She stood over his corpse, five smoking bullet holes stared up at her, accusing. One round for every card she’d received while being treated in the ER for her broken jaw, the broken arm. The small fracture to her eye socket when she ducked and took the left hook on the forehead instead of the mouth like a good girl. Each visit, a concerned nurse trying to broach the subject, there are places you can go and other women have survived this. Handing her business cards for shelters, places that only take battered women and children. Places no man could find her. Five cards, all thrown away.
“Thanks,” she’d say through fat lips and loose teeth, “but this really isn’t what it looks like.”
They dated six years. The first two were a fantasy. Flowers, special visits to work – back when he allowed her to have a job – and talk of the future. Then her dad died. And when he was buried, so were her adoring boyfriend’s inhibitions for his possessiveness. His rage. No daddy around to protect her. She was all his. A trinket. Accoutrement.
After that, his drop-in visits became less of a sweet surprise and more of an attempt to catch her fucking her co-workers right there on her desk. He would roar and go on tirades about he knew, he just knew she was doing something. Then he forbade work. Made her quit. No two weeks notice. Nothing. There one day and gone the next. As abrupt as a massive stroke. She was his girl; he’d support her. She moved in because he said to. She shacked up with him and he gave her an allowance. Sometimes. When she was a good girl.
She’d roll away at night and sob quietly. Not every night, but a decent amount. She would thank him when he allowed her to wear make-up. His birthday and their anniversary. Special occasions.
Sometimes he’d watch her go to the bathroom. Looming like low-grade nausea.
Standing over him she screamed, “You know what it’s like having diarrhea in front of some asshole who is constantly demanding to know if I’m faking the discomfort so I can make phone calls in secret? Do you? DO YOU!”
Standing over him she sobbed and still pointed the gun, shouting, “My mom stopped calling her own daughter because you’d answer the phone and tell her I didn’t want to speak with her! The lies you told her! All those things I never wanted to say and you made me!”
Holding the same gun in her hand right now that he had the night he barged in on her in the shower, yanking back the curtain and stuffing it into her temple until her head slammed against the wall. He ordered her to admit she knew he was allergic to cumin and why would she cook chilli with cumin in it. Was she trying to kill him? Was she trying to get him out of the way so she could run off with somebody else?
He always accused her of being a whore, and here he was, cheating. Sure, he’d been gone at nights for the past few months, but he’d come home drunk and she always figured that was the cause. That and not the fact he was railing some other broad.
She created fantasies for herself where he’d come home so trashed he’d miss one of the concrete porch steps and fall forward, chopping his forehead into the edge of the last step. Sometimes he died in that dream and she was free. Those thoughts scared her. The freedom was more suffocating than the tyranny. Other times he was just a vegetable and she could care for him because she loved him dearly but now she wasn’t afraid of another ass-beating. Still other times he was just cut and he was so moved by how loving and tender she was that he changed. A deep, true, soul-redefining change. Changed out of gratitude.
But today he came home at the regular time and gave her five twenties – twice the money he issued out for groceries. He smirked and said, “Take your punched-out and haggard pussy and hit the road.”
“Make room,” he said as he walked past her. “I got somebody better, somebody who will treat me the way I deserve to be treated.”
“But I can do that,” she mumbled, and her entire world shattered. He was horrible, but he was everything. And he was actually giving her money and telling her to hit the bricks. “I can do that.”
Over his shoulder, in the kitchen rooting for a beer, he blurted out, “She’ll be here at three so you need to shag ass. I want you gone so she won’t see you and think I was slumming before her.”
The gun was under his pillow. He always told her he kept it close. He gave some stupid threat as a reason but it got lost in the well all those other threats fell down into.
It was an out-of-body experience. All she knew was that her left hand was holding the healed-over broken jaw which would ache in cold weather and her right hand had the gun in it. She thought it did anyways; the tears were distorting everything she saw.
The first boom was scary. The second, liberating. The third, deserved and the fourth made her hungry for more. He was on the ground, facing to the ceiling as every thread of his soul was exiting up and into the sky. Before the last thread was gone, while it was still in the room where it could see, she made that fifth boom and blew his face wide open.
“I promise I can treat you that way,” she said, feeling free enough to run away, far off into the horizon. But instead she sat down in the now-devastated home they made and filled with their particular brand of love.
She sat down and knew she'd pissed away her good years on him and his clenched teeth and his jealousy.
She laughed like broken glass and thought maybe it would be better if she cried. No tears would come. Instead, she just waited until three o'clock.
Ryan Sayles is Midwestern and prior military. He has been previously published on sites such as Shotgun Honey, Nefarious Muse, Powder Burn Flash, Flashes in the Dark and has an upcoming story in Yellow Mama. Under the pen name Derek Kelly he has been published in Beat to a Pulp and Crime Factory. He was included in print anthologies with SNM Horror Magainzine’s Bonded by Blood III and Short Story Library’s Branded Words.