Loved to Death

Jim Garner wanted to murder his wife, Dana. Even from the grave, he may get his way.

She turned. Jim was right behind her. He raised the gun and fired, and a bullet tore through her right forearm. Just like in the movies, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. She glanced down and saw the blood leap from her arm. She looked back at Jim. The sun, which had been hiding for days, broke through the clouds, and a ray caught the metal of the gun. It looks pretty, she thought.

She could smell the gunpowder. It smelled good. She looked up into Jim's eyes, but she didn't see him. Those red eyes belonged to a demon, glaring at her as he raised the gun to shoot again.

God help me. God help me. As she prayed, the voice in her head ordered her to move. She was running toward the bushes in the far corner as Jim fired. The bullet missed her. Dana had a crazy notion that if she could reach those bushes, he might waste all his bullets. He might not kill her.

But Jim caught her before she could get that far. He flung her to the ground, put his foot on her back. Pinned, the fight left her. She knew she was about to die. The voice spoke once more: Move your head.

Suddenly there was an enormous sound in her ears and a heavy pressure, as though a hundred-pound bag of cement had fallen on her head. She felt an intense, searing heat.

Dana closed her eyes, then opened them again. She saw Jim turn and walk away. If he looked at her, she was ready to close her eyes again, but he never looked back. Instead, he walked to the sliding glass door, went into the house and closed the door behind him.

She waited maybe thirty seconds. There was the sound of another shot. "Oh, please, God," she prayed, "don't let it be Ben."

Her head on the ground, she concentrated on the grass before her eyes, marveling at how green it was. Minutes passed, and no other sounds came from the house. Dana flashed on where she was the day Nat King Cole died, and for the first time in thirty years remembered a wish she'd made then. I guess I'll be on the radio and the television, she thought. Then she waited for the end.

Dana was five, maybe six years old and riding with her father in his '59 Ford convertible. The sun was warm on her hair as she stood next to him, her arm around his shoulders.

Dana loved her dad. He was six feet tall, with blond hair and blue eyes like hers and a winning smile that made everyone like him. He was just plain fun to be around.

As usual, her dad had the car radio on. The music stopped abruptly, and a moment later an announcer said that Nat King Cole had died. The singer was one of her father's favorites, but that wasn't why Dana paid attention. She was intrigued that someone could be so important that the radio would stop the music to announce his death to the whole world. How wonderful, she thought. I hope that when I die, they say something on the radio.

Dana wanted to ride around in that car with her father forever--and she had no reason to think those days would end. But then her parents began to argue.

At first the battles were fought with bitter words. Then objects started flying through the air, and in the final days of the marriage, her father--that gentle, loving man--struck her mother. How could you hurt someone you loved? Dana wondered. Her parents divorced when she was ten.

After that, her father didn't come around much. It was as though she and her older sister and younger brother didn't mean anything to him anymore. When he remarried and began a new life with a new family, Dana grieved. Maybe if she had been a better girl, this wouldn't have happened. Maybe it was her fault.

With her father gone, there was little money. Dana's mother moved the three children into a small apartment. For years they lived practically on top of one another. All the kids worked to help make ends meet.

In 1972, with the children pitching in, Dana's mother finally was able to buy a home in a quiet neighborhood off East Hampden Avenue. After the cramped quarters of the rented apartment, the house was a dream come true--not only because it had more space, but because it was theirs. Each tree and bush they planted, every flower box they built, every curtain they sewed, was a labor of love.

But the house couldn't protect against heartache. Two years after they moved in, eighteen-year-old Dana was asleep in the house when the telephone rang at 3 a.m. It was her stepsister. "Your father's dead," the other girl said, then hung up.

The next day Dana went to her dad's house. His new family had already gotten rid of most of his belongings; all that was left was his motorcycle and an old pair of riding gloves. She could see how her father's hands had molded the gloves. Placing her hands in them, she could almost touch him again. There was nothing else--it was almost as if her father had never existed. She took the gloves with her.

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