My demons stare back at me through the reflection of my son’s eyes and at the blowing end of a .45.
I watch my ten-year-old’s hand quiver at the weight of the gun. I think about snatching it, but seeing a tear escape his eye and roll down his chubby cheek causes a moment of reminiscence.
My boy – the little leaguer, the A&B Honor Student, the undeniable Momma’s boy – was now ready to kill me. I’d changed his diapers, coached his ball games, and taught him to throw a curve.
But it wasn’t always this way. He didn’t decide to commit patricide over night, though sometimes it felt like it. The past few months hovered in my mind like a collage, all blurred into one horrifying reality.
The TV in the back room mumbles in the background. The window is open, letting fall’s peanut-filled scent seep in. The quiet street outside is lined with ranch homes filled with American families sitting around tables or televisions eating supper, completely oblivious to the chaos here.
We look normal, but what is normal, really? Or perhaps we are the epitome of normal – us hiding behind our manicured lawns, blinded windows, and bolted doors.
His hand starts to fall. He uses his other one to hold it up. Two-handed, he tries to steady the pistol. But he’s sobbing now and can’t seem to pull the trigger.
My mind flashes again.
It started with a lie. Not to anyone else but myself. Just a small one, barely even worthy of mentioning. Though, it’s certainly not one I wanted my wife, April, to know.
We were high school sweethearts, and she never stopped being the girl I’d met in homeroom that first day of 9th grade. Her hair was a little shorter, her smile now lined around its edges, but she was still my April. As much as I loved her, nothing she could have done would have changed anything. This wasn’t about her. This was about something inside of me. Something terrible.
One afternoon on my laptop caused a change in me. An unwarranted pop up – nothing that would have fazed me before – suddenly offered something I never realized I wanted. I was happy after all, right?
That one sneaky question ruined my life. It crept around my mind until it found a safe place to harbor its evil seed. Then it developed roots that spread wide and thick into every fiber of me until it infested my entire being with “what ifs.”
What if I hadn’t married so young?
What if I didn’t have all these obligations?
And finally, What if I just had someone else?
What if it was her?
April is now screaming at our son to put down the gun. My eyes meet hers. I see the terror in her expression. She reaches for him but hesitates. I know what she’s thinking. She’s worried she’ll make him do it. She then starts to gently speak to him. “It’s okay, baby. Daddy won’t hurt us any more. Right, Daddy? We’re okay. Daddy loves us…” she struggles to get those last words out. I hear the pain in her voice, close my eyes, and hate myself when I see the other woman’s face in my memory.
I had the habit of stopping for coffee at a convenience store between work and home. I’d probably go two or three times a week. One day, a young, pretty girl rang me up. She gave me those eyes, and that was all it took to get me coming into the store daily. Before long, our harmless conversations turned into a guilty pleasure.
For weeks after the first time, I avoided her calls and drove five miles out of my way not to pass the store, but then that sneaking question started to nag and scratch its way back to the front of all my thoughts.
What if I just did it one more time? No one will know, and I’m already an adulterer. There’s no going back to perfect husband again. I’ve already screwed up my marriage. If she finds out, the same thing will happen whether I live purely from now on or not.
One time turned into twenty and twenty turned into a lunch date where she brought up the topic of marriage.
“Well, I think we should take it slow. We’ve just started seeing each other,” I’d told her, trying to brush off the topic. My collar suddenly felt tight around my neck, and the room was starting to feel hot.
“Why wait? We’re perfect for each other, and one day she’s going to find out. Don’t you think it’d be better coming from you than from strangers? She deserves to know the truth,” she said lifting her head a little and looking away, as if she were some sort of respectable woman.
“Wait a minute. Are you threatening to tell her? Because if you are…” My voice began to rise.
“That’s not what I’m sayin’, Steven. What I’m sayin’ is that we’re not going to be able to keep this a secret much longer.” She looked down at her hands, which gripped one another nervously.
“Why the hell not?” I wiped the sweat from my brow. A part of me was ready to bolt. I knew something bad was about to come spilling out of her mouth.
April wraps her arm around his shoulder and whispers sweetly in his ear. “Just give it to Momma. Please, baby.”
Her beautiful face is swollen and reddened by both horror and tears.
“I’m sorry!” I cry.
Both their wet eyes stare at me.
“You hurt her!” he screams. April instinctively reaches for the bruise I’d left on her cheek just moments earlier when I’d hit her for the first time ever.
“I didn’t mean to! I don’t know what’s happening to me? I’m sorry, son. I’m so sorry, baby.” I reach for her. He tightens his finger around the trigger, and I back away.
The new baby drove me to drinking. I never wanted a real relationship with her. All I wanted was a temporary fix to my boredom. I just wanted to feel young again. To feel something new. Someone new. Now I had more complexities and obligations than I did before. The affair was my solution. Now it was my problem.
I didn’t want to see her. Just the thought of her sickened me. She’d done this on purpose, I thought. To trap me into marrying her. Damn if I’ll do that. I waited and hoped that by some miracle something would happen to eradicate the problem, but when her first trimester was over, I knew I’d have to come clean.
I drove home with my stomach in my throat. How would April take the news? I prepared for her to kick me out, but she didn’t. It was worse, much worse. She just cried. And didn’t stop crying for days. Every time I’d come home, she’d be sniffling. Her eyes blood shot from exhaustion. She spent all day in bed, and when I tried to talk to her, she’d just sob.
I’d taken something from her, she’d said, that was much worse than simply her trust. I’d taken away her ability to believe in marriage.
I broke it off with the girl, she threatened to take me for everything I had in child support, but it wasn’t until the next Tuesday night at my son’s baseball game that things got really bad.
April had been going to counseling at our church, and I’d agreed to go as well. She didn’t say she forgave me, nor did she allow me to sleep in the bed with her. I was confined to the couch, but I understood. I didn’t know what was going to happen with us, but I wasn’t about to give up.
But when she showed up at the field, marched her ballooned belly up the bleachers, and demanded I give her money in front of all those people, something broke in April I knew I’d never be able to fix. Her eyes filled with horror. For a moment, I thought she may push her down the steps, but instead she was frozen in fury.
“OUR baby needs things, Steven. You’d better give me some money, or I’m going to have to tell all these people who you really are,” she said loud enough for everyone to hear. I looked around, embarrassed. I glanced at April, whose eyes were blurry. I reached for my wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. “Might as well give me the rest,” she smacked her gum and motioned for more. For the first time, I realized how trashy she was. I had exchanged a precious jewel for a piece of bubble-gum machine plastic. I gave her everything I had left.
Everyone in the stands stared accusingly at me. Worse, my son’s entire team had watched the show through the fence. People thought they were here to watch a game, turns out we were the live entertainment.
That night, April locked herself in her room and didn’t come out until the next night. I tried reasoning with her through the door. I tried apologizing, I tried negotiating, but nothing worked. She wouldn’t even speak to me. I drowned my sorrows in alcohol, while hearing our son sniffling in his room.
I was skunk-faced drunk when April finally did come out.
“Get out,” she said as calmly as I’d ever heard her speak.
“What? We can fix this. I can fix this,” I slurred.
“Get out,” she whispered.
“I’m not leaving! This is my house! You are my wife! And that’s my son in there!” I pointed to his room.
“Get out!” She pushed me towards the door. Her sobs began again.
“Stop it! I won’t leave!” I tried to restrain her.
When she realized she couldn’t force me, she started screaming and beating my chest in defeat. Then suddenly she stopped and stared at me for what felt like a long time. I wobbled a little, but caught myself on the couch.
“You’ve killed me, Steven. And there’s no sentence any judge could give that would be long enough or harsh enough to make up for that. You’ve stolen everything from me – my trust, my family, my husband, my best friend, my soul mate. You’ve taken it all, and you will never have another opportunity to take anything else from me. It’s over.” She slapped my face.
Hearing her mouth say those words pierced something deep within me. I’d once kissed those lips and sealed our forever, and I wasn’t about to let her go.
“Leave!” she screamed again.
I punched her and watched as she fell back onto the couch. I don’t know what came over me. I felt backed into a corner. I couldn’t leave. Why couldn’t she understand that? She was all I ever wanted. I just couldn’t.
Within seconds, I saw him and the barrel of my gun pointed at me.
“Put the gun down,” she says to him more firmly now. “You know guns can kill people. I know you don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“But boys aren’t supposed to hit girls,” he reasons.
“You’re right, but Daddy didn’t mean to,” she outstretches her hand gently to his. “Just give it to me.”
He doesn’t budge. I stand as still as possible, fearing the unthinkable. She slowly moves between the gun and I.
“Just put it down,” she says, her voice soft and nurturing.
She starts to reach for the gun, but our dog barks loudly for some unknown reason, which startles us. He jerks, closes his eyes, and accidently clasps the trigger.
I killed her.
Vanessa K. Eccles is the founder of YA-NA Sisterhood and is the executive editor of Belle Rêve Literary Journal. She had a writer’s spirit from an early age, winning her first short story contest at the age of six. Her work has now been published in nearly a dozen journals.
When she’s not writing or devouring books, she enjoys the lake life with her Prince Charming and their four dogs.
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Cover photo: Stefan Zsaitsits http://www.zsaitsits.com