NEED TO KNOW • by Ed Kratz

They met in a bar, two mid fifty-somethings finding each other in a sea of youthful faces.

He bought her a drink.

They chatted. Conversation came easily. Warmth. Then laughs.

“Can I see you again?”

She answered, “yes,” but said she’d have to tell him something.

They went to a quiet corner.

She told the story quickly about the crimes, and stressed her regret about joining the group when she was a misdirected youth. Of course, he had heard of her.

“You’re that person?”

“I was that person. Not any more.”

“Forty years! In prison. The others were — ”

“My youth saved me. Otherwise I would have been executed, too. You can leave if — ”

“The past doesn’t matter.” He took her hand.

“Let’s not speak of it again, please.”

“No,” he agreed. “I can see you?”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes.”

They did see each other.

Once. Twice. Then again and again. Then it was a courtship. He made her laugh. Laugh! He made her forget the years in dark cells. No mention of her past.

Soon they were living together.

A life outside. A life to be shared after so many years of solitude.

She should have been happy. In the beginning, she was.

But one night in bed, after making love. Making love! He whispered something.

At first she didn’t quite hear. Maybe she didn’t want to.

“What?”

He took a deep breath. “What was it like when you were fourteen? Doing it to those — ”

“No,” she said and turned, leaving him to face her back.

He stopped talking. He put his arms around her. They slept spoon fashion.

She was restless. She woke. She went to the kitchen for a glass of water. She sat in the kitchen. She was afraid. She didn’t want to wake him. Didn’t want to hear him ask.

She stayed in the kitchen a long time.

When she came back to bed, he acted as though nothing had happened.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

She looked at him. Didn’t he remember? She crawled in beside him and went to sleep.

She tried to forget his questions. Escape her past.

For a few weeks it seemed to work. They were like any content middle-aged couple.

***

Until, one day, she was cutting carrots for dinner. Slicing them. The pieces flying from her hand. Pleased with her accuracy and speed, she went through them in a trance.

A home cooked dinner. A good bottle of wine. She was happy. Happy!

Then she noticed him. He’d been in the kitchen, standing there, staring at her. Just staring.

“Hello,” she said, holding the knife.

“You’re good with that.”

She didn’t say anything. She wanted to drop it. Drop it!

They had the dinner. A few drinks. A bottle of wine.

Another bottle of wine.

Soon they were  dancing.

He whispered in her ear, “We’re close now.”

He squeezed her. Squeezed so hard she couldn’t breathe.

Squeezed so hard it hurt.

“Please,” he whispered “I love you. I — ”

“I love you, ” she said, hoping she could forestall what she knew was coming. “I love you,” she said again, as though she could get his whispering to stop.

“I can’t bear it,” he said. “Tell me. What was it like? With those innocent people? I have to know.”

The knife had been left on the dining room table. Left with the plates in the rush to have the romance of dancing.

She reached back, found the knife, and sliced him as efficiently and quickly as she diced the carrots, and all the time she was cutting him, she was crying and cursing and screaming at him, just as she had with all the others: “Why, why do you always need to know?”


Ed Kratz is an affiliate member of HWA based on his short story, “Poppa,” published some time ago. His most recent story, “Innocent Kisses”, appears in OG’s Speculative Fictiion. He is a recent graduate of Gotham Writer’s SCI-FI online workshop and highly recommends it.


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