I awoke to the sound of my phone vibrating on the bedside table accompanied by that godawful ringtone I still haven’t gotten round to changing. A cacophony that dragged me bleary-eyed into yet another morning.
“Hello?” I said, my voice thick and gravelly, a reminder – along with the empty bottle of JD which I’d almost toppled as I’d reached for the phone – of the previous night’s ritual descent into melancholy and self-pity. Same as the night before that, and the night before that. Just like every other day. Just another day.
The voice at the other end was a familiar one, and that familiarity jolted me fully awake. “She’s ready to see you now,” it said. “Can you get here tonight?”
“Of course I can,” I shouted, flustered now, falling out of bed. “Where?” I stumbled across the room to the desk, fumbled around for a pen, trying to listen to the directions I was being given. “Again!” I snapped, pen now found and grasped. “Tell me again so I can write it down!”
He did and hung up.
The phone clunked against the desk when I dropped it. I was shaking and leant forward to reach out and steady myself against the desk, staring out of the window, willing my heart to slow down. A blanket of fog had hidden the usual view of Roosevelt Island and the East River; only the protruding tips of the 57thStreet Bridge’s girders were visible. It was an awesome sight, one that would normally have inspired me, or at the very least reassure me that the huge amount of money I pay to live here is worth it. But not right then.
I picked up the phone again and called my driver. He answered on the second ring. “JFK,” I said in response to his question.
My rude awakening caught up with me on the flight and I drifted into fitful sleep. When I woke up and glanced out the window I could see nothing but water beneath the plane and I had a momentary panic that I’d gotten on the wrong plane and was now somewhere over the Atlantic. Then I realised it wasn’t ocean beneath me but Lake Pontchartrain that we were flying over and I relaxed, chiding myself for my paranoia. The water soon gave way to land; lush greenery through which sun-reflecting snakes of water squirmed before giving way itself to concrete and asphalt.
New York might be where I lived but, as the plane began its descent into Louis Armstrong Airport, I knew I was coming home.
The heat hit me as I left the terminal to find the rental; close and humid, a stark contrast to the chill of the Manhattan air I’d left behind that morning. With the air-con on full, I began the drive to the Garden District, back to the house.
The traffic was light as I made my way along Airline Drive, heading for the city centre and I reached the house in good time. My heart quickened again as I approached the driveway; so many memories and now so much anticipation. Turning off the engine, I glanced at my watch. Three or four hours to kill before the meeting. Out of the car, I pulled the keyring from my pocket, and opened the door.
It was a mile or so to the address I’d been given that morning but I walked rather than drove, absorbing the atmosphere – both real and faked – of the city as I went. The heat had lost none of its intensity and sweat made my shirt cling to me as I reached the house where my future – our future – would be decided.
I knocked. Twice.
The door opened and a tall man stared out at me. He didn’t speak, merely nodded and stood aside to let me in. The door closed behind me. I barely heard it above the sound of my heartbeat. Fresh sweat dimpled my brow but had nothing to do with humidity.
“You brought it?” The man asked, his voice a deep, resonating bass.
I pulled the envelope from my pocket and handed it to him. “It’s all there,” I said. He placed the envelope in his pocket and nodded once more, both as acknowledgement and to indicate a door at the end of the corridor. “Your wife is in there,” he said, “I wish you good luck.”
I felt momentarily faint. This was it, the moment of truth. They say money can’t buy you love. That may be true, but it can buy expertise and the knowledge and skills of the right people. If you can afford it, you can have it – that’s how the world works. An apartment in the Upper East Side is nice but it’s not what I want. What I wanted – who I wanted – was on the other side of that door.
I took a step forward, then another. You can’t come home – that’s something else they say. Well, fuck that, I was home, ready to make things good again, like they were before they all went to shit.
I reached for the door handle and turned it. I pushed the door open and could see her sitting in a chair, silhouetted against the window. She didn’t look up, her head remained dipped forward. This, I guessed, was going to be difficult for her too.
I stepped inside and, as I did, images from the hospital room flooded my mind. Holding her hand as the flatlines scrolled across the monitors, the warning beeps drowned out by my cries of anguish…
“Just another day!” I’d cried, my grief making demands of fate.
You get what you pay for, and I’d paid a lot. Just another day, just one, could never be enough.
I closed the door behind me and stepped into the room.
Slowly, she raised her head to look at me.
Anthony Watson has placed short stories, novellas and novels with a number of small presses. He was co-founder of Dark Minds Press and worked as editor there for ten years before leaving to concentrate on writing. He writes supernatural horror with most of his stories set in historical timeframes.
Following the publication of Witnesses in 2017, his second novel The Fallen was published in October 2020 by Demain Publishing.
As well as writing, he posts occasional book reviews at his Dark
Musings blog which can be found at https://anthony-watson.blogspot.com/