Dead Man

 

by Samantha McLaren

 

 

It was about a fortnight after I killed Dominic Dupree that Lily Williams, formerly Lily Dupree, showed up on my doorstep to check that her husband was really dead.

 

I had met Lily in person once before, on her one visit to Dupree about a month after he arrived on death row. She had been thirty-one, an attractive woman with a fondness for tight jeans and bright lipstick. Eleven years had passed since that visit, and every second of that time was visible on Lily’s face. She was very pale, and there was a haggardness about her which suggested sickness. Her tight jeans, her lipstick, her vivacity, were gone.

 

“Miss Dupree,” I said, blinking at this ghost of a woman on my doorstep. “What a surprise.”

 

“It’s not Dupree anymore,” Lily mumbled, flushing. “It’s Williams again.”

 

“Miss Williams, of course. I’m sorry. Ah . . . Come in.”

 

Lily stepped into my house, glancing around as if expecting some demon to jump out at her. I led her into the lounge, glancing at my other visitor, who was slouched in an armchair in the corner watching us with curiosity, and gestured for her to take a seat. If she saw my other visitor, she did not show it. She perched on the edge of her chair, head bowed, hands folded on her knees, and said nothing.

 

“Can I get you a drink?” I said, at a loss.

 

Lily jerked, as if she’d forgotten I was there, and shook her head.

 

“Okay,” I said. I sat down opposite her. My other visitor crossed his legs and raised his eyebrows at me.

 

A minute passed in silence. Lily neither moved nor blinked.

 

“Miss Dupree . . . Sorry, Miss Williams.”

 

“Lily,” she said.

 

“Lily. Okay. Is there . . . Is there something I can help you with?”

 

Lily wet her lips and drew in a quivering breath. “I’m sorry to . . . To bother you at home,” she said. Her voice was frail, tremulous, as if at any moment she might burst into tears. It was not the voice I remembered.

 

“It’s no problem,” I said.

 

“The prison gave me your address when I called,” she continued, sounding a touch embarrassed. “They said you’d be the best person to talk to.”

 

I nodded, assuming that that meant it was something which the rest of the staff didn’t want to deal with. I couldn’t blame them. We were accustomed to the company of the dead—or at least, the living dead. People with a pulse and no guillotine hanging above their necks were not our forte.

 

“I wanted to talk to you about . . . About Dominic,” Lily said, rushing out his name in a garbled cry. She pressed her fist against her mouth, glancing around again. My other visitor watched with a look of mild amusement.

 

“Of course,” I said. “I understand how hard this must be for you.”

 

“Not hard at all,” she burst out, then repeated her nervous scan of my room with pursed lips. “Not at all,” she said again, quieter now. “He was . . . was a pig. A monster. After what he did to my—my—my little girls.”

 

She began to sob. I wanted desperately to hand her a tissue, but I had none, so could do nothing but sit and wait for her to finish. When she did, hiccupping and sniffling, I forced my face into what I hoped was a comforting expression.

 

“I’m very sorry. I know that I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. But your husband was in my company for eleven years and I got to know him well. What did you want to talk about?”

 

Lily lowered her face until her hair covered her features, then said, “Is he . . . Is he really dead? Really, honestly dead?”

 

I paused. “Yes,” I said, eventually. “I was there. Until he took his last breath. I watched his body being taken away to the morgue. He’s definitely dead.”

 

“Dead as a doornail,” Dupree muttered from the corner. “Dead, but not gone, huh, Boss?”

 

“Oh,” Lily murmured. “Oh. Oh. Well that’s . . . I knew that. Of course I did.”

 

“Is there something wrong?” I said.

 

“There’s something very wrong with me,” Dupree muttered. “My heart has stopped.”

 

“I don’t know,” Lily whispered. She raised her head. Her cheeks were damp. “I wasn’t at the execution, so I didn’t see it . . . didn’t see it for myself . . .”

 

“Testified against me, sent me to my death, but couldn’t watch it happen,” Dupree said.

 

“Lily, I touched his cold dead body with my own hands,” I said. “He is definitely dead.”

 

Lily gave a quick laugh which was almost indistinguishable from her previous sobs.

 

“I know,” she said with a queer smile. “I know. But he doesn’t feel dead.”

 

Dupree snorted with laughter from the corner.

 

“It’s like I’m carrying the weight of him around,” Lily murmured, her eyes flitting back and forth across the room. “It sounds so silly . . . But it’s like he’s haunting me.”

 

I shot a look at my other visitor. Dupree shrugged. “I’m not doing it,” he said. “I have no choice but to follow you around.”

 

“Lily,” I said, trying not to look at my other visitor as I spoke. “The last eleven years have been very stressful for you—I can’t begin to imagine—and the death of your husband—”  

 

“Ex-husband.”

 

“Not by choice,” Dupree muttered bitterly.

 

“Yes, sorry, ex-husband. His execution was a hugely stressful event for you.”

 

“More stressful for me,” Dupree said.

 

“So it’s natural for you to feel this way,” I concluded, strained. “It’s just stress. Or shock. Both. It’ll pass.”

 

Lily sagged, like a sandcastle collapsing under the weight of the tide. “I should be delighted he’s gone,” she said. “Did he talk to you much about what happened, when he was with you?”

 

I nodded. “When he wasn’t telling me he was innocent.”

 

“I was.”

 

“He told me you were going through a messy breakup. Brutal custody battles.”

 

“Yes. He was driving me to the brink of my—brink of my sanity. He couldn’t stand the thought that I would win. I just never, ever imagined he’d do something so awful to stop me getting the girls.”

 

“I didn’t,” Dupree shouted. He was on his feet, and he moved towards Lily until he could have reached out and touched her—if he were capable of touch. “I wouldn’t,” he whispered. “I didn’t want the divorce in the first place . . . I’d never hurt the girls . . .”

 

“He’s dead, Lily,” I said. “He can’t hurt you anymore. Go home. Get some rest.”

 

Lily stood up. “Yes . . . Yes. Thank you.”

 

I led her to the door, Dupree trailing at my heels. Lily paused on the step and turned back to look at me.

 

“Did . . . Did he suffer?”

 

“I can’t really say.”

 

“Please,” Lily said. Her voice was shaking. “I need to know. Did he suffer while he was with you?”

 

“Every moment was a living hell,” Dupree said behind me. “For eleven years I prayed for death, and when it came I wasn’t ready . . .”

 

“He . . . screamed a lot,” I said, tentatively. “He’d scream his innocence into the night. So we’d have to punish him, locking him away in the dark . . . And he’d still scream.”

 

There was a silence. I thought Dupree might be crying but I didn’t turn my head to check.

 

“That’s what I thought,” Lily said. She was paler than before, so pale her eyes looked yellow in her face. She turned away and walked to her car. I closed the door.

 

“I haven’t been haunting her,” Dupree said.

 

“You should leave her alone,” I muttered, walking into the kitchen and picking my cigarettes from the counter. I lit up with fumbling fingers. “After all you’ve done to her.”

 

“I loved Lily,” Dupree said. He was leaning against the fridge in his white jumpsuit with DEATH ROW printed up the leg and across the back in brutal black. “And I loved the girls more than anything. How can she think I’d hurt them?”

 

“Evidence?” I said.

 

Dupree laughed. “The only evidence was of arson. There was no proof that I started the damn fire.” He touched his face with both hands, tracing the ruined flesh of the burn on his cheeks. “And even if I had killed my girls to stop my wife getting them, which is ludicrous, why would I go back inside?  The fire trucks arrived, my house was burning, my daughters were dead, and there was me jumping out of the window, and I was burning too. And then that son of a bitch prosecutor Renwick had the nerve to tell the jury that I hurt myself setting the fire. Took the one scrap of evidence that might have saved my life, and used it as just another turn of the damn screw.”

 

I sighed, exhaling smoke through my teeth. “Jury was mighty convinced.”

 

“Jury was stupid,” Dupree muttered. “Jury doesn’t care, long as they get to send someone to the chair and go home.”

 

I didn’t argue with him further. We’d been having this argument for a fortnight. Since the night I killed him, and came home to find him standing in my kitchen.

 

I’d asked him to go away. He said he didn’t know how. He followed me to work, walking up and down death row and chatting to the men who’d once been his neighbours, although they never answered him. He’d lie on the bed beside me at night and show me the picture of his girls he’d always kept in the breast pocket of his jumpsuit. He’d cry in the darkness and sometimes, even now, when no good could come of it, he’d scream.

 

I wasn’t sure what to do about him. Admitting you see the ghosts of those you have executed is a good way for someone in my line of work to end up out of a job, or in a straightjacket.

 

I’d grown used to him, as much as a man can grow used to the ghost of someone he’s killed. I did not enjoy his company, particularly his many moments of bitterness and anger, and feeling sorry for himself, and cursing me . . . But I did not detest his presence, either. He was certainly not the worst of my kills that could have visited me. Not by a long shot.

 

A few days after Lily’s visit, I had lunch with Ira Hadley, who was a good friend of mine and lawyer to a number of past and present inhabitants of death row, including Dominic Dupree. We sat at a table for two, and Dupree wandered around the cafe, sticking his fingers in people’s food.

 

“I feel like he’s haunting me,” Ira said, between mouthfuls.

 

“I’m honestly not,” Dupree called to me from across the restaurant.

 

“You’ve got to let him go,” I said. “He was a murderer. He was guilty. I know he told you he was innocent, but they all do. Most would swear on a stack of bibles.”

 

“I’ve never heard any swear as vehemently as him,” said Ira, tracing the rim of his glass of scotch with his fingertip. “I really think he was innocent. Why would you go back into the house you’ve just set on fire?”

 

“To make it look like you’re innocent,” I said.

 

“I honestly thought I could save him,” said Ira. He downed his drink, his second with the meal. His eyes were bleary, had been for about a fortnight.

 

“Don’t cut yourself up about it,” I said. “He deserved what he got.”

 

“Yeah,” Dupree said. “You tell yourself that, boss.”

 

It was another month at least before I saw Lily again. My life with my visitor went on as normal. He made sure to tell me he was innocent every day, just as he had when he was alive. I ignored him every day, just as I had when he was alive.

 

Lily returned on a cold night in December. It was after midnight, and it was raining. I had been trudging up the stairs to go to bed when the knock on the door came and I considered ignoring it, but she was persistent. She stood on the doorstep, wide-eyed and bedraggled, and I knew immediately that I should not have answered the door.

 

“He won’t leave me alone,” she said, and burst into tears.

 

“She must be seeing things,” Dupree said from behind me.

 

I put an arm around Lily’s shoulders and led her inside. She collapsed into an armchair. She was thinner than ever, and very grey.

 

“It was me,” she said. “Oh God, I’m so sorry. But he won’t leave me alone until I tell you.”

 

Dupree opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Eventually, he said: “No. No, it can’t have been you, Lily.”

 

“What do you mean?” I said. A cold feeling was settling in my gut, sharp and unpleasant like a blade.

 

“They weren’t supposed to be in the house,” Lily cried. “They were supposed to be at a slumber party. They shouldn’t have been there.”

 

“Rosie felt poorly,” Dupree whispered. “Jessica wouldn’t go without her.”

 

“What are you talking about?” I gasped.

 

He was going to get my girls,” Lily shrieked. “I couldn’t let him take my girls away.”

 

“I was never going to get custody,” Dupree yelled. “They always give the mother custody. You killed my girls? You killed my babies. Lily . . . Oh God, Lily . . . How could you?”

 

“I can’t take it anymore,” Lily said. She stuck her hand under her coat and pulled out a gun. “Dom is haunting me. Because I killed him, too. And I’m so sorry.”

 

Before I could say anything, Lily stuck the gun between her teeth and blew her brains against my wallpaper.

 

I sat, stunned, for a long time, staring at the corpse in my living room. When I came to my senses and looked around, Dominic Dupree was gone.

 

I stood up. My legs were shaking so hard that I fell back down. Lily’s corpse stared at me, her head cocked to the side, her mouth open.

 

After a few minutes, I controlled my shaking and stood up. I half-expected Lily’s corpse to do the same, but it didn’t move. I walked across the room and picked up the telephone just as Dupree strolled out of the kitchen. He had obviously been crying. I dropped the receiver in fright.

 

“You’re still here,” I gasped.

 

Dupree sniffed. “I told you,” he muttered. “I don’t know how to leave. You’re stuck with me.”

 

The gun fell from Lily’s limp fingers and landed with a thump on the floor.

 

 

###

 

 

Samantha McLaren is an 18 year old student of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. In 2010, she won the Scottish Book Trust’s Young Writers Awards and was mentored by author Cathy Forde. She has had work published in Sugar and ONE Magazine, and is currently working on a novel.