It didn’t seem she was anywhere close to finished.
Each time her fist rebounded ineffectively off Joseph’s chest, the next strike followed quickly on its heels. It took mere moments for the siren to morph into a frenzied harpy.
Joseph stood stone still watching her attempts to seize his heart. Then the monolith I’d known for three-quarters of my life shifted his gaze from her to me and shook his head slightly.
My hand fell away from the door. The open sack of salt slid quietly to the floor.
Refocusing on the woman currently colliding with him, he grasped her wrists and said, “Enough.” Struggling against his grip, she continued to thrash until he caught her with his gaze and whatever it held did the job.
“Now that you’ve finished trying to kill me, we can talk.” Releasing her, Joseph walked over and placed his hand on the other identical (but inert) wooden box on the table opposite hers.
When she turned to follow his progress, it allowed me to finally observe her features, which were quickly shifting from shock to suspicion, “Why didn’t that work?”.
I might ask the same question.
“Does it matter?” Leaning back against the counter, his stance open, he watched her pace the floor.
“Of course it matters! I didn’t deserve to die for having an affair. I need to punish him!” Her focus shifting back to her husband drove her towards Joseph again.
His words stopped her dead, “Is that how you justified what happened afterward?”
“Your lover, David Waller, your husband killed him. But you, you drained the rest of him away.”
The Woman In White ran her hands through her hair then gripped it tightly in both fists, “No. That’s not right. He killed me. He killed me!”
Ignoring her distress (and words) Joseph continued on, his tone brutal, “Perhaps it was an accident. In your anger and confusion, you lashed out and discovered what your rage could do.”
Attempting to grasp the lifeline he was offering, she opened her mouth to say something. What I will never know because he wasn’t finished.
“But what about Stan Burgess, Alan Pike, Bryce Franks, Jordan Wallace, Alex Johnson, Fred Johnson and Liam Johnson? You lured them onwards until they were hurt, broken, hungry, lost and scared. All the while you lingered watching them grow weaker and weaker until you struck. Stripping their energy away until nothing was left. Did they deserve to die?”
With each name she stepped away from Joseph, clutching her head – slowly shaking it back and forth, “No! No! That wasn’t what happened. I didn’t lure them. They got lost…”.
Joseph was unyielding, “No.”
In a small voice, unable to look away from the floor, “I was just trying to show them where he hid me….”.
Tearing at her hair, she flung her hands up, “Fine. Fine! I parroted the words everyone whispered about me. The lies he spread about me. Not everyone who heard my voice followed. Only the ones attracted to his lies, persuaded by their rumors, their insinuations, their innuendos. Those men followed me like lambs. Fueled me. But they were found. They were found.”
“They were indeed. Which is the only reason why you are still standing here.”
This quiet statement startled us both.
Joseph’s cool calm was a balm to her scorching heat, “You are the reason why your killer will never walk free again. Why his secrets are no longer his own to hold. The job is done.”.
“Done? He killed me, but so many others threw handfuls of dirt on my name. They buried me long before he put me in the ground.” Derision embroidered her chilling statement of intent.
She wasn’t going to stop, oh gods, how much havoc could she wreak in Nevermore until her rage finally burned her out? How many Residents would she consume before burning day? Who would she torment? Her father? He’d believed the rumors and her husband’s stories. Her friends? They never mounted a substantial search for her. Aunt Pearl?
“No. Lex talionis will not be observed here. Your culpability in the harm of bystanders exceeds the crimes committed against you.” The calm delivery was belied by the intensity of his eyes, which hadn’t strayed from hers since he’d looked at me. “You cannot continue on in this fashion.”
Her eyes narrowed, her unwavering focus on retaliation rearing its ugly head once again, “Who are you to judge me?”.
Joseph said he could handle her…
His smile never reached his eyes, “Absolution is not mine to give. What I am offering is a chance…”
…The tension radiating from the room coated my every nerve until the rigidity of my stress seared skin finally recalled me from the scene playing out on the other side of the door. The need to break the pressure amplified along my frame was overwhelming. I absently rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants and bent my knees slightly while shifting my weight onto my right leg.
How I forgot about the open twenty-five-pound bag leaning on my left, I will never know.