Original Story With The Black Smoke Following, published 3 September 2014
Rated MA for Violence
Courting Flesh and Blood
She looked at him with his gym-coaxed muscles straining the fabric of a Pabst Blue Ribbon t-shirt. His dark hair, his almond eyes, his sly smile. Her chest tightened. Her legs loosened. She put the pen on top of her copy of the receipt. She slid it across the bar. Their fingers sparked as the bundle changed places. She watched his hands pick up the pen and turn the paper to the blank side. She watched his fingers grip the pen, his hand sliding across the paper. He folded the receipt with his name and number facing in and looked up to catch her watching him.
“It took me a week to call you,” she said. She rolled over to her side, pressed her naked body against his, and rested her hand on his stomach.
“I know,” he said, lying on his back with his fingers clasped behind his head. His eyes closed.
“I didn’t want to date anybody.”
“Do you now?”
He slid his arm under the nearly unnoticeable weight of her, wrapped it around her back, and hugged her close. They lay silent. The summer breeze pushed at the curtains. Traffic, children, birds filtered through. She closed her eyes and settled against him.
She got out of the car wearing a sundress and flip flops. She stretched her arms above her head. She arched her back. She stood on tip-toes. He swept her up in his arms.
“I love you,” he said. She leaned in and kissed him.
He waited until he shut the door behind him before he reached for the switch. She watched the shadows in the light from a candle.
“Wait.” Her hand traced the length of his arm and pulled his hand back. He picked her up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.
The flame flickered in the wake of bodies settling on the couch and danced with the shadows until they fell still.
She ignored the whimpers waiting for him to get up according to his promise: if she did day duty, he would do night. He didn’t sleep much anyway.
“You can’t be in this house alone,” he had said. “What if someone breaks in? You could be robbed, raped, assaulted….” She agreed to what he wanted: a purebred female with thick muscles and a tight jaw.
The puppy whined, scratched the door. The puppy skittered across the room and put her too-big paws on the bedside and pulled at the blankets.
“Take that dog out,” he said. “You need to learn how to take care of things.” His breaths returned to deep and peaceful. She took the dog out.
The ceremony was simple. She said yes to the marriage, but no to the court house and arranged for a minister to marry them on a Friday night in the banquet room of a local fare restaurant. The lone table was set with fine dining ware and glasses of chilled wine on pressed and folded cloths covering the table in delicate waves. The lights were set low. A small stage was under a hanging blown-glass sculpture. A server followed them into the room and whispered he would return in twenty minutes so as not to interrupt the wedding. He backed out of the room, sliding the frosted glass doors shut, and everyone took their places.
He reached out and grabbed her by the throat and pulled her to within inches of his face. He scowled at her, gripping her neck tighter as the anger escalated. She tried to pry his fingers away. As quickly as he grabbed her, he let go and threw her back towards the wall. She gasped for breath. He grabbed her by her hair and dragged her to the patio doors. He opened the door and threw her outside. He shut the door and locked it. When the lights went out, she climbed over the railing and to the bushes where she had a plastic bin hidden and retrieved her flattened pillow and threadbare blanket.
Breakfast was artfully prepared: fluffy eggs, sliced avocado, crisp bacon – plated as a smiley face – and ice cold orange juice. While she ate he rubbed tiger balm on her neck and shoulders, taking care to be gentle where he’d constricted. He kissed the top of her head, hugged her from behind, and, once she finished her food, lifted her from the chair, carried her into their bedroom, and loved her fears away. He let her nap. He straightened the house, and planned a long-weekend, beach resort vacation he never intended them to take. He woke her in time to cook his lunch.
He pulled up to the single glass door marked For Patient Exit Only. She pointed outside when she saw the car. The nurse pushed the switch and the door swung open. She wheeled her to the edge of the sidewalk. He was still buckled into his seat, sitting turned slightly to look out the passenger window with his left arm draped over the steering wheel. The nurse opened the car door and helped her into the seat. Once settled and buckled, the nurse shut the door. He pulled away from the curb and drove all the way home without once saying a word.
“Quit calling me an asshole.” He stomped towards her.
“Quit being an asshole.” She stepped towards him. He lifted his arm and stopped her advances with the tip of a knife against her chest. “I’m filing for divorce November 1,” she said.
“You are not filing divorce,” he said. “You will lose everything.”
“You are more than welcome to file October 31.” She walked away and into their bedroom. He followed her, still holding the knife. He turned her to the side and slammed her against the wall. He took hold of a fistful of hair and pulled her to the floor. She curled into a ball. He straddled her body, raised his arm, and came down thrusting the knife into the carpet.
He handed her a dress, and a little pink bag with a matching set for underneath. He put tasteful heels on the floor and ushered her into the bedroom to change. She emerged feeling every bit of beautiful, and confused. He stood waiting holding a single red rose wearing perfectly pressed pants and a collared shirt. He kissed one cheek, then the other. She took the rose in one hand and he took her other in his. He opened every door for her, he pulled out her chair at the restaurant, and he let her have one glass of wine to celebrate he would change her mind and she would stay.
He took two leaping steps at her, fists balled. His brown eyes turned black. His hair stood on end. His jaw clenched and his lips tightened. She stepped back into the wall, and then he was on her, in her face.
He turned her from the wall and pushed her backwards across the room, yelling in her face. He snapped her back and the closet door gave way under the pressure of her body flung like a basketball against a wall. She fell.
He straddled her as she tried to stand up. He kicked her ribs. She fell again. He wrapped his arms under her and lifted her with gentle care, going only a few motions at a time, until she was standing again.
His arms were filled with roses and chocolates. “Sit, sit,” he said, and shoved the bounty at her. He went back out to his car. She sat, not daring to eat a chocolate or smell the roses. He returned with arms filled with shopping bags from the bookstore, the shoe store, the dress shop to replace what he had thrown in the trash. Not a single item of his apology shopping spree, nor any from previous apology shoppings, was boxed up on the day she drove away to meet the shelter worker in the grocery store parking lot.
The life she left was in flames. Their war waged behind closed doors with cuts and bruises concealed with clothing and makeup, stories and lies. Once she was defeated he took them farther south, and they left Atlanta in ruins with the black smoke following. Then, in the first moment he let down his guard, she ran five states north. There she remained for two years, until the fires crested and crashed, then she returned to Atlanta as one returns home after the smoldering fires, having nothing left to burn, have smothered themselves and the only choice is to rebuild.
Any thoughts or feedback? This story has been worked and reworked countless times. This particular version was for a contest submission, and was, as usual, put in the rejection pile. I went out of order for this post. Yesterday (8/8) was the 6 year anniversary of the day I left my abusive marriage for good.
Six years has passed since I last locked the door to our marital home. It was hardly a home. A cardboard constructed set, all pretty and done up on the outside and splintered boards on the inside. Door locked. Life left. Fear packed in with toys, blankies and jammies, and a single thread of self, knotted and pocketed to start a new life, a safe life.
Featured Image is mine.
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