Bruce pulled the door shut while passing through and tapped an empty bottle against the side of his leg without thinking much of it. He rubbed at the back of his neck with a deep breath and set the bottle on the counter beside the sink. He took another from the refrigerator and struggled to open it with his hands. Bruce found a tool from the drawer and wrenched it open. The clock on the stove was a few minutes fast.
“I hope Shirley will be back soon. I can’t… I’ll never remember when it is she gets off work.”
Taking a swallow, Bruce stepped back toward the garage door but stopped and shook his head. He kept a few pictures of the three of them, from when Melissa was still alive. Thinking about it put him off balance. The front door opened and he looked around, but there was only Rubin turning the lock. He stood with a grimace, and had not yet seen Bruce..
“You got yourself fired, didn’t you?”
“Leave me alone Bruce. I’m not in the mood.”
“She should have known you wouldn’t be able to keep a job.”
“Just shut up, will you? I didn’t get fired.”
“You don’t talk to me like that kid. Not in my own fucking house.”
“This isn’t your house Bruce, and I don’t have to-”
“I told her not to go for a lazy, stupid one like you. I must have-”
“Knock it off. I’m sick of hearing this shit from you.”
“Do you think you can order me around? Not a sniveling spic like you. Never.”
“What did you call me? You need to knock that shit off before I fucking make you.”
“Are you going to kick my ass, huh? Are you going to throw me out of here?”
“You’re a son of a bitch Bruce.”
“She was only ever with you to make me angry. You must know that. It’s been obvious-”
“Fucking save it. I don’t need to listen to this bile from you. I’ve already had enough today, so just get back in the garage and leave me alone.”
Rubin took a water bottle from the refrigerator and left his keys on the table. He walked out of the room without another word.
“Walk out like a pussy bitch. That’s all I expected from you. Goddamn useless illegal scum.”
Bruce took a deep breath and another swallow of beer. It felt powerful to walk into the garage now. He set the bottle down beside his old pinball machine and pulled back the arm. It was old with spidery lines of rust, especially thick along the underside. It was good for him to play and connect with the old machine. It had taken a lot of work and money to get functional after unearthing it from that shop years ago.
After several games passed and an indeterminate amount of time, Bruce heard the front door again and Shirley’s voice. He left the machine, letting his ball roll unfettered between the plungers. Bruce stopped though as he heard her talking with Rubin. He stayed by the garage door and listened, resting one hand just over the knob. He waited until a minute after Rubin was gone, then pulled it open and headed out to see her.
“How was your day?”
Every time it was an unpleasant moment to see how she had changed from the photos with her mother.
“It was alright. Just the same as ever.”
“That’s good. Good day… I’ll just go back now, I think.”
Bruce took out another beer and walked to the garage.
“Are you sure? You don’t have to stay in there all the time.”
“No, I’ll be okay in here.”
“Okay then. It’s good to see you.”
Bruce took a few drinks just standing then tried to continue his game. A flash of anger slammed one hand against the side of the machine and then he turned around sharply. The air was dark in the garage, filtered in through one covered window.
“Rubin, Rubin… Fuck. It’s you changing her… Goddamn, my hand hurts. Fuck… Why can’t anything be like before. We were… Difficult but it was happy, not like this. Shit it hurts… Motherfucker… I… I wish you were still here Melissa… It was different with you, but now I have to see him ruining everything. I miss you.”
Shirley knocked at the door and called his name through.
She cracked the door open and leaned her head into sight.
“Are you sure you’re doing alright in here?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Can I get you anything.”
“No, I have what I need.”
“Okay. I’m going out with Rubin in a few minutes, so you can call us if you need anything.”
“I will. Thank you.”
“Do you remember the numbers?”
“You can call me or you can call Rubin.”
“I’ll call you if there’s anything wrong.”
“Okay. I love you dad.”
“I love you too Shirley.”
The door shut and Bruce didn’t move. He only listened to their muffled voices and movements. Somebody said his name before the front door shut, then the car started and they were gone. Bruce felt like shaking but he carefully lifted the bottle and took another drink.
Shirley took a bite of the casserole and looked at Rubin for a moment, then back to Bruce. The air was thick with heat from the oven.
“So Dad, how was your day?”
“I didn’t do very much, but I guess it was okay.”
“Did you get that bumper working again on your pinball machine?”
“Yes, I just needed to work it loose after all.”
Bruce glanced at Rubin who continued to eat without acknowledging him.
“That’s good. When you said so I thought it might be that. Rubin?”
“There was some trouble at the office, but we managed to sort it out.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Nothing very interesting. We just found that one of those temp workers had been misfiling everything for a couple weeks now so Eric and I needed to redo everything she had done.”
Bruce watched his mouth move and thought of the life before this intrusion. It wasn’t so far back as to be unimaginable, when Shirley was still young and needed him. He thought it could be that again, but now was sitting at a quiet dinner table alone as Rubin looked up infrequently with hard glances at him.
“What the hell are you looking at?”
“I’m not doing anything to you Bruce.”
“Of course not now you piece of shit, you don’t think so.”
“Hey! Dad, just leave him alone.”
“No, I can’t stand living with him.”
“But Dad, he hasn’t done anything to you. Rubin never tried to do anything except-”
“I don’t want this son of a bitch living in my house. Ordering me around, like he’s ever done anything. It makes me sick.”
“Goddammit, Bruce… We just need to talk this out. It’s just going to get worse if we leave it alone, so tell me everything that bothers you and we can try to sort it out.”
“Don’t talk to me like that you filthy wetback, as if you’re better than me and I can’t think at all. I’m a man. I know what I’m doing.”
Shirley shook her head and stood sharply, but turned around and said nothing for a minute. She took her plate and Rubin’s and began to clean up.
“Shirley no, I’ll take care of it.”
Rubin held one of the plates and touched her arm.
“I don’t see how you could spend your time with a bitch like him. The boy can’t even stand-”
“Just stop it Dad! Leave him the hell alone. Get out! I don’t want to fucking look at you now. Go to the garage, somewhere else. Just leave us alone.”
Bruce retreated with a start and couldn’t say anything. Shirley yelled again and something twisted in his gut. Bruce turned down the hall and shut the door behind him. The garage looked smaller in grating silence.
“This should be mine goddammit… My home, but now I can’t do anything… I’m not welcome, not in my own fucking house… I can’t just stay in here. I can’t spend the rest of…”
Bruce took a step toward the door but stopped and turned around, headed back and forth beneath a furious indecision. He shook his head and clutched at the empty bottle on his machine, but could not go back to the fridge now. He couldn’t stand them looking at him now.
“That piece of shit. I need to do something. This is all him. I need to do something.”
Bruce turned around into the half dark garage and wrung his hands together violently, grimacing in thought. He growled at the walls and shook his head.
Shirley lay back against the pillow while Rubin brushed his teeth. Her stomach felt tight thinking of the confrontation earlier. Rubin didn’t want to talk about it. There was nothing new to say. It was all old frustration with no clear way past. He lay down beside her and took a deep breath.
“I get it. I know…”
“But I don’t know what to do. We can’t keep on like this forever.”
“I still don’t know if there’s anything that we can do.”
“It’s just getting worse though.”
“Are you going to kick him out?”
“No. I don’t know what-”
“I don’t either. We can’t afford anything else, this is hard enough. I don’t know.”
“Are you sure we’ll figure something out?”
“We have to. We will. Let’s go to bed It was busy today and it’ll be worse tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry for how he is.”
“You didn’t make him this way. We just need to deal with it..”
“Yeah… I love you.”
“I love you too. Let’s get some sleep.”
Later she awoke to a noise in the hall and Rubin’s side of the bed was empty. Shirley stopped before saying his name and froze to listen more carefully, then snaked one arm under the bed for an aluminum baseball bat.
Shirley took a breath and headed for the door, pulled it open quickly and moved past into the hall. She recognized Bruce grappling in the darkness. Rubin fell against the wall and a picture frame snapped off its wire. She dove between and pushed them apart. Her father was snarling and panting. Rubin stumbled backward and fell through the open bedroom door.
“He… stabbed me.”
Shirley felt her hands were hot and slimy. The metal bat was slick in her fist.
“What did you do? Why? Why would you do this?”
Bruce leaned back and forth panting with the kitchen knife still clutched in one hand.
“He’s dead. I’m-”
Shirley dropped beside to check Rubin was still breathing, bleeding but the pulse continued.
“He’s gone now.”
“No. He’s alive. I just need to get him help.”
“He will be dead soon.”
Bruce ran past and over Rubin’s body, into the bedroom. Shirley looked up and watched him snatch their cellphones from atop the dresser.
“No. Give me my phone! I need to-”
“Everything is ruined with him here. It was better before, with you and your mother, but-”
“Give me the goddamn phone Bruce!”
Shirley lunged with an arm outstretched, but Bruce raised the knife halfway and she flinched back.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry to point this at you but I will put it away when he is-”
Shirley snapped the bat across Bruce’s wrist and the knife tumbled aside. He dropped the phones and crumpled backward screaming. She searched across the floor and dialed for an ambulance with Rubin’s phone. Her body trembled with ragged breathing.
“Nine one one operator. What is your emergency?”
“I need help. My husband is hurt.”
“I think my arm is broken.”
“Can you tell me where you are?”
“My house. I’m… 5563 South Turney.”
“I can’t get up. Shirley, I’m stuck…”
Shirley hobbled back to Rubin and choked out her answers, struggling to speak clearly through terror. She put a hand on Rubin’s shoulder and tried to steady herself past waves of shock and nausea. He murmured something without making a real sound. Bruce kept talking but Shirley wouldn’t listen, and the sirens grew nearer before she could think to speak. She answered the pounded door and led them to Rubin.