Michael debuts in fine style...
The Man in Me
Home again, but only in the literal sense, for Jared received no joy returning here. He strode up the handful of steps to the front door. Through the bay window he saw a teenage girl watching television. The sitter’s here. Alicea must be out again. Why they needed a house sitter in the first place never made sense to him. But Alicea never listened to him anymore. If she wanted one, she would have one. Jared turned back down the stairs and walked to the back of the house. He hated interacting with the sitter more than he did his wife.
Besides a few scattered blades of grass reflecting the moon, the backyard, bound by a chain link fence, was completely dark. The small, concrete patio had a cheap, plastic table with four chairs. In the corner was a name brand grill with a cover on it to protect it from the elements. Jared couldn’t recall ever using it.
He slipped through the back door, then carefully stepped through the kitchen, and made the turn down the hall behind the sitter. She was either asleep or too enthralled in the stupid program she was watching to notice. Not much of a house sitter.
The hall was long and putrid. God only knew the last time it had been cleaned. The air hung heavy. The light was off, making it look like mold decayed the walls before his eyes. They were a peculiar beige color, with cobwebs in the corners. Home.
Jared entered through the master bedroom door which had been left open, and gently closed it behind him. The bathroom door was open a crack, and the light shined through, revealing the crib in the small space between the bed and the closet. The crib: a daily reminder of their broken dreams. They bought it before the miscarriage. Now, it sat empty in their bedroom. Jared turned the bathroom light off and his nightmare disappeared into the darkness. With a clear conscience, he lay on the far edge of the bed.
An hour or so later he heard a noise. It was his wife returning from her nightly adventures. He had been sleeping peacefully for the first time in as long as he could remember. Jared heard giggles, then a man’s deep voice. Jared’s heart thumped against his ribs. Here? She brought him here? Then Jared heard the sitter’s voice. The door opened and shut. Maybe the stranger left with the sitter. No way would she bring him here. At least she had always offered Jared that decency. Then the man’s voice echoed again. The stranger was here. Jared curled in the fetal position on the far side of the bed away from the door.
Then Jared heard their footsteps approaching down the hall. He knew where they were headed. He shut his eyes, not wanting them to know he was awake, and saw the light from the hall burst into the room as she opened the door. The light shone onto the crib across the room from the bed. Jared squeezed his eyes shut. Tighter, tighter, desperately trying to make this nightmare disappear the same way he made the crib disappear: by turning out the lights. He didn’t move and barely breathed.
“Is the baby sleeping?” the asshole joked.
“Go to the kitchen and make yourself a drink. I’ll be right there. I’m gonna get into something a bit more comfortable,” spoke Alicea in her angelic voice.
Even now, he still loved her voice. He still loved her smile. But it wasn’t the same as it used to be. She used to be his and only his. Now she was like the unattainable girl in school. Someone he saw everyday and fantasized about, but could never have.
“Just go.” She gave the man a kiss and sent him on his way.
Jared heard his steps retreating to the kitchen as she eased her way into the master bathroom and turned the light on. Now, the crib was illuminated from both sides, as Jared remained in the dark. A few silent tears escaped down his cheek.
“I hope I didn’t wake you, honey. I’ll be done in a second,” she said sweetly.
He opened his eyes and looked at her, his wife. She stood in the doorway looking down at the crib. “You brought him here,” Jared whispered.
She ignored him. Then he heard a whimper and some rustling. He didn’t think he had whimpered, but he must have. The sound could come from nowhere else.
“I’m sorry it’s so late, sweetie,” she said in an innocent manner.
He was about to confront her, but lost the opportunity when she shut the bathroom door. The smell of alcohol and cigarettes lingered. And some strange cologne stained her clothes. Something different, something new. Over the past year Jared had become obsessed with colognes. Sometimes, after work, he would go to the mall and smell colognes until he found the one he remembered from her clothes the night before.
A minute later she came out wearing her bathrobe. It was pink and said, “Hers” in bold, white letters. They had gotten the pair for their fifth wedding anniversary from his parents. Jared’s was blue and said “His.” It hung in the bathroom collecting dust.
“Good night, sweetie,” she said as she made her way to the bedroom door.
“I hate you,” he whispered.
“I love you,” she said.
As soon as she shut the door the tears flowed. He wouldn’t cry in front of her. He wouldn’t give her that satisfaction. He really did hate her. But he loved her too. Sometimes, when she did something that made him hate her, he remembered that he loved her. He remembered when they met. When they were young. When they were in love. A year after he had finished graduate school and the summer before she graduated college. It was pouring rain that day; sheets of rain came down between the towers of New York City.
Jared loved to walk the streets in the rain in those days. He would wait all morning for his lunch break so that he could walk and watch all the miserable faces hiding behind umbrellas race by him. The rain and the streets and their misery kept him company.
The day he met Alicea, his lunch break began as all the other rainy ones. Jared strolled down the street whistling Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones, laughing at those who hustled by him. He loved the despair of others. As Jared turned a corner he looked down to avoid a puddle. When he looked up, she was right in front of him wearing a miniskirt and a black rain coat, looking down. He couldn’t stop. They collided and he almost knocked her over.
Jared was mesmerized. Her face was perfect, and she knew it, for she used little makeup. She had on a thin coat of red lipstick, a beautiful, white smile, and a perfectly curved 5’5” frame. She was the only one smiling amidst the rain drops. He asked her to dinner and she said yes.
He took her to a little Italian place on the Upper East Side. Short on space, long on personality, with great, unpretentious food. They told each other their stories. She had a year left at Pace University and was interning for the summer. He had finished graduate school the year before and worked at an accounting firm. She was from upstate New York. He was from upstate Pennsylvania. After dinner they walked through the still rainy streets, huddled close under his umbrella. He knew he had found his wife.
As Jared lay, knees curled up to his chest, he smiled through the tears. Those had been some of the best times of his life. They spent the summer frolicking in Central Park, and racing to one another’s apartments during lunch breaks to make love. He thought he was living a dream. And now, looking back, maybe it all had been a dream. How could he not have seen what was coming? The devil’s rage gripped his soul.
They married on a picturesque day in the fall, sixteen months after they met, completing Jared’s fairy tale. He had nabbed the girl of his dreams and he thought it was time for them to grow up and prepare for their family. He concentrated on his career more and more.
This is not what Alicea envisioned. She was in no hurry to find a career. She wanted to continue making love in the afternoons. He rarely obliged, but when he did, it didn’t satisfy her as much as before.
Jared convulsed, his body forcing the tears from his eyes. He needed sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t get any more tonight. Smelling cologne on her clothes was one thing. Somehow, he had gotten over that. But now he could hear him. The man was in their house. At that very instant he could hear them giggling in the den. In their den. The tears streaming down Jared’s face became hot. His face flushed. His feet curled as though with cramps.
As Jared tried to ignore the memories he couldn’t avoid, he heard another noise. They had moved past giggling and flirting. Now the floor creaked rhythmically.
She screamed the words that made him remember what happened to his perfect girl. “Fuck me! Fuck me! Harder!” She had screamed the same words at him about a year and a half ago. Not amidst the throngs of passion as she was doing now, but out of disgust. “Fuck me!” she had barked. “Get hard!” But orders like that didn’t arouse a passive man like Jared. It turned him off. She told him all the time that he wasn’t pleasing her. “When are you gonna fuck my brains out?” She would ask. “When are you gonna be a man?”
Alicea aroused him, of course. She was still only in her late twenties, and her three workout sessions a week had actually improved her figure over the years. He loved the way her ass looked and her breasts bounced when she walked. Jared masturbated to images of her to help his own needs, but dared not try and arouse her. He feared any intercourse with her for fear of not pleasuring her. Every night he prayed that she wouldn’t want to have sex. If his prayers failed him, more often than not he would remain flaccid, and she would bark orders at his penis to no avail. It was only a matter of time before she went outside their home to get her satisfaction. This was the first time she ever brought a man here though. Home.
Those memories stopped his tears. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. His tears boiled and steamed off his cheeks. He still heard them. Self-pity had long passed. The pulsing rage seized control. Jared enjoyed the sensation.
He jumped out of their bed and went to the bedroom door and opened it a crack. As though she knew, she screamed louder. He knew Alicea was putting on a show for him. “This could be you,” she was telling him with every passionate moan, “but you screwed it up.”
At that moment, he felt the testosterone he would need to please her, and he knew he’d be able to give her the best fuck of her life. But he wasn’t going to. He repressed a sudden urge to go back to bed and jerk-off. He had something else in mind.
He crept down the hall to the end, where it opened between the dining room and the den. His pestering thought motivated him to peer around the corner and watch. He watched this grizzled man with tattoos and muscles on his arms fuck his wife. She was bent over in front of him, leaning her head and hands on the arm of the couch, and he had his back to Jared.
The room shimmered. The lights flickered in his mind, and his focus zoomed in on his wife. The most beautiful woman he had ever bumped into. She was his once, but she didn’t think he was man enough for her.
He left his post and retreated down the hall to their bedroom without making a sound. Not that he needed to, for any creaks he made would surely be drowned out by his wife’s screams. Jared went to the closet and not back to bed as he should have. He searched through the corners and the clothes to find something personal. Something that would let him feel it. Then he found it.
In a silent flash he was back down the hall, peering around the corning at the man still fucking his wife. She was on her back now, with her legs in the air, and her head arched back. Jared crept up behind the man, who was still standing, praying that his loud heartbeats wouldn’t give his presence away. When he was the perfect distance, he clenched the bat, brought it back the way he did as a kid, closed his eyes, and swung with every ounce of strength he possessed.
The asshole’s skull exploded with a loud THUD! Jared felt the vibrations of the impact through the bat, and the splatters of blood across his face. When he opened his eyes he saw the pools of blood forming on the couch, on the floor, on his wife. Alicea screamed, but Jared couldn’t hear her. He gripped the bat tighter and looked down at her, his mind still blank, the room still trembling.
“Who are you?” Alicea screamed as Jared’s hearing returned. “Why? Why?”
“Why?” Jared barked. “Why? Because you brought him here! How could you do that?”
Jared raised the bat above his head as his eyes crossed. His mouth curled. There were splatters of blood everywhere. She screamed again as he swung the bat down. The bat cracked against her face. He swung again and again, lost in his fit of rage.
It took the police a little more than a half hour to respond. A neighbor had called 911 and reported hearing screams. When the two officers received no answer at the door, they broke it open to find the massacre. In the dining room, Jared had hung himself from the decorative wooden beams that lined the ceiling.
Other than the blood staining the white furniture and the expensive rugs, the house was very clean. The walls were painted white and lined with artwork and pictures of relatives.
“Oh shit… I know this guy,” the first cop said as he looked at the body dangling above the dining room table.
“He does my taxes.”
“You trusted this asshole with your money?” the second cop asked as he walked over to an end table and picked up a photo album.
“He did a great job. That’s all he lived for. Work. He seemed like a real lonely guy. No wife, no nothing. Just work,” the first cop replied. “He was real quiet. Couldn’t even make small talk. He just talked business. I told him I’d buy a couple rounds once and he turned me down. Said he didn’t drink. I felt bad for him.”
“I don’t feel bad for this piece of shit,” the second cop said as he leafed through the album. He motioned to the couple covered in blood on the couch. “These two look like they’ve been together a long time.”
“I wonder what made him do this. He doesn’t even live around here. He’s got a fancy apartment in the Upper East Side.”
“Jealous lover probably.”
“I don’t think so. No way that schmuck could’ve scored a babe like that, even if only for a night.”
“Whatever. Better call Homicide and let them figure it out. Go check the rest of the house.”
Suddenly, a baby cried from the master bedroom.
Michael O’Brien currently lives in Hightstown, New Jersey where he bartends full time (aka babysits) and attends Wilkes University in pursuit of his MFA. He also volunteers as a tutor to illiterate adults and to English as a Second Language students.