A Coup in Chuckistan
In her mind, Susan thought of the little house as Chuckistan, the smallest sovereign nation in the world. Stretching from the cracked sidewalk at Hampton Drive to the back privacy fence, and from the side alley beside the house to the hedgerow separating it from the Spencer residence next door, Chuckistan stood unrecognized beyond its own borders, but that affected nothing that happened on that half acre. There, Charles Edward Funke-King Chuck, to his wife and only subject-ruled with an iron fist, one he used as often as possible on Susan's face.
Sitting at the kitchen table, Susan slid her hand up the left side of her face to survey again the damage from the previous night. Her eye, swollen shut before she went to bed, was now almost fully open, although she could still feel the puffy ring of pain that yielded beneath her probing fingers. The cuts at the bridge of her nose and along the ridge of her cheekbone had scabbed over. The cut in her lip, however, was proving more of a problem and she could taste the familiar, coppery taste in her mouth. She continued to prod the tender spots, digging her fingers into the bruised flesh, the pain reminding her of how it had come to be that way. The pain fueled her anger which, in turn, fueled her resolve.
When she finally pulled her hand away, she touched the shotgun lying on the table before her, the cold steel a relief to her hot skin.
The phone on the wall rang and Susan jumped. She made no move to answer it, letting it ring and ring until the caller gave up and silence returned to the small kitchen. She had turned the answering machine off, afraid that even the pseudocheery chatter of a telemarketer might weaken her, that any influence from outside Chuckistan's borders might make her reconsider her decision.
Her hand closed around the gun, her fingers curling around the barrel until her knuckles whitened.
How did I ever let it get this far? Susan wondered. She pictured herself, nineteen again, talking to the handsome student in her Chemistry class. Even then there were signs, portents of their life together. His loud manner of speaking in a crowd, making sure that all eyes were on him, all ears hearing what he had to say. His overbearing, but fragile, ego. His demeaning attitude toward women. Even his anger, culminating in the senseless murder of an Erlenmeyer flask hurled against the cinder block wall after a failed experiment. All of it, everything that had stripped away Susan's identity, self-confidence, and happiness over the past ten years, was there from the very beginning, begging her to see it before she made a crucial mistake.
Now, too late to salvage the young woman she was and the dreams she had then, she just wanted to exact some revenge.
She could hear the cars passing the house on Hampton and, despite her self-promise to focus, she wondered about the people driving them. Who were they? Susan imagined soccer moms on their way to pick up children from practice. Young couples, holding hands on their way to the grocery store. Weary, blue collar workers, their Wellington boots still caked with mud from the morning's rains, driving home, talking on cell phones to the wives they would see in a matter of minutes. She wondered if any of them, stopping at the four-way at the corner, bothered to look over the sidewalk, across the border into Chuckistan, perhaps sensing the revolution about to begin.
Her cell phone rang from the kitchen counter, but this time she did not flinch. She turned to the small, outdated gadget, one of Chuck's few concessions in the area of communication with the outside. The unit lay face down so she could not see the caller ID and she almost rose to see who it was before her hand, still clutching the shotgun, held her back like a chain. If someone was calling her cell, it must be family, someone concerned that she had not spoken with them in a few days. Susan had broken off diplomatic ties with everyone she cared about so she could build up to the task at hand and only hoped that now, at her moment of resolution, none of them decided to check in on her in person.
Still, part of her wondered who out there cared enough to call. Sometimes, locked inside the house for days, her phone privileges taken away by His Majesty, she tended to think the rest of the world had become nothing more than a pleasant fantasy to prop up her false hopes, a fallacy her battered ego would not let go. Was it her mother, that Secretary of Stateliness, who knew, but would never acknowledge, that her daughter had married an abusive megalomaniac? Was it her father, the Minister of Commercials, sitting in front of the television all day and night to avoid dealing with the real world where daughters do, in fact, get pummeled by their husbands? Could it even be her older sister, from the Department of the Interior Design, too wrapped up in her business to have a husband, or time to discuss her sister's problems.
It didn't matter. None of them, no one she thought actually cared about her, wanted to hear where her frequent bruises came from or why she wasn't allowed outside for days on end. Abuse was something that happened to other people, people her father saw on the news shows, not to someone who had lived under their same roof for nearly two decades. She took some grim satisfaction in the idea that the first her father might hear about what she was going to do would likely be on the ten o'clock news.
Finally, the cell phone stopped ringing, giving one final chirp to indicate that whoever had called had left a voice mail.
Good for them, Susan thought. Voice mail. One more thing I won't have to-
Her mind snapped back into focus as the familiar sound of the garage door opening to allow King Chuck's royal carriage, a newish Mercedes, to pull in next to her rust-spotted Ford, the only set of keys to which hung from His Royal Highness's keychain. As the opener raised, then lowered the segmented door, her heart rate sped up, increasing with every pop and whine from the machine as it heralded the lord of the manor.
The interior door to the garage opened and King Chuck entered, dropping his briefcase in the floor beside the refrigerator as he did every day. His tie half undone around his neck, the tailored jacket hung loose on his shoulders, he ignored his wife, sitting at the kitchen table a few feet away, and tossed his keys into the plastic basket she had set for him near the door. He opened the fridge and rummaged inside, as he always did when he came home to his kingdom, and pulled out a Budweiser.
"Where's dinner?" he asked her, twisting the bottle cap off and taking a long pull.
Susan did not answer, afraid that any words that passed her mouth now might give her away.
King Chuck stood at the open refrigerator and finished his beer in three long swallows before grabbing another from inside.
"I asked you," he said, still not looking at her, "where is my dinner?"
Susan felt her body trembling all over, all except for the hand that held the shotgun as though she hung from it over some great precipice. For her, it was no longer a matter of not wanting to answer her husband's question, it was an impossibility.
"What the fuck is wrong--?" Chuck began. Then, he turned and looked at his wife and the shotgun in her hand. No part of him moved except for his eyes, which narrowed in that dangerous way Susan had seen a thousand times since she had agreed to be his queen. Several seconds passed before anything else happened, then Chuck raised the beer bottle to his lips and took a sip.
When he lowered the bottle again, King Chuck was smiling.
He stepped back and closed the refrigerator, never taking his eyes off her. The beer came up again for another lengthy pull, and he stepped to the kitchen table, taking the seat opposite his wife, the smile never faltering. Setting the bottle on the table, he leaned back in the chair and raised his arms slowly, interlocking his fingers at the back of his head.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked. His tone was that of an adult speaking to a toddler, a patronizing, snide voice that matched his smug grin. "You going to shoot me, Suzie?"
Susan tried to answer, opened her mouth and felt the word form, the air pumping up from her lungs and taking shape in her throat before dying, unceremoniously, on her lips. A tiny squeak and a short nod were all she could manage.
Chuck watched her over the Budweiser, assessing her, peering at her as though he was examining some x-ray of her. Looking for a spine that he was sure he had permanently removed.
"I bet that thing's not even loaded." His hand slid across the table, snake-like, reaching for the shotgun.
Susan stood, knocking her chair over in her haste, yanking the shotgun off the table out from beneath his descending fingers. She gripped it in her hands like a child who had wandered briefly from his mother's sight, caressing it as though it had hair to tousle. Beneath her fingers, she found comfort in the tactile sensations it gave her; it was cold, hard, deadly. Just as she now needed to be cold, hard, deadly.
Chuck stared at her when she pulled the gun away from him, anger flaring for just a moment in his green eyes before washing away in a new tide of amusement. "See, I didn't think so. What are you going to do with an unloaded gun? Hit me over the head with it?"
"It'sloaded." The two words came out as one. Susan could not remember the last time she had dared correct King Chuck and the suddenness of it both thrilled and terrified her.
Chuck's eyebrows raised, lifted perhaps by the heat that again flared in his eyes. He gave her that penetrating stare again, looking her up and down, searching for something he may have missed in his initial spinal examination. Picking up the beer bottle, he drained the remaining liquid from it and, with a blinding motion, threw it against the refrigerator.
"Do you think you're going to scare me, you fucking bitch?" King Chuck roared at his subject. He stood up, knocking his own chair over and sliding the table several inches toward Susan with a staccato yowl. "You think I'm scared of you, cunt? You think you're going to wave a fucking gun in my face and you're not going to pay for it?"
Susan raised the gun barrel level with his face, although her shaking hands made it difficult for her to hold it steady. She kept her finger off the trigger, still unwilling to commit the act to chance. If she was going to murder him, she thought through her fear, she wanted to mean it.
Chuck pushed the table again and this time it collided with her thighs, not hard enough to knock her over or even send her off balance, but enough to leave her with new bruises to match those on her face and arms.
She slid her finger down over the trigger. The move was automatic, more an act of will than one of thought.
"I give you everything," Chuck continued to scream, waving his hands at the small house surrounding them. "I give you food and a roof over your goddamn head and a fucking phone and . . . and here you are, you ungrateful cunt, waving a goddamn gun at me. You motherfucking, goddamn ungrateful whor-"
Words have weight. Mass. Every goddamn, every fucking, every cunt and bitch and whore he had called her for a decade all collected on Susan's finger, gathered there like flies on a corpse, pressing her finger onto the trigger. She raised the gun to eye level, feeling the stock against the painful skin of her face.
Susan did not hear the gun when it went off. The sound of the twin barrels releasing their loads combined with the verbal assault, supplanted it, to become one great howl of rage, first raised by her husband, then answered by her. Still, she heard none of it. None of her fury exploding out the long, steel shafts to erase her husband's.
What Susan heard was tinkling. As the shotgun blasted King Chuck's face through, then out the back of, his skull, over the ripping of the debris into the drywall, the living room furniture, and the front bay window, over even the splatter of her husband's flesh, bones, and brains as they sprayed in a reddish cone out behind him, Susan heard the tinkling of the china in the cabinet, shaken by the resonance of the gun or, she thought later, the resonance of how she had used it. The china continued to rattle, even a few seconds after the late King Chuck's remains collapsed to the floor, like tiny applause, the ghosts of her past, her lost dreams, saluting this act of savage bravery.
The gun was no longer cold. Beneath her white fingers, the metal blazed, still flushed from its use. She dropped it, feeling betrayed by the heat. It clattered to the floor, chipping one square of the expensive tile, and she kicked it away from her. The gun came to rest against the Bostonian loafer of Chuck's left foot.
She willed herself to look at him. Lying in a white-flecked pool of blood, the thick red liquid filling in the grouted lines between the tiles, the body lay still. Examining the bloody mass that had been her husband's face with a calm detachment that surprised her, she would have said he was unrecognizable, except that he wasn't. This horrific, dead monster lying in her kitchen floor, its blood pooling on the white ceramic, was the real King Chuck. This creature, wearing its violence like a Halloween mask, was the husband she had lived with for the past ten years.
He was dead.
She was free.
Later, Susan never remembered falling to her knees. She lay on the floor sobbing while time stopped around her, allowing her to release the emotion she had been saving for so long. Night fell as she cried and soon the only illumination in the room was from the street light that lit the alley beside the house, diving in at a slant as though afraid to bear witness to what she had done. In some remote region of her mind where she maintained some tenuous connection with the real world, she heard her cell phone ring and stop. Ring and stop. She could not say if the rings came together or were from separate calls. A maelstrom of grief and fear and relief had dragged her down beneath the surface of her life where she cared about things such as phone calls. At some point, exhausted, she slept.
It was the smell that finally brought her around. As the blood on the floor began to congeal, the metallic scent of it, so common from her own body, brought her around to wakefulness. For a fearful moment, she was sure she had dreamed it all and that King Chuck was there, standing over her, ready to issue another royal proclamation of the fist. Then, she saw the shotgun and, beyond that, the Bostonian, its toe pointed upward.
She almost slipped down again, almost waded into those waters of relief and forgetfulness, but the smell of blood could still motivate her. She got to her feet, taking in the scene anew in the diminished light. She did not bother to turn on the lights. Better to remember it this way.
Her cell phone buzzed again on the counter and this time, her hand steady, she picked it up.
Dad, the display read. She flipped it open.
"Daddy," she said. Her voice was small, childlike. "Come get me, Daddy. I've done a bad thing."
She flipped the phone shut, reopened it, turned it off, and dropped it onto the floor. She righted her fallen chair and moved the table back into place. Then, she sat down.
Lee Smiley lives in Tennessee with his wife, four children, and one oversized, ravenous fish. His works have appeared in Ghostlight, Gone with the Dirt: Undead Dixie, and previously at The Fear of Monkeys. You can visit his website at www.leesmiley.com or follow him on Twitter--@lee_smiley. In addition, if you or anyone you know shares a similar experience of abuse, please contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at www.ncadv.org