A Couple Threats
Paintings by Martin Wittfooth
Excerpted from THREATS: A Novel by Amelia Gray, [to be] published in March by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
Copyright © 2012 by Amelia Gray. All rights reserved.
Images courtesy of Lyons Wier Gallery, New York
The Sacrifice, 2011, oil on canvas, 64 x 50 inches
Amelia Gray is an author from Tucson, Arizona, who lived in Austin, Texas, before moving to LA last month. We first became aware of this young woman’s talent with words via her short story collections AM/PM and Museum of the Weird and now eagerly await her first novel, THREATS, which will be published by FSG next March. Somehow, someway, we persuaded Amelia to give us a super-duper-early sneak peek for this month’s issue in the form of two excerpted chapters. The story revolves around David, a retired dentist, who struggles to accept the death of his wife while trying to suss out the mysterious particulars of her demise. Things become even more troubling when he finds a series of elaborate, cryptic notes hidden around his home, such as: CURL UP ON MY LAP. LET ME BRUSH YOUR HAIR WITH MY FINGERS. I AM SINGING YOU A LULLABY. I AM TESTING FOR STRUCTURAL WEAKNESS IN YOUR SKULL. We don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say it’s an eerie crime story that alternates between utter madness and tiny moments of clear, heartbreaking tenderness. We’ve coupled the two excerpts with three works by Brooklyn-based painter Martin Wittfooth that we feel are insane in their own right.
He knew Franny had been behind the house. She wore a scarf colored red like the berries that grew back there. Her feet were bare and her ankles were slick with fluid. “Something has happened,” Franny said.
She was standing at the bottom of the stairs. She held the rail and tipped her head back to look at her husband. They held the same rail. “You’ve been tromping berries,” he said.
“It’s blood.” She held the stair’s rail and vomited down the front of her dress. “Could you call for help?” she asked, wiping her mouth with her fingers.
“Of course,” he said. He commanded his body to find a telephone and determine its use. “What’s the problem?”
“Goddamn it,” she said.
“What did you do?” he asked. “What happened?”
“Could you call the fire department?” She sat on the stairs and leaned against the wall with her back to him. He came down and sat next to her. He touched her cold face with his hands. “You don’t need to call anyone,” she said. “Forget about it. I love you.”
“What did you get into?”
She tipped her head to the side and back, squinting at him or resting against the wall. “That’s your problem,” she said.
They were quiet for a long time. He listened to her breathing so closely that he forgot to breathe, himself. He gasped for air. He prodded at her with his elbow. “Doc,” he said. “You gotta understand.”
She laughed once.
David sat next to his wife for three days. They leaned against each other and created a powerful odor. In that way, it was like growing old together.
Detective Chico rang the front bell and waited. “There’s a grounding wire on your door,” he said pleasantly when David opened up. Chico tapped the wire with his boot. “Was this your doing?”
A woman stood next to Chico. She was bundled up. “This is Dr. Walls,” said Chico. “She is a mental-health professional.”
The woman held out her gloved hand.
“Hello,” David said, shaking it.
“Don’t worry, sir,” said Dr. Walls, squinting at him, removing her winter gloves though she was still outside. She extended her bare hand, and David shook it again. “I’m not here to commit you.”
“We came by to have another talk about how you’re doing,” said Chico.
David wondered at the condition of Chico’s teeth.
“Dr. Walls would like to know you. There’s no harm in inviting us in.”
“It’s cold out here,” Dr. Walls said, holding one bare hand with the other. She had the kind of pale skin that turned translucent in the winter.
David tracked the progression of her sluggish blood. He opened the door wider. “I could offer you some tea,” he said.
“You could offer and we could accept,” said Dr. Walls.
David led the way to the kitchen. The card with the first threat was still facedown on the kitchen counter, and he opened the silverware drawer and slid it underneath the butter knives. He removed a spoon and closed the drawer.
“Sugar?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” said Dr. Walls, who had picked up a newspaper from the kitchen table and was holding it close to her face. She unstuck a ballpoint pen that had been taped to the window frame over the table.
“You’ve got your sugar spoon all ready to go,” Chico said.
David felt he could trust Chico about as much as he could trust any police detective who had made multiple trips to his home. David put the spoon in his robe pocket, set the pot of water on the range, and took the box of tea out from the pantry along with the bag of sugar.
“How have you been feeling?” Chico asked.
Placing the sugar on the counter, David slipped the teabags into his robe pocket, opened the cabinet, and took down three cups and three saucers. He arranged each cup on a saucer and picked up the bag of sugar. “I’m fine. I went on a walk,” he said, unrolling the bag. Inside, a scrap of paper peeked above the sugar line like a prize in a cereal box. David held the bag close to his chest and dropped his free hand into his pocket.
“Very good,” said Chico. “I was worried you would be cooped up all season.”
“Laying eggs,” Dr. Walls said, rubbing her eyes.
David clutched the sugar spoon in his pocket. “My wife’s car is gone.”
“Yes,” Chico said. “The city confiscated the vehicle due to nonpayment.” He tapped his shirt pocket and reached inside. “I can give you the number of the appropriate department to contact with your grievances.”
“It doesn’t matter,” David said. “I mean, if that settled the debt, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t like that car.”
Dr. Walls made a mark on the newspaper. “The light in here,” she said.