As she extinguished her last cigarette in the ashtray, the ten from earlier in the evening rolled to the middle, welcoming the new fallen comrade. Parting smoke billowed in Helen’s face as she waved her right hand in disgust. Her left hand still clutched a glass of red wine. She turned the stem upward and paused as if more Merlot could trickle out through gravity alone. As soon as the neighbors turned off their last porch light, she rolled her eyes and lifted up from the couch.
“What the hell?” she cried, noticing her husband’s dirty plate from earlier sitting on the kitchen counter, far from its rightful place in the dishwasher.
Her beagle, Teddy, raised his head out from under his blanket, alerted by the tone in her voice. He sensed her frustration, so he stayed in his bed, watching her every move. Before Helen turned off the lamp, she opened the front door hoping his truck would be pulling in the driveway. But she only found an empty pad of cement and a cat watching over his shoulder with each step as if the world was out to get him. She rolled her eyes, turned off the front porch light and locked the door. Less than three steps away, she paused and changed her mind, turning the front light back on.
“Going to bed. Be careful!” she texted her husband, Everett.
Helen shuffled back to the bedroom, contemplating where he may be as he read her message. He is damn lucky to have such a wife, she mulled in her head. She placed her phone on the empty pillow and crawled in the king size with Teddy. He situated himself in Everett’s spot, stretching out his lazy dog legs.
“I promise I won’t be out long, but don’t wait up,” were her husband’s last words before he left with the guys that evening.
Helen waited up anyway in hopes he would come home early, wanting to be with his wife for a change. She now regretted that decision. The blinking green battery light of her cell phone pulsed in the dark room like a lone buoy on the sea’s dark horizon. She stared at the beacon from the opposite pillow. Teddy grunted as he tried to re-situate.
“Well excuse me, mister,” she said as if Teddy’s frustration had been directed towards her.
A distant flash of light rumbled soft thunder. Immediately rain began popping at the windows as if the lightening had just pierced the saturated clouds. She picked up her phone, making sure she did not miss a reply text from Everett. But nothing new appeared, just the time displayed as 12:35 a.m. in white numbers against the black screen.
“This is ridiculous.”
She dialed his number. But it went directly to his voicemail.
“This is Everett, you know what to do,” the recording spoke abrasively in her ear.
“Uh,” she growled, annoyed at his careless tone.
She threw the phone back onto the empty pillow.
“Why the hell would he turn his damn phone off?” she questioned the night, staring up at the fan blades circling her head.
The rotations made her sick. She checked her purse for another cigarette, and then recalled smoking the last one earlier—so much earlier, a lifetime earlier. She dropped her purse to the floor. Teddy gave out another grunt.
“Oh cool it!” she said, lifting the sheets.
He cut his eyes at her. Helen covered him back up and rolled on her side convincing herself, as usual, that there was nothing left to do but close her eyes. The rain became more consistent on the window. She could see the lightning through the thin membrane of her lids. She closed them tighter, trying to force sleep. But it was hopeless, her thoughts ran back and forth through her head like a parade of rowdy children mocking her: two written proposals due on Mr. Matthews’ desk by 9 a.m.; need light bulbs, dog food, lunch meat; Everett shouldn’t be drinking, I should have stopped him from going out, I’ve got to start cracking the whip; Teddy needs his heartworm pills refilled; my mother will be in town next weekend; need to clean bathrooms.
Helen lifted herself up from the bed and found the Ambien in a bathroom drawer.
“I should’ve done this two hours ago,” she said with frustration.
She swallowed one pill and listened to the spring wind moan with the sheeting storm. It shouldn’t be long now, she thought, turning on the television while crawling back in bed with Teddy.
She skipped over the infomercials looking for a soothing background that would help guide her gently into the night, ultimately settling on a documentary about the Civil War. The narrator’s monotone voice floated over the grainy dark pictures.
Will not be long, she repeated.
Helen checked her phone one last time in hopes of a comforting reply. But still just the time staring back, insulting her, telling her how late it was on a work night and what a pushover she had become. To avoid her frustration she focused on the fading stills of Confederate soldiers hunkering down in the earthworks, eyes closed, shielding themselves from the onslaught.
Not long, she sighed again, fanning her lashes.
Then as if placed in another space and time, a violent gust shattered a window in the kitchen, breaking the muffled silence of the night. She heard glass rain down into the sink. Her heart pumped rapidly. Teddy did not move. The front door then opened bringing in the night’s frustration. At first she feared the wind flung it open, but then heard her husband’s drunken movements ricochet throughout the house.
“Honey, is that you?” Helen questioned the darkness, her voice cracking.
He did not answer until he reached the entrance of the bedroom. She could only make out his massive silhouette at the door.
“Hey babe. You awake?”
“I am now. Are you alright? Did you break the window?”
“I think I might’ve hit someone.”
“At the window?”
“Are you awake, babe?”
“Yes, Everett. Tell me what the hell is going on?”
“I think I might have hit someone tonight.”
“Lord, did you get into another fight?”
“I think I may have hit someone on my way home.”
She blinked twice in the dark as if to forget and refocus, “What do you mean?”
“Everett! Yes!” she threw off the covers as if escaping.
“I think he was homeless. He was walking beside the road and the minute I came up near him to pass, he tripped or something and fell right into my path.”
Her feet hit the floor, “Oh Jesus Christ! What are you saying?”
“Are you awake, babe?”
“Everett, did you hit him?”
“Yes. He rolled off the front side of my truck. I am…I’m pretty sure of it, but I wasn’t at the time, it was raining, so I—”
“So you what?”
“So I kept going. I just kept driving. I didn’t look back to see.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Well, you seem to know now! I told you to quit drinking and driving, Everett, goddammit! You already have two DUIs in the past three years; you know you can’t afford to do that shit! You shouldn’t be drinking at all!”
“Are you awake babe or still asleep?”
“I swear to all that is holy, Everett, I—”
“I won’t disturb you if you’re asleep. I was just seein’ if you were in the mood is all. Go back to sleep now, babe.”
“Don’t you dare say that shit! Don’t you dare! I don’t believe what you’re saying right now, you’re drunk!”
She jumped up from bed, leaving Teddy hiding under the covers. Worried that Everett would try to stop her, Helen sprinted to the kitchen and turned on the lights. The night-covered window projected only her frenzied reflection.
“How could he do this to us? How? I knew it! This man—I don’t know this man. I really don’t. This is the man you hear about on the news and wonder who could love such a disgusting prick of a man—a slimy, heartless beast! This man, the man I thought I loved and cared for all these goddamn years! How do you love a man like that, let alone live with him?” she cried, biting her nails. “But I can’t say the signs weren’t there. They’ll ask me, and I honestly can’t say that I didn’t know. I knew he’d do something to ruin everything eventually. I just didn’t want to believe it. All that I’ve done and sacrificed for him. What a piece of shit!”
Helen turned on the kitchen sink and splashed her face with a handful of cold water—then remembered the window breaking earlier and stepped back, raising her arms slowly, looking for the glass in the sink.
But there was not a trace.
Confused, she looked around the kitchen and the den, turning on lights as she went. All the windows remained intact as the rain continued tapping against them. Without thinking, she opened the front door and walked down the driveway. The pines swayed on the wind like marionettes, leaning down to her shoulder as if to tell her a secret. The night had come in such slow deliberate motions, but it now felt so fast and uncontrollable. She didn’t see Everett’s truck parked anywhere. Just still the empty concrete pad. And cats. She was sure cats were everywhere, watching. Pine straw then fell in her hair causing her to jump and swat as if spiders were crawling up her neck.
The wind driven rain pushed Helen’s small frame back inside the front door. She turned the lock. Silence fell upon the room and her mind. The rainwater marked her steps as she returned to the kitchen. For the first time she noticed Everett’s keys sprawled on the counter with his wallet and a card for a taxi. She tried to catch up with the images and thoughts, but was slow to understand anything. She crept back to bedroom. Only the flashes of white light from the television could be seen.
Everett and Teddy were in the bed, wrapped securely within the thick covers. Helen stared at the blinking television, not sure what to do next.
Then Everett rolled over, “Babe, come back to bed, it’s 4 a.m. What the hell are you doin’ awake?”
copyright © 2014
Samuel K. Wilkes is an attorney, writer, and musician living on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, Alabama.