Jonathan Jackson entered 182 Blackbird Lane for what he hoped was the last time. The house sat on a cul-de-sac, overlooking the velvet green grass of the Club's gold course. It was two stories of dark red brick, with gleaming arched windows. The double mahogany doors that graced the entrance opened easily when he inserted his key. The security system was not on. There was no longer anything inside left to steal.
Everything of Beth's, he had sold already. His possessions and those of their three children were in the condo on the beach that he had just bought. The children themselves were being cared for by their newly hired nanny and housekeeper. He reflected that this house had never been so quiet.
The marble floor beneath him echoed with each step. The entryway and great room that stood at the end of it were, to him, the only admirable part of the interior. Her dream house, she had called it. She always had forgotten it was his, too. But that was part of why he had regretted marrying her in the first place.
Elizabeth Turner had been so achingly perfect when they first met. The body of a super model, the face of a starlet. Her skin was sun-kissed copper, and her hair waves of gold that hung well below her shoulders. She had class, and her family had money. She was just what a man of his talent needed to have at his side, as he climbed the corporate ladder. It had taken every ounce of persuasion and charm he possessed to convince her to marry him. She made for less than a perfect wife, but by all outward appearances, she was stunning. And really, that was what counted to him.
It had all changed when they had children. First William, who was now eight years old, and then Ashley, who was five. He was content then, one girl and one boy was exactly what he had in mind when he told her that they were going to start a family. Somehow they ended up with three. The baby, Alice, had just turned six months old. It would not have been so bad, if Beth had not insisted on taking care of them herself. They could easily have afforded a nanny, but she had been unrelenting. "No one will love them like we do," she would say. Jonathan did not agree. Really, it was silly to even claim to love an infant. All they did was cry and eat. They were not even really people yet at that age. But, he knew better than to say it out loud. It was just another example of the nightmare he had found himself in.
The gorgeous young woman he had married had transformed into someone else the day William had been born. Elizabeth Turner, that shining star he had plucked from the sky, had become Beth Jackson, dowdy mother. She had cut her magnificent hair to something 'easier to maintain', had gained twenty pounds, and started dressing like a poor college student. "Why would I wear something that needs dry-cleaning?" She would say, as she slipped on a ripped pair of jeans and a faded tee shirt. She would even say it with a smile, as though she actually liked dressing like that. It infuriated him.
The woman he had married had been elegant and sophisticated. But the woman she became was a boring and predictable one. Her life revolved around the children, and he was no longer important. He lost track of how many fundraisers or business dinners with clients he had attended alone, because "William has cub scouts," or, "Ashley has a ballet recital," or most often there at the end, "The baby had a cold. I don't want to leave her with a sitter." It was embarrassing and intolerable. If he had been given the choice, he would have cut his losses and divorced her long ago. But she claimed to love him, and their prenuptial agreement, which seemed so pointless at the time, would leave him with nothing if he ever instigated a break up himself.
The house at the end of Blackbird Lane had been his last attempt to make something useful out of the family he had been burdened with. He spent many long hours with and tens of thousands of dollars on a famous architect to design the impressive structure. But Beth had to constantly insert her opinion. "The kitchen is too large. I need a cozy place inside it for the children to do their homework. And that counter is far too extravagant. I just need something simple that I can make cookies on, and not worry about scratching it." She would go on, and on, and on. He wanted an enormous master bedroom downstairs. She insisted on one upstairs, in case "the children needed them."
Downstairs, he had envisioned an impressive entry way, leading to a first floor that would dazzle any guests he chose to bring there to talk business. Beth wanted a 'family room', and a 'playroom.' In the end, he had ended up with his entry way, his formal great room, and an office for himself. The rest of it was utterly useless. He felt the resentment bubble up again like acid in his throat, as he toured the house for the last time. Tomorrow he would give the keys to the realtor, and hopefully be done with the decade he had wasted on his marriage.
His mood darkened further as he left the cavernous two-story great room. The kitchen still smelled like the baked goods she would make each afternoon for the children. It was no wonder she had gotten so fat, he mused. The gleaming stainless steel of the refrigerator was still covered with random magnets and crude, colorful drawings. Beth had treated every creation of their children's like they were masterpieces. Several pieces of homework were posted as well, gold stars on the crumpled note paper gleaming dully in the sunlight from the windows above the sink. Outside, he could see the backyard. The flawless lawn was marred by a large play structure, a sandbox, a basketball hoop. He shook his head and looked away as he entered the family room.
This room, he reflected, he hated most of all. It was once filled with oversized furniture that was as boring and soft as Beth had been, there at the end. Here she and the children had spent most of their time. It had always been noisy and sticky, cluttered and chaotic. Toys often sat on the floor and some children's show with obnoxious characters on it playing softly on the television. Here, Beth had made an office, so she could do her 'work' while the children played. She had used to write little stories for the children, and she would draw illustrations to go with them. They were about rabbits and cats and other ridiculous things, but some publisher friend of hers thought she had talent. The characters she had created for them, she had painted in murals on the walls of the room. The pastel creatures seemed to glare at him with their wide and soulless eyes. For a moment, he imagined he could hear something. Music, and children's laughter, and Beth's obnoxiously gentle voice. He shook his head and made a quick exit.
He had planned the staircase to the second floor to be a graceful curving sculpture of iron and exotic wood. But Beth had been worried that the children might slip and fall. She had insisted on a wide set of carpeted steps out of sight and with a wall on both side. It led straight to the bedrooms. Jonathan skipped the children's rooms. He had seldom even entered them. The master bedroom was at the end of the hall, and it was there that he stopped to reflect on how his fortunes had changed.
Beth had not only lost her beauty in the years since he married her, but her health had declined as well. After the last baby, she had developed seizures. Not big ones at first. More, she would stare blankly ahead of herself for long moments, and then have a headache afterwards. She had seen several specialists, and started medication to control them. It had seemed to help, but Jonathan had become convinced she was making the entire thing up. It was the last straw for him.
Two months ago, she had asked him to pick up her prescriptions on his way home from the office. White pills, blue pills, and tiny red ones, and they cost a ridiculous amount of money, even with insurance paying most of the bill. He was disgusted at such a waste. It did not take much research at all to find cheap vitamins that resembled her prescription ones. He put them in her empty bottles, and with a bit of whiteout and some careful use of a felt pen, changed the dates of the refill due to the next month. He had been elated when he realized that she had not noticed the deception.
It was nice to have the advantage for once, and he reassured himself that he had done nothing wrong really. Her so called disorder was most certainly all in her head, and the doctors were just greedy pigs willing to say anything for money. For the first three weeks after he made the switch, there was no change in her at all. None at all, until the day he had come home from work, and found her on the bedroom floor.
He could still see the stains on the carpet there. He had walked into the bedroom to complain about the dinner he had found burning on the stove, and to tell her that the baby was crying in her crib. Beth was staring up at the ceiling, limbs rigid and trembling, eyes wide and terrified. She had actually wet herself, and saliva was leaking from the corner of her mouth. He had never seen anything so disgusting.
Afterwards, he told the authorities that she was not breathing when he found her. But that was not entirely true. She was still alive when he left the room to shut the door to the baby's room. Alice's shrieking was giving him a headache. When he returned, she was still on the floor, and her eyes had rolled up to look at him. She could not seem to move, or speak. She just…stared at him. All of his anger and resentment seemed to coalesce at that moment. He leaned against the bed, and peered down at her. For once, Beth had nothing to say.
After another five minutes, she seemed to relax. She reached up a hand to him, her voice weak and barely audible. "Help me," she had said, or something similar. He had almost reached down to help her up, already dreading the evening he would face. Another trip to the hospital, with her being examined, and him returning home alone with three distraught young children. Back to this house at the end of the Lane, to a life he had never wanted. And really, he reflected, what had she ever done to help him? Not a damn thing. He took her hand, but only to slip off the expensive wedding ring he had bought for her ten years before.
He picked up a throw pillow from the bed, and put it on top of her face. He was tired of looking at her, and he did not want her to speak to him either. She struggled weakly, and he put his foot on top of the pillow to shut her up. After a couple of minutes, she had stopped moving. He kicked the pillow to the side, and looked down at his wife.
Her hazel eyes were empty, and she was not breathing. He was mildly surprised. Perhaps she had not been faking her condition after all. But there she was, proving him wrong one last time. He took out his cell phone and called for help, trying to sound more upset than he felt. He had actually not felt quite so good in a long time.
It had been one of the best things that ever had happened to him, now that he thought about it. He was smiling as he left the master bedroom and descended the stairs. His business had never been better. He used every ounce of sympathy people had for his tragic loss to his advantage. Women melted at the story of how he had bravely tried to save his beloved wife, as well. It would not be long before he could replace her with someone even more stunning.
Beth's parents were suing him for custody, but he knew that it had to be because of their trust funds. There was nothing else about them that could be appealing to anyone. Besides, the children were far more tolerable, now that he had employees to care for them. Really, his life had gotten exponentially better since Beth had died. The only loose end was the house, though he could not imagine who would want it.
He was whistling as he exited the front door and locked it for the last time. His Lexus was parked in the circle driveway in front, next to another compromise he had made in his efforts to get the house finished. He had wanted a fountain out front, something massive to welcome guests to the estate. Beth had thought it ostentatious, but had agreed when he told her that he only wanted it to be a sculpture of her. Elizabeth, as she had been when he met her, though he left out that part. She had been touched that he wanted such a thing. She assumed it was some sort of declaration of love.
It was magnificent, a pillar of black granite that was nearly life sized. The slim, elegant woman depicted was nothing like the wreck that had made that mess on the bedroom floor. The water still splashed musically as it cascaded from the woman's uplifted hand. As he passed the fountain to enter the car, he saw something catch the light. He moved closer to the water, peered down at it. It was her wedding ring. He frowned, confused. He had sold her wedding ring to a dealer just a week after her funeral. How could it be here?
He leaned over the fountain, and reached for it. At that very moment, he heard a large crack, and a shadow fell over him. He died instantly as the sculpture toppled over on top of him and crushed his skull against the stone edge of the fountain.
It turned out that he was mistaken about how sellable the house would be. The house had a buyer that very next month. Beth's parents bought it from the estate and moved the children back in with them. The realtor did not understand why they would want to return to the house that had not only seen one tragedy now, but two. She was extremely grateful they had, the commission of the sale was huge. But she could not resist asking Beth's mother, as she sat with them to sign the final papers for the sale.
The older woman smiled gently at her, and her eyes were shining with tears. "My daughter was the most loving and devoted woman you could have ever met. I almost feel like she is there sometimes, in that house. It was her dream house. In a way, I think she left a part of herself in it."
The realtor nodded, and handed her the keys.