The Voice by Yen Nguyen

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The Voice by Yen Nguyen
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Collapsed, Dominique did not know how to answer the police. No, he did not really see what drove his wife to jump into the void. They had not argued; no conflict had opposed them, really, no.

“A recent event had upset her? A mourning, for example?”

“A miscarriage six months ago,” he answered automatically.
He saw again the thin silhouette of Eva breaking away against the light in front of the kitchen window, her right hand resting on a table, her head slightly tilted. The doctors had assured her that another baby, and not only one, would be quite possible with some precautions. But she seemed plunged into a torpor from which nothing could extract her from. She stood – he was sure she was not doing anything else all day – before the window looking at the sky. She liked the clouds. He wondered if she was not telling herself stories based on their forms that assembled and disassembled. She told him that it was her favorite hobby as a child.

“Anything else?” asked the policeman who peered from his eyes not only attentive.
“I don’t think so.”

Yes, he knew that he was the prime suspect. He was with his wife in their apartment when she jumped. But he felt no urge to defend himself.

From the living room where he sat with a newspaper, he could perfectly see Eva, standing at her favorite place, her shiny hair in the light of the afternoon. An article later she had disappeared from his sight. Intrigued for some inexplicable reason, he had laidis newspaper and walked slowly towards the kitchen. Why slowly, God only knows. Perhaps because of the apprehension that had seized him? He had sought her in every room, and then remembering a door slam which had made him look up from his newspaper, he hastily concluded she had gone out and he returned to his reading.

The police told him to come back and see them if he remembered something. They were funny. What made them think he wanted to remember? He wanted to forget. He could still hear Éva’s cascading laughter. It s not so long ago when Bernard was still with them. This childhood friendound by chance three months after Eva’s miscarriageas at the time a sacred breath of oxygen. With his false altar boy air, he softened who he wanted, and Eva did not escape the rule. Bernard went to see them on weekends. Eva was cooking while humming. The two friends looked at each other, smiling. Nobody sang as false as this young woman with long brown hair and blue eyes, so blue.

All three of them sometimes straddled their bikes for long rides off the beaten track in the neighboring villages. They sometimes stopped in an inn and happily had something to eat. Sometimes they picnicked too. Bernard brought them sandwiches in a wicker basket that he strapped on the luggage rack. Divorced, without children, he seemed to be as free as the wind.

The police conducted a thorough investigation: quiet, discreet couple, satisfactory finances, no life insurance, no extra-marital history, no motive, nor overwhelming testimony.

They concluded suicide: the young woman’s depression after her miscarriage was the cause.

When the dismissal of the charges was pronounced, Dominique felt no relief. In recent days, he was once again struggling with the small familiar voice that was constantly whispering to him, “You should not have, indeed, you should not have.”

He almost felt indignant. It was the same voice that had driven him to spy on them. Eva laughed too long and too high. Bernard referred to allusions too ambiguous. Their embrace lasted an eternity. Their exchanges were loaded with too much unsaid. Tortured by jealousy, forgetting Eva’s regained bright look, forgetting the dark days they had been through, he had asked Bernard to not come any more. “Domi …” had begun the latter, looking hurt. But Dominique already had his back turned.

As for Eva, for a long time, she had been glued and riveted to the front door and jumped when the phone ring tore the oppressive silence of the apartment. Then she had resumed her place by the window, watching the sky and clouds, or perhaps to scan the street, hoping to see a particular silhouette?

“I should not have what?” he asked one day, exhausted.
The answer sliced in a whisper quite audible:

“Doubt.“

“But …”

“Everyone is master of his actions.”

Frantic, he roamed in the rooms. He stopped for a long time before the window, peering, wondering what Éva had thought before jumping into the void. Had she been like him, struggling with this voice that was sometimes complicit, sometimes judgmental? One day, he opened the window panes, passed to the other side, and, standingn the ledge, gazed down for a long time. He pricked up his ears. In vain. For once, the voice did not rise. But he caught its insistent presence, almost an expectation. His foot suddenly skidded. He tried to grab the handle but missed. He fell backward. He felt the wind on his face and his inflated pants fight against his legs. It was as if the three of them were running down one of the many slopes during their bike rides. Eva laughed and criednd Bernard shouted at him. It was possible that at a next turn, they took a tumble into the ditch. Glad, he closed his eyes. The crash, brutal, occurred simultaneously with the smile that blossomed on his lips.

 

AUTHOR BIO: Yen Nguyen writes primarily short stories. Her work has been published in various literary magazines. She regularly travels to Southern California in the summer.