It was snowing out. In the living room, Jake was sitting on the edge of the worn leather armchair, lacing his boots. Nicky was still asleep in their bed. He had tried to rouse her (or should that be arouse her? He had hinted at having a little early morning fun, but that had gone down like a lead balloon), and had failed miserably. Nicky only got to sleep in once a week, and that was Saturday morning. Monday through Friday, she had to get up early to drive to the next town over where she worked as a secretary in a small law firm, and on Sundays she went to church.
So he had begrudgingly gotten up, feeling slightly disappointed that he hadn’t had sex, and trudged downstairs to make some coffee. After a couple of cups, the urge for a cigarette had come creeping like an old, but annoying friend who has a habit of turning up uninvited. Nicky didn’t know that he smoked. Not that he was a particularly heavy smoker—quite the opposite really, but that wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference. She frowned upon the habit, and he couldn’t be bothered with the hassle that would come with admitting that he was one of the filthy.
He would nip down to the store, buy a pack of Lucky Strikes, and smoke one or two on the walk back to the house. He stashed his packs at the back of the garage, in the beat-up blue toolbox that had once been his grandfather’s. He used the toolbox for anything he needed to keep quiet and undisturbed. The safest hiding place in the world. There was no way that Nicky would ever lay her hands on that old hunk of metal.
Jake headed out the front door and onto Franklin Street, an anxious feeling churning in the pit of his stomach. It was a feeling of anticipation, something that he would always feel without fail before having the first cigarette of the day. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling.
He stuck his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket, and whistled to himself as he walked. He wasn’t sure what the tune was—probably something that he had heard on the radio sometime. He had lost his job at the mechanic’s about a month back (fired was a truer way to put it—he had stumbled in still half-drunk one morning after a particularly heavy night, and had stumbled out shortly after with his final paycheck), and had spent the time since then and now watching daytime television, or listening to the radio while he drank cups of coffee and smoked cigarettes on the back porch, among other things. He had told Nicky that his boss didn’t need the extra hand anymore, and that he would find another job in no time at all. What was four weeks anyway? Still plenty of time in the world.
Bill, the store owner, greeted him as he ambled in. Jake handed over the cash for the cigarettes, thanked the man, and headed back out onto the street.
Halfway back to the house his cell rang. When he tried to answer, he fumbled, and the phone dropped to the snow-covered sidewalk. He cursed, and stooped to pick it up. Flipping it open he saw that it was Nicky, but she disconnected the call before he could press the right button.
“Goddamn cell phones,” he muttered, the words coming out in spouts of mist. He hated the things, and in his opinion they were totally unnecessary. This was a prime example. It was painfully obvious that he had just popped out for a moment. Nicky should have realized that.
He didn’t bother to call her back. He would be home in a couple of minutes. She probably just wanted to know where he was.
He lit his second cigarette of the morning and started walking slowly, giving himself enough time to finish his smoke before he got in.
“Hey, darlin’, just popped down to the store, sorry I missed your c…all.”
Jake stopped in his tracks as he came through the front door. Nicky sat curled in a tight ball on the living room floor. Next to his beat-up blue toolbox. She looked up at him with watery eyes and tear-stained cheeks.
He couldn’t help but think she looked like a wounded deer, one that had been struck by a truck and now lay in agony on the roadside. He sunk to his knees on the beige-colored carpet, an arctic-like feeling pervading his insides. He thought he was going to be sick, the walls seemed to draw inward, distorting and flickering like old film reel. A high-pitched ringing rose inside his skull. He reached for her shoulder with a trembling hand. She pulled away from his touch, flinching.
“How could you? How could you…”
She started to sob.
Jake moved out that night. He packed a worn brown duffel bag with a change of clothes and a couple of cheap paperback books, and headed into town to meet the Greyhound. He didn’t say goodbye. He wasn’t worthy to indulge in such pleasantries. God, he needed a drink. He would have to stop by the liquor store before the bus got in.
It was bound to happen someday; if you ride a speeding train for so long, it’s eventually gonna derail. No doubt about that. He felt bad. Nicky was a nice girl, she didn’t deserve this. And believe it or not, he did love her. Maybe he wasn’t in love with her anymore, but then who was after the initial novelty of a new romance wore off? No point stewing on it. Just get some booze, get on the bus, and drink deep into the winter night.
As he was nearing the end of Franklin he could hear sirens wailing in the distance. It felt like an omen, a portentous cry ringing home just how black shit had suddenly gotten.
The ambulance passed him a minute or so later, followed by a police cruiser, its flashing lights painting the night time world in red and blue. He stopped, shook a cigarette from the pack, lit it, and continued toward the Greyhound station.
Nicky snuggled her head deep into her pillow and tried to get back to sleep. Jake had woken her by rubbing himself against her bare buttocks. She had pulled her nightgown back down and had told him to give it a rest. Saturday morning was the one time a week that she got to sleep in, and she wasn’t going to give it up just for ten minutes of Jake’s panting exertions. He was over-sexed, that was for sure. But it wasn’t just that, there was a part of him that just seemed to disconnect during the act of love making. It was like he wasn’t really there, he was somewhere else, someplace distant.
Jake had eventually given up, climbed out of bed, and headed downstairs. Nicky’s attempt to catch up on her beauty sleep proved futile. She just couldn’t drift back off. Frustrated, she threw back the covers and headed downstairs herself. Jake got to sleep in whenever the hell he wanted, some days he hardly got dressed, just pulled a pair of jeans and plaid shirt on over his pajamas. She would have been lying if she hadn’t started to worry a little about his future ambitions. Did he even have any?
There was coffee in the pot, but otherwise no sign of Jake. That man drank way too much coffee—if he wasn’t careful he would end up with a funny stomach. She wasn’t surprised to find that he had left his empty mug on the counter without rinsing it. She was forever asking him to do that.
She had first met Jake six years before, at one of the bars in town. She didn’t usually drink, but one of her girlfriends had roped her into going out with her—she had practically begged. He had ambled up to the bar and had bought her a Midori and 7 Up, and they were officially a couple by the next weekend. In all those six years she estimated he had washed out his coffee mug maybe two or three times. She just felt like such a bitch to constantly nag him; she knew it wasn’t true, but still, she couldn’t help to feel that way.
Sighing, she picked up his mug (it had a picture of Wolverine on the side), and walked over to the sink. When she turned on the faucet, a spray of cold water shot out from a loose joint and hit her in the face. She grabbed for the tap and managed to turn it off without getting totally soaked. What a great day off this was turning out to be.
“Jake!” she shouted, “The kitchen tap’s broken!” No answer. “Jaaaake! I need you in here for a second!” Still no answer.
Grabbing a dish towel from the oven, she headed for the garage to find a wrench, wiping her face as she walked. Where the hell was he?
Once she opened the garage door, she had no idea where to even start to look. The whole place was extremely cluttered. She sighed, and closed the door. Jake needed to be here. Like, now.
She jogged over to the coffee table where her cell phone sat. She flipped it open and hit the speed dial for Jake. He wasn’t answering. She disconnected the call and went back to the garage.
She spied Jake’s old blue toolbox sitting in a far corner. She made her way over to it, stepping over various items of junk that her boyfriend had collected over time. He was so goddamn messy!
Having no idea of what exact tool she was looking for, she decided to lug the heavy toolbox into the living room. Maybe Jake would reappear from wherever it was he had disappeared to, and he could sort the whole mess out himself.
She set the heavy metal box down on the living room carpet with a dull thud. All thoughts of Jake’s untidy habits, and fixing the leaking tap in the kitchen sink were obliterated once she opened the lid of the beat up blue toolbox and her eyes fell upon the stack of photographs.
Nicky heard the front door open, and a moment later Jake walked into the living room.
“Hey, darlin’, just popped down to the store, sorry I missed your c…all.” He just stood there with a worried look on his face.
She felt her stomach give a sickening lurch, and it took every remaining ounce of strength just to make eye contact.
“Jake…,” she trailed off. She couldn’t finish what she had started to say.
He dropped to his knees and reached for her shoulder. She pulled away, his touch making her feel even more ill.
“How could you? How could you…”
She started to sob.
Jake moved out that night, and even being as upset as she was (upset being an understatement—totally and utterly destroyed was much more fitting), she found she felt the faint stir of misgivings as he trudged out of the front door and into the night.
She climbed the stairs to the bedroom that up until now she had shared with him, and watched from the window as he made his way to wherever it was that he was going.
She had to hold on to the windowsill to steady herself. She couldn’t stop shaking.
Somewhere across town, sirens began to wail.