Sunburns and Aloe Vera

The ring flew from Mike’s hand and hit his own face on the photo above the TV, knocking it over. He slammed his palm into the wall. He was aiming for her face.

The news anchor on the screen didn’t flinch.

“Hotel security discovered the bodies of forty-two-year-old senate candidate Tim Westron and twenty-nine-year-old Miriam Guirgis in downtown yesterday. The couple was discovered naked, and appeared to have been gunned down mid-intercourse. Westron…“

“Burn in hell.”

“…suffered three shots to the head, and Guirgis…”

“Whore.”

“…suffered two in the chest. Other hotel guests called security after hearing the noise, and witnesses saw a suspicious man dressed as a bellhop quickly leaving the scene. Police suspect it may be related the the murder of former mayoral candidate John Richards who was similarly gunned down four weeks earlier.”

Mike stared at the ring on the floor. A cop already told him everything the newscaster said the other day. He walked over to his bedside table and poured himself another glass of bourbon. Miri hated when he kept a bottle by their bed. And he hated when she told him not to keep a bottle by their bed. And she hated that he hated that. And he hated that she hated that he hated that. It went on forever until the fumes from their hate permeated the house. He found it strange that he still felt it, even though she was gone.

He took a large gulp of whiskey. It’s Tim’s problem now—or, would’ve been, anyway. Maybe getting killed was a good thing for them. Their passion won’t grow into resentment.

The doorbell rang. He tried ignoring it, but it kept going. Leaving the ring on the floor, he descended the staircase and opened the door, finding himself face to face with his brother-in-law, Jake.

“Hey, Mike.”

“Hi.” They both stood in silence. Mike stared over Jake’s shoulder.

“Can I come in?” Jake asked finally.

“Sure.” They walked into the kitchen. “Want a drink?”

“Yeah, thanks. I guess it’s an appropriate time.” Mike poured two healthy glasses of bourbon and handed one to Jake. “Hey, I’m here because I found this in my guest bedroom. When Miri spent the night.” He took a white envelope out of his pocket and handed it to Mike. “It’s addressed to you. I didn’t open it, so I don’t know what’s inside.” Mike looked at the envelope, It said, “To Mike” in Miriam’s handwriting.

Jake took a sip of whiskey, and his voice grew quiet. “I’m still reeling. I can’t believe it. It’s one of those things, you know? Always happens to somebody else. You never in a million years think you’ll be the somebody else.” He sighed. “I’m really gonna miss her.”

“Yeah.” Mike tossed the letter on the table. He drained a healthy amount of whiskey and grinned. “You know, I always told her one night without getting sex wouldn’t kill her. I guess she should’ve listened.”

Jake took in a deep breath. “I know you’re upset right now, Mike. I get it. It’s a shitty thing to happen. But this is my dead sister we’re talking about.”

“And she’s my dead wife, so I’ll call her a whore whenever I want.”

Jake stood up so fast he knocked the chair over. “Well, maybe if you didn’t have whiskey dick every night, there’d be someone else’s wife in that hotel room, you fucking drunk piece of shit!”

Mike casually waved Jake away, as if swatting a fly. “Get the fuck outta my house.”

“Gladly!” He stormed towards the door, then looked back. “You actually think this is all her fault, don’t you? Sick piece of shit.” The windows rattled as Jake slammed the door shut.

Mike poured another drink, then opened the envelope. A piece of notebook paper with Miri’s neat writing lay inside. He noticed three small water stains near the end of it.

He began reading.

Dear Mike,

I feel silly writing this, and I know it’s mostly paranoia, but I saw on the news that John Richards died a couple weeks ago. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my boss, Tim (I think you met him once) and I need to yank everything out of my head and put it onto paper or I might implode.

I think a lot about the time we made love in the bathroom in the restaurant where we celebrated out third anniversary. I think about how we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. I think about the time I fell asleep in your arms in the hammock out back, and we got sunburned and rubbed Aloe Vera on each other all night.

I’m not sure when my skin grew thorns, but I think I’ve forgotten what your hands feel like. Maybe it was after your stand-up stint ended? I wanted you to succeed—I really did. I showed up to every open mike. But for some reason, it was my fault you failed. And you kept sleeping facing that stupid bottle of whiskey in the bedroom instead of me.

Tim and I are in love. It was so hard getting those words out of the pen. But it’s the truth. We were in love once, so I know that’s what this is.

I know going behind your back is wrong. I hate myself for it. But I’m afraid. Not of dying—I’m afraid of a lot of things, but not that. You see, there’s this stupid piece of me that just doesn’t want to let you go. When you spend ten years fused to someone, no matter how much he tries to push you away, there are still bits and pieces that stick around. And ninety nine percent of my brain tells me to scrape them off and be done with it, but the other one percent…

I’m sorry, Mike. I really am. I really wanted this to work, but I think I have to go with the majority this time.

I did love you once. I really did.

Miri

Mike ran his fingers over her name on the letter. He stared at the words for a long time, then neatly folded the paper up. The thought of crumpling it into a ball and throwing it across the room crossed his mind, but he stuffed it in his pocket instead. He sat down, took a deep breath, and for the first time since the cop knocked on his door, he started to cry.

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