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“It’s not that, either,” he said, and the lines in his face grew deeper. “It’s not mental.”

“It’s something,” she insisted.

Sitting in bed, Susan ate pepperoni pizza and drank Merlot. This was the most delicious dinner she had ever known.

She was sufficiently perceptive and self-aware to realize that the ingredients of the simple meal had little or nothing to do with its special succulence and flavor. Sausage, cheese, and well-browned crust were not as tasty as the prospect of justice.

Freed from her peculiar spell of timidness and helplessness, she was in fact less hungry for justice than for a thick cold slice of vengeance. She had no illusions about her primitive capacity to take delight in retribution. After all, her teeth, like those of every human being, included four canines and four incisors, the better to rip and tear.

Remembering how she’d defended Eric to Martie, Susan bit off a mouthful of pizza and chewed it with fierce pleasure.

If she had developed agoraphobia as an insulating response to the pain of Eric’s adultery, then perhaps he deserved some payback for that. But if he were her phantom visitor, mercilessly screwing with her mind and her body, he was a far different man from the one she’d thought he’d been when she married him. Not a man at all, in fact, but a creature, a hateful thing. A serpent. With evidence, she would use the law to chop him, as a woodsman might use an ax on a rattlesnake.

As she ate, Susan studied the bedroom, seeking the best place in which to secrete the camcorder.

Martie sat at the kitchen table, watching as Dusty cleaned up the mess that she had made.

When he dragged the trash can off the porch, into the kitchen, the contents rattled and chimed like the tools in a knacker’s bag.

Martie held her second glass of Scotch with both hands as she raised it to her lips.

After closing the door, Dusty loaded the knives, forks, and other eating utensils into the dishwasher.

The sight of the sharp blades and pointed tines, the clink and steely scrape of them against one another, did not alarm Martie. Her throat thickened, however, and the warm Scotch trickled slowly down, as though melting through a clog in her esophagus.

Dusty returned the Chardonnay and Chablis to the refrigerator. Those bottles would still make effective bludgeons, lacerating scalp and cracking skull bone, but Martie’s mind was no longer acrawl with the temptation to heft them, swing them.

After he slid the emptied drawers into the cabinets and put away those items that didn’t need to be washed, Dusty said, “The stuff in the garage can wait till morning.”

She nodded but said nothing, in part because she didn’t trust herself to speak. Here at the scene of her bizarre seizure, memories of madness floated upon the air, like poisonous spores, and she half expected to be recontaminated by them, whereupon she might open her mouth only to hear herself spouting lunacies.

When Dusty suggested dinner, Martie pleaded no appetite, but he insisted she must eat.

In the refrigerator was a casserole with enough leftover lasagna for two. Dusty heated it in the microwave.

He cleaned and sliced some fresh mushrooms.

The knife looked harmless in his hands.

As Dusty sautéed the mushrooms with butter and diced onion, then stirred them into a pot with a package of sugar snap peas, Valet sat in front of the microwave, dreamy-eyed, deeply inhaling the aroma of cooking lasagna.

In light of what Martie had done here a short time ago, this cozy domesticity struck her as surreal. Like wandering across vast burning fields of sulfur and coming upon a doughnut shop in Hell.

When Dusty served dinner, Martie wondered if earlier she might have poisoned the leftover lasagna.

She couldn’t recall committing such treachery. But she still suspected that she suffered fugues: spasms of time during which she functioned as if conscious, though nothing stuck in her memory.

Certain that Dusty would eat the lasagna just to prove his trust in her, Martie restrained herself and didn’t caution him. To guard against the dismal prospect of surviving dinner alone, she overcame her lack of appetite to eat most of what he had put on her plate.

She refused a fork, however, and ate with a spoon.

A Biedermeier pedestal stood in one corner of Susan Jagger’s bedroom. Atop the pedestal was a bronze bowl containing a miniature ming tree, which received no sunshine from the perpetually covered windows but flourished because a small plant light stood behind it.

At the base of the ming tree was lush ivy with small star-shaped leaves, which covered the potting soil and trailed over the curves of bronze. After calculating the best angle of view between bowl and bed, she placed the camcorder in the container and artfully arranged the trailers of ivy to conceal it.

She switched off the plant light, leaving on a nightstand lamp. The room couldn’t be dark if she were to get anything useful on tape.

To explain the lamp, she would appear to have fallen asleep while reading. Only a half-finished glass of wine on the nightstand and an open book, precisely tumbled among the bedclothes, would be necessary to create that impression.

She circled the room, studying the bronze bowl. The camcorder was well hidden.

From one acute angle, an amber reflection of the lamp glowed like animal eyeshine in the dark lens, as though a cyclopean lizard were peering from the loops of ivy. This telltale was so small that it wouldn’t draw the attention of either incubus or mere mortal.

Susan returned to the camcorder, slipped one finger into the ivy, searched briefly, and pressed a button.

She retreated two steps. Stood very still. Head cocked, breath held. Listening.

Though the heat was off and no furnace fan was churning, though no wind whispered in the eaves or at the windows, though the silence in the bedroom was as complete as one could hope for in this age of omnipresent mechanisms, Susan couldn’t hear the hum of the camcorder motor. Indeed, the equipment fulfilled the manufacturer's guarantee of whisper-quiet operation, and the faint sibilant sigh of turning tape reels was completely muffled by the shrouding ivy.

Aware that quirks of architecture could cause sound to travel in unexpected arcs, amplifying it at the end of its bounce, she moved around the room. Five times she paused to listen, but she could hear nothing suspicious.

Satisfied, Susan returned to the pedestal and extracted the camcorder from the ivy. She reviewed the recording on the camera’s built-in monitor.

The entire bed was visible in the frame. The entrance to the room was captured at the extreme left side of the image.

She watched herself move in and out of the shot. In and out again. Pausing to listen for the softly whirring motor.

She was surprised that she appeared so young and attractive.

These days, she didn’t see herself this clearly when she looked in mirrors. In mirrors, she perceived less of a physical reflection than a psychological one: a Susan Jagger aged by chronic anxiety, features softened and blurred by sixteen months of reclusion, gray with boredom and gaunt with worry.

This woman on the tape was slim, pretty. More important, she was full of purpose. This was a woman with hope—and a future.

Pleased, Susan replayed the recording. And here she came once more, out of the camcorder’s iron-oxide memory, moving purposefully around the bedroom, in and out of frame, pausing to listen: a woman with a plan.

Even a spoon could be a weapon if she reversed her grip on it, held it by the bowl, and stabbed with the handle. Although not as sharp as a knife, it could be used to gouge, to blind.

Fits of tremors came and went, causing the spoon to oscillate between Martie’s fingers. Twice it rattled against her plate, as though she were calling for attention before raising a toast.

She was tempted to put the spoon out of reach and eat with her hands. For fear of appearing even crazier in Dusty’s eyes than she did already, she persevered with the flatware.

Dinner conversation was awkward. Even after the detailed account she had given in the living room, he had many questions regarding the panic attack. She grew increasingly reluctant to talk about it.

For one thing, the subject depressed her. Recalling her queer behavior, she felt helpless, as though she had been cast back to the powerless and dependent condition of early childhood.

In addition, she was troubled by an irrational but nonetheless firm conviction that talking about the panic attack would induce another one. She felt as if she were sitting on a trapdoor, and the longer she talked, the more likely she was to speak the trigger word that would release the hinges and drop her into an abyss below.

She asked about his day, and he recited a list of business errands that he usually attended to when the weather didn’t favor housepainting.

Although Dusty never lied, Martie sensed that he wasn’t giving her the full story. Of course, in her current condition, she was too paranoid to trust her feelings.

Pushing aside his plate, he said, “You keep avoiding my eyes.” She didn’t deny it. “I hate for you to see me like this.”

“Like what?”


“You aren’t weak.”

“This lasagna has more spine than I do.”

“It’s two days old. For lasagna. . . hell, that’s eighty-five in human years.”

“I feel eighty-five.”

He said, “Well, I’m here to testify, you look way better than that damn lasagna.”

“Gee, mister, you sure can charm a girl.”

“You know what they say about housepainters.”

“What do they say?”

“We know how to roll it on thick.” She met his eyes.

He smiled and said, “It’s going to be all right, Martie.”

“Not unless your jokes get better.”

“Weak, my ass.”

Walking the battlements of her four-room fortress, Susan Jagger satisfied herself that all the windows were locked.

The only apartment door opening to the outside world was in the kitchen. It was protected by two dead bolts and a security chain.

Finished checking the locks, she tipped a kitchen chair onto its back legs and wedged it under the doorknob. Even if Eric somehow had obtained a key, the chair would prevent the door from being opened.

Of course, she had tried the chair trick before. It hadn’t foiled the intruder.

After hiding the camcorder and testing the view angle, she had removed the battery pack to plug it into a bathroom outlet once more. Now it was fully charged.

She inserted the battery and hid the camcorder in the ivy under the potted ming tree. She would switch it on just before she got into bed, and then would have three hours of tape—in extended mode— on which to catch Eric in the act.

All the synchronized clocks agreed on the hour: 9:40 P.M. Martie had promised to call before eleven o’clock.

Susan remained eager to hear what analysis and advice her friend might offer, but she wasn’t going to tell Martie about the camcorder. Because maybe her phone was tapped. Maybe Eric was listening.

Oh, how lovely it was here on the dance floor at the Paranoia Cotillion, gliding around and around in the fearsome embrace of a malevolent stranger, while the orchestra played a threnody and she grimly worked up the courage to look into the face of the dancer whose lead she followed.


Two glasses of Scotch, a brick of lasagna, and the events of this terrible day left Martie half numb with exhaustion. As Dusty cleaned up the dinner dishes, she sat at the table, watching him from under heavy eyelids.

She had expected to lie awake until dawn, racked by anxiety, dreading the future. But now her mind rebelled at assuming an even heavier burden of worry; it was shutting down for the night.

A new fear of sleepwalking was the only thing preventing her from nodding off here at the kitchen table. Somnambulism had never previously afflicted her, but then she had never suffered a panic attack until this morning, either, and now all things were possible.

If she walked in her sleep, perhaps that Other Martie would control her body. Slipping out of bed, leaving Dusty to dream on, the Other might descend barefoot through the house, as comfortable as the blind in darkness, to extract a clean knife from the utensils basket in the dishwasher.

Dusty took her hand and led her through the downstairs, turning off lights as they went. Valet padded after them, his eyes red and shining in the gloom.

Having brought Martie’s raincoat from the kitchen, Dusty paused to hang it in the foyer closet.

Sensing a weight in one of the coat pockets, he fished out the paperback book. “Are you still reading this?” he asked.

“It's a real thriller.”

“But you’ve been taking it to Susan’s sessions forever.”

“Not all that long.” She yawned. “The writing’s good.”

“A real thriller—but you can’t get through it in six months?”

“It hasn’t been six months, has it? No. Can’t be. The plot is entertaining. The characters are colorful. I’m enjoying it.”

He was frowning at her. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Plenty. But, right now, mostly I’m just so damn tired.”

Handing the book to her, he said, “Well, if you have trouble going to sleep, obviously a page of this is better than Nembutal.”

To sleep: perchance to walk, to knife, to burn.

Valet preceded them up the stairs.

As Martie ascended with one hand on the banister and Dusty’s supportive arm around her waist, she took some comfort from the realization that the dog might wake her if she went sleepwalking. Good Valet would lick her bare feet, slap his handsome tail against her legs as she went down the stairs, and certainly bark at her if she withdrew a butcher knife from the dishwasher without using it to carve a snack for him from the brisket in the refrigerator.

Susan dressed for bed in simple white cotton panties—no embroidery or lace, no adornment of any kind—and a white T-shirt.

Prior to the past few months, she had favored colorful lingerie with frills. She had enjoyed feeling sexy. No more.

She understood the psychology behind her change in sleepwear. Sexiness was now linked in her mind to rape. Appliquéd lace, fimbria, furbelow, plicated selvage, bargello stitchery, point de gaze, and the like might offer encouragement to her mysterious postmidnight visitor; he might interpret frills as an invitation to further abuse.

For a while she had gone to bed in men’s pajamas, loose and ugly, and then in baggy exercise cottons. The creep hadn’t been turned off by either.

In fact, after undressing her and brutally using her, he took the time to re-dress her with attention to detail that was obvious mockery. If she had buttoned every button on her pajama top before going to bed, he buttoned each; but if she had left one unbuttoned, the same remained unbuttoned when she woke. He retied the waistband drawstring in precisely the bow knot that she had used.