Eater

Part 3

By Reinaldo E. Grandal

. . . His focus dove in and out, jumping from here to there, like the zoom lens of a mad photographer's camera. Smoke drifted into his eyes from a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He fumbled through a collection of keys on the ring, finally selected one that looked right, and slid it into the lock, turning it as quietly as he could. He belched, tasting whiskey in the back of his throat. He slipped into the dark apartment, locking the door behind him, and looked around.

The living room sofa was bathed in a stream of light that poured in through the window from a lamp on M Street. He heard a mumble and watched as a shape covered in blankets wriggled on the sofa. A hand reached out from beneath the blankets and switched on the end table lamp. A subdued golden glow filled the living room.

"Bobby?" Peg murmured as she slowly pulled herself out of the covers. Her blond hair was gnarled from sleep. Her brown eyes were squinted, wrinkling her nose. Bobby wondered what on earth had persuaded him to ever marry her. "Where have you been? What time is it?"

Irritation instantly welled within him. What business was it of hers, anyway? He shuffled to the coffee table and stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. "What are you still doing up?"

Her eyes were more alert now, having adjusted to the light. "I was worried."

This was worse. Her nosiness had been replaced with unwanted concern. "I was with Harbin."

She sat up, pushing the blankets aside. "What time is it?" She got up and padded in thick woolen socks into the kitchen, her wide hips swinging beneath her housecoat like a locomotive's connecting rods. She switched on the light and looked up at the wall clock. "It's four in the morning," she cried, her voice rising to a whining pitch.

Irritation was quickly turning into anger. He feigned quietude. "Go to bed," he said.

She returned to the living room and watched as he swayed slightly. "You're drunk again," she squawked.

"Go to bed," he repeated more loudly.

"What did I tell you? You're drinking too much. Remember what I told you I would do if you kept drinking like this?" Her voice resonated through the room like fingernails on a chalkboard. "I'll leave, Bobby, I swear."

Anger finally crossed the state line into Rage. "Go to bed," he hissed one last time.

"Fuck you," she screeched. "I don't need this shit. I didn't marry you for this. . . . "

He slapped her hard across the face, knocking her back onto the sofa.

She sat there, stunned, and put her fingers to her lip. She brought them away. There was blood on her fingertips. More trickled from her lip. She looked up at Bobby. "Oh, no. Not this game again. That's it, motherfucker." She quickly rose, making for the bedroom door.

He grabbed her arm, swinging her around, and hit her again. His grip kept her from falling.

Tears streamed down her cheeks. "You son of a bitch," she choked at him.

He brought his arm back, preparing to strike again.

"NO! Stop!" a small voice cried from the bedroom doorway.

He turned to see Vinnie standing there. Skinny little five-year-old Vinnie, all skin and bones and dark brown hair pasted flat to his forehead. Dark eyes, pinched close together. Serious eyes, strictly business.

"Shut up, kid," Bobby told him, turning back to Peg.

"You're a no-good, lousy, stinkin' drunk!"

Bobby let Peg's arm go and turned slowly, maniacally, toward Vinnie. "What did you say?"

"You heard me. Go to hell."

Bobby took a step toward him. "You're going to be sorry you said that, kid."

"No, Bobby," Peg cried.

"It's time this kid learned some discipline."

Vinnie bolted from the doorway into the bathroom, locking the door. Bobby ran to the door, yanking at the knob, pounding with his fist on the hard wood, yelling, "Open the goddamn door!"

Peg ran to his side and grabbed his arm. "For God's sake, Bobby, if he was yours you wouldn't. . . . "

Bobby quickly turned on her, hitting her once, very hard, above her ear. Her head snapped abruptly to one side, and she fell, eyes closed, her head hitting the floor with a sharp crack. She did not move.

Standing over Peg in a stupor, Bobby felt confusion supplant the rage within him. He knelt by her, and confusion gave way to remorse. . . .