Continued from: Earworm: Part 19 — David
Greta looked up from her bowl of ice cream, the spoon still stuck in her mouth. She regarded William as if he was the specter of a long-deceased relative suddenly returning from the grave. The spoon slid from her mouth. “Oh, William, you’re home. I was waiting for you to call for a ride.”
William went to the freezer and opened the door. “Yeah, well, I didn’t need one.”
“How’d you get home?”
“One of the guys,” William said. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he fished out the gallon of ice cream.
“How was the game?” Greta asked in her jovial voice.
Does the term “torture” mean anything to you?
“Good,” William said, retrieving a bowl from the cabinet.
“We did,” William said.
At least I think we did.
He dug at the ice cream with a spoon, trying to pry loose a scoop. A chunk flung from the spoon and plopped onto the tile floor. William sighed.
“You have fun?” Greta said.
Oh yeah, it was quite a lot like a root canal.
“Yeah, it was fun.” William tore free a paper towel to clean up the mess. The paper towel cylinder dropped from the holder and fell to the floor, unraveling like the white carpet awaiting a bride’s precession. William stared at the paper path in disbelief. He left it and bent over the melting, brown glob of ice cream, slopping it up, feeling the cold stickiness soak through the towel. He tossed it in the trash.
“So you got a chance to see all your friends?” Greta asked in her jovial way.
William turned and looked at her. Et tu, Greta?
“Yep,” he said, turning back to the unraveled paper towels and re-rolling them into what looked like a mad scientist’s botched experiment.
Greta took another spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, blowing hyperventilating breaths—a technique she claimed fended off brain-freeze.
William returned to the ice cream gallon and made another attempt to mine a scoop.
“And did you see that girl you like?” Greta said.
William drove the spoon into the ice cream, the handle bending. Why did he despise Greta at that moment? Why did he want to turn on her, throw that gallon of ice cream through the window and scream, For Christ’s sake, Greta, I have no friends. People just don’t like me. Are you blind? Can’t you see that? And that girl, she got her man, and that man ain’t me. So why can’t you just butt out and mind your own business?
“No,” William said. “That girl wasn’t there.”
“That’s too bad,” Greta said, waddling to the sink and depositing the bowl. “Now that you’re home safe and sound, I’m gonna go shopping.”
“Do you want anything?”
“No,” he said, plopping another clump of ice cream into his bowl.
“Okay,” she said, “You sure you don’t want anything?”
“Yes, you do? Or, yes, you’re sure you don’t?”
“What?” William snapped at her like a dog protecting a bone.
“I didn’t know if you wanted more ice cream, because I’ll get you some if you want it,” Greta said in a low voice, hurt evident in her eyes.
William held onto the counter, the spoon buried into the ice cream like Excalibur in its anvil. “Okay,” he said, forcing a grin, “We could use some more ice cream.”
“Okay, good,” Greta said with renewed purpose. “What kind?”
“Anyth… coffee’s fine.”
“Okay, one order of coffee ice cream, coming up,” she said, grabbing her car keys and waddling out the door.
William plopped a final scoop of ice cream into his bowl and brought it to the kitchen table. He looked out the window, inspecting the many birdfeeders hanging like Christmas ornaments from the trees. A squirrel scurried onto one of them, scaring off a blue jay and stuffing stolen birdseed into its mouth.
William thought, Just like Stanley. I was going to yell at her just like Stanley would have.
Was William really like Stanley, the guy that tried to hammer him into the floor like a tent post?
The squirrel outside scurried around to another opening in the clear plastic feeder, searching for more choice seeds. William slopped a spoonful of ice cream into his mouth. It stung his fillings and pooled beneath his tongue, and his thoughts unearthed a memory of another Saturday morning, not too long ago, a time when he still lived in New Hampshire. It was about a month after the courts had exiled Greta’s husband Stanley from “his very own house.” But William still saw Stanley often enough.
William remembered the day Stanley tried to kill him. It was as accessible to recall as the alphabet, ingrained in his mind by constant visits to that day in his memories. William had been sitting on the living room couch, eating ice cream and watching television. He remembered every detail of that day, from the sweatpants he wore—a size too small—to the Looney Tunes rerun he watched—Bugs and Elmer having it out to the music of The Barber of Seville. And he remembered Greta barreling down the stairs, huffing, “Oh, jeesh. What’s he doing here?” William stood from the couch and pulled the curtain aside. He saw Stanley standing on the front lawn, shoulders hunched, bald head jutting from his collar like a vulture’s, hands dangling at his sides in gnarled claws. Greta whipped open the front door and stood in the doorway like a goalie in a crease. William had found a sudden and new respect for her since she kicked Stanley out, she was a woman in control, as if intoxicated by a new power. “Stanley,” she called, “I told you to never come back. There’s a restraining order, you know that. Do I need to call the…”
“Where’s William?” Stanley inquired from the front lawn. His voice was calm and soft—strangely calm, strangely soft.
“Stanley,” Greta said, “I told you, unless you want me to call the police, then…”
“Where is he?” Stanley’s too calm voice called again.
“Stanley,” Greta called from the doorway, “I mean it, I’ll call the…”
Stanley’s voice grew louder and more truculent, “Where is William?”
“Where is he?” Stanley screamed, charging the front door. Greta screamed, clawing the door shut, shouldering it, fumbling with the deadbolt. Stanley burst in like a hurricane wind, but the inertia of Greta’s bulk prevailed, and the door shut, the deadbolt falling into place with a resounding click. William ran into the hall. Stanley hammered on the front door, screaming gibberish obscenities.
“William,” Greta said, out of breath, “You lock back door. I call police.”
William didn’t have time to ponder how much Greta’s syntax sounded like Tarzan at that moment because the cursing and banging from outside ceased, and with biting fear, William realized Stanley had the same notion as Greta: the back door. William and Greta exchanged frantic glances before breaking like players from a huddle, racing for their respective tasks.
William burst into the kitchen and bounded for the backdoor. He stopped short, spotting the metal side door leading in from the garage. Greta picked up the phone, shrieking, “Hurry.” William wasn’t sure if she was pleading with him or the phone. He cut for the garage door, turning the button on the doorknob. He then looked to the house’s rear entrance, a pair of French doors leading out onto a small deck. William could see, through the doors’ grids of glass panes, Stanley mounting the back deck’s steps. William sprang across the kitchen. Greta’s fingers clumsily danced across the digits of the phone with electric beeps. She repeated in hushed, panicked sobs, “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
William beat Stanley to the door, locking it the moment Stanley reached it. Stanley shook the knob with violent vigor. “William,” Stanley said, “You get out here right now so that I can kill you.” William didn’t move. He regarded his adopted father’s frenzied, frothing face as Stanley screamed with the comedic franticness of the Looney Tunes reruns William had just been watching. “William, you let me in this instant.”
Greta shrieked into the phone, “Hello? Hello? Oh God. Police? Send Police. My husband’s trying to kill us.”
On the other side of the doors’ glass panes, Stanley’s eyes were distant and insane. “William,” he said, “you let me in right now.”
William didn’t move.
Stanley’s hand crashed through one of the doors’ glass panes. Greta squealing, “Oh God. Oh God, hurry.” Stanley’s hand searching for the lock. William jumped forward, shouldering the door shut. He snatched up half of the broken glass pane that had fallen to the floor and struck at Stanley with the shard. The glass drew a long, red line down part of Stanley’s lower arm, across his wrist, and over the back of his hand. Stanley howled and withdrew his hand. He inspected it, staring at the blood as if it was a code in need of deciphering.
Stanley reinserted his hand for a second try, screaming, “You little bastard. You’re even more dead now.” This time, William drove the glass deep into Stanley’s flesh. Stanley retreated, yelping and staring at the glass buried in his hand. As Stanley worked the shard from his flesh, William commandeered a chair from the kitchen table and wedged its back under the doors’ doorknobs. Stanley extracted the glass, his arm and hand looking as if they’d been dipped into red paint. Scarlet droplets splashed onto the deck. He attempted another assault on the door, but the chair held.
Greta continued chattering, frantic, into the receiver, “Yes, I’ll stay on the line. Oh God, just hurry. Where are you for God’s sake?”
Stanley glared in at William. “Open the door,” he said. William shook his head. Stanley tried the doorknob again, but the chair held. Stanley’s blood-drenched hand flexed.
An odd smile crawled across William’s face as he and Stanley faced off. It wasn’t the first time William had won.
Stanley ran his hand up and over his bald skull—a habit he was known to do when angry—painting the top of his head in scarlet streaks like war paint. “Very well, then,” he said. He turned and walked down the deck’s steps, disappearing around the corner of the house.
“He’s leaving,” Greta confided to the phone. “I don’t know where he’s going.” Stanley could then be heard in the garage, rummaging through troves of junk. “What’s he doing?” Greta said. William was unsure whom she was asking, so he shrugged. “He’s in the garage,” Greta said. There was a tense silence.
Crash. The front door jostled. William jumped. Greta cried out. The house shook. The windows rattled. Crash. The three, pie-shaped windows forming a half circle at the top of the front door shattered, glass trickling down. William figured using those shards as weapons would be futile. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.” Greta whaled into the phone. William would later reflect on the poor dispatcher’s probable hearing loss. Crash. The front door tried to leap from the doorjamb, the wood around the deadbolt splitting. “Hescominhouse,” Greta screeched, blending her desperate sentence into one word, repeating it over and over into the phone, “Hescominhouse. Hescominhouse.” Crash. The door bent inward. William heard advancing sirens in the distance. Crash. The door sprung open, slamming into the wall. Stanley stood in the doorway, his crown streaked red, his eyes furnaces, a sledgehammer in his hands. The sirens were just outside. Tires screeching on the road. “Hurry,” Greta wailed into the phone, even though the police were on the front lawn. Stanley stepped over the threshold and into the house.
“Don’t move,” a voice commanded from outside. “I said, don’t move.”
Stanley continued into the house, shoving Greta aside. He advanced toward William. “No more,” he growled. William backed into the kitchen. The police burst into the house. Greta grasped at their uniforms, pleading for help. William backed into the kitchen table, trying to crawl over it. Stanley loomed over him. The police tossed Greta aside—in much the same manner Stanley had—and they scurried into the kitchen. “No more,” Stanley shouted, the hammer rising. William raised his hands. What would his final thought be as the metal head of the hammer buried into his skull? Would it be, Oh God, I’m dead, I’m really dead? Would he see his own blood splash on the kitchen wall? Would his final expression of bewilderment be forever frozen on his face? But before the hammer fell, the police wrestled Stanley to the ground. “No,” Stanley wailed. “No more. Please, you’ve got to stop him. Please end it. Please, William, no more.”
William snapped from the memory with a shudder. Outside the kitchen window, the squirrel shimmied up the birdfeeder’s wire. William stood from the table, licking the spoon clean, and he deposited the bowl in the sink.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 21—The Girlfriend Experience
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