In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he issues a sample writing idea for aspiring wannabees to complete as an exercise in character development. The idea involves a woman who drops off her two children to be babysat, only to learn that her abusive ex-husband has escaped from prison and may be in the house with her. Steve then put a twist on the assignment by requesting that the sexes be reversed. Here is my offering :
Dick mounted the steps and keyed entry through the front door of his rented suburban home. He drew out his wallet and placed it, with the car key, in the basket on the hall closet’s top shelf. Everything in its place and a place for everything. But before taking two more steps he spied Jesse’s toy train, the one with the hideous face and ludicrous name, peeking out from under the couch. Didn’t these children know they were to put their toys away when they were done with them? Didn’t they realize that Mommy, the sloppy one, was in prison, and that there were rules from here on out? He stifled anger over Jesse’s frustrating behavior with the knowledge that he was finally alone, and would have the entire evening to himself, now that the children were staying the night with a school friend.
It wasn’t easy being a single father-- although, he thought with amusement, it sure beat the alternative. He picked up the toy with a sigh and brought it with him into the kitchen while he put a teapot on. Then it occurred to him that little Jesse must learn his lesson, and learn his lesson the child most definitely would, so he opened the cupboard beneath the sink and threw that disgusting little train away. “That’s better.” Dick said to himself, and his own voice rang through the empty home with a crisp, delicious sound. Just his voice alone, no other loud obnoxious blurtings to be controlled.
While preparing his tea ingredients along the counter in the exact order he would use them, his thoughts turned back to Jane. All this business with out of place toys brought the ex-wife so to mind, that he could almost smell her White Shoulders perfume, he thought, haunting his lovely empty house. The ghost scent even tempted to tickle his asthma, just like it used to. She had always worn it on purpose to drive him crazy, and here on his night off it was if the old bag was sitting right next to him.
But that was just silly. Jane had been put away quite some time ago. And even so, he had moved four states away from the prison and changed the family name, just in case she thought to write. It wouldn’t do to have her contacting the children and upsetting them so, filling their heads with nonsense. And what good influence could a murderer be to young children anyhoo?
My my, we are having trouble relaxing on our own, aren’t we, thought Dick of himself. So overworked and burdened by life’s unfair circumstances. Still, people got what they deserved, and that was comfort enough for him now. He lowered his ready posture into the couch and turned on the television, waiting for the whistle of the pot. If the water managed to get to a scream before he pulled it from its flame, he just knew it would be so irritating.
The news. Regular stuff. A parade downtown. Teenagers accomplishing oddball intellectual feats to prove that they were not on drugs. What’s this? A prison break? How amusing. Only yesterday and in… in his home town.
“Officials report that three inmates escaped in a rare women’s prison outbreak, one of only three in recorded U.S. history. Two women, Julia Barnes, 33, and Rebecca Ramirez, 27, were apprehended immediately, but authorities warn that one inmate remains at large. Her name and description have yet to be released.”
Dick was having a hard time swallowing just then.
Pictures of rough women in orange suits flashed across the screen, along with a third square that had nothing but a grey question mark.
“In other news, Sassy the Seal at Aquarium of the Adirondacks stunned audiences today when…”
Dick fumbled for the remote. Turn this shit off! No name and description his ass! What was wrong with this cursed remote?
Wonder who it could be, Dick? Wonder who the hell it could-
If only he could breathe better. As soon as he turned the blithering television off, he would go get his inhaler, and then he would be able to THINK for the love of God.
In his desperate attempt to breathe deeply and get air, Dick’s senses picked it up again, that smell, the perfume, yes he had smelled it, hadn’t he?
Dick turned the television back on and rewound the Tevo. “Officials report that three inmates escaped……One inmate remains at large.” He paused on the grey question mark, probing it mentally to render a picture of his estranged spouse. He knew it was her. He wasn’t reliving a disturbing memory, Jane was here dammit, and had even managed to procure some of that obnoxious perfume along her journey.
“Reeeeee,” A metallic missle snuck into the room, growing in velocity. “REEEEEEEE!
Dick jumped into the air and swung his arms in all directions around him, hoping to fend off whatever was coming with such a hideous screech.
A motion in the kitchen. It was steam! It was…
“Shit!” Dick screamed through clenched teeth. He stormed into the kitchen, fists clenched, and pulled the teapot off the fire. From the block he pulled his butcher knife and wheeled to face the breakfast bar, and the living room beyond. His eyes scanned the room, the vaulted ceilings, and came to rest on the dark opening that peeked from his loft up above.
There. That’s where she would be. Waiting for him to come to bed, but not like in the old days when she would smile petulantly and beg to be serviced like a pathetic two dollar hooker. No. She was likely a bit put out by now, especially with the whole business of finding herself arrested for her neighbor’s murder. Finding her own DNA conveniently placed beneath the old man’s fingernails had probably put her in a bit of a funk, he imagined. And when he sealed the deal by persuading the children to testify on her “mental instability”, well, he supposed they weren’t the best of friends anymore after that.
Smiling, Dick found some of his old courage and walked casually to the living room to turn the television back on. He brought the lights down dim, and then, as if in fickle decision, completely off. He walked to the couch and made much of lounging around on it, and when his eyes could see in the dark, he silently dropped to the floor. His shoes were off, and his eyes on the loft. If she peeked over, he’d see the whites of her eyes, the glow of those teeth he had paid so much to whiten.
When he had made the stairs, he straightened to a standing position and climbed, enormous knife poised to take the bitch out once and for all. Because self-defense was an even better method of getting rid of an unwanted wife. Way better.
The bedroom door was partially open, such a set-up if he ever saw one. He broke cover, dashed in with a flick to the light switch, saw that the room was empty, ran for the closet, threw it’s accordion door to the side, and hacked with vengeance at his own clothes. Nothing. A cuff-link clattered to the hard-wood floor.
Now that his position was obvious, he wasted no time getting through the bathroom door, clearing the space behind it, and stabbing his way into the shower. Nothing again.
He stopped to think, but now that he was on a roll, now that the oil had reached the top of the engine, it thrilled him to realize his next move with such intuition. Hell, he thought, this is even fun! Poor Jane, who had consented to an IQ test at the onset of their courting, was found to be intelligent of course, but not too intelligent. At the time he had thought it a smart move, catch a woman who won’t bore you, but won’t outshine you either. Now he saw it was brilliant idea.
Obviously she was planning on attacking him from the children’s room down below. Okay. She had probably intended on making a move but had lost her nerve long ago when she saw his familiar face, heard his sweet voice. Jane was easy like that. Hitching a ride with the other escapees and finding her way across four states in the last twenty four hours had likely taken all she had. All that was left was for him to find her poor broken mind and put it out of it’s misery.
He moved down the stairs and into the back hall with a grace he hadn’t felt in months. As he neared the children’s rooms, he began calling to her.
So soft. “Jane? Jane, are you there?”
Into Jesse’s room.
“Jane, I know it’s you. Baby, why did you ever leave me? I never really believed you could have done such a thing to poor old Mr. Harrison.”
Into Laura’s room.
Oh she was good! So sly now, that woman. Looks like prison had taught her a couple things.
“Jane, baby, just come here, bunny. I won’t call the stupid police. Honey, everything is going to be okay now, you’re with me.”
Hallway closet—had she been here the whole time? He ripped it open.
No plotting, angry wife!
Now a wave of embarrassment washed over Dick, and dropping his hands to his knees, he began to chuckle at his folly. The house was empty. He turned on the lights, laid the knife on the counter, and, seeing the sinister metal, began to laugh even harder. The adrenaline drained from his body. How silly he really had been, slinking around the house with a butcher knife! Prison breaks and old perfume! Oh, it was too rich.
He laughed his way through the steps of preparing his tea, practiced over and over through the years of his life so that he performed them now without thinking; tea bag, strainer, honey, cream, dash of cinnamon. Even Jane had known them by heart, often setting the implements out to con him into thinking she was thoughtful and worth keeping around.
The mug of hot tea raised to his lip, and then hovered there.
Jane! All those years of setting out his tea for him! All she’d had to do was sneak in here and poison the cream, or more likely the honey, since the sweetness would be capable of covering the taste of bitter death. And here he stood, about to foolishly plant it in his own stomach.
Dick flared his nose and inhaled one deep, suspicious breath. The tea steamed only an inch below his nose, inviting, sweet and spicy, and just as his lungs could hold no more air, the inner mucous membranes of his sinuses prickled with a tell-tale acidic sting. Soon, his lungs were filled with it. He gagged, then coughed in violent spasms, spilling tea on his bare feet.
Without further consideration, the mug sailed through the air. It crunched into the sink and sent wet, singing shards of porcelain throughout the kitchen. Dick was getting the hell out of here. His eyes covered every inch of the room all at once. He backed up to the hall closet, retrieved his wallet and car key in safety, and ran out the front door.
He would spend the night in a hotel two towns away. He would call and have the movers pack it all up tomorrow morning. He’d-
Pain sliced through Dick’s shins with the force of a searing lightning bolt, and he was airborne, rocketing headfirst down the ten stairs to the dooryard. He watched the edges of each step flash past his face during that instant, and noticed all the dirt and grit he’d overlooked with the broom yesterday. His last moment as a whole, intact person stretched infinitely through the journey down to the sidewalk in front of his suburban home. He admired the tidy lawn, bark laid in neat circles beneath each bush and thought, “That sloppy whore, she’s going to take it all away.”
Then his instant was over, and Dick looked from a view that most people will never have to see; his head looked directly down his backside. In the moments before the lights went out forever, he watched Jane cross the porch, winding a strong thin wire back around her fingers. When she got to the wall of the portico, two feet in front of the door, she unscrewed a metal eyelet from the shake shingle siding, and tucked the entire unit in her back pocket. She walked away without so much as a glance at him, and he was not surprised to see a bottle of White Shoulders also peeking out of her back pocket, half used from spraying it, he realized, into the roof vents of his house.
Jane, who had consented to an IQ test at the onset of their courting, was found to be intelligent, but not too intelligent. At the time she had found it a smart move. Now she saw it was simply a brilliant idea.