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Text and Design Copyright Š 2018 by Tara DuNaier All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Printed in the United States of America First Printing January 2018 Old Library Press, 2018 Old Library Press Plattekill Avenue New Paltz, NY 12561


Coming to Terms a veiled shadow zine

by Tara DuNaier


CLASSIFIED TO ALL PERSONNEL CASE NO. 698478 INCIDENT 645 “COMING TO TERMS” SUBMITTED BY LEONARD JAY

1300 10 OCT 2016

“Now say it back to me, Lily.” “Hunter Gray. Six months. Iraq. Caught in stray gunfire, shot in the head.” Even as she recited what she had been told, something itched in the back of her mind. Something protested, unyielding. She shoved it down. It didn’t matter what she thought, it didn’t matter how it sounded. It didn’t matter how unlikely the story was—true or false, he was dead. She had seen the plane, she had seen him fly home in the casket. She had watched them put him six feet underground, leaving six feet for her on top in the cemetery plot. She shoved the protest down to sit with the ache in her stomach. “Plot B, 1143 Emerson Way, Saint Mary’s Cemetery, Wolf Trap, Virginia. 22182.” He nodded. “Good. Good job today, we’re making progress.” He checked his watch and closed the folder on his lap. “Our time is up, I’ll see you next week.”

1400 10 OCT 2016

Lily opened the front door and was greeted with a loud bark and heavy paws. She leaned down, getting a kiss and a wet nose on her cheek. She rubbed his head, watching as he pulled back to look behind her for anyone else coming in the door. Six months later, and he was still waiting for him to come home.


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Lily buried her hands in his fur, kissing the top of his head. “Me too, Max,” she whispered. She stood up and pushed the door closed. He knew they were going for a walk as soon as she started tying her sneakers. He started running circles around her, letting out a few excited barks. She hushed him, and he stood quietly in front of her with his tail wagging. She finished and grabbed a leash off the wall: purely for show. Max hadn’t needed a leash since he was a puppy—far too well trained and attached to his owners to run off. She took her keys and opened the door, letting Max run out first and locking the door behind them. On the street Max stopped for a light sprinkle at their mailbox, and then trotted off a bit ahead to sniff some trees. Lily followed behind him down a few blocks, until they reached the park. With a bark Max ran back to Lily, prancing alongside and waiting for her signal. She nodded and they took off, running in a perfect, practiced stride. Lily pumped her arms at her sides and put on her game face—Max ran with a wagging tail and a flopping tongue. They made it half a mile down the line of trees when Max turned sharply and took off into the gardens barking. “Max!” Lily yelled, racing after him. “Max!” The golden retriever barely heard her, speeding away on four paws with sudden disregard for his owner. He jumped over a flower bed and plowed right through another, Lily stumbling as she tried to catch up. Finally he slowed, jumping up onto a bench and right into someone’s lap. “Max!” Lily screamed, cursing after her dog. “Max, get down!” she commanded, tripping to a stop before the bench. “MAX-“ Lily froze. Max had knocked the man’s newspaper down and leapt onto his lap, coating his face in slobbery licks. The man caught Max, scratching his head and then telling him to sit. Max sat


698478.645 “COMING TO TERMS”

immediately, and the man turned his dark eyes on Lily. Her mouth moved without sound for a few moments; he didn’t offer anything up. He just sat there, his eyes filled with apologetic guilt. “Hunter?” she finally managed in the ghost of a whisper, desperately searching his face for something. “Leo—” he started, reaching out for her. The name knocked the breath right from her and she stepped back, confusion and hurt flickering through her eyes. Only he called her it, a fond reference to her bright lionheart. But he shouldn’t call her it, because he shouldn’t be here. He should be dead. He was dead. “Don’t call me that,” her voice trembled. He was dead—he couldn’t be here. “Lily—” he tried again. “Six months,” she started, her hands trembling. This was her subconscious’ cruelest trick yet. “I know—you weren’t—” “Six months—” she tried again, squeezing her eyes shut. “This wasn’t supposed to happen—” “Six months. Iraq. Caught in stray gunfire,” she recited, hands clutched together. “Lily? What are you saying?” “Plot B, 1143 Emerson Way, Saint Mary’s Cemetery—” “Lily, stop—” She shook her head. “Wolf Trap, Virginia. 22182.” “Leo!” he stood up and grabbed her shoulder. “Don’t touch me!” she erupted, shoving him away from her. “Six months!” her voice shook. “You’re dead! You’re supposed to be dead!” “I know!” he yelled back, distress painting his face. He started to reach for her again and stopped himself. “I know. Please—you weren’t supposed to see me.”

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“I wasn’t supposed to—” she broke off, disbelief snatching her words. “I wasn’t—you’re alive!” “Lily, please calm down. We need to move, this isn’t the place for this.” “This isn’t the place—?” she echoed. “It’s not safe—you know that.” “I watched them put you in the ground!” “I know.” “Oh, you know? Were you there?!” she yelled. He sighed heavily, looking at her. “You were there?!” she thought of the small crowd, the hushed words and cold tears. “You let me—I thought you were dead!” “Please,” he started, looking around. “We can’t do this here.” “You let me bury you,” she spit, eyes burning. “You let me think you were dead for six months—do you have any idea what I’ve gone through? Do you have any idea what you did to me?” “You were never supposed to find out I’m alive—” “Is that supposed to make me feel better?” “Leo—” he stepped closer. “Stop!” She shoved his shoulders away, “Just stop! You think you can just show up after being dead for six months and Leo me? I buried you—I mourned you and I grieved for you, and I let you go—” her voice broke and she turned away, looking up at the sky. The changing leaves blurred before her, and she covered her face with quaking hands. “I’m sorry.” “You’re sorry,” she whispered to the trees. “I’m sorry. I didn’t make this call, please, this was out of my hands. You know if I’d had any say in it, I would have come home—” “I know?” Lily took a deep breath and turned back to him. “I don’t know anything, Hunter. And I’m guessing you


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“I wasn’t supposed to—” she broke off, disbelief snatching her words. “I wasn’t—you’re alive!” “Lily, please calm down. We need to move, this isn’t the place for this.” “This isn’t the place—?” she echoed. “It’s not safe—you know that.” “I watched them put you in the ground!” “I know.” “Oh, you know? Were you there?!” she yelled. He sighed heavily, looking at her. “You were there?!” she thought of the small crowd, the hushed words and cold tears. “You let me—I thought you were dead!” “Please,” he started, looking around. “We can’t do this here.” “You let me bury you,” she spit, eyes burning. “You let me think you were dead for six months—do you have any idea what I’ve gone through? Do you have any idea what you did to me?” “You were never supposed to find out I’m alive—” “Is that supposed to make me feel better?” “Leo—” he stepped closer. “Stop!” She shoved his shoulders away, “Just stop! You think you can just show up after being dead for six months and Leo me? I buried you—I mourned you and I grieved for you, and I let you go—” her voice broke and she turned away, looking up at the sky. The changing leaves blurred before her, and she covered her face with quaking hands. “I’m sorry.” “You’re sorry,” she whispered to the trees. “I’m sorry. I didn’t make this call, please, this was out of my hands. You know if I’d had any say in it, I would have come home—” “I know?” Lily took a deep breath and turned back to him. “I don’t know anything, Hunter. And I’m guessing you

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can’t tell me? You’re not authorized to tell me?” He fell silent again, his eyes heavy. She nodded, folding her arms between them. Her mouth twisted, jaw tight. “That’s what I thought.” “I’m sorry.” Guilt dragged his voice down. “Please, come with me. Back home, I’ll tell you everything I can. I’m sorry.”

1430 10 OCT 2016

She locked the door, hanging her coat on the rack and taking a minute to stare at his, right where it was supposed to be. When she turned around he was with Max next to the fireplace, standing in front of their wedding photos. She stepped over, and they stood together in silence. Eventually he reached out and straightened the photo of them at the altar—it had hung crooked for months, Lily unable to touch it. “Doctor Stevens said I should think about taking them down.” “…Maybe he’s right. Is he helping?” “Helping me believe a lie?” she asked quietly, glancing at him. “He knows, doesn’t he?” “He was supposed to make it easier,” he answered. She nodded, arms folding tightly. “Nothing can make it easier.” Hunter turned away, wandering through the kitchen and the hallway. Max followed him for a few steps, until Lily moved to the couch. He hopped up next to her, dropping a heavy head into her lap and licking her hand. Hunter stepped back into the living room, turning to her. “Do you remember when you asked if I wanted to get married, and I got mad at you?” Her fingers caught in Max’s fur. “Of course.” “Do you remember what I said to you?”


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Why would you want to marry me? I can never fully be with you—you will never know all of me. I can never tell you what happens at work, I can’t tell you what I do when I’m away. There’s a side of me you can never know. I have to keep secrets from you, I’ll always have to. That’s never going to change. Do you really want to live like that? I chose this before I met you, and it’s too late now. “Do you think I’d forget?” she asked quietly. “Do you remember what I said?” Do you think I care about that? Do you really think I care about what you do from nine to five every day? I know who you are—whatever government you’re taking down or whoever you’re being contracted to kill doesn’t change who you are to me, it doesn’t change how I feel— Don’t say that—you have no idea what I’ve done. I don’t care! It doesn’t matter! Hunter turned away from her, covering his face with a large hand. “I should never have let this happen.” “What is that supposed to mean?” “This—us—I shouldn’t have let it happen.” “You shouldn’t have let it happen,” she repeated dully. “It got so out of hand—this was never supposed to happen.” “You mean we were never supposed to happen?” “We were so young, Lily.” “You think getting married was a mistake,” she filled in. “No—” “You just said so! We were a mistake, all of this was a mistake!” “I didn’t mean it like that—” he insisted. “There’s no other way to mean it, Hunter—” “I fucked you up!” he spun on her, his face contorted. “I fucked up the rest of your life—I did! I did that!” “What?” “You’re not living—you’re alive, Leo, but you’re not

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living! You’re stuck, and you have been for six months—“ She withdrew into the couch. “How do you know?” “I’ve seen it—I’ve been watching you—” “You mean stalking me?” “I don’t think it counts as stalking if you’re my wife.” “I don’t think I count as your wife if you’re dead.” He rubbed his forehead, shifting feet. “I’ve been watching you because I was worried this would happen.” “You were worried I would care about you?” “I was worried I would destroy you.” His words struck her across the face, stunning her into silence and lodging themselves in her throat. The ache in her stomach stretched, the hollow nothingness that had filled her for the last six months making itself present once again. Her eyes turned to the ground, the carpet blurring. He was here, but he was still dead. “Congratulations,” she whispered, the word much sharper than intended. She could feel him looking at her. “Do you think I wanted this?” She shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “Do you think it didn’t kill me to do this to you?” She couldn’t stop herself—the words tumbled out in wounded spite. “Well, you’re dead,” she told the carpet. He nodded, and moved to sit on the couch next to her. A moment of silence passed between them. Hunter wiped his face and Lily tried to remember how to breathe. “The last thing I—I—If I had known that I would meet you, I never would have taken this job. I would have been a trainer, or a painter, or a cook—anything but this. Something where I would never have to leave you, where I could come home to you every night and I wouldn’t be putting you in danger just by being near you. Something where I wouldn’t have to keep everything a secret, where I could tell you anything I wanted. Something where we wouldn’t have


698478.645 “COMING TO TERMS”

living! You’re stuck, and you have been for six She withdrew into the couch. “How do you know?” “I’ve seen it—I’ve been watching you—” “You mean stalking me?” “I don’t think it counts as stalking if you’re my wife.” “I don’t think I count as your wife if you’re dead.” He rubbed his forehead, shifting feet. “I’ve been watching you because I was worried this would happen.” “You were worried I would care about you?” “I was worried I would destroy you.” His words struck her across the face, stunning her into silence and lodging themselves in her throat. The ache in her stomach stretched, the hollow nothingness that had filled her for the last six months making itself present once again. Her eyes turned to the ground, the carpet blurring. He was here, but he was still dead. “Congratulations,” she whispered, the word much sharper than intended. She could feel him looking at her. “Do you think I wanted this?” She shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “Do you think it didn’t kill me to do this to you?” She couldn’t stop herself—the words tumbled out in wounded spite. “Well, you’re dead,” she told the carpet. He nodded, and moved to sit on the couch next to her. A moment of silence passed between them. Hunter wiped his face and Lily tried to remember how to breathe. “The last thing I—I—If I had known that I would meet you, I never would have taken this job. I would have been a trainer, or a painter, or a cook—anything but this. Something where I would never have to leave you, where I could come home to you every night and I wouldn’t be putting you in danger just by being near you. Something where I wouldn’t have to keep everything a secret, where I could tell you anything I wanted. Something where we wouldn’t have

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to rush—we could take our time being together and getting married because there would be no worry something might happen to me like—” “Hunter—” “I’m so sorry, Leo.” “I asked you. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew this wasn’t going to last forever.” He sighed. “This is exactly why I didn’t want to marry you. The last thing I wanted was you to be a widow at twenty-four.” She frowned, looking over at him. “The last thing I wanted was to lose you.” He reached for her hand—waiting for her to untangle it from Max and accept the gesture before taking it—and held it tight. “I’m with you, Leo. I’m always with you.”

2300 10 OCT 2016

She could barely see him except for a slight outline; the night cloaked them in darkness. His hand wrapped around hers, his other twisting a piece of her hair. She strained to see his face. “You can’t tell anyone you saw me, no one can know I was here,” he started. “I know,” she whispered. “I’m still dead.” She nodded. And then, “How long will you be dead?” “Leo…I’m dead. Dead people don’t come back.” His words hung in the darkness; she knew what they meant. He was alive, but he was dead. Today was never supposed to happen, and it would never happen again. She could feel him slipping away. “I love you,” she threw out in desperation. He pushed his forehead against hers, nodding gently. “I


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to rush—we could take our time being together and getting married because there would be no worry something might happen to me like—” “Hunter—” “I’m so sorry, Leo.” “I asked you. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew this wasn’t going to last forever.” He sighed. “This is exactly why I didn’t want to marry you. The last thing I wanted was you to be a widow at twenty-four.” She frowned, looking over at him. “The last thing I wanted was to lose you.” He reached for her hand—waiting for her to untangle it from Max and accept the gesture before taking it—and held it tight. “I’m with you, Leo. I’m always with you.”

2300 10 OCT 2016

She could barely see him except for a slight outline; the night cloaked them in darkness. His hand wrapped around hers, his other twisting a piece of her hair. She strained to see his face. “You can’t tell anyone you saw me, no one can know I was here,” he started. “I know,” she whispered. “I’m still dead.” She nodded. And then, “How long will you be dead?” “Leo…I’m dead. Dead people don’t come back.” His words hung in the darkness; she knew what they meant. He was alive, but he was dead. Today was never supposed to happen, and it would never happen again. She could feel him slipping away. “I love you,” she threw out in desperation. He pushed his forehead against hers, nodding gently. “I

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know, Leo.” The name brushed over her, rolling across her face and into her hair. He brought his lips up and kissed her forehead. “I love you, too.”

0700 11 OCT 2016

She rolled over, stretching her back and reaching out to the other side of the bed—and coming up short. Her eyes flicked open and winced at the daylight coming through the windows. Pulling her eyes open, she found the bed beside her empty and neatly made, as she found every morning that he was not here. But he was here, she thought, yesterday flooding through her. Lily slipped out of the bed and Max woke up, jumping down from his place at her feet and following her through the house. The front door was locked, and all the windows were closed. There was no jacket on the rack except hers, and everything in the kitchen was in its place. In the living room, the pictures made her stop. The smiling couple at the altar was crooked again, their world hanging sideways by a thread. She left it there, unable to bring herself to touch it. Lily took Max for a run, and the park benches were empty. The bright leaves had all fallen to the ground overnight. Max barked at no one. The message was clear, screaming at her from every angle. Alive or not, he was gone. Alive or not, she would never see him again. Alive or not—he was dead.


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