He thought she was about nineteen. Jay Blunt was good at that, guessing the ages of girls who caught his eye. It was an important talent for a man to have. One always had to know when a woman was young enough to shine but old enough to avoid legal complications. Jay smiled and settled back into his seat, the vibrations of the subway soothing both him and the licentious thoughts he harbored for the woman standing beside the doors.
His eyes took her in, crawling across her body in long hungry swaths. Her hair was blonde and long, curls falling over her shoulders and swaying with the movement of the train. He smiled at her attempt to dress conservatively: a business suit with a skirt that fell below her knees. Yet the cut of the cloth only drew his eyes to the curves which tightened the fabric so delectably. Even the small dark frames of her eyeglasses seemed designed to lead his eyes to hers.
She wanted him. He knew that.
He felt a tug as the train slowed, pulling into the next stop. He glanced around the car. The man beside him tossed a newspaper into a briefcase and shut the lid. The old woman across from him slid her Blackberry into her purse. The car doors slid open and they both hurried out onto the platform. Jay watched the blonde and sighed when she followed them out. For a moment, he considered going after her, but he knew he couldn’t. He had to be home by five.
The doors slid shut and Jay Blunt looked around the car. He wasn’t alone. A man sat in the row behind him, his face hidden behind his phone. Jay didn’t care. He wasn’t interested in conversation. He’d spent too much of his life talking.
He felt his phone move in his pocket. He pulled it out and unlocked the screen with a flick of his thumb. He found a multimedia message waiting. It was from his wife. He sighed and tapped open the video.
She was a ghost, an echo of the beauty she had once been, and it now pained him to even look at her. The magnificence he had once held breathlessly in his arms had rotted away with the passing years, leaving behind the sullen remains of what had once been the love of his life. He hated her and the reminder of his own mortality which she had come to embody.
“Jay,” she began, “I… I never thought I’d have to tell you this. Life is so… peculiar, I guess. How do I start? How do I say this?”
“Just spit it out,” Jay mumbled. He tapped the phone, opening a second screen. He pulled up an entertainment news site and began scrolling through stories, pausing over pictures of Hollywood starlets.
“I can’t go on like this,” he heard his wife say. “I sit in this house every day and I watch her slip away. You get to leave. You hop on your train and go off to work, but I’m here with her. Every time she screams, it’s like a knife in my heart and I just can’t take it anymore. How many times have I asked God to take me instead of her? But He’s not going to. She’s slipping away, Jay. I can feel it.
“And I’ve realized something. She’s so strong, but I’m not. I’m a coward, Jay. I can’t sit and watch it happen. I can take a lot; you of all people know that. I’ve been your doormat for years and just let it be, left it to God. But this is different. I can’t sit by that bed any longer and just watch my daughter die.
“All I do is beg, Jay. I beg the doctors, I beg the agent, and I beg God: DO SOMETHING!! PLEASE DO SOMETHING!! But they won’t. Callie’s too sick. The insurance won’t pay anymore. God’s run out of miracles. And I now know I’m too much of a coward to wait here and count the seconds until she’s gone.”
Jay closed the other window and watched his wife though hooded eyes. “I tried to turn to you, Jay. That’s what a husband and wife do. They hold to one another when times are hard. I needed you, but I know that I’m not who you want. The saddest part of this entire farce is that you don’t even know what you want. No,” she interrupted herself, “That’s not the saddest part, this is: I forgive you. I forgive you for being a lousy husband and a horrible father and a worthless human being.”
She paused for a moment and took a slow ragged breath before saying, “I guess this is my closure. I couldn’t do this until I had forgiven you.”
She closed her eyes and wet her lips before continuing. “I paid up the life insurance and I hope that money will give her a few more months of treatment. Maybe God will let her live. I don’t know. I hope she understands why I had to do this. I hope she forgives me.
“Jay, I need you to know that I love you. I loved who you were when you still loved me. I loved who you could have been if you had just held onto me. Forgive me for doing this but I have to think of what’s best for Callie.”
She smiled and for a moment Jay saw the memory of the young woman whom he had once loved.
And then he felt the cold metal of a gun barrel pressed against the back of his head and he heard the voice of the man seated behind him whisper, “Your wife says goodbye.”
Aaron James Whiting is an author and historian. He lives with his wife in North Texas.