Part 1 of “Switch” can be found here.
Little Mary came along a few years later in the middle of winter. They had just moved to New York. Mary was born on the day before Christmas Eve, on a night when a group of men in New York would meet and listen to the story of a woman determined to give birth no matter what. While Jane and Dick weren’t quite as desperate as this Jane Smith was, it was no small feat to bring their first and only child into the world.
Things had looked up after that, they really had. Jane’s mercurial temper melted away and there was nothing but a mutual love for their new child.
But by the time Mary was three, it started all over again. The accusations. The denials. Strained, artificial conversations as a pretense to keep Mary at peace. It wore at Dick, threatened to slowly consume him away until he was no longer among the living.
He was starting to think that might not be such a bad thing anymore.
Dick and Jane were divorced on June 5, 1976.
Not to his surprise, Dick was able to get custody of Mary. Jane had become undone, a mere shadow of the woman he’d once fallen in love with. The doctors and psychiatrists spouted off some medical jargon, but he didn’t care. The long and short of it was this: she was insane.
Any woman who tried to saw off her husband’s throat with a butcher’s knife had to be crazy.
Jane was institutionalized August 1, 1976.
Life moved on. It always did. Dick and Mary moved to a smaller, lower-maintenance house, where they picked up the pieces of their shattered lives and moved on as best as they could. If there was one thing Dick could be grateful for, it was that no matter how much of a monster Jane had been towards him, she’d been a veritable angel with her daughter. There would be no emotional baggage for this precocious child to carry. Sure, he’d have to explain everything, but it could always have been worse.
On March 13, 1979, Dick dropped Mary off at Ellen Bowles’s house. It was Ellen’s daughter’s birthday, and Mary had been invited two weeks ago to the party. There were supposed to be clowns, magic tricks, endless cake and ice cream—the works. Dick figured he’d be able to finish that Bradbury novel when she was out, maybe even do some work on that table he’d been attempting to build for the last year or so. A quiet afternoon would do him some good.
He unlocked the door and stepped into the house. A faint, overripe smell wafted into his nostrils. Was there some fruit that was going bad? Or something else?
Preoccupied with getting to his book, Dick shrugged the matter away and went into the living room.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He made himself a cup of strong coffee and headed over to the couch, book in hand. But first, he switched on the TV. You never knew what could be on.
On the action news, there was a news alert: some patients had broken out of the city’s mental institution. They’d escaped when the nurses were rotating shifts. There had been a fatality, too. One of the guards had been stabbed multiple times. Two of the patients had been captured, but one was still on the large.
No names were given; no photos were shown.
There was no need to.
The body splash told him everything.
She had returned. God help him, she was back.
His hands shot up to his neck.
She chuckled. “Missed me?”
“Not really, no,” he managed. He shook over, reliving the nightmare. The blade was against his throat, breaking skin, drawing blood. She was laughing, laughing, laughing; he was screaming and screaming.
“Shame,” she said, her voice devoid of any emotion.
He couldn’t go through the front door. He’d locked the door and the key was in the kitchen. He’d have a better chance going down the hall and to his room. Out the window.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?”
He swallowed. Exhaled. He still hadn’t stopped shaking, but he reached over. Curled his fingers around it. Stood up.
And threw the cup of steaming coffee in Jane’s face.
Hot, black liquid splattered all over her face, followed by a crashing sound. She screamed, her hands flying to her face. She was holding a knife.
Dick was already running towards his room, his heart lodged in his throat and hammering an erratic tattoo. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. All that mattered was getting out.
Jane roared, a primal sound that sent shivers racing up and down his spine. “I’ll kill you!”
The window was closed. There was no time. Why on earth hadn’t he left the stupid window open? Why?!
She was right behind him, screaming bloody murder. Hardly thinking, he dove for the walk-in closet, slamming it shut behind him and locking it from the inside. He was plunged into absolute darkness, but at least he was away from Jane.
She pounded at the door. Dick shook like an aspen leaf. He was not what you’d call a crying man, but there he was, sobbing uncontrollably. He was terrified. So terrified. This was it. This was how it ended.
“Oh, God,” he moaned. “Help me. Please.”
Then it was silent. Dick’s breath hitched. Sixty seconds passed. He inched forward, one halting step at a time. Maybe he could look out through the latch and see what was going on. Maybe he’d be able to get out of here and get Mary and move away to another country, somewhere where they’d never hear of Jane again. Maybe…
Wood splintered. A knife shot through the wood, quivering as it came to a stop not six inches away from Dick’s chest. It pulled out. Then splintered through again.
In. Out. In. Out. Jane began to hum an eerie tune.
Then the darkness overtook Dick. It would be the final darkness.