A heavy sigh whistled over Tammy’s lips. She closed the car door and stared up at the stillness of the stars. She knew Paul was in some dark corner waiting to pounce. His Camaro was parked under the pecan tree toward the back of the house. The high glossy shine smeared the reflection of the moon.
Tammy rubbed her bare arms and felt the snap of a late southern fall raise goosebumps. Leaves had fallen off the trees and left gaps big enough to pick out the little dipper between the branches. A red light on a radio tower blinked from the field in the distance. Trucks down on the main road grumbled enough to block out the silence.
She wasted a minute before walking up the steps. This night would a bad night, as bad as the worst of nights. The nights where he didn’t accept she was shopping with friends and she was too tired to deny it. She didn’t know why she dangled the Old Navy bags in his face anymore. Nothing less than being submerged in gasoline would have dulled the musty smell of other men.
Usually Paul yelled at her through the shower curtain. “What fucking Nigger was it tonight Tammy? Who will it be next; some nasty Mexicans?” He deflated when she turned on the hair dryer. The whir muffled out his rampage and caused him to cry in frustration. Each loud sob sounded like a hiccup, and his shoulders bounced as he pulled for air. Once he was gathered in her fleshy arms she would question if she slept with men he didn’t like to spite him, or if she slept with men he didn’t like because they were men. She rubbed his back until he stopped crying then his hand traveled into her robe.
Tonight she wanted to avoid this scene. She was tired and the cool sheets were calling out to her, alone. At this point she voted for a slap or some type of physical abuse over the crying and unwanted sex. The whole mess was embarrassing.
She placed her key in the lock and heard the deadbolt click in the door. When she pushed it open she dropped her bags off by the pile of shoes lined up along the wall. She wished he would just leave. There seemed to be no way to get rid of him. He wouldn't get a job or go out of the house long enough to be locked out. His mother wouldn't take him back and he had no friends to go to.
The hum of the furnace kicked on when Tammy sat on the couch. Calling out to him would be considered an invitation, so she waited. When the heater finished it’s cycle she began to worry. She stood and gained her strength with a clench of her fists. She turned to go through the dark hallway, and after a click of the bathroom switch Tammy saw the clump of the covers piled in the middle of the bed
The top of Paul's head peaked out of the blob. Tammy closed the bathroom door and unbuttoned her blouse. In the mirror spots of aggravated skin looked like bug bites at the top of her breast. Other beard burns trailed down to her hips. As she lowered her jeans the half circle of a deep crimson hickey peeked out at her panty line. Tammy leaned her head to the left and brushed her hair over her left shoulder.
She thought about how the sound of the water would wake him. She undressed while it warmed and stepped into steam that immediately relaxed her. After fifteen minutes he still hadn’t woke up and the joy that he may truly be asleep entered Tammy’s mind. Then the floor popped and she stopped moving. She squinted her eyes and turned her ear to the door. She stood still a while, waiting for another sound.
When she stepped onto the bath mat she didn’t bother with her robe. Tammy wrapped herself in a towel and crept into the bedroom balanced on the pads of her toes. The air chilled her body in the moist crevices the towel missed, and Paul lay in the same position as when she first went into the bathroom. The loud creek of the chest of drawers did not disturb him. She was surprised he was not snoring.
As she slid her foot through the hole of her panties she caught her toe on a hem and hopped back to the edge of the bed for support. She made a mental calculation of how much weight she had gained since being a prisoner in this relationship. Her clothing sizes inched up faster than dog years, and she thought she could change that pattern if she could get Paul out of the house.
The coolness of the fitted sheet felt comforting to Tammy. She wanted a little more of the bed to stretch out on, and more covers, but she didn’t want to be too greedy with her luck. She teetered at the edge of the mattress, laying straight as a board, with not enough room to bend her legs. Exhaustion itself wasn’t enough to push her into sleep. She nudged Paul with her arm to try and gain more room, but he didn’t move or twitch. She thought about it and realized she couldn’t hear the heavy breathing of sleep. Paul should be making some sound.
Tammy turned over to face the lump of bed sheets that cocooned Paul and almost fell into the floor. Pretending sleep, after getting situated, she kicked Paul, but wasn't sure which part. When he didn't move she kicked again hard enough to hurt her foot and he still didn't budge. Annoyed, Tammy shoved her hand between Paul and the covers to try and get more of the blanket to cover herself. When her fingers tracked a wet spot she rubbed it for a second until she realized Paul wet the bed. She sat up, and looked down at the mattress.
“Paul, wake up. Your short dick pissed all in the bed. Paul Goddammit wake up.”
Tammy's feet stomped the floor when she rose from the bed.
“Paul wake up. If I wanted piss all over the house I would have got a dog.”
She turned on the bedside lamp and waited for her eyes to adjust to the washed out colors. She had to tug and pull at the bed sheets to get them untucked from under Paul's body. He had rolled himself in into it like a sleeping bag. When his face was visible she could tell his color was off. Tammy touched his nose and he didn't twitch.
“Paul. Paul.” She poked his forehead. “Are you okay?”
His skin didn't have the white poke mark when she moved her finger away. It took a minute to find his pulse. His wrists were still around his hips, in the thickest part of the covers. The lower part of his body was encased in a floral blob from the comforter, and Paul's chest jutted out like the stamen in a withered plant.
Tammy stepped away from the bed and hugged her sides. She couldn't find a heart beat, and when she began to pace the dull amber pill bottle was visible on the floor. She crouched and picked it up by inserting the tip of her finger into the mouth of the canister. The prescription was in his mother's name; sixty Valium. A Mountain Dew bottle sat on his nightstand. The cap was screwed back on even though the bottle empty.
Tammy dropped the pill bottle back on the ground. If Paul was alive his pale appearance wasn't far from the pastiness of a corpse. Tammy wasn't sure how long a drug overdose took, but now it felt like she was running out of time. She retrieved her robe and her phone then paced in front of the bed. If she called an ambulance they might also send the cops. Paul wasn't very big but he was too big for Tammy to carry. Either way she would have to get dressed.
She was buttoning her jeans when Paul coughed. She situated the underwire of her ragged bra, and peeked around the corner of the closet door. Paul jerked to his side. He didn't look like he was rolling over, but instead resembled a boat floundering from too much water. He finally settled with his back arched across pillows. The back of his head and neck nestled in the space between the headboard and mattress.
When Paul puked it didn't project, but flowed out like an overfilled swimming pool. The smell tinged her nostrils, and made her spit thick. Tammy grabbed on to his arms to turn him back on his side. Before she could get one good jerk Paul coughed and splattered puke on his face, and her hand. The nasty wetness looked like thousand island dressing, and Tammy's first instinct was to rub it back on him.
Paul tried to cough again but the effect sounded like a groan. His Adam's apple swelled up at the bottom of his bloated neck. Tammy stopped herself. If Paul lived he would never leave. His weird patterns of verbal abuse then retreat would be continued forever. She stepped away from him when his body began to shiver. Tonight would be a long night in the hospital, and tomorrow, who knew?
She walked into the living room and slipped on her sandals. She continued to feel the shake of Paul's body, like a kid's jaw in cold temperatures. She grabbed her purse and Paul's Clemson hoodie.
“Hey. Jerrod.” Tammy whispered into her phone. “Can I come over?”
She left the door unlocked and walked to her car. Her ears felt full as if walking in high altitude. The buttons on her cell phone glowed on her face, and the inside of the scratchy hoodie rubbed her skin like a peeled blanket.
“I'll sleep on the couch, it's no big deal. I just need a place to crash.”
The seat belt light blinked on the dashboard.
“We can do what we did last night.” The base in his voice just sounded like a grumble.
“Okay. Will you give me a call tomorrow? I have to find some place to stay.”