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Late-Night Reruns

Violent knocking jerked Tim out of his thick, liquor-induced sleep. After a moment, he realized the sound was not part of his pounding headache and actually came from the door. Half a bottle of vodka—cheap, awful—saturated his tongue, and the dark living room glittered with the silver aluminum of PBR empties. Unable to remember anything from the night, he massaged his forehead and groaned. Until the television previewed the morning news, Tim couldn’t even guess at the time.

“Do Twizzlers cause brain tumors?” asked the anchor. “We bring you an exclusive report this morning.” With her red lips pressed into a hard line and her dark hair cut into a professional bob, she looked very grave.

The knocking came again, and Tim heaved out of the recliner. The TV cut from commercial to a late-night rerun. Peggy Bundy sliced through the apartment’s shadows with a sterile electric glow, reflecting in the aluminum beer cans as an eerie, fuzzy distortion. Tim peered through the peephole, wrapping himself in the ratty calico robe and tightening the worn fleece belt.

On the other side stood Sarah, diffracted by the peephole lens like a quarter at the bottom of a tall glass. A triangular camisole—shiny and yellow—hung loosely over her torso. The color matched her bronze skin, and the shape drew the eyes to the glittering navel piercing. Her heels could kill a man.

Tim did not remember her leaving the apartment dressed so well.

Grinning at her cellphone, Sarah tucked a wisp of soft yellow hair behind an ear and bit her lip. Shiny black nails scurried across the screen and she didn’t notice when her hair slipped back over her face. Then, her whole face lit up: the jade eyes shone, her small nose scrunched, her pink lips curled. Tim adored her beauty.

A year before dropping out of college, Tim mustered the courage to ask her out. Five years later, he proposed. Sarah choked up with tears in their vows when she recounted their first date; the Italian place had mixed up their reservations, so Tim brought her to McDonald’s. Walruses were her favorite animal, so he’d stuck a pair of fries in his mouth and pretended to be one.

On her birthday two years ago, he proposed with a silver ring. A tiny zircon—her birthstone—protruded from the band. Against the flickering tealight surrounding the bed, the jewel glittered like the gentle descent of snowflakes. Curled up into Tim’s chest, Sarah asked him how he afforded something so precious, and he told her he sold his guitar. Sarah cried quiet tears and kissed him. More than anything, Tim wanted to be a musician.

Slapping the deadbolt to the side, Tim wondering how Sarah kept forgetting her keys. The studio audience cheered as the door opened. “Hey.”

Lingering on the phone a little too long, Sarah raised her eyes to meet his, and her smile faltered. Pecking him on the cheek, she slipped her phone into her purse like it was contraband. The kiss was a tired routine; Tim always expected one before letting her in after a late night of clubbing. The ritual was funny and cute once.

“Hey, babe.” Sarah slipped past him. She opened the fridge, releasing an expanding trapezoid of light that cut through the darkness, and revealed the tan, diamond-patterned linoleum. She frowned, trying to decided between the quarter gallon of orange juice and the flat Sam’s Club cola. “The fridge is barren,” she remarked. The television laughed. “Can you go shopping tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Tim grumbled. “How was it tonight?” His mouth was like unglazed pottery and he swallowed, trying to get saliva circulating.

“Good,” Sarah replied, closing the refrigerator and opening cabinets in search of something to eat. The night had been fantastic. Perfect. Nothing gave her greater pleasure than music so loud that her blood pumped to the rhythm, the intoxicating intimacy of moving with bodies both strange and familiar. Those feelings had to be tucked under the rug of memory, however; whenever she swooned over those truths with Tim, he moped for days.

She tossed the last bag of popcorn into the microwave and leaned against the counter, rifling through her purse for smokes. “Did you look for work today?” Behind her, the microwave hummed.

“Yeah, yeah.” Tim bobbed his head up and down. The TV babbled with canned laughter as he shot a quick glance at the empties on the coffee table. Silhouetted by the microwave’s jaundiced light, Sarah used her middle finger to massage her temple, her tell that she thought he was lying. Tim added, “I’ll call to check up next week.”

She looked up from the purse. “Promise?” Hopefully, that would shame him to start looking.

“I already programmed a reminder into my phone.”

Sarah marked the decline of Tim’s ambition at the night he proposed. The best guitarist she’d ever known, his ideas matched only by his talent. And best of all, he had that special quality that most artists lacked: strong work ethic. After he hocked his Stratocaster, he still composed on his Mac. But without a guitar, he couldn’t play gigs. One problem bled into another: Sarah’s car broke down, then Tim’s, and then he lost his job. Before long, the idea of buying a new guitar was unrealistic. A year later, Tim stopped writing music altogether. When he drank, Sarah wondered if it was because maybe he’d chosen the wrong love.

The popcorn snapped in slow waves behind her, and the microwave droned like a Tibetan monk. An ugly orange filter peeked out of the soft pack of cigarettes and she pulled it out with her teeth. The dilapidated gas station lighter was missing the metal cap, and the wheel spun loose. Every time she flicked it, the dull sparks illuminated her face.

Tim reached out his hand, and Sarah handed him the lighter, rolling her eyes. He rearranged empties to make room for the incense holder.

“Nothing too strong,” Sarah requested, drifting out of the kitchen to the photo collage tacked to the wall. The backgrounds were cut out of some—a selfie of Tim and Sarah drinking milkshakes, a few in bed with tousled hair and silly faces. Friends snapped some wide shots in the bowling alley, hiking in the woods, at the coffee table puzzling over a jigsaw. At the collage’s center hung a large, framed picture of Tim serenading Sarah with his guitar. The glossy photo paper flickered with the movement of the television’s blue-white light.

As she smoked and fidgeted with the cigarette, Sarah inspected her husband. The dark stubble emphasized his strong jaw, and above his pleasant cheekbones peered handsome blue eyes that she’d once swam in for days. Even though he didn’t take care of it anymore, the chaotic curls of brown hair matched his personality. As she pulled hard on the cigarette, she listened to the ember crackle and realized that he disgusted her.

Tim lit a rose-scented incense stick from the glass coffee table’s open shelf. Waving it back and forth, he placed it in the holder and wondered why he still put up with her smoking. “Who went tonight?”

“You know. The girls.”

“Was David there?”

With a huff, Sarah shot out smoke. “David isn’t a girl,” she oozed.

Peggy Bundy said something funny. The audience laughed.

Neither Tim nor Sarah said anything for a while. The television cut to commercial. Kneeling between the couch and the coffee table, Tim traced the tight spiral of incense smoke with his eyes as it bifurcated the screen.

At last, Sarah lied, “No, David wasn’t there.”

Tim didn’t believe her. Even after all these years, he knew Spring Break in Mexico was still fresh on her mind. He’d seen her flipping through photos of it on Facebook when she thought he had gone to bed. If he made his presence known, she hid the phone, pretending to have just finished a text.

Though she pretended she was over it, whenever she looked at the pictures, Sarah still felt David’s body pressed tight against hers as they danced in the hole-in-the-wall cantina. Their skin was so sticky from the humid air that it was as if they were of one body. The faint touch of David’s musk mingled with the scent of the sea, and would always be her favorite smell.

In the kitchen, the popcorn sounded like machine gunfire.

While Tim thought of an excuse to squeeze Sarah for more information, she slipped off her heels and padded across the faded brown carpet to the couch. Leaning over for an empty beer can, she wondered if she could convince Tim to give her a foot rub. It was unlikely. Sarah flicked ash into the can.

“What did you do the rest of the day?” Tim asked. “When did you change?” He leaned close to the incense.

Sarah tapped ash into the can again. “I came back around five.”

“I don’t remember.”

“You were so drunk, it’s no wonder. You said some ugly things and locked the door when I left.”

Idly, Tim raised one of the cans and shook it back and forth, making sure it was indeed empty. “What did you do before?”

“Went to the mall,” she answered. “Window shopping with Bridgett.” Each exploding kernel in the microwave was indistinguishable from the other. Al Bundy was back, and he was pissed.

“Who were you texting before I let you in?” Tim leered at Sarah over his shoulder. She had crossed her legs. Her feet stank.

To hide her rolling eyes, Sarah raised her face to blow smoke at the ceiling. She put the cigarette back between her lips and let it dangle there. With venom, she said, “What’s the charge, officer?”

“Why do you ask? Does this feel like an interrogation?”

“Yes.”

“Funny. I was just asking questions.”

“Fuck you, Tim.”

“You should maybe try it.”

The television audience laughed, and the microwave beeped. Tim coughed against the stream of smoke Sarah blew in his face. When it cleared, she asked, “Can you get my popcorn for me, sweetie?”

Tim slid his tongue across his gums, which were a little moister. Sarah pulled on her cigarette, sucking in her cheeks, and did not break eye contact. He said, “Sure.”

Tim hated Sarah for asking. Sarah hated Tim for obliging. The audience laughed and laughed.

In the kitchen, Tim pulled out the hot bag of popcorn but hesitated before he brought it back. He opened the freezer and got out a chilled bottle of vodka.

“Tim, you’re not going to start drinking again, are you?” sighed Sarah, massaging her forehead. She dropped her Newport into the can. Plunk, hiss.

He thundered out of the kitchen, the warm bag in one hand and the cold bottle in the other. Pelted with a flurry of popcorn, Sarah couldn’t decide if she was confused or enraged, but before she could spit out, “What the fuck, Tim?” he had already grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her head back. Vodka poured over her face and into her sputtering mouth, smearing and streaking her makeup. Mascara streamed down her face like inky tears. When the bottle was half-empty, Tim stopped. He growled, “Now maybe you’ll tell the truth.”

The TV was talking about soap. The anchor from before repeated her urgent question about Twizzlers.

Sarah overextended her palms and wiped her face. “You’re a psycho,” she heaved, getting up. Her bare feet pounded the floor all the way to the kitchen. “You’re a fucking psycho.” Dabbing the vodka off her face with paper towels, Sarah tried catching her breath. She wanted out.

Something like a heavy rock dropped to the pit of Tim’s stomach, and he ran a hand over his face. Plopping down on the couch, he stared at his reflection in a PBR can and didn’t like it. “I’m sorry.” He was pretty sure he meant it.

At those words, Sarah’s heart did a backflip. She was free. “No, fuck it,” she scowled. “Fuck it, Tim, I’m getting out of here.” Purse in hand, she got her phone and her cigarettes, put another Newport in her mouth, and speed-dialed David.

Tim tried intercepting Sarah as she made for the door. Al Bundy told Peggy how much he loved her. Tim reached out, but Sarah whirled around raked her black nails against his cheek. The audience purred, admiring the Bundy’s love, and Tim stumbled backward. David picked up the phone and said, “Hello?” Sarah pushed Tim squarely in the chest and he lost his balance. Peggy’s last joke of the show split the audience wide open. Tim landed on the coffee table, crushing it in an explosion of shattering glass, saved from severe injury only because of the layer of beer cans.

By the time the credits rolled against the cheering audience and the outro theme, Sarah was on the curb, barefoot, waiting for David to pick her up. Her hands shook. She wasn’t sorry, and she was happy she had her cigarettes. She ripped off the zircon ring and threw it into the road.

In the apartment, Tim cut himself on the glass a few times while getting up. He poured the rest of the vodka down the sink, then turned off the television, opened his laptop, and started writing a song. 

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Contemporary Fiction

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