Monday, August 4, 2014


Edith Santore climbs into the front seat of her husband's Hummer and hands over a double scoop waffle cone.  Dark, rich chocolate.  Her husband's favorite.  

Marty Santore watched her on the line, impatiently tapping perfectly manicured nails on the window. Edith always picked the wrong line.  Always took too long.  Her line was always the one with mechanical problems or staff problems or idiot customer problems.  If some inconsiderate jerk wasn't ordering sundaes for an entire busload of chunky, pimply-faced campers - make sure that one doesn't have nuts...little Timmy has allergies - some old fart with no reason to still be living was paying for a baby cone with nickles and pennies, counting them out one at a time.  The line was long enough without the bullshit that followed Edith - normally Marty wouldn't have put up with the wait - but it was hot and he had a thing for chocolate.
Edith is all smiles while she watches Marty lick deep into his cone. Her man is going to enjoy this.  He has been talking about ice cream all afternoon - they drove here especially for their hard pack, homemade chocolate ice cream - but her smile doesn't last.  Two strokes of his tongue is all it took for the good feelings that came with anticipation to evaporate.

"What is this?" he demands, pointing the open end of the cone at his wife.  Edith thinks he might push it onto her nose.

"Cho...colate...wa...ffle cone," Edith answers, desperate not to stammer.  Marty hates it when she stammers.  While she struggles to control her voice, she feels herself burrow into the seat back, to put some distance between herself and her husband.  Marty hates that, too.

"This is not goddamn chocolate," he snarls, his voice going up as his eyes harden.  They always went silver-grey when he got angry.

"It's Death by Chocolate.  They have a lot of different chocolates.  The man said if you like chocolate, this was the best..."  Edith blurts the words in one breath.

The man said...

The man said...

The words explode like kernels of popcorn in his brain.  

"Do they have "chocolate" on that menu board?  That's a question: Do they?  I can see it from here.  Look, dammit!  I asked for CHOCOLATE.  C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E..."

He points at each letter through the car windshield.

"Seems pretty simple to me.  That's what I asked for.  I did not ask for chocolate fudge, chocolate mocha, chocolate swirl, triple chocolate or fucking Death by Fucking Chocolate.  I did not...I do not...want nuts and chunks of mystery shit in my ice cream. I did not ask you to milk the fucking cow. I asked for chocolate. Why...please tell me...why was that so hard."

Marty is getting loud.  People will start to listen, to watch them.  That would be bad.  Marty hates people staring.  

You wanna take a picture!  

Edith watches his fist start to tighten around the waffle cone.  Soon the ice cream will tumble onto the seat. That would be very bad.  The Hummer is HIS car.  It would be her fault.  That would be worse.

"The man said it was the best. I wanted you to have the best.   I was trying to do something nice...for you...I'm sorry."

I'm sorry changes everything.  A switch flips and Marty stops.  Everything stops.  Edith can feel it. The heat stops.  The anger stops.  The tension stops.  She sees it; it leaves her husband in a long breath, a breath that just sort of leaks out of him.  Whatever was going to happen, wherever his anger was taking him, simply dissolves.  Even his eyes change.  They are blue again.  That pretty, endearing blue.  The blue that got her to marry him in the first place.

"It's only ice cream," he shrugs as he lowers his window and lets his Death by Chocolate waffle cone flop onto the blacktop.

"Counterboy can clean that up."

Marty's tone is very matter-of-fact. He slips the Hummer into gear and pulls out of the parking lot, turning left.  North.  Home is south.

Edith knows exactly where they are going. She doesn't ask why.  She is just happy the storm has passed and passed easily.  Sometimes, when Marty gets angry he goes a little crazy.  Nothing she says will matter.  Nothing she says will make it stop.  It stops when Marty says it should stop. Period.

Route 9 becomes Lakeshore Drive and Lakeshore becomes Coolidge Hill...  

They are going to the lake.

They haven't been to the lake in a while.  Not since last year.  The house is cool and a little damp from the winter thaw.  She can smell just a bit of mold; he will want her to bleach everything.

"Take the big chair..."

His chair!

"...I'll be right back," he adds, smiling and nodding in her direction before disappearing  into his study.  It is the one room in the house that she does not have to clean.  It is his man cave, his sanctum sanctorum.  His escape.  Edith has never been in the study.

"It has the better view.  We can share."

Edith settles into the big recliner.  It is old and threadbare - it smells of cigars and beer and something else she doesn't recognize - but it holds sentimental value for her husband.  It  was his grandfather's. Marty sat on the old man's lap to watch the Mets games.  When Pops died, Marty took the chair before anyone could throw it out.  It has followed him from his grandfather's house to his mother's, to his first apartment and then, finally, to the lake house.  

Edith rubs her finger aimlessly over a small tear she repaired three summers ago.  You can barely see the stitches.  It was a good job.

The lake, beyond their window, is calm.  A sheet of blue-grey glass.  She is watching a blue heron glide above the water when Marty steps in front of her, blocking her view.  He is very casual and relaxed.  Calm.  Smiling.

"I'm sorry about the chocolate..." she starts to stay but he stops her.

"It was only ice cream," Marty counters, flashing a large, ingratiating smile. "It was a mistake..."

Edith wants to say sorry - or thank you for understanding - but she doesn't get the chance.  The bullet stops her.  One shot.  One hole.  In the middle of her forehead.  A third eye oozing a small rivulet of blood that drips off the tip of her nose.

"I hate mistakes."

A flock of geese fly past the window following whatever course they normally follow.  

The Hummer backs out of the driveway.

Outside the window, a canoe glides by. The sun begins to set and bats take flight. Edith continues to stare blankly through the glass.  She looks bewildered.

If Marty thought of it, he would say she always looked that way...

[to be continued]

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