The Tommy I knew was now lost behind the triple chin, hard to disguise as he tugged at the flaps of skin hanging down his aging neck.
His cold blue eyes inspected every angle of his once handsome face. That big, goofy grin puffing up unsightly ruddy cheeks caked with week old salt and pepper stubble.
But before I could escape his notice, the sound of glass splintering against tile made my heart stop.
“Darlene, get over here, clean this shit up.”
I rushed into the bathroom.
“I told you to throw that piece of shit out?”
Mother had given us the copper framed mirror. Copper was a traditional gift given on the seventh anniversary.
“You bitch, I ain’t got all day?”
The whack from his callused hand knocked me over sideways, my forehead slamming into the side of the toilet. I sucked in my breath keeping my mouth shut. I didn’t dare touch the split in my head where the warm blood was starting to exit.
“Get up and clean,” shrieked Tommy.
I obeyed, just as I had since we’d become man and wife.
I picked up the shards of glass that lay crisscross on the gray tile and methodically deposited each piece into the trash.
“When you’re done with that, get me a beer. Put that red thing on I got you for our anniversary. We’re going to celebrate like old times.”
He pulled me off the floor and squeezed my cheeks, forcing my lips to pucker and kissed me hard, thrusting his tongue between them. His other hand pulled my hair loose from the ponytail as a thick veil of black fell across my shoulders.
Then he pushed me away.
“See what happens when you don’t listen? I get mad. Now get the beer and leave your hair down. You look pretty with your hair down.”
“Of course Tommy.”
I rushed to the kitchen, using the end of my shirt to dab the blood. I stood before the open fridge, my mind rewinding and fast-forwarding through the reel of the last seven years. The illness brought out the beauty and beast in Tommy. Everything and nothing set him off. And my mind, body and soul were his battered victim.
A thunderous rumble of a raging cough broke into my thoughts.
“Darlene, inhaler, can’t breathe.”
The cough turned into desperate gasping. I saw the inhaler on the counter and rushed over to grab it. But then I stopped. Something snapped inside me.
If I handed him life, it would mean my death. I wanted to live.
A loud thud shook the yellowing linoleum. Tommy lay splayed, wheezing desperately.
His icy blue eyes bore into mine but I didn’t look away. Not this time.
Instead, I hopped on the counter and grabbed Tommy’s Marlboros. I lit up the lone cigarette, watching and waiting as the life drained out of Tommy, his once robust red lips now turning a shade of blue-purple.