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Fiona, nude, sweaty and spent, tries to block out the voices in her gut and in her mind screaming, don’t go back to Tucker, because he’s gonna beat you black and blue. A dancing candle flame, letting off a poor imitation of the smell of raspberries, distorts and reshapes shadows against the bedroom wall. Fiona knows that she won’t listen to herself or anyone else, especially those closest to her, when it comes to her husband, Tucker. He has a hot head. Yes. He loses his temper. Big deal. Nobody’s perfect. He gets emotional, worked up a lot. So what? We all got something wrong going on somewhere, somehow, right?

Inside Mitch’s bedroom, flashes of distant lightening cast a blue hue over the two naked, drained, saddened lovers who are still gasping for air as would a live fish on a boat deck. Their etheric, hedonistic display of over-the-top but honest abandon bordered between a raging bout of supremacy and the fearful, desperate flaying of someone drowning. Entangled in damp sheets and sweat-drenched pillowcases, Fiona and Mitch resemble a multi-headed giant in Greek mythology, and their just concluded, amorous contestations were as fierce as the battle of the Titans.

Mitch, whose musky, citrusy scent is still smeared all over Fiona’s shimmering goosebumps, faces the wall. Tonight, Mitch vowed that he wouldn’t ask Fiona. Mitch always begs her, at some point after they “muss up some doodling,” in an off-handed manner, and often with a Johnny Carson-sequel repartee, begs Fiona to run off someplace with him as far away from her abusive husband as is practical.

However, tonight, something isn’t quite right. It seems misplaced for him to ask tonight. Even though tonight’s lovemaking was unbelievable, astonishing, timeless, there’s an abrasiveness and overarching tint pervading their innermost places that something in the air is askew, misaligned, off-kilter.

Postcoital, Mitch usually makes jokes or pulls her post-orgasm, still trembling body close, and she rests her head on his chest, or whatever part of his person is closest to her head. Then they stare off into a distance whispering soft words, humming old favorite radio tunes or remain silent, allowing heavy breathing and exhaustion to voice the incommunicable because there are no true and precise words to articulate the flow of depletion, gravity of exhaustion, fading echoes of satiation.

Tonight is different.

Why doesn’t he want to look at me?

His voice echoes off the wall.

“He’s no good for you. Why go back? Come stay with me, and we can move away in the morning. Shit, we can leave now. I got enough stashed away for both of us to live off of until we settle someplace. This is a no brainer. Just stay.”

Fiona detects a heightened degree of urgency, frustration, confusion tonight in the way he says what he’s said for the past three years. She looks at the ceiling as the headlights of a passing car skates across the ceiling.

When Fioana gets really nervous, an itchy spot flares up right where the flesh under her left thumb and wrist connect. Everything is heightened tonight; nerves, fear, even their sex was the hottest it’s been perhaps since they pounced on each other at the casino the night they met a year ago. Unspoken, banished from their thoughts, a black hole, a dangerous place or space, that’s finally glimmering, glimmering a darkness, disjointed.

Maybe he’s getting tired of being the rock to lean on. Maybe he’s getting weary of spending so much time soothing my hurt, physical, emotional, mental, that, often, burns up the few moments we can spare with our separate lives? Maybe. . .?

His fingers surf through Fiona’s hair. She slides her hand down Mitch’s sweaty back. On nights like this, it’s magical how they can rock each other’s world, ease each other's tensions, speak volumes with the nudge of a knuckle against an inner thigh, the exhalation of a sigh, air rushing out from a half-clogged nostril.

Something in their inherent chemistry causes them to almost forget the inconveniences; her marriage to a demon, his wife killed in a car crash, his daughter locked up in the state penitentiary, her stepfather taking her innocence, his five-year bid in the medium security penitentiary, his blackness, her whiteness. Nonetheless, even in the midst of coping with each other’s inner stalagmite, stalactites, caverns, quivering darkened, deadly bottomless pools, Jungian archetypes, the scent of unsatiated longing hovers above them like a storm cloud, tense, on the verge, trembling.

Fiona, struggling, ignores common sense. This isn’t the first instance that Mitch has pleaded with her to leave her husband. What’s different about it tonight?

Her repeated excuse lets loose a stench because it’s expected and redundant, it cuts deeper.  “I really don’t have a choice now, do I?”

She knows he knows that’s a lie.

Mitch lowers his head. There’s no answering such foolishness. She has choices. She’s just afraid. His desires vanish. A car races down the block, its V8 engine firing, tires screech around the corner fifty yards away.

She turns to avoid his eyes. The chasm deepens, widens, taunts. This is a rerun, a black and white sitcom replayed ad nauseum.

The issue is that even she can’t figure out the reason she crawls back to Tucker with her tail between her legs just to be used as a punching bag or worse.

Mitch turns away, as he always does; he refuses to let himself watch Fiona leave. Staring at a hairline crack in the wall next to the bed, he hears her getting dressed.

CLICK goes the deodorant. Zip. Shoes are dropped onto the floor, clunk.

“Bye, I love you.” The door slams.

He flinches and rolls on his back and reaches for the TV remote on the nightstand. Why it feels sticky he doesn’t know. Muting the TV across the room, he puts the remote back on the nightstand, turns off the lamp, rolls over and watches the light of the plasma screen dance and shimmy on the wall.

The pine trees in the wooded area between her and Mitch’s homes dice the blue moonlight that is scraping and clawing its way to the soft ground. The soft soil absorbs the moonlight while Fiona’s nervous rash flares, and she begins scraping her blazing forearm with her fingernails.

Looking at her house from the wooded space between the properties, the darkened windows reflect the opaque blue of an autumn night. She instinctively stops scrapping her arm before drawing blood.

At this stage, she always pictures an angel and devil sitting on her shoulders arguing, “If you go back to Mitch, as he constantly begs you to do, you wouldn’t have to sneak around and cover your bruises with powder from Tucker combing your hair as the old folk used to say. Right?”

What would people say about you if you left your husband?

Her closest friend Amy has questioned with no nuisance, “That asshole beats the crap out of you and you go back to him like a damn fool. Why?”

The whole world knows her husband Tucker is abusive, and this same whole world had explicitly warned her not to marry him. She’s always answered this whole world that her Taurus rising (a pet excuse) forced her into the marriage and keeps her in it. But she knows that other zodiacal influences can’t allow her to heed their advice because that would be admitting to an error.

Can shame actually be more painful than a black eye?

In the dark night a far-off blast of a barking dog holds her steps. At these moments pausing in her backyard, before, hopefully, sneaking into her house unnoticed, her senses are enhanced by the adrenaline flushing through veins.

Fiona merges and blends with her surroundings. Fairytale like, birds seem to be nesting in her hair. The scraping of squirrel and other rodents up tree bark feels as if they are scampering up her back and around her neck.

She pauses, takes in the air, evocative of swampy bogs, smashed hopes, and forgotten expectations. She looks down at her shadow cast by the ubiquitous moonlight. Rendered upon the uneven terrain, the shadow looks less human, or if human, the human figure mutilated by surrealism or her surrealistic reality.

The windows of her home reflect the blue night. The grass in her yard gives off a sheen brought to life by the full moon. Fiona looks at her faint shadow snake up the back steps. The top step lets off a low moan and she freezes.

 Fiona standing outside the house thinks to herself, “I really have nothing to fear.”

She reasons that it’s late. If Tucker is in the bed asleep, in that case I will sleep on the sofa. Tell him I dozed off watching television. But if he’s laid out on the couch like he usually is, I can sneak in the back door and in the morning, I will pretend that I tried to wake him but he was dead to the world.

A slit in the drawn curtain lures her left eye closer to the window pane.

A shimmering candlelight, from a resting outside her viewpoint, sways back and forth by a slight breeze. The dancing flame lacquers the room in both a pale, yellowish light and blue-black shadow. The room is too dark. Fiona can’t make out anything.

Moonlight persuades her creeping black outline to move along the wall and up the backstairs, turning right toward the window facing the backyard. She notices that no bugs are swarming around her head or the chirping of crickets.

Where are the all the damn, pesky insects? Her thoughts ask the silent dark.

“It’s don’t look like it is going to rain because the full moon is in the sky. Then where were the bugs? Why are they not swarming around? What does this mean?”

Giving her eyes time to adjust, she leans toward the side window. As she does so, a spider web softly kisses her cheek, and she jumps. A cough bangs against her windpipe, and she puts a fist to her mouth, grits her teeth and lets the force explode in the chest. Her stomach tightens. Fiona holds her breath, heart pounding, until the persistence of the suppressed cough lets go of its intentions.

On tippy toes, she peeks though one of the glass squares in the front door and sees her husband, Tucker Lufton, sprawled out on the sofa. She makes out his Bible face down rising and falling in his chest. He is asleep. An empty bottle has spilled booze on the table. A curved wetness, in the shape of a smile or frown, gleams back at her.

Fiona makes out from the tension on her husband’s snoring face, and the crumpled tissues splattered across the carpet, that without a doubt he knows about her latest lover, Mitch.

How long has he known?

In what seems like no time, she darts to the back of the house and opens and closes the sliding door on the patio. A last bit of chilled air smacks Fiona in the back of her neck and a shiver echoes up and down her spine.

Oh no.

Tucker sits at their kitchen table. He must have been playing racoon. The candle flame quivers and melting wax dribbles down the candle the same way tears crawl down Tucker’s cheeks when she gets up to leave. The inside of their one-bedroom flat seems to have exhaled all the fresh air from the room in anticipation of what was sure to be a battle. The wooden floors, the kitchen table and chair, tattered old sofa, the old rocker cower embarrassed, ashamed.

The wine glass shatters on the wall behind her.

About the Author

Seth Foster

Seth Foster, years ago, while living in NYC co-founded a theater company and wrote, directed, produced, and performed in one act plays. Decades later, after playing bass and guitars in small ensembles, Seth decided to take on the herculean tasks of writing short stories and writing a novel. Seth has had short stories published online and is working on a novel that takes place during the Harlem Renaissance and features jazz, gangsters, and witches.