The rain washes the glowing amber lamplight into the streets. Rivers of it spill over broken bottles and cigarette butts and into the gutters. The dirty water jumps at my ankles like a hungry dog as I struggle to get away.
I gotta find somewhere to lie low, just for a little while. Just until I have a plan. I turn onto West Collins, where the amber light fades under pink and green and red neon. The red smears up against the curb and the image of the body pushes its way back into my head. I struggle not to throw up.
There’s a diner – Sal’s – where I used to go a lot before I was married. I still go every once in a while. It’s tempting to walk in and pretend, just for a moment, that everything’s alright – but it’s too risky, they know me too well. Sal might even call my wife.
Is she awake yet? She was finally asleep when I left, after a string of long night shifts at the hospital. She works so hard. The poor doll deserves so much better than me.
I can’t stop seeing the figure in my head. Over and over I hear the crack, like a gunshot. I didn’t know it would be so loud. I didn’t know her head would come apart like that.
Up ahead I see the Dolly, old-timey letters emblazoned in red over the ‘Now Showing’ board. They’re playing How to Marry a Millionaire. I slip inside.
The movie’s already started. There’s that old cinema smell of popcorn, mildew, and mass-market perfume. It’s not a busy time and the patrons are sparse – good. I sit in the second-to-last row, with a clear view of each exit, and think.
Oh, this is bad.
I’ve screwed up before. God knows I haven’t been a saint, done things I ain’t proud of, said things to my poor wife that I shouldn’t have, but this… this will ruin me. This there is no coming back from.
I could pack a bag. Start again. Once the wife finds out, my marriage is probably over anyway. She absolutely loved those stupid things. All hand-painted, she told me proudly. Had every special edition from the 1944 Rivet Girl to that dumb ’68 Figure Skater. But 1952… that 1952 porcelain figurine was special. She came first. I watched her fall down, down, down from the top of the display cabinet to meet her maker on the slick linoleum. Seemed like she fell for days, but still I couldn’t save her.
Betty Grable’s on the screen making eyes at some old rich fella. They’re somewhere snowy. I sink my head into my hands. My wife’s probably woken up by now and seen the body parts strewn across the floor. She’s going to be wondering where I am. God, what a woman. I don’t deserve her.
I take a breath and lean back in the chair. The red velvet’s stained and worn through in places. I need to be a man about this. Maybe I’m scared but I gotta try and be a man for her. We’ll get through this. We have to.
I push myself up off the chair, limbs heavy as an old man’s, and go home to face the music.
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About The Author
Fija Callaghan is an Irish-Canadian writer and artist who believes in embracing the magic of everyday moments. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bandit Fiction, Nightingale & Sparrow, The Caterpillar, Dodging the Rain Poetry Journal, Crow & Cross Keys, and Wyldblood Magazine. She lives between the seaside and the stars on a diet of dark chocolate and stories.
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