Tammy and Marta
Tammy woke in the middle of her nightmare. A sharp, metallic screech tormented her with an intense headache, and she shuffled her feet to the kitchen. She didn’t even turn on the light. It would only intensify her pain. There was plenty of light for her from the electric clock-radio with an illuminated 3:37 a.m.
It never ends, she thought, struggling with the pain. I’m so tired.
With a sigh, Tammy reached for the small box with a red cross in the middle. For nearly two years, she had been battling cancer and the posttreatment side effects that often tortured her with severe headaches and insomnia. There was always something in her body that gave her a feeling of deep unhappiness.
“Forty years old … I’m still young. I want to enjoy my life.” She cried softly so she would not wake her husband.
She protested her illness every day. Every single day. She imagined herself with a flag of various colors in her hands to represent the vividness and perfection of life, and holding it tightly, she walked toward barricades to protest and to fight the struggle and the great suffering of life.
She took a pill, drank a cup of water, and looked through the window for no apparent reason—just as she usually did, because of her painful insomnia. There was nothing yet in touch with the new day. Not a single motion was outside except the light spring breeze that occasionally interfered with the tree leaves. Suddenly, it seemed to her that a shadow flashed through the shed, but it was difficult to discern what it could be in the dark. Likely some animal scavenging for food. Besides that, it was a quiet early morning. Perhaps too quiet …
Then she saw another shadow, much larger. It crept along the ground, trembling under the light of a lonely lantern. Tammy squinted her eyes again, peering into the darkness. Then only one word involuntarily burst out her mouth. “Why?”She glanced at the clock. It was 3:45 a.m.
A God-forgotten place. She thought. Shabby houses are divided into two halves, for the sake of people supporting each other. Life here is not the same as in the city. You can come over to your neighbor late in the evening, without an invitation to simply ask for salt if you’re out of your own. You can exchange fresh deer meat for a bottle of moonshine. But this life is not as simple and as harmless as it may seem at first glance.
The fact that last Saturday night had been so peaceful seemed uncommon to her. Usually, she could hear every word behind the wall of her duplex when Marta’s husband was drunk. Both families could be imaginarily united as one, due to the number of secrets they kept about one another, involuntarily and faithfully but certainly not with a sincere desire of it. Sometimes Tammy wished Marta, the woman next door better luck with her terrifying spouse. She prayed for her safety while sending her daughter into the farther room to avoid having her hear the X-rated language that, luckily for her family, was often transformed into a drunk man’s incoherent mumbles. She didn’t know if she could handle it any longer. Ever since Marta married that man, everybody’s life in their neighborhood had become shaded with hidden fear and the awareness of a potential murder.
Cops for Breakfast
“Get up! Get up!” Dustin shook his wife lightly by the shoulders.
Tammy opened her eyes halfway. Showing disappointment, she shamed her husband. “Are you serious? You know I didn’t sleep all night.” The daylight was already breaking through the ginger curtains, creating an effect of fire in the bedroom. Tammy chose this fabric on purpose because she hated the cold. She hated her habitat with an importunate abundance of gray and green. So depressing. She pulled her blanket over her head.
“Please, Tammy, get up. There is something going on,” Dustin insisted with worry in his voice. His words summoned her curiosity, so she could not close her eyes again. She wrapped her tense body in a soft polyester robe and followed her husband to the kitchen.
“What do you need?” she asked with irritation.
Without words, he nodded toward the window. Cops were swarming around Marta’s shed.
“Do you have any clue what happened?” she asked her spouse.
“I don’t. But maybe youdo,” Dustin said, and she caught a hint of suspicion in his voice. He agitated her. She shot him a challenging look, to which he immediately responded, “Youwere the one not sleeping all night, not me.”
“And what is your point?” she said.
“That’s right! You have nothing to say!” she snapped.
She never had patience when he tried to build conclusions. Some things became hard for him to comprehend with his beaten head. Over the years, Tammy still loved her husband tenderly, and if not for her illness, which unfortunately had developed as a chronic one, she would open her heart to him again. But now she was a grumpy, impatient woman, and snarled at him each time she heard his naïve talk or absurd ideas. On his part, he would not be able to forgive her for shoving him in a high school to be a gym teacher, instead of supporting him in his boxing career, which she never believed in. His last spar was as dramatically painful for him as it was for her. He lay in a coma for four days, and that was enough for her to understand one truth: there is no reason to endanger your whole life in an instant for the possibility of some silly fame. She tried her best to prove to Dustin her point. But either she didn’t choose the right words or he was not made of the right material to absorb them. Either way, his mind had stubbornly followed the path to a hostile denial of all that his wife wisely created for him: his new life and his new career. He just wasn’t willing to accept the fact that without her, he would be nothing more than a full-bodied man with one dream annoying him constantly—how to split somebody’s head and protect his own.
“You’re still here?” Tammy said with irritation.
“Where am I supposed to be?” he asked and paused for a moment. “Can I have my coffee? Promise not to bother you with my stupid ideas.”
“Oh, thank you! You deserve a good breakfast then!” She allowed some irony. “What do you want? Eggs or biscuits?”
“Well … can I have both?” he asked guiltily. “By the way, Happy Mother’s Day!”
Tammy burst out laughing. “Oh my God, Dustin! You are the most attentive husband in the world!”
After her sleepless night, she lost some control over her emotions. Nothing unusual for any human being. Of course, she didn’t mean to talk to her husband the way she did, but somehow it happened all the time. She would provide both—biscuits and eggs, plus sausages. She teased him because it simply fell in her manner. And the other thing: she experienced too many disappointments during her almost twenty years with Dustin. Doubtfully, her harshness reflected her rancor. No. Rather, it was the easiest way to defend her rights in her marriage.
A heavy knock on the door suddenly interrupted the silence in their kitchen.
“Open the door,” she ordered, cracking eggs in the bowl. “Cops.”
“Why do you think so?” Even now Dustin tried to argue with her.
She sighed, sending him another dramatic look, the look of a doctor to a hopeless patient.
“Who else can it be? Just open the door, Dustin.” She didn’t even try to hide her irritation.
Of course, she was right. Two police officers—one tall and thin and the second shorter and heavier—were standing behind their door like a mismatched set.
“May we come in?” the tall one asked with the type of confidence only a cop could have, acknowledging that nobody would attempt to refuse the law enforcer’s request.
“Sure,” Dustin said, stepping aside to let them in.
Tammy was busy with her breakfast preparation. The last thing she wanted to see in her tight kitchen were cops early in the morning. At least for her, it was too early.
“Yes?” she inquired, expressing titanium unhappiness. She did not even bother with the traditional hello or good morning. “May I help you?”
“Excuse my wife, please. She …” Dustin held his tongue for a moment. “She has been sick for days.”
Tammy remained calm, but inside, she thanked God for timely leading Dustin’s thoughts. Sure, the cops were fishing for details. Of course, she had nothing to hide, but she didn’t want an extra headache.
“Alexander and Marta Gray are your neighbors? Have you noticed anything strange with them lately?” the tall officer asked.
Everything about her neighbors seemed strange to her. They are married!And this is already strange! “Yes, they are my neighbors,” she replied. “Is it not obvious for you, idiot?” she murmured under her nose.
“What?” the officer sought elaboration.
“I don’t understand your question, sir.”
“Have you noticed anything strange in your neighbors’ behavior lately? Maybe loud talking, unusual visitors?” the officer asked.
“Like the president of the United States?” Tammy said, allowing herself to be sarcastic. Then she caught Dustin’s pleading look and settled herself back. “Sorry, Officer. I don’t see how the neighbors’ voices cannot be loud to us with the wall we share that is only four inches thick. I can diagnose them with the flu through the wall if they sneeze or cough.”
“Exactly,” the cop said. “If you can hear your neighbor’s cough, surely you can hear much more than that. Probably every word, huh?” The officer winked at her.
“Not really. Only the talking I hear from their bedroom. It seems like the architect of this crap”—her index finger drew a circle in the air —“had some sort of sexual disorder.”
The shorter officer smirked at her remark, and the other continued to question.
“Okay. Maybe some unusual activity? Perhaps some strange noises late at night? Shrills for help maybe?”
“I absolutely hate coyotes, Officer!” Tammy replied dramatically. “They sounded terrible last night. I had to stuff my ears with a bunch of cotton. And by the way, would you mind explaining what the hell is going on?”
The stick-looking cop ignored her question and showed an intention to leave, but the puffy one suddenly intervened.
“A murder took place last night at your neighbors’ barn,” he said, and received a look from the other one, which didn’t confuse him a bit. Tammy noticed that he no longer had a stupid smile on his face. Maybe he is not stupid after all.Holding onto the kitchen table, Tammy plumped into the chair. “Who?” she barely vocalized and felt a cold sweat all over her. Her lips became dry now as she experienced a sudden thirst.
“Did you know the guy named Ivan Kortnev?” the puffy one asked.
“Yes,” Tammy said. She took a deep breath, and her own breath was incomprehensible to her—a disappointment, or vice versa, some strange relief? She couldn’t interpret it yet. Then, under the pressure of the officer’s insisting look, she said, “He was a good man.”
“Was?” the officer regarded her eyes.
“You just asked me if I knew him,” Tammy answered. Then she got up, reached to the sink, and poured a glass of water. She greedily drank half a glass.
“What about you?” The officer shifted to Dustin.
“What?” Dustin seemed confused. Tammy turned her head and gazed at her husband curiously. What’s his answer going to be like?
The officer helped Dustin out. “Did you see or hear anything last night?”
“Sorry.” Dustin shrugged his shoulders. “Can’t complain. I slept good all night.”
“Okay.” The officer gave up and, redirecting to Tammy, said, “Have a nice day, ma’am!” Both turned and walked out of her kitchen.
“Good luck!” Tammy sent her modest wish after them, and then she reached for the plates to serve their interrupted breakfast.
Dustin swallowed his saliva at the sight of the plate with golden scrambled eggs and hissing sausages. Marta’s homemade sausages! Yummy!
Then, after several bites, he expressed his disagreement with Tammy regarding their recent conversation with the cops.
“You shouldn’t talk with them like that,” he said, chewing on sausages.
“Please! That officer wasn’t worth a crap to have a decent conversation with, let alone saying anything about an interrogation. He has no skills whatsoever to take down testimony,” Tammy argued, watching Dustin eat.
“You just can’t stay away from troubles, Tammy! Can you? You’re always up for a fight. Always. Even now, with your medical condition …”
He knew that his last words would pit her off, and he did regret them as soon as they slipped off of his tongue. She shot him a disapproving look.
“And what about my condition?” She paused for a moment, waiting for his answer, and then emphasized her point of Dustin being wrong. “I’m fine, Dustin! I’m fine! And I do not appreciate your clumsy condolence!”