Until the Ice Melts
The ice pack on
Kaylene’s wrist slid off and landed on the kitchen’s dirty linoleum floor
with a sickening plop. The ice inside
was mostly melted already, but she’d hardly noticed; she’d been too distracted
thinking about her situation, and how to change it. Danny’d always had a
temper, but his fuse was getting shorter and shorter—especially where she was
concerned. Dinner’s not ready when he wants it? Shove. Pork roast too greasy?
Plate hits the wall. Rolls are burned? Slap. Laundry’s not folded and put away?
Punch in the ribs. Something had to give.
But this was the
first time he’d hurt her where anyone else would notice. Oh, once when he said
she wasn’t spending enough time with the kids, she countered that she had to
work so they could to pay the rent—and as she walked away, he grabbed a fistful
of her brassy red hair and yanked. He threw the bloody hank in her face and
laughed. Not so pretty now, he’d hissed. She wore her hair up in a loose
bun for months after that, until the spot healed and the hair grew back. But
even then none of her co-workers had noticed her injury.
It’s not like she
had friends she could confide in; he’d made sure of that, for years. Old high
school gal pal Tina called when she was in town visiting family? Never got the
message. Christmas card from her favorite cousin Miranda in Omaha? Card was
shredded and shoved in the garbage before she saw it. Email invitation from
Terri at the new mother’s group about a girl’s night out? Deleted before Kaylene
had a chance to read it, as were many of her email messages.
When her daughters
had grown up and left the home, Kaylene thought her relationship with Danny
would renew itself. She hoped it would return to what it had been in high
school: passionate, romantic, the two of them so in love there was no one else
in the world. But what Kaylene had considered teenage passion matured into
controlling, adult abuse.
Her baby sister had
warned her; Danny had a reputation among the underclass girls for being sexually
aggressive, and mean when he didn’t get what he wanted. When he was a junior,
his then-girlfriend, a petite freshman named Juanita, showed her track coach
bruises on her breast where Danny’d mashed her because she refused to go all
the way. The coach took this information to the principal; Danny was confronted
and kicked out. He spent his senior year attending a rival high school.
Kaylene met him
their senior year at a dance held after the last football game of the season.
He crashed the party, along with several of his new buddies, looking for
trouble. With her natural red hair, she was easy to spot in a crowd; he made
her his target, swooping in and doing his best to sweep her off her feet. He’d
been kicked out of her high school for fighting, he bragged, when he was
defending the reputation of a mentally-disabled student. When he graduated, he
told her, he was going to enlist in the Marines, or maybe become a Navy SEAL
team member, or an Army Ranger. He flexed his biceps. Kaylene was impressed by
his fearless, macho posturing as only a naïve teenage girl could be. He wanted
to do her because she was a symbol for the school that unceremoniously dumped
him. In his over-heated little brain, seducing and abandoning her would be the
equivalent of fucking over the entire school. Best revenge. Ever.
And if she got
knocked up? Not his problem. She should’ve been more careful.
But it did turn out
to be his problem. For as much of a bastard as Danny was, his parents were
basically good people. They badgered him into doing the right thing. Kaylene
and Danny both graduated in May; they married in June.
He didn’t join the
service; instead he worked as an assistant grease monkey at a neighborhood
garage; a job his older brother finagled for him. Kaylene, with her parent’s
help, went to secretarial school and got a decent position with a local
insurance agency. After their first child, Ariel, was born, the second
daughter, Jasmine, quickly followed. The ensuing years were a blur: work, kids’
school, work, short summer vacations, work, stressful holidays, work, kids’
school, work. And then all of a sudden, it was over; the girls were grown and
Yet now Danny was
more angry than ever.
Tonight, Kaylene had
suggested—had the audacity to suggest—that maybe they, the two of them,
could dress up a bit and go out to dinner. Nothing fancy, just a happy hour and
half-price appetizers down at Bergie’s Bar and Grill—where they’d had their
wedding reception so many years ago. Danny never acknowledged their anniversary,
so why, he demanded to know, start now? Why, he growled, getting in her
face, celebrate something that aboso-fucking-lutely ruined his life? Kaylene
teared up and turned away—and when she did, he grabbed her wrist and twisted,
fracturing the bones. When she cried out, he shoved her against the fridge.
“Better put some ice
on that,” Danny’d chortled as he walked out of the kitchen. She did, and while
the ice numbed her pain, she came to a decision. Kaylene patiently waited until
the ice melted in the zip-lock baggie, and then rose from her flimsy kitchen
table to pull a carving knife from the solid wooden block on the cluttered
counter. A wedding gift from her old bestie, Tina, who told her it would almost
certainly come in handy someday. That “someday” was today.
Hiding the blade
behind her back with her good hand, Kaylene found Danny into the bedroom. He
was cleaning up, smoothing his graying blonde hair, splashing on cheap cologne,
getting ready to go out—without her. His thin gold wedding ring was in his wooden
change bowl on the dresser. Kaylene crept up behind him. Their eyes met in the
mirror. Danny squinted and smirked.
“Oooo, wassa matter,
poor widdle Kaylene has a boo-boo?” Danny snickered. “Kaylene wanna say sowwy
to big hunky Danny for being such a goddamn worthless little piece of—”
she interrupted without emotion, “today wants a present, and gets a present.
One she picked out for herself.”
The knife plunged. One, two
three, four, five—and so on to nineteen. One deep jab for each year of their
miserable marriage. When she was done, Kaylene sat on their bed and smiled;
she’d worry about clean up later. Right now, she was going to dress up and then
go down to Bergie’s—half price appetizers and discounted Mexican beer! After all
these years, she finally had something to celebrate.
Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi
pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor
for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA
Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such
as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s
Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories
have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black
Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit
Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such
as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big Easy, Thuggish
Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She
appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby"
in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for
Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states
in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona. https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/