SONYA MCGRATH WAS SURPRISED to hear the key in the lock.
Today, more than a decade after her son's death, the photographs of Stephen were still in the same frames on the same side tables. Other photographs had been added, of course. When Michelle, Sonya's oldest daughter, got married last year, they naturally took photographs. Several were framed over the fireplace. But no pictures of Stephen had ever been taken down. They could pack away his things, repaint his room, give his clothes to charity, sell his old car, but Sonya and Clark could never touch those photographs.
Her daughter Michelle, like many brides, had chosen to do the standard group photographs before the marriage ceremony. The groom, a nice guy named Jonathan, had a large extended family. They took all the usual shots. Sonya and Clark had gamely posed- with their daughter, with their daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law, with Jonathan's parents and the new bride and groom, whatever, but they balked when the photographer called for the "McGrath family photograph," the one that would have consisted of Sonya and Clark and Michelle and Cora, Michelle's younger sister, because all any of them would ever see, even after this joy-filled day, was the giant hole in the "McGrath family photograph" where Stephen still belonged.
The big house was silent tonight. It had been that way since Cora started college. Clark was "working late again"- a euphemism for "sleeping with the bimbette"- but Sonya didn't care. She didn't question his hours because their home was even lonelier, even more silent, when Clark was here.
Sonya swirled the brandy in the snifter. She sat alone in the new theater room, in the dark, cuing up a movie on DVD. She'd rented something with Tom Hanks- his presence, even in crummy movies, oddly comforted her- but she hadn't hit the play button yet.
God, she thought, am I really this pitiful?
Sonya had always been a popular woman. She had many true and wonderful friends. It would be easy to blame them, to say that they slowly disengaged themselves from her after Stephen's death, that they had tried to be dutiful but after a while, you can only take so much, and so they made one excuse, and then another, gradually drifting away, cutting ties.
But that would not be fair to them.
It might be true in some small part- there had certainly been a detachment of sorts- but Sonya had been far more responsible for that than any of her friends. She pushed them away. She did not want comfort. She did not want company or camaraderie or commiseration. She didn't want to be miserable either, but perhaps that was the easiest and ergo best alternative.
The front door opened.
Sonya turned on the small lamp next to her movie-theater recliner. It was dark outside, but in this airless room that didn't matter. The shades blocked out all light. She heard the footsteps in the marble foyer and then on the polished hardwood floors. They were coming toward her.
A moment later, Clark stepped into the room. He said nothing, just stood there. She studied him for a moment. Her husband looked somehow older, or maybe it had been a long time since she had really studied the man she'd married. He'd chosen not to go distinguished gray and took to coloring his hair. The coloring was done, as with all things Clark, meticulously, but it still didn't look right. His skin had an ashen tone. He looked thinner.
"I was just going to put on a movie," she said.
He stared at her.
"I know," he said.
He did not mean that he knew that she was putting on a movie. He meant something else entirely. Sonya did not ask for clarification. There was no need. She sat very still.
"I know about your visits to the museum," he went on. "I've known for a long time."
Sonya debated how to reply. Countering with an "I know about you too" was the obvious move, but it would be both too defensive and entirely irrelevant. This was not about an affair.
Clark stood, his hands at his sides, his finger itching but not clenching.
"How long have you known?" she asked.
"A few months."
"So how come you didn't say anything before now?"
"How did you find out?"
"I had you followed," he said.
"Followed? You mean like you hired a private investigator?"
She crossed her legs. "Why?" Her voice raised a notch, stung by this strange betrayal. "Did you think I was sleeping around?"
"He killed Stephen."
"It was an accident."
"Really? Is that what he tells you when you have your little lunches? Do you discuss how he accidentally murdered my son?"
"Our son," she corrected him.
He looked at her then, a look she had seen before but never directed at her. "How could you?"
"How could I what, Clark?"
"Meet with him. Offer him forgiveness-"
"I've never offered him anything of the sort."
"It's not about that."
"Then what is it about?"
"I don't know." Sonya rose to her feet. "Clark, listen to me: What happened to Stephen was an accident."
He made a noise of derision. "Is that how you comfort yourself, Sonya? By telling yourself it was an accident?"
"Comfort myself?" A dark chill ripped through her. "There is no comfort, Clark. Not for a second. Accident, murder- Stephen is dead either way."
He said nothing.
"It was an accident, Clark."
"He's convinced you of that, eh?"
"Actually, just the opposite."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"He's no longer sure himself. He feels tremendous guilt."
"Poor baby." Clark made a face. "How can you be so naive?"
"Let me ask you something," Sonya said, moving closer to him. "If they fell another way, if the angle had been different or if Stephen had twisted his body and Matt Hunter had hit his head on that curb-"
"Don't even start with that."
"No, Clark, listen to me." She took another step. "If it had gone another way, if Matt Hunter ended up dead and Stephen had been found on top of him-"
"I'm not in the mood to play hypotheticals with you, Sonya. None of that matters."
"Maybe it does to me."
"Why?" Clark countered. "Weren't you the one who said that either way Stephen is dead?"
She said nothing.
Clark crossed the room, moving past her, keeping enough distance so that he did not so much as brush up against her. He collapsed into a chair and lowered his head into his hands. She waited.
"Do you remember the case of that mother drowning her kids in Texas?" he asked.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Just"- he closed his eyes for a moment-"just bear with me, okay? Do you remember that case? This overworked mother drowned her kids in the tub. I think there were four or five of them. Awful story. The defense made an insanity plea. Her husband supported her. Do you remember, on the news?"
"What did you think?"
She said nothing.
"I'll tell you what I thought," he continued. "I thought, who cares? I don't mean that to sound cold. I mean, what's the difference? If this mother was found insane and spent the next fifty years in a loony bin or if she was found guilty and spent the rest of her life in jail or on death row- what does it matter? Either way you killed your own children. Your life is over, isn't it?"
Sonya closed her eyes.
"That's how it is with Matt Hunter to me. He killed our son. If it was an accident or intentional, I only know that our boy is dead. The rest doesn't matter. Do you understand that?"
More than he could ever know.
Sonya felt the tears escape from her eyes. She looked at her husband. Clark was in so much pain. Just go, she wanted to say. Bury yourself in your work, in your mistress, in whatever. Just go.
"I'm not trying to hurt you," she said.
"Do you want me to stop seeing him?" she asked.
"Would it matter if I did?"
She did not reply.
Clark rose and left the room. A few seconds later, Sonya heard the front door close, leaving her yet again all alone.