Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Capital Offense

I wrote this short story many years ago. It has been published twice, once in a magazine in the US and once in a magazine here on Vancouver Island. The second time it won First Prize in the Flash Fiction Category. Last year I adapted it as a stage play and presented it in the Port Alberni Fringe.
A Capital Offense

I was dusting the living room one evening when Byron stomped down the hall, his housecoat flapping behind. I wrinkled my nose at the smell of beer and body odor as he neared.
     “I printed this off for you,” he yelled, throwing a piece of paper at me.
     I cringed. He never talked to me in a decent voice anymore. I hadn’t liked the changes in my husband while he’d struggled to become a published writer and I certainly didn’t like the person he’d become since getting his book contract.
     He’d quit his job because, “I have to finish my manuscript. I can’t continue to work and write, too.”

     I’d had to take a second, part time job to make ends meet.
     Byron had been using our kitchen table for his writing room but once the contract was signed he claimed the guest bedroom as his. “I need a room of my own where I can have some privacy,” he’d stated. “If I want to work into the night, I can lie down when I’m tired and not be disturbed.

     At first he seemed to be doing a lot of work but then one day I answered the phone and it was Mr. Higgins, Byron's agent. He wanted to speak with Bryon. I knocked on Byron's door and opened it. Byron immediately began yelling. "Would you quit interrupting me. Haven’t I told you not to bother me when I am working. I lose my train of thought."
     I handed him the phone. "Your agent wants to talk with you."
     Byron glared at me and grabbed the phone. He took a deep breath then said pleasantly. "Hello Mr. Higgins."
     He listened and I could see his face turning red. "Yes, Mr. Higgins. I know I am late with some chapters. I will get them to you by the end of the week."
     When Byron hung up he said to me. "From now on, when you have something to say to me, you write it on a piece of paper and slide it under the door. I don’t have time for interruptions." He threw the phone and me and slammed the door.
     Since then, there were many times I wished he’d never gotten that contract and, even some, when I wished I’d never married him.
     Now he glared at me as he said. “I want you to come into my office now and email your sister back.”
     I smoothed the paper and read. `Hi Sis. I thought we could go back to emailing. It’s quicker than a letter and I’m sure Byron won’t mind if we do it two or three times a week.’
     Rosemary lived across the country and we’d kept in touch by e-mail until The Contract when I was banned from Byron’s office. Neither one of us could afford the long distance charges so phoning was out of the question. I had to give up my cell phone so we tried writing letters but they were time consuming and not as immediate as email.
     Now in his office empty beer cans, plates with leftover food, and full ashtrays were everywhere and it smelled as bad as he did. On the floor I saw the many notes with messages from his agent that I’d pushed under the door. Obviously, he didn’t read them.
     “What do you want me to say?” I asked.
     “What do you think? Tell her not to send another email.”
     In my agitation, I hit the Caps Lock key, starting to type in capital letters.
     “Capital letters means you’re shouting, Dummy,” Byron laughed harshly.
     I finished and left the room in tears.
     I was tired and hungry and decided to make something quick and easy for supper. As I put the lid on the macaroni, Byron entered the kitchen and yanked open the refrigerator door. “Is that all the beer?
     “I guess so.”
     “Is it too much to ask that there be beer in the fridge?” He grabbed a can and opened it.
     “I bought a dozen yesterday.”
     “Are you saying I drink too much?”
     Byron had claimed other writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler drank while writing and it made them more productive. From the number of phone calls from his agent about late chapters, I guessed it wasn’t working for him.
     “What’s for dinner?” He lifted the lid from the pot.
     “Macaroni and beans.” I answered.
     “Geeze.” He slammed down the lid. “Can’t you fix anything decent?”
     “I worked all day.”
     “Are you insinuating I didn’t?”
     I sighed and wished, again, that I’d never married him.
     The next evening I put oil on to heat for French fries then went to have a quick shower. It felt so good I spent more time than I’d intended. When I got out, I could smell smoke. I donned my housecoat and hurried to the kitchen. The oil had caught fire and it had spread to the cupboards and curtains. The living room and hallway were filling with smoke.
     I coughed as I warned Byron, then rushed next door to call the fire department. I returned but Byron was not in the yard. When the trucks arrived, I hurried over.
     “My husband’s still in there,” I cried.
     The firemen tried entering the house but were driven back by the heat and smoke.
     An hour later the fire was out and an ambulance had taken Byron’s body away.
     “I set the oil on the burner and went for a shower,” I explained to the police officer who was questioning me. “When I came out there was smoke everywhere.”
     “Then what did you do?” she asked.
     “I ran next door to call the fire department.” I dabbed my eyes.
     “Did you notify your husband?”
     “Oh, yes. I shouted at him,” I said, thinking of the word FIRE I’d printed three times in capital letters on a piece of paper and shoved under his door.

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