One month that fall, her cell phone bill came in at well above the usual amount. Being that the account was in his name, and he was the one who handled their finances and daily took the mail from the mailbox when he arrived home from work, it was obvious this bill should end up in his hands. An examination of the bill’s call history revealed a certain number had been called repeatedly. He dialed that number. When a man answered, he told him, “Don’t think it’ll stop with you.” They’d been having their fair share of problems, certainly, but the fact that she hadn’t intercepted the bill caused him to realize he was either living with a cruel-hearted bitch or a fool. He wasn’t sure which one he wanted her to be.
Right around the time the weather fully turned and the insects sought the house’s promise of heat, he read a haiku that essentially translated from the original Japanese as, "Don’t worry spiders, I keep house casually." The idea of this appealed to him so fully that he no longer killed spiders, especially not those that found their way into the house. Instead, he trapped them under a drinking glass, slid the glass onto a sheet of paper and carried them back outside. One morning after he’d started doing this, his wife discovered that something had bitten their infant daughter on the thigh during the night. A fever ensued. Then a welt the size of quarter that became a blister that became an open sore. Fortunately, time, his daughter’s able constitution, and the proscribed medicated cream healed the ugly wound, and no scar remained. On Christmas morning, a few weeks after the baby’s thigh had completely healed, his wife screamed from the kitchen. He ran in from the living room where he’d been sitting on the couch, staring at the Christmas tree and considering the ironies of his situation. Frozen on the counter was a wolf spider with legs long enough to span his palm. “Jesus. Kill it,” she said. “Kill it.” There was an issue of Time within easy reach. Of course he should kill it, but why do anything her way? He decided to get a glass from the cupboard instead. His move toward the cupboard startled the spider, and it skittered quickly down the face of the counter and disappeared into the cold air return.
A few weeks after New Year’s she told him she’d made plans to have a few drinks with “a friend who’d been going through some issues with her husband.” He decided not to tell her what he knew (or what he knew she knew he knew, depending). After she left, he sat down at their kitchen table with a bottle of whiskey and put out an entire pack of cigarettes on his forearm, one at a time.
1. This is only a test.
2. Empirical science calls for numerous trials.
3. It does, indeed, burn.
4. A pattern emerges. Is it ridiculous or ironic to consider a smiley face?
5. You get a better sear after smoking most of one.
6. Starting to settle in here.
7. How, exactly, is this connected to math again?
8. The smell of yourself burning.
9. Menthol might have been the better choice.
10. Whatever flicks your bic.
11. Sarcastic Zen.
12. In case you’re wondering, it takes eight to make a decent smiley face.
13. By the way, this is the pack I hid from you because I want you to quit.
14. Nothing can change what we’ve already done to (or for) each other.
15. Unlike in the movies, pouring whiskey on it doesn’t help.
16. Smoked out. Only taking a drag or two before stubbing on flesh.
17. Despite everything, I still love you.
18. Always. (Just finished the blistering eyebrows!)
19. It’s almost a matter of stupid pride at this point.
20. Exhale. Slowly. Smoke this one to the filter and leave you to consider the raw, singed end.
She came home to the smell of burnt flesh and the above list taped to their daughter’s empty crib. She dialed the same number that he’d dialed months before, sobbing into the receiver the instant someone picked up. She was shocked and worried into not knowing if she’d been a fool or cruel-hearted bitch. The voice on the other end told her she was something else entirely.