Short Stories: Weak
An interesting note on Google Adsense for this. When I have used it in other places, it kept coming up with terrible links to male enhancement drugs, often with unsavory slang for the male member. It makes me wonder why Google doesn't stick to their own guidelines when they accept ads for their program.
Well, anyway, this looks like a good spot to post this again. It is now here exclusively. I hope you enjoy it!
By R. G. Nestle © 2005
The door closed a little too loudly. The keys clattered in the little brass bowl, which sat on the hallway stand, a little too sharply. Dick clamped his hand over the gewgaw his ex insisted on buying although it had no form of aesthetic appeal. Why he had ever bothered to pack that tarnished eyesore and then put it back in its original place near the front door, he would never know.
He took the keys out of the bowl again and set them next to it on the hall table. That’s better, he thought.
He stood in the dull air of the early afternoon for a moment and drew a deep breath against the world outside, then didn’t even bother opening the closet as he passed by, but simply tossed his coat onto the knob—just the kind of thing Jane would have exploded over. No one put her house in disarray while she was alive!
He walked into the living room and he took pause. Between the door and the living room the feeling that something was out of place jabbed at his brain. True, everything was out of place since the move, but now something seemed to be in the air—something familiar that he couldn’t quite get hold of. He craned his neck to the side until it gave a satisfying “crack”, then continued through the living room and entered the kitchen.
While his little Nelly was at her friend’s party, Dick was going to take some time to have a hot drink and take it easy.
There was a full week left before his new job was to start and there was still so much to get done. But this short time all by his lonesome was sacred, and he was going to enjoy it.
Dick reached down and opened the drawer under the oven to fetch a pot. Habit. He knew there were no pots under there yet. With a sigh of exasperation he turned to the large box on the counter clearly labeled “oven” in Nelly’s crooked, first-grader’s scrawl and grabbed a small sauce pan to fill at the sink.
A moment later and he had it on the stove, turned the knob to “high,” and walked away. He hated electric stoves and didn’t want to wait as it warmed up. One of the first things he planned to do was get the gas connected to the house. Yup, right after all of the other first things I’ve got to do, he thought.
Wandering back into the living room, Dick picked up the box that contained items from his office: the stapler, a soldering iron for his computer repair business, some computer cables he had absolutely no use for since he went wireless, and some of his important papers. As he moved it aside, one of the flaps ripped in two and sent the contents to the floor.
“Dang it.” he sighed. He thought of Nelly’s "swear" jar she started for her mother and himself. He had to chuckle with the memories that jar brought. As always, though, his memories--this one of Nelly asking, “Was that a naughty word, daddy?” when he slipped and swore in front of her--were fouled by the more recent memory of the "swear" jar flying across the room at little Nelly’s head. That was the swan song for his marriage. He could deal with his wife striking out at him, but once that she had threatened the well being of his daughter, he wouldn’t tolerate her another second.
Dick had always been a mild tempered man, even meek, but like a cornered rat, all the fight he had in him was brought to bear.
More of those unkind memories were brought back as he picked up his fallen possessions. A memory he had forgotten about a long time ago; It had been a year and a half since the restraining order against Jane had been granted, although it hadn’t been an issue since she was put in prison for trying to kill him with the family car six months ago. Yet, there it was, lying on the floor like the ineffectual sheet of pressed pulp it was.
It certainly didn’t keep her from taking their Civic and playing bumper cars with his body. Only the fact that Jane had never learned to drive a stick properly saved him from months of rehabilitation or even death. One stall switching from first gear and accidentally into third and the car lost enough power to only put him in bed for a few weeks while he recovered from his injuries.
Picking the box up again he moved it to the mantle where he meant for it to go in the first place. Then, plopping himself down on the couch in its place, he grabbed the remote and turned on the tube.
Nothing on again—nothing at all.
He began flipping through the channels hoping that something would catch his eye.
After a few slow clicks, he came across the local news. He had the sound muted so he didn’t have to listen to the onslaught of all the ads that told him he was a looser if he didn’t buy their products, but, when he saw a bus from the woman's prison that had turned over on the highway, Dick almost dropped the remote as he brought it forward to press the mute button again to bring back the voices to the TV. A brief moment and he righted the remote and got the mute to turn off.
“…ive this morning,” said the anchor. “The Sheriff’s department isn’t releasing a much of information at the moment, but they have said of the three fugitives, that the two who have been recovered may also be charged with murder since Officer Newbaum, the driver of that transport bus, died at the hospital after the attack. We’ll have more on this story at the bottom of the hour.”
Dick frowned at the TV without blinking. A terrible lightness grew in his head, just behind his eyes, and he began to realize how hard he was gripping the remote when it gave a dull creak and the battery door popped open.
Standing and looking around the room, he fumbled to put the remote back together, but gave up and tossed it onto the couch where he had been sitting. He reached over and turned the TV off. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t want to be in the house any more.
There was a groan from the house and Dick jumped, jerking his gaze toward the ceiling.
He took large strides around the couch and toward the front door, but when he reached for his keys by the terrible bowl, he froze.
Not behind the bowl, not in it, nowhere!
He checked his pockets once and then again, but the keys weren’t there either. Tracing his path to his coat, he checked those pockets too. Nothing.
His pulse began to race. The kitchen. Nothing there either. Where can they be? What…
A strong whiff of perfume came to his nose. That familiar French woman’s cologne that he hated, but which Jane loved. It was accompanied by another sound from the old house, but this was close. Dick tried to swallow and found his throat too dry.
He heard his keys rattle just behind him and he turned slowly, his heart pounding and his body shaking, to see Jane standing in the kitchen doorway.
Neither Dick nor Nelly had ever wanted to see Jane again, but especially not this way.
She held the keys out in front of her with one hand, dangling on a finger by the key ring. She shook them again and kept looking at him with her patented “I loathe your very existence” stare. That stare which was usually followed by some invective filled tirade about order and civilization’s future without it.
But Dick knew that there would be no over the top speech now, no screaming fit to tell him what kind of idiot he was because he didn’t hang his coat on the same hanger every time. No. There was a look behind her stare that was unfamiliar and more frightening than he had ever seen. So frightening that his words were choked silent in his throat.
“See what happens?” Jane said. She took a step toward Dick and dropped the keys to the floor.
Dick managed to take a step back and keep Jane at a little over arm’s reach, but his head was fuzzy and he couldn’t look away from her face as she approached.
Jane was grinding her teeth and the lines in her frown made her look older than the 35 years she was. Her lips were dry and cracking, the skin turning white on the edge of the fissures forming there. From these lips she spit a curse that would have sent Nelly running to her room in tears.
Dick found his voice and stuttered out, “Jane, you need some help…” He had intended to follow this with a ruse such as “…to hide from the police”, but he was cut off before he could get that far.
“You’re the one who’s gonna need help, Dick!”
She took another step forward and Dick took another step back. He was almost between the table and stove again. He knew what he needed to do.
Jane’s hand, the one that hadn’t been holding the keys, was hidden behind her prison smock and she now brought it into view. In her long, thin fingers, her knuckles white with strain, she clenched an antique straight razor. It was part of a toiletry set Jane had purchased on one of her many outings to the thrift shops back in their old home town.
The handle was beautiful: deer antler with a hunting scene carved on its rough surface, silver fittings polished bright. But all Dick could see was the razor’s edge shining in the cold, fluorescent light of the kitchen.
“You are so pathetic, Dick,” she said. “Weak and pathetic! And yet I can’t seem to get rid of you.” She took another step. “Why is that?”
Dick countered her step and felt tears welling up. Why was he so “weak and pathetic”? Although he was small in stature, he never felt particularly weak, not until the final years of his marriage in any case.
Now he was feeling extremely weak and very pathetic.
“You’re not getting out of this house alive, Dick!” She spoke his name like an expletive. Another step. “I’m going to slit your throat, then I’m going to stand here and wait for you to bleed out just to make sure you’re dead.”
Dick stepped back again. The stove was in reach now and he was ready to grab the pan, hopefully catching Jane off guard. If he didn’t, there was little hope of him getting away. Both exits for the kitchen were behind Jane and she was a substantial obstacle.
Jane looked behind Dick to make sure that he didn’t have his mind set on some kind of weapon. When she had made sure he couldn’t defend himself, she struck.
As she raised the straight razor above her head, Dick spun, grabbed the handle of the pan he put on the stove to boil, and swung it in a smooth arc in Jane’s direction. She stopped in her tracks. The expected scream of pain which was to mark Dick's chance to escape, did not come.
A moment passed before the look of disbelief on Jane's face gave way to one of further, heightened rage. “What...are...you...doing?”
Dick looked back and saw the power light for the stove was not lit. After only two days in the place, he and Nelly had simply eaten out. It never occurred to Dick to check and see if the stove was plugged in. Now his heart sank and he thought he might pass out from sheer hopelessness. The approaching gray of unconsciousness faded as Jane came for him and slipped in the water at her feet. She went down, the razor flailing blindly at the air.
Jane desperately slashed at Dick’s feet, trying to inflict any kind of damage she could so he wouldn’t be able to get away, but Dick had no trouble avoiding her attacks, standing on dry floor. He took his chance to skirt the kitchen table and dashed for the back door.
“Come back here!” Jane shrieked. She tried righting herself with great difficulty as Dick wrestled with the stiff lock. He turned it hard and the deadbolt knob broke loose of its setting, turning freely in the case.
Jane took hold of the table and used it to stabilize herself. She dashed to stand between Dick and the doorway to the living room, blocking his escape again.
She was on the power trip of her life and wasn’t going to stop till she felt that ultimate ecstasy when she knew for a fact that Dick was dead.
“You’ve got a lot of pain coming to you, Dick. I’m going to make sure that you get every ounce of it.” She didn’t bother approaching slowly, this time. She lunged forward, the blade zeroing in on its mark.
Without thinking, Dick drew back from the blow and felt the broom, which was sitting in the corner where he’d left it earlier that morning, against his back. He took it and swung at Jane, trying to counter her attacks.
His first blow knocked the razor out of Jane’s grasp, sending it spinning off under a chair by the table.
Dick didn’t wait to see what Jane would do next. He brought the wooden handle down on her head as she looked to the lost razor. She dropped to her knees and held her head where the scalp was beginning to trickle bright red blood. She shrieked with burning ire and began to rise to her feet again. But, when she had barely gotten one knee up, Dick brought the handle down again and she crumpled under the blow.
Jane tried to support herself on her elbows and he struck her repeatedly with a new found rage and purpose that he had never known before and would not remember afterward. He beat her until she no longer moved and the rare fight response, which had been using him as a puppet, faded as sanity slowly crept back into his head.
His breath came heavy and hot to his lungs as he leaned over her flaccid body with the broken and bloodied broom handle. The thick smell of copper in the air began to turn his stomach as he drew in each gasp. He shook horribly as the last of his adrenaline rush left him.
There was so much blood! The wall, floor, table, and counters were all splattered with it and the crimson droplets were now running toward the floor and pooling. He couldn’t believe how much blood he saw. Could person hold that much blood in their veins?
No more worry. No more danger. No more…mother of his child.
Dick found himself saddened as he thought of his daughter’s face when he would have to tell her that her mother was dead. How could he say to her that he was the one that killed her? How could he look Nelly in the eye and say what happened was an accident? Didn’t he want that horrible woman dead? Wasn’t there a little bit of sadistic satisfaction when the broom handle came down on her head and he felt the first crack of her skull?
Now panic gripped him and made him act, moving him with a dull sense of purpose that wasn’t really his own.
Seeing how close Jane’s body was to the refrigerator. he grabbed the folding step ladder from its storage space nearby and opened it. Maybe the investigators would think she had had a terrible, freak accident while trying to get something out of the overhead cupboards. He kicked it to the side, opened the top cupboard, and then he put his back into tipping the fridge over onto Jane's already battered skull.
Dick almost vomited as he tried to look away from his ex-wife’s lifeless body. He didn’t know what he was going to do next, but he didn’t think he had much choice in the matter. Something deep and dark within him was in charge now and he moved solely to Its will.
In the living room was the box with his soldering iron. He grabbed it and went back to the kitchen where he used it to melt into the plug where the fridge had been powered. The cord was long enough to reach from another, nearby plug, and the tip was small enough to fit into the plug-slot without much trouble.
He held it there while the plastic and decades worth of paint drippings began to smoke. Every moment he expected an electrical shock or a breaker to blow out, but he kept the iron from going too far into the socket which stopped those premonitions from coming to life.
After an indeterminable amount of time, the plastic and paint did what he had expected—they combusted. A small flame at first, he kept the iron at its station to make sure it would continue burning the surrounding material.
When, at last, the flame began burning the wallpaper above, he removed the soldering iron and headed for the sink.
There on the floor, where the blood and water mixed, sat his keys. With unnecessary caution, in an attempt to keep from spreading any errant blood drops, he picked them up and took them to the sink.
He washed the keys and himself off. The blood seemed to be spreading.
Dick smelled so much smoke that he feared being caught by the fire. He looked back over his shoulder and saw the flames spreading up the wall much faster than he had anticipated.
He cooled the soldering iron, making sure only the tip touched the water.
The faucet off, the soldering iron’s cord wound back up, and his keys shaken dry and put into his pocket, he made his way past the rising flames and into the living room where he replaced the iron amongst the other items from his office box.
Looking to the kitchen with all the smoke pouring through the doorway, he ran to the front door and grabbed his coat on the way.
The whole house would be ablaze shortly and with it everything he and his daughter had ever known, but he knew he couldn’t take anything with him or he would look suspicious. He hesitated for the shortest of moments and then opened the door into the world beyond.
Leaving it unlocked he took off through the bushes, leaving his car in the drive.
He could easily make his way out of the neighborhood through the ample foliage that grew near the side of his house and surrounded his block in the form of a green belt. No one would notice him until he came back through the streets. It would look as if he had been out for a walk the whole time and that’s what he needed. He would hope for the best. He couldn’t expect it, but he could hope and he could wait—like the weak man he felt he was.