I opened my eyes to see nothing but a concrete wall. Staring for a moment, I began to wonder where I am. Did I just wake up, or had I been aimlessly staring at the mortar all night? I shake my head aggressively to rid of that groggy feeling behind my eyes. My hands grip familiar material tightly. I glance down to see myself sitting up in my old La-Z-boy chair. Green with brown lines running vertical all around, I instantly feel comforted. I’ve always loved this chair. It’s only in the basement now because Norma didn’t think it “went with the rest of the décor,” whatever that means. I find myself running my hands along the arms of the chair. Memories surface of all the NASCAR races I’ve watched in this baby. Liquid fills my eyes to the brim of my lids, but I resist the urge. Sucking tears back through their ducts, I, for whatever reason, feel desperately lonely.
I slowly take in everything in my view. I’m wearing an old pair of once black, now grey, sweatpants Norma bought at the local market with a once white, now stained, NASCAR shirt. White mismatched socks sit at my feet and that once gold, now dull, wedding band resides on my left hand. I watch its motion as my callous digits continue to caress the soft, worn in material of my favorite chair. I sit up and rub at my eyes. I don’t feel tired. I don’t feel as though I had just been pulled from my slumber. I simply feel disoriented. Perhaps I had been sleepwalking again. Norma always tells me I should be tied down to the bed while I sleep. After quite a few moments of analyzing my surroundings, I stand. I feel weak, exhausted and alone. At my tender age of eighty-three, I suppose I know why. The basement is damp and dusty. I can hardly see a thing until I walk to the center of the chilly tomb and pull the metal string to drive out the dark. The dull light flickers uncontrollably as I make my way to the stairs. I’m not in any rush. Norma will wake when I return to bed and I’ll get an earful about sleepwalking for fifteen minutes or so. Then, after she has finally shut her trap, I’ll be too aggravated to sleep and I’ll spend most of the night staring up at the ceiling in hopes that if I concentrate hard enough, her heart will stop.
Don’t get me wrong, I love her. I love her with all my heart and soul, but I also love peace and quiet. I also love walking around our tiny home in my skivvies. I also love eating ice cream for dinner and not giving a fuck about high cholesterol or arteries coated in fried chicken. I also love dogs that I’ve been unable to keep as pets because they all somehow “runaway” when I’m sent on an errand to the market. I love shooting guns and watching television with the volume up. I miss fishing, whittling wood and working on my Ford before I was forced to sell it. I once enjoyed loud Johnny Cash records and washing my clothes with the colors and whites all mixed together, I don’t care much for segregation. It’s not that I don’t love Norma, it’s just that I enjoy my life a lot less now that she’s been a part of it for sixty-two years. Sixty-two fucking years! That’s 744 months I could have been saving up for more than this three bedroom dump on River Valley Road. That’s 22,630 days I could have continued reading the newspaper. That’s 543,120 hours I could have been watching pornographic movies or napping for hours in my green chair. My point is: that’s a lot of time wasted on nothing more than love. I don’t expect you to understand. Not until you’re my age and that sparkle in your eye that creeps to the surface every time your significant other enters the room slowly turns to remorse. It’s time wasted, but wasted for her.
I don’t care if you believe me or not, I do love my Norma.
I’m at the bottom of the wooden steps, about to begin my climb to the white door that sits sixteen paces from my fraternally matched socks, but something stops me. A faint glossy drop catches my eye. I bend as far as my age permits and see a maroon speck on the left side of the plank of wood I’m about to mount. I stand again, take one step, see another, and bend once more. It looks wet, fresh. I look up the length of the staircase and notice the spilled paint spread in an unsymmetrical pattern from the top step to where my feet are firmly planted. I run to the door and let myself in. Now in the kitchen, the same spots continue through the house. Curiosity establishes itself in my brain and circulated through my body, catching a ride on every red blood cell. It looks as though someone has leaked beet juice throughout the place. As Norma has been sleeping for some time, I have to wonder if in my sleepwalking induced stupor, I created the mess. Even if Norma had been the culprit, her incessant bitching would last until I clean it up anyways.
My eyes fixated on the spots leading to somewhere, like breadcrumbs in a child’s novel, I throw the dishtowel to the floor and slide the cloth along the tile. My right foot glides across the dollops of who knows what, as I step with my left to find the end of these clues laid out for me in red. They continue along the kitchen, through the swinging door into the living room and across the wood floors. The television set illuminates the room with sudden bursts of white, then dull shades of grey. Cars are racing around the track silently, as Norma only allows me to watch my programs muted. I linger a moment to catch the end of a race I’ve seen and re-seen a million times. But the crimson drops call to me. They reflect light waves from the television set and summon me to continue my voyage. I watch the cars finish one more loop and continue on. Step, slide, step, slide. Now at the foot of the stairs, I can see the tiny drips race up the carpet and I roll my eyes. This will send Norma off the deep end. This will land me the number one spot on her shit list, worse than the time I forgot to mow a patch of grass in the backyard. Definitely worse than when I failed to remind her, for a third time, that I was meeting Ralph, my eldest friend, down at the bar for a beer. I only stayed thirty-three minutes to ensure I’d be home in “forty-five,” per her request. Yet ruby slick stains on the carpet will leave her red in the face and my ears sore from her screams.
I stumble up the steps and follow the trail towards my bedroom…our bedroom. The door slightly open, I peer into the abyss of nothingness. I push my left foot forward and the door creaks as it swings open. I wait for Norma’s screech, but silence answers. She must still be sleeping. I walk to her side of the bed and stare down at the large heap that was once my beautiful bride. Covers lifted over her head, I step back with every intention of allowing her to continue her slumber. I step too far back, however, and my rump strikes her nightstand, sending a glass cup, filled with water, tumbling through the air, smashing against the door to the bathroom and breaking into a million fragments while simultaneously breaking the sound barrier. I cower in fear. Norma will turn at any moment now and I’ll be called every foul name in the book. My arms in the air and back of my hands covering my eyes, I wait patiently for her words to slit my throat, but as the sound waves of breaking glass settle, the room remains motionless. I retract my fearful limbs and look down at the still hump. I pull the metal cord of her lamp and the room radiates with electromagnetic waves. I pull back the covers in one swift yank and gasp.
Norma lies in bed, still as a cucumber, with a screwdriver through her thick skull and a pool of burgundy below her head. Her eyes open, focusing on me, and lips separated while facial expression says nothing more than she is consumed with boredom. Even in death she is unamused. I howl and cry into the night. I want to grab and hold my dearly departed partner, but her blood looks as though it would make a large mess if I moved her. Instead, I race to my side of the bed and lift the phone to dial 911. Holding the phone to my ear, I place a free hand to my face to wipe away my salty tears. Listening to the dial tone, as irritating as Norma’s voice, I freeze. Pulling my hand back, a sticky texture lingers between the epidermis of my hand and temple. Looking down I drop the phone. Both hands sit in front of my face, covered in blood, Norma’s blood. I cry, I scream, I chuck my lamp at the closet door and throw my hands across our dresser, pulling its contents to the floor. I fall to my knees and grab at my face with murderous hands. I killed her. I’ve killed my bitch wife.
Standing to my feet, I walk back to Norma’s side. She continues to lie still, unimpressed and I scream into her face. I laugh hysterically and begin a small victory dance, suicidal tears streaming down my cheeks and leaping to the floor, all the while. I turn to the mirror plastered on an adjacent wall and flex.
I killed my wife.
I am man, hear me sit in silence for longer than thirty goddamn seconds.
Rushing back to the phone, I regain a dial tone and hold down the 1. Speed dial handles the rest. A voice answers: gritty, tiresome and familiar.
“I need your help, Ralph.”
“I’d like to bring Norma out for a boat ride.” Laughter erupts from the other end of the phone. Ralph’s raspy voice echoes into my ear surrounded by the dislodgement of mucus in his lungs. He laughs harder and harder still until he wheezes, coughing uncontrollably and attempts to catch his breath.
“My God, Coop. I’ve been waitin’ for this call nearly thirty years nah. Be overna minute once I find somthin’ to slip on ovr mah drawers.”
The phone clicks and I’m left with myself.
I walk tall down the stairs, into the kitchen and back to the basement. Sixteen steps later I’m at the bottom of the stairs, a few steps more and I’m back in my La-Z-boy. I rub the arms of the chair with bloody hands. I sit in silence and stare at the concrete wall with a large grin upon my face.
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