“Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes” drifted through the dirty, cramped bungalow on Hull Street. The neighborhood had seen better days, and the house’s dilapidation spoke of apathy and depression. That was common in the area. Ever since the town’s industry moved overseas, the children of blue-collar parents hadn’t much to expect out of life. That was partly their fault, but not enough to leave anyone completely blameless.
“I’m hungry now, Ash!” gave chase to the statement with fervor. John was drunk again. He sat on the edge of his tattered recliner, while the recycled TV played a recycled episode of Night Court. John wasn’t very particular in what he watched, as long as it helped him forget about life. Edgy programming, like the news, was completely out of the question. He had plenty of troubles; he didn’t want to borrow anyone else’s.
“Then make it yourself,” Ashley muttered as she cut the rest of the carrots. She was on her last short order for three years and counting.
“You need to learn to prepare more often!” John’s voice was the rasp in the marriage, made more abrasive by Old Grand-Dad, Early Times, or any other variety of whisky Bernie’s Cash ‘n’ Carry had on sale at the time.
“I wanted to try something different tonight. I’m making a dish I saw at Las Dulces.” Saving face with a demanding drunk was always a chore. It felt like entertaining a fussy child. She knew John was already priming for a fight. The signs we unmistakable: he was out of his chair and getting louder. The glaze over his eyes protected him from seeing anything that would bother his conscience later. He propped himself up against the kitchen doorframe for support. He needed all the energy he could to mouth off.
“Las Dulces?!” John squeezed his eyes into his sculls with the remaining muscle control he had over his face. “When were you there? That shit’s expensive!”
“Oh! It was last Thursday with Jen. She picked up the tab. I thought that was nice of her.” Quickly, she zones in on the sizzling frying pan. An odd pairing they were. John focused on the outside world to forget; Ashley focused on the outside world to “remember.”
“You said you went to Caitlyn’s on Thursday.” John’s appearance darkened. He may have been drunk, but he still had enough brain power to connect the dots. He didn’t like where this was going.
At that moment, fear and relief waged war over Ashley’s body. The secret was coming out tonight, one way or another. She supposed that all affairs surface sooner or later. It would have been nice if he was sober at the time. At least then she wouldn’t have to be concerned about a fist or a belt.
Ashley had things planned for months: slowly moving possessions out of the house, explaining how they “broke” or were no longer needed. A bottle of whisky usually solved that problem. Then there was the money. It was always a little here, a little there, but never enough to alert his covetous eyes. She could have used a few more months’ worth of scraps. Sometimes life isn’t convenient.
She took a deep breath and laid a hand on a frying pan. Here was the wind up, and the pitch. She’d go down swinging, if it came to that.
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