Due to an injury, plus another project I’ve taken up, I will be unable to write short stories for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, please enjoy this short story, which was originally published in December 2014.
Darryl had only been at his job for a little over a week before Liza came home one night to find him already there, rummaging through the fridge and muttering to himself. When something got in his way, he tossed it over his shoulder, which was very unlike him. She was so shocked she didn’t know what to do. She stood in the doorway to the kitchen for several moments before she recovered the presence of mind to say, “Darryl?”
“What?” He emerged from behind the door of the fridge and she noticed he had an open can of beer in one hand. It matched the empty ones that were scattered about the kitchen floor and counter.
“What are you doing home so early?”
“Asshole fired me,” he grumbled, sticking his head back in the fridge.
“He fired you? For what?”
“For telling a customer where he could shove his big fat order.”
Liza’s jaw dropped. “You did what?”
“This customer. He comes up to me on the worksite like he owns the damn place. Says he needs a job done, so I invite him in to the office, offer him coffee, just like the monkey they trained me to be. We get to talking, and I make the mistake of mentioning my time overseas. He goes off on this rant about the war and how it’s a lost cause and the government is just sending us all over there like so much cattle to be slaughtered. I just couldn’t stand to hear him talk like that.”
Liza dropped her purse on the counter as she came around to the fridge. The fridge door remained between her and Darryl, but she spoke as though she were looking Darryl in the face. “What the hell do you think you were doing, letting it get to you like that when your job was on the line?”
“I just couldn’t stand to hear him talk about the war that way, is all. What does he know? He’s never been over there.”
“No, but the man is still entitled to an opinion. If he’s a paying customer, it doesn’t matter if he thinks the sky is purple, so long as you get the job.”
Darryl slammed the fridge door shut and pointed a finger at her. “No.” He said it so deliberately it scared her. “Over there, you don’t let them talk to you like that. You don’t take no shit from anyone, or you’ll be dead before you can blink.”
Liza’s anger dissipated in an instant as her heart filled with sympathy. She lowered her voice and reached for her husband as she said, “Oh, honey. You’re not over there anymore.”
“I know that!” he said, backing away from her. “Don’t you think I know that?”
“Then you have to stop acting like you’re over there. This isn’t a war, Darryl. No one here is trying to kill you. That man was just trying to give you some of his money.”
“I don’t need his money.”
“Yes, you do, Darryl. This isn’t the army. Here we have jobs and we pay our bills and we act civil to people, even when they aren’t civil to us.”
“I won’t do it.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“Bullshit! There’s always a choice. People just say they don’t have a choice when they don’t like their options, but the options are there.”
He continued mumbling to himself as he took his beer and shuffled off into the living room. She let out a sigh as she let him go. Then she started to make dinner.
She slept on the couch again that night. She told herself it was because she was angry with Darryl, but that was only part of the truth. The anger was all mixed up with her fear so that she couldn’t even distinguish between the two emotions. She hadn’t forgotten the night she had ended up on the floor.
She knew he hadn’t meant to do it, but she also knew that hadn’t stopped him. If he had done it once, he could do it again. She knew she couldn’t spend the rest of her life sleeping on the couch, but she wasn’t ready yet to start thinking beyond that point.
In the morning, Darryl was contrite again. He didn’t make breakfast (which was a bummer, because she had found herself looking forward to it). He did make coffee though, and sat down with the paper. She looked over his shoulder as she reached for the coffee pot and saw he was looking at the classifieds. She breathed an inward sigh of relief. She poured herself a cup of coffee and tried to sound casual as she said, “Looking for another job?”
“I kinda have to, don’t I?”
“What if you went back to Andy? Do you think he would give you your job back if you explained?”
She saw the muscles in his back and shoulders tighten. “I don’t think I can do that.”
“I just can’t.”
Liza went around the table, pulled out a chair next to him and sat down. “Look, you made a mistake. People make mistakes all the time.”
“Not me. Not like that.”
“Apparently, you do.”
He didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at her. He just looked down at the paper. She saw the muscles in his jaw working and let it go.
The mood in the house was tense for the next few days. Darryl continued looking for a job. He looked over the classifieds in the paper every morning and circled the ones he would apply for. Then he would go out and apply. Despite his outburst, Andy still gave him a good reference, so after a few days he was able to come home in triumph, hoisting a case of beer in celebration.
Liza’s spirit fell when she saw the beer. Then she saw the grin spread wide across his face and her hopes rose, warily.
He slammed the door behind him and faced her, arms spread, one arm hoisting the case of beer like a trophy. “I got a job.”
She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding and her face broke with a smile of her own. “That’s wonderful.”
“Time to celebrate,” he said. And celebrate they did. They got roaring drunk and before she knew what was happening, they were in the bedroom, tearing each other’s clothes off.
That’s the last thing she remembered before waking up in the hospital.
Her throat hurt and it was hard to swallow. She tried to turn her head, but it hurt too much.
“Don’t try to move your head,” she heard her mother’s voice say from somewhere off to her right.
She ignored the advice and strained to see her. Her mother adjusted the chair she was in so Liza could see her. “You’re all right now,” she said, stroking Liza’s hand. “But it will hurt for a while.”
Liza tried to speak, but all that came out was a strangled squeak.
“Don’t try to speak. The doctor says your throat will be raw and swollen for a while, but you’ll be fine. We just have to wait for the bruising to heal.”
She must have looked extra confused because her mom said, “Do you remember what happened?”
Liza frantically searched her memory for any hint of what could have led her here, but she came up blank. She shook her head.
Her mom grasped her hand. “Darryl brought you in. He said he woke up and he was strangling you.” Her voice broke, but she cleared her throat and continued. “He doesn’t know why he woke up then. He thinks you may have slapped him and that snapped him out of it, but you were already losing consciousness, so he brought you here. The police are questioning him now.”
The room spun and Liza clung to her mother with one hand and the side of the bed with the other to steady herself. Her mother waited patiently for Liza to absorb the information.
After a moment she began to feel more steady, but that didn’t mean she felt better. She felt helpless. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. She wanted to see him, but she couldn’t even ask for him. Even if she could, they probably wouldn’t let her see him. They would probably take him to jail. The thought made her eyes fill with tears and she squeezed her lids shut in an effort to block the tears. It didn’t work.
Her mom wiped the tears away until Liza regained control of herself.
The swelling started to go down after a couple days and then she was able to speak again. Since she was alive, conscious, and in her right mind, she was the only one who could file charges against Darryl and she refused, but she didn’t go back to the apartment either. Once she was released from the hospital, she sent her mom to pick up some of her things and she moved in with her parents until she could fully recover and figure out what to do next.
Darryl came to see her on her third day out of the hospital. Her parents didn’t want to let him in, but Liza told them to stop being ridiculous. They gave her a look that said she was the one who was being ridiculous, but they backed off. She talked with him on porch to give them some privacy.
“I brought some of your things,” he said sheepishly, holding out a bag that looked to be full of clothes.
“Thanks.” She took the bag.
“These are for you, too.” He had flowers in his other hand, which he held out to her.
“Thanks,” she said, taking those as well.
“You know I’m sorry, right?” He looked up at her, head angled down, eyes wide, in that way that never failed to make her melt. It didn’t fail this time either.
“I don’t ever want to hurt you.”
That seemed to be all there was to say on that matter. They stood there awkwardly for a minute, him rubbing the back of his neck and studying his feet while she examined the flowers in her hand.
“Look,” he finally said. “I’ve been thinking and maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to move back in.”
Liza was startled. Not at the suggestion, so much as the fact that it had come from him instead of her.
“Look, you know I love you. I always have and I always will, which is why I can’t let you come back.”
She giggled. Her throat was still bruised so it came out sounding more like a gurgle. He looked up at her in surprise.
“I’m sorry,” she said, putting a hand over her mouth to try to stop the giggles. “I’m sorry. It’s not funny. It’s just … I guess it’s just that I’ve been through a lot. Of course you’re right. I love you, too, and I know you would never hurt me, but …”
“But I did.”
“Right. And I can’t stay where I don’t feel safe, and as much as it pains me to say it …”
“Then don’t say it. I don’t want to hear it. I know what you’re going to say and I agree with you, but I don’t want to hear it.”
She closed her mouth.
They stood like that in silence for a minute before he said, “So. I guess that’s it then.”
Liza nodded, trying to stem the flow of tears that suddenly sprang up.
“I wish you all the best, Liza”
She sniffed and said, “And I want only good things for you, Darryl.”
They hugged one last time. It was a tight embrace as each clung to the other. They let go at the same time. Then Darryl turned and left.