Nora wiped her mouth and saw that her fingertips were red. Not the strawberry sauce from the sundae, she thought stupidly. Strawberry sauce was a lurid pink, compliments of artificial coloring. This was a deeper red... crimson. Isn't that the word authors always use? A sentence from the latest mystery novel she was reading sprang into her mind--- “The gunshot rang out seconds before the crimson stain bloomed on the front of his shirt.” Not much warning for that poor guy, she mused. His number was up. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. She continued to stare at the droplets falling from her face.
At least she'd had a few seconds to prepare for this onslaught. She'd noticed his mouth tighten when she'd mentioned her lunch with Janie today. His sudden silence had filled the kitchen as completely as his screaming did now. But she'd babbled on about the burgers they'd ordered, about Janie's too-short haircut, about any inane detail to distract him with her attempts at levity. Janie wasn't his favorite friend of hers, but he usually didn't care if they spent the occasional afternoon together. Today (was it only two hours ago?) they'd met at Applebee's for lunch so Nora could catch up on the latest workplace gossip. Her extended maternity leave had her feeling a little disconnected, and Janie's stories proved better sustenance for Nora than the food she'd consumed.
She'd gone without telling him, though, and he'd been angry about the impulsive outing. No tumble of falsely bright words from her had restored his equanimity. The thunderclouds of anger continued to roll across his face, and she remembered the sensation of peddling backwards on her Schwinn when she'd been a kid. The pedals would spin with no effect as the bike picked up speed down the hill in their neighborhood. Faster... faster... until it was scarier to think of trying to stop than it was just to ride it out. No wind in her hair now with that incredible sense of flying. No thrilled screams or relieved whoops of “Let's go again!” when the bike finally slowed. She sat in the mess of broken glass and melting ice cream and wondered when her own brakes had failed.
The blood dripped again from her nose, turning the vanilla puddle beside her into a gory Rorschach on the linoleum. She saw a tulip, a bulldozer, and a mushroom cloud. She heard the sound of something else breaking under the force of his blows and hoped vaguely that it wasn't another door. The guys at Home Depot were beginning to look at her a little oddly with every trip she made there for a new one.
She raised her eyes and found him standing next to the dining room table. The wall beside him sported a new ragged hole, and his fists were still clenched as if ready to deliver more damage should the plaster further offend him. A giggle tried to escape her lips, but she bit it back by focusing on the sweetly metallic taste on her tongue instead of the hysteria welling up inside her. Don't piss him off any more, a little voice warned, he's already halfway down the hill and peddling hard! So she held on tight, praying for the minutes (days? years?) to pass quickly and waiting for the ride to be over.