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Constance Arrives Unannounced

slipstream by John Jasper Owens

Clark was going to propose, I knew it.

Our second spring together as a couple, and he’s been dropping hints ─ house plans, ring size ─ so as we take our outdoor seats at the bistro just around the corner from our apartment, as the teens whistle by on their skateboards and the sun, warm sun, sprinkles light through the overhang of municipal trees, I wait. He looks so nervous.

The ring appears in his palm like an awkward magic trick.

I’m going to answer, but I see the waiter coming, and suddenly all I can say is, “Champagne!”, so loud my voice cracks and we all jump. “Just the cheap stuff,” I’m laughing now, “but for everyone. Champagne for everyone!”

I feel like a princess.

Then we see the Bennets, pushing their stroller along the sidewalk towards our building. That stabs me in my gut ─ not my gut, really, but my plumbing. My feminine parts that have never worked. Will never work.

“You still have to say Yes,” says Clark. He’s giddy.

“I –” I’m staring at the baby and wondering why I never told him. I’ve never been very brave, so it comes in a blurt.

“I’m infertile. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

We hear cheers from inside the restaurant, but I see Clark’s jaw fall, a brief blankness in his eyes. He deserved to know this before now.

The spring air swirls around us, the promise of life renewed.

He takes my hand across the table. “Eve,” he says. “I have a confession, too. When I was nineteen, I died. In a car wreck.”

“Wow,” I say, confused, but happy we’re rushing past my guilt. “I’ve always wanted to meet someone who died. Did you float above your body? How long were you out?”

The record, I know, is twenty-four minutes. A few moments of clinical death happen with some regularity in the United States ─ dozens each year. He knows I’m interested in the subject and I wonder why he’s kept this big secret.

“No,” he says, and he leans in, whispering. “I died. I was dead two and a half years. My grave’s in Berealtown. Connie brought me back to life.”

My thoughts split neatly like the cleft in a tree six feet up. Branch One: Constance “Connie” Broussard. I’ve heard too many stories ─ the ex-girlfriend the wife is doomed to despise without even meeting.

“She promised she’d never leave me, she’d always come back.”

Branch Two: Clark is crazy. Suddenly he’s the coworker who, alone in the elevator, casually mentions the black helicopters, the Zion conspiracy, his sure knowledge the lesbian in accounting will burn forever in Hell.

But this is much worse than a race-baiting in-law. I love Clark. With my entire soul.

The first congratulators start to file by the table, so I pat his hand, showing acceptance in my eyes. “We’ll talk about it later.”

#

Zombus Carribeanus Mortis, I find out, and Clark believes it, oh boy, does he believe. It doesn’t help that in order to discuss it we must also drag up Constance, that witchy island slut who manipulated Clark through his late teens and early twenties.

“One must die so another may live,” he recites. “This isn’t the body I had before.” He flexes a bicep and winks. “My old body was decapitated by the steering column.”

Clark is sweet and wonderful, but he isn’t exactly the biggest skeptic I’ve ever met. I can only imagine him at nineteen, lured by Constance, her unguents and oils, her candlelight chants. The wild sex in graveyards.

I call his parents, and endure the brief huddle away from the phone as they decide what they owe me. His mother comes back on.

“It was Darren, his best friend, killed in that accident,” she says. “The one dating Connie.”

The way she says Connie’s name tells me I’ve found a fellow traveler in my hatred.

“She wore black for a year then went after my son. Wasn’t long after, he decides that Darren’s soul came back and took over his body.” She paused. “He told me his own soul went to sleep in Darren’s grave.”

“What did you do?” I’m squeezing my phone so hard I think it might crack.

“Chattahoochie,” she says. Biggest mental health facility in Florida.

“What happened with Constance?” Clark’s always been vague about how they ended.

“She left him. Drove my son crazy, then broke his heart.”

The woman laughs long and hard from Clark’s hometown in Florida, eight hundred miles away.

“But you don’t have to worry about that one, she’s dead. Saw it in the paper. Hung herself last Tuesday.”

Last Tuesday, when he proposed.

Clark doesn’t know; suicides in Berealtown, Florida don’t make it to the Boston Globe. And there’s something else Clark doesn’t know. I’m pregnant. Which is impossible; my ovaries have always been two dead, shriveled sacks. Dr. Pevin is already writing an article for the AMA Journal.

I should be thrilled, but I keep remembering making love to Clark the night I said, “Yes.” How after, I thought I heard knocking. Not rapping at the door ─ nothing human or planned ─ but random beats, clunky and faraway. And how, when I remember that sound, I envision boot heels, hanging above the floor, bumping a barn wall as a neck twists in the noose above it.

I think about the impossible baby inside me, and I remember Clark’s words even as I watch him sleep, in this twin bed, in our small apartment above the midnight sounds from the avenue below.

Zombus Carribeanus Mortis.

“One must die so another may live.”

The faraway snap of a woman’s neck, her boots against the barn wall, even as Clark spasms between my legs.

“She said she would never leave me, she’d always come back.”

Yes, I should be thrilled at this miracle baby growing in my belly, but I’m not. I’m frightened.

God help me, I’m terrified.

Copyright 2010 by John Jasper Owens

John Jasper Owens lives in the South. His story, The Long Way to Austin, appeared in Issue 2 of 10Flash. His work has also appeared at Every Day Fiction, Out of the Gutter, A capella Zoo, and Bards and Sages Quarterly.

[Return to the April 2010 stories]

2 Responses

  1. […] Constance Arrives Unannounced […]

  2. Very nice bit of horror reminiscent of “The Skeleton Key” except the horror has just begun. I don’t usually like present tense, but I liked this. Good Work.

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