For the last fifteen years, she had put up with that shitty faucet. The cracked handles with the red “H” and that blue “C” slapped onto the wrong knob. And now, after fifteen long years, the familiar grooves slipped under her wet, sticky fingers, only to let out a disappointing hiss.
It wasn’t until today that she had said anything like that so loudly while he was in the house, not that it mattered now. She sunk down against the warped wood paneling of the bathroom walls and stared at her hands, careful to keep them from dripping on her jeans that were already soaked through at the knees. The bull had probably gotten in over by the well house and stepped on the water pipe again, which was why there wasn’t anything but air coming out of the faucet. How was she supposed to wash this blood off her hands with no running water? And how was she supposed to fix a busted pipe by herself, now that John was dead? At least, she supposed he was dead. She hadn’t actually checked.
It shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have ended like that. It had been a long time since John had lost a fight, though he was fond of reliving his last defeat.
He had this puckered scar that ran the length of his forehead, and he would tell the button down shirts and scuffed up, patent leather shoes in his Sunday School class about it late in the summer every year, in that unholy lull between Easter and Christmas. The fronts of the plastic chairs in the classroom would weigh down as the children scooted closer and closer to the edge of their seats as he told them about his dance with the devil. He would lick his lips to get a taste of the sin that gathered at the corners of his mouth as he told the kids about his wild nights with the beer, the loose women, and above all else, the fights.
And the mean sonuva gun, Lord bless his soul, that took a broken beer bottle and drug it right across John’s head, from one ear to the other. How his buddy thought he was going to die ‘cause there was so much blood. And about how right before the doctor’s stitched him up, John found a white book on the bedside table that changed his life. Right then and there, in his hospital bed, he renounced his life of sin and gave it all to the Lord. That he knew no matter what those doctors did or did not do for his body that night, his soul would have eternal life in the Lord.
He told this story at least once a year, and it was guaranteed that half the audience had heard it six times. But everybody knew testimonies were always better than sermons – David never had Goliath’s girl straddled across his lab after more beers than he could count. It didn’t even matter if it was true or not. That’s not why they were listening. It helped that as John aged, his hairline moved farther and farther back to give his jagged scar the sole place of honor on his forehead. That story would be nothing without that scar, a mark of God’s promise.
It had been a long time since John had woken up on a Sunday morning with a line of crusted blood or a blackened eye. Church had taught him how to pick his battles. With the Lord on his side, he never should have lost. But maybe he had forgotten to stay his prayers that morning. Maybe that was why, when he grabbed Lauralie by the left wrist because supper wasn’t ready yet, things didn’t go like they always did. It was supposed just to end in another armful of bruises, another week of unseasonal cardigans in late July for Lauralie, nothing more.
She had been chopping up zucchinis with that big knife her mother-in-law had gotten her for Christmas last year when he walked in. She knew supper needed to be ready early tonight so John could get to his deacon’s meeting on time. But she had messed up the paperwork for a few of the cases, and she had to fix them before Mr. Vernon got back in the morning. She couldn’t lose that job, not right after she got it. And then the system was down at the store and her Lone Star card wouldn’t run through, leaving Lauralie to scrounge below the gum wrappers and receipts at the bottom of her purse for change at the very front of an angry and impatient line.
She threw the groceries on the counter at soon as she got home, and grabbed a pot from the cabinets. The water spurted as it came out of the faucet, but she didn’t have time to worry about that. As she set the pot to boil on the stove top and defrosted the meat, she rehearsed the same lines she had been delivering for fifteen years, preparing for the role she had changed her last name to play.
“The first thing he’s going to say when he sees the plates aren’t on the table is ’Dammit, Lauralie,’ then he’ll grab my arm and spin me around but I won’t look him in the eyes when I tell him I’m sorry and he won’t hit my face, ‘course, he’ll go for my arms, or my stomach, God please, please, please let it be my arms. Dammit Lauralie, dammit Lauralie, that’s what he’s going to say. If I were a dog, I’d probably think that was part of my name. One of those worthless dogs that curls up in the corner when you call its name.”
She was chopping zucchini when he walked in, chanting dammitlauralie-I’msorry-Godplease, dammitlauralie-I’msorry-Godplease, each beat coming down with the blade on the clear plastic cutting board. That’s when he grabbed her wrist, crying “Dammit Lauralie, I’m going to be late,” just like she knew he would. He followed his lines, just like he was supposed to, so why didn’t she?
Why did she keep the knife in her hand, instead of dropping it? And why had she brought it up and through his shoulder, just like she was trying to slice up a Christmas ham? It shouldn’t have ended that way, not with the eight inches and at least a hundred pounds he had on her. They’d been following the same script for fifteen years. But this time, John’s eyes met hers with fear instead of Lauralie’s dropping in pain. This time, he was the one stumbling back. It had been a long time since John had lost a fight, a long time since he had to watch his footing as he fell back. He must have forgotten his prayers that morning when he was late for work. Why else would he have fallen back and hit his head right on the corner of the cracked countertop?
Lauralie must have forgotten her prayers too, but she remembered the last fifteen years.
“You’re damn right you’re going to be fucking late.”
She wrapped her legs around his lap and pulled the knife out of his shoulder, only to bring it down hard on his chest and stomach, again and again. She remembered the hidden bruises and the unbelievable excuses and every single fucking time she had to sit through that bastard’s story about how he had given his violent, drunken, lusting ways over to the Lord. She smiled every time she would bring the knife down between his ribs as the blade would slip all the way through until the handle met the skin.
“Does that feel good, baby? Do you like that?” she asked, panting as she twisted the knife into his stomach. “Remember on our wedding night, when you got drunk and fucked me in the hallway of our hotel behind the ice machine and I bled everywhere and it hurt so bad and you told me, you- you told me that I liked it? I think you like this.”
John didn’t say anything.
She kept bringing the knife down. She was breathing in short, hard gasps, not noticing the blood that had soaked through his blue denim work shirt with the embroidered name tag or that only one person in the room was breathing. She started moving up to his thick throat, slicing between the stubble he had always been too lazy to shave properly. As she moved her blade up, her eyes went along with it until she saw the scar that ran above his unruly black eyebrows.
Yes, that’s it, she thought as she smiled again. Slowing down for the first time since John had first grabbed her wrist, she carefully took the tip of her blade and traced the jagged scar perfectly. She stopped to admire her handiwork. Lauralie had hated that scar, how proud he was of it, as if it came from God Himself and not some drunken nobody in some small town bar. Now it would have to scab over all again, a change brought by her own hands. Now he would have to be the one to come up with some excuse about falling down the stairs their trailer house didn’t have, she thought.
“Now, sweetheart, you’re going to know what it’s like when you show up to work with cuts and bruises and have people look at you like – oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, this ain’t happenin’, no it can’t.”
She looked down at his body, now pooled in blood like that time the dogs killed the doe that got caught in the yard. She jumped off of his body and ran to their bathroom to wash her hands, blood dripping on the linoleum tile with every single hurried step. He hated it when she washed her hands in the kitchen sink. That’s for the dishes, he would say, and she would follow his rules. She always followed his rules. That’s why he said he loved her, because she was a good listener and a good, Godly, obedient wife.
But now the pipes were busted and he wasn’t here to fix it. He hated fixing the pipes. Always yelling at her when she went to help him by placing whatever tool he demanded into his broad, callused hands. But he always meant well, she told herself. He was just trying to do what was right, he was always trying to do the right thing. He was a good man, wasn’t he? Everybody said so, all the guys at work and at church told her he was.
She had no reason to ever be mad at him. Sure, he hit her every now and then, but it wasn’t as bad as she really thought it was. He did it for her own good. And hadn’t he married her, taken her in and loved her when no one else would? He loved her, Lauralie, the girl with the stringy hair and the bad grades and the same old baggy t-shirts, so easy to cry. The girl in high school that no one made fun of because no one even noticed her. No one except John, that is. He was a good man. I’ll have to tell him that, she thought, I’ll tell him I love him and I didn’t mean any of it and I deserve whatever it is that he does –
“Shit,” she screamed. Her hands flew to her face, as she bit down on her fingers. She rubbed her bottom lip with her free thumb, painting herself for John as she let the metallic taste hit her tongue. He hates it when I use those words, he says it isn’t right for a lady to curse, I hope he didn’t hear me, what is he going to do to –
Nothing. He’s not going to do anything.
She didn’t know what she was going to do either. What was she supposed to do without John anyways? She was so stupid, she wouldn’t be able to figure anything out. It was like that one time she signed up for a math class at that community college in Austin. John said it was a waste of money, and she would fail. They both knew she wasn’t any good at school, that she was dumber than a fence post, that’s what he would say. But he was so kind that he let her go, just to try it out. That’s the kind of man he was, Lauralie thought. The first day of school, she showed up in her printed sundress, the one John liked, and they told her she needed a hundred dollar calculator. And the teacher, with that stupid tie around his fat neck, he laughed at her when she said she couldn’t afford it.
She never went back after that. She drove back home and let the screen door slam behind her, even though John hated that, and told him he was right. She was stupid and it was a waste of money. He was right. He was always right. What was she supposed to do without him?
The phone rang. She ran to its place on living room table, right next to John’s recliner. At least she could do that by herself, she thought. She went to reach for it, but her fingers froze around the phone as she saw the red fingerprints just placed on the white plastic. It’s got to be the police, she thought. How did they find out so fast? It’s got to be them. They know what I did.
She let it chirp under her hands, wondering if John’s blood would stain the phone permanently, or if it would wash off. Maybe I could bleach it. Finally, the automated voicemail message clicked on. They used to have a cute one, John and Lauralie in their sing-song voices, but things change in fifteen years.
“Ummm, John? Yeah, this is Harold Smith, from over at the First Baptist Church? Well, of course you know who I am. Anywho, I just wanted to let you know we missed you over at the deacon’s meeting tonight. Didn’t really talk about anything important, but wanted you to know we’ll be prayin’ for you. Also, tell Lauralie that Becky’s still got her signed up to bring brownies to the picnic on Saturday. I know they’ll be delicious! That pretty wife of yours sure is a good cook. Anyways, God Bless!”
The machine stopped, and Lauralie finally let go of the phone. It was just Harold from church. Everything was going to be alright. They had people praying for them, even. She would just tell people John wasn’t feeling well. Yes, that was it – she would just say he was sick. He was probably just sick, he’d be better in no time. On Saturday, they would drive over to the picnic in John’s pickup truck and she would bake her brownies and everything would be perfect. Harold would probably even tell her how good her dessert tasted, though John said the man would eat anything.
“Oh, supper! I forgot, John. I’m so sorry baby, I’m so sorry. That pot of water has probably boiled on over by now.”
She walked into the kitchen, her bare feet pattering through the growing puddle of blood.
“I can’t even remember the last time I cooked a meal with you in the kitchen, darlin’. Remember when you used to come up behind me and give me kisses when I cooked? You’d tell me I wasn’t so pretty, but my cookin’ sure was fine!”
She laughed as she scooted his arm out of the way with her toes so that the refrigerator door would swing open.
“We’ll just have to do something quick and easy since we don’t have any water, baby. It looks like there ain’t nothin’ here in the fridge that will work, but I know I’ve got a frozen pizza there in the freezer. It’s a meat lover’s, your favorite. I guess we’ll have soda to drink. No sweet tea tonight. We can work on the water pipe after supper.”
She set the oven to preheat, and busied herself with cleaning. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, that’s what John would always say.
“You are just the messiest man alive, John! Comin’ home with some sort of something new on you or your clothes all the time.”
She chatted happily with him as she soaked a roll of paper towels red. She removed his soiled clothes, throwing them directly into the wash so maybe the stains wouldn’t set. As the muscles of John’s body began to relax, she scooped up the mess left by his loosened bowels right before the ding of the preheated oven reminded her of their meal.
“I’ve just got to pop the pizza in, and I’ll be right back to finish cleaning you up!”
Into the oven the pizza went, just enough to feed the two of them. Lauralie wetted a dishtowel with the little bit of water left in the pot on the stove, and began to clean off the blood that had crusted on John’s forehead.
“Oh darling, you’ve got that mark on your forehead here just like that Abel did. God’s chosen one. Or was it Cain? I can’t ever remember. You’re just so much smarter than me, I know you could tell me. Which one was it, John? Was it Cain, or was it Able? John, which one was it? John?”