Vinegar & Salt


"Sometimes it's better to lie.
I am the vinegar and salt
and you are the oil that dissolves my frustration."

- Hooverphonic – Vinegar & Salt


The house sat on half an acre of suburban land, once quaint, now quiet, haunted rather than homely.

In a time passed, the lawn used to be neatly trimmed, cut once a week, on Saturdays before the sun was high enough to make work all but impossible in a sweltering heat, and beds of flowers circled the foundation, a band of lilies and tulips and chrysanthemums to add a more feminine touch. Plastic lanterns flanked the cobblestone walkway leading up to a wooden porch upon which sat a pair of wicker rocking chairs swaying back and forth in a gentle breeze, and tinted bird-feeders hung from the eave trough, tempting everything from sparrows to hummingbirds and the odd squirrel. The siding was white, accented by red shutters and black shingles. A classic looking house boxed in out front by a white fence and sign that said, in curvy print: Sunderlands.

Out back, the sloping yard thinned to mulch and dirt beneath the shadow of towering pines until it reached the small lake. Glassine and forever calm, it was the perfect spot to sit on a blanket while watching families of geese and swans drift passed like paper boats.

But now, the white paint and red shutters had started to fade and flake, leaving an ugly memory of happier times. Flowers wilted and rotted beneath the house, the lawn was unruly and overgrown with weeds which had begun to seep between the cobble stones and crawl along the house like demonic claws in desperate escape from the depths of the earth. The porch was warped and rotting, the chairs stolen long ago. The feeders were not visited anymore. The windows were covered in cobwebs and curtains and the sign at the end of the property had lost its allure.

After a breakfast of cold toast and strawberry jam that tasted a little too tart, James Sunderland, looking much older than his years, rinsed the yellowing plate in the sink and left it in the plastic strainer to dry. He didn't care that there was still a smear of jam around the edge, or that he'd dropped most of the crumbs on the floor.

He didn't even see it really; he hadn't turned a single light on in a week. He hoped the darkness would help him sleep, but it never did. Worry kept the sandman at bay; worry and that incessant coughing that kept her awake too. So he spent the late hours sitting beside her bed – they slept separately now; it was what she'd wanted – on that old chair that made his spine ache, alternating between holding her hand, tucking aside sweat-dampened hair and dabbing her fevered face with a cloth he soaked in ice water.

It'd been almost a month since he'd gone outside, and that had only been to pick up some non-perishables from the convenience store down the road. The house smelled musty and damp and their heated bodies – his and Mary's – in the small space, made the air thick. It was a cesspool of dirt and disease but he just didn't have the energy to vacuum or sweep or even open a window. He didn't have the energy for anything anymore.

The floorboards above creaked and through the thick ceiling he heard Mary's muffled coughs. Their intensity used to make him cringe. It didn't bother him anymore.

Beside the sink, he picked up an old porcelain bowl, filling it midway with cold water. From the freezer, he took out five ice cubes and dropped them in one by one, spilling droplets on the counter. Holding it precariously straight, he started up the stairs, kicking dust from the carpet fibres.

Upstairs, he turned and entered the guestroom. It was sparse, furnished only with a single twin-sized bed and wooden chair. The window looked out over the lake, visible just beyond the trees. It was supposed to be the baby's room, if they'd ever gotten around to starting a family. The bed was to be Mary's when it couldn't sleep at night and needed her comfort. The walls, off white and plain, were to be painted pink or blue and covered in plush letters and borders of baby circus animals. Toys, colourful plastic cars and plush bears and sets with educational factors were supposed to explode from boxes and baskets.

But instead, this was her tomb. He saw immediately that she'd soiled herself. Liquid vomit stained her cotton pyjama blouse. Where once it turned his stomach, seeing and hearing her regurgitate her food, it didn't bother him now. Instead, he hooked an arm around her weak neck and another under her knees. He brought her to the bathroom at the end of the hallway and sat her on the toilet seat.

His fingers made quick work of the buttons, caressing the soft skin beneath. It'd been months, maybe years, since he'd last touched her sensually, longer still since they'd made love. They tried, but it was difficult between her coughing and shaking and the guilt of working her too hard. So those moments came fewer in between, eventually stopping altogether.

His eyes started to wander, when he went outside, seeing women in tight shirts, their breasts falling gloriously from their necklines, and skirts that offered a wonderful view when, or if, they bent over for a closer look at something. He felt dirty, sinful, betraying his wife like that, even with a thought.

Soon she was naked, little more than skin stretched over skeleton. It used to break his heart, seeing his love, once healthy, with bumps and curves in all the right places, so frail. Now, he'd gotten so used to it, she almost looked beautiful.

Mary shivered and her hands shook like old tree branches in the wind, even as he ran warm water, over her skin, flaking away the dried sweat and vomit and other questionable fluids. When she was clean, he dressed her in new pyjamas and brought her back to bed.

Neither of them spoke; she never did unless she had to and he'd determined long ago that false hope didn't do either of them any good. He pulled the blankets up around her again, tucking them beneath her tightly to cut out any drafts and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. She smelled rancid, of sickness and death. It didn't bother him.

"I love you, Mary," he whispered, even as he lifted her head just enough to pull the fluffy pillow out from under her.

Her eyes rolled around in her head, and she murmured something. Probably that she loved him too. He knew. That's why, despite the conviction he'd woken up with that morning, his vision blurred in the darkness.

The fabric covered her face with such speed, he was barely even aware he'd done it. Something else, he decided, took over at that point. All the energy she seemed to have lost in those years returned like a violent gale, and her arms and legs whipped back and forth. Her fingers clawed into his back when he sat on her hips. It thrilled him, in the moment, the pressure of her nails in his skin, her body's convulsions under his weight.

As quickly as it began, it ended. Mary was still, her hands falling limp at her sides. James held the pillow over her face a little longer, then pulled it away. She was already paler than before, lips slightly parted and quickly turning blue. He checked her pulse, found nothing, and got up.

He thought seeing her dead would send him into a frenzy of screams and wails, but the tears that fell down his face did so silently. He thought he'd shake, but he was still. He thought he'd vomit, but his stomach was calm. He thought it would bother him, but it didn't...not anymore.


Disclaimer: All Silent Hill characters are property of their rightful creators.