The rough canvas green brushed across his shoulder as he placed the bag on the ground. Inside, a month’s worth of clothes, filled with the stagnant stench of stale air, slumped over slightly. Submarines were known for the pungent odor that seemed to seep into every pore and protrude within a radius of your body. Normally they just referred to it as “the boat smell”.
Henry’s hand raised to knock on the door and, at the same time, he was noticing the subtle changes that had taken place during his absence. A few new wilted flowers lay in the garden bed and ruddy brown drapes adorned the small window. He’d never known Krista to like gardening, or home decor for that matter.
“Knock, Knock”, reported the heavy and tense hand upon the pressed wood.
Henry didn’t know what to expect: a long kiss, a joyous sob, perhaps even savage and passionate love-making. When the door creaked slowly open, he knew. Her eyes told it all. They peered at him with cold, blue somberness.
“I’m back.”, he greeted in an apprehensive tone.
A slight smile cut across the corner of Krista’s mouth, but her eyes gave no ground. They stood defiant to her joy and indignant to his happiness, which was slowly fading.
“We got in an hour ago, but I had to listen to the chief and his usual bullshit. I missed you.”, he persisted.
“We have to talk.”, her pale pink lips finally responded.
A kiss, a hug, hell even a slap would have been gladly accepted. But this, this open-ended statement stirred his stomach and stood the hairs of his neck on end.
Sitting at the dusty imitation wood table, his fingers nervously rapped. He knew the next few sentences would be paramount, but his gaze couldn’t be broken from the slurry of coffee in front of him. Maybe he could prolong whatever this was if he stared long enough. Perhaps he would stare into eternity, his body becoming petrified and the world around him immortalizing his statuesque form in forgetful decency.
“I missed you, I really did…”, she said,”…but I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’ll spend half my life waiting on you. It’s just not fair for you to ask me to do this and it’s not fair for me to do this to you.”
Her words resounded with the hopelessness of her eyes. The tone betrayed her message leaving no doubt that her heart had long sailed away, perhaps to another shore. Henry sat for a moment, trying to grasp everything. He tried to think of a response good enough that it would right the world; take this unfortunate reality and revert it back to an earlier time.
“You knew what it was going to be like in the beginning. I told you that I would have to be away for now. If you can only wait four more years until my enlistment is up, we’ll have all the time in the world.”, he pleaded.
“I can’t wait, that’s just it…”, she paused, “…and I found someone who I don’t have to wait for.”
A ripping chasm cut right through the pulsing life-force that was his heart. His stomach sank as if filled with the weight of the world. At that moment, the room started to spin and Henry started to petition for understanding, beg for mercy. But then his thoughts turned and faced reality, bringing about a new depth of change. His anger channeled down to his fists, the heat and sweat mingling in symphonic rage.
“You fucking whore! I knew I should never have married you. Why the hell would you do this to me? I gave you everything I had. Now, you can’t even wait seventy-six days and you spread your legs for the first guy that comes along! You are a piece of shit!”, his voice strenuously rebelled against the air that limited his lungs. On impulse, Henry picked up the coffee cup and hurled it into the air, hitting the counter top with such ferocity that ceramic shards scattered in all directions. The hot, muddy liquid splattered, reminiscent of blood stains at a murder scene.
“That’s not fair. I know you’re mad, but you have no right…”
“I have no right!? I have every right! You are my fucking wife!”, he protested vehemently.
Krista started to protest, but her shame and cowardice shown through like bright rays that break free of hazy clouds. Instead, her head dropped quickly and she started sobbing. Tears rolled down her freckled cheeks, falling fatally and wetting the denim below.
“What are you crying about? I didn’t cheat on you.”, he remarked coolly.
Her head did not lift, nor did her sobs cease. She only sat there, in a pathetic state, unable to form a sentence.
Rising from the chair, Henry grabbed the canvas bag and slung it over his shoulder. His eyes glanced around quickly for something to salvage: pictures, electronics, furniture? Then he saw it, the barren smooth steel jutting out from its place of refuge. The knife set had been a wedding present from his mother to the couple. She didn’t have much money, so it meant a great deal that she had even bought them a gift. As he reached toward the knife, Krista’s eyes met his gaze and they alarmingly widened. Before she could utter a word, he grabbed at the base of the wooden knife holder and jerked it up underneath his arm. Then, with a second gesture, he clutched at a bottle of rum sitting near the microwave. It sloshed in rebellion.
“I’m going out. I will be back tomorrow. When I get back, I want you gone.”
She understood. Nothing else needed to be said.
Briskly, Henry walked out the door and slammed it behind him. The next moment, he had taken off down the small avenue toward an unknown destination.
The dusty lamp cast a shadow across the floor and to the foot of the bed. It’s comforter, which was all but, was emblazoned with generic hotel print that left the impression of a lack of quality. He sat, feet outstretched, with his head cocked upon the headboard and the glazed look of drunkenness in his eyes. The now empty bottle, was tossed aside and could hardly be seen from underneath the poorly fabricated dresser. The dresser had a mirror attached atop it, but Henry didn’t dare look into it, for fear of what might stare back at him.
A few hours had passed while he drank himself into a stupor and his body hardly wavered, except to silently tremble when he felt on the verge of tears. He didn’t dare cry. His dignity was the only thing he could control. She wouldn’t take that away from him, Henry thought. A few more minutes of silence prevailed until finally, as if some epiphany fell upon him, his legs lurched forward and he stood upright. Grabbing his wallet from the table near the door, and littering a freshly torn photo about, Henry reached for the knob and stepped out into the hall.
Thirty minutes later, Henry found himself standing at a bar; an onlooker of numerous jubilant dancers flailing about nearby. The baby-faced bartender eyed him cautiously and then poured his requested drink; rum and coke. Henry tossed them back consecutively, each warming his throat and quenching a deep-seated animosity that was steadily growing within.
Women were flagrantly grinding on men underneath the multicolored beams of light. Their short dresses and smiles, inviting.
“Sluts!”, he yelled drunkenly.
The bartender eyed him even more cautiously and then picked up a small, black plastic phone under the bar. A short conversation later, two men approached Henry. One, a stocky man with a blonde goatee, put his hand on Henry’s shoulder.
“Why don’t you come with us. I want to show you something.”, the man said calmly.
“Get your hands off me!”, Henry protested.
The man stared blankly. “Please just come with us, I just want to talk. I’ll buy you a drink.”
He hardly got out a word before Henry propelled his fist through the noisy atmosphere. An easy duck, assured the bouncer’s safety and a follow-up right hook met Henry’s jaw with a force that caused him to stumble backward. A second bouncer had crept up behind him and now was wrapping his forearm around Henry’s throat, softly lulling him into darkness. They dragged him out naturally, Henry now immobile and sullen.
Pavement was the next thing he remembered. The cool, rough, and hard embrace it placed on his body as the crimson blood trickled from his mouth. Gravity seemed a relentless enemy as Henry struggled to rise from his position. He wasn’t badly hurt, just a few scrapes and cuts. More than he deserved. Henry’s keys were neatly tucked away in his pocket, immune from the previous scuffle and, finding them, he started toward the car.
By this time he had sobered a bit, but still felt the woozy imbalance of alcohol. If it were any other time, he wouldn’t have driven. What did it matter now?
Foot smashed defiantly to the floor, he sped off toward the direction of base. The square-jawed marine with an assault rifle checked his ID and seemed not to notice the stench emanating from his vehicle. Doubts flooded his mind as he drove on. Henry planned to get on hands and knees and beg, tell her that he was going to quit, go AWOL. Anything to keep her.
The trustworthy key slid into the lock, then turned with a click.
“Baby…I’m here. I want to talk about this.”, his voice now softened. No response.
Stumbling into the living room, he felt like an intruder, an outcast in his own home. The brown carpet swished underneath his dragging feet and furniture objected to his every movement. Through the gauntlet, he reached the bedroom door and paused.
Lying there in bed, were numerous dresses cascaded on parade. The red open-backed dress on top invoked a memory. He remembered the first time he saw Krista in that dress. For the first time that day, his anger had subsided enough that a spindle of hope and love shot through, causing his face to warm as if effervescent. Looking around the room, his heart sank again. Among the various dresses, there was also a man’s clothing. A pair of boxers mocked him from the floor, a stray sock berated him with maniacal laughter. The coup de grace was an empty condom wrapper thrown carelessly on the nightstand.
Henry walked over to it, examining it as if it would give him answers. The piece of foil just sat there, no more helpful than the attire on the floor. It was then that a cold, indifferent wave of emotion swept over him. He walked outside, opened the back passenger door of his car and grabbed the nine-inch butcher knife from its holder. Closing the door, he plodded back in and sank down into the couch. First, he had thoughts of waiting for them in the dark, surprising them when they were at their peak enjoyment, no doubt passionately encroached. Then he spied the stove and pondered burning all of their possessions, but quickly decided against it. At last, Henry’s eyes fell upon a wedding photo that still perched upon the fireplace mantle. It seemed a sham of a picture now, but he couldn’t help his feelings of hurt, love, and hatred as he stared at her in pearl white, gently clutching his arm.
Silently, he slid himself back into the bedroom, then further to the closet. He brushed the hanging shirts aside and sat on the floor. It was here that Henry faced his demons. Emotion surged through his body and spirit captivating his essence. There was no longer a man of reason, but left in its place a whirling behemoth of raw melancholy. Slowly, Henry drew back the knife and even slower he started its guided descent into his chest. The pain momentarily shocked him, but the emotion quickly overwhelmed him again and he felt the progression of cold steel followed by warm blood. As it approached his epicenter, clarity pushed back the veil of confusion; a clarity that left him in an absence of everything. Remorse, pain…everything.
Seconds later, he drifted into the ever-lasting slumber which all will eventually know, hands bloodied and clutching a symbol of salvation. His last thoughts about how fitting an end, the same knife that started his journey would also greet him at its conclusion. With that last though, Henry was no more.