by Mike Shea on 1 June 2003

This is a short story I wrote as an exercise from Stephen King's book, On Writing.

Dick couldn't move. The TV droned on about Paris Hilton, gay marriage, and Atkin's diet trends but Dick didn't hear it. It was the smell. It was called , Dick remembered. He remembered smelling it when they had first made love, clumsy and self conscious and wonderful. He smelled it when he held her as she talked about her father and wept on a hot summer night. He smelled it the night he woke up with a jaw broken in three places and drowning in his own thick blood.

They had been to the Landmark mall that afternoon with Little Nell hoisted on his shoulders. He stopped and turned around when he realized Jane wasn't following. She was beautiful. She was five inches taller than Dick with long blonde hair clamped back with two plastic hair clips. Her arms were straight at her sides, not crossed in front of her or on her hips. She was beautiful but one look at those eyes and he knew, anyone would know, that she wasn't just pissed. She wanted to kill him.

"Honey?" Dick said taking a step towards her.

"You were staring at that girl," Jane said. Her voice held no emotion but her eyes burned on him like blue fire.

"What g.."

"Are you fucking her?"

Dick could only stare at her. He supposed, two days later when they were running wire through his shattered jaw, that his pause of pure confusion was a sign of guilt to her. Was she kidding? Is this a test his asshole friends at work were always talking about? His hesitation ended their conversation and they walked to their Honda station wagon in silence.

The rest of the night was confusing and fragmented. They ate. They watched Sinfield together with Little Nell between them laughing any time the audience did. They went to bed.

He was dreaming of dragonflies mating in mid-flight when his world exploded into bright flashes and brilliant pain. The police told him in the hospital that he had been hit six times but he only remembered three of them. She had broken his nose on the first punch but his sleeping mind hadn't yet awakened until her second punch dislocated his jaw. The third and fourth broke the jaw and shattered his upper front teeth with the lower molers which were about ninety degrees away from where they should be. Jack was unconscious again when she punched him in the eye, splitting the skin around the socket in a cut that required nineteen stitches. She stopped after the sixth when her little finger broke on his forehead. The doctors called it a boxers fracture and chuckled when they explained his injuries to him two days later.

The police questioned him four times. All of their questions led to one popular opinion. What had he done to make a beautiful blonde woman like that beat him into a coma? Had he raped her? Had he molested their daughter? Even though she had only one injury, the broken hand from punching him in the face while he slept, domestic abuse came up over again and again.

Four psychiatric tests later and the questions finally ceased but the looks of scorn and judgment did not. Jane was diagnosed mentally ill and was sent to the Nova psychiatric ward for no less than two years.

The night after the mall wasn't the first time Jane had gotten violent. Dick had been late one evening when his asshole boss, Mr. Drayer, kept him late for a meeting with upper management. He got home at eight and opened the door to the warm smell of onions and peppers. He went into the kitchen and saw Jane at the stove with her back to him.

"Hi baby."

She whirled around and threw the boiling soup, pot and all, at him. He would have been blinded if he hadn't gotten his arm up in time. The oily soup soaked through his white shirt and left a foot-long red welt that had blistered and broken later that night. He knew he should go to the hospital but they would have questions.

That night in bed, his arm roaring in pain, he had looked at the back of her head.

"Why did you do that?" he whispered. His voice cracked.

"I don't know." He saw her back shake a little. He smelled her scent, , and tears filled his own eyes.

The first six months after Jane's infidelity alarm had put him into the hospital were miserable for Dick. He tried to explain to Little Nell that her mother was sick but even if he could squeeze the words out of a jaw that was wired shut, he didn't know what to say. It was Nell who dialed 911 when she saw her mother screaming and holding her deformed hand to her breasts while Nell's father gurgled in his own blood.

Life had gotten better, though. They had scraped their lives back together and even had fun in the park once in a while.

The day of the escape, Dick's office had closed early because of an Anthrax scare in the mail room. He found himself home two hours before the day care would drop off Little Nell. It was the first two hours Dick had had for himself since Jane had gone away.

A twinge of sexual attraction and pain shot through his nerves when he had opened the door but he didn't know why until he turned on the TV and saw her face. She had no makeup on and her hair had been tied back. The sad look of defeat was her eyes. She looked like every other mug shot Dick had ever seen, but this was his wife. "Escape" was the only word the local news talking head spoke that Dick understood. Then the smell was clear to him. It was .

She was here.

His range of emotions was beyond him. Pain, fear, lust, pity, all shot though him like colors of a rainbow. His body was cold and white. He felt like a rabbit who had just felt the piercing eyes of a fox.

She was here and she was looking at him.

He stood on stiff legs like a robot in the Hall of Presidents. He turned and there she was.

Sun streamed in the blinds behind her, catching off of the loose blonde hair around her shoulders. She was wearing a small red satin robe he had bought for her on Valentine's Day. It was really a gift for him and they laughed about that while sweat still stood out on their naked bodies later that night. It hung just about a foot lower than her waste and gave tiny hints at the blue panties she wore underneath. She smiled at him as she had the first time he saw her naked. His heart burned. He fell over to her and into her one-handed embrace unable or unwilling to choose any other action. He pressed his head on her shoulders and inhaled the scent of .

He knew what would happen and he didn't care. He loved her. He always loved her. He loved her when the doctor had reset his nose with the snap of a pencil. He loved her when he peeled the sticky homemade dressing off of his second-degree burns. He loved her right now. He loved her even when the ice pick slid quietly into the hole of his ear.

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