"The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed." - Ernest Hemingway
Eric stepped out of the shower and a foul stench—mingled with the crisp peppermint of his shampoo—smacked him in the face and left a coppery taste in the back of his throat. His stomach heaved. Confused, he looked around the room to figure out where the smell came from, but he couldn't pinpoint it. Dread clung to him, dark and sticky, ruining his relaxed mood. The light bulbs over the sink hummed, casting harsh yellow light about the room. He shaded his eyes against the glare, trying to see.
Why were those lights so bright? Something was terribly wrong in his peaceful world, and not knowing what it was frightened him.
His wife Alicia brushed her teeth as if nothing was unusual, while the stink of rot lurked beneath the cool mint of his shampoo. Why didn't she notice the smell?
He leaned towards her to place his hand on her shoulder, and she turned her face towards his for a kiss on the cheek. Ugly, purple bruises darkened her eyes. He pulled away, repulsed and alarmed, not quite sure what he was seeing. One side of her face had swelled to a dark mask, not unlike a pumpkin that had been left outside in the damp earth to rot. An angry red welt encircled her throat like a bloody ribbon wrapped around her neck. Frightened, he reached out one hand but he couldn't bring himself to touch her swollen face. Touching her would make the vision real and it couldn't be real.
Alicia spat in the sink. Two of her teeth bounced against the porcelain. Blood tainted the paste.
"The girls are running late again." Alicia's bloodied mouth leaked crimson and white toothpaste. Why did she act as if nothing strange was going on? He gaped at her, not understanding what was happening. The safety of his home evaporated as she spoke with her raw, torn mouth. "Make them wolf down their cereal, and toss them out of the house before they miss the bus."
"Alicia, who did this to you?" Eric asked. She did not answer him. She brushed her teeth, running the brush over her ragged gums where the teeth had been knocked out. His stomach heaved again, and he swallowed hard to keep from vomiting. He wanted to knock out the teeth of whoever had assaulted her, but she acted as if nothing was wrong. Why?
The phone rang. Who would be calling him at this hour? It wasn't even 7:30 yet. He asked Alicia again who had done this to her, but she didn't answer him. She dried her torn mouth, and then she smeared foundation over her face. To his horror, the foundation did not cover her bruises. It only made them look uglier and even more purple.
Eric walked to the phone and answered it.
The phone continued to ring. Eric's steam-hazy mind knew that that wasn't supposed to happen.
Eric woke up in bed to the ringing of the telephone on the dresser next to him. His wife, Carol, stirred at his side.
ABOUT ELIZABETH BLACK