A good while ago I was asked by a Dutch magazine if I would write a crime story in less than 800 words. I did, and the story was published in Dutch. It has never been published in English, and so here we have it, all seven hundred and eighty-five words of it…
For some considerable time, David had known he would kill his wife.
David was a creature of habit, and yet he had learned to accept his anonymity and predictability as a blessing, not a curse. He rose at the same time, dressed in clothes indistinguishable from those he wore on any other day, ate the same breakfast, took the same route to work. He filed insurance claims until lunchtime, and then he walked to the park. Here he sat for forty-eight minutes to read the newspaper, to eat his sandwich, and then he walked back to the office. To him, this routine had become a comfort.
David had made no definite plans as to the means of disposal for her body, nor how he would explain her sudden disappearance to family, friends and neighbors. Perhaps he believed that once the deed was done he would be struck by a brilliant solution, a streak of lightning, a bolt from the blue.
David had decided the manner of her death, however. He would stab her in the eye. The chosen instrument of death was not a knife, but a knitting needle. He had bound half its length in duct tape so as to provide a firm grip, yet with six inches exposed he believed that the needle – if driven suddenly, and with sufficient force – would pass directly through her eye and into the brain. There would be little, if any, blood, and death would be instant. She had given him fifteen years of comfortable, predictable marriage, and he did not wish to cause her any undue pain or distress. In fact, David did not think of it so much as a murder, but more of an execution for some unknown crime.
And so it was, on a cool summer evening, that David and his wife sat at the kitchen table to eat. She had prepared a chicken salad and opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. They ate in near-silence, the stillness punctuated by the odd pleasantry, the fact that rain had been expected but not arrived.
“Perhaps tomorrow”, David had commented, finding it ironic that he was mentioning something of which she would know nothing.
David sat calmly, the knitting needle beneath his thigh. He felt a sense of philosophical resignation regarding the inevitability of what was about to happen. There would be no struggle, no raised voices, no desperate drama as she fought against hands tightening around her throat. There would be no blood spatter, no scuff-marks from frantic heels against the linoleum. She would find herself at dinner, and then she would be dead. Perhaps she would not even notice.
“You’re having no wine?” he asked her.
“No,” she said. “I have a slight headache. The wine will worsen it.”
It was then that David experienced a sudden pang of something. She had smiled at him, and smiled in such an innocent and unaffected way, and there had almost been a sense of sadness in her tone.
She could not know what he had planned, for he had planned nothing beyond her death. She could not suspect him of any deceit. Each day had been the same. He had done the same things, expressed the same thoughts with the same words, continued with routines that had remained constant and unchanging for years. In fact, it was safe to say that the single most defining characteristic of their marriage was that nothing ever happened.
But now he was feeling something.
Was it regret? Guilt? Was he even now questioning the determination he had made to kill her?
Why was he experiencing this sense of disorientation, a feeling of agitation in his stomach, a fleeting wave of nausea?
Why did he now feel so weak, so uncertain?
He opened his mouth to speak. His words were thoughts, but they were not sounds.
She looked at him, the same sense of sadness in her eyes. The stab of pain in his gut was breathtaking. It snatched every molecule of air from his lungs and throat. He had never felt anything like it. The pain did not last so long – thirty seconds, perhaps forty.
He felt his cheek against the plate of moist salad, and then he felt nothing at all.
David’s wife carried the wine bottle and the glass to the sink. She was methodical as she washed them, ensuring every grain of sediment was removed from both.
And then she stood in the kitchen doorway, and she looked at her dead husband, and she believed that during the last days – as she had planned his murder – she had felt more than enough emotion to compensate for a decade and a half of feeling nothing at all.