The Fire of The Gods
His mountains of pale sweaty skin rocked in rippling waves, almost in time with the generic sitcom laugh track that blared from the television speakers. The remote was clenched in his grimy fist as if it would make a break for freedom. The recliner groaned under his enormous weight, a plea to be put out of its misery. She heard him belch from the kitchen. She stood barefoot on the cracking linoleum, hands plunged in sudsy grey dishwater, and cringed in disgust.
“Beatrice! Git yer skinny ass in here!” She hated the way he said her name – bee-triss. Not like the new guy at school, the foreign kid. British, she thought, and inadvertently straightened her spine at the picture of him in her mind. He said it proper – be-a-tris – making it sound softer, rounder somehow.
She grabbed a dishcloth and dried her hands as she stepped into his eye-line.
He didn’t wait for her to speak. “What you doin’ in there, floodin’ the whole fucking kitchen? Clatterin’ all that shit so’s I can’t hear my show!”
“I’m just doin’ the dishes, Cal.” She didn’t raise her voice, didn’t want to invite his anger.
“Keep it down. And where’s my supper?”
“It’s in the oven, Cal. Be done in a bit.”
He looked her up and down with a hateful sneer. She didn’t make eye contact, but held the dish towel tight in both hands.
“Fine. Bring me another soda.” He mashed the volume button, letting the roar of prime time comedy tell her she was dismissed.
She turned back to the kitchen and felt her shoulders droop. A tiny sigh escaped her before she could swallow it down. She wasn’t afraid of him, she swore to herself. She just didn’t want to cause trouble. He was the only boyfriend her mother had managed to keep around for any significant length of time, and it would kill her if Beatrice “ran him off” as she put it. Beatrice had “run off” the last three with what her mother called “uppity ways”. Beatrice wasn’t sure what that meant but she sure as shit wasn’t gonna ask, so she just kept her head down and her thoughts to herself.
She reached in the relatively empty icebox and pulled a soda out of the carton. Two cartons of soda, a giant bottle of ketchup, a very wilted bunch of carrots, and no money for groceries. She swallowed her sigh in time. That wasn’t true, she thought as she handed over the soda and retreated again. They had plenty of money for the kind of groceries Cal wanted. A freezer stuffed with every kind of boxed meal her mother could find, a pitiful attempt to keep him happy.
Beatrice couldn’t understand exactly why they were supposed to keep him happy. So far as she could tell, he didn’t do anything but sit on his ass and watch television. Sometimes, when the mood struck him, he moved to the computer and “worked” for a few hours. Her mother tried to explain it was some kind of internet thing, coding or some such, but Beatrice didn’t know anything about computers. He must make a ton of money; she figured that had to be why her mother kept him around. Couldn’t be his dashing good looks, stellar charm, or sexual attraction. Probably couldn’t even find his pecker in the fat folds. Beatrice simultaneously giggled and gagged at the thought.
She finished the dishes just as the oven timer dinged. She took her time setting the table to let the lasagna cool to an edible temperature. She timed her movements with the sound of the television, and stepped into the living room at the commercial break.
“Supper’s ready, Cal. You want to eat at the table or in here?” She stared at the threadbare carpet and waited.
Two commercials played before she looked up.
There in the recliner, remote still clenched in his hand, was a very wide-eyed, very red-faced Cal.
“You okay Cal?” From her spot across the room, she could see he wasn’t moving. She let the sigh rush from her and calmly walked across the room to the phone.
“Dalton County Fire. What’s you’re emergency?”
“I need an ambulance to 692 Paramore. I think my mom’s boyfriend is choking.”
“I’ve got a unit on the way, young lady. Now, stay calm for me, okay? It’ll all be alright. Can you tell if he’s breathing.”
“No, ma’am, I don’t think he is.” Standing alone in the kitchen, she allowed herself a tiny smile.
“Are you big enough to help him? Can you pat him on the back? Is he coughing at all?”
“No, ma’am,” she said, vainly attempting to keep the giggle from her voice.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. You just stay on the phone with me until the paramedics get there. You should be hearing the siren any time now.”
“Okay,” she said, and let the silence stretch around her.
“Honey, you still there?”
“Yes, ma’am.” A long, high-pitched wail sounded in the distance. “They’re here now. Thanks.”
She hung up the phone before she heard the woman’s protest. She opened the front door and returned to the kitchen table to wait. Her gaze fell on the still-steaming lasagna. She knew it was wrong but she couldn’t help laughing. The ambulance was coming up the road as she grabbed the flimsy tray and shoved it back in the oven, hoping it would be burnt to a crisp by the time all the fuss was over.
To think of all the time she wasted packing it full of rat poison, when all she had to do was give him a soda.
(This was meant to be part of last week’s Terribleminds flash fiction challenge, “The Fire Of The Gods”, but I didn’t finish it in time. I’m not sure how I went from the title to the story, but I’m guessing there’s a ‘fire = wrath’ connection in there somewhere.)