His hand squeezed hers around the cold metal gun handle in such a gentle way, as if to say everything will be alright. It was not at all a menacing gesture, like when he’d slapped her face until it felt numb, only a few days before. She looked through the sight on the top of the gun, at her target, fighting to hold back the tears. She could still feel the tickle of his breath behind her ear, the soft whispered “I love you, Ingrid” as she exhaled and pulled the trigger.
The moment replayed over and over again in the prison of her mind. She thought about it as she read on the hard mattress of her bunk in her cell, as she wrote letters to her pregnant sister, as she walked along the chain link fence of the yard and as she served globs of tasteless mashed potatoes to her fellow inmates.
He had been scraping the ice off the windows of his car while Ingrid and her boyfriend, Carter, watched in the thick of the woods in front of his house. When the bullet entered his back he had given out a little yelp and walked towards the house and for a moment she couldn’t understand. Had she not shot him? The front door of his house swung open and a woman popped her head out. Ingrid assumed this was his wife, running out to him, her lavender robe flailing behind her, her bare feet slipping on the icy walkway, before reaching her stumbling husband.
“That’s what you get for messing with my girl, you fucking son-of-a-bitch”, Carter said and then spit on the ground. Ingrid hated when he spit.
The snow around him had turned red, spreading around both himself and his wife like a beautiful red spotlight. His wife’s face was a rapid fire sequence of expressions, looking down at her husband, then looking up at the sky, then to the neighbor’s houses, screaming “Oh my god!” as she rocked back and forth on her knees, holding onto her husband. He was motionless beside her; the only sign of life was the faint cloud of breath that materialized less and less frequently.
“Ambulance! Please! Anyone!” she yelled. Ingrid felt that any moment she would look up and see her watching her.
Ingrid’s mother had once told her on a Sunday visit that she should write the wife a letter, apologizing for what had happened.
“It would be the right thing to do in the eyes of God. You must ask for forgiveness… for what happened,” her mother had said, pulling out her violet rosary and sliding the shiny beads between her fingers. She was very careful how she worded it. For what happened. She never said murder. She’d started several letters, several times over the years but she couldn’t get past “Dear Mrs. Yannick” before crumpling the sheet of lined white paper in a fist sized ball.
The blast of the gun had shocked her. For a while she couldn’t hear past the ringing in her ears. She had stood there with the gun poised in her hand, still pointing to where her target had been. Carter had to pull on her arm in order to snap her out of her trance. As he led her running back to his car she could start to hear the distant whining of sirens. It wasn’t until they were half way to their apartment that Carter had asked for the gun. Ingrid had looked at her empty shaking hands without answering him.
Carter’s rage and jealousy could have fallen on any man that looked at Ingrid in a way that didn’t rub him the right way and it had fallen full force on Ronald Yannick, although he was much older than her. They worked in the same department and she knew of him and him of her. Their relationship had always been a respectful one of coworkers and saying hi when they walked past each other in the halls. It hadn’t been his fault Carter had been late that rainy day to pick her up. It had been 6 o’clock and already dark outside. Ingrid hadn’t bothered checking for Carter’s car before going outside; once she’d gone out of the building she couldn’t go back in since the doors locked automatically at the end of the business day. The first thing she did was call Carter’s cell phone, but of course, he didn’t bother answering. She dialed again. No answer. Her coat had no hood; she had no gloves, no umbrella and no cover from the heavy rain. Ingrid briefly thought about meteorologists and how they must have a lot of enemies. The forecast had been for cloudy skies, there had been no mention of a downpour. She was practically drenched by the time Mr. Yannick came out the front doors to go home. He looked over his shoulder at her.
“Ingrid?” He turned to look at her. “What are you still doing here?” He had a large red and white striped umbrella and came close enough to cover them both beneath it, but they were not touching.
Ingrid explained to him that her boyfriend Carter was running late from work to pick her up, that he’d be there any moment now, it was kind of him to share his umbrella but really, she was fine. She liked the rain. She said all this although Carter was unemployed; she had no idea why he was late or if he would show up and she hated the rain. She knew though, that if Carter saw her standing by this man, he would erupt.
“It’s okay. I’ll wait with you until he shows up.” Ingrid swallowed and shivered, though not from the cold, but from worry.
“Ronnie was a good man… always willing to help others without expecting anything in return.” His wife, Janice, blew her nose on a handkerchief with a little pink embroidered flower in the corner. Ingrid looked at her and thought that she seemed like a nice lady, the kind of lady that she aspired to be when she was older and settled down. Janice’s hair was a deep rich brown, likely dyed thought Ingrid, and served as a curtain between her face and the jury when she looked down at her lap. Her nose was red from blowing her nose and her eyes were red from crying. She still wore her wedding ring. “He didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve to die,” she said softly, looking up at Ingrid. Green eyes, she had lovely green eyes.
“Shit!” Carter paced in front of the couch in their living room, his shoes still on. Muddy footprints stained the tan carpet. He pulled his hair at temples and she could see the vein of his hands protruding.
“How could you be so stupid, how could you so stupid? Huh?” Ingrid had a faint fear of him beating her again but she wouldn’t defend herself if he did. She deserved to be beaten. After he had slapped her after only a month of dating, she had forgiven him when he begged from forgiveness and swore it would never happen again. Stupid. She knew she was stupid, she should have left him long before any of this happened. He was a rotten to the core, infected with jealously. She couldn’t stop him from thinking that she would do as a previous girlfriend had done, she wouldn’t cheat on him. But he wouldn’t listen.
Carter strode into the kitchen and Ingrid could hear him open a drawer. He came out with a knife in his hand, grabbed a pillow beside her, threw it on the muddy carpet and stabbed it repeatedly, his face was red.
Little wrinkles were now growing out of the corners of her eyes like little weeds in an untended garden. Grey hairs were becoming more of a frequent find in her black, curly hair. She’d lost some weight over the years, what was once lean muscle was now saggy skin. Mirrors and reflective were a thing to be avoided, if she could help it. It was almost pathetically laughable to her now to remember all the exercising, dieting and worrying she did over her looks. All for nothing.
Ingrid had never even traveled more than 50 miles from her small Midwestern hometown. She could remember that itch, dead long ago, of becoming someone. Of being a journalist and covering news from all over the world, content and accomplished. When she’d told Carter this he’d snorted and said he liked that she had an active imagination.
She hadn’t made any friends in all her years in prison and she didn’t intend to. She kept to herself. Giving up on ever getting out had allowed a sense of peace to enter her life. When the winter months started, darkness would creep back into her mind. Sleep would elude her and she’d speak out loud to herself in the middle of the night.
“Why did you do it? Why don’t you just die?”
The prison guards noticed that Ingrid had stopped eating and drinking and was taken to the infirmary. They placed her on IV fluids and set a tray of bland white foods in front of her. A plump female nurse with a faint mustache came and spoke to her.
“Now, Ingrid… if you don’t eat your food, we’ll just keep pumping fluids into you. That’s no fun, is it?” She smiled, revealing a row of yellowing teeth.
It had been big news that day; the whole town was in a heightened state of panic. A killer was on the loose! Every news channel was outside the Yannick home going over the story: a man had been shot outside his quiet, suburban home as he was getting ready to leave for work. The victim had been taken to the county hospital, where he died later that evening from severe blood loss. The police were still looking for any evidence in the surrounding areas to try to identify the person or persons that had committed such a heinous crime.
Carter watched all of this play on the TV while sitting on the edge of the couch, biting his nails.
“It’ll only be a matter of time before they find the gun and trace it back to us. You may have pulled trigger but the gun is in my name” he said.
Ingrid thought about how easy it would be to pick up the phone and turn them in. It would certainly save the police time and give the town peace of mind to know there aren’t murders at large. She stood up from the couch.
“Shut up. I’m trying to figure out what to do, how to clean up your mess. It doesn’t surprise me that you would ruin everyone. You’ve always been an idiot! It’s always been up to me to make sure everything goes right!” He stood up and came right up to her, his sharp words spraying spit on her face. “I should teach you a lesson.” He raised his hand and she quickly spun towards the door.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Carter caught a handful of her hair and yanked back, snapped her head up. She screamed. “Shut up!” His big hand covered half her face, blocking her mouth and nose. She couldn’t breathe. Her legs kicked wildly and her nails dug into his hand. Carter lost his balance and they both fell back on the couch, his hand slightly loosening. Ingrid managed to open her mouth and bit down, warm blood oozing unto her tongue. She crawled toward the door.
“Gaaaahh! You bit-“
A knock on the door.
“What the hell is going on in there?”
Carter pounced on Ingrid, the air whooshed out of her under his weight.
“Nothing! Just moving some stuff around,” yelled Carter.
“Just keep it down in there, will ya?”
“Yeah, yeah” said Carter. Ingrid squirmed, but it made no difference. She wasn’t going to get away. She looked to the side and saw the knife, surrounded by pillow fluff from the pillow Carter stabbed. Ingrid moaned. Slowly, Carter lifted himself up enough that he was still on top of her but not pushing all his body on her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll do what you say, I promise.”
Carter got up. “That’s what I like to hear.” He turned his back on her and in the instant it took to snatch the knife, the blade making a noise as it scraped the ground, for Carter to turn around and see Ingrid plunging the knife into his chest, it was too late for either of them.
From a tiny window, up too high for her to reach, moonlight sometimes poured in and fell across Ingrid’s face as she lay in bed. Sometimes, she could hear Carter as he had moaned on the blood stained couch. Sometimes, she could see him, his lips blue. Sometimes, she could feel his breath tickle her neck. Whenever those moments happened, she imagined him, wherever he was, relishing in the torture of every moment after that day she pulled the trigger, signing her life away to the devil.