Love is never easy. On the morning of July 4th, Dale Whitlock came to the conclusion that he was going to kill his wife. He did not deliberate over the decision. He did not agonize or worry or fret. The answer to his problem came to him easily and serene, the way a sailing boat might drift in on clear waters during the hottest day of the year.
Like the Fourth of July.
Mostly, it was because of the eggs. Marlene Whitlock was a woman with many talents, and cooking was not one of them. Dale had put up with a lot; short changed by customers at the Auto Barn, living next door to loud, foreign neighbours that laughed and shouted at all hours of the night. He'd swallowed these things and accepted them, shouldered them as a responsibility any grown man should accept in this world. That's the thing, with living. You have to put yourself out there. You have to own up and take command and say "Okay, I'll be a part of this world."
And that was how things had gone for quite some time. Dale had managed with a mediocre existence. And that was just fine.
But to wake up to those eggs. How could anyone fuck up eggs?
"You want to take the boat out this afternoon, Dale?", Marlene had asked him serenely from the other side of the table, simpering at him. "It's the Fourth. We should have a cook-out."
"Yeah, maybe we should," he responded, shovelling another forkful of the over-salted eggs into his mouth. He dropped his fork with a clink and Marlene watched him with hurt eyes.
"Are the eggs okay, Dale?"
"Yeah, they're fine," he lied, pulling on a smile that felt too big for his face. Marlene seemed satisfied. "Let me finish my breakfast and I'll go shower."
"You want me to join you?"
Dale smiled another falsely huge smile. Lately, he had not been that attracted to his wife of four years. It was her attitude mostly. She'd get up late, make bad food, wander around the house, speaking into her tape-recorder and scribbling down notes for her next book idea. Sometimes she'd just up and lock herself in her study and the sounds of her typewriter would fill the whole house, and Dale couldn't even watch TV it would get so loud. He'd try and settle on reading, but even then she'd pop her head out and ask him for a coffee or a sandwich and he'd go without question, but more and more he found himself thinking that he was unhappy. That his sandwiches would taste better than anything she insisted on making for him in the mornings. That he would much rather simply wake up on his own and shower on his own, listen to the music he liked and make his own eggs. Watch TV without the constant clink and clack of typewriter keys overshadowing everything.
And slowly but surely, the idea had stole across his body. It infected him like a weird fever, circulating in his brain and maddening like a sluggish fly. At first, it frightened him. He briefly considered speaking to a doctor or getting his head looked at. Instead, he swallowed the new and frightening thought and shouldered it.
The way a grown man should accept anything in this world.
And so, the love had evaporated like a lake in a heat wave, and little by little the void of emotion was filled by a quiet distaste that filtered into everything. Soon, Dale was disliking the way she walked, or the way she answered the phone with a "howdy" rather than a hello. He didn't like the way she made love or how she didn't mind if he showered while she was on the toilet or her habit of brushing her teeth and talking to him at the same time.
She wasn't an ugly woman. Something had just been...broken. Frequently, Dale felt like a pet rather than a husband, or even an equal.
Marlene Whitlock was a woman whose writing was good, damn good, and the critics knew it. Even Dale knew it, and he more than suspected that Marlene knew it as well. She had out-earned him on more than one occasion from a simple short-story, more than he would earn in a month came to her with a simple eight-thousand or so words.
It was irritating. The way she talked was irritating. The way she asked for coffee and for food was irritating.
Little by little, the distaste turned to dislike. And more recently, it had reared its ugly head like a snake, and it's name was Hate. He'd forgotten why he'd married her in the first place on more than one occasion. There had been a time when she was humble and he was a nobody, and as time progressed he was still a nobody and Marlene was doing book-signings. He resented her for that. Whether she knew or not he didn't know or care, and on more than occasion he thought maybe his brain was playing tricks on him.
She was condescending.
It was in her tone, in the words she spoke, in the way she walked toward him or the way she thanked him for the little treats he made her; coffees and teas and cheese sandwiches or cakes from the cupboard. Sometimes, she patted his head and called him a good boy.
At first, it seemed sweet and cute, somewhat genuine if a little quirky.
Now, when it happened, he would pause and search her eyes for a meaning outside of friendly conversation. He would catch a glimmer of superiority sometimes, and it irritated him. All these things had irritated him.
And now, she'd gone and fucked up the eggs. Enough was enough.
"No, it's fine. I'll only be quick. You finish your coffee and go sit out on the back porch and wait for me. If we time it right, we'll see the fireworks on the other side of the lake, down by the town." Again, with that false smile. She laughed, a high, breaking laugh that sounded like glass breaking. He winced inwardly.
"Oh, Dale, that sounds fantastic! Shall I make sandwiches?"
Another thing. Her unnecessary use of "shall" and other words, like "therefore" and "as a result of". It made him feel stupid. Nothing made him feel more mentally inferior than the way she pronounced "neither" as "ny-ther".
It sounded smart. It sounded smart as fuck and she knew it.
If she was so smart, why couldn't she cook some fucking eggs? All her smarts were school smarts and book smarts. None of it was experience, and Dale had wondered if that was where the rift had been birthed between them, where it grew, separating them like a knife through butter. Dale had scrambled upward through a series of pointless, dead-end jobs, carting payloads of carpentry tools around the lake to prospective buyers, selling off pieces of machinery he was no longer using to surplus stores in town. Finally, he had managed to scrape enough money together to open the Auto Barn on the outskirts of town, and for a while, business was decent. He had come to be back in a good frame of mind.
Until Marlene had sold a book that rendered much of his work pointless. She was dropping by the office more and more, bringing tasteful knick-knacks and chatting with his staff, pointing out accounting flaws and suggesting they should go into business together.
It was fucking irritated. He hastily finished the rest of his eggs and smiled at her. She smiled back and chewed at her breakfast.
"Eggs are a little salty, aren't they?" She asked, not looking at him.
"They're fine. You can make sandwiches if you like, I think we have corned beef and stuff in the fridge. And mustard."
Too cheerful. God damn it all.
The weather was beautiful by dusk, and all around the banks of the lake, fireworks were sailing high above the water even though it was a little too bright out to see them properly yet. Dale ate his sandwiches in silence and Marlene reclined on the deck, soaking up sunshine with an oversized pair of sunglasses on.
Sometimes, he suspected infidelity, or that she might up and leave him. She was, after all, worth a lot more than him. Dale had showered quickly and Marlene had run upstairs to get dressed properly. While she was gone, Dale selected a knife from the knife-block, and went around the back of the house and chose a burlap sack. He looked at them for a long time, wondering if he really meant to do this. It's a small town, after all.
News might travel fast. Especially when a big-shot writer goes AWOL. Someone was bound to ask questions.
Would that be it, then? Back out now, and live the rest of your days in inferiority, taking head-pats and tummy scratches like a fucking dog? Being told he's a "good boy" and being laughed at and...tolerated?
Fucking tolerated? In HIS house?
He'd taken the items back inside, him them in his jeans pockets, and showered.
To her credit, the sandwiches tasted brilliant. He wondered briefly if corned beef sandwiches with mustard would be his last meal as a free man, and he was more than a little terrified to realise that he didn't care.
When they tracked him down, if they ever did, he would make sure that they knew that the murder was just.
She was just sunning herself on the deck, arms at her side, eyelids closed, humming some forgettable tune. For a while he sat behind her, turning the knife over and over in his hands, heart hammering in his chest.
Did he really mean to do this? Was he really going to commit murder?
Over the lake, a fresh cacophony of fireworks drowned out even the bird calls and barking dogs, and in that instant, he decided that yes, he would.
He stood swiftly, ignoring the blasts coming from overhead. No one would see them way out here. He made sure to extinguish the lamp over the captain's chair. He approached, blade drawn, and stood behind her for a moment, heart beating a crazy rhythm. He remembered the burlap sack and produced it like a magician flourishing a pack of cards.
Pick a card, any card, Dale thought randomly, and then dropped to one knee, and forced the sack over Marlene's head. She struggled immediately.
"Dale, what the fuck?" She screamed, tanned legs kicking out. Her foot collided with a cooler and she sent it flying, Coke cans and beer bottles rolling across the deck. Dale heard faint splashes. Some of them had fallen into the water.
He tugged the sack tighter and picked up the knife, which he'd set down by his boot.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I have to," he gruffed, and pinned her head to the sun-bed, so tight that the only noises she was making were muffled "mmmphs" and wild, animal-like yowls. He hands lashed out at his face and his forearm, digging deep marks that drew blood. He cried out and relaxed his grip slightly, and suddenly she was on the floor, wriggling across the floor on her ass and back, her bikini bottoms tangling and looping around her thigh.
"Motherfucker!" she screamed once, and Dale punched her, hard, where her head would be. She relaxed slightly after letting out a wild scream of pain and rage. "Dale, what the fuck are you doing?" Her voice came out breathless, somewhat more frightened now.
"Let me go!"
"I can't!" He screamed back at her, much of his voice drowned out by the blaring fireworks. Somewhere, he heard a bird call. Dale gripped the shaft of the kitchen knife, and brought it down hard on her face.
The ease with which is sliced through flesh and bone for a moment revolted him, but her scream of agony jolted him back into action.
"Dale!" she shrieked once, weaker now, and the kicking resumed. A dark flower of red bloomed on the burlap.
Dale struck again, once, twice, three times.
The kicking slackened and her breathing came in ragged gasps and broken, watery bubbles. He had not anticipated so much blood, and his jeans were stained a murky red. The burlap was now a crimson scarlet colour, and every time he drew the knife from his dying wife's face, the blood glimmered in the light of the fireworks.
The kicking stopped. Soon after, the breathing stopped. Her grip slackened and she rolled away from him, finally dead.
The fireworks resumed. Dale could smell good, clean smells, lake water and hot dogs, cinnamon buns and the hot but exciting smell of burning charcoal.
Independence Day smells.
"Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry," Dale said to the corpse. He looked down at one of her blood-speckled hands and saw the wedding band he'd given her four years ago. It glittered dully will dead light.
Dale slid her off him and pushed her toward the edge of the boat. She left a trail of vibrant red in her wake.
"I'll have to clean that up," he said to himself, and only the lake and fireworks answered. He found himself not wanting to touch her. She had revolted him that much in life, but the reality of her death had suddenly become all too real for him. He stood and his corned beef sandwich with mustard came up with one hard contraction.
Luckily, he made it to the railing, and for a while he watched his vomit float on the surface of the dark water.
He turned back to finish the job. He shoved her into the water with a final grunt, and when she hit it, her mask came off. The burlap floated away, and he wondered dimly where it would surface, on which shore, at who's house.
Again, he realised he didn't really care.
What frightened him was her face. She seemed so alive. There were four long gashes in her cheeks and much of her nose had been sliced away. The knife had taken one of her eyes, but the killing blow had come when the blade punctured her windpipe, and he realised that was where all that blood had come from. He remembered her breathing in ragged, watery gasps, until the shudders stopped.
The fireworks carried on.
For a while, Dale leant over the side of the boat, watching his dead wife sink down and down into the darkness, her bright eye in the black, accusing him.
"See you soon, Dale," it seemed to say. "Although I doubt you'll see me."