Kathie Freeman

Even before Sally set her purse on the kitchen counter she knew he'd been drinking again. The empty beer cans were lined up across the living room floor in a perfectly straightline, just like always. It proved he wasn't drunk, he'd tell her. It proved he could hold his liquor.

He was sprawled on the sofa, watching a golf tournament on TV, the sound turned up as loud as it could go. Sally picked up the remote and pressed "mute". Wayne pulled himself upright and glared at her.

"What's the big idea," he growled. "Give me that." He grabbed for the remote, but she held it out of his reach.

"How did the job interview go this morning?" she asked.

"It didn't," he snapped. "Now gimme that remote and go fix my dinner."

"They didn't hire you, or you didn't go?" Sally persisted.

"I didn't go. It was raining, so I didn't go, okay?"

"I know it was raining. I walked ten blocks to the bus stop in the rain so you could have the car. It's still raining, and I'm tired, and I can't believe you didn't go. Just how long do you think we can get by on my wages?"

Wayne hauled himself to his feet and glowered down at her. Steady as a rock. You'd never guess to look at him he was drunk.

"So put in some more overtime, for Pete's sake! I'm sick of your whining about money. Better yet, get another job. 'Bout the only time I have any peace around here's when you're at work." He pulled on his jacket and snatched the car keys off the hook. "I'm going over to Riley's for a beer. You better have dinner ready when I get back." Sally stepped between him and the door.

"You shouldn't be driving in your condition," she protested. The blow wasn't entirely unexpected, still it caught her off balance, and she went sprawling. The back door slammed and she heard the car start. She watched from the window as he backed out of the driveway and into the street, missing the Peterson's sedan by a matter of inches. She shook her head and sighed. She'd intended to get the brakes fixed today. She should have known he'd never go to that interview.

A can of diet soda from the refrigerator made a good icepack. She held it against her cheekbone and waited for it to go numb. The crawl on the bottom of the TV screen was saying that the Cole Canyon bridge was out. Sally already knew that. She wondered if Wayne knew. Probably not. Well, he'd find out when he got there. It was a long detour, probably an hour or more before he got back home, assuming he still went to Riley's. But of course he would. It'd take more than a washed-out bridge to keep him away from his drinking buddies. She put a load of laundry in the machine and started dinner.

Wayne wasn't back by 7 o'clock, so she went ahead and ate dinner by herself. At 7:45 the doorbell rang. Sally groaned inwardly. He'd lost his key again. It was the third time this month. She ought to hang it around his neck like alittle kid. She opened the door, but it wasn't Wayne on the front porch. A young police officer stood in the pool of light, rain dripping off his hat and running down the shoulders of his plastic raincoat.

"Are you Mrs. Wayne Sawyer?"

"Yes. Why? What's happened? Has my husband been arrested?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am, there's been an accident."

"An accident? How bad is it? Is he in the hospital?"

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Sawyer, but your husband is dead."

"Dead." Sally gripped the doorknob for support.

"Yes ma'am. Ma'am, are you all right?"

"I'm okay. What happened? How did he...?"

"He missed the detour sign at the Cole Canyon washout and went right through the barricade. Witnesses said they thought his brake lights came on, but we didn't find any skidmarks. He must have been hydroplaning."

"I suppose so. Did he....suffer?"

"No, ma'am. Killed instantly on impact. Are you sure you're alright? Do you have someone who can stay with you?"

"Yes," Sally lied. "I have a friend right next door." Truth was, the Pecks hadn't spoken to them since Labor Day two years ago. Wayne's doing.

"I'll be going then. I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thank you."

Sally stood at the window staring out at the rain. Why should she feel guilty? It certainly wasn't her fault. If he'd gone to that job interview he'd have known the brakes were bad. If he'd paid attention to the news crawls instead of his line of beer cans, he'd have known the bridge was out.

She went into the bedroom and dug out the insurance policy. Fifty thousand dollars. That'd make things a lot easier. Darn shame about the car, though. She really liked that old Pontiac.

The End
Copyright 1998 by Kathleen Mc Pugh, all rights reserved

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Kathie Freeman is the author of "Catwalk, A Feline Odyssey", the engaging tale of a vagabond tabby cat, and "The Retro", the story of an unholy alliance of science and government.