Beth ran out the door and slammed it, slicing off her husband’s shout of her name at its highest pitch. The door was solid pine set in a brick wall and it cut the scream neatly. She went from bellow to suburban morning silence: birdsong and muted traffic from the thoroughfare nearby.
The bowl he threw had popped her right in the eye (she checked in her car mirror), no cut but it’d be dark blue by the time she got to work, with a bright red ocular hemorrhage. She didn’t need this. Questions, people wanting to call the cops, just when she’d finally made peace in her home. But she couldn’t skip work. With Larry unemployed, every buck counted.
I deserve it, she thought. I’m a horrible wife.
When she scurried into Brockman’s Garage Doors ─ head down, mumbled greetings ─ it doused the office banter like a foul smell through the vents. Mrs. Grayson muttered “pathetic” when she passed, but most of the gang wouldn’t even look at her. Three months. Things had been just fine for three months, and this morning she got complacent.
She wanted to explain that it was all her fault, but no one would understand. They’d call the cops for sure, and she couldn’t bear to go home after that.
Beth brought up her spreadsheet of accounts payable and tried to make herself as small as possible in her chair, but that only delayed the inevitable, the inevitable being Missy Surgeon marching up and leaning over. Missy held Beth under the chin and moved her face to examine her eye. “You promised,” she said. “Three months ago. You said if we stopped coming over to check on you, if we laid off driving by your house, he’d calm down and this crap would stop.” Beth gazed up at Missy—Beth worshipped Missy. Many nights she’d cried herself to sleep wishing she could slip on her best friend’s personality like a trench coat. No man was ever going to hit Missy.
“It was an accident.”
“Like Hell it was.”
“Honestly, Missy, I swear. I was careless. It—“
“Beth, if you tell me it was all your fault, I will kick your ass myself.”
It is all my fault, she thought. I’m just no good. But she made it through work without another incident and sped home. She needed to get Larry’s dinner ready. Three months ago, she kept thinking, when Missy had told her one more black eye, one more wrist cast, and she was calling in the police. Beth got it to end then. It had been easy, once she put her mind to it. Just pretend I’m Missy, she thought—brash, confident Missy, what would she do?
Larry started screaming as soon as Beth walked in, but she ignored him. She had to make his dinner. She took a can of beans from the cabinet (times were tight, but that was Larry’s fault) and dumped them in a bowl. She’d saved some dead roaches from the traps, and she crushed them up and added them. What else? She thought a few nice shards of broken glass—a surprise mixed in.
She headed for the basement.
What Missy would have done was easy. She’d have gone to the hardware store. She’d have waited for Larry to come home drunk and stepped out from behind the door and shattered one knee with a swing of a bat, then stomped his crotch.
Down in the earth, Larry was chained and padlocked, covered in blood and filth, cracked running sores now dotting his skin. Christ he stank, his leg below the knee was rotting, which would probably kill him soon enough. Of course, that would bring a new set of problems—body disposal utmost. Maybe she’d call Missy, see how good a friend she really was.
Larry screamed and screamed, but no one was going to hear, down here in the basement, in a brick house with solid pine doors. She took her pellet gun from the wall hang and squeezed off a dozen shots, just for fun, to shut him up. She kicked his food over (not too close, like this morning, when he managed to hit her with the bowl), then took a piss in his water bucket, and kicked that to him.
“Just kill me,” he croaked. “You bitch.”
She shrugged on the way upstairs. Closed the door. He called me a bitch, she thought. That’s okay.
I deserve it.
I’m a horrible wife.