Authors: Janel Gradowski
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Short Stories & Anthologies, #Short Stories, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Contemporary Fiction, #Single Authors
The Queen of Bad Decisions
The Bartonville Series - Volume .25
By Janel Gradowski
©2013 Janel Gradowski
All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The Queen of Bad Decisions
Daisy sorted through scorched wooden spoons, bent knives and mangled forks, looking for a spatula. All of the useless utensils were in the kitchen drawer when she moved in with Gary. Everything needed to be replaced. Just like their relationship, it was all too messed up to work right. Maybe her self-respect had gotten lost in the junk, too. It hadn’t made an appearance in over a year. Still, she stayed with him by convincing herself she couldn’t find anyone better. Pathetic. All of her brains and common sense evaporated when it came to men. She hadn’t just lowered her standards when she started dating Gary, she sucker punched her morals and left them to wallow in the mud. She was the queen of bad decisions and the position royally sucked. Plus, the crown was ugly and gave her a headache.
The apartment looked like Gary still lived there alone. Other than some clothes and a storage box full of coveted yarn, hidden in the back of the closet, there wasn’t much else that belonged to her. He wouldn’t allow even a hint of femininity in the apartment, so she couldn’t change anything in his flop house chic decor. Hell, having a live-in girlfriend didn’t even alter his dating habits. She’d lost count of the number of times he came home in the middle of the night, smelling like he had been dipped in a vat of cheap perfume and then steeped in the smoke from a carton of cigarettes. It was time to move on, but to where? There wasn’t exactly a line of friends asking her to come live with them.
Chunks of bread sizzled when Daisy dropped them into the frying pan slicked with melted butter. She poked at the spongy cubes with the stained, partially melted plastic spatula she had unearthed from the utensil drawer. The comforting scent of buttery, warm bread overpowered the usual musty odor of the basement apartment. At least dinner smelled good. Gary wouldn’t like it, but screw him. He could spend his own money on something else, chicken nuggets, a frozen burrito from a convenience store . . . whatever. Daisy tilted her head from side to side. The muscles in her neck snapped and popped. He wasn’t even home and she had already wound herself up into a ball of nerves. At least she was feeling something, as opposed to the numb emotional vacuum she had been living in. Robot girl was actually a cyborg, with a brain and heart inside the cold, bullet-proof exterior. What a delightful surprise. Gary, on the other hand, would
be thrilled with the change. Emotionless and subservient where the qualities he preferred in girlfriends.
She scooped a tangle of spaghetti out of the pot on the back burner and deposited the pasta into an old margarine bowl. The flimsy plastic had absolutely no insulating properties. She quickly slid the worthless container onto the counter and blew on her fingers to cool them off. She was into recycling, but it was laziness on Gary’s part, instead of environmental awareness, that made their dishware a joke. He couldn’t be bothered to pick up a couple cheap, ceramic bowls from the dollar store. Daisy didn’t have enough extra money or time to do the task, so they ate out of margarine and whipped topping containers. A disposable item standing in as a pathetic substitute for the real thing.
. Life was throwing all kinds of analogies for the crumbling relationship at her. She spooned warm croutons onto the spaghetti. Carbs on carbs. Store-brand pasta mixed with stale bread crisped up with the last bit of real butter. She sampled the concoction and decided some cheese would make it even better. There was a nugget of Parmesan hiding under a bag of apples in the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer. Gary loved cheese, but hated fruits and vegetables, so the precious parm had been safely hidden away for only her to enjoy. She broke off a small chunk and nibbled on it while searching through the upper cabinets for a grater. She had lived there for six months, but still couldn’t find things in the kitchen. It was like the items came to life and moved around while they slept. When she got up to use the bathroom at night she often heard scratching and shuffling noises Animated kitchenware was a much more pleasant fantasy than the reality of the real-life rodents that she knew caused the sounds. The front door banged open as she was topping the pasta with a mountain of fluffy, cheese confetti. Daisy hissed as her knuckle slid over the sharp eyelids of the grater.
“What’s for dinner? I’m hungry,” Gary yelled even though he was only three feet away from her. The walls were so thin in the apartment building any tenant that was home would have clearly heard him. She sucked on the battered knuckle as he stalked to the stove to examine the contents of the frying pan. Oil in his black, slicked back hair glinted in the harsh glare from the bare light bulb overhead. The metallic saltiness of blood replaced the residual tang of the cheese in her mouth. “What the hell is that? Smells like breakfast, instead of supper.”
Daisy glanced at the counter beside her. The knife she had used to slice the bread was still laying on the cutting board. The thought of defending herself with it made her want to vomit, but it was an option if he got violent. She stood up straighter and pulled her shoulders back. Her physique had intimated many men in the past. Hopefully it would have the same effect on him. As her little brother always pointed out, she looked more like a linebacker than a swimsuit model. Gary took a step closer. His usual rancid breath was laced with harsh alcohol. She blinked to hold back the building tears and said, “It’s spaghetti with croutons. I don’t get paid for another two days, so I don’t have enough money to buy anything else.”
“I’m not eating that shit.”
Every muscle in Daisy’s body turned to cold stone. His arm shot out. She flinched, but stood her ground when he snatched the remaining chunk of cheese off the counter. He had never physically hurt her, but he had never come home at 5 p.m. so drunk before either. Gary leaned forward until their noses almost touched and growled like a pissed off dog. Crooked, stained teeth added to the menacing effect. He whirled around, stalked out of the apartment and yanked the door shut, but the latch didn’t catch. The battered door slowly swung back open as his footsteps pounded up the stairs.
She stumbled backward. Her spine smacked into the edge of the counter. All of the stony tension had evaporated from her muscles, leaving behind wobbly Jello. She grasped the edge of the worn laminate with both hands to keep from collapsing. The muscles between her shoulder blades spasmed in protest. Outside, Gary’s pickup truck rumbled to life. It roared like an angry demon as he tore out of the parking lot. Gravel pebbles, shot by the spinning tires, pinged on the ground-level kitchen window. She lunged at the door, slammed it shut and flipped the deadbolt.
Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, time to get the hell out.
She grabbed two garbage bags from under the sink and ran to the bedroom. Her cell phone was in her purse, which was hidden in the closet with a bulky winter coat draped around it to keep Gary from easily finding it. He took money out of her wallet to fund his nights out if she left the purse in plain sight. She dialed a phone number and tossed the phone on the bed to let it ring while stuffing clothes into the bags. It rang three, four . . . five times. Her mother finally answered. Daisy dropped the bag and snatched up the phone. “Mom. You’ve got to come and get me. I need to get away from Gary and I don’t have any money to take the bus.”
“Slow down. What’s going on? Did he hurt you?”
“No, he hasn’t hurt me. Yet. He’s been drinking and we got into a fight. He left, but I don’t know what will happen if I’m here when he gets back.”
“I’m walking out the door right now. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Get your things packed up and be ready to go. If Gary comes back before I get there, call the police.”
“Okay. I will.”
Tears dribbled down her cheeks as she wrestled the plastic storage bin of yarn out of the tiny closet. What was up with the drippy waterworks display? She wasn’t a crier. Tears of joy for finally taking control of her life again? Apparently extreme conditions produced weird reactions. She stacked the lumpy bags on top of the container and dragged everything into the living room. Then she went to the bathroom to collect her makeup and other toiletries. She was plucking the last vitamin bottle out of the medicine cabinet when the sound of tires crunching over gravel crackled through the open bathroom window. Fear dried the deluge of tears. Was it her mother, Gary or someone else? She moved into the hall and stared at the front door. If it was Gary, she would lock herself in the bathroom until the police came. She patted the back pocket of her jeans to make sure the phone was there. A frenzy of knocks rattled through the dead-silent apartment. “I’m here. Let me in.”
Daisy sprinted into the living room. She fumbled with the lock and flung the door open. Her mother rushed into the apartment and strangled her in a suffocating hug. Finally, she let go. She nodded at the pile of bags and boxes and asked, “That’s all you want to take with you?”
“That’s all I have.”
Her mother raised an eyebrow. “Really? Your closet was stuffed to the gills when you lived with us.”
Most of those clothes had been sold at rummage sales long ago, to raise rent or, more likely, beer money. “I’ve pared my wardrobe down to essentials. There have been a lot of tiny closets in my life since I last lived with you and dad.”
“If you’re sure you have everything, let’s go.” Her mother grunted as she picked up one of the heavy bags in each hand. “I’ll take these if you grab the box.”
Daisy glanced over her shoulder as she lifted the storage bin. One last look, just to make sure nothing important had been overlooked, because she wasn’t ever coming back. The bowl of spaghetti sat on the counter, untouched. What a waste. Gary would probably leave everything sitting on the stove until it rotted and he couldn’t stand the stench anymore.
“Hang on a second.” She set the container down. “I just need to do one more thing.”
She grabbed a gallon jug out of the refrigerator. The milk had passed its expiration date a week earlier, but she had forgotten to throw it out. Now it was separated into layers of curds and yellowish liquid that shifted and swirled when she crossed the room. Her mother laughed as Daisy lifted up the couch cushions and sloshed the putrid milk underneath them. A little surprise for darling Gary. A parting gift for being an asshole and pushing her over the edge into leaving. “He deserves a going away present from me, don’t you think?” she asked as she replaced the cushions.
“I think it serves him right.”
“Me too.” Daisy picked up the storage bin again and walked out the door. She left it open, just like Gary had when he left. She had seen raccoons waddling away from the building’s dumpster many times. Maybe the scent of food would attract a few new pets he could use as her replacements.
“Put your stuff over here for now, we’ll figure out what to do with it after dinner,” her mother said as she dropped the black garbage bags near the entertainment center. The apartment wasn’t much larger than the one Daisy had bolted from, but it was a world away in cleanliness. She inhaled the scent of lemony furniture polish combined with pine cleaner, an aroma that was always present in her parents’ home. As she was growing up, her mother never dispensed gems of wisdom about broken hearts or shattered friendships. Instead, she worked two jobs, kept the apartment spotless and drilled her motto into Daisy’s mind -
You don’t need money to pick up a dust rag or mop the floor.
Daisy settled the storage bin next to the bags. The only sounds in the house were from her mother banging around in the kitchen. The television wasn’t on and the pounding bass of hip hop music wasn’t coming from her brother’s room. The boys weren’t home yet. She washed her hands in the kitchen sink. “Let me help make dinner. What do you want me to do?”