0.Chad sits against the passenger door and watches the night advance at him through the windshield. There’s an odd feeling inside again, an uneven feeling. Like he should be happy but there’s that thing suspended nearby, ready to collapse and muck it all up. That little black cloud of doom that shows up every now and then. His sister is driving, Chad hates driving. If he ever comes into some money, he’s hiring a driver. Forget about all this traffic and all these reasons to stop and wait and sit in your car while life gives you the finger in passing.The city is filthy and grimy, every day he finds a reason to hate it more than the day before. The people are self serving and blindsided by every piece of information pried into their squat brains. They’ve all fallen for his charm and mystique and now he’s put himself and probably his sister in the wrong person’s spotlight. He has to get them both out of this God-forgotten hole.She doesn’t know all the details; she probably doesn’t care to know them. That’s why she and Chad have always gotten along. He works out the plans and elements; she fills in the blanks with her creativity and brazenness. She was always more of a fighter than Chad was. He usually just ended up cleaning up her messes. It’s different this time though.She parks next to a mailbox and cuts the engine and inhales. Chad pivots his head, still against the door. It’s still cold on the other side of the glass. She’s a thrill to watch sometimes; it always fascinated him how easily guys turned into voodoo dolls when she was around. How they begged for her to stab them with needles or burn half their hair off just for her thrill. She’d always kept him out of trouble in school. Chris was skinny and weird, unpopular. His sister was skinny and pretty, popular. She always knew how to get her way.“Getting into character?”She exhales, “Think I’m ready.”“Good,” and he turns his head to the front again and tightens his sweater around himself, “Signal if you need anything. Wait.”She stops halfway out the door and looks back at him.“Is that my jacket?”She rolls her eyes, “Yes,” and she gets out, shutting the door behind her. 1.Martin stabs at the thin steak, burnt black at the edges. It’s leaving little pale red pools on the Styrofoam plate. The dishes are never done. The steaks are always done wrong. The laundry sits wrinkled on the dryer for days. What does Martha do around here? Knit long socks for the winter and watch sad shows about families reuniting. She feeds those cats. They get better treatment than Martin gets sometimes. She’s always cooing to them and bringing them new toys for him to step on when he goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night.“All I want,” he starts and then gives up.“What??” in her braying voice from the stove.“Nothing,” and he drops the fork on the plate.Martha was pretty once. Very pretty, otherwise he wouldn’t have married her. She didn’t have money or even a decent personality. But there was something about her that Martin couldn’t put away. If it was her lopsided smile or the way she could make him do what she wanted, he couldn’t remember anymore. Now he stares at her in that long, boring flower nightgown she’s always wearing. That sure gets cleaned and ironed in a rush, doesn’t it?All Martin did wrong was get a good job. Well, it wasn’t actually that good a job but the hours were plentiful. A year later, he turned around to a fat wife and a messy house and a beer belly. All that money he was putting in the bank and this was what he had to show for it.“Why don’t you shave more often? That mustache is irritating,” she says and sits down across from him at the table.Martin looks up from his plate and unrests his head from his hand so he can look straight at her. There is still some beauty in her eyes; somehow she managed not to lose it completely.“Maybe you should shave it for me. You don’t do much else around here.”“Oh, Martin. I do plenty. Eat.”“This? I’m cooking the steak next time; this is ruined.”“The mashed potatoes are good,” and she puts her spoon at Martin, “Here, try.”He sits back.“Get that out of my face.”She drops the spoon where it is and it hits the table between them, sending up tiny arcs of potatoes. Then she scoots back in her chair and picks up Martin’s plate. He does nothing but look at her, maybe she’ll re-cook it. She walks around the table and behind Martin, then she drops the plate into the squat plastic trash can.“Enjoy,” and she sits back down in front of him.Martins sits still and feels his face grow hot with anger.“I planned on eating that. Now what am I gonna eat?”“Well I offered you some mashed potatoes. They’re very good.”Martin lunges up from the table and his chair slides and clatters back against the wall.“That is it,” with his fists clenched.Someone knocks at the door and his fists slacken and he turns his head at the door. So does she, then looks back at Martin. His face lacks expression.“Martin, are you expecting anyone? Who is that?”He pulls his chair back to the table and sits down with his arms crossed.“You find out.”2.Martha touches her curlers lightly on the way down the hallway to the front door. She really needs to take them out but now there’s someone at the door. Martin is such a coward these days. He wasn’t always like that; maybe he’s just “punishing” her by making her answer the door.“I’ll show him,” she says, almost silently.Through the peephole, all stretched and curved, is a pretty blonde in a white tank top and a leather jacket. It says something on the tank top but Martha can’t read it from the hole. She unlocks and opens the door and the blonde smiles a sideways toothy grin.“Aren’t you pretty,” Martha says.“I bet you say that to all the ladies,” she says, her hands clasped behind her back, “Is the man of the house in?”“Martin!” Martha yells.“Yes, that’s the guy.”The blonde puts her hand on Martha’s chest and pushes her against the open door.“Move, bitch. Get out the way ha-ha-ha,” and she strolls past.Martha frowns and watches the blonde walk down the hallway. Her hips shift side to side just right under perfect blue jeans laid tight over a perfect butt. There are rips just under each butt cheek and her leather jacket is ill-fitting and frayed gray around the seams. She should eat more. Martha closes the door and follows her. She could lose all her weight and look like the pretty blonde if she wanted to. But why do that when Martin hadn’t done anything to deserve a pretty girl in a long time.“Maaarrrtiiinnn,” the blonde sings, “Oh Maaarrrrtiiinnn,” and she slides her fingers down the credenza as she passes. Then she’s in the kitchen and Martha walks in with her and Martin looks up and squints a little.“Well hello, Mr. Martin,” she says and bends over at him with her hands on her knees, “Long time no see.”He doesn’t respond.“Martin, who is this?”“I have no idea,” he says, not taking his eyes off of the blonde. She turns just her head and looks at Martha.“Oh, you have no idea, do you? How rude of Martin to not introduce us.”“I think you are the rude one,” and Martha puts her hands on her hips, “You should leave or I’ll call the cops.”The blonde is upright now and she turns to Martha and matches her body language.“That won’t be necessary, dear,” she says.“You must have the wrong house. And I think you should leave,” Martin says, still not moving from the table.“Well,” and the blonde pulls out a chair and sits on it side-saddle, “You could just give me the money and I’ll be on my way. Hell, you don’t even have to give me all of it, just a couple thou will do.”“What money? You must be on drugs, lady.”“What money, Martin?” from Martha.“Martha, please.”The blonde laughs with her head back.“Martin and Martha? That would be cute if it weren’t for the circumstances. You never told me her name was Martha.”“I don’t know you.”“Really, Martin?” and the blonde stands up, “You don’t remember fucking me on the love seat in there? Or right here under the kitchen table?”“I think you should leave, lady.”“I think you should stand up like a man, Martin. And stop calling me “lady.” Maybe I should tell her about the abortion,” the blonde smiles at him.“Martin.”“Martha, she’s crazy. I swear I don’t have a clue what she’s on about.”The blonde walks to Martha and puts her arm around her shoulder. Martha leans away and looks at her.“You know, Martha. I don’t know how girls like me fall for guys like Martin. It must be that helpless quality he has. Like he can take care of himself for the most part but he still needs just a little help from the ladies. Does that sound like your Martin?”Martha looks at Martin instead. His face is redder now. He looks angrier and angrier. Why is he just sitting there?“Martha,” and he doesn’t take his eyes off of the blonde, “She’s full of it. I don’t have any money except what’s in the bank.”“We need money. If you have extra, it should go to us, not some strange woman.”“She’s not getting any money.”“Well,” says the blonde and she lets go of Martha, “It sounds like you two have some catching up to do. I’m just gonna go freshen up a little bit. Talk amongst yourselves.”She strolls around the corner and down the hall.“Should we call the cops, Martin? What is going on? Where is she going?”“Calm down, Martha. I’ll get rid of her. Don’t call the cops, she’s just some junkie.”“What was that about an abortion? I don’t know if I believe you.”“She’s insane. I’ll take care of this,” but still he sits at the table.3.Ruby struts down the hallway, back towards the kitchen. The whole house smells like dirt and food. It’s almost enough to make her hungry but Chad is still waiting in the car. Martin’s briefcase was easy to find. Right under the bed next to his revolver. It’s a big one, has to be a Magnum. But Ruby never knew much in the way of guns. She turns the corner into the kitchen and sets down the briefcase and raises the gun and points it square at Martin’s face. The look that crosses it fills her heart with jubilance.“Don’t,” he says, and raises his hands.“Martin, do something,” and Martha backs up towards the wall.Ruby thinks about the heartache after the abortion. She thinks about what her baby would be like these days. She thinks about Martin and his laziness and his lies. He didn’t even have the decency to drive her to the clinic even after he promised he loved her and he’d leave his wife someday and then they’d have a kid. But it was too late, Ruby’d had enough of Martin. She was angry enough when she came in, maybe she doesn’t need to think about more stuff.“Martin. A man who sits back and does nothing but expects everything brings bloodshed to the land. Do you understand?”“Ruby, put the gun away,” says Martin, “We can fix this.”“You do know who she is. You lied to me.”“Yes, maybe you should apologize, Martin. That would be the right thing to do. And you don’t have much time to do it.”“If I give you the money, will you go away and leave us alone?”Ruby glares at him. Holding up the gun is starting to hurt her arm. She clenches her teeth and squeezes the revolver until her knuckles ache. Then she takes a breath and calms herself. She has to keep her composure here.“You’re running out of “I’m sorry” time, Martin.”“Please. Just don’t shoot me.”“Oh, Martin. Like I’d put you out of your misery.”She rotates her hips and points the gun at Martha instead. Before anyone can protest, she squeezes the trigger and the gun explodes in her hand and the kitchen shakes with it. Martha slams into the wall and red splashes out behind her head and her eyes go blank as she slides down to the floor. Martin gets up and kneels next to her heap. A tiny wisp of smoke rises from the barrel and Ruby drops it to the floor and steps over it towards Martin.“Martha,” he says, almost silently.Ruby kneels down and puts her face an inch next to his. His eyes are as blank as Martha’s.Then she whispers, “You know what they don’t tell you about abortions, Martin? All the stuff we read and hear about it and they never tell you how much it hurts. They don’t say anything about the disconnection you feel when it’s done. I lost something big when I rid myself of that child. You brought this on yourself,” and she stands up.“That’s not all. My brother is waiting in the car. He called the police as soon as he heard the shot, they should be here shortly. And if I know you well enough, you went to the gun range today. You always go on Tuesdays. There are still powder burns on your hands from your shiny little gun. Enjoy explaining yourself; they always suspect the husband first.”Martin doesn’t reply and Ruby backs off and turns back to the briefcase. She picks it up and carries it down the hallway towards the front door. She takes a deep breath and opens the door and walks out into the cool night. Then it’s quickly across the lawn and to the awaiting car. Chad looks asleep in the passenger seat. She opens the trunk and drops the briefcase in and lets the trunk shut by itself. Then she gets in the front seat and looks at her brother. He doesn’t move and his face is hidden behind a hoodie. It’s cathartic being around him sometimes. Peaceful. Ruby’s always had an interesting dynamic around Chad.The sirens begin in the distance.“Was that the money?” from Chad, and it startles Ruby.“You’re awake. Yes, it looked like all of it but I didn’t count.”“Good. Let’s get out of town then.”“Wonderful,” and she starts the car and pulls off of the curb and drives through a stop sign and punches the gas.
Each week authors will be given a new question to answer which will lend additional insight into their story and writing process. Do you have a question you'd like to see the authors answer? Tweet it to @aNextAuthor!