Chunks of dust fell from the bathroom light, feathery and unexpected, tiny pieces of death suspended in mid-air. Like small bits of compost, decaying under the weight of temperature and time.
The air in the bathroom grew hazy as Linda’s cloth wiped, the dust stirring and lifting, a snow shower of gray. She paused, bringing her hand up to one of the floating gray specks, the small hairy tendrils of fuzz perched on the pale skin of her fingertip.
Perhaps some of this tiny ball was from her own lungs, particles from her own breath, her cries, her screams. And pieces of him: nails, hair, skin. Forensic memory of his concealed crimes.
Blowing the gray clump off her finger, she let it join its discarded brethren on the counter below. Any lingering remnants of him should be discarded into the trash.
Trash, he had once called her that. Trash, like she should be thrown away. Garbage.
Dusting complete, the night wrapped around her, the winter chill of late January gripping the empty house. Linda left, as she did every Wednesday, for the support group in the Methodist church basement.
How are you? The women always asked that, they asked everyone that.
I’m okay, Linda would say. He’s gone, the same answer every week. He’s never coming back.
Are you sure? They ask.
Yes, Linda would nod, take a sip of coffee, her voice steady. Yes, he’s gone for good.
For good. The words swirled around her as she stood outside her front door. Linda’s breath fogged, crystallized heaviness in bitter cold air now swirling with snow flurries.
Turning her head, Linda looked at the yard, to the thick trees. Bright light from the full moon cut through the sparse tree limbs like shards, piercing the snowy ground. She was grateful that the snow covered the settled, shoveled dirt underneath. Very little could hide on winter nights like this, the shadows thin and haphazard, making the forest look like skeletons.
You could see the bones of everything.
Snowflakes lingered in the air as they increased in number. Linda held her gloved hand out, watched as a bright white clump found her fingertip. For a moment, it perched, waiting in a silent, icy inertia.
Linda knew how to wait. She had waited many times before, in this house, for his rage and insults and fists to stop. For a time when she wouldn’t hurt. Sometimes, it was less painful to surrender. To wait until he finished, until the dust settled.
Linda returns her gaze to the skeletal trees and thinks of bones, of death, the frames of human bodies.
How long would she wait for a body to decay? To decompose, under the weight of temperature and time? When does it become dirt? Dung?
When does it become dust?
About the Author: After twenty years as a magazine writer, corporate editor and administrator in academia, writer E.K. Reisinger now focuses on fiction. Recent short stories have appeared in the Celtic fantasy anthology “Neon Druid” (Mt. Misery Press, 2018) and the Scottish literary magazine “Nitrogen House.” See more about her at www.ekreisinger.com or on Twitter @ekreisinger.