The next several days’ worth of entries in Mage’s journal detail her efforts to restore her physical appearance and to relieve the pain knotting in her shoulder. In her words, she was trying to: “Reverse the effects of the nanny’s curse.”
She was smart enough not to try to solve her problems with dark magic this time. But it seems to me that she only learned half of her lesson. The unlearned portion related to how much of the situation she thought she could control. Or rather, she hadn’t even learned how out of her control it had become.
In any case, progress was not easy. Her right shoulder was now heavier, taking the hunch in her back from subtle to unmistakable. She was also experiencing a dull pain in her hip, which forced her to take awkward and uneven steps when she walked. The wrinkles on her skin couldn’t be concealed anymore. It was as if something were being inflicted on her.
Henry called her every day with the same question. “When are you coming home?”
Every time she couldn’t give him a clear answer, he grew more upset.
The ordeal had left a terrible mark on his psyche. His resolve was tested each time he repeated and reinforced the lies to their two children. Each successful lie magnified his guilt.
Mage had to coach him on the lies and reassure him there was an end in sight. Helping Henry cope was proving to be harder than taking care of the nanny.
He called one night while she was trying to figure out if the esoteric book on occult transformation spells had any substance to it.
And that night, she couldn’t take his questions, his weakness, anymore.
“Why is this so hard for you?” she snapped over the phone. “It’s just like turning off the lights when you leave a room. Just work at it and eventually you’ll break the habit.”
“What are you talking about?”
She was tired and in pain. She shouldn’t have to always make perfect sense. Why did she always have to do all the work? For everyone.
“This sulking is a habit and makes this whole situation more difficult than it needs to be. I need to focus, Henry. I need to fix whatever she did to me. Just break the habit of sulking the same way you broke the habit of leaving the lights on.”
“I’m not talking about my mood.”
“What?” Had she missed something? Her head was a fog. She looked back down at her book but couldn’t recall which paragraph she left off at. When Henry didn’t respond, she added, “What is it? I don’t have time for this.”
“Fine. I never started turning off the lights. It’s not a habit. I think it’s unnecessary and stupid that you get upset about something so trivial.”
The line went cold while they both rearmed themselves for the next round. Mage knew Henry had turned off the lights because she saw the lights were off in the den the day she paid the nanny. He must be lying, unless someone else turned them off.
And then Mage contemplated something she hadn’t before. She closed the book and smoothed her voice. She didn’t need a confrontation, she needed cooperation. Henry had information she needed to understand the events of that day.
A calm Mage asked, “Henry, where was the phone?”
“That day. The day you learned about dark magic. Where did you leave the phone?”
“I don’t think I used it that day.”
An edge returned to her voice. “Think harder, then.”
He did not follow her directive and immediately replied, “I don’t know. What kind of question is that?”
“A fucking important one!” She calmed herself in the silence that followed, then added, “After I left, when did you use it next?”
“I ordered pizza for the kids that night.”
“Think carefully. I need you to remember exactly where you found the phone.”
Henry took his time before answering. His voice was indifferent when he finally responded, “On the charger.”
“Oh, shit” was how she started swearing. It continued for some time. Not at Henry, but at the situation.
“Mage, what’s the problem?”
“When I was there, I couldn’t find the phone. It wasn’t in its charger.”
“So, one of the kids put it back.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No, they do it all the time. They know how upset you get when you see it off the charger. They put it back to keep the peace.”
It was logical. It made sense.
But it did not comfort her.
“Henry, why did you come home from work in the middle of the day?”
“Because you called… I mean, she called me and asked me to come home.”
“Did she give a reason?”
There was energy in his response. “She, ah, wanted to…” and then his eagerness stumbled, “um, be romantic.”
“Oh God, you came home for a quickie.”
“I feel terrible.” His heartache was clear over the phone.
“Stop it. Stop feeling guilty about it. You weren’t cheating.” She spoke over his sobbing. He was inconsolable.
Her question returned to her, and she continued, “Henry, do you know the combination to the gun safe?”
“Not the one I set, but the new one.”
“Ya, I think so. Why?”
“Could you check to see if the gun is inside.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Just check it!” she snapped.
In the few minutes of silence while he checked, Mage’s irritation at her husband’s inability to follow instructions grew. He didn’t need to ask so many questions. Just do what she asked.
He picked up the phone and answered, “I can’t believe this, but it’s not there.”
Mage swore away from the phone’s receiver. She didn’t want Henry to hear her.
“Mage, why isn’t the gun in the safe? Where is it? Are we in trouble?”
She forced herself to sound calmer than she actually was.
“Look, I need you to think carefully, clearly, about that phone call from the nanny that day. I need to ask you a question about it, and it may help with getting everything back to normal.”
He collected himself.
“Where was she calling from?”
“She called me from the house.”
There had been no hesitation. No moment for reflection.
“What do you mean?”
“She called my mobile phone from the home line. I remember it clearly because I thought it was so strange. Why didn’t she use her cell like normal? And the call itself was, you know… memorable.”
Mage had left the nanny’s cell phone on her desk as a reminder to cancel the contract. And then she put it all together.
“Henry, I think the nanny may have used the same duplication spell I did.”
She expected him to realize the gravity of the situation, but his response was chipper. “You mean, she’s still alive?”
“Don’t sound so hopeful. But it sounds like she was in the house when I took care of the one.”
“So, she could have attacked you at any time?”
He was right. She may have even had the handgun ready, or she could have picked up the one carelessly left on the breakfast bar. The nanny, the real one, could have left her hiding spot and shot her in the back with either of the two weapons.
“No. She needs me alive for some reason.” She wasn’t positive, but she needed Henry to keep it together. Any distressing news would send him into a panic and make him useless. But it didn’t stop him from starting down that path.
“What about me? What about our children? Does she need us alive?”
His whining made her lose her train of thought.
“Will you shut up! If she wanted any of us dead, she would have done it by now.”
Henry returned to his sobbing, and Mage returned to her scheming.