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Outside an ambulance roared by, lights flashing, sirens blaring. The road in front of Catherine's house went for miles, stretching from rural cattle farms in Greenburg County all the way to the city. The sound of the ambulance dissipated as it rushed someone to the hospital.
Catherine got up and looked into the next room to see if the sound had disturbed her husband, Frank. There he sat, swilling beer, and trying to pretend she wasn't home. Catherine White hadn't spoken to her husband all day. What is the point? They had nothing to say to each other. She heard all marriages go through this phase, where conversation drags and the couple slowly pulls away from each other. If it were only that, she would be fine with it. The truth of it was, she had never shared Frank's goals, dreams, or desires. He never understood that.
Frank wanted their marriage to work. She wanted her freedom. Well, to be more precise she had wanted out of this farce of a marriage prior to James, her lover of six months, dying in a plane crash. Why he had to go to Spain a week ago was beyond her. She didn't even feel like mourning him. The dumb ass shouldn't have left her. In the week since he died her wish to have her marriage concluded rolled over and over in her mind. Now there was nowhere for her to go, so she stayed with her husband and wished for someone else. It was her curse. She built a safety net in Frank but that net had changed to a cage.
Having a man was all that counted. It was the only thing of importance to Catherine. Not just any man, though. He had to dote on her and think she was the sun and moon. And one who wasn't Frank. Not that she expected it to take long to find areplacement lover. After all, Catherine never had to look far for male attention. Ever since that first time behind the bleachers during a football game it had been easy to attract men who could give her the things she wanted. So why did I go off the deep end and marry Frank? She'd have to chalk that up to temporary insanity. Well, that and wanting to show up that unbelievably plain and utterly bland Pamela. Pammie. Ugh. How she ever made the cheerleading squad was beyond Catherine, but somehow dull and boring ole Pammie made it. The bitch had gotten everything in high school, the top grades, the best scholarships, the squad ... the one thing she didn't get was Frank White. That was the one thing Catherine got.
She smacked her gum and returned to the kitchen table, putting on the last coat of nail polish. She should've had them professionally done, but her last manicurist had tossed Catherine out of the shop after she had innocently flirted with the woman's husband. Jealous, so many jealous women out there, and they made life hard for Catherine. It wasn't fair. She couldn't help being beautiful.
Splaying her wet red nails on the tabletop, she lightly blew them. Her diamond rings sat in a neat little pile in front of her. Each was a gift from Frank, a trinket of his affection. Some affection. When each nail was dry enough, she added her jewelry, watching it sparkling in the overhead light.
Eight years later and all Frank spoke of was having children, maybe moving closer to his parents. She wanted none of it. And why should she? She didn't need the baggage of diaper bags or crying kids. Frank was too much baggage all by himself.
If only Frank were gone. She would have the house, the money, and no husband. She wouldn't jump into another set of vows either. For once in her life, she would be free to do what she pleased.
If Frank were gone.
The chilling thought clung to her mind, digging in with a life of its own. She popped the gum in her mouth and thought about it. The act of murder was easy. Over the years, she had watched dozens television shows about catching killers. There were ways to do it and not get caught. Shoot him then claiming someone had broken inside their loving home wouldn't be hard. Playing the sad and devoted widow might be nice.
Catherine felt a smile spread on her face. There would be so much attention. Men and women alike would flock to her to offer their condolences. She could have her pick of men and they could sleep next to her right there in Frank's bed. She might even manage her men two at a time.
On a whim, Catherine went to the bedroom and pulled the forty-five from its box in the closet. Frank had bought it and had taught her to use it for those nights when work kept him late. He called it work. She knew that his evening work meant wining and dining different developers who might be interested in his services. There were occasions when supplies were shipped late or an interstate job ran at night instead of during the day. Let him stay late every day for all she cared.
His little construction company was hardly the glossy enterprise that her friends' husbands held. She had to admit that the hard work gave him a nice body, but one she didn't want touching hers. There wasn't a reason why, at least none she'd ever been able to put her finger on. He was tall, broad-shouldered with thick brown hair and amazing eyes and was really quite handsome. More often than not, he turned women's heads wherever he went. Frank never noticed. He just went about his business. Maybe if he would have gone after a few of those women, some spice, some challenge, would have been added to their marriage. But not good ole Frank.
Her mind returned to the task at hand. The pistol had a good grip, and she clutched it, enjoying the weight. It had a rich smell of oil and metal, something unique she never noticed in another object. The cold metal of the silver gray gun reminded her of ice. She supposed murder should be cold, emotionless. She didn't feel emotionless though. Holding the gun, knowing what she was about to do was euphoric.
Catherine opened the clip and checked the bullets the way Frank had shown her. The man wasn't much good for anything, but at least he had shown her how to load and fire the gun. There were five bullets. The thing was ready to go with a flip of the safety. She would finally get out of this marriage. How simple it would be, a pull of the trigger instead of long arguments with a lawyer presiding.
Divorce could be an option, if she wanted to be poor and her infidelities brought out for all to see. Frank, the strong, silent type, would grant her one. He might even want out of the marriage, too, but his sense of right and wrong wouldn't permit him to make the first move. No, a bullet to the brain would be more merciful than a long, drawn-out divorce. It would be so easy. After he was dead she would mess up the room, make it look like someone broke in and then call 911 to report an attempted robbery. There had been enough visitors to the house that the police would find other fingerprints, and if they didn't, well, the intruder would have been masked and wearing gloves.
"Stop or I'll shoot." Catherine went to the hallway, trying to move silently. The door to the den, Frank's room, was open slightly. He'd been sleeping in the den for the last five months. She suspected that he knew about her affairs. He had to. The timing of his move to the den coincided with her meeting James. She remembered the night he came home early and looked her deeply in the eyes before asking if she still loved him. She told him yes. She'd lied, not to be mean, but because she didn't know what else to say.
Barely into the room, she heard him breathing low and deep, already asleep. The door swung open slowly, his damn mutt on the floor by the couch. The shepherd looked up and bared his teeth. That dog never liked her. I may need to take a shot at him as well. Frank loved the stupid mutt and had named him Winter, although he only called him "Win" most of the time. He'd gotten the dog five months ago, about the same time he found out about her recreational activity.
"Stupid dog," she whispered.
Maybe she shouldn't have said anything because the dog looked at her, watching her pull the gun up and aim it at Frank. For a minute her heart raced in her chest, excitement mixed with fear that he would wake and see her standing there. She didn't want him to know it was her.
Her hand trembled. She hadn't expected that. There was a click from the gun as she eased off the safety and started putting pressure on the trigger. The shot would be close. She wouldn't miss his head. She drew in a steadying breath, but before she could exhale, Win came up snarling, ripping, and pain filled her face.
"The dog!" Catherine jerked awake, leaving the memory behind in her nightmares.
"Relax, Catherine." A doctor smiled down at her. "The surgery went well. How are you doing?"
She reached up and found the left side of her face heavily bandaged, bringing back the memory of six months of the surgeries. The area was numb, but that wouldn't last, or so they said. The doctor believed minimal nerve damage occurred with what seemed like half her face torn away. The bandage covered a large part of her face and head, although the transplant procedure was only for her eye, cheek, and part of her forehead. All because of that damn dog. It went so wrong, so wrong.
"I guess I'm okay." Her face seemed to have swollen to the size of a bowling ball. Although she didn't have any pain yet, her face pulsed in time with her heartbeat. "Where's Frank?"
"Your husband is in the waiting room. I'll send him in to see you."
Catherine watched the doctor leave, glad that Frank had stayed. For all their problems, for how much she had wanted to be free of him, he had stood by her through all the surgeries and now this whole transplant procedure. From doll-faced beauty queen to freak of the week, and still Frank remained faithful. He deserved someone better. He deserved a beautiful wife.
The door opened and she saw her handsome man appear. Frank carried a vase of roses and set them on the table near the bed. He was like that, caring, thoughtful, even after everything she'd done to him.
"How are you?" He wore his jeans and a button-down flannel shirt. She hated those clothes. But now there would be no more fantasizing about men in suits going to power lunches. At least she wasn't alone. She hated the idea of being without a man.
"I'm okay." She lied. Her face didn't hurt, but her emotions were racing from depression to rage. She didn't understand the alternating feelings she was having. One minute loving him, wanting him. The next hating everything about him.
"The doctor told me that I couldn't stay long, but I wanted you to have these." He motioned toward the flowers.
She looked over at the petals of deep red blooms. They were lovely, not like her, not like the beast she'd become. Frank never complained, not once. He came daily to the hospital, always with something in his hand--a book, flowers, candy, little things. He hadn't even wanted her to get the surgery, saying that it wasn't worth the risk to her life. She'd wanted it though. She wanted to be the woman she used to be.
"I'll bring you breakfast in the morning before I go to work. Wouldn't want you to eat this hospital food. As soon as work is over, I'll come by with dinner." That was something else he did, he brought her home-cooked food, food he prepared, every day.
"You're a sweetheart."
He gave her a kiss on her good cheek, the one not marred by Win's teeth and surgery, then left her. There wasn't a reason for him to stay, and Catherine wasn't sure she wanted him to. She needed rest, and for some reason, looking at Frank made her heart ache.
He would go home and walk that damned dog. Yes, Frank had kept the dog after the attack. The dog was the reason she was here, the reason she looked like a Halloween creature come to life. She'd raised the gun to fire and the dog, that dog she thought was so stupid, jumped and turned her into this monster. She couldn't say much about it considering Frank found her on the floor, the gun knocked from her hand. She'd asked him to get rid of Win, but Frank wasn't stupid. Six months later, and he still kept the dog on his side of the bed.
Why hasn't he divorced me? It was the one question she couldn't answer.
Catherine supposed the real reason he stayed with her now was pity. She didn't like pity. That emotion crept lower than hate, more despicable than sadness into the vile thing that stared at her every day from the mirror. She was pity, sadness, an untouchable, all because of a damn dog.
"I want to be beautiful again."
There was little chance of that, but she could dream. She often imagined that six months ago, she'd walked out, should have walked out, instead of going into that den. She touched the thick gauze wondering, hoping her sin wouldn't condemn her to be ugly forever.
Outside the door, she heard someone mumbling. Holding her breath, she thought she heard her doctor's voice conversing with a nurse. She strained to hear but no words made it through. Thankfully, the door opened and a nurse entered. The white starched form hovered for a moment, offered a few kind words, checked her bandages, then left. She also left the door ajar.
Catherine could hear the talk in the hallway this time. It was clear and clinical, but the nurse's voice held a hint of emotion. That tinge of sadness invoked fear in Catherine.
"Do you think the transplant will work? I mean the risk of her body rejecting is so high. I'm worried, especially after the last patient."
"We have to try." The doctor's voice remained low, slightly louder than a whisper causing Catherine to hold her breath again to hear.
"But the black rot and bubbles on the last one ... I can't imagine that on a person's face."
"She knew the risks. I went over everything with her and she wanted it."
The doctor must've realized the door was open because he reached out and shut it, ending her eavesdropping. They were talking about her. The doctor told her the risks. Even though he was the best in the field, the process of transplanting a face was still so new, so untried. He'd shown her the pictures, the awful photos of a person whose body had rejected the last transplant. It had been hideous, the slow degeneration of tissue, the bubbled surface, the rotted areas.
She struggled to sit up and felt a tingle beneath the bandages. Something in there was taking hold. There was no mirror in sight. Catherine reached the call button. She had to see her face, even in the bandages. Some reassurance would get her through the night.
"Yes," came the voice, the same voice who'd been speaking to the doctor in the hall.
"Would it be possible to get a mirror?"
"It wouldn't do you any good, Mrs. White. All you can see are bandages."
The foolish request circled in her mind. "I know, but even seeing bandages would help."
The intercom went dead. A few minutes later a nurse came in carrying a fresh pitcher of ice and a small hand-held mirror. She set the mirror on the tray, just out of reach, and refilled Catherine's cup.
"I brought you the mirror, but remember that you won't be able to tell anything. The bandages cover all of the doctor's work and can't be removed yet."
"Please. I need to see."
The nurse handed her a small, blue, plastic-backed mirror. A cheap one, very cheap. Catherine never tolerated anything cheap, but for this, to see her face or to imagine, she would take the cheap mirror. Carefully, she lifted it, as if it were the most fragile thing in the world. Then she looked at the wad of bandages, the tape holding it all in place. Only her good eye and her mouth could be seen.
"We'll find out if the eye took in a couple of weeks. Don't worry. I'm sure it did." The nurse took the mirror and left the room in a swish of polyester.
Her eye. She wanted to see from two eyes again instead of the gaping wound that the beast had left behind. She wanted to be a person. She sighed, remembering how she used to put liner around her lovely blue eyes.
Sleep drifted to her again, and she gladly sank into the dark areas of her mind. Maybe when she woke this time, she would be whole. The dog's attack might fade to nothing but a dream. That's what she liked to concentrate on when resting. She liked to pretend she had never touched that gun.
This time as linear thought faded, she saw a face. It wasn't her in her pre-mutilated life, but she knew the person. Not once before had she dreamed of Frank's ex, Pam Miller, but that's whose face she saw this time. Pam stared back at her with her pale green eyes, and Catherine could swear she saw anger in the expression.