“Harold, could you put away the dishes, please.”
Harold turns toward his wife. “Denise, you might be a division manager at work now, but that doesn’t make you my boss at home.”
“Sweetie, I didn’t mean — Oh, never mind. I’ll do it myself. It’s just I’ve got an important presentation tomorrow, and I want to practice it.”
Harold walks part-way out of the kitchen then stops and turns toward his wife. He wants to say something about her getting ahead by being a kiss-up at work, but smothers the urge and goes upstairs.
Harold comes in from the patio and goes into the kitchen. “That’s the perfect place for it. There’s a nice clear view of the sky.”
“How’d you happen to get a used telescope?” Denise says.
“Got it while I was dropping off a donation at the second-hand store after work. The guy was practically giving it away. I always wanted to see Saturn’s rings when I was a kid. You know, Denise, it’s good to have a hobby. Life isn’t just work all the time.”
Denise picks up another towel, snaps it, then folds it on the counter. “Good for you. Maybe if you have a hobby, you’ll be in a better mood around here.”
Harold snatches a wash cloth. “Me? You’re the one who’s always grouchy. At home anyway. You’re all smiles at work though, aren’t you? Does Saunders already have you on the short list for another promotion?”
Denise gives Harold a cutting look.
“OK, OK, I shouldn’t have said that,” he says. “I think we’ve both been working hard, and it’s made us short-tempered.” As he reaches to hug his wife, she crosses her arms in front of her. “I’m sorry, Denise. Really sorry. I’m just jealous of your success. I’ll get over it. I’m a jerk. Truce? I don’t want to fight the night before I go out of town.”
“OK, truce.” Denise kisses her husband. “I’ll miss you. I hate being here alone since the break-ins started.”
“I’m sure you won’t need it, but we have the handgun now. Remember our training.”
Harold goes to the cafeteria for lunch and takes a seat with Jenkins and Gerber. “Pretty good,” Gerber slurps his cheese and broccoli soup, “for Denise, huh?”
“Denise’s promotion is old news, Gerber. You, uh, got soup…” Harold taps his cheek.
Gerber sticks out his tongue as far as he can. “Not that. The email this morning from Saunders saying what a great job she did on the Fergusson account.”
Harold squints as Gerber keeps working his tongue. “Guess I haven’t caught up to that yet,” Harold says.
“I think Saunders just sent it to managers of a certain level,” Jenkins says. “I’ll forward it to you. I’m sure you want to see it.”
“Of course,” Harold says. “God damn it, Gerber, use a napkin.”
Harold pushes back from the dinner table. “I’m going to check out the telescope.”
“Can’t you help me with the dishes first?”
“Just leave them till I come back in.”
Denise stabs her knife into a leftover piece of meat.
Harold opens the slider from the dining room to the patio. He glides his hand along the barrel of the telescope. Where the hell is Saturn, he wonders. Should’ve read the instructions on how to find stuff. Well, let’s start with something easy. He aims the instrument at the nearly full moon. Pretty good for your wife, huh? Yeah, Gerber. It’d be good if you didn’t eat like a pig.
Harold looks through the eyepiece and sees a fuzzy rectangle of light. He adjusts the focus, and the bright patch becomes what appears to be a lit window. What the-? Harold looks up. The telescope is aimed at the moon, which is high in the sky. He fiddles around with the adjustments, then looks again, but still sees the window. He’ll have to read the instructions, but that’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Now he’d better get inside and help with the dishes….
Uh oh. Denise is closing the dishwasher door just as he walks into the kitchen. “Did you see your rings?” she says with a smile. Or is it a smirk?
“The sight or whatever you call it is way off.”
“Maybe there’s something on the lens.”
Ooh, he forgot to check that. “I’m not an idiot, Denise.”
“Did you read the instructions?”
“Of course I checked the instructions.” He sighs dramatically.
Denise walks to him and rubs her hand between his legs.
Must’ve been a smile.
“See what I mean?”
Denise looks up from the eyepiece. “I see the moon. What’s wrong?”
“What are you talking about?” He nudges his wife aside and looks through the telescope. “A window. A brightly lit window. You don’t see that?”
Denise walks away shaking her head. Harold looks through the eyepiece again. A figure is at the window. He adjusts the focus. Denise? He jerks away from the telescope. His wife is closing the slider behind her. He looks back through the eyepiece. His wife is standing at the window brushing her hair.
“I’m just telling you what I saw.”
“Well, you know that isn’t possible.” Denise stands at the bedroom window brushing her hair.
Harold rushes through dinner. “I’m going out back for a little while.”
“Can’t you help me with the dishes first?”
“OK, OK.” Harold grabs at his empty wine glass and knocks it off the table. It falls to the floor and breaks.
“Harold!” Denise jumps up from her chair. “That’s Hungarian crystal.” She kneels down, begins picking up the pieces, and cuts her thumb on the jagged stem.
“I’ll get a bandage.” Harold goes to the bathroom. When he returns, Denise is holding up her hand, and blood is spiraling down her arm. “Jeeze, Denise. Direct pressure, you know? Are you trying to make me feel bad?”
Harold gets a dishcloth, wipes the blood off his wife’s hand and arm, then applies the bandage.
“You should’ve put disinfectant on it first.”
Harold kisses her thumb. “That’ll make it all better.”
Denise rolls her eyes. Harold goes out to the patio.
He aims the telescope at the moon and stoops so quickly to peer through the eyepiece a sharp pain stabs him in the back. The window again! This time he can see into the room. Denise is standing in their bedroom and is wearing a black dress. Her shoulders are rising and falling as if she’s weeping. No, not crying, laughing. Suddenly a man comes into view. Saunders! He takes Denise in his arms. They kiss.
Harold feels so dizzy he imagines blood must be puddling at his feet. He steps away from the telescope, squats, hangs his head, and takes deep breaths. He looks again. Still kissing. He sets his phone’s camera on video and puts it to the eyepiece. A few moments later, he plays back the recording. Nothing but darkness. He looks through the telescope again. Saunders and his wife, still embracing, are stumbling toward the bed. Is he hallucinating? Maybe I’ve been working too hard trying to keep up with Denise, he thinks.
“How are you and Saunders getting along these days?” Harold takes a gulp of wine.
“Oh, same as always,” Denise says. “By the way, we had a financial planning seminar at work today. One of the things they covered was life insurance. Yours is paid up, right?”
Harold cuts his chicken breast too forcefully, and the knife slips out of his hand. “Uh, sure. Why do you ask?”
“Careful, Honey. We don’t want another bloody mess. Just one of the things on the checklist.”
It’s a cloudy night. Harold takes a deep breath and looks through the eyepiece anyway. Again the lit window and again he sees inside. This time, Denise and he are sitting in the dining room, having an after dinner drink. They never have an after dinner drink. As he watches, window-Harold stands from the table and leaves the room. While he’s gone, Denise takes out a small vial and empties it in his glass. Window-Harold comes back to the table, sips his drink, clutches his throat, then slowly sinks from the seat and out of sight under the table. Harold steps away from the telescope, then looks again. The scene repeats itself. But when he videos it, the playback shows only darkness.
Harold goes inside wondering how he can confront Denise without sounding crazy.
“Here you are, Honey. I thought we’d have a nightcap for a change,” she says.
Harold recoils from the cocktail Denise holds out for him. “Thanks … no … sorry. I’m going to turn in early tonight. I haven’t been feeling so well.”
“You sure? I made it special.”
“Thanks,” Harold says again and hurries upstairs…
A short time later, Harold comes out of the bathroom, sees Denise and screams. She’s sitting on the edge of the bed holding the handgun.
“Sorry, Honey. I didn’t mean to startle you. I just remembered I had the safety off when you were away last time. Can’t seem to get it back on.” As she tries to work the latch, the barrel of the gun points directly at him.
“No, don’t do it, Denise.” Harold lunges for the gun. They both grapple with it for a moment, then it goes off.
The detective sits at the dining room table. “So,” she says, “the two of you were fumbling with the gun trying to put the safety on, and the firearm discharged? Just an accident?”
Sitting across from the detective, Harold moves his mouth, but nothing comes out. “Yes,” he finally says in a rasp.
The detective looks at her notepad. “But you told the 911 operator you thought your wife was trying to kill you. Is that right?”
“I…might have said something like that. I was in shock. I don’t…It was an accident.”
A second detective enters the kitchen. “One shot to the chest. Safety looks to be jammed.”
“What’s this?” the second detective says.
Harold follows the man’s gaze and gasps. Out on the patio, the telescope is swinging wildly from side to side.
The detective goes out through the slider and ducks to keep from being banged in the head. He grabs the telescope and holds it steady. “Guess it got caught in a gust,” he yells to his colleague. “I always wanted to see Saturn’s rings.” He leans down and looks through the eyepiece. Then he stands, looks up at the sky, then through the eyepiece again. Harold watches as the detective repeats this sequence several times before finally coming back inside with a stunned look. “Mr. Swanson,” he says after several seconds, “you’re going to have to come to the station with us.”
“Why? I’ve told you all there is.”
“Let me ask you straight out,” the detective says. “Did you try to poison your wife then shoot her when she wouldn’t take the drink you spiked?”
“What? No! My God, what are you saying? That’s crazy!” As he speaks, Harold notices the telescope outside bobbing up and down, almost as if it’s mocking him.
© David Henson 2018
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I loved this story. Quirky and definitely my kind of read. Threads of Stephen King and a smattering of Alfred Hitchcock. I did think it was a tiny bit clunky in the opening paragraph, but by the second scene it began to flow perfectly. The dialogue and banter was really well done throughout…I liked the scene where Harold is lunching with his buddies and Gerber’s soup slurping antics are beginning to show the cracks in his sense of reason (or sanity).