Melinda walks away again. She’s crying, again. Bile gnaws at my gut. The floor is saturated with her blood. It’s deep enough that it splashes a little under her feet.
In an amazing trick of the acoustics in here that I can hear each individual footstep despite the too-loud music coming through the walls. The neighbours are playing Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” on repeat, and it always skips just as the song gets to the climax. Over and over Pat sings “Fire Awe-weh-weh-weh-weh.” Eventually the song starts over.
As soon as the door closes behind Melinda, the phone rings. I let it. It’s George. It’s always George.
Without picking up I go into the kitchen and open the fridge. Maybe this time will be different. I wonder for the hundredth time how long I was away. There’s no way to tell except for the puff of green, stinking rot that puffs out from the refrigerator. There is nothing inside but an oozing boil that used to be a cucumber and a sandwich too far on its way to being something else to be worth putting in my mouth.
For the thousandth time I try the front door. The shiny new keyhole stares mutely back at me. I don’t have the key. I feel sure that I’ve lost it somewhere. Then I wonder if I’m only wondering that because it will eventually drive me crazy – at which point I remember that I won’t go crazy. With a nub of pencil that is more chewed eraser and sharp metal than wood, I make a mark on the wall. There are some marks above it, and there are some below it. They fade.
The phone is ringing louder now, and Pat is singing about her “real tough cookie.” When I go back to the couch, my feet track crimson across the floor. I pick up the phone. If I don’t, it will get louder and louder until my ears start to bleed. And I’ll still have to answer it.
“My God, Eddie. Thank God you’re home.”
“What’s wrong?” My voice is flat and hoarse in my ears. I can’t even pretend to care anymore. My body remembers though. I’m sweating and my breath is coming in short quick gasps.
“There’s been an accident, man.”
“What?” I say my lines. If I don’t, George will keep saying his last words until I reply; just the same as I replied the first time. Reply. Replay. Reply. Replay. Reply.
I put my hand to my chest and feel my heart pounding. Quit it, heart. This is old business.
“It’s… Oh God, Eddie, it’s Melinda… I’m so sorry.”
“George. Slow. Down. Man.” I wish I could tape myself and just play it back. This wastes energy I’m going to need in two minutes.
Three chords pound through the wall again. Hit me with your best shot! Why don’t you …
I can’t take it anymore. Fists flailing on the wall I scream, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, BENATAR!” A pause. “No, George. Not you.”
He didn’t really respond to my outburst, he’s already well into the details of the accident.
I wait until he’s done to recite, “Stay there, George. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
The call ends.
On cue, the doorknob turns. I can hear it even over the unholy caterwauling of the Queen of Pop Rock.
Melinda walks in and in the shadows of the doorway, I know that she is broken. She shambles down the hallway on shattered legs that shouldn’t support her weight.
“We need to talk, Eddie.”
Not “How was your day?”
Not even “Guess what happened to me today.”
It’s the same as it was the night she left; except now she comes back to show me.
How long ago was it? How long?
“Where is she, Eddie? Is she here now?” Melinda’s words are slurred. After work that night, Melinda went out with some friends, and drank wine until she was good and ready to come home.
She starts staggering toward the bedroom.
“Melinda,” I say. “Sweetheart…” My calm is gone. There’s no way to play this by rote, not with her here. “Stop. Melly, please.”
She turns her smashed face to look at me, tears mingled with blood and vitreous. I wonder with a small, perverse curiosity if the tears make it sting more.
“Don’t fucking ‘Melly’ me!” she screams, spraying red all over the wall. “How could you, Eddie?”
This is where she breaks down into silent, whole body sobs.
For the millionth time, I swallow the lump in my throat and walk over to her. She’ll stand there forever, leaking gore and misery onto the back of the sofa; until I say what I must; until I say what I said that night.
“Melinda,” I start, walking toward her “It was a horrible mistake.” I’ve tried different words, different tone, different gestures. Nothing changes.
“Get away from me,” she shouts, still sobbing.
I want to take her in my arms and bury my face in her clotted hair. I want to brush it aside and smell her skin. Somewhere under the carnage is the woman I’ve spent the last dozen years of my life with. Everything is my fault; everything. My dead wife stands in the living room, and the bedroom sheets still smell like her best friend.
“I’m going, Eddie,” Melinda raises her head. She’s as composed as she can be. “Don’t call me.”
And that’s it.
I didn’t stop her. I didn’t leave her with the apartment. And I didn’t, didn’t, DIDN’T say “Don’t drive.”
It’s my fault. My legs go limp and I’m kneeling on the floor, watching. Sick as it is, I want a drink.
That is the only thing that is different from the way it happened the first time. Ever since I woke up on the couch to the ringing of the phone, and the screeching of the Benatar, the liquor bottles have been all empty, and there are no pills in the bathroom.
After all, I wouldn’t want to do anything rash. Not again.
I miss my Melly.
“You come on with a come on, you don’t fight fair…”
Melinda walks away again. She’s crying, again. Bile gnaws my guts. The floor is coated in her blood. It’s deep enough that it splashes a little under her feet.
Catch up with Chris at facebook.com/Chris.Allinotte.Author, or get a huge dose of his short fiction in the collection “Gathering Darkness”, available wherever E-books are sold.