The man squeezes into a space between refrigerator and wall. Breathing feels asthmatic. Heat climbs everything.
The moon offers a square of light not, in truth, a square. Upon the linoleum it resembles distended farmland viewed from a plane.
The man is forty and wants to live old. This night she'll kill me, he knows. A metallic scream from the attached garage scores his eardrums. She's out there, probably, his wife -- her claws in violation of codes, contracts, decency -- and his Mercedes, his reward for years in Medical Sales.
The man visualizes a fingernailed car door and finds to his surprise that he doesn't care. Bald radials, oil-burning engine, eroded brake pads -- is he describing himself. He hasn't driven the Mercedes in months. He hasn't showered. His life has crumbled and his wife likely did the damage but he can't prove it and now he no longer cares.
Let her. He slides from the cramped hiding spot, gathers a lungful, and faces the door. In fact, please destroy my car, he shouts. It has brought nothing but misery.
He feels committed; he has changed his life just now.
The car-scratch ceases. He hears the pulse of crickets, a thousand tiny policemen blowing whistles.
How easily she succumbs to reverse psychology. His lungs unblock. He feels springy in Kansas. This is his house, his life! Fightless surrender won't happen. He resolves.
A gentle tap sounds at the door.
It's just like her to change tact. Well, I can change, too.
The man pulls down his pants and shorts. He scuffles, counter-bound. The door is locked -- a strong bolt -- but she has a key, and in moments or seconds she'll be through, won't she, and then what.
She knocks a second time. She is either impatient or believed to be by him. He wonders how many times he has been wrong about her, starting when. Any number would be impossibly low or high. He draws the carving knife from the block and thumb-checks its sharpness.
On the third knock, his other hand gathers his bundle, precious. Blade raised. Ready. Ready.
Deadbolt clicks. Knob turns.
The man's father steps inside, towering in a black suit. Jacket sleeves cover him to the knuckles. His face is crabmeat. His pomaded hair gives back the moonlight.
I nicked your car, says the father, just before he sees: the bare legs, the knife, the cupped hand. His fatherly eyes, grim and familiar, issue a challenge. You're in a kitchen, for Pete's sake.
I was expecting someone else, the man says. He glances about for a place to set the knife. In the damned kitchen both counters reside beyond arm's length.
The moment is death and close-enough. Because how can he move without toppling? And what kind of man falls nude while his father stands watching?