“It’s over,” Fiona said, staring at herself in the dressing table mirror. “Nothing more to it … I ended it last Friday.” She took off her garnet earrings, the ones he had given her, and stirred them in the palm of her hand with her index finger. Under the small table lamp, the earrings looked like two drops of blood.
Charles sat in the shadows on the edge of the bed. “It doesn’t make much difference that it’s over,” he said to her back, “and that’s not the point.”
She avoided his gaze in the mirror. “I know.”
“You never lied to me before.”
Fiona gave him a quick glance. Her face dropped. “There were other times,” she said. “You made it easy; you always believed me.”
“I didn’t know deception existed in relationships like ours.”
“I hate that I did it, Charles. Even while it was going on, I kept telling myself it wasn’t really me. The last few weeks felt like madness.” She shook her head. “Sometimes love needs a little madness.”
“Is that the reason?” he murmured. “You were in love with Derek?”
“No, I just needed some time away from myself. It was something I needed to do, something I had to experience. I would have told you eventually, in time.” She flashed a wan smile. “Now I’m back where I belong.”
“I never noticed you were gone.”
“I love you, Charles. I ended it with Derek. Besides, it really wasn’t much.”
After a long silence, he said, “I loved you more than I ever loved anyone, more than I loved our children.” He sighed. “I suppose I’m largely to blame. I’m pretty dull compared to Derek … old and dull. I let it happen.”
“No, that’s not it, Charles,” Fiona said. “I never thought those things. Never.”
“You’ve watched me turn gray, slow down in middle age. I thought I was living a normal life. That’s what I wanted. There’s more to me, you know, more I could have shown you.”
“That might have helped,” Fiona said, rocking her head, “a little madness.”
“I suppose your bridge club knows,” he said. When she didn’t respond he continued, “The garden club, too?”
Fiona winced. “Christine gave me a key to the greenhouse, so Derek and I would have a place to be alone.”
He threw his head back and signed. “Where can I go? No one respects a cuckold. There’s no reason to be here anymore.” He rose and walked out to the living room.
“What does that mean?” Fiona shouted after him. “I told you it was over. It was something I needed to do and now it’s over. Wait, are you telling me you want a divorce? Alright, now you’re upsetting me. Let me tell you a thing or two. Derek paid me attention. It’s been a long time since…”
Charles emptied his pockets on the coffee table: wallet, keys, glasses, pocketknife, loose change, a bill from the wine and cheese shop he’d visited that afternoon. Then he unbuttoned his shirt and folded it neatly on the faux leather recliner.
He stepped out into the night and felt the cool air on his bare chest. It was quiet except for a party going on up the street. Charles unlaced his shoes and left them with his socks on the porch. The pavement felt warm crossing Jessup Street. When he stepped out from under the streetlamp and entered the park, his shadow leaped ahead, stretching until it blended with the night. He shed his trousers and shorts on the dewy grass and found his favorite bench. The metal chilled his bare backside.
“Greetings, Lord Karl,” a strong low voice said.
“Greetings, Svendar,” Charles said with a sigh. “Is my post still open?”
“The Valkyries keep your armor polished and your sword sharp. They replenish the mead in your horn each evening anticipating your return. Our warriors never toasted your departure.”
“The Sky Lord has forgiven me then?”
“Forgiveness is freely given to the faithful, and you are a favorite.”
“I wish to return.”
“You said you wanted to live a normal human life, to love, have a family, grow old. It’s been over sixty years, have you done those things?”
His wife’s words came to him. “It was something I needed to do, something I had to experience. Now I’m ready to go back where I belong.”
Ah-O-O-O-O, a distant deep horn sounded, and with it came a growing chorus of beautiful voices.
The following morning, police found the naked body of a man in Jessup Park. It wasn’t long before the man was identified as Charles Haley. His body was laced with a dangerous hallucinogen. Traces of the substance were found in six empty wrappers clutched in his hand—the only things he retained when he emptied his pockets the previous evening.