Banquet of Souls, 2nd Course, “Ruth”
Okay Deadies, today is a twofer. Take a look:
What follows is an excerpt from the second story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.
“Yesterday was our anniversary.”
Morris looked up from the newspaper. Absently, he returned to his reading.
“My birthday was on the third. Remember?”
Morris grunted acknowledgement. He noisily turned a page.
“You didn’t get me anything.”
Morris peered up at Ruth over the tops of his glasses. “I thought we were past all that.”
He listened for an answer. Just when he thought she would say nothing, she spoke up.
“No. Not me. I’ll never get past all that.” She stared at him, her eyes unusually dark and piercing; the lines in her forehead especially deep, her eyebrows scrunched together in aggravation. “If Josie and Rob could remember my birthday, then you should.”
Morris clenched his jaw, bemused that she replied with uncharacteristic force, for once. Sure, the kids sent her cards. They had to. They were in a different state. What did she want him to say? That he was sorry? She knew better. He opted for silence rather than start another screaming match. He turned the newspaper page to the sports section. Damn. The Yankees lost another one.
“Do you love me?” Ruth asked.
Morris sighed, setting down the paper. “Of course.”
Ruth seemed different, like her face was hers yet not really hers. Her stocky body seemed oddly disproportionate, her grey hair, usually brushed up and held back with a brass clip, was wild and uncombed. Looking at her, Morris inexplicably felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise.
“Then say it.”
“That you love me.”
Morris opened his mouth, the rarely-used words getting jammed in his throat. Finally, he blurted out, “I love you,” annoyed and angry that she was forcing the entire issue.
He watched Ruth’s eyes as they went hard, like a doll’s glass eyes.
“Well I don’t love you anymore.”
Morris stared blankly at her. He had assumed that she stopped loving him long ago, and now she finally admitted it.
“Why not?” he asked simply.
Ruth’s jaw clenched. “I stopped loving the last, miserable little bit of you the last time we fought.”
“Which time was that?”
“Last week. When you hit me.”
“I told you I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t. You made me lose my temper.”
Ruth leaned forward, her faded, floral housecoat brushing against her cup of tea. “You shouldn’t have hit me again. You promised.”
“Oh for God’s sake,” Morris sputtered in exasperation.
“We’ve been married for nearly fifty years. Every time you lose your temper I end up with a bruise or black eye.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“If you were sorry you wouldn’t have done it time after time after time.”
“What the hell do you want from me, woman?”
Ruth sat back in her chair, her gaze fixed on him. “Nothing. Nothing ever again.”
“You want a divorce?” Morris challenged, trying to keep his voice calm.
Ruth smiled. Her lips and her eyes looked cold. “No. Not at all.”
“Then what do you want?”
“Your monthly checks.”
Morris blinked in disbelief. Finally, he said, “I worked at the plant for forty years. I got you this house so we didn’t need to live in town. You already get a roof over your head and food on the table. You get to go to the senior center for bingo and lunch with the girls.”
Ruth stared unblinking.
“I want more,” she declared. She leaned forward once more and tapped the kitchen table with her forefinger.
“I. Deserve. It.” She gave each word individual gravitas.
Morris stared into Ruth’s maniacal eyes. “I provide for us,” he slowly asserted, jabbing a finger into his chest. “I always have.”
Ruth smiled, her lips wet and rubbery. “One thing.”
“You ever touch me again and I WILL kill you.”
Morris looked hard at Ruth, barely recognizing her. He should have seen the storm brewing in her months ago. She was too calm, like she had made a decision. A big decision. And it was final.
“I’ll never touch you again,” Morris uttered. At that moment, he believed his promise. But he also knew that tomorrow was another day.
12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c
Kindle edition $2.99