Another Saturday morning, another knock-down, drag-out argument between Brad Jennings and his loving wife of fifteen years, Cynthia. He could have avoided the whole confrontation by simply letting the matter go unspoken, allowing himself to just blow off the presence of yet another unnecessary item in their home. But he couldn’t just let it go; once again Cynthia was spending money they couldn’t afford to on stuff they didn’t need.
“You’re such a fucking cheapskate, Brad,” Cynthia hollered, throwing a raisin muffin at his head. With the kitchen countertop between them, he was able to just duck down to avoid her shot, but he was getting a little fed up with dodging projectile foodstuffs every Saturday morning. This argument had begun as most did. After working late into the night and waking up to the sound of their son Cole crashing around in his room, Brad got out of bed despite having little sleep. He exited his bedroom, walked into the kitchen, and found the offending object draped over the back of one of the dining area chairs.
Cynthia had already gone out this morning, as she usually did on Saturdays, to bring home breakfast from the nearby Burger King. It was a sort of once-a-week ritual for the Jennings. At least, until Cynthia lost her job three months before. The loss of her job wasn’t her fault, and that didn’t bother Brad so much. The hospital simply couldn’t stay open due to lack of funding. However, though she hadn’t found another job yet, Brad had no problem with the Burger King breakfasts, so long as it was only once every other weekend.
The problem he had was that she was still going out and ‘treating herself’ an average of once a week, an expenditure that they could ill afford now that they were down to just his income as a patrolman. They still had the mortgage to pay for, the utilities and cable bill, and food. They could squeeze by on his salary, but not with Cynthia still insisting on buying pretty things just for herself.
Which was why when Officer Bradley Jennings saw the genuine leather jacket draped over the back of his dining area chair his vision blurred into a soupy crimson. He already had stress from work, from helping raise Cole (who, at ten, was quite energetic), and from what his partner referred to as ‘Marital Sexual Deficiency Syndrome’. He didn’t need the financial pressures added to the pile.
And so when Cynthia came in from her run to Burger King, Brad immediately launched into a tirade about not having the extra room to go spending money frivolously on whatever she wanted. Standing in the kitchen doorway in her sweats, Cynthia returned fire quite rapidly. “And what about those Transformers you buy Cole every time he asks for one? Those aren’t exactly cheap, Brad!”
A normally average to handsome fellow even in his muscle shirt and jeans, Brad’s face twisted into a grimace of barely contained rage. “They’re maybe fifteen bucks, tops! And it isn’t every fucking week that I buy him a new toy! For Christ’s sakes Cynthia, how much did you blow on that goddamn thing,” he shouted, pointing an accusing finger at the jacket.
“It was on sale,” she retorted hotly, depositing the bags of food on the counter with a thump.
“How much was it,” he persisted.
“It was only a hundred and fifty bucks,” she said calmly. Brad, infuriated but ever the gentle soul, just shook his head and rubbed his temples. “What,” Cynthia growled. “What?!”
“That would have covered the gas and the electric, that’s what,” he exploded, his voice echoing throughout the downstairs. Though he didn’t want Cole to know they were fighting again, he thought he might be safe. This time of the morning was usually some of Cole’s weekend video game time, and the kid liked playing with the volume cranked to maximum output. “We could have tried to put a little away this month, but no! You had to go and be a selfish fucking brat!”
“You’re such a fucking cheapskate, Brad!” And this is where we came in, friend. You know, with the muffin rocket. Cynthia stormed out of the kitchen’s dining area to the stairs in the living room, and headed upstairs. Brad silently listened to the sounds of her stomping footsteps and the subsequent slamming of their bedroom door that always followed such an argument.
And this isn’t even where it started, he thought. Every couple fights, and it can be healthy, if done in short spurts. But short spurts can be unhealthy, especially when they happen every time one turns around. Brad sat down at the table and pulled out his and Cole’s portion of the breakfast sandwiches and cheese-filled tots, putting them on simple white plastic plates. “Cooooole! Breakfast, buddy,” he shouted. The thudding of Cole’s tiny feet echoed through the living room, and a moment later, his son entered the kitchen.
Cole was a spitting image of his father if one shrank Brad Jennings and made him ten years old in mentality. Muddy brown hair, watery blue eyes, and a face that could be quite dashing if not for the clear signs of conflict over the years. In Brad’s case, it had been his job as a policeman for the last twelve years that had given him his scars and roughened appearance. For Cole, it was the once or twice a week football games he played with his friends and his various solo adventures in the woods behind the house.
Both males of the Jennings household were athletically built, though Brad could already see that his son would grow up much more muscular than he was himself. Brad’s father had been a beast of a man, and Cole would follow in those footsteps. Maybe a linebacker or defensive end in high school, Brad often thought when looking at the boy. But Cole possessed a knack with a computer that would wow kids almost twice his age. If he turned out to be smarter than he was strong, Cynthia’s side of the family would take the credit.
“Morning dad,” Cole said, seating himself to Brad’s left. “Where’s mom?”
“She’s upstairs, son. She’s a little mad at me. We had a fight,” he said. Honesty, he’d been raised to believe, was the best policy, regardless of the harshness of that truth.
“No surprise there,” Cole said, unwrapping his first sandwich. “You and mom fight a lot lately.” Brad stared wide-eyed at his son. “What? It’s not like I can’t hear you.”
“Eat your breakfast,” Brad said with a sigh. When had it started to go downhill, he wondered. Brad felt pretty certain he could pinpoint the general time frame if given time to think about it, and so he thought as he mindlessly chewed his food and drank his coffee. He took about five minutes to think it through thoroughly. When Cole started school, he thought. That’s when it started.
When Cole had entered school, Cynthia changed her shifts at the hospital. Working as a nurse, she could be called in at just about any time, but her supervisor was relatively understanding, being the mother of three herself. With Cynthia working the morning shift, Brad had to go on evenings. The end result was that he hardly got to see his son anymore, and this grated on his nerves more than anything.
On Cynthia’s days off from work, she wouldn’t do much of anything around the house or with Cole, and this added to Brad’s frustration. He convinced his Captain to give him the same two days off each week as Cynthia, those being Wednesday and Sunday. He thought it would be good to have at least two days a week with some family time, but that didn’t happen. On her days off, Cynthia wanted little to do with ‘group activities’. She wanted to go shopping, or get her hair done, or just relax in their room and watch television.
Brad made out okay on such days, however. He played all kinds of games with Cole, but on occasion, he got called in for overtime and had to leave. He felt bad leaving the kid on his own. He doubted that Cole could convince his mother to play the same games as he did with Brad. Still, the money was good for overtime. Back then, when Cynthia was still a fresh nurse, she wasn’t pulling in the greatest money, either.
The arguments back then had largely revolved around Cynthia’s selfishness regarding her days off and the fact that she didn’t spend enough time really enjoying Cole’s company. He was her son, after all, and she should remember that he wouldn’t always be their little boy. Cynthia’s rebuttal to this was usually that she was exhausted from her work at the hospital and that she had needs too.
“Yeah, about five years then,” Brad muttered aloud.
“What,” asked Cole, eyebrow raised.
“Oh, nothing. Are you done?” Cole nodded, and Brad ruffled his hair. “What’re you going to do today, son?”
“Well, I’ve got some homework, but I think mostly I’m gonna play Star Wars. That cool?”
“As a cucumber, kiddo. Run along now,” Brad said, getting up from the table and clearing it as he went. He had to think of a way to limit Cynthia’s spending of their money, and as Brad was about to head out of the kitchen, an idea came to him that seemed pure inspiration.
He was the only one of the two who held an actual checking account. He had a debit card, and had the bank issue Cynthia one of her own about a year back when it became apparent that he couldn’t do all of the running around for the family. Well, he thought, I’ll have to manage somehow, because that card’s half the trouble here. Moving with a purpose, he headed to the entryway of the house.
Standing on a small table just inside the doorway was the monstrous beast of a purse that Cynthia had been using for the length and breadth of their marriage. Of all the things most husbands expected their wives to buy a new version of every four to twelve months, this one item always remained the same as it ever was. It was less a purse, he often thought, and more a bottomless rucksack. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d seen her dropping things in there, only to have them never resurface.
Receipts, change, makeup, and God only knew what else would be in that thing, along with the cell phone she never seemed to lose track of. That always managed to be located when it started belching its annoying soundtrack. Brad had been forced to go treasure hunting through that demesne of clutter a few times, though thankfully not often. He approached the mammoth handbag with a bit more than a little trepidation. What if Cynthia came back downstairs only to find him rooting around in her purse for the debit card she held tied to his checking account? For all intents and purposes, it was supposed to be ‘their’ money, but for several months now, he’d been the only contributor. Didn’t he have a right then to cut her off from her constant unnecessary expenditures?
Brad felt pretty certain he did.
And so he approached the purse the last few feet not timidly, as he had begun, but with a purposeful stride, his intent clear in his eyes and in the swooping motion of his legs as he approached the little table. With his work-worn hands, he grasped the faux wooden handles of the bag, pulled it open-
And fell into darkness.