ChildofMidnight at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ned has been sleeping on the floor. Not the first time. It may be the first time he’s consciously thought of violence.

            “Oi! Get up, you lazy piece of shite,” comes Ella’s shriek from the doorway. Her northern English accent is thicker when she’s angry, which is almost all the time. “Right. This ain’t a doss house. Get up and make breakfast, you twat.”

            Ned hears the crutches and the slow, awkward steps outside the living room, moving towards the bathroom. His right arm is asleep, and his neck is cramped. This always happens when he sleeps on the apartment floor. They don’t have a spare mattress, and the couch isn’t big enough to sleep on without bending your limbs uncomfortably. Every time she refuses to let him share their bed, he resumes a habit of settling on the old grey rug – the one she brought with her when she moved to Toronto – with one of the crocheted pillows, wrapping himself in the orange-and-black afghan.

            Better than some people have, he keeps telling himself.

            Ned yawns and clumsily gets to his feet, almost toppling over. He shakes his arm violently, even slaps it a couple of times, trying to get the circulation going. He rolls his head around in circles, but that’s of no use. A beam of sunlight fights to get into the room through the side window, filtered through the cheap, faded yellow curtains. Ned picks up his robe from the couch arm and slips it on, then wanders to the kitchen area and flicks on the light. He has that sharp, sinking ache in his belly again – the one he always feels in the morning, and whenever he comes home.

            He notices his hands shaking, and again, he has a brief thought of violence. Just a momentary cartoon fantasy, and then he forces it back.

            Don’t be stupid, he thinks. Nobody deserves that. Look in the mirror before you go judging others and thinking they deserve that. He opens the fridge and moves a few beer bottles to get the egg carton and bacon package. Besides, you’d go to prison. And that would be worse.

            “Or would it?”

            He fakes a cough when he realizes he’s said it out loud.

            “Wot?” she calls from the hallway.

            “What?” he calls back to her.

            “You said somethin’. Wot you say?”

            “Nothing. Just coughed.”

            “Yeh. Bollocks.”

            He hears Ella move slowly down the hall. She’s not using the crutches or wheelchair this time. She’s moving by leaning upright on the wall and stepping across it with her hands, pushing and dragging one useless leg at a time. She’s very good at this, as she’s been doing it all her life. Ned sometimes wonders if she does it to make him feel bad.

            “You did it again, you cock,” he hears her yell from the hallway. “How many times have I told you not to stand up when you go to the toilet? Not in this fuckin’ flat.”

            “That’s how men usually do it,” he mumbles, though he knows she couldn’t care less. “That’s how men pee.”

            “When men stand up to wee,” she goes on, “they drop tiny yellow splotches on the system and on the floor. I have to sit on that mess, sometimes in me bare feet. People walk on it. You know how bloody disrespectful that is? And you know fuckin’ well I can’t clean it up. You’re the most disgusting and ignorant little savage on this earth.”

            “I’m sorry,” Ned mutters, eyes closed.

            “You fuckin’ better be,” she says as she comes slowly around the corner. “And I hope you weren’t droolin’ on the rug again. Used to be me gran’s rug.”

            She makes her way to the kitchen area and holds herself up with her arms on the counter. Her short, square haircut with bangs and her buggy eyes make her look like some demented elf to Ned.

            “Bacon and eggs again?” she gripes. “Fuckin’ hell. We just had bacon and eggs yesterday.”

            “That’s all we’ve got.”

            She manoeuvres herself to one of the nearby dining chairs. “Don’t mean we can’t get somethin’ else,” she says. “Run to the fuckin’ twenty-four-hour shop and buy some Corn Flakes. Run to McDonald’s and get some bloody egg sandwiches. It’s Saturday, you got loads of time.”

            “I thought,” says Ned, grinding his teeth a little, “you wanted breakfast now.”

            She lets herself drop onto the chair. “Don’t make excuses,” she snaps. “You’re the one with the workin’ legs. You can go anywhere you want, easily. Don’t give me that twaddle.”

            He ignores her as he greases the frying pan.

            “Of course, a real man would know how to cook more than bloody bacon and eggs. A good husband would learn to make a proper breakfast. French toast or crepes or somethin’. Not fuckin’ bacon and fuckin’ eggs every other fuckin’ morning. You’re gonna give us heart disease.”

            Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up. He pauses, then turns on the heat and takes four eggs from the carton.

            “And wot’s more, a real man wouldn’t expect his crippled wife to stumble her way into the kitchen for breakfast. A real man would serve it to her in bed. That’s wot a man with a shred of empathy would do. That’s wot a decent person would do. That’s wot—”

            The eggs smash on the floor. The frying pan too.

            “Shut the fuck up!” screams Ned.

            A long silence as Ned catches his breath.

            “Sorry,” he whispers, shaking. “I’m sorry. I’ll go out and get something after I clean this up.”

            He grabs the roll of paper towels and bends down to the floor. Ella stares at him with an amused, disdainful look, shaking her head.

            “You got a real anger problem there, mate,” she says.

* * * * *

            Of course he isn’t sorry. He wonders if he’s supposed to be, as he walks to the plaza. His neck still hurts, and his back aches too, but his belly is fine now. He’s so tired, he almost steps into traffic before the pedestrian light changes at one point. He also catches himself muttering curses under his breath a few times.

            “Mom,” he says to himself. He just remembered that he’s supposed to visit his mother in Hamilton this afternoon, though he can’t recall if it’s for a specific reason or just a social call. He feels waves of relief. Ella never wants to visit his family – she rarely wants to go out anywhere, unless it’s somewhere she can get a drink or six – so at least he gets half a day of liberty. He doesn’t know if he can take another weekend trapped in that hole with that screeching, moaning, wailing, cursing—

            No. Stop. You’re better than that. He halts on the sidewalk, closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Relax. It could be worse. Think of how others have it.

            Then he winces, wondering if a guilt complex is a kind of mental illness.

            It has to end, he knows. Someday, somehow, he must get out of the situation while doing the least possible damage to everybody. He needs to find an exit – or, as Ella might call it, a Way Out.

            When Ned enters the Metro grocery store, he hears the Muzak blaring the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” from above. A young John Lennon with his whole life ahead of him sings about everybody telling him he’s a lucky guy when he’s walking beside his love, and how everything she does is for him, and so on, and Ned tries to remember: What did he and Ella ever see in each other?

            They’ve been married for only a year and a bit, but when he thinks about life before the wedding, it doesn’t feel like his own experience – it’s like grainy footage from a news report filmed before he was born. Surely it wasn’t always like this? He remembers sporadic moments of kindness and generosity. He even used to joke with others that she was the first woman he’d met who’d been nice to him, but now, he isn’t so sure. People aren’t necessarily being nice when they show interest.

            It was at the wedding reception, he remembers, when he started to have doubts. That phony, almost fawning smile she foisted upon his mother and sister and friends. The way she played so helpless in her wheelchair, begging people with her kitten-like eyes to push her around the banquet hall. The way she said “please” and “thank you” and “you’re so kind” and all the other courteous phrases that she’d never said to him. He has known three different people: the dating Ella, the wedding Ella and now the real one.

            “You better be good to this one,” Donna told him in a quick private chat at the reception. She’d been his only previous girlfriend, dumping him after two months so she could get boned by the guitarist from her favourite local deathcore band. “Be good to that poor sweet girl,” she said, “because you’re never gonna find one better than this.”

            He finds the cereal aisle and drops a Corn Flakes box into his basket, then wanders to the milk aisle, half-asleep. He hasn’t seen Donna in five years. Has no idea whom she’s with or what she’s up to now. What advice would she give to him now? he wonders on a whim.

            “Divorce her? Stupid, stupid, stupid idea,” he imagines her responding. “You know what an asshole you’d look like, leaving a disabled woman? No, forget ʻlook like’. You’d be an asshole. It’s a kind of abuse, when you think about it.”

            But what if she’s the one abusing him?

            Ned almost laughs. He knows how ridiculous the question would sound to her.

            “What – did she hurt your poor widdle feelings, Ned? Did she stomp on your fragile widdle ego? Don’t be an idiot. You don’t even know what abuse is. You’re a Caucasian, straight male with no disabilities. It’s literally impossible for you to be a victim. It’s time for you to grow up and accept your privilege in this world, and take some adult responsibility for your—”

            “Sir?” the cashier asks. “I said, $9.48.”

            Ned snaps out of his reverie. “Sorry,” he says, pulling out his debit card.

* * * * *

He arrives home to see her yelling at Kermit the Frog. Not the first time.

            “Fuckin’ Kermit’s acting like a fuckin’ arrogant little twat on the telly again,” she tells him. One of the Muppet movies is airing on a cable channel, and Ella is sprawled over the couch, offering her unique style of feedback. A vodka and Coke sits on the corner table beside the couch, although it’s only nine in the morning. Ned’s belly ache is back, as if on cue.

            He puts the shopping bag on the dining table, his hands shaking again.

            “Oh, fuck the fuck off, Kermit!” she shouts, throwing a coaster at the TV set. “Talk to poor Gonzo like that. Pompous little shit. You think you’re all that, eh?”

            “I got breakfast.”

            She looks up. “Wot?”

            Ned lifts the cereal box out of the bag to show her, then bends down to pick up the coaster.

            Ella rolls her eyes. “Right. When I said ʻbuy Corn Flakes,’ you didn’t have to take it so literally. You could have got us some bloody Rice Krispies. Or porridge or whatever.”

            He puts the milk carton and cereal on the dining table. “All you asked for was breakfast of some kind.” Attempting a sardonic tone, he adds, “I’ve fulfilled the request. A ʻthank you’ might be an appropriate response here.”

            She laughs as she flicks the TV off with the remote.

            “You’re a fuckin’ windbag, y’know that?” she says, pulling herself up by her crutches. “All passive-aggressive-like, too. They told me you Canadians was all like that. Always sayin’ ʻsorry’ when you don’t mean it, never sayin’ it when you’re really bein’ dickheads. Should’ve listened before I moved here and shacked up with one. Pathetic.” She sits down on one of the chairs at the table. “Fine then. Where’s me breakfast?”

            Ned pours her a bowl and adds milk. She eats two spoonfuls as Ned fixes himself a bowl.

            “Back when I lived in Manchester,” she resumes, “I knew some real men. Rugby players, some of them. Football fans an’ that. They’d laugh and kick your arse if they heard you talkin’ to me like such a ponce. ʻFulfilled the request’! ʻAppropriate response’! Listen to yourself sometime. Wot a knob.”

            Ned silently eats his cereal.

            “You’re such a big nothing, I bet if you disappeared tomorrow, nobody’d notice.”

            “If you hate this so much,” mumbles Ned with his mouth full, “why do you stay?”

            She looks up at him. “Wot?”

            “Why stay here? Why not go out and find one of these ʻreal men’?”

            She gapes at him.

            “Cos I love you, you stupid cunt!” she laughs. “Why d’you think?”

            Ned goes on eating his cereal. Ella pushes hers away.

            “You really don’t get wot a great deal you have with me, do you? So we have a little row now and then. You think that ain’t normal? Think of all the couples out there wot fight all the bloody time. Think of the couples wot beat the crap out of each other. Rather be in one of those, mate? You got a nice bird who loves you, all to yourself. You got paradise in front of you and you don’t appreciate it. Wot kind of a bloke are you, askin’ a dodgy question like that?”

             Ned continues eating, a little too quickly.

            “Not hungry anyway.” She picks up her crutches. “The way you slurp your milk like that is puttin’ me off my food. Bloody revolting. And you’re makin’ me miss the Muppets.”

            She manoeuvres herself back to the couch as Ned finishes his bowl, then dumps hers in the garbage and sets the dishes in the sink. Then he crosses over to the closet and takes out his jacket.

            “Oi! Where d’you think you’re goin’ now?” she barks as she plops herself back on the couch.

            “Mom’s. Going to see her today. I already told you.”

            “And you’re gonna leave them dishes in the sink like that?”

            “Apparently.” He puts his jacket on.

            “Just gonna leave me to do ’em?”

            “Train leaves in half an hour,” he lies. “I have to go now.”

            “Lazy tosser. Got a crippled wife and still expects her to be a bloody housemaid. Takes me more effort to move a yard than you to wash a mountain of dishes.”

            “I – I’m sorry,” he stammers.

            “Yeh, you ought to be.” She pats down the couch cushions and pillows. “Now where did you hide the fuckin’ remote, you mong?”

            Ned exits the apartment and heads to the elevators.

            I’m leaving. By the end of this weekend. I’m packing up and leaving. I don’t care if it’s cowardly and selfish, Donna. I don’t care if I look like an asshole. I just can’t take this shit anymore. I don’t even care if I deserve it. There has to be more to life than this. There has to be more…

            A dinging sound.

            “Uh, you okay, dude?”

            Ned sees a young woman wearing a tank top and earphones in front of him. The doors have just opened to the ground floor.

            “I’m fine,” he says as he exits, but it comes out in an involuntary sob. He realizes he’s been crying in the elevator. Not the first time.

* * * * *

“I came very close to winning the jackpot last night. I just needed an I-22, and I would’ve had a full card. But some fat ninny a couple of tables over got it before me.” Ned’s mother shrugs as she knits. “Still – I came out with about fifty bucks. More than I paid, unless you count the coffee I bought at the snack bar.”

            “Not bad,” says Ned, sipping the tea she’s poured for him, even though he hates tea.

            They sit in the den, Ned leaning back in his father’s old armchair, his mother in the rocking chair in the corner to his left. Even when they’re talking, he always feels that this century-old house is the quietest and calmest house he’s ever been in. A welcome change. The den looks almost exactly the same as it has since he was a child – same antique wooden furniture and fading, flowery 1970s wallpaper – except for the old cardboard shoe box on the coffee table. The box is so dented and dusty that it looks as if it could fall apart any second.

            “So I went out to get more yarn with some of the winnings,” she adds.

            “What’re you knitting?”

            “Baby booties! Brenda’s due in a couple of weeks,” she says, referring to Ned’s niece. She holds up the unfinished navy-blue bootie for him to see.

            “Nice,” says Ned with a nod.

            “And how about you and that Irish wife of yours?”


            “Of course. Any plans for a little one in the near future?”

            Ned bites the side of his lip. “Not really, no.”

            “What a sweet young lady!” Ned’s mother beams. “With such a cute little accent. So sad that she can’t walk and all. You should bring her around here more often – it’s been too long. Is she as sweet to you as she was at your wedding?”

            “Sometimes,” says Ned, biting harder.

            “I think your father would’ve liked her too. Oh – that reminds me.” She stands up and puts her unfinished knitting on her chair. “One of the reasons I wanted to see you today. Something I found in the attic last week…”

            She carefully picks up the shoe box, which appears heavier than Ned assumed, and places it on his lap. He has to put the cup of tea on the wooden lamp table.

            “It must’ve been your father’s. I can’t imagine any other reason it would be here,” she says. “He must have brought it back from Vietnam, though I have no idea how he’d have smuggled it into the States – or into Canada.”

            Ned doesn’t remember much about his father, who died in a car accident when Ned was five. The old photos he’s seen show a big, broad-shouldered, muscular he-man type with a Burt Reynolds moustache, often posing in tight T-shirts and army pants, never smiling. He looks like a man of action, a man who always goes after what he wants. Sometimes Ned is glad he never knew him.

            Ned blows off some dust, opens the box and looks in, pulling out some old yellow newspaper.

            “It’s a gun!” he gasps.

            It certainly is. SMITH & WESSON is inscribed on the small yet weighty pistol’s nose. It looks like something out of an old western movie. Ned knows next to nothing about firearms, and he wonders if this is what they call a .38 Special, or a semi-automatic, or whatever.

            “And these little boxes,” he adds, “are those full of bullets?”

            “I don’t know. Probably.”

            “Does it still work?”

            “I haven’t the foggiest. And I don’t want to know.” Ned’s mother sits back down in her rocking chair. “Ned, can you take it away? I don’t want a gun in my house.”

            “Just… take it home and keep it?”

            “Call it a memento from your father,” she says as she resumes knitting. “Or give it away to a museum. Or throw it into the ocean. I really don’t give a damn. Just take it away from me.”

            Ned closes the box again. It feels weird to be holding it in the same room as his mother. Almost as if he’s a teenager again, hiding a porn mag from her. Except she knows the pistol’s there. So why does he still feel guilty?

            “Okay. I’ll find a place for it.”


            Ned looks over the shoe-box contents again.

            “Are you sure you want me to take this?” he asks. “Why me?”

            “I trust you. Of all people, I know you’d never murder anyone.”

            She laughs as if the thought of Ned even holding a gun is as absurd as a cow wearing lederhosen and a pink brassiere. He forces a chuckle too.


            “How’s the job going?” she asks. “Still selling life insurance?”

            “Yep.” Ned sells credit-card upgrades from a call centre, for marginally above minimum wage, but his mother misunderstood him the first time and he can’t be bothered to correct her.

            “And Ellen?”


            “Sorry, yes. What’s she do again?”

            “Nothing. I mean – she collects disability.”

            “Ah, right. Of course.”

            Another awkward pause.

            “So…” says Ned, “do you want to play Yahtzee, or something?”

            “Sure! Let me just finish this part.” She continues knitting as she adds, “Are you staying for dinner? I have some leftover ham roast in the fridge.”

            Exactly what Ned was counting on. Anything for a delay.

* * * * *

“Oi! Where the fuck’ve you been?” is the welcome he receives as he enters the apartment. Ella’s on the couch watching The Princess Bride, half a bottle of Stella in hand. It’s about nine in the evening. Ned thinks he can smell cold pizza. He feels the ache in his belly again, but not because of the smell.

            “With my mom. You already knew that.”

            “Nah. You was out pissin’ about, weren’t you.” She looks up at him. “Wot’s in the box?”


            “It’s not fuckin’ jewellery, is it then? Don’t tell me you went out and bought us some fancy jewellery and roses like a bloody gentleman. I’d have to check your temperature, mate.”

            “It’s not for you. It’s a memento from my dad.”

            “Oh, fuck right off!” she shouts at the TV. Young Fred Savage has just said something of which she disapproves. “You cocky little spoiled bastard. Just piss off.”

            Ned takes off his jacket and shoes.

            “And you weed standing up again this morning, you shit!” she shouts at Ned. “Disgusting. You go clean the mess up now. God, if there was any justice, you’d clean it with your fuckin’ tongue.”

            He tries to ignore her as he goes to the bedroom and, absentmindedly, puts the shoe box on the shelf of the closet, beside the Monopoly and Risk games he hasn’t played since before his marriage.

            Then he turns towards the bedroom door, closes his eyes and takes a long, deep breath. He opens his eyes. It’s time.

            Ned goes to the main room and sits in one of the dining chairs, facing Ella on the couch.

            “Ella, I have to tell you something.”

            “If you wanted a proper supper, you should’ve been here to cook something. Forced me to order a bloody pizza. And from Pizza Pizza, too. You Canadians make rubbish pizza, y’know that?”

            “Yes, we do. Please listen.”

            Deep breath. Just spit it out, stupid.

            “I’m leaving.”

            Ella never takes her eyes off the TV. “Yeh? Where to?”

            “I haven’t decided. I’m just leaving.”

            She doesn’t budge. Ned reaches over, grabs the remote from the couch arm and flicks the tube off. He drops the remote on the floor. She looks at him, dumbfounded.

            “Do you hear me? I’m leaving you. Now.”

            She stares at him in silence for what might be five seconds. Maybe ten.

            Then she bursts into laughter. Loud, nasty, ugly, mocking laughter.

            “You fuckin’ jokin’, mate?” she bellows. “Come on. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.”

            He looks at the floor and shakes his head. “I can’t take any more. It’s too much for me.”

            She snorts. “I’ve told you, you got to do somethin’ about this anger problem of yours. It’s gonna get you in real trouble sometime. You ought to listen to yourself.”

            “Ella, do you even understand what I’m saying? I’m leaving you.

            “Bollocks.” She crosses her arms and looks at him with a cocky grin. “You ain’t doin’ no such thing. Bet you ain’t even packed anything.”

            Ned lets out a long sigh. He leans his face into his hands for a moment, then looks up again. “I’m leaving you.”

            “Say it a hundred times, but you know you ain’t.” Beat. “Think how it’s gonna fuck everythin’ up. Your mam and sister like me too much. Your mates, or wot few you have, they like me too much. And y’know how me family and mates back home are gonna react? They’re gonna say, ʻFuckin’ dodgy Canadian wanker. Went and left a poor cripple to fend for herself in a strange country.’ I bet they get the first plane here and hunt you down and kick your arse.”

            He drops his head into his hands again. “I don’t care,” he mumbles. “I just don’t.”

            “I know you don’t have the guts, cos you have it too good here. You just can’t see it. With that shit telemarketin’ gig, and all your personal habits, who else would put up with you?”

            “I don’t care.”

            “God.” She laughs again. “You just don’t appreciate a good lady who loves you.”

            He clears his throat.

            “I don’t think you know what love is,” he says. “You like having a punching bag around.”

            He knows this is a mistake before he finishes saying it. He has a few seconds to relax before the explosion.

            “Fuck you!” she screeches. “How dare you! The fucking NERVE.”

            She looks around frantically, sees that the remote is on the floor, then grabs her cell phone from the corner table on the other side of the couch and whips it right at Ned.

            Her aim is perfect this time. The phone smacks him on the left eye. He yelps and covers it.

            “Now look wot you made me do, you cock!” she screams at him. “Pick it up.”

            Ned stumbles towards the fridge to get ice.

            “I said pick it up. The remote too.”

            “Can’t I just—”

            “Shut your gob. You pick them up NOW.”

            He stops. His eye and the area around it are in pain, but he stops and turns.

            Still with his hand over his eye, he bends down on all fours and scours the rug for the remote and the cell phone.

            “God, look at you,” she says. “Crawlin’ all over like a dog. If you could see yourself. I’d laugh me arse off if I wasn’t so livid.”

            He finds them both and hands them to her.

            “Apologize,” she says.

            “I’m sorry.”

            He’s about to go back to the fridge when she adds, “Now get out of here. Leave me alone.”

            He starts towards the bedroom.

            “But don’t think you’re sleepin’ in there with me tonight,” she calls after him. “Livin’ room’s good enough for you again. Just don’t drool on me gran’s rug.” He hears her mumble something bitterly to herself about how he broke her phone.

            He stumbles into the bedroom, closes the door, turns on the light and looks in the mirror. He’ll have quite the shiner in the morning, that’s for sure.

            And then he breaks down.

            He collapses face-down onto the bed, sobbing like an abandoned child. Not because of the physical pain or the humiliation. Not because he’s thrown away more than a year of his life on this misery of a marriage. Not even because he hates her.

            Because he knows she’s right. He’ll never have the guts. Or maybe his conscience is too strong. Conscience can be a nasty bully too, when it wants.

            “She’s right, you know,” he imagines Donna lecturing him. “This is as good as it gets for you. You’re no catch. Might as well keep sucking it up and make the best of it, eh?” Funny how he imagines Donna being shagged doggy-style by her favourite deathcore guitarist as she’s saying it.

* * * * *

She’s quiet the next day, by her standards. They eat their Corn Flakes together, without speaking, and then she resumes her station on the couch with remote in one hand, gin and tonic in the other, progressing from cheap cartoons to religious Sunday morning programming to Seinfeld and Simpsons reruns in the afternoon. Ned sits by the kitchen area, ice bag over his eye, neck stiff, back sore, pretending to read the latest Nick Hornby book. Inside, he is seething. You’ve won for now, he thinks. You’ve won for now, Ella, but we’ll see…

            “American sitcoms are shit, mate,” Ella finally says, during a Big Bang Theory repeat. “Crap. This has nothing on The I.T. Crowd.”

            “I agree,” mumbles Ned, one eye forced on the book.

            “Not that your Canadian comedy is so fuckin’ great either.”

            He doesn’t respond.

            Not long after that, he returns from the bathroom to see her reaching down awkwardly to the floor. Her crutch lies just out of her reach.

            “Fuck sakes. Thing toppled and I can’t get it without fallin’ over. Could you be a sweetie and get it for me?”

            Ned nods and picks up the crutch.

            And there’s a moment – a second or two – when she turns her eyes back to the TV, and he’s holding the crutch, and like the world’s most ridiculous excuse for a Hamlet, he thinks: I could do it right now.

            Because the thoughts of violence are back. He has a momentary fantasy of raising the crutch above his head and bringing it down like Thor’s hammer. Like Babe Ruth’s bat on a fastball. He could get something heavier and smash and smash and smash until her face is a mess of blood and her skull is cracked in a hundred places and that bitter voice is silenced and he’s free.

            I could do it right now. It’s not as cruel as leaving her on her own, surely. Think of it like euthanasia. And prison can’t be that bad, can it? It can’t be that bad. I’d have plenty of time to read. I could finally complete my degree. I could make new friends. I could have some solitude now and then. I’d never, ever again have to hear her say—

            “The fuck you doin’?”

            He’s jolted, but just a little. He looks down at her annoyed, confused glare, realizing he’s still standing there and holding the crutch.

            “Here.” He leans it on the sofa arm.

            She shakes her head with a disgusted sigh. “You creep me out when you get all spaced like that, y’know? Silly wanker.”

            “You’re welcome,” he mumbles.

            He tries to leave the room before she can insult him again.

            “That was small of you, mate,” she gripes as he approaches the hallway. “Very small. Almost as small as your cock.”

            If he were holding the crutch right now…

            No. Even then, he couldn’t, and he knows it.

            “ʻYou’re welcome,’” she drawls in an attempt to mimic his Canadian accent, though sounding more like a stupid American frat boy. “Pathetic.”

            Back in the bedroom, he wants to cry again, but can’t. He used up all his cry the night before. He used up all his self-pity and self-loathing. He’s finished with complacency in his condition. He’s ready to abandon his struggles with the higher ethics. Most of all, he’s just too goddamn tired – and tired of everything. He told himself that he was going to be free by the end of the weekend. Now, it’s time to take action. It’s time to find a Way Out that isn’t locked with his cowardice.

            His right eye, the one still open without pain, looks up to the closet shelf.

* * * * *

Minutes later, Ella finds her view of the TV obstructed. Because Ned’s standing in front of it.

            “Wot the fuck?” she bellows, putting down her Magners. “You’re blockin’ me from Columbo.”

            Ned doesn’t move. He doesn’t say anything. He looks at her with a sad smile and an oddly peaceful expression that seems to be saying, Goodbye.

            “And wot is that wot you’ve got in your hand there?”

            The hand in question raises up.

            It raises up to Ned’s temple, and he has a split second to learn the answer to his question from yesterday – about whether the SMITH & WESSON still works.

            A quick, deafening blast, as a small spray of blood and brain and tissue and skull bits shoots from the left side of the back of his head. Ned’s body collapses onto the floor. After a few seconds, a stream of blood starts trickling from the hole in his right temple, down to the old grey rug.

            Stunned, Ella stares at the heap that was her husband.

            “W… wot’ve you done?” she finally says.

            Another silence, before she answers her own question:

            “Why… you ruined me gran’s rug! Look at the fuckin’ mess you made, you selfish cunt!” She sighs in disgust. “Typical.”

And then Columbo says something stupid on the TV, and she turns her attention back there to offer him a blunt lesson in social grace. For the third straight night, Ned will be on the floor.

Jeff Cottrill

Jeff Cottrill is a Toronto writer, journalist, and spoken-word performer who is currently working on his seventh or eighth attempt at a first novel. He has authored four chapbooks with Burning Effigy Press and recorded three spoken-word CDs, and he has performed poetry in numerous venues throughout Ontario, the United States, and the United Kingdom. His journalistic credits include "NOW", "Exclaim!", "OHS Canada", Post City Magazines and "Digital Journal".