05 Apr Smashed Lover
The last time I came home to my husband, I’d brought groceries into our duplex townhouse on my own. Brown paper bags crinkled as I hung my house keys at the front door. Floorboards creaked underneath as I slipped off my shoes. The door nudged me and I jiggled it closed. It sprung open. So, I slammed it shut.
Distant laughter came from our shared basement where our neighbour watches TV.
The two men, the neighbour and my husband, used to be close friends. They’d watch movies together in that basement rumpus room.
Looking around the living room, I saw a shredded Polaroid picture of the two of them. A picture of the fellas hammering our downstairs makeshift bar together. The photograph was torn into frayed pieces and scattered across our hardwood floors leading into the kitchen. Like rose petals scattered by a lover leading you into the bedroom.
I’d been gone an entire weekend, staying at my sister’s place, the shredded picture made me wonder what those fellas had gotten up to.
And how many beer cans we’d be recycling on that Tuesday.
I walked into the vacant kitchen carrying those heavy grocery bags. The refrigerator clicked, then hummed as I opened it.
On its shelves sat three beers attached to a set of plastic rings that once belonged to a six-pack. I took the egg carton from the paper grocery bag on the floor, then, slid it into the fridge. Then, slid in the milk. Broccoli and carrots I put into the crisper. The last thing I grabbed was the ground beef. It was thawed into a squishy brick.
Tip-toeing over to the basement door, I tried not to wake my husband, he was probably in the upstairs bedroom, sleeping off a hangover.
I twisted the door open and saw the dark narrow wooden staircase leading into the shared basement space. I flicked the light switch but the bare bulb above me remained dead.
One of the fellas may have left it on all weekend, again, burning out the bulb.
Laughter echoed up the stairs then it burst into muffled screams.
Our neighbour must have been watching a horror film.
Walking down the stairs, I was greeted by a new renovation done to our basement that I’d never seen before. Drywall now divided our usually shared space from the neighbour’s side. Slinking down the stairs through the slender light path streaming from the kitchen, I then saw the blood-soaked sledgehammer leaning against the freezer.
I rushed over to it, heart pounding, and saw that stuck to its handle was another Polaroid picture. A picture of one man trapping another man – who looked to be sleeping – inside the drywall. From the photo, I couldn’t tell which one was my husband, or our neighbour.
I didn’t believe it, it had to be a fake image. Or the guys were playing a prank on me.
Then I heard a screaming from the wall which turned into thumping.
I wandered past the freezer chest as I let go of the thawed ground beef pack. It hit the cold concrete floor with a squishy thud. The wall thumped. And with each knocking sound coming from it my heart beat faster.
I snuck over to the foreign wall as if it were a dangerous living thing. And I pressed myself against it – first with my hand – the drywall felt dusty and cold to the touch.
In the dark room, I saw one final picture taped to the middle of the wall, and in it, I squinted through the dim light at the image of our neighbour, and me, sitting on the basement stools, kissing.
I put my ear to the thumping wall and somewhere inside it, I could hear it whisper my name.
Clinging to it, I froze, as if anyone watching me would leave if I just kept still. That thumping wasn’t coming from a TV on the neighbour’s end, I had to believe the photos, someone was stuck inside that wall.
I ran to the sledgehammer, then hefting it over my shoulder. And I shouted to the voice behind the wall, “Move back.” I swung the thing using my entire body weight, hitting the plaster. A big gaping hole in the wall ate the head of the sledge. Wooden splinters flew from where I hit the internal frame. The hole crumbled away into a bigger one so could I see the other side.
A puffed-and-swollen eye rose up and it plugged the hole. It gazed back at me. Then it fell away into the space between the wall as the person inside collapsed.
“Stay down,” I shouted. Then whacked at the drywall until a man-sized gap formed like the mouth to a cave. A severely-beaten man with pink swelling skin like pounded meat slumped into me. His fingers squished between mine like jelly. His teeth smashed out. He sucked in a wheezing breath and it whistled between his broken incisors.
I could barely tell who this man was.
But the smell of his sweat told me that this was my secret boyfriend, our neighbour.
The upstairs floorboards creaked above us like they were alive and telling us to run.
And for the last time, since my Husband’s previous drinking binge, I pulled out my cellphone and called the police on him.
And we hid in the dark, stifling our breathing sounds until we heard sirens.
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.