I’ll catch Susan smiling at me for no reason. This has happened more than once. We’ll be watching TV, just the two of us, like always. Then I’ll notice with the corner of my eye that she’s got her eyes at me, not at the TV. Head turned ninety degrees my way, a frozen smile on her face I can only barely make out in my peripheral vision. Something unnatural about it.
And then I turn to look and she’s got her eyes on the TV again. I asked her about it the first time, she denied it. I was afraid I’d sound crazy if I pushed it, so I never asked again.
There were other things, too.
Susan had a twin sister. Died during the birth. She never talks about it.
Just last week, I turned off my lights and closed my eyes, Susan was already asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night to find her side of the bed empty. I turned around and she had that same smile, by the side of the bed, watching me.
“Honey, what are you doing?”
Just the smile. She made way around the bed and nested herself under the blanket like it was nothing.
“How long were you standing there?” I asked. She didn’t answer. But her side of the bed was cold and the carpet was sunken in the shape of her feet where she was standing.
It didn’t start out this crazy — for a long time, I tried to convince myself it was all in my head. But it wasn’t. She was not Susan.
I started doing these little tests — that’s how I made sure. I’d put movies we’ve already watched on TV, just to see if she’d say anything. Started telling her stories that I told her already. She’d smile. Never called me up on it.
I asked her, point blank, one day. I got home and she was eating fish.
Susan never eats fish. Susan hates fish.
“Salmon?” I asked.
I sat on the table across from her. She smiled.
“I was talking to principal Dawson about Sarah, today.” I said.
“Yes. Our daughter. Sarah.”
She chuckled. “Right. What did he say?”
“Susan, our daughter’s name is Camille.”
She stopped the fork halfway to her mouth and rose her eyes at me. Slowly set it back on the plate.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m going to bed,” she said, getting up.
I slept in the guest room that night. With the door locked.
I ran away the next day. Took Camille with me. We spent the night at a Best Western close to Needles.
“Where’s mommy?” Camille asked, just before bed.
“I don’t know honey. But if you hear anything — any sound at all — you wake me up, ok?”
I dreamt of a woman just like Susan that night. A woman that wanted the life of her sister, the life she didn’t get.
Camille woke me up in the morning. She was eating a cupcake.
“Did you take that out of the minibar?”
“No, Mommy gave it to me. "
I paused. “Mommy was here?”
Camille nodded. “Yeah, she was standing right there by the bed. She was there for a really long time.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up, Camile?”
“I was going to, but then Mommy went like this.” Camille put her finger over her lips and went ‘shhh’.
I looked down. The carpet was sunken where Camille said Susan had been.
“It’s ok, daddy. She was smiling.”
The following night we were almost out of the state, at a bed and breakfast by the border. I turned off the lights, tucked Camille in and waited, sitting in the armchair, in silence. I knew she would come.
It was dead quiet, and I was dozing off when I heard the hinges creaking. I opened my eyes and waited. The door came open in slow motion. She came in, no sound but the door. Walked to the side of Camille’s bed. That smile on her face.
I got up. I went behind her. She couldn’t see me, her eyes were locked on Camille.
“Come on, honey. We’re going home,” she whispered.
She didn’t look back. She never even saw the knife when I plunged it in.
The lawyer later would tell me I was awarded no bail, and I’d have to wait for trial at the mental institution.
“Capgras syndrome,” he said. “It’s a delusional misidentification syndrome, not unlike Fregoli. A disorder in which the person holds the delusion that a friend, spouse, parent or family member has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.”
I told him I was protecting my daughter. I told him that woman wasn’t Susan. Still, the newspapers all read ‘Successful L.A. Engineer kidnaps daughter, murders wife.’
“It wasn’t Susan!” I said to him, again and again. “It wasn’t Susan!”
He said I was looking at twenty-five to life, but the insanity plea might still come through.
They locked me in last night, my first night at the mental institution. Camille is with social services, they say. My room is covered in cushion material, from wall to ceiling — a padded cell, they call it. So I won’t hurt myself.
Took me a couple of pills to fall asleep.
Something woke me up just minutes before dawn. By the time I opened my eyes, it was dead quiet. I went to the door and peaked out through the little window. The corridor was deserted.
I looked back. Just by my bed, the cushions covering the floor were sunken in the shape of two feet.