Denise Marois and Amy Souza

Amy Souza
Old Town
Digitally manipulated photograph
Inspiration piece

The Trust Department
By Denise Marois


We are, after many delays, finally in the lawyer’s office, and from where I stand by the window I can look out at the people hurrying along the sidewalk five floors below. There are men with loafers and women in sneakers carrying briefcases, coats flapping, bodies tilted into the November wind. A woman in a stylish tweed coat and heels rushes up the sidewalk with a baby carriage. She struggles with its wayward wheels as it tries to tip or pull her into the road. Looking down, I see that the carriage is filled with newspapers and shopping bags.

Behind me sits our lawyer, a young, pale man with large hands and thinning hair named Henry. He is seated at the conference table tapping his pen on some papers that are placed in precise stacks before him. He does this tapping, this mathematical arranging of paperwork, when he is nervous, unsure. My husband, Max, is looking over documents, his head in his hands, wrestling with indecision.

Now, soon, I will know. If my husband loves me, he will do this thing, this one thing I need. I am resolved in my superstition. It is all up to the next few minutes.

Henry taps his pen and says, “are you sure you want to go through with this, Mrs. Worth? You’re taking a big risk. This type of adoption sometimes doesn’t work and it can hurt you financially. Domestic is the hardest of all.”

I turn, annoyed, to face Henry. His expression borders on benevolent. He means well, is cautious by nature. My husband remains hunched over the papers and I wonder if he’s going to sign or vomit on them. He’s taking a long time to decide.

We have no children. Our hopes have been grabbed up, rolled into stained towels and tossed at us with a shrug. Month after month I watched Max grow weaker, more disinterested, diminished by effort that yielded nothing but disappointment. I suspected I was being punished, and I sometimes thought there was verification on his face.

When I was a child, my great uncle Fred told me I was bad and did not deserve to go to Heaven. He’d been trying to convince me that devils exist, breathing his whiskey breath on me with stories of shadows reflected in glass where demons hid, waiting for you to step on a crack or toss salt over the wrong shoulder. I called him a liar and he said someday I’d know. I’d be sorry when a devil snatched me. He said, they will make a meal of you, starting with your heart.

Some days I wake up with my hands shaking on the covers, and think I hear them, rustling in my bathroom cabinet. I think they laugh as they toss around my bottle of antidepressants, empty my shampoo in the shower or smear my face cream all over the mirror. I am wound up in failure; my heartbeat flails in my ears.

But on other mornings when my husband has touched my cheek and left the scent of his cologne on the pillow, I wake to cotton stillness. Then my heart is all silence, my insides so quiet I cannot detect even a thrum of a beat. I cannot feel the blood in my temples or sense the rise and fall of my breathing. And I think, divesting of my heart doesn’t seem like such an awful fate.

Some days, I just wait. I do not know for what.

One day not long ago, after Max had once again come home late from work, I was on the phone with my sister, Eloise. I told her how sometimes when I look at my husband, I see my flaws written in bold script across his smile. That this person he claims to love is a shell hiding a dark, selfish, needy woman who will drain the life from him. Someday that woman will force her way out, and that night he will not come home.

Then Max was behind me, his hand on my shoulder. He bent over to kiss me, but the hurt in his eyes left a taste of metal in my mouth.

I watch an airplane glide over the city toward Boston’s Logan Airport, leaving a fine cloud trail across the cerulean sky, a map marking its progress. When I was young I imagined clouds were solid, that I could leap from one to the other across the entire world. Then I grew up and learned that clouds are nothing but mist and stepping on one leads to a long and fatal fall.

It is growing toward dusk. Shadows move across the windows of the building across the street. I am waiting, listening for the scratch of a signature, but the room is silent except for the occasional tap, tap of the lawyer’s pen.

The sign on the building across the street reads Legal Trust Department, a name I find confusing. I did not know there was a single department filled with lawyers working on trust. I imagine them bent over their folders, tapping their pens, reassuring clients who wait with open hands and dry lips. It is a pale building that would be nondescript if not for a string of wrought iron balconies that decorate the second floor windows. Each one has a curlicue design in the center, the way cemetery gates are often decorated. I imagine they are all in line to audition for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, a row of balcony hopefuls yearning for some brief romantic interlude to interrupt the monotony of their work, decorating second floor windows.

Tap, tap, tap.

A little girl and her mother come up the street by the Trust building. The child tugs at her mother’s arm, points to something in a window. Her mother shakes her head, tries to draw the girl away. The child’s hat flies off. She has no hair. I press my palms to the glass, lay my cheek against its cold surface. I shut my eyes and wait, willing my breaths to come slow, even. When I open my eyes the girl, her mother and the hat are gone.

The truth is, I do believe in devils. I believe in UFOs, alien abductions and things that hide under the bed. I believe demons live inside shadows, watching, that at twilight, especially in autumn when the world is creeping its way toward death, ghosts float up out of the ground in search of some vestige of earthly life. At least I believe those things exist for me, that I am marked, that the faces of darkness are turned toward me, and the moment I stop believing in them, they will become real and manifest themselves in my life. Here in the lawyer’s office, or down on the street, in my bed. Darkness does not discriminate.

Outside the wind is picking up and a paper bag does a salsa up the street. I can hear Max breathing into his hands, blowing on them the way he does when he’s tense. Someone from the Trust Department races out into the street, grabs the dancing paper bag and tosses it into a bin next to the door. Dusk has lowered its head and the sun’s rays bounce with a blinding precision off the upper windows of the Trust building and straight into my eyes.

I turn, rubbing my eyes, and in the corner I see a dark figure crouched on its haunches. It grins. It is ready to spring. And then it is gone. Max looks up at me. I am trying to blink away the dark, my vision trapped between two worlds. He takes up his pen. He holds it over the form. I wait. I wait. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Note: All of the art, writing, and music on this site belongs to the person who created it. Copying or republishing anything you see here without express and written permission from the author or artist is strictly prohibited.