You have a fight with your wife. It’s the worst of a string of previous fights that have been going on for several weeks. You slam the front door and get into the cab of your 1973 Ford pickup, then squeal the tires as you race out of the driveway. You don’t really have a particular destination in mind, just kind of driving where the road will take you. Down the pot-hole riddled two-lane highway, past deserted convenience stores, and homeless people walking the streets. This was the side of town you did your best to avoid while growing up. Never thought you would call it home. As the miles add up, you keep thinking of all the smart-mouth comments you wish you would have thought of during the fight, then replay it in your head to make you sound like some tough guy actor.
The neon sign glows a couple miles ahead as an old George Strait song, “Carried Away,” starts to flow from the speakers. You think about the times you would play and sing this exact song for your wife when the two of you had started dating—back when your dreams were still alive. As you sang the part “Nothin’ matters but bein’ with you,” her brown eyes would light up and tiny dimples would flash onto her cheeks. It’s been awhile since you have played your guitar for her. You let her younger image linger in your mind a few seconds longer before pulling over at Bill’s.
Faded blue and green beer posters hang on the front windows. The bell jingles when you open the door to walk in. Since it’s a Friday night, the bar is pretty full of middle-aged blue and white collar workers. A single stool is open on the farthest end of the bar, so you make your way over. The guy beside you starts trying to make small talk as you wait for the bartender to take your order.
“Rough day at the office,” he says.
You’re in no mood to talk, but you do your best to be polite. “I bet.”
“Most of these people don’t know how good they have it.” The ice in the man’s glass clinks as he sets it down.
“Nope, they don’t.”
You look at the rolled-up sleeves of the guy’s white dress shirt, his navy blue tie hanging loosely around his neck. He seems like the type that had everything handed to him as a kid. He’s trying to act like he’s had it rough, but he seems too young to have gone through anything serious. Probably just graduated from law school and is in his first week at a local firm. You swivel the bar stool to the left, facing away from him.
The black and white pictures on the wall catch your attention. There are three of them, all in cheap wooden frames. They look like they’re from the 50s. You imagine the guy standing in front of the bar’s sign is Bill. Something about his face reminds you of your father, who used to come home in drunken fits of rage, taking out his anger on you and your mom. Your finger traces a scar above your left eyebrow you got from a broken bottle when you were eleven; the night you swore you wouldn’t become him. Your stomach starts to churn but you try to fight off the nausea sweeping over you.
A lot of commotion starts coming from the pool tables in the back. You crane your neck to see past everyone else being nosy. A girl in a white tank top and blue jeans is yelling and crying in the middle of two low-life guys. The kind that look like they pump steroids and go to the gym everyday because they have no real job. Other people join in the fight, screaming. Then the first punches are thrown. The snap of pool sticks can be heard. The light with the off-white stained-glass hanging over the pool table shatters. The pieces scatter across the green velvet top of the table. A few big guys emerge from the “Authorized Personnel Only” door from behind the bar. They must be at least six-five, two-twenty. It’s now that you realize the bar is full of losers and nobodies, so you stand up, leave a tip on the counter, and walk out the front door.
You climb back into the truck and look at the clock: 9:57 P.M. It’s been over an hour since the argument, so you decide to head back home. After ten minutes, the gas light dings and flashes on the dash. You pull over to a Kangaroo station. You fill up the tank and pay the attendant. On your way to the truck, you decide you’ll march right into the house, get the guitar, and make things better with a song.
You finally arrive on the street your house is on. You slow the truck down to about twenty-five. As you near the driveway, you notice your wife’s Corolla is gone. Your heart starts to pound like it was earlier. The sound of rushing bloods echoes in your eardrums. You jump out the cab of the truck, slamming the door before hitting the ground. The blue chips of gravel crunch under your work boots. You climb the steps to the front door, unlock it, and walk in. Standing in the foyer, you can see the kitchen and the living room. You have never seen such a stripped home. Everything that could have possibly fit into her car was taken. The coffee maker, the silverware and dishes, the DVD players, the flat-screen television, the couch pillows, and lamps. The couch and recliners have slashes through the cushions, the white stuffing spread over the floor.
You walk down the hall and into the master bedroom. All the picture frames are gone, the alarm clock on the night stand is missing, and of course, all her clothes. Two black guitar cases are lying on the other side of the bed with the clasps unlatched. You stumble through the doorway and pray to God that she left the guitars.
Edward Cline is in the Creative Writing program at North Carolina State University. This is is first publication.