“I love you.”
“I fucking hate you.” She spat the words, seething and red hot.
And she meant it. She thought she meant it. God, she fucking wanted to mean it.
But Judy had that expression on her face, the look of a kicked puppy, the one that usually ignited something warm and tingly within Jen (and how gross was that, that despite the words flying out of her mouth and the anger fuelling her entire body, she still thought about that feeling, the one she had almost become accustomed to), except this time Judy looked abandoned, more like a puppy stranded by its owners on the sidewalk.
But then she thought of Ted, who really had been abandoned in the middle of the road, nothing but his own blood and the rustle of the trees to witness the life leaving his body slowly and painfully. And all of a sudden the hand in front of her, her own hand, was pushing into Judy’s body, and it was harder than she had meant it, and her palm was hotter than she remembered a second ago. It reminded her of the sickly warmth of the gun she had held between her hands before putting it in her purse that morning. She thought of the way it had almost burned her skin to think of what she might do with it, the way her hands began to grow clammy as she swivelled the metal in her hand. But she hated her, right? And she needed to protect her children.
“I have Ted’s gun in my purse, so if I see you again or you go anywhere near my family, I will shoot you in the fucking head.”
Except she had to find the check in that stupid wooden bird Judy gave Henry. And then, despite everything, she found herself calling out her name at the first sound of movement in her garden, like some kind of ridiculous reflex, as though Judy could possibly exist in this world as someone she wanted to see right now. Or even worse, as though she was, in some fucked up way, the only person who could make this entire situation better. “Judy?”
Only it was Steve.
And the gun felt cool now, in her pocket. She could feel the metal against her thigh as he was talking. The pieces were coming together one by one, and of course Steve had been in the fucking car. The realisation was almost like a wave crashing within her, lapping at some place deep in her stomach – but could it possibly be relief?
“Judy would have stopped.” The words felt clearer than anything she had said all day. It was as though the part of her that had been ripped out during Judy’s confession was slowly knitting itself back together – but how could it? How could it when Judy was still the one driving the car? She briefly registered Steve speaking again, and the way it grated, it seemed like the voice of a man who thought he was immortal. She could imagine the many times he had yelled at Judy using a similar tone, making her flinch and wince. She could hear Judy’s small voice telling him it was okay. It wasn’t fucking okay. And perhaps something snapped, but the gun seemed to find itself in her hands, as though it should have been there the whole time.
“You’re defending her, and you’re pulling a fucking gun on me?” He said in disbelief. And she hated his smug tone, his arrogance, as if he was the one with the upper hand here. And she hated what he was implying. She hated that he was right, for once in his miserable life. She was defending Judy, and how couldn’t she? She imagined her at the steering wheel, her hands shaking, her face contorting (in that way it did) with fear and guilt, all teary eyes and downturned lips. She imagined Steve next to her with his patronising tone as he urged her to drive, urging her to leave Ted there alone to die like an animal without dignity. She could’ve pulled the trigger, then, with that thought. She had her finger hovering over it, then tracing it ever so slightly; it would have been so easy. She closed her eyes shut tight for just a moment and could see Ted torn apart behind her eyelids (she really shouldn’t have looked at those crime scene photos), remembering the glimmer of the shards of broken glass that disfigured the man she had loved, the father of her children.
“I wanted to go back but I couldn’t.” Judy had said. The words kept circling around and around in her mind, and Jen could almost hear her begging to turn around, could almost imagine the screech of the tires against tarmac as she tried to reverse. Because Judy wouldn’t hurt a fly.
And it was that thought that did it.
The thought that this man standing in her back garden while her kids were sleeping, the man who treated Judy as though she was a doll to play with, one he could control and condescend, the one who left her after she had 5 miscarriages, had stripped her of the one thing that made her so wonderfully Judy. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. Not on purpose.
Steve was raising his voice now; he was walking towards her, and suddenly the gun was hot again, sticky against her palms, burning the tips of her fingers like she had imagined. But unlike how she had envisioned, it didn’t churn her stomach, and it didn’t make the hairs on the back of her neck stand up in fear. In fact, she thought her hands may have been still if it wasn’t for the blind rage she felt coursing through her veins. The trigger pulled back before she even seemed to sense what would happen if she really pressed it.
The world seemed to turn in slow motion after that. She thought of all the movies she had seen where the murderer, after they had seen what they had done, suddenly came to their senses, screamed, gasped at the very least, as if the bullet leaving the gun was somehow a call back to reality. But it wasn’t. Her hands definitely weren’t shaking now. Why weren’t they shaking? In fact, her fingers found Judy’s name on the phone screen just as easily as they had found the trigger, as though her body and its actions were somehow entirely disconnected from that other part of her, the part of her that could see the dead man floating in her pool, the part of her that kept thinking, “I didn’t delete her phone number.”
A lifetime seemed to hang in those small moments before Judy picked up, and Jen realised, with the first real start of the evening, that her heart had begun to pick up speed as she heard the incessant ringing on the other end of the phone. For a second, she couldn’t help the sinking feeling, the one that curled around her gut every time someone she loved didn’t answer the phone straight away.
But she was supposed to hate her. She still wanted to hate her. Wouldn’t that be easier? After all, the other person, the person she truly hated, was lying face down in her own swimming pool.
But then the words “come home” rolled off her tongue as though they weren’t the most absurd things she could possibly say in this very moment, as though she would simply open a bottle of wine when Judy arrived (because of course she would arrive), as though another man – another significant other – hadn’t just died as a result of their actions. And she hated how natural it felt in her mouth, the taste it left on her lips. But mostly, she hated how much she didn’t hate it. And, when she felt the presence of another person by her side, Jen couldn’t muster any semblance of the hatred she had hurled in Judy’s direction earlier that day. Instead, as she turned to face her, only a brief kind of relief washed over her for the second time that night. For a second, she almost reached for Judy’s hand, as though it might shake her from this daze she found herself in. It was as if her body was a magnetic field, and Jen was being pulled towards it, closer and closer. Or maybe if she touched her, if she felt the blood running through her veins, she might find it within herself to hate her. And what if, she admitted, she simply wanted to feel the comfort of Judy’s skin, as she so often did, because it made her feel good, and it made her feel warm? Because, somewhere along the line, Judy herself had begun to feel like home.
Instead, Jen watched as the many emotions flickered over her face (and why did the neon blue of the swimming pool seem to light up Judy’s face in such a way that she could see the streaks of shed tears perfectly emphasise the neat little lines around her mouth?), and all in one sudden gasp, it seemed to hit her around the knees, that maybe Judy would hate her. She had loved Steve, hadn’t she? And here he was, bleeding out in front of her. The red of it, which just a moment ago seemed like perhaps a pot of paint had been knocked over, now seemed to overtake the blue in a never-ending stream, and before she knew it, the pool seemed like it may have been red to begin with.
The words punctured the silence that had begun to drag out almost painfully around Jen’s ears. They were practically whispered, and if she hadn’t been standing so close, she’s not sure she would’ve heard them at all. But they were soft, as nearly all of Judy’s words were spoken, and the lack of fight in her voice almost made tears well up in Jen’s eyes. She briefly felt her mouth move to speak, and perhaps a monotonous “yeah” left her lips (and what a redundant thing to say), but her eyes couldn’t move from a spot on Steve’s jacket that kept flipping up and down with the small lull of the water. It took her another moment to register the small hand that wrapped gently around her lower arm, squeezing it ever so tenderly, as if asking for permission.
Judy was shaking. Jen could feel it as she allowed herself to lean into the touch, and some instinctive part of her wanted to wrap her arms around her back. She wanted to let herself be held. But her other arm stayed exactly where it was, almost glued to her side. So instead, she felt Judy begin to pull her down, the two of them reaching the floor in a ridiculous sort of heap. She should hate her. They should hate each other. But, as Judy reached over, threading their fingers together and allowing her head to fall gently against Jen’s shoulder, she felt her body loosen.
They couldn’t stay there forever; at any moment the cops could turn up at their house (because hadn’t she just called it Judy’s home?), her boys could wake up, anyone in the surrounding houses could flick on their lights and she could be busted, her already chaotic life turned into a frenzy of police cars and statements. But, right now, she could feel the soft tickle of Judy’s bangs against her neck; she could hear the soft, shaky exhale of breath as it left her lungs. And she couldn’t explain it, but as she felt the slight sniffle from the woman leaning softly into her body, she couldn’t help but think:
Didn’t this feel much more like love than hatred?