Jim’s Dead Wife
“It’s not about being strong enough. I’m getting through it because I have no choice.”
Kylee turns to her dog who is making noise in the background in a way that shows her bald head. I scroll the comments, disinterested in the video now. Everyone is sending her love. I’ve been watching Kylee for six months. She posts every Wednesday and Friday, but sometimes she is too weak from chemo.
My boyfriend cooks me dinner and he points out, again, that for as long as we’ve been together, I’ve never cooked him a meal. And I don’t do the dishes either. I tell him I hate cooking, plus I’m depressed. He says I have no reason to be depressed because nothing bad has ever happened to me. It’s funny that he tells me this, because as far as I know, nothing bad has ever happened to him either. We are three months out of undergrad and he has a career as an investment banker. He has four siblings and they have a family group chat. He goes to the dentist. Regardless, he goes on to tell me that something bad happens to everyone. I should cook him dinner before mine happens.
At this point, I have to get out of the city. I tell my boyfriend that I’m joining my family in the Hamptons for a week. It’s not a lie, I really am. My parents routinely go to their vacation home and ask me to join. On the Long Island Rail Road, I look at Kylee’s Tik Tok. She dances and applies make up while a strangely cheery robotic voice vibrates through my headphones. “When. You! Have. Terminal cancer!” I hide my vaping from the conductor.
My mother looks more wrinkly every time I see her. If I told her she would instantly die. I consider it, though, since she can afford botox and it’s a shame. Before I say anything, she tells me there’s another person staying with us. Jim is writing a book that dad is publishing. I’m not surprised, since dad often has favorite writers he cycles through and discards. But Jim is special, my mother says, because his wife just died in a freak accident. Okay. She doesn’t know any details. We just have to be nice to him.
I am surprised when Jim brings up his deceased wife over dinner. My mother is on her third glass of wine, and is disturbed by the subject, I think. She had just been ranting about how she is boycotting Bloomingdales. They wouldn’t let her return a jacket, though it was unworn. Bloomingdales made her out to feel like some sort of criminal.
Jim talks about being there for his wife in her last moments, despite the fact that she was unable to hear or see him. I think he’s had a lot to drink, too. My dad tries to subvert the conversation by calling Jim an “awfully strong man,” which is present in his writing. Jim says, no, he isn’t strong.
“You have no choice,” I say. It's the first time I've spoken.
“Yes, exactly,” Jim says.
I know it’s bad but in my room I can’t stop thinking about Jim, who is downstairs, and who probably believes I am much more attuned to suffering than my parents. I hear shuffling as if they are saying goodnight. Our Hamptons home is old, the way my mother likes them. I can hear the steps creaking, and if I open my door slightly I can see who is coming up. I decide to wait for Jim, and when I see the top of his head, I close my door and take my top off. He should be passing my room any second. It happens very fast and almost robotically. I knock my lamp off my dresser and scream “OW!” though I’m untouched. I sit on the ground as if some clumsy incident had occurred.
He asks if I’m OK through the door. I don’t respond. I’m thinking maybe I should’ve made myself bleed. He cracks open the door just enough to see the lamp on the ground, and for his eyes to meet my tits. He then shuts the door and apologizes profusely.
Two full days go by before Jim fucks me. It was in the guest room and our clothes were on. Jim really wants his book published so it was very quick. But I had to ask him if I was the first person. He didn’t know what I meant. I clarified: am I the first person you’ve slept with since your wife died tragically? (Not those exact words). In response, he covered up my mouth. But I think I am the first.
I am the only one at the beach because it’s 1 pm on a weekday. I have a book that Jim told me to read but I don’t actually read, so instead I’m checking Kylee’s accounts. She’s gone quiet. I’m bothered by my boyfriend's texts so I leave them unopened. There are certain things he will never understand. This morning when Jim and I had sex, I felt a transferring happening. As if he was using me as a vessel for his despair; his emotions were shared with me. When he left the laundry room I sobbed, overcome with a feeling of loss like I had never felt before. It is possible we are experiencing similar grief.
I lay my head down on the towel and try to shut my eyes, but the sun is too bright for me to remain comfortable without sunglasses. Suddenly I feel as though I am not alone in the stretch of sand. I stick my neck above the patch of sunlight that obstructs my vision, and can see a person lying on their stomach about fifty yards out. They are not actually stationary but seem to be crawling towards me. I quickly stand up, but then I am just standing there. I can clearly see it now: a woman’s body with a bloody stump where her head should be. Like a cockroach she is inching closer; fingers sprawled out, gripping sand in chunks, gaining speed.
I knock louder on Jim’s door in case he hasn’t heard me the first time. It’s 11 pm. Jim opens the door hastily and asks me if I am here to return his book. He is asking in case my dad is still awake and listening. We leave tomorrow.
I let myself in. I don’t care if the floor creaks because there are more pressing matters at hand, like life or death. I ask Jim how his wife died. My mother only told me it was a freak accident. Did anything especially horrific happen? Had she, maybe, been decapitated?
Up until this point, the only man I have ever seen get angry, for real, is my dad. My boyfriend never gets angry, only inquisitive, which is pretty annoying.
Now I see Jim get angry. He calls me a sick-minded little freak with a silver fucking spoon in my mouth whose greatest wish is to struggle and that he’s sorry he ever let me trick him into having a sexual relationship. Which, by the way, is purely sexual because he doesn’t have one ounce of respect for me. He knows I don’t understand literature and that I’m exactly what’s wrong with today’s youth. In fact he cannot wait to never see me again. Can I get the fuck out of his room now. And continue on with my sad little life.
I want to tell Jim what I saw at the beach today, but I know I can’t. I fight the urge to tell him that whatever’s wrong with me is something he gave me. Something like pure evil.
Instead, I shakily make my way back to my bedroom. I step over my broken lamp which I never picked up off the floor. I get into bed and pull the covers around me, compulsively opening Instagram and checking for Kylee. Nothing yet.
Samantha Carroll is an actress and filmmaker from Long Island, New York.