Projected light flickered through the dark; each burst momentarily painting the shadowed surfaces with brilliant light as if a welder was hard at work in the corner. A muscular but overweight man lounged in a reclining chair at the center of the small living room. His callused hands held the remote control and a cold drink with equal care. He had cast aside his dusty work boots and was watching the flat screen between his grimy sock-covered feet.
After taking another swig of beer, he smiled and repeated a line in sync with the movie, copying the actor’s sing-song sarcasm, “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
Jeremy Kolski was happy with his life. It was simple, but that’s the way he wanted it—steady contractor’s job, detached house, beautiful wife and daughter, and big ass TV. He’d worked hard to put all the pieces in place, and he believed a strict routine would keep the status-quo-machine running. Facing the unexpected at work was inevitable but at home, things were always in order. He even ate the same meals everyday: medium-rare steak and eggs in the morning, brown-bagged sandwich for lunch, and thick oatmeal with a side of bacon for dinner. His wife Mora had it all down to a science, like that baby bear’s porridge—just right.
A harsh light flooded Mora’s face. She stared blindly into the glow, momentarily unaware of the blood-red mask it gave her, like some masquerade villain from the mind of Edgar Allen Poe. She stared out the port-hole window above the sink, pausing with pan and soap sponge dripping in her hands. In the small, dimly lit kitchen her vibrant sundress looked drab and unflattering despite the youthfulness of her petite frame. Even the golden tresses of her wavy hair seemed flat and frayed, but a quaint smile played at the edges of her lips, defying the depressive scene the room’s lighting had imbued.
The pulsing red beams faded as a police cruiser rolled past their house in the pursuit of evildoers elsewhere. Mora returned to washing the dishes and a thought—appropriate to the moment—found its way to her lips. She recited the line to herself, “For the uninvited, there is much to fear.”
Her life was forged in routine. Her father and his military background made an impression on her family, and living with her husband was much the same. She always found comfort in knowing what needed to be done and what each day would bring. She spent her time tending to Jeremy, raising little Samantha, and keeping up with the household chores. Change used to frighten Mora, but over the last few days the thought of it had begun to look different to her. In small doses, change could be manageable, and over time, big strides could be made through cumulative steps. With that in mind tonight, she didn’t rush to clean up the dinner table.
Jeremy was entranced by the screen. He only tore his eyes away long enough to pour another shot of the amber liquid and toss it back. This time, however, he was forced to look down as sharp pain stabbed through his abdomen causing him to flinch and dribble whiskey onto his twill work shirt.
A few months ago when the discomfort started, Jeremy increased his drinking from occasional to maintenance. Concerned coworkers had asked him about the pain and he’d always replied, “It might be stomach ulcers or goddam colon cancer, who knows.” When he told this to a buddy of his with such indifference, the man’s lunch nearly fell out of his mouth. The inquiry always ended with Jeremy adding, “Na, I ain’t going to see a Doctor. I don’t trust them. They ask too many damn questions and then diagnose you with what’s best to fatten their own wallets. In my house, we’re better off taking the pain and fixing our own problems.”
“Goddamnit,” Jeremy cursed, wiping at the drops that seeped down into the material. Then, setting his eyes back on the TV, he shouted sidelong toward the kitchen. “Mora, get your wide ass moving and bring me a wet rag… and another beer from the garage, but make it quick, he’s about to walk barefoot across the broken glass.” Jeremy poured another shot as he mumbled to himself, “best part of the movie if you ask me.”
The man’s chair was flanked by tray tables burdened with empty cans of Yuengling and a half drunk fifth of Johnnie Walker. He sucked the alcohol from his fingers, unconcerned with the dust caked to his cuticles and knuckle creases. It was a common residual from his job, either by hanging drywall or mixing concrete for sidewalks or patios.
Jeremy cleared his throat and poured another shot.
A diminutive woman entered the room with the requested items. Keeping her head down, she placed them carefully on the nearest tray table, scooped up the empty beer cans and backed away. Passing under the lights in the dining room, Jeremy caught sight of the shine under her eyes. A purple butterfly bruise had spread its wings across the bridge of her newly curved nose. He nodded, agreeing with his punishment for her recent change in the routine. But he stopped abruptly after noticing a dirty bowl still sitting on the supper table.
“Hey, Woman! Better finish cleaning up supper before the movie’s over.”
Mora tossed the empty cans into a recycling bin that sat in the garage amid all his tools and leftover work supplies. She stood there for a moment, calming herself and pulling in deep breaths with her sore eyes closed. Tears squeezed free and trailed down her cheeks, their wet tracks leaving a brighter sheen on her bruise that was looking more and more like some kind of hero mask.
She didn’t feel very super right now. In fact, she hadn’t been in this much pain since falling out of a tree at the age of seven. Her father was helping her learn how to climb. Eventually, he gave up trying to mold her into the son he never received, but not before she broke both wrists when an upper bough gave way. The fractures healed, but the pain from his disappointment would not.
Now, trying to center herself in the garage, she was suffering from not only a bruised face and a broken nose, but also the mental anguish of waking up to a six-year nightmare.
She was locked into a routine, again—chained down by psychological assaults and kept productive with physical punishment. How could she have been blind to it for all these years? ‘Because Jeremy wasn’t always like this, it… progressed,’ she realized. Any change, no matter how appalling, if introduced gradually enough, could be accepted with unanimous approval—just ask Austria.
It took undying love and a cold knuckle connection to her nose for Mora to see the change. Jeremy raised his hand to their daughter for the first time and Mora’s intervention—her deviation from the routine—cost her a fractured face.
His wife wasn’t doing her job. It’s been ten minutes and she still didn’t come back to clean up that bowl. It was his oatmeal dish from dinner and the longer it sits the harder that shit gets.
Jeremy grunted and cursed as another slash of pain dug into his guts, “Ah, fuck!” Hunched over, he clutched at his stomach and waited for the agony to back off. It was getting worse by the hour, now. The wave passed, but the constant ache went up another notch.
He stood up, kicked over one of the tray tables, and sucked down another shot or two straight out of the bottle. It was time his woman learned that she needed to finish her chores and follow the rules.
Mora, bolstered by the need to protect her daughter, was fed up with the routine. Change was inevitable and she welcomed it.
Beads of sweat formed on Jeremy’s forehead as he moved toward the dinning room. His legs felt weak. Each footstep was torture, as if they were pulling the ignition lever on a blowtorch inside his gullet—frying his organs and searing nerves. After four paces, breathing heavy and grinding his teeth, Jeremy reached the table. He picked up the bowl and even that felt heavy. Staggering another few steps, Jeremy crossed into the kitchen and fell to his knees. The bowl slipped from his fingers and hit the floor with a loud thunk.
A pair of white sneakers stepped into Jeremy’s view. His eyes labored their way up Mora’s body to meet her glare.
She stood over her husband, pouring hatred down upon him. “You don’t look so good, dear. You sure I shouldn’t call a doctor?”
Tears welled in his eyes and he grunted out the word, “Call!”
“But you told me not to, they ask too many questions and I better not go against your will, right?” She waited for a reply but he was busy moaning. Then she noticed the bowl next to him on the floor.
“Oh, look at that. I must’ve left a dirty dish on the table.” Mora picked it up and knocked it against the floor. It made a solid cluck.
“You do love your oatmeal thick, huh? I’ve added a new ingredient to make it extra thick for you. The cement dust from the garage takes a while to harden, but I usually get all the dishes cleaned up by then. I only used a little at first, but the last couple nights have called for a hefty helping.”
A siren screamed past the kitchen window, bathing Mora in vibrant red light.
Jeremy managed to rasp two more words before passing out. “You… bitch!”
Mora smiled. “Yes, payback usually is. But I took the pain and now, I fixed the problem.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.