A short story by: Roger A Wilbanks
Jane really just wanted a hot cup of tea. It would take her mind off the bastard. They usually don’t let you have hot drinks in the Nuthouse because there is too much risk the loonies will burn themselves and their families will use that as an excuse to release some cold-blooded lawyer on them. Who needs that kind of hassle? Let them have cool chocolate and be done with that problem. She always settled for soda. That was safe. She kept telling herself it wasn’t her fault she was locked up in there, but the persistent memories that managed to beat their way through the blue pill haze said otherwise.
“You burned the house,” they said.
“You killed the dog,” they said.
“You painted him blue while he was sleeping,” they said.
They were right, of course, but he deserved everything that happened to him. Whenever she doubted this, she remembered the beatings, the infidelities and all the empty, broken promises that changes would happen. Promises made, it seemed, with the intent of adding another level of hurt into her life.
Well, enough of that shit, she thought. Enough hiding in the corner and waiting for the other shoe to drop. So what if she DID burn the house down? That was equal retribution for all the cigarettes he put out on her for not having dinner ready.
So what if she DID kill the dog? He only got the dog because he knew she would be afraid of it and his constant provocations with it only added to her terror. THAT killing had been a pleasure.
As far as the paint was concerned, she thought that being blue for a day or two was no more than an eye for an eye when compared to how he made her feel while they were married.
She smiled as she set the kettle on to boil.
Dick fumbled in the dark for the key to his front door. “Why is it always the talkers that show up at the end of the day?” he said aloud. It was as if there was some group of dedicated time-wasters that watched him and waited for him to be in a hurry. They would then throw themselves at him like a squadron of annoying crazed kamikazes. “One of these days I’m gonna call it quits and just shoot off to the Bahamas like Tom Cruise in that bartender movie. What was it called? Happy Hour?”
When he located his key, Dick’s outlook immediately improved. The Tivo caught Sportscenter for him that evening allowing him to catch up on his wagers for the night and he would call Harry in the morning to collect. He was sure he wouldn’t have to settle up this time. That’s what you did when you lost which he did too often these days. “Damn bad timing to land on a burn streak,” he thought, but his luck would turn soon. His freak show heiress of a wife was a prime example of that. All the years he put up with her shit had returned enormous dividends to his fledgling law practice. Her connections put him on the map in a way that the HARVARD that adorned his diploma did. A diploma she paid for too, he thought. “Thanks, baby.’ He said as he thought of her, safely locked up in that Nuthouse.
He checked his fingernails for the presence of blue paint and saw none. It took him three weeks to get that shit off, but the emotional stain lingered far longer.
Dick opened the door to his two-story brownstone. It set him back a few thousand a month, but it was in the historic district and the expense was a necessary one if he hoped to maintain the allure of the hot-shot attorney he thought himself to be. Just like the guys on TV, he thought. Those guys never had to sit through talkers unless there was money at the other end of the table. Real money, not the kind they said they had, but your credit checks proved false. He clicked the key chain and the apartment erupted in light. A little quid-pro-quo an engineer client hooked him up with recently. It was a little buggy, however and the kitchen lights remained off. The air was a little warm in the foyer. That damn Marissa left the door open upstairs. One of these days he was going to have Central Heat and Air installed but he tolerated the remote controlled window units for now. He would remember to leave Marissa a nasty letter in the morning, but settled for a simple click of the remote to bring the room back to a chilly 65 degrees. Dick liked it cold.
He grabbed the remote and powered up his 52-inch plasma for the scores. Boston by 5 was the line, but he knew Martinez was off today. Back spasms a friend told him. He heard it from the trainer himself. It was as close to a sure thing as there was. All he needed was Chris Berman to say those magic words “Boston Loses” and his day would be complete.
“In local news, the raging grassfires south of the City threaten the patients at Memorial Hospital.”
“What the hell?” he said. “Where the hell is my Sportscenter?”
Dick checked the Tivo unit’s programming and it was still set as he had left it with one exception. The channel had been changed from ESPN to Channel 8. “Must have done that last night.” He thought. “Oh well, they will have the sports on in a bit, I’ll just fast forward…”
Dick flipped through the sped-up 6pm newscast. City Council blah blah. Dam funding blah blah. Olympic turmoil blah blah. Breaking News…
He stopped the Tivo.
“This just in. In a daring escape, inmates from the city’s Mental Health Hospital Dangerous Inmate Wing fought their way to freedom this afternoon. In the past few hours, most have been located and captured or killed.” The room started to get warm again. That damn door is still open, he thought. He started towards the stairs but froze when a whistle from the kitchen sounded. A kettle whistle.
“I’m imagining things now.” He thought, “She didn’t escape. She’s not with the dangerous ones. She’s in the Country Club. They are kept in separate areas.” Dick glanced back at the TV and saw the Sports logo. He knew he was getting worked up for nothing. “Ghosts. They only exist in the movies.”
But the kettle whistle was getting louder and he was positive that the AC unit was off altogether. The room was becoming unbearable. He looked at the window unit and saw that the reading said it was 85 degrees in the room. He took the remote and aimed it at the unit. He pressed the button and nothing happened.
The kettle sounded like it was ready to explode like an unattended boiler.
Anxious moments are the subconscious’ playground, he reminded himself. Marissa left the kettle on and forgot about it. She hasn’t been gone that long. She just set it on the stove and forgot it. She would be fired. Dick had already lost one house to a fire caused by a crazy bitch. He would NOT lose another. There was a simple explanation for the remote’s failure. Dead batteries. He would replace them and return to his cold comfortable existence. The Boston score would be up soon and as far as that door upstairs was concerned, he would just shut the damn thing and get back to his evening plan.
He started up the staircase and noticed that the door to his room was definitely open. That was not all however. The lights were on as well. Marissa left them on, obviously. That was the last straw. She was gone tomorrow. Dick even thought about alerting INS to her status as an illegal alien, but realized that would cause more trouble for him and decided against it. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the heat it would cause. He was a lawyer and, he thought, a damn good one. “You ought to be a lesbian.” He often said to the opposing council. “Because you don’t fuck with dick.”
His doorway was clear. There were no dead bodies. His bed was empty and contained no decapitated horse. There was no blue stain on his bed and all was left exactly as he had left it that morning, except… Was that water running in the bathroom? Impossible, he thought, Marissa was not that bold. Was she still here? Maybe Dick’s not so subtle advances had succeeded in wooing his Dominican Import. Somehow he doubted that was the case. His instincts growled like a feral beast backed into a corner. The hair on his neck and arms raised itself on its own accord. Sweat began to form across his brow. The animal side of his brain was bombarding him with fight or flight impulses as he approached the bathroom door. The light was on in the bathroom and the door was ajar. He knew what he would see in there, and the image scared him. The crazy bitch was in the tub, probably covered in blood. That would be a nice touch. It was that or a toaster in her hands, ready to drop it into the water so that he could witness her cook like a cheap lobster. He was prepared for the worst. He was prepared for a fight. He opened the door and got neither. There was nothing out of the ordinary, just a filling tub at the perfect temperature for a bath.
Marissa had done this for him. She would be fired. She would also be deported. She would be killed if he could locate someone to do the deed. He turned back to the bedroom, half expecting to come face to face with a knife-wielding psychopath. He saw nothing. Dick shut the water, closed the door and walked downstairs. The kettle was still whistling. Sports had been replaced with a Breaking News Update. All of the escaped inmates had been accounted for. The city was safe again. Dick collapsed into his Lazy Boy with a sigh and turned off the Tivo. He turned Sportscenter on and decided to just wait for the ticker to crawl across the bottom of the screen. He went to the kitchen to deal with the errant kettle and that was when he saw the note.
Thank you for the cup of tea, it was delightful. I left the kettle on for you, but you ARE low on milk, though.
“P.S. The escape today had nothing to do with me, but I thought you would enjoy it more than your stupid sports show. You would be amazed at how easy it is to come and go here in the hospital. All it takes is a little harmless flirting and a few well placed sexual favors and I can come and go as I please. You would think the guards here are above such temptations but it appears not to be the case. Hope you enjoyed the bath darling, I will be seeing you soon. I promise.
With that, Dick finally fainted.
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