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By Oksana Robski
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Oksana Robski
All right reserved.
My hands were trembling as I came out of the bedroom to tell my husband what I wanted to say. Between us were nine years of marriage, an eight-year-old daughter, and the young blonde I saw him with in a restaurant a week ago.
"Let's try a separation," I said calmly, looking him in the eyes.
"Let's." He nodded indifferently.
I turned on my heel and went to bed.
Have you ever suffered the pangs of jealousy? If I were Dante, I would put that torture right after the hot frying pans. Or maybe on the same ring of Hell.
I couldn't sleep, I had no appetite. I lost weight without dieting. It's ironic, but when you lose weight that way, people say, "She looks sick."
I looked pathetic, yet I thought I was holding up well.
I tore up all his photographs.
The next day I glued them back together, spread them out on the bedroom floor and wept bitterly. I tried to picture my husband with that blonde in the most intimate positions. But I couldn't. My mind refused to do it, apparently protecting me in my unstable psychic state. That didn't stop me from trying some more. Whenever I managed the least little bit, I bore up heroically under the pain. I had tormented myself into a frazzle of nerves when the phone callcame.
A dry male voice spoke my name. The voice informed me that my husband was dead -- killed by five shots, two of which hit vital organs: lungs and brain. He had been attacked in the entry to our Moscow apartment. His driver was hospitalized, in critical condition. The voice expressed condolences. I replied politely, without hysterics. I hung up. The air was suddenly too heavy for me to breathe.
It felt as if the thread connecting me to the world had been snapped. I was on a tiny, untethered island, abandoned, alone.
I reached out to people with the telephone. My friend Veronika was on the other end. I told her my husband had been murdered. She didn't believe me. I repeated it. I must have been convincing. She gasped and obviously didn't know what to say. What do you say to a girlfriend who informs you in a weak voice that her husband has just been shot dead?
I hung up. She didn't call back.
I went to the window. The small swinging pane inside the big window was open. I made one more attempt to connect with the outside world: I screamed. A few seconds later, when the air in my lungs began to run out, I heard my own voice. I shut my mouth and slammed the little window shut.
I went through my closet. Serge's wife had to look like a knockout, even at the police station. I put on the pink silk trousers my husband had bought for me.
As I came out of the house, I looked around. I was afraid. I locked the car doors before starting the engine. I kept looking in the rearview mirror during the entire drive. No one seemed to be following me.
The police station was even worse than in TV crime shows. It smelled of mice. The policemen were not young, but cheerful.
I asked if my husband had died right away.
"Why are you asking?" The detective's eyes narrowed.
I couldn't tell him. It would have been stupid to explain that, after you learn that your husband is dead, it's very important to know that his death had been easy. Easy enough to keep your heart from breaking.
A third bullet had been in his wrist. I imagined him instinctively trying to cover his face, to put off death by a second.
I realized that I was a suspect. I was asked about money, cars, houses, apartments. Why we were living apart. What had happened between us. What my relationship was with the chauffeur.
What did he have to do with it?
I asked for a glass of water. I was scared.
I wanted to go outside, but they kept asking me questions. Someone at a desk behind me was typing my answers, slowly, with one finger, on a very old typewriter. Thoughts about lawyers from movies flashed through my brain: "I refuse to answer on the grounds . . ." But that would have sounded ridiculous in this scarred, dilapidated room.
"You know . . ." The cop looked like he was barely smart enough to have made it through the police academy. He probably didn't even take bribes, which couldn't be said about his shifty-looking partner. "You know, your neighbors said that the driver was very attentive to you and that you were having an affair with him."
I said nothing. He must have thought I had nothing to say. To explain that they were crazy, I needed a photograph of Serge and I'd have to tell the story of how we met, how much we loved each other, our life together, our marvelous daughter. Then they'd understand. And probably envy me. The way everyone had envied us until quite recently.
Their suspicions about the chauffeur and me would clearly be ridiculous then.
But I said nothing.
They gave me a glass of water.
Three days later I was called and asked who was picking the body up from the morgue.
I sat on the floor, arms around my knees, and wept.
It got dark, then it began to get light again.
The phone rang, but I didn't pick it up.
Conveniently, the morgue was not far from our apartment. Holding my breath, I opened the door. "My husband is here. I would like to see him."
The woman at the desk didn't even look up at me. "Not allowed."
She handed me his watch, wallet, and a photograph. Our first photo. I didn't know he carried it with him. On the back I had written: "Someday we won't regret anything. Except each other." I signed some register. I wanted to scream. Serge had carried my picture.
Excerpted from Casual by Oksana Robski Copyright © 2006 by Oksana Robski. Excerpted by permission.
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