Had she been more careful, none of this would have happened. Thinking about her present circumstances would no doubt be unavailing, at least to the task she now must carry out. The man she pointed the gun to was a feeble soul who, as she unfortunately experienced for herself, was the epitome of deceit in the eyes of his lovers. In his trembling right hand, he held a half-eaten box of Lindor Truffles, and in the other a bottle of lukewarm Ginger Ale. The focus, the soundless intensity, connected like the stable thread of an early morning spiderweb from the barrel of Ruth’s shotgun to Michael’s chest, their marriage the helpless insect caught in its grasp. The unmistakable emotions strewn across her face covered an equally as pronounced spectrum –– rage, sympathy, love, and a strained sense of responsibility, thrumming up from her head and heart to the lingering finger on the trigger.
“Ruthie? How did you…What is this?”
She cocked the gun. Pursed her lips together. That peculiar contradiction of face and hands spoke for miles, and Michael took advantage of that; her reluctance was glaringly evident. “You don’t have to do–”
Ruth interrupted him. “How did you find out?” The phrase squelched from the spaces of her clenched teeth. Her nostrils flared. Her eyes welled up. Michael set down his truffles. “Babe, what are you talking–”
“How. Did. You. Find. Out.” This time her question was more slurred, spoken in the choppy simplicity of kindergarten flashcards. Acting stupid was one of his greatest talents. Being stupid was hers. Marriage can teach such things, especially after the years when its very word acted as more of a shackle than a bow. Like a clueless sapling, Ruth leafed out into her life with Michael, completely unaware of the poisonous fruit she would bear. Her mind lingered in that moment between the gap of her choice, and suddenly this chasm grew wide enough to hear the echoes of reason –– the first sultry glance at the coffee shop, the late night studying with fingers sticky with frozen yogurt, the proposal, the sheer gaiety in her newlywed stride, the ebbing thrill, the receding tide of passion, and eventually the storm of infidelity, followed by the unthinkable aftershock of Ruth’s jealousy.
Michael tried to remain calm. “I never…I…Ruth it couldn’t have been you. I mean, you were shopping when she was killed, and she had…had…”
You could almost see his temple swell –– in the back of her mind, she couldn’t blame him. She could only imagine the torrential downpour of thoughts and horrific revelations going on behind his nervous eyes. Really, it was unspeakable: this surrounding triangle of pain using him as its vertex. Yet even with that, she couldn’t bring herself to sympathize. Does that make her a monster?
When his eyes averted back to the shotgun, the sight galvanized him to speak more clearly. “You were shopping, Ruth. You were shopping when she was killed. And you told me you didn’t know about her until ––”
“Until what?” Ruth screamed, the gun nodding in agreement. “Until you fucked this…this…whore and didn’t tell me until you knew she was dead?”
Michael still wasn’t staring at her eyes, only the bobbing threat of the barrel. “What was I supposed to do?” he said softly. “You were never supposed to find out.”
The absurdity of that sentence nudged something inside of Ruth to laugh out loud. “You really think I’m that stupid?” The swollen silence spoke on Michael’s behalf, and Ruth kept her eyes on his helpless face. Time didn’t crawl by –– it clawed its way through this confession, this unpredictable stillness that could stop a heart or even break one.
And then Ruth began to cry, a murmured utterance quiet as hunger, dappling despair across her furrowed brow and the trembling line of lips. She began to emit compact, punchy exhalations of breath. “I had to do it.” she whispered in its interludes, teetering helplessly in the space of her consequence. Michael dropped his Ginger Ale.
“Ruth…it was you––”
But before he could finish the sentence, the trigger had already been pulled, and what was left of their loved popped in a crimson firework across the wall behind him. He collapsed. Ruth dropped her gun. And then she quivered uncontrollably, deafened by the sound, shattered within its vestige. Michael’s final breaths fanned the air in front of his gaping mouth, burbling in desperation, formidably jarred by the life (and wife) he once thought he knew. Ruth’s chest convulsed as she stumbled towards the exit, as if harboring the grim and desperate certainty she’d never reach it.
It was only a few minutes before the atmosphere retained its stagnancy, one that had been felt within these walls since their doomed affair began its dance. The tinctured air Michael tried to gulp in remained unharmed, and his last breath hovered in the atmosphere –– simmering into oblivion like the lie of Ruth’s forced fairy tale.
Once she reached the outside, a guttural sound welled up from the deepest confinements of her subconscious, and she bellowed to the sky, a defeated cry, the sheerest rage at herself. And beneath the sound of her scream, one simple, unanswered query whispered, asking the inevitable question of why. And as Ruth began to run, the answer she thought she knew –– like her husband and his whore –– was put to an eternal silence.