Thursday, August 18, 2011

#FridayFlash--Church Bells

Church Bells
by Eric J. Krause

The church bells sounded down the street, as loud as if he were right next door. The ceremony was about to begin. Soon there'd be another Mrs. McGillicutty in town. Jonah was a good kid; no doubt he'd picked a woman who'd be as loved as the elder Mrs. McGillicutty.

He picked up his Jack and Coke and drained it in one swallow. His refill had more Jack than Coke.

Weddings always turned him introspective, made him melancholy. His had been wonderful, the highlight of his life. And Shirley couldn't have been a more beautiful bride. God, she'd been a looker back then. Back before it had all gone wrong.

He didn't like shouldering all the blame--Shirley had hit the bottle almost as hard as him when they lost their son--but he couldn't denounce he owned most of it. He'd been the one to turn violent when he had too much drink in him. She merely grew weepy. And helpless.

The next glass held all Jack except for a slight splash of Coke for flavor. The bride's limo sped past. Those church bells must've been the signal for her driver. Either that or she was running late. He tried to wave, but his hand wouldn't obey. Hell, what did it matter? She didn't know him, and he didn't know her. He couldn't even remember her name, though it'd been plastered in the paper often enough this week. And why not? She was marrying into local royalty, wasn't she?

Shirley hadn't, but she knew it going in. He wished it could have been different, but they married for love, not money or fame. He downed the rest of his Jack and grimaced. But that was true for most people. All these damn newspaper stories on the McGillicuttys and their ilk sometimes made the common man forget that.

He didn't bother pretending with his next refill. It held all Jack, no Coke. Trouble? You betcha, but he was beyond caring. If he knew what was coming next, though, he might've. Not likely, but maybe.

Those church bells chimed again. This time telling people to take their seats; the bride she was a-comin'. No backing out now, Jonah McGillicutty. It was for better or for worse time.

When Shirley walked down to the tones of that ancient organ, it looked to be for the better. Too bad everything ended up for the worse. He slugged down the Jack and didn't bother pouring more. If he wasn't going to mix it with Coke, might as well take it straight from the bottle.

Shirley stood staring at him from the sidewalk, as fresh and pretty as their wedding day all those years back. He shook his head and blinked hard. When the liquor allowed him to refocus on the yard, not only was she still there, but she now stood in the middle of the lawn.

"Shirl?" he managed to croak out. No, that wasn't her, but an illusion brought on by Mr. Jack and the thoughts of weddings. His Shirley hadn't moved in over ten years. She lay right where he put her--buried in cement under the porch.

The world spun, and by the time he caught himself and righted his perspective, she stared at him from the base of the steps. Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard the church bells. No doubt Jonah McGillicutty had received the instructions to kiss his bride. In a few minutes time, they'd ring again, this time as the newlyweds dashed to their waiting limo. When he and Shirley made that sprint, not to a limo, but to his old Ford pickup, the guests had tossed rice. Now they'd blow bubbles; the elder Mrs. McGillicutty had never met an environmental cause she didn't like. Not that it mattered to him. He wouldn't be around for that final volley of church bells. That he knew for certain.

Shirley now stood above him, her perfume a mix of decay and that lavender scent he always adored. Her face held the same slack expression she wore that night after he choked her to death. He hadn't wanted to, but she made him. Divorce? No, that wasn't an option. Sure she'd caught him in the act with Sandi Lee Parker, but if she'd taken care of her wifely duties, he never would have strayed. Yeah, the loss of little Edgar to crib death had devastated him, too, but he still had urges. And she had plenty of time to grieve.

As she stared down at him, he wondered if she'd choke his life away. Tit for tat. She wouldn't need to get rid of his body or keep a dirty secret for so many years. She'd be able to simply blink out of existence and head to Heaven, Hell, or wherever. Maybe they'd be square and she'd drag him along.

Whatever she decided, she took too long, and he couldn't bear the wait. He grabbed the bottle of Jack, still half-full, and slammed that bitter liquid. He sputtered a few times, but managed to down it all. The bottle tumbled from his grasp, and through his murky, black-lined vision, he couldn't see her. He'd bested her again. Or so he thought. As the dark closed around him, her quiet chuckle, the one he loved to draw out of her when she was alive, sounded in his ear.

Down the street, the church bells sang to the town, proclaiming another couple now lived in holy matrimony. And he'd been right; he wasn't around to hear it.