It was three days before they found the body.
For those three days, a trauma-specialist police woman sat in my home and drank my tea and ate the food I offered her without comment or breaking a smile. For those three days, I jumped every time the phone rang or the wind blew the old tree against the bedroom windows upstairs.
For a while after we moved in, I asked Alan to trim back those branches. I’d lie awake while he snored beside me, and I listen to them tickle and scratch at the glass. I sat through endless nights of storms when their fingers and nails beat relentlessly against the window, threatening to come in. I’d always be just on the verge of waking him when the wind would stop and the branches would cease their endless chatter and drop back to a monotone. But after a week or two I grew to like the sound of the tree…to listen for it, wait for it every night to carry me into sleep. Sleep…and then other things.
For three days, I sat and prowled the house, moving from room to room like a living spirit. Waiting for them the find the body.
The police suspected me, of course. Even though it was me who told them he’d vanished and didn’t come back after the first night, even though I made no attempt to make our marriage look wonderful.
Yes, I told them, we’d argued. We argued a lot. No, it didn’t mean I killed him and dumped him somewhere. Things had been difficult, yes, but we were working on them. After all, lots of couples argued and very few of them killed their spouse.
The only respite I had from the hard and indifferent stares of the policewoman who sat on my couch was outside in the garden. Circling the tree that breathed against my upstairs windows was a bench and a just-glimpse of the sea from the right spot. I sat there and waited, listening to the creaks and whispers of the branches above me.
Sometimes, more often now Alan was gone, the whispers would form voices and words, and I’d smile at their private jokes. I had to be careful now, they told me. Don’t let them see any relief when they come to you. They’re very close to finding him, but don’t worry. Lean back into me and we’ll be together.
And when I did lean back, I felt a sensuous tingle down my spine and a lover’s breath along the inside of my thighs, a flutter across my stomach. Hard nodules of bark pushed into my spine and kidneys and I squirmed against them in delight. I bit my lip to stop myself calling out, feeling my body starting to react, my breath quicken. I pulled myself forward a second or two before the policewoman came out looking for me, telling me what I’d already been told by something two hundred years older than her and infinitely more devious.
They’d found Alan’s body. Not on the edge of the forest where I’d left it, but deep in its heart, miles from any path. I found out later – but not from the police – that there was no blood left in his body at all. They must have taken all of it, just as they said they would. There were no injuries and no evidence of how he got there. But I know how he travelled, carried from branch to branch and stem to stem, each leaf taking a sip of his life before passing him along.
The policewoman left me on the bench, listening to the tree above me, whisper and whisper.
And when it asked me to go upstairs to my…to our bedroom…and leave the windows open, I laughed.