The first faint creak at the top of the stairs froze me to my chair, even though I was half expecting it. This is it. This will be the end of it, one way or the other. I knew she would be here — there was an aura about the house that invariably gave away her presence, and it had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I had first walked in.
The second footstep on the next step down focused me. She had been getting worse for a long time now, and I had finally gotten some witnesses to one of her maniacal rages. That gave me the ammunition to persuade a judge to issue a commitment order; and for the first time in a long time, I could quit walking on eggs. I had begun to think I could have a life.
Then the third step. It prompted me to breathe. This is where it would end. In this house. My house. The house where I had been born and had grown up. The only thing that had ever been mine. This was the one indulgence she allowed me. She condescended to live with me here although she yearned for — and could have afforded — something much grander.
The fourth step squeaked — the landing. They hadn’t mentioned her name when the radio announced there had been an explosion in the boiler room of the state mental hospital, and that one inmate — a schizophrenic woman with homicidal tendencies — was unaccounted for. But I knew it was her. It had to be. And she would come here. Was here.
The sixth step was the loudest. It always had been. It told me why I had to end it here. I couldn’t live like this anymore, but a divorce would leave me with nothing but this house and a pile of debts — the pre-nup her daddy had insisted on would make sure of that.
The seventh step didn’t come at the cadence of the first six, and that unfroze me. I stood, careful not to make any noise, walked over to my desk and slowly, carefully, opened the center drawer. The gun was gone. I picked up the letter opener and tried to think about what was happening, but a midlevel panic was making it hard to concentrate. As I straightened, the gun barrel pressed against the back of my neck.
“Hello, lover. Welcome home.” Despite everything, that voice still had the power to excite me.
“Is it done?” I asked as I turned.
“Yeah. Her body’s upstairs and we’ll make it look like you had to kill her in self defense when she came here to murder you.”
“Any trouble getting her out of the loony bin?”
“None. I timed it so I was close to her room when the bomb went off in the basement, and I snuck her out in the confusion. I had to tell her that you had sent me to rescue her.” A wry smile. “She asked me to thank you.”
“Then it’s over.” I put down my letter opener, and he put down his gun, and we kissed.