Donald and Evelyn had been affixed to one another for almost thirty-two years. To say that they loved each other would be overstating things – even calling them attached to one another by anything stronger than habit would be a stretch. Their allegiance, such as it was, consisted more of a kind of adamant fixity on the condition of being married, rather than any abiding or personal stake in each other.
Their definition of themselves as individuals, to the extent that they thought with any frequency or care about such things, was in large measure dependent upon being a married person. Golfer. Gardener. Spouse. These formless conceptions of themselves, these predigested descriptors – these provided them some minimal degree of clarity and comfort.
Donald had one time thought, to his own rueful amusement, that their marriage was like a dog turd that had spent a long winter inside a snow bank – when the spring sun melted it free, it retained something of its form, but was blanched and ghostly and odorless.
Evelyn, for her part, regarded Donald’s presence in her home as a low-level nuisance that was decades now in duration – he was an infestation, almost, of some lumpy mammalian pest that she could never bring herself to drive away.
They had raised an unspectacular child who had long since moved away, and who, if they were honest, was fading in their memory.
What passed for conflict was when they both slept, and the dog ambled off the foot of their bed – there would be a listless jockeying of feet to lay claim to the warm patch vacated by him. In the morning, in the wake of this listless maneuvering, there was a slight increase in how clipped were their exchanges.
On the whole, though, they just marked time in proximity to one another – Donald on aimless walks, leash limp in his hand, staring blankly at the dog’s asshole; Evelyn absently reading middlebrow books that never stuck in her memory. They would dine on sensible portions, stay informed about world events in a resigned and tongue-clicking way, and would gaze unblinking at their own flickering screens while seated not far from each other.
In all, theirs was a tidy and arid little life. They were both flat-footed and glassy-eyed, pear-shaped and settled, in body and mind.
But when Donald awoke with the cold ring of a gun barrel pressed into the meat of his left cheek, the way they had been was snuffed out completely.
Evelyn’s eyes flew open, as a voice – a hellish, robotic voice – said “Wakey-wakey.”
And, for the first time in long time, Donald and Evelyn were awake.
“You know who I am?” said the voice behind the mask, digging the gun barrel into Donald’s face, then lifting it and resting it on Evelyn’s forehead. There was a smell in that room, now, like cordite and something musky.
Donald and Evelyn nodded furiously, tearfully. They knew who this was.
They had fretted in their low-intensity way over reports of a string of home-invasion killings throughout the region. The press called him the Solomon Killer, after the king in that baby-splitting story. He would break into the bedroom of a sleeping couple and force them to choose which of them he would shoot in the face. He would only shoot one of them. If there were kids in the house, he would leave them alone – he would only shoot a spouse in the head while the other one watched.
Profilers claimed that it was this compound suffering – the survivor’s guilt, the traumatizing spectacle, the visions of blood-spattered pillowcases persisting long after he had committed the crime – these were the real goals of the Solomon Killer. The production of a corpse was, for him, just a means to these. On the television, on the Sunday morning programs, the profilers conjectured soberly that the Solomon Killer’s… gratification resided in this “long tail” of grief and misery.
“So,” said the voice. “Which of you is it to be?”
Without hesitation, in the span, really, of a flinch, Donald and Evelyn pointed at each other. Fiercely, and with purpose.
And, in those trembling and wide-eyed instants before the gun went off and the room filled with the ferrous smell of blood, Donald and Evelyn, their index fingers stabbing vehemently at the air between them, saw one another more clearly and understood each other more fully than they had in a long, long time.