Tom sits heavy at the table, so heavy that his bum muscles start going numb.
“Hit me,” he says.
Perfectly tuned machines ping around him, he cannot see outside, and pretty soon his arse will lose feeling altogether. Tom sits even heavier.
He says, “Hit me.”
A clock flies across the room, “YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT FUCKING TIME IT IS,” Anna screams, and Tom quickly shuts the door behind him, falling on unsteady feet toward his wife.
He sees his kids sitting in their pyjamas at the kitchen table. Their faces are filled with sleep and they both hold teddy bears.
“Oh, hey guys!” The kids don’t smile. One of them starts crying.
Anna’s picking up her car keys, saying “I’ve had enough of this, Tom. I’m done with this shit.”
She’s picking up already-packed bags and moving towards the door, telling the kids to follow her. Tom steps into the doorway ahead of Anna.
“Put the bags down, sweetness,” to Anna.
“Go back to bed, guys” to the kids, with a confident smile. They stay where they are.
“You’re not going fuckin’ anywhere,” to Anna.
She looks into his eyes with a hard expression, none of the softness she had when Tom married her. The clock’s still ticking, but the second hand’s shuddering in the one place, like time stands still.
“I was out with the boys,” Tom tells his wife, “Time got away from us. No matter. Let’s go to bed, my love.”
Anna shakes her head, glances quickly towards the kids.
“I told you to choose, Tom. We’ll lose the house. There’s no savings. It’s all gone! I can’t stick around for this.”
She moves toward the door again but Tom grabs her by the arm, hard.
“And take my fuckin’ children, woman? No no,” he shoves her back against the fridge, his hands around her throat before he realises what he’s doing.
As Anna’s whole body strains against Tom’s strength, he comes to himself and lets go. He falls back across the room, hits the wall, and slides to the floor. There are tears.
“You piece of shit,” chokes Anna, grabbing their children by the wrists and pulling them behind her to the door.
“Hit me,” begs Tom, “I’m done. I’m sorry. I won’t go back, just don’t leave. You can’t leave! Go on, hit me!”
She’s out the door, and Tom moves after her. The car engine starts, and Tom watches the headlights grow smaller into the night, away from the house.
He screams into the night.
He can’t go home. There’s nothing there, just piles of microwave food baked onto plates from three weeks ago, and bills shoved under the door, spilling across the kitchen floor. There’s no dial tone anymore, and even if there was he wouldn’t know where to call. They’ve disappeared. Pretty soon the house will go too.
“Eighteen,” says the dealer.
Tom nods slowly.
“Twenty-five,” says the dealer, scooping up the cards, “Bust.”
“Hit me,” says Tom.
The dealer just stares.
Tom says, “Hit me.”
This piece appeared in Ex Calamus ezine, issue number seven, which can be downloaded here. Support local emerging writers, read Ex Calamus!