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Aliss realized how much he knew, facts and exactitude being his favorite comforting places.
Hugh was hurting because of her, but it was no one’s fault. He would go on hurting because now she needed to think and, in the mire she dragged with her into this other world, many of her thoughts were usurpers with other people’s voices, threatening like poison or rogue cells collecting where her brain intersected her heart, and she would silence them with a voice he may never have heard. These acknowledgements rang in Aliss’s head, halting the veil, muting the creeping memory of red water, where she’s running to a life beneath her screams.
She wanted Miller there. With him her thoughts moved from point to point, like footsteps one in front of the other, until she heard herself thinking with fewer ‘rules’ instead of tensing precious muscle, wishing only for relief. She wanted to be that way as she remembered these things, but out the window she saw that the sun was still high. An early September evening would take sunlight down past her bedroom window. She was determined to hold on until seven, even as she felt water at her neck.
“Aliss, try to remember,” Hugh said.
She stared across the room, through the windows, at light saturating the buildings across the street. “I am.”
“I found you on the steps outside and you insisted on going upstairs …”
My keys worked in all the locks, she thought.
“… I was afraid to stop you. You almost screamed …”
I almost screamed because I had to get inside and away.
“… and I hoped that if she was here, the shock would make you leave with me …”
But she wasn’t. I turned the light on and hung up my things. There was another bag on the hook, just like mine …
“I was looking around, just in case …”
“I had to pee.”
“Yes, that’s right. But when you went into the bathroom, I heard you scream.”
“The water was at her chin. Dark red water …”
“… cold. She’d been there a while.”
“You took her away.”
“I wrapped her in the bedroom carpet, took her down the back stairs to another place.”
Aliss turned to him. “Hugh …” She wanted to ask if he was all right, but she felt inside-out, words failing and her breakfast threatening to return.
Hugh trained his eyes on hers. “We didn’t do anything wrong, Aliss. She took her own life.” He looked away. “Before I carried her out, I laid her in the kitchen, got you cleaned up and put you to bed. Then I found her laptop. She had a sort of diary on there with a note at the end. She didn’t think anyone would ever see it. She joked that it was for the police in case they were too stupid to see that she’d done it herself.” His eyes glazed over and Aliss tried to touch his arm, but clutched his sleeve instead. “She didn’t know any more people than you do. No real friends, just those women at the office, the ones you knew. But the other Hugh wasn’t her boyfriend. They met this year and went out a few times last winter. I found out where he lives and works so I could gauge how apt you two were to run into each other. I’ve kept you from doing that twice.”
Maybe she’d been unhappy, too, Aliss thought. Couldn’t see a way past the awfulness, whatever her awfulness was. Perhaps our biggest difference was that she couldn’t find a way leading out of it, and I did. She summoned a faint whisper. “Her mother?”
“California somewhere. They weren’t speaking. I don’t expect trouble from her here.”