Daniel Davis recently received his M.A. from Eastern Illinois University. His work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at www.dumpsterchickenmusic.blogspot.com.
The thing in Derrick Righter's head had one of those long Latin names, the kind professors flaunt as proof they know what they're talking about. Afterwards, they showed a picture of it on the news, not the actual creature but a specimen sample. Microscopic. Elongated, ovular. It looked like a worm.
Righter ostensibly walked into the bank at 8:47 a.m. to make a deposit. His last paycheck had come in, and for some reason his direct deposit program wasn't working. Blame the Casey Midland Bank, blame Casey Better Buicks, blame Righter for leaving all the banking details to his wife. While you're at it, blame whoever's idea it was to hold a company meeting in Central America, in a hotel that was reputable in name only, in a town that hadn't seen such an influx of white tourists in over a decade.
I suppose I can blame Sarah. She was making a withdrawal—Righter a deposit, Sarah a withdrawal. Yin and yang. It balances out.
The worm with the Latin name had devoured a good portion of Righter's occipital lobe. Afterwards, his wife, a fair woman named Kathy, told Brian Williams that Righter had been suffering from strange, hallucinogenic nightmares. "He would wake up screaming, and he wouldn't know that he was awake. He would say that he'd been attacked by his stepfather, that he'd been molested by his stepfather, and none of it was real. It was all a dream, and it happened every night." The occipital lobe, Williams candidly informed us, is reputed to be the dream center of the brain.
Righter was dressed in a nice shirt and slacks and black dress shoes, "business casual" they call it around here. His hair was combed, and he wore a half–smile on his face. According to the guard at the door, Righter hadn't been smiling at anyone in particular. He walked into the bank with that smile; he waited in line with that smile; he stabbed my wife with that smile. Witnesses reported seeing a vacant expression in his eyes, and I choose to believe that they actually did.
He used a pen he picked up at the bank, supposedly to sign his deposit slip with, though he'd already signed it. Most likely, he'd forgotten about the pen. Equally likely, his absentmindedness had nothing to do with the worm, and everything to do with the mundane atmosphere of the bank. The pen was plastic, thin, disposable, a giveaway sample with "Casey Midland Bank" stenciled across the clear plastic tube. Righter took the cap off and made a hesitant mark on his deposit slip; perhaps, after he started writing, he realized he'd already signed. He tucked the slip into his pocket and left the cap on the end of the pen.
Sarah and I had fought earlier that day. We'd gone to bed fighting, and we woke up fighting. It had been our rule, through two years of marriage, that we would always go to bed together, no matter what. No couch, no sleeping bag. This was something our marriage counselor suggested; I always insisted that marriage advice from a priest was suspect, but Sarah's parents had forced us to attend, and she'd at least tried to take something away from it. Maybe I should've tried harder, instead of making snide remarks that the priest did not understand.
Sarah put on a nice blouse and black slacks that morning. She worked at an insurance office just a block away from the bank. A second–rate insurance company, but they still needed an attractive receptionist. Sarah was attractive. She knew how to affect that neutral beauty of the intern or secretary, both inviting and distancing. You can look, but you cannot touch. She never wore heels to work; she said that heels made the difference, tipped you over that line.
I imagine Righter stared at the back of her neck as he waited in line behind her. Most guys do. Sarah's neckline was impressive, smooth and silky. She had light auburn hair and always wore it in a bun for work. Once, just after we married, she made love to me dressed that way. It was an awkward experience; she behaved like the Sarah I knew, but she looked like someone else entirely. I never spoke to her about it, and she never tried it again. I don't think she enjoyed it either.
The police told me that Righter must've fought the urge. The pen he used was cracked near the middle, as though it had been clenched tightly between his fingers. "We suspect he couldn't control it," an officer told me. I should know his name—I know most of the officer's names, in a town our size—but I cannot remember his face or voice. Just the words. "We suspect he struggled with himself."
I suspect that Righter had no idea he was going to plunge that pen into the side of my wife's neck until he'd already pulled it out and was swinging again. Maybe not even then—maybe not until the third or fourth time. Maybe he died not knowing—the guard's baton fell across the back of his skull, his brain shifted too much, and he bled to death internally, unaware of anything that was happening.
Sarah died at the hospital. She was conscious part of the time, they tell me. She slipped into a coma in the ambulance and never came out of it. Dead later that day, with me and her father by her side. The only time her father and I were in a room together and not sniping each other. We stayed far apart at her funeral and the wake. My parents didn't attend. They live in Cleveland.
More people attended Righter's funeral than my wife's. Sarah and I were college remainders, those few who stay in the area after getting their associates' degrees. Righter was a beloved member of the community, not a pillar but definitely a support beam. Sixteen–year marriage, two kids, two story house, a job where he got to interact with half the community. People liked him. So what if he sold them an undercoating they could've done without? He was polite and outgoing. Sarah was beautiful and friendly, but she was from out of town. In places like Casey, that's all that matters.
Here's the irony, the thing I think about most at night, though it would have made little difference in the long run: if the worm hadn't eaten so much of Righter's brain, he would have lived. And had he lived, he would have been diagnosed, treated, and released. It wasn't Righter who killed my wife, it was the worm, and everyone knew it. They looked at me as though I were partly to blame, not because they suspected me, but because they didn't suspect Righter. It was the worm, not the man.
All of the details made the papers, because there is little else to report on in Casey, and there was nothing to hide. Except perhaps one thing, which ended up being overlooked, not hidden. Sarah had been at the bank that morning to make a withdrawal. A substantial withdrawal. She didn't leave me a note, she didn't say anything to me that morning that was unusual after a night of fighting. But I knew, when the police handed me her checkbook—only one tiny drop of blood on it, so small that no one had noticed—that two years had been enough. I didn't tell anyone how much she'd been planning to take out. I don't remember telling anyone anything, except "thank you."
I think about it at night, how Righter would've gone free, how Sarah hadn't bothered to tell me. I stare at the water stain above my bed, the wind catching the blinds and twisting them into shadows vaguely resembling the image that was broadcast on the news. It taunts me, the worm, though it has nothing to taunt me about. I lost nothing I wasn't going to lose anyways, but I still feel hollow inside, barren. Like Righter, I lie in bed and suffer horrible dreams, but mine are waking. They play about on the ceiling, whenever a car crawls past my apartment complex. I can reach upwards, searching, clutching, but my hand always falls back empty against my chest. Sometimes in these moments I hate Righter, not because of what he did, but because he was not in control of his actions. If only he had known, if only it had been him, then I would have something to hold on to, and perhaps I could sleep—restless, shallow, but sleep nonetheless. As it is, the worm just digs deeper into my mind, tunneling so far down that I cannot reach it.