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To Have Read and Bled


By Claudia NeavesPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
To Have Read and Bled
Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

“Darling,” he says. It is the word that tethers me to this strange place. Darling. It quickens my pulse and hitches my breath. Darling he had called me across glasses of white wine and white tablecloth. Darling he called me when he produced the ring, the joint bank account, and the twenty-thousand-dollar weekly allowance. People talked—he had many previous wives after all. I didn’t care. They didn’t see the iridescent sparkle from their own left hand, couldn’t fathom the idea of their bank account expanding overnight, didn’t hear the timbre of his voice when he called me, Darling.

From the other room, my invitation is followed by a clink of ice and a splash of scotch. I follow the sound into the library. My husband sits at the desk accompanied by his short glass of scotch. My eyes flicker to the little black book he writes in before I meet his gaze, and he sets down the pen.

He is handsome in the sense that I like the deep black of his suits and how I look standing beside him. Now, curled up in his own library without a jacket and his tie loose around his throat, it occurs to me that I have never seen him in this state of undress. He extends his arms to me, and I pretend to be comfortable as I perch on his lap.

“Writing me love letters?” I murmur, plucking the black book from his hand and moving it before my face as though I might read it aloud. He takes it back before I can flip through the pages.

“Something like that,” he says by way of answer, but he doesn’t return the book. He closes it and replaces it on the desktop. His eyes linger on the supple material of the black cover a little too long when he tells me, “I’m going away. For the weekend. I’ll need you to stay here.”

I have the mind to be hurt. But I find that I am more comfortable with the idea of isolation for the weekend. It will give me the opportunity to explore the many rooms of my new home. I plump out my bottom lip anyway. He takes my hand in his and kisses my open palm.

“Can I read my love letters while you’re gone?” I ask, wriggling away so that I can snatch the little black off the desk. His grip tightens and his eyes turn dark. For a moment I am frightened, but the moment passes.

“You can read any book in this library,” he amends. “But never this one.” He pauses. “Do you understand?”

I blush. I have taken my joke too far, have intruded on his privacy in my attempts to be coquettish. Of course, I won’t, I tell him. I make a promise.

His kiss is cold on my cheek when he says in a low voice, “I will know if you do. Darling.”

He has already left when I wake up. The silky sheets on his side of the bed have been tucked neatly. His dresser is equally tidy, but something catches my eye. The little black book. I ignore it, slipping into the master closet. Evening gowns, cocktail dresses, a very smartly silver faux fur tempt me into playing dress up as I search for something a little more subtle for my lonely Saturday.

When I finally emerge, I do several turns in the mirror. I like what I see. Brand name blouse and jeans. Wrists glittering with diamond tennis bracelets. The little black book behind my own reflection is sending little squeaks of desperation. Read me! Read me! I turn to the night table and finger the spine of the book. It’s warm, as if recently held. In what can only be described as a moment of madness, I snatch the book off the table and slip it into the breast pocket of the blouse. The little book cuddles against my chest with a content sigh.

The doorbell chimes, breaking my spell. LeAnne, I recall. I had almost forgotten our plans for brunch. I squeal, running down the stairs to fling open the door. The book thumps against my chest but this time I pay it no mind. Our friendly embrace is much too short.

By way of hello she says, “Your perfume smells—she pauses wrinkling her nose—expensive.” I toss my hair over my shoulder and it isn’t lost on either of us how my wedding ring glitters in the morning sun.

“Won’t you come in?”

LeAnne isn’t reacting the way I want her to. If she is impressed by the house, she doesn’t show it, and says very little until we sit down to breakfast. I pop two pieces of bread in the toaster and dish some fruit onto a plate. She watches me from the kitchen table.

“Was he married before?” Her tone is pleasant, but I sense something different. Something like judgment. I swallow thickly.

“Uh—yeah. A few times actually, I thought I told you?” She nods as she fishes for a slice of strawberry.

“And he did all this for the other wives?” She gestures to the space around her. Irritation curls my lip into a sneer.

“I mean, yes they lived here. This is his house after all.” She shrugs.

“I mean all this. The flashy ring. The perfumes, the twenty-thousand-dollar allowance.” LeAnne has never been one to mince words. Twenty-thousand-dollars would have paid almost a year of tuition at our old university. And here I am, pocketing that amount weekly. I decide that she must be jealous. When I don’t answer she says, “What happened to them anyway?”


“Surely, they didn’t all just disappear one day.”

“They left. Skipped town. I guess they couldn’t handle his work-life balance. He’s extremely busy and—”

“Look,” she interjects. “You don’t owe me an explanation. All I’m saying is that this all just sounds a little Bluebeard to me.”

I’m not familiar with the reference.

“And Bluebeard is? A pirate friend of yours?”

She chuckles, but it does little to lighten the mood.

“A French fairy tale, actually. By Perrault? Bluebeard had several wives, all of whom disappeared shortly after their wedding night. He gives them a key, right? And he tells them they can go anywhere in the castle, except this one little room in the basement. And the last wife goes into the room anyway. And it’s filled with the blood and the bodies of all the wives that he’s killed!”

I shudder. “Maybe Perrault should stick to more Cinderella stories,” I say. This time LeAnne really does laugh. Perhaps she is realizing how ridiculous it all sounds.

“So, I’m guessing there aren’t any locked rooms in this castle? Anywhere you aren’t allowed to go?”

Tell her about me! Purrs the book, growing warmer in my breast pocket. I pat the thing absent-mindedly.

“Don’t you think we’d smell a room full of rotting, dead women?”

LeAnne pauses for a moment. “Not if you covered it up with enough expensive perfume,” she says finally.

Her absence feels immediate and final. I sink into one of the couch cushions and close my eyes. My stomach churns from LeAnne’s macabre tale.

I consider opening every door in the house. The idea both thrills and sickens me. I could call their names if I knew them. Should I know the names of the women before me? The thought has never crossed my mind before. Did they sprawl on this same couch, snacking on chips and popcorn while he was away? Did they wear the same bracelets, admiring their shine in the light? He had told me the bracelets belonged to his late mother.

He’s a liar, the book hisses.

“Shh.” It’s right. The bracelets are manacles. I fumble to unclasp them and let them fall. Up the stairs, past the closed doors, I find myself back in the master closet. The evening gowns, the cocktail dresses, even the fur, I yank them all off the hangers, inspect them and throw them to the floor. I look for any sign that they had been worn before: a scuff, a tear.

To find a sign another woman had been in this closet would only confirm what I had known from the beginning: he was married. But I was getting fuzzy on the number of times, the names, the details.

I take the book out of the pocket, letting my hands trail over the soft cover. I close my eyes and flip through the pages. See? I think to myself. This isn’t reading. I just can’t read it. I can read every book in the library. But never this one.

Saturday morning turns to Saturday night in the similar fashion of disarray. When I am finished destroying the closet, I move to the bedroom. I rip the sheets from the bed. I don’t know what I am looking for. The book, my dearest companion now, watches approvingly. We count the guest rooms. They all swing open. I paw through vanities and dressers. When I find the secret, I will know it.

What else should we look for? Asks the book. I bring it close to my cheek, kiss the spine, kiss the forbidden pages. I don’t know. Maybe we should try the kitchen.

The immaculate steel of the kitchen calms me. I can take a few deep breaths. I allow the book to part with me for a moment and place it on the countertop. There was a time when I liked to cook, I remember, and I find butter and garlic. Yes, I can do something with this. The book calls for me to hold it. Not yet, I say. I retrieve a small knife from the drawer and begin dicing. I stop and move my companion closer the cutting board.

I don’t feel the slice, but I see the blood pool on the board. It must have been deep; my head swims. Instinctively, I reach for a paper towel, and here—here—is where I make my fatal mistake. One drop.

One drop of blood soaks through the strange black material of the book cover. My first thought is to scrub it away, but there is no mark. My second thought strikes fear into my core. What if my sin soaked through to the pages?

I will know if you do.

Gingerly, I pick up the wicked thing, bring it close to my face, as if I could see through it. There is nothing, no outward mark of course, but no possible way to know if it soaked through. How could I explain the blood stain? How could I explain my obsession with his tiny black prize, my desire to have it close to me, even while in the kitchen? I wretch it open with a whimper. The book lets out a sigh that sounds like release.

One name. A series of numbers. A letter.

I flip to the second page.

One name. A series of numbers. A letter.

Each pattern the same, each name, series, and letter slightly different. Women’s names, I realize. The series of numbers. A letter. My brain falters. It wants to think about the ring on my finger and the clothes in my closet. No, I tell it, focus. One name. A series of numbers, A letter.

They are coordinates.

I flip through the pages, panic rising. My heart flutters—a frightened animal trapped in my chest. I force myself to skip to the last page.

One name. A spot of blood.

My name. A spot of blood in place of the coordinates. They have not been written in. Not yet.

I hear the door open. I hear the click of boots on the tile, the thump of an overnight bag.

“Darling,” he calls me from the front door. It is the word that tethers me to this strange place. Darling. It quickens my pulse and hitches my breath.


About the Creator

Claudia Neaves

Mother, Soldier, Physician, Reader, and Writer

If you like me on the page, you may enjoy a more immersive listening experience. Catch my episodes, Destinations and Beyond a Shadow on Full Body Chillls by Audiochuck

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