He’s coming home late, and he’s bringing me an AK47 semi-automatic gun, the right kind of bullets, and a gallon of whole milk. Or so he told me. But I know my husband. He will forget the ammo entirely, even if he remembers which gun to get, and the milk will be skim. I sit on the porch step of the small house we’re renting. It’s this cute little ranch-style home nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac, and it’s got a little lawn and a mailbox and everything. Of the five places we’ve lived this summer, it’s the nicest by far. Not that the other places posed any kind of competition. Heck, anything would be nicer than that dilapidated barn we were hiding out in before it was safe to come here. I catch myself reaching to my hair—a reflex, to check for straw or lice. But this really is a nice house. My husband has no idea how often I’ve toyed with the idea of postponing the operation so we can stay a little longer. But today I accepted the fact that we’re going to leave in two days. And I came out here—sacrificing myself to the mosquito gods—to enjoy it while I still can. There’s a notebook open on my lap, but I haven’t written anything down. I’m rolling my pen in my fingers and fantasizing about being the kind of wife with the kind of husband who would settle down in a place like this. There would be kids, of course. There would be flowers in the garden and toys in the yard and my husband removing the training wheels from a shiny pink bike and an electric blue one. He would wipe the sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm and look over at me to make sure I noticed how hard he was working. I would roll my eyes but smile. Later, I would carry four plastic cups and a pitcher of iced lemonade outside. After setting them down on the driveway, I would straighten up and shade my eyes with my hand to watch the scene unfolding in the street. I would see my husband cheerleading our girl and boy into riding their bikes sans training wheels. With these removed, the bikes would seem to the kids like untamed beasts, eager to rear and buck and throw them to the street. And they would get thrown. Then they’d run to me with sniffles and blubbery tears. They’d present their scraped hands and knees to me for sympathy, and I’d kiss them. I’d pull out dinosaur Band-Aids from that magical stash every mother has on her—you know, the stash that has exactly what you need. I would make them feel better, but my husband would provide the real encouragement. No matter how mad you are at him for making you climb up into the seat of a bucking bike, no matter how your palms sting and your shins sport glistening red streamers, you can’t help but feel you could do anything when he puts his hand on your shoulders and smiles at you like that. But my husband and I—we’ll never have that kind of family. We’re not that kind of people. And you know what? That’s okay. I’m lucky to be alive.
The air has turned from oppressively hot to surprisingly cold. I duck into the house for a cardigan. On my way out, I notice the clock. 7:42 PM. My husband said he’d be back by seven thirty, but I don’t expect him until at least eight. I settle back onto the porch step and re-open my notebook. I doodle roses and wonder if the milk he’s bringing me will be two percent or skim, whether it will be two gallons or a quart, whether it will even be milk. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up with three cartons of orange juice, a .44 magnum, and a triumphant smile from a job well done. He’ll expect a kiss for his efforts—even after I point out what he got wrong. Such details never faze him. And it’s his lack of contrition that gets me. He simply won’t acknowledge that details matter. That mistakes have consequences. That neglecting to fill the gas tank even after your wife has nagged you about it for days could mean you run out of gas on the way to pick her up from the heist, forcing her to take care of a few witnesses and get blood on her favorite pair of khaki slacks. And such negligence would have been forgiven if he’d shown even a little contrition over the inconvenience he caused when he showed up a good three hours late. I should have filled the tank myself. I even suggested as much to him, but he’d snapped, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” Then, under his breath, “I’m not useless, you know.” And I’d felt sorry for him. I was being a control freak again and resolved to back off. But when he arrived three hours late, singing aloud to feel-good nineties tunes, I snapped. Bear in mind, I’d just killed four people because of that imbecile. I had no qualms about killing one more. I felt perfectly justified as I tore into him. In fact, I berated myself for not doing it sooner. I’d been too generous with him in the past. He showed up late to our wedding and drove us to the wrong place for our honeymoon. On our first job together, he assassinated the wrong politician, and on our second, he mistook an unlucky bystander for our contact and spilled confidential info. And who had to manage the fallout of his mistakes? Who had to navigate us through unfamiliar streets at two AM, assassinate a few lobbyists, and track down a stranger to his home in Nolensville, Tennessee? I’ll give you a hint—it was the same girl who would never find a perfect replacement for her ruined khakis. All these passed-over offenses were made up for by the abuse I heaped on him that day. I’ve chopped an old man’s fingers off one by one and stabbed more people than I care to remember, but I’ve never seen anything cause more pain than the words, “Why can’t you do anything right?!” They are particularly brutal if followed by “I’ll never trust you with anything ever again! From now on, I do everything myself. So stay the hell out of my way,” and “God, I can’t believe I’m stuck with you!” I felt like I was standing outside myself, hearing a flood of accusations and insults fly from my lips, aimed at my lover’s chest. And they landed. They landed and sank in. He looked at me with big, stupid eyes like a kicked puppy.
It was a long, silent drive to the next city. When we got to the hotel, he moped around the room. He kept saying, “I’m sorry,” and each time I shot him a glare. Eventually he wouldn’t look at me at all. He sat on the bed’s edge, wringing his hands. I no longer knew him. I’d ripped the confident, happy-go-lucky boy I loved to shreds, and the very sight of the stranger who wore his skin made me angry. I started yelling again. He dropped his head into his hands and took it. He slept on the floor that night. I didn’t even give him a pillow. Thank God he’s not like me. I mean that with all my heart. Because if I’d been the one cowering on that nasty hotel carpet, I would have kept the grudge like a dagger pressed to my thigh, ready to be taken out and used as a weapon at a moment’s notice. The ordeal might never be forgiven. But my husband’s not like me. Sometime before the week was out, I said “I’m sorry” and kissed him. And it was like the whole thing never happened. I swear, it’s like he’s never thought of it again. I have. I’m afraid if I let myself forget, I’ll do something stupid again. The memory flares up unexpectedly sometimes. Like yesterday after he snatched the message I was decoding and made me chase him around the house for it. He finally let me tackle him and wrestle the card from his hands. Our chests heaving from the exercise, we were both laughing and grinning like idiots, and that’s when the memory hit me. I wanted to crawl away and hide my face. I didn’t though. I dropped the card and buried my hand in his hair, and I thought, I don’t deserve the way you’re looking at me, but I’m glad. I’m so glad.
Of course, I still get annoyed when he messes up. There’s a trick to managing the annoyance though. I’m considerably less mad when I don’t expect him to be exact or punctual like me. When I expect him to be … himself. And on the days the ruined-khaki-slacks-monster rises in my throat, I choke my words down by reminding myself why I love him. My husband, he’s such a thoughtful man. Albeit more of the “it’s the thought that counts” kind of thoughtful, but thoughtful nonetheless. For instance, he surprises me with gifts. Even when we were dating, he would bring me flowers when I least expected it. Naturally, something would always happen to the flowers before they got to me. I honestly don’t know what he did to wind up with such sad-looking bouquets. I imagine him leaving them in the rain, setting them down somewhere where someone later set a heavy box, accidentally closing the car door on them, doing jumping jacks with them on his head. But he never seemed ashamed of them. You know … he was smarter than me. The state of the flowers didn’t matter. What mattered was he’d brought me flowers, and the flowers came from him. His thoughtfulness didn’t end after we were married. Once, we were hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse (worlds nicer than the barn with the lice). It was removed from civilization (that was, after all, the point), but it was not the most convenient place to get sick. The house was full of any kind of explosive or radio device a girl could want, but its stock was surprisingly lacking in cold medicine. So my husband drove the 77 miles to the nearest town to get medicine for me. By now you know it was the wrong prescription, but he was so happy to play Superman that I didn’t have the heart to tell him, even when the pills made my head fuzzy. Then there was that surprise thing he did for my birthday last year. He woke me with breakfast, sat through an opera even though sitting in the dark makes him restless, and drove me to this a forest-side beach off the coast of Oregon. The sunset was magical. We sat in the bed of the truck, munching on candy bars that were almost my favorite kind. I should never have told him he’d gotten the date wrong. Or, actually, he’d remembered the day correctly; it was just the month that was off.
The streetlights come on. I’m still on the porch, daydreaming about the man who hasn’t come home. I wonder what time it is. I realize with a pang that maybe I should be worried. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many people would be happy to kill or kidnap that man. But though he can’t handle a grocery list, he can handle a hitman or two. Or three, or four, or fifteen. I’ve seen him do it plenty of times. The gel pen glides smoothly in my hand, but I startle when I notice I’m doodling on my jeans. My notebook had slid off my lap. It’s sprawled half-open in an undignified position on the ground. I pick it up and hear a noise. I look up, see headlights, then a familiar car pulling onto the driveway. And whether he emerges with whole milk or skim milk or orange juice, an AK47 or a .44 magnum, I’ll accept them with a kiss.
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
J.V. Sumpter earned her BFA from the University of Evansville. She is an assistant editor for Kelsay Books, Thera Books, and freelance clients. She received 2020 Virginia Grabill Awards in Poetry and Nonfiction and has work in (or forthcoming in) The New Welsh Review, Leading Edge Magazine, The Amethyst Review, Not Deer Magazine, Wretched Creations, and The Augment Review. Visit her on Twitter @JVSReads.