“Is that your mom?” I ask, looking at the picture on the wall. The house is a small one and half story just outside of downtown. Quaint, in a quiet neighborhood, the house is a real testament to the middle class lifestyle Jack and his soon to be ex had built for themselves.
“Yeah,” he replies, coming up behind me. I can smell the cheap beer on his breath. It’s the fourth just one, he’s drank so far. “She’s a heartless bitch.”
I roll my eyes. Jack was such a sweet guy sober. I am sorry I have to witness this side of his personality. I turn and go back into the living room.
There isn’t much to the house. The living room and dining room are really one open space. There is a small guest room just off the living room and a slightly larger master bedroom at the back of the house. The kitchen is back there too, just visible from the main room. The bath and the stairs to a partially finished attic is to the left, passed the guest room.
The house is neatly decorated, or was until this last weekend. Jack, drunk Jack, tore all the pictures of him and his wife off the walls, leaving light squares in the paintwork where they were and glass shards on the floor. I swept when we got home, while he cooked us supper. I think I got it all but I am still wearing my shoes, just in case.
Jack cracked his first beer with supper. He must have caught my look, or perhaps he was feeling his own guilt. “It’s just one,” he muttered. “I’m not drinking anything harder. That’s the problem, the hard stuff. Help yourself.”
I did. I thought maybe it would take the edge off my growing anxiety about what I’ve gotten myself into. It was some cheap off brand in a blue can. It tasted awful. Then I was struck by the humor in a homeless hardcore addict being a beer snob and nearly laughed aloud.
By the time the meal was over, I still had three quarters of the can left. Jack was on his second and my anxiety had grown to a sinking pit. “I think those might interact with your depression meds,” I tell him. It’s my job to babysit him after all.
He scoffs at the idea. “I’ll be okay, Tina.”
His wife has only been gone a week, but it’s obvious Jack’s life has been spiralling down for awhile. He’s behind on most of his bills and the cable has been cut. We watch some reality show on one of the few remaining networks that broadcasts locally and talk about his wife. In the ward, and sober, he’s tearful and sweet. The drunk version is vile. She’s a bitch and she wouldn’t put out for him, “it’s been months, years, Tina.”
As I sit on the couch and start to flip channels again, he sits next to me, a little too close. “You are so pretty,” he says.
I give him a wan smile and scoot away on the couch. He’s not giving up so easy and follows me, putting his arm around me. “Such pretty hair.” He pets my hair awkwardly.
“You said,” I begin and stop, not sure how to go on.
“I took you in. You have nowhere else to go.”
“I know, but…”
He grabs my hair suddenly. “You are just like her,” he snarls. “I took her in, too. Gave her everything. And what did she do for me? Nothing.”
I want to protest. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He said, he specifically said, it wasn’t going to be like this, that I didn’t owe him anything. It’s not fair. But I am scared to voice these thoughts. They will just make him angrier right now.
His face comes at me. I twist away and he kisses my cheek, his tongue wet against my ear. “Jack,” I say, “please stop.”
“I took you in,” he slurs in my ear, “you owe me.”
That makes me angry. “You said it wasn’t going to be like this,” I insist. “You said I didn’t owe you anything.”
I wriggle out of his grasp and try to stand. Pain shoots through my scalp as he tightens his grip on my hair, dragging me back down.
“You women are all the same, think you can use a man,” he rages, climbing awkwardly on top of me. I struggle to get out from under him, but can’t.
The sound of breaking glass from the kitchen interrupts his attempted rape. We both look. The window is shattered. He is standing there, the man in black.
“What the hell?” Jack says, climbing to his feet. “Is someone there?” He is staring right at the man in black, but he can’t see him. “I am armed,” Jack lies. There is a shelf of Jack’s memorability, a baseball glove, a few framed baseball cards and a bat. He snatches the bat and moves cautiously towards the back of the house.
The man in black catches my eye and nods mutely towards the front door. I rise and grab my purse. I stop at the door, my heart pounding. I force myself to slow down, fearful of showing my hand too soon and spoiling my escape. As quietly as possible I draw the bolt back. I slowly turn the knob. I look back.
I can’t see the man in black now, just Jack in the kitchen doorway, bat raised.
“Someone smashed the window good, but they must have…”
I don’t wait for him to finish. I yank the front door and dash out into the night. I could rationalize things before but now I have proof I am going crazy. Jack couldn’t see the man in black, not even when he was right in front of him. He must be an hallucination. Then how did he smash the window?
I am almost to the corner when the thought strikes me. I pause, not sure. In the distance I hear Jack’s voice calling, “Tina?” It’s the sweet Jack again, but I know better than to trust that. I keep running.