to criticize her for not using a napkin or—
“A coaster,” Conrad said out loud. “I only want what’s best for us both.”
“Sure, tell yourself that, Conrad,” the voice said.
All Conrad found in the kitchen was a moldy loaf of bread left on the counter. More defiance, he thought.
He checked the den next. It had become Aubrey’s sanctuary of late — her refuge from him. Aubrey wasn’t in the den either, but there was evidence that she had been.
A few albums were on the coffee table, and one was still spinning around soundlessly on the turntable. Dust was all over the furniture as if Aubrey purposely sprinkled it around the room.
Conrad stood clenching and unclenching his fists. He left quickly, unable to look any longer at the mess Aubrey had left.
After searching everywhere, it was pretty obvious that Aubrey wasn’t home.
“I’ll call her and try to reason with her, ask her to come home so we can talk — like we used to,” he said.
Conrad dialed Aubrey’s number and was stunned to hear her distinct ring coming from the den. Curious, he walked into the room. “Aubrey?” he said, but no one answered.
Her phone was sitting on the window seat, the song “DNA” by the K-pop group BTS blaring from it, and this made Conrad smile.
“She loves that song,” he said, remembering her dancing around the room trying and failing to do the complicated dance steps that were the group’s trademark.
She didn’t dance for him anymore.
Now Conrad was beginning to worry. Aubrey would never leave the house without her phone.
“That’s because she didn’t leave.”
Those words hung in the air. She didn’t leave.
Conrad began hyperventilating. It all began to make sense now. Why the bread was moldy. Why the watermark on the dresser looked worn and pale as if the glass was in the same spot for days. Why there was a thin layer of dust on every surface in the house.
Conrad would never allow things to get so dirty, unless . . .
Unless he had lost time — again.
The first time this happened Conrad was fifteen and his father had died. The therapist called it Dissociative Amnesia.
“You lose time, Conrad,” she said. “It’s as if you’re sleepwalking, but you appear fully awake to the rest of the world and have no memory of anything you did during that time.”
How long had he been dissociating this time? Days? Weeks? He just didn’t know.
He didn’t want to know.
Then the memories came back, the way they always did, in rapid flashes, like clips from a movie.
Conrad saw Aubrey yelling at him. “I’ve had it with your bullshit!”
He screamed back, “The glass left a stain on the dresser, and you don’t even care!”
She laughed. “No, I don’t, Conrad. I don’t give a shit!”
Aubrey turned to walk away, and the anger welled up inside of Conrad.
Then that one last image flashed before his eyes — the look of horror on Aubrey’s face as his hands tightened around her neck.
The extra storage room was why Conrad bought the house in the first place. It was unfinished, with dirt floors and concrete walls. They had plans to renovate it one day.
Conrad could see that the soil had been disturbed in one corner. He got on his knees and began clawing at the dirt with his bare hands. It didn’t take long to reach her.
Gently, Conrad brushed the dirt from her hair and face and kissed her cool lips.
“No,” he whispered. “No.”
Conrad always loved Aubrey, from the very moment he saw her in the dining room at college. He looked into the big, green eyes that used to sparkle when he walked into the room, eyes that now stared off into nothingness.