Ruth preferred her husband sleep on the couch. He liked to drink - a little too much and so the couch was their compromise. Sometimes after he got up to piss out a six-pack of beer, he'd creep upstairs and crawl into bed beside her. Ruth knew exactly what step her husband occupied at any given moment. At first she believed his slow deliberation was so he wouldn't wake her. That thought pleased her for a while, but then she realized - after he'd rolled down them one night - he was just too tired and drunk to move any faster. Tonight was no different. Except, of course, that she wished he would die. His snores came through the vent beside her - a deep, obnoxious noise like oily bubbles bursting in his sinuses. He jerked himself nearly awake now and again, when something cut off within his throat and he couldn't breath. Ruth caught herself smiling when she heard this. And then hated herself for it. She'd loved him for so many years she didn't know anything else. Hell, she still loved him, but even marriage couldn't force her to like him. If anything, when he got like this, love blended into hate so well they were the same color: Red. Red for love. Red for hate. When she closed her eyes the red dripped on the inside of her lids. Startled awake she kicked her leg uncontrollably and listened to the house. Yes, there it was, that third stair creak. Fourth stair. Fifth. Now this was where he had trouble. This was where he'd fallen before. Her heart leapt and then sank as she heard the sixth step conquered. Soon he'd be lying beside her snoring flapping sounds and grumbling old-man grumbles in his sleep. She'd wake up tired and pissed - and be the same bitch she was every day at work. Why the hell couldn't he just stay downstairs? But then the noises stopped. And she remembered - it flooded her like a tidal wave. For a moment, she couldn't breathe. Her husband of twenty-three years really was dead. Broken neck from a tumble down the stairs. She'd already cried for hours. She wished she could cry for more. Just last night he lay on the couch and if only he'd stayed there. He'd still be with her now. A creak in the hallway. That couldn't be him. Sweat broke out above her brow. Her neck went rigid, her body paralyzed - a living death with all her senses intact. She forced her gaze on the ceiling and her brain would not allow it to shift. Who was this getting into bed with her now? Who was this that smelled of beer and burped in his sleep and scratched his ass as he pulled the sheets from her? Who? Her rigid neck flared with pain as she twisted it to look. A bead of sweat stung her eye and she blinked furiously, unable to lift her fingers to wipe it away. No lump beneath the sheets. No stale liquor odor in the air. Gooseflesh prickled her skin like a thousand pins. God, she shouldn't have pushed him down those stairs. In time, he might have tumbled down them on his own, just as she had had everyone believe. Ruth clicked her eyes open. The red-digit clock read 3:08. A pair of white lines tracked along the ceiling and then vanished. A creak on the stair. Her feet chilled immediately against the bare floor. When she took a step she kicked the bottle. She imagined the gin pulsing out in waves to soak the floor. The air filled with the disinfectant scent of it. Her head swam, she held it to stop its spinning. Another creak. She would not allow her imagination to rule her. She reached the bedroom door and flipped on the hall light. Nothing. Nobody. Her husband was dead. Lying in the Fleish and Sons Funeral Home. Ruth stumbled to the edge of the stairs, her fingers poised on the switch to light the stairwell. She saw him before she flipped it. He stood in the guestroom, waiting for her in the dark. "Henry?" The hall expanded then closed in. The light dimmed then brightened. She squinted at its sudden brightness. Her husband said nothing, just stepped from the shadows and closer to her. Ruth stepped backward, her heel balancing at the edge of the top step. He came at her in a flash - arms out straight - and grabbed her by the shoulders. He smiled wide with a rictus grin and she thought, this is how I saw him! This is how I saw him today in his casket, except without so much teeth. His fingers pinched her shoulders to the bone. "I was thinking, Ruthie," he snarled, "why don't you take the couch tonight?"
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