Here’s another story that I have been unable to find a home for. Hope you enjoy it.
WARNING: Some adult language
I own the copyright on this story. Please do not reproduce in whole or in part without my express permission.
The Easy Way Out
By Carter Nipper
Julie slammed the letter down on the dresser. Perfume jars rattled, and several fell over. She wondered why she even kept the putrid thing. Through her tears, she saw her mascara drawing ugly black lines down her cheeks. She didn’t care. Makeup was futile, anyway. Who did she think she was going to fool?
“Damn!” She whispered, so the children wouldn’t hear. “Damn you, Tom! Damn you!” How dare he? How dare he just leave them like this? “Just fine”, he had said. “You’ll be just fine.” “Fine my ass!” she sobbed.
She put her face in her hands and wept yet again. Tears had been plenteous in her life the past three days; she had a seemingly inexhaustible supply. When she could see and breathe again, she wobbled to the bathroom to take off what remained of her makeup before she dressed.
As she walked to the bed, she took small, careful steps, afraid she might shatter like fine china at too heavy a shock. She slipped on the new black dress, not caring how it lay on her, and pulled on the matching jacket. Very stylish, she was sure. Marie would make sure she was presentable when she got to the funeral home. She stepped into her shoes–pumps, very practical for standing a long time–and shuffled to the door to call the kids.
Time to go. Have to observe all the social customs. God only knows why. Nobody really wanted to do this, least of all Julie Harper.
Tom lay on the other side of the room, looking larger than life in his bulky rosewood coffin. He loomed over her in the small, stuffy room, and she never looked his way. The bullet holes did not show. The entry wound inside his mouth, the hole in the back of his head, both camouflaged, but Julie knew they were there. So did everyone else.
She smiled as they spoke, nodded her head, made the proper polite noises, and her hands knotted into white-knuckled fists.
Everyone stared at the floor, shuffling their feet, not knowing what to do with their sweaty hands. Those who dared to hug her did so with the evident feeling that she would certainly break, and she found no comfort there. They murmured their platitudes with all the conviction of a child promising never to do it again.
“Maybe it’s better this way.”
“He didn’t suffer.”
What she really wanted was to grab them by the shoulders and scream into their faces.
“Look at me! For God’s sake, look at me! I’m still alive! I’m in pain, and I need somebody to explain this to me!
“He didn’t suffer? What about me? What about Kim and Tommy? Aren’t we suffering? How can this be better? Better than what?
“For God’s sake, somebody just look at me!”
She did know what this was better than, though. She and Tom had watched his mother eaten alive by cancer. Slowly, inevitably, devoured cell by cell until, at the end, she had screamed for someone to take the pain away, just kill her. Her pleas went unheard and she died raving in agony and morphine dreams. Julie knew, but she did not accept.
She wanted to rush across the room and snatch him up out of his satin bed. She wanted to shake him, slap him, scream into his complacent face.
“Why? Why did you do this to us? Did you think we weren’t strong enough? Or didn’t love you enough? Why? Answer me!
“Goddamn it, Tom, you didn’t even let us say goodbye!”
That’s what she really wanted to do, but she didn’t. Instead, she said the polite things.
“Thank you for coming.”
“It means so much to us.”
Everyone’s relief was palpable when the visitation was over. A scene would have been just unbearable.
After the children went to bed, Julie walked slowly through the house listening to the echoes. Seventeen years of marriage left a lot of echoes. Over here, their laughter rang through the empty house on the day they moved in. Over there, Kimberly’s bout with meningitis lurked like Frankenstein’s monster, a hulking reminder of fatigued days of nursing and frantic nights of worry. By the door was Tom’s cheerful “I’m home” that had never stopped sending a thrill down her spine. Her slippers swished across the carpet–the footsteps of a ghost–as she made her slow way to the cold and empty bedroom that was now hers alone.
Now the funeral was over, the family gone back to their homes, the friends and acquaintances retreated back to arm’s length. Their lives were still intact, but she was left with two fatherless children with suddenly grown-up eyes and a house full of echoes. She closed the bedroom door quietly.
He almost wet the bed, then realized who it was. “Jeez, Kimmy, you just about scared me to death!”
“I’m sorry. I’m scared, too. Can I get in bed with you?”
Tommy sighed, because that’s what big brothers are supposed to do. “Come on, Squirt.” He scrunched over to make room. His sister thumped onto the quilt and snuggled up close to him. She didn’t even complain about the nickname she hated.
“I’m scared,” she said again. Her voice trembled.
“There’s nothing to be scared of.” But he wouldn’t look at the closet door.
“But what about Daddy? What if he comes back and tries to hurt us?”
“He can’t do that, Squirt. That’s only in the movies.” But he tried not to think about what might be under the bed.
Then their mother’s scream shocked the night.
As she brushed out her hair, Julie’s eyes kept filling with tears. He was everywhere. His clothes hung in the closet. They still smelled like him. His razor kept its vigil by the bathroom sink. His shoes sat in a shining squad by his side of the bed. His side. Her bitter bark of laughter tore the air. She gave up and slammed the brush onto the maple dresser top.
Covering her face with her hands, she broke down. Her sobs filled the room.
“Dammit, Tom! Dammit!” she whispered. Quiet. Don’t wake the children. “Damn you!”
She stood and stumbled to the bed, sat down, and snatched the drawer from the bedside table. Yes, it was there. He had used the gun from the study. How considerate of him to leave one for her.
She picked it up. As always, its weight surprised her. A Beretta. Only the best for her Tom. Though it was only a .25 caliber, he had assured her it would be enough for their needs. She pushed the button on the pistol’s grip and let the magazine fall into her hand. Full. It clicked solidly back into place. Eight rounds. One would be enough. Much more than enough.
It would be so easy. Put the gun in her mouth. Make sure to get the right angle. It wouldn’t be nice to miss and live the rest of her life as a vegetable; it wouldn’t be considerate.
Tommy and Kimmy. They would hear. They would come. They would see. Even Tom was more considerate than that. He had rented a hotel room and let the police deal with the mess. Damned thoughtful of him, as always.
What would it feel like? Would it hurt? Would there be an instant of agony before…before what? Maybe that instant would be all there ever would be. Forever and ever and ever and ever.
Julie laid the gun onto the end table and collapsed on the bed. Her sobs were deep and hurtful, muffled in her pillow so they wouldn’t disturb the children. Her words, whispered softly into the uncaring night, were as bitter as the tears that seared her eyes.
“You son of a bitch! You selfish son of a bitch! We love you. We could have helped you. We would have wanted to.”
Her tears finally ended, and she lay there, thinking. Thinking. Easy. Her eyes moved toward the Beretta. Easy. Quick. No more hurting, no more worry, not even about what people would think. No more.
Her hand crept across the sheet like a crab scuttling for shelter. Her fingers stroked the slick metal, closed around the grip. Her index finger curled around the trigger. So natural, so easy.
The children! What about the children? They would hear, they would come, they would see. They would be alone.
Julie weighed the gun in her hand and thought about the children. She stood, stuck her feet into her slippers, and shuffled toward the bedroom door. The Beretta hung black and heavy, easy in her hand.
Icy fingers closed around her wrist and twisted her arm behind her, pinning it above her shoulder blade. Her shriek ripped her throat and shocked the night.
“No.” The single word whispered in her ear in that so, so familiar voice froze her bowels.
“You will not hurt my children.” The dead hand twisted and the Beretta fell to the floor. “I won’t allow it.”
As quickly as she had frozen, Julie burst into a flaming rage. She whirled, snatching her arm from Tom’s ghostly grip, and shoved her face up toward the ectoplasmic blur that seemed to be his.
“Your children? Won’t allow it?” Her voice rose. If the children heard, too bad. “Your children? The ones you ran out on? Abandoned like they were nothing but turds in the toilet? You have nothing to say about it, Mister ‘Save You The Hurt’!”
She took a step forward, and the specter retreated in the face of her anger. “Save us the hurt? What do you think this is in here?” She struck her breastbone with a thump. “Ice cream? You think this doesn’t hurt? You’re an idiot, Tom Harper, a total and complete idiot, and I’ll tell you what I won’t allow! I won’t allow you to mess up our lives any more. You’ve done enough. Whoever you are now, whatever you are, you have no say over anything that happens in this house! You gave up that right when you pulled that trigger.
“I’ll tell you one more thing, you spiritual fuck-up.” The growl that came from her would have sent a wolf scurrying for safety. “You don’t go near MY children. You hear me? Not now, not ever. I don’t know how to kill a ghost, but I swear by God’s Holy Name that if you ever bother me, Kim, or Tommy again–ever again–I’ll send you to Hell so fast the Devil won’t know you’re there until you smack him in the face. You understand me? You gave up your rights when you went for the easy way out.
“Get out! Get out and don’t come back! You’ve done your part. Now it’s up to me to clean up your mess.”
The vague white mist faded quickly, blew out of the house in a fast search for a safety that might not even exist in the physical world.
“Shit!” Julie choked on the word, pain, sorrow, and anger mixing in a witch’s brew inside her chest. A sudden thought sent her racing out the bedroom door. Its slam echoed through the dark house.
She threw open the door to Kim’s room. Empty, rumpled bed. “Goddamn it!”
Three frantic steps to Tommy’s door. She flung it open and burst into tears at the sight of two white, round-eyed faces in the bed. She resisted the urge to fling herself on them and hug them until their ribs broke. Instead, it was time to act like a mother.
“Are you two all right?” Maybe her voice wasn’t too calm, but at least she was coherent.
The two heads nodded, though somewhat hesitantly. Julie sniffled. All right? These two would never be all right again. Neither would she.
“Move over,” she croaked. “Mommy’s coming in, too.”