Previously on Whores & Wives:
“I wish you were here to tell me what to do…” I took another swig from Carmen’s engraved flask and continued spilling my soul. “…you knew how to handle stuff like this. You know how to make things better.”
I sat atop of Carmen’s grave, nothing but the moon and the occasional cricket, keeping me company. Normally, I’d be terrified of being out alone this time of night, especially in something like a graveyard, but tonight…I had nothing left to fear…hell, nothing left to lose.
“You know they’re going to find a way to cover this up and make it seem like I’m just crazy?” I worried between tears. “I don’t even know how I’m going to survive from here. I lost my contract. I have no income. My savings is barely enough to survive the next year…and by the time Derrick Michael gets done with me in court, I’ll have nothing left. I might even have to move to the…hood.” I sobbed from a place deep in my chest.
“There are worse things….” Barnard’s voice startled me out of my pity party.
“Oh….” I looked at him with a tear-streaked face. “What are you doing here?” I said, my intoxication apparent.
“The same reason you’re here, I suppose.” He sat down in the grass next to me. “To drink, bitch, and cry.” He pulled out a flask and took a sip. I nodded and did the same.
“It’s odd. This is the first time I’ve been alone with you since the night you found me with Carmen….”
“MMPH” I responded, remembering how angry I was that night. He thought it was over him, until I started screaming at Carmen about her betraying my love. I didn’t give a damn about him fucking, I just didn’t want him fucking HER.
“How have you been?”
“How does it look, Barnard?”
“Yea, well…looks like we’re on the same page.”
“Are we?” I laughed.
Barnard took another swig of whatever he was drinking. I threw my heard back and stared at the moonlight. I was silently thankfully for the company.
“They thought I killed her, you know? I mean…we had our problems, everyone knows; but I did love Carmen. What we had worked, for us….it might not have been perfect for everyone else, but it worked for us. And I miss her…. damn…. I miss her…” Barnard began to confess without prompting. “So, I come here…sometimes…at night. And I drink and sleep on her grave….”
I felt a tinge of guilt that I hadn’t bothered to check on Barnard, but it’s not as if we were on the best of terms when Carmen died in the first place. Not to mention I wasn’t all to happy about the Christie bitch he was parading around before Carmen body even had a tag.
“You didn’t seem too choked up when you were with that white woman.”
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“You were with someone else the night Carmen went missing. I saw you moving things out of the house and a tub with red splatter on it….then Carmen shows up dumped in a neighborhood we KNOW she wouldn’t have set foot in…what were we to think, Barnard?”
“I think you know me better than that, Amya. I mean damn, we were once lovers. You actually broke my heart and I never lifted a hand at you…not once….why would you think I’d hurt Carmen or any woman for that matter?”
“Barnard, you can cut the bullshit. I KNOW you and Carmen used to get violent with one another.”
“NO, CARMEN used to get violent with me and I would do what little I could to defend myself.”
“BULLSHIT” I jerked my head toward Barnard, anger in my eyes. “So now Carmen was abusing you?”
“So, you want to act like she didn’t have a temper?”
He wasn’t lying. Carmen did have a temper, but she’d never put her hands on me, not in a way that was violent. I can’t say the same for Barnard. I’d seen her outbursts, she’d yell and scream and hit, but I figured it was because of the cheating…but now that I think about things, that didn’t make sense.
“No one ever questioned when I showed up with black eyes and bruised arms…not a single person; but women aren’t the only ones abused.”
“Why didn’t you just leave her, Barnard? No one made you stay.”
“Why didn’t you leave Derrick Michael and marry Carmen like you really wanted?”
I shot him a knowing look. I finished off the last of my flask and pulled a joint from my pocket. Barnard stood and paced about in front of the grave.
“The last time I spoke with my wife we had a slight disagreement, I can’t even remember about what at this point, something dumb…I know it was…then she got a call from your mother and stormed out in a huff.”
Why in hell was Carmen interacting with Merline right before she died?
“DeCorey told me he saw her at my father’s house the day she died… but they didn’t mention anything about that.”
“Yea…they were arguing about something.”
“Do you have any idea what?” I sat up, my interest peeked.
“Nope.” The moonlight gently hit his face. I could see the creases of stress settling into his face. He’d aged five years in a matter of months. “…but I did overhear her once. She said something about Deacon Tompkins and having all the proof she needed expose them all.”
“Deacon Tompkins? You mean, like from my church?”
“Yea…your father’s best friend, right?”
“Something like that…” I mumbled, “…did you hear anything else?”
“Nope. Sorry.” I could tell the liquor was starting to take control. He scooted over so he could lean his back against the headstone.
“Did you tell this to the police?”
“Yea…it’s one of the few things saving my ass right now…that and Christie…and the fact that you saw us at the house around the time they suspect Carmen was …. while it was…. you know what I mean.”
He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence and I was glad. I hated referring to her in past tense. I hated talking about her death and the violent nature of it all. I hated that the manner of her death was so horrific that it seemed to overshadow the beauty of her life….at least for me.
We remained silent for a little while, taking comfort in our shared grief – for the woman we both loved. We sat in deep reflection, him with his thoughts, me with my own. I wondered what Carmen argued with Merline about…she mentioned Deacon Tompkins, did she know about Timaya? Was it possible she was killed because of what she knew? Na…. I shook the thought from my head. My family was capable of a lot but murder…. I can say with confidence we wouldn’t go that far.
I was startled awake at the nudge of the grave-keeper.
“Well Barnard, I see you brought company with you this time, eh?” The white-haired old man with wrinkled, tan skin grinned with delight.
“Oh, Good morning, Mr. Yerin. Thank you for waking us.”
“No, thanks needed, it’s my duty to remind the living to keep on living…so you get up and do just that.”
Barnard shot the old man a kind smile as I stood and began to brush the grass and leaves from clothes. They exchanged a few more greetings before Barnard introduced me as Carmen’s best friend. The old man offered sweet words of comfort and encouragement before going on his merry way.
“A bit chipper for a graveyard worker, huh?” Barnard chuckled, “…but I am thankful for him. He has been a big help to me…and I can’t even tell you the man’s last name.”
“Mmm…that’s nice.” I searched through my jacked pockets for my phone, then realized I’d left it in my car. “Shit!”
“I left my phone in my car..”
“Well you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing it out here…”
“No, it’s not that…I just…have a lot of shit going on and I’m worried I’ve missed some important calls.”
“It was good seeing you Barnard and I’m sorry I’ve been so distant, but you know…the idea that you’d killed Carmen and all kinda makes you wanna stay away….”
“You know I wouldn’t do that, right? I mean, if I wanted to kill a woman I could’ve killed you when you broke my heart, but I didn’t….”
“Ummm….if that’s supposed to make you sound like some kind of saint, it doesn’t…”
“No…I’m sorry. I’m not saying I wanted too or would’ve…but just the idea that because I’m her husband and our marriage wasn’t perfect that makes me suspect number one in everyone’s minds is just…wrong. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?”
“You’re right….and again, I’m sorry.”
“It is what it is now….”
I lingered for a few seconds trying to think of something to say. I had nothing.
“Well….um, it was good seeing you.” I threw up a weak wave and turned to head towards my car.
“Yea, same.” Barnard said, still standing at the gravesite. “OH! Amya! Before you go! I found a package in our safety deposit box. Inside was a USB drive with a bunch of encrypted files with instructions to give it to you. The police confiscated it saying it had something to do with their investigation; but they were supposed to let you know they had it. I don’t know what’s on it…but I thought you should know.”
“A USB? Why would she leave me a USB drive?”
Barnard shrugged, “I have no idea, but whatever’s on it must be important, when the police returned the items from the deposit box, that wasn’t included. When I asked why, they told me it was relevant to the case.”
“Do you think I can get it back?’
“Not until they’re finished with it. But you may be able to get your lawyers to find out what’s on the thing.”
I noticed Barnard was speaking to me, but his eyes remained locked on Carmen’s grave. He stood there, stiff and sullen, looking like a shell of his formally charismatic self. If he did kill Carmen, either he was doing a damn good job of acting out his grief or it could be guilt eating his ass…but I doubted it was guilt.
I knew what guilt looked like, I knew because as I stood there looking at Barnard, it washed over me like a tsunami. I was overwhelmed with a desire to not only apologize, but I knew that in my truth, he would find some comfort in the fact that he was not alone.
I took a deep breath. Do it now, while you have the courage, I heard Carmen’s voice so clearly that I whipped around expecting to see her standing there. A chill ran through my body.
“Barnard…” I doubled back to join him where he stood. “I have to tell you something….”
Barnard looked back at me with red, puffy eyes. I was finally able to get a good look at him in the daylight; Carmen’s death had taken its toll. He looked exhausted, sickly even.
I opened my mouth to speak but I struggled to find the right words. “I….I..ahh….I don’t now how to tell you this…this “truth” thing is completely new to me; but, I think you should know…” I shifted my weight and kept my eyes down on the ground.
“I don’t mean to be rude Amya, but I don’t have much patience for stringing along…what’s up?”
I let out a heavy sigh and gathered my courage, “Barnard, you have a child…a daughter…I mean we have a daughter…” For the first time in several minutes Barnard broke his gaze from Carmen’s headstone and locked eyes with me. I stepped back a few paces to get distance between us in case I needed to run.
“Whatchu say?” Barnard wore his confusion on his face.
“Catina…she…she’s your child. Not Derrick Michaels.”
I watched as the father of my eldest child processed a multitude of emotions in a moments time. In his eyes was confusion, surprise, excitement, betrayal, fear, frustration, anger, love, hope, joy…pain. I saw it all. I braced myself for a verbal and possibly physical assault. Instead, I felt Barnard’s arms wrap around me and he began to sob into my shoulder.