Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Wounded Beast

Beth staggered backward from his confession, her round face bobbing, looking much the way it did when they were first married—soft, sweet, and young.

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

The overhead fluorescent light flickered blue, casting a ghostly illumination that washed out her rosy complexion. After another step back, her eyes narrowed. The surprise confession prompted bitter laughter, which she repressed fast. And yet—he was in love with another woman after all. They stared at each other and their nineteen years of marriage vanished.

Zach’s animal instinct took over with a bestial desperation he had never known before. Beth hugged her robe tighter around her body.

Fear besieged him; he stood straighter and thrust out his chest to counter sickness and remorse.  He gaped watching his gentle, nurturing wife morph into a predator, an enemy of a different species. Within a timeless gap, she tipped her feral head to appraise him critically.

Beth’s expression filled the room with scorn. He could see she wanted to laugh at him and her eyes did: in the middle of the night, taking a hammer to an award he had longed for since he was thirteen years old. Then she shook her head laughing at herself. Why had she fooled herself for so long? One half of  her brain shamed her deliberate ignorance, while the other half groped among the flickering suspicions that had disrupted her sleep for years. Possibly, for the first time in her life, her self-deprecating side lost. Her mouth twisted in amused disbelief.

“Are you sure, Zach?” Against her will, her voice recalled her father’s sarcastic cadence. “You’re sure you’re in love with a woman? And not a Boy Scout?”

Zach’s right fist lashed out as Beth was already turning away. The impact clipped her jaw. Without a pause, without glancing at him, she proceeded regally up the stairs.

Crouching beside his workbench, Zach hung his head and sucked in deep, long breaths, eyes closed. After he recovered a modicum of dignity—or assumed he had—he tiptoed upstairs to his bedroom. Which Beth had locked.

He reeled before the closed door. What had happened? Zachary Severins would never hit his wife. The mother of his children? Never!

Groaning, he clung to the banister, easing his over-sized body onto the top step. Here he waited for an explanation to arise. That didn’t happen but his shock lessened. After an unknown span of time, he knocked lightly on the clean, pressed wood door. “Beth, baby, please. Let me in. You know I’m sorry. I can’t believe what happened. And you know, you must know, I’ll never strike you again.” Ordinarily, he would have added, “Scouts’ Honor.” The loss of this essential value brought forth the tears he so despised.

Locked out of the master bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face in the powder room. He had strayed so far off course, he couldn’t get into his own medicine cabinet. He couldn’t take a shower in his own home.

For years, Matt’s troop had collected soup, sandwiches, candy bars, and travel-sized shaving implements, distributing them late Friday nights to homeless men squatting under bridges, curled inside doorways, lying on subways grates. And here he was—needing to leave but unable to shave.

When was the last time he had stayed with Vida? He had given her some excuse last week and this week as well. Itching to shave and shower, he didn’t trust himself to drive to an all-night drug store. The Hudson River towns had zoned them off to the cheaper suburbs. To find a Walgreen’s, Zach would need to navigate unfamiliar roads for twenty minutes. All he needed now was a car wreck.

So he sat at the top of the stairs, wearing his constrictive uniform, stinking from failure, waiting for sunrise.

(click here for the next episode)


Dan Leo said...

Ah well, another perfect life that's not so perfect...

Unknown said...

He's taking quite a hike starting....about now.