Short Story | ‘Nocturne’ by Joe Kilgore, Illustration by Mike S. Young
The moon was round and pale as a communion wafer, but it had no absolution to offer. It simply continued to backlight the black outline of the mountains that stared down on the man who had been gazing at them for the past hour. Periods of reflection were not uncommon for Simon . Though this one was definitely longer and infinitely more profound.
Simon sat in one of the two naturally stained Adirondacks located on the west side of the deck that wrapped around his home near the foothills of the Grand Canyon in central Arizona. His wife, Claire, was in the other. The chairs were as out of place in the modern southwestern house as church pews in a theatre. But then so were Simon and Claire.
The two were not alone on the deck. Spike was there as well. Spike was an aging Boxer. A dog, not a pugilist, fawn with white feet and graying jowls. He was slightly overweight and possessed a disposition not unlike a contented parish priest. Spike no longer exhibited any irritating watchdog tendencies and confined himself to the ceremonial role of beloved pet. A quiet interlude outdoors on a warm evening was something he often enjoyed with his customary restraint.
Watching day become night, with the sun languidly slipping below the hauntingly beautiful spires of Cathedral Rock, had become routine for Simon and Claire. At first, they felt compelled to do it. When one buys a home for the view, one should appreciate it as much as possible, they reasoned. But slowly it became something more. It became a way to hold the world in check. A way to slow down time. It became a way for them to reaffirm their reasons for still being together. Time changes reasons, as well as people. It had changed Claire, Simon knew. Though he was loathe to admit it. Simon didn’t care for change. He was a soul mate of routine and repetition. He would have liked to keep things as they had always been. An impossibility, he knew. Yet still he longed for it. As one longs for that which will never come again.
They had left the city. The helter-skelter pace of which had thrown them together like it does so many lives. A whirlwind romance of lust and something appearing to be love, at least to one of them, had followed as it often does. They were swept up in the whirl of international business, theatre, gallery openings, dinner parties and all the other diversions masquerading as real life. Then realty played its hole card. Simon was downsized, like so many others of his age and era. And it seemed to make sense to make a dramatic change. A move from the frenetic to the pristine. A change from the claustrophobic to the bucolic. A transition from the intense to the contemplative. Who would have known that a change of pace would change everything. Why does one never see ennui coming. Or loneliness.
It was, in fact, the loneliness, Simon reasoned, that was really to blame. They hadn’t known it would be so engulfing, so all encompassing. He could deal with it, of course. He always could. He never required more than Claire to keep him centered, content, at peace.
Simon had loved Claire from the moment he saw her. He loved her high cheekbones and patrician nose. He loved her thin waist and even thinner lips. He loved the way she immediately chuckled at his barbed witticisms, reflecting in his mind of course, her intelligence as well as her sense of humor. But most of all, Simon loved how Claire loved him. How she hung on his every word. How she stroked the side of his neck when no one else was watching. How she made him feel like the sun itself, and how she seemed happy simply to be in his orbit.
Yes, it was Claire, Simon realized, who found their new surroundings so incredibly lonely. Oppressive actually. Even crippling. Eventually unbearable. Surely, Simon now understood, that was why she had turned to Mateo. What else could it have been? A pool boy, half her age for God’s sake. A veritable illiterate, or so Simon assumed. Maybe even illegal. Yes, he was young. His body hard and dark and inviting. But surely Claire needed more than that. Surely someone of Claire’s discerning taste needed more than firm flesh, thick black hair, and eyes that seemed to smolder.
Simon had seen them together. More than once. The first time, the shock had stopped him cold. He just stood there mute, while his heart pounded in his chest as if trying to force its way out. He eventually backed away, silently. Making sure they hadn’t seen him.
The second time, he cried as he watched Claire do things with Mateo she had stopped doing with him. He felt sick. But he couldn’t look away. His fingers dug into his temples as he watched and wept. Though once again he simply skulked away when he could bear no more.
The third time, Simon reacted harshly. But even in doing so, he didn’t really blame Claire, or Mateo for that matter. Not really. Assessing blame was useless. What was seen could never be unseen. What was done could never be undone.
In his chair, Simon continued to contemplate the moon, while beneath Claire’s, blood pooled. The residue of gunshot wounds to her chest and neck. Mateo floated face down in the azure water amid a crimson stain spreading slowly toward the shallow end of the pool.
Surveying the carnage around him, Simon found himself somehow most remorseful about Spike. Rage at the lovers could be emotionally and perhaps even intellectually justified. But what had the loyal pet done to deserve a similar fate? Surely it was more than wrong place, wrong time. In his heart, or what was left of it, Simon knew the real reason. Spike had been the first. The first to turn Claire’s affection, attention, obsession with Simon in some other direction. Watching Claire dote on the dog convinced him there should never be children. It was too apparent she’d simply lavish more of herself on them and even less on him. Of course, Simon never spoke to Claire of how he felt. What good would talking do? What good did it ever do?
Yes, Simon said to himself. Spike had been complicit. Spike and Mateo and Claire had all three betrayed him. They had treated him as if he was merely there to facilitate their desires, their wishes, their needs. What about him? Who was there to attend to Simon? First his employer has found him obsolete. Then his wife had found him unnecessary. Surely they both abandoned him before he abandoned hope.
Simon now grasped the time had come. The call to 911 had been made. He had given a calm litany of facts to the operator. Facts she had taken down with precise attention to detail. Simon appreciated the orderliness of her questions, and the sereneness of her composure. But his gratification lasted only a moment before he transported himself back to the enormity of what he had done.
Soon a wail of sirens would announce the impending arrival of the authorities. Simon was prepared. They would be his cue. He wondered though, if amid their high-pitched moan, he’d actually hear the echoing crack, confirming the last discharge of the revolver. He wondered too if there would be pain. What did it matter, Simon finally accepted. What possible pain could be worse than this?
Illustration by: Mike S. Young