I can’t shake the image of my blood soaked living room. My mind is a storm of half thoughts wiped clean by the spatter of red on green carpet. I try to drown it under another drink, swirling it before I take a sip. I’ve always liked the way the ice clinks like tiny chimes against the glass. The salt stings my cracked lips. I’ve been chewing on them again. I thought I’d kicked that habit but I guess not.
Stuart is watching me from the other side of the bar. He’s been wiping down the same patch of counter ever since I walked in. He’s seen the scratches on my neck, or maybe my eye has already started to bruise. He didn’t say anything when he passed me the drink, but then, what would you say? I wonder if he’s already pressed that panic button under the counter, the one he had installed after he was robbed last winter. The police could already be on their way.
The cold citrus makes my teeth ache but I can feel the liquor blooming warm sympathy in my stomach. I’ve seen the movies. I know I’m supposed be pounding some two dollar, gas-bourbon and acting like I’m not choking on it. That’s just not me. If this was going to be my last drink, I wanted it to be something good. Something that reminded me of warm beaches in Rio and bikini clad women. I wanted to taste summer sun and feel the ocean. That’s where I met Josie. That’s how I want to remember her.
“Another?” Stuart asks as I drain the glass of everything but the lime slickened ice.
“Yeah,” I answer. It’s weird how normal my voice sounds. It should be heavy and quiet, like an old west gunslinger who’s seen things no one else can understand, but instead it sounds like any other day.
Stuart must have noticed something. The edge of the tequila bottle rattles against the shaker as he pours. He knows Josie and I have been fighting. We’ve never been good about hiding our business. I suppose if she were better at it, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.
It was all so ordinary… so fucking ordinary. Steve Gibbons was a drifter in our lives. Some friend of a friend we met at a barbecue. He had tattoos on his neck and smelled like a day old beer can. I was used to men flirting with Josie. She was too pretty for me, I knew that. Most guys gave up when they realized she was with me, some didn’t. Gibbons took it a step further.
I found them by the cooler. He was straddling it like a mechanical bull, she was laughing and trying to wrestle him off.
“Trouble with the drinks?” I asked, smiling. She stopped laughing.
“No,” she said. Her voice had a defensive edge to it. “We were just joking around.”
“Wait, you’re here with this guy?” he asked.
I won’t pretend that the surprise on his face didn’t bother me. That isn’t something you ever really get used to, but what was worse was the way Josie wouldn’t meet either of our eyes, the way she said “yeah,” like she was admitting she’d been held back a grade.
Steve made a noise like a horse and walked off in bow legged indignation.
“Seems like you were having fun,” I said.
“We weren’t doing anything.”
“I didn’t say you were.”
She shrugged her shoulders and passed me a beer from the now, unoccupied cooler. We didn’t talk for the rest of the night. We talked to our friends, ate, drank and smiled but we didn’t speak another word to each other. We spent the ride home listening to NPR because the knob broke last week and anything was better than silence. She went to bed early. I pretended to accidentally fall asleep on the couch watching TV. We both knew the whole thing was a lie but we were trapped by the circumstances of it. I couldn’t admit that I was upset because that would mean I was insecure. She couldn’t admit I had anything to be upset about because she was supposed to love me.
Stuart starts mixing a third without my asking. The police are definitely on their way. I guess he decided keeping me nice and lubricated would be the best way to keep me calm. I notice a smear of red on the side of the glass as I slide the empty over to him. I look at my hand to find one of my fingernails hanging by a string onto the bed. When did that happen? When Steve through me into the wall? When he hit be with the footstool? I think it must have been the footstool. I had barely registered the dull throb over the nauseating shock of everything else.
I was carrying groceries when I came home from work today. There were two cars in my driveway, Josie’s sedan and Steve’s obnoxious red pickup, but I didn’t’ know who it belonged to at the time. The door was locked, which was strange since Josie was home, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I guess I was just that stupid.
When I walked in, there were no artfully placed sheets like in the movies. I saw everything. I saw my Josie bent over, white-knuckling the headboard while Steve grunted away at her. It was a savage, animal scene without a trace of thought or dignity. They might as well have been apes at the zoo.
I know that was the part where I was supposed to be angry. I was supposed to attack Steve and throw myself around the room, consumed by rage and anguish, but I was embarrassed more than anything. They were so consumed in their animal thrusting that they hadn’t noticed me come in. I tried to back away but in my rush I bumped into a coffee table and sent a ceramic mug splashing across the wood floor.
“I’m sorry,” I said, before I could stop myself.
“Oh my god!” Josie shouted, and her already flush face turned zit red.
Steve rushed me, naked as a gorilla and just as strong…
We fought. I won, if you call killing a man winning. It might seem like the details are important, I know they’re supposed to be. This was the thrilling climax after all. I was supposed to showdown against the monster who took my woman and show them both why they were wrong and I was a man worth respect. The truth was he beat the ever loving crap out of me and it was only when he had me pinned against the ground, struggling against his naked body, that I grasped the handle of the mug and swung it into his neck. I remember that silent pop as the jagged porcelain broke his skin and the lusty resistance of muscle. I can still feel the ghost of it against my hand the way amputees tell you they can feel their missing limbs.
Red and blue lights flicker against the bottles shelved behind Stuart’s back. Took them long enough to get here. I could have been two counties away by now if I’d kept going, maybe I should have. I know they’ll be mad I left. They called it fleeing the scene of the crime on TV. They’ll say, “self defense huh, then why’d you run?” and I won’t have an answer they’ll like, but I couldn’t sit in that house and listen to Josie crying like she was the victim for one goddamn minute. I wasn’t home from work early. I didn’t ‘miss my flight.’ I walked through that door exactly when I was supposed to.