By Maggie Clarke
(Winner of second prize in the Eastern Writers Group Biggest Little Short Story Competition 2007)
That beer smell overlays everything. Even after frying onions, and using your special expensive shampoo, the beer prevails. He’s watching TV with his mate. Their increasing stupidity relative to that growing mound of empty cans. Twenty years ago, when you told your mother he’d proposed, she said beggars cant be choosers . . . you’ll end up an old maid. You weren’t in love, but there were good things about him. Those good things were beer soluble.
You fantasise about killing him. Methods come to you easily in bed, when he’s next to you sweating and belching beer. They’re too drunk to manage plates. It’s safer serving the braised steak in bowls. You whack the bread knife into a loaf, saw off two slabs and push one down the side of each bowl into the rich gravy. It’s delivered without a thank you.
Like you’re invisible.
You hurry outside, sucking in the freshness, your bare feet loving the dewy grass. His mate will go home after the footy, then he’Il go fishing, with more beer. Sometimes he doesn’t come home; falls asleep; wakes with a sun-warmed stinking packet of worms in his face. Maybe you’Il have policemen banging on your door tonight, saying he’s smashed his car. You count stars until you can face going back inside.
On the phone later, while your girlfriend complains about sex, he stumbles past with his parka and Esky, then drives off. You’re finally, blissfully alone, ironing.
At eleven, you’re looking in the mirror thinking you don’t look bad for forty-four, thinking it’d be great if someone . . . wanted . . . respected you. You climb into bed crying.
Sirens wake you. Green clock numbers show two-fifteen. Hes not home. An hour passes just lying there hoping he’s pranged his car. You must know.
On go your ugh-boots. It’s hard to breathe. You drive a direct route to the jetty, searching for a car wrapped around a tree. Big disappointrnent. You find his parked car. If he’s fallen asleep, you need to sec how stupid he looks, and start walking the three hundred metres of smooth weathered planks. Below, waves toss up frothy curved white lines. Above, a waxing moon and cloudless sky light your way. Half way out, you check behind you. No one.
You make out strewn fishing gear at the end of the jetty. He’s snoring, legs dangling over, slumped onto his side, with leaking saliva forming a dark patch on the board under his mouth. You prod him. Another drunken stupor. You check behind you. No one. Your ugh-boot moves. It nudges his lower back at first, then starts pushing, sliding his weight across until it reaches that perfect point between balance and gravity. You watch him slip over. The splashing doesn’t last long.
Your hair blows across your face. You smell your special expensive shampoo. You’re exhilarated. By the time you reach your car, tears of joy choke your voice. It’s the perfect time to dial the police … to tell them you’ve searched, but can’t find your husband.