Lacquered wood and cold steel were the only things he could feel over the din of his sorrow. A harsh gust echoed across his mindscape, his gut rising and falling with every melancholy breath. The skylights refracted the darkness of the stormy night sky, twisting it, coiling it around his heart. A ragged breath escaped his trembling lips, a drop of sweat rolled through his stubble and onto the carpet. Then, a gunshot shook the room with a resounding crack. Then there was silence. And a shrill scream. A familiar woman came crashing through the doorway moments later, and knelt beside him on blood splattered carpet.
"What did you do? What did you do? Oh god please no."
"You'll be okay, just give me a minute," she sputtered, feebly stroking through her late husband's hair.
"I'll fix it, just hold on please," she pleaded, as tears clouded her vision. She spent the next few minutes sobbing into his chest, her face and hair becoming bloodied. Hysterical crying and the scent of copper permeated the room, and before long sirens were distracting her from the darkness. She stood, sniveling, and lethargically walked to the front door. The knock came right as she touched the doorknob, and it revealed a pair of uniformed officers. The first of the two, the elder and higher in rank, opened his mouth to say something but was taken immediately back by her appearance in the doorway. Light pooling from the kitchen framed her sullen, bloody silhouette.
"Can you tell me what happened here?" His voice was gruff and apathetic. His partner, by contrast a pretty woman in her early thirties, nudged him aside gently and introduced herself.
"My name is Kelly, we're here to help. We have a few questions as well..." she trailed off as the shadow in the doorway gestured inside and turned around. She didn't look back as she led them to the carpeted sunroom where her husband lay cooling in a small puddle of blood.
Her naturally tan face made a pale contrast to the pale moonlit room. Kelly steered her by the shoulder to the corner, and blocked her view of the corpse with her body. Soothingly she asked "Is there anyone I can call for you?"
A subtle lateral shake of the head was her response.
"Can you tell me your name?"
"Eliza... his name was Douglas," she choked out, before a new series of sobs silenced her. Behind them, the veteran officer made a call on his radio.
"Requesting coroner, do not send EMS. Looks like a suicide." He droned on a bit longer, but no further attention was paid to him.
Eliza made her best effort to collect herself. She was surprised but secretly thankful that her daughter had not awoken from the commotion. She had always slept like a rock, much to Eliza's precious chagrin and current relief.
"Kelly, I need to go tell my daughter." Kelly's face sank. To witness the death of anyone was hard enough on the psyche, both on her and those of the family. To see a child involved, that was heartbreaking. Perhaps in time, Kelly would gain the battle hardened callousness that her partner exuded on a daily basis, but she hadn't yet suffered through enough of this hell to lose her compassion.
"I can come with you if you need-"
"No thank you," she mumbled, "cops scare her." With that, she gently brushed past the woman and made her way down the hallway. She couldn't get her mind off of the loss of her husband, but she was grateful for the two solid oak doors and thick walls separating the rooms of this suburban house. She paused at the door, fighting back a new wave of tears. She wanted to present an aura of strength to her daughter. She would attempt to tell her the usual lies that parents tell their children about death, but knew her daughter to be old enough to see past the euphemisms. She turned the handle.
The room was darker than night. Eliza pulled out her phone to use as a makeshift flashlight to avoid waking her precious child into what would be a night she remembered forever. Monique was snoring loudly with a pillow over her head as she entered the room, and Eliza couldn't help but smile at her beauty. She looked angelic with her short blonde hair covering up part of her face. A forced smile was etched onto Monique's face from the way her head lay on the pillow. Eliza knelt on the dark hardwood floor beside the bed and rested an arm on the nightstand and the other on her daughter's exposed cheek. In moments, her life would be never be the same again. Could she bring herself to break this news? Yes. Better her than a cop. She began stroking her cheek gently while saying her name, to no avail. She knew it would take more than that to rouse her daughter, she was just being a coward.
"Monique, it's time to get up," she said loudly, pulling the pillow off her head and shaking a shoulder. This method proved more effective than the last, and two miniature oceans fluttered open.
"Mommy? W-what is all over your face?" Eliza let her jaw run slack in horror as she realized she was partially covered in blood. She tried to say something but words escaped her. Perhaps she would need help after all.
"I'll be right back, just stay there sweetheart." She stepped away quickly, hiding her face. The bathroom was only a few feet from the doorway of the small bedroom. She stepped inside and locked the door with shaking hands. Her eyes stung from the harsh incandescent light of the ceiling fixture. When she was able to open them again, the person staring back at her from the mirror was not the person she knew. This person - stranger - was bloody and forlorn. She couldn't make sense of reality, and for a moment she questioned her existence and that this night was even happening.
"Come on Liz, hold it together. For her, not for you. For her." She worked desperately to regain enough sense to tell her child the truth.
It only took a few minutes for her to clear the blood off her face, but they did not go uninterrupted.
"Mommy? What happened? Why are there people in the house?" Monique asked, pounding lightly on the door.
"I'll be out in a second and I'll explain..." She offered, drying her hands, with a hand towel. She inhaled deeply and exited the bathroom. Monique was waiting at the door, with a curious look on her face.
"There are people in there," she said, pointing toward the scene. Eliza whispered a silent thank you that her daughter hadn't gone to investigate, and led her to her bedroom where they sat down together on the edge of her bed.
"Monique, daddy has gone to a better place." She lied, the words feeling like venom as they poured out of her mouth.
"We won't see him anymore, but he will always be with us in our hearts." Trying to embellish the truth had made little difference, Monique understood the implication and reacted with shock.
"Is he really gone? Daddy could never die, he's too strong for that." Her face contorted in fear.
"Is that why those people are here? Did they hurt him?"
"No, they are here to help." Eliza embraced her in a firm hug.
"Everything will be okay, I promise." The two of them sat there for some time.
A knock on the open doorway roused them from their thoughts.
"I found this paper on the desk in there, it is addressed to you." She accepted the paper without a word. Monique tried to read over her shoulder but Eliza hid it from her. She could never know how this truly happened until she was older.
If you are reading this, I've done a terrible thing to you and Monique. I'm sorry, truly I am. I've been struggling for a long time and I can no longer find a reason to live. You have been the most wonderful wife that a man could ever have, and Monique is the child any father would have wanted. I love you both very much, please forgive me for what I've done.
There is money in the safe for Monique to go to college, and I left everything in your name. Take care of her for me, I'll be looking out for you from above, if above exists. I love you very much.
By the time she had finished reading the letter for the fifth time, it was mottled by tears. The ink ran in little rivers that obscured the page. It fell to the floor.
Lacquered wood and cold steel were the only things he could feel over the din of his sorrow. A harsh gust echoed across his mindscape, his gut rising and falling with every melancholy breath. The skylights refracted the darkness of the stormy night sky, twisting it, coiling it around his heart. A ragged breath escaped his trembling lips, a drop of sweat rolled through his stubble and onto the carpet. He pulled the revolver away from his head. He fingered the cylinder release, and it popped open. Six unspent shells clattered to the floor. A cold shudder ran up his spine. He glanced off toward the nightstand as he stood, and at the sheaf of paper lying on it. He took the paper outside, and lit it on fire. The flames licked it delicately, the clean lettering nothing more than ash in the wind. He dropped it as the flames reached his hand, and it burned completely before it hit the ground.
Birth from fire, he thought. Like a Phoenix.