(My take on Stephen King’s writing exercise from On Writing. Written in 2012. I learned more from this one exercise than I did from all the creative writing classes I’ve ever taken. Some adult language.)
My career goal is to be a rock god. Really? That’s what kids wrote on their job applications these days? Dick sighed.
The intercom’s light blinked a few seconds before the phone actually rang. He looked up from the pile of applications in front of him through the front window of his office. His secretary, prim, disapproving Ellen, sat at her desk holding the receiver to her ear.
He answered her call, “Yes?”
“It’s time to pick up Nell for the party,” Ellen said.
“Oh shit yeah, thanks”
Dick hung up and tossed the applications into his briefcase so he could look them over again later at home. Why did his best candidate have to fail the pee test?
Ellen was still watching him. Was he just imagining the pity in her eyes? He couldn’t blame her. He was pathetic. A real man didn’t get beaten up by a woman.
He picked up his briefcase along with what was left of his pride and walked past Ellen’s desk. He plastered a smile on his bruised and swollen face, “I have my cell so call if you need anything.” She pursed her lips in a sort of smiling grimace but said nothing.
Maybe it was time to make Ellen a cashier and find a new secretary. She was just another reminder of Jane. Every time he saw her he remembered the day his wife announced over the store’s loudspeaker that Ellen was giving him blowjobs at lunch. He was surprised he still had a job after her stunt. What she said wasn’t true, of course, and filing for divorce seemed to soothe Ellen and corporate, but he had a harder time with the grandma who’d been in the toy aisle with her grandson and wanted Dick to get the kid to stop saying blowjob to everyone he met.
Standing silently in front of Ellen he realized they were both probably thinking about the same thing. He blurted out, “See you tomorrow” and quickly left. Yes, he should definitely make her a cashier… or something.
The offices of Save Now Drugs exited from behind the service desk. Every time he walked past it he could almost see Jane standing there in that bright yellow dress, asking a clerk for the manager so she could show him the new line of cosmetics from Sofella. He was lost the moment she turned her high-powered smile on him. He bought her line of cosmetics… and a few other things as well. Too bad he didn’t find out she was a paranoid, controlling bitch until after he’d said that bit about ‘til death do us part.
Dick walked through the half empty parking lot to his car, detouring past the construction so he wouldn’t have to use his usual tae kwon do lie on the guys. This project was his baby – a sign that could be seen from interstate. He was still a little surprised corporate had found the money. The men lowered the support posts into the gaping hole and tomorrow morning they were scheduled to fill it with cement. Once that hardened, they’d crane the mother of all signage into place. More profits meant a bigger bonus so the sooner that sign was up, the better. Even though the judge had awarded him both Nell and the house, without Jane’s income he was on the verge of losing their home.
After getting Nell from day care, Dick parked outside a house decorated with balloons. He lifted her out of her car seat and said, “Remember last time and don’t eat so much candy, okay.”
“I won’t daddy,” she said. Now on her feet, she was skipping with excitement, her pigtails bouncing behind her. “I just want cake and ice cream, cake and ice cream, cake and ice cream.”
He smiled, “Don’t eat too much cake and ice cream either. That will make your tummy hurt too.” He took her hand and led her up the balloon-lined driveway. Once she saw the other kids she ran off, her little hand slipping out of his.
He loved her tiny hands. When he first looked at Nell’s perfectly miniature fingers and toes, he thought maybe a baby would soften Jane’s rough edges and bring them together as a family. Instead, after Nell’s birth, Jane had experienced some sort of break. She became verbally abusive to Dick and overprotective of Nell. The happy family he longed for would never be.
Dick pulled into in his driveway. It would be at least two hours before the climax of cake would be reached and Nell would be ready to leave. He wanted nothing more than to take a nap – a luxury he almost never got to indulge in now that he was a single dad
He approached the front door, purposefully looking up at the house and away from the bloodstains on the front step. Dick thought the divorce would finally get her out of his life but he was naive. Not even the restraining order could do that. Now the bloodstain would be yet another reminder of how deeply enmeshed she was in his life. Every time he came home he would remember last night when he opened the door and he saw a kettlebell flying at him.
He should have known that would be her weapon of choice. After Nell was born, Jane had quit her traveling sales rep job and started working at the local gym as a fitness instructor. It wasn’t long after that the physical abuse to Dick started. She taught several classes but kettlebell was her specialty. Last night, if the screen door hadn’t been closed it probably would have crushed his skull, but instead it slammed into his face just hard enough to cause blood to pour from his nose and pain to shoot through his skull. His reflex had been to push the door, which had sent Jane, wearing her usual four-inch heels, sprawling.
Albert, from next door, jumped on top of her, pinning her to the ground. She screamed for someone to call the police and Dick tried to stop the geyser erupting from his nose. Mrs. Thomas, who was watching across the street from behind her blinds, called 911, but Jane was incensed when it wasn’t Dick the police hauled away. She was the one now sitting in the city jail, nursing her rage.
He stepped over the stain and into the darkness of the entryway. The door clicked behind him and an intuitive chill rippled down his back. Something was wrong. He froze in terror, listening for movement inside the house. He heard only the ticking of the wall clock they’d gotten as a wedding gift.
And there she was again. Another reminder. Damn he was sick of her. What was it going to take to get rid of her? Dick exhaled sharply, dropped his briefcase and locked the deadbolt. Kicking off his shoes, he shuffled into the kitchen to grab a beer before heading into the living room to stretch out in front of the TV. He flicked through the channels, past baby mama drama and ads for technical schools that promised a new and better life, if you’d just get your lazy ass off the couch and call. He settled on a rerun of Home Improvement. Tim had insisted on fixing the garbage disposal himself and Dick knew the super duper motor was going to cause problems. Even so, he was quickly sucked in and when Tim let out a grunt, Dick joined in.
They were mid-grunt when the Tool Man was replaced with the local anchorman. “We interrupt this program for a public safety announcement. There has been an escape at the local city jail. Earlier today an inmate freed himself and his incarcerated girlfriend. Two guards were killed during their escape. The inmates were caught hiding in a culvert just block from the jail, however after an extensive search, the woman’s cellmate has yet to be found. She is not known to be armed, but may be dangerous. We are urging residents to keep your windows and doors locked and report any suspicious….”
That familiar chill washed over him again. His index finger twitched, turning the TV off though the rest of him was frozen. His breathing was shallow, but he was getting enough air to smell it and he knew. She was in the house with him. He could smell her perfume. He’d probably smelled it when he walked into the house. His terror grew as he heard cla-click… cla-click. He’d heard it a million times – her heels coming down the stairs.
He was amazed at the thoughts that ran through his brain when he should have been looking for a way out. Dick found himself wondering if she was still wearing her prison jumpsuit. What favors had she offered the guard to get her perfume smuggled into the jail? What price had that guard ultimately paid? Did she have the guard’s gun? Or had she stuck with the tried and true kettlebell. Where had she gotten the heels? Maybe it was a knife this time. What outfit would they dress him in for his funeral?
He wanted desperately to give her a moving target but remained frozen. “Where’s Nell?” Her voice cut through his fear and sent him into motion. Nell. Yes, he had to deal with this for Nell. His eyes locked on the fireplace poker leaning against the wall across the room. He stood up slowly and turned to face Jane. No prison jumpsuit – jeans and a red top. It was kettlebell and knife. He was pretty sure they’d pick the Armani since it was the nicest suit he owned.
“She’s still at daycare,” he lied.
She stared him down and then decided he was telling the truth. “Well, I guess I can kill you and then go pick her up.”
She came down the stairs and Dick backed up as if he was afraid, which he kind of was.
He reached back, wrapped his fingers around the poker and swung it around, saying mockingly, “No, please. We can work this out.”
Jane paused and studied the new situation. He had her on strength and reach. He swung the poker again and added a snarl for effect. Now she was the one backing away. She tried to throw the kettlebell at him but it dropped well short. She slashed the air between them with the butcher knife. Searching with her free hand, she found the door handle and said with a smile, “Guess you finally found your balls. That’s fine. I’ll go pick her up and you’ll never see her again. That plan works too. ” Nothing happened when she turned the knob. Not realizing the deadbolt was latched, she turned to see why the door wouldn’t open.
It was the opportunity he needed. He slammed the poker into the back of her head. The spike punched through her skull and into the brain, killing her instantly but he swung again. “You will not take Nell,” he screamed as he swung. The crunch of the bone was half sickening and half satisfying. The satisfying part scared him a little. Maybe he finally had found his balls.
Dick stared at the crumpled heap in shock. What had he done? What did he do now? No point in calling the paramedics since she was clearly dead. He couldn’t call the police. How would he explain multiple hits with the poker to the back of her head? Obviously she was trying to leave when he killed her. That was called murder.
So even dead she made his life hell. The solution would be to find someplace to get rid of her body. He’d feel bad about the continuing manhunt, but considering her minor charges, he doubted it would go on for long.
So where? He could spend the night burying her out in the country but that wasn’t fool proof. Shallow, hand-dug graves had a habit of being found. He needed a deep hole where nobody would ever find her. A huge smile broke across his face.
The next morning he pulled into his usual parking spot. The teamsters were already hard at work with the cement truck grinding away, ready to pour the foundation. Dick leaned over and looked into the hole. Other than a few shoe prints he recognized as his own, it looked undisturbed. Harley, the construction boss, joined him. “You all set?” Dick shouted over the noise.”
“Yup. What happened to you?” Harley pointed at his fading bruises.
“Tae kwon do. Didn’t block my sparring partner.”
Harley nodded, impressed. “Want me to start pouring?”
Dick grinned, “Pour away. Let’s get that sign up.” Harley shouted and gave a thumbs-up to one of his men. Cement poured down the spout and Dick watched it ooze around the support posts until it covered the bottom of the hole.
He patted Harley on the shoulder and headed inside. Just yesterday he’d wanted nothing more than to forget Jane and now he’d think of her every time he saw that sign. He smiled. He didn’t mind so much anymore.