Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part II

A Novella in Four Directions


Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
by Bill McLaughlin,
208 pages

(page 9 of 21)

“What was he thinking? That someone's going to come in here and clean up after him? Maybe he figured when he ran away, that when he came back—oh, and he'll be back, believe me—that everything will be okay. Is that it? I knew if I wasn't here to pester him, to keep reminding him of what needed to be done, he would just let it all go to shit. I knew it.”

As they walked back through the living room, Liz stooped to pick up Ray's credit cards.

“Asshole!”

“Joan, is your husband like this? I mean if you left him for a few months, would he do this?”

“Sixteen years ago my husband—my first husband—left me. He just snuck away in the night while I was sleeping. I kept thinking he would come back. I couldn't believe that someone could just walk out and not look back. It defied all reason. I thought we were as happy as most. A year later I realized he wasn't coming back. I pulled myself together and started to make my life over. You're lucky Elizabeth, you're going to get this house back. You don't have anyone depending on you. I had two small kids and nothing—I mean nothing. I lost everything, except those kids.”

Liz brought in the week's newspapers that were accumulating on the front steps. In a small spiral notebook she wrote herself a reminder to cancel the paper.

“I hate that paper. It reeks of him.”

At the coffee table, Joan took out the paperwork that needed to be signed. Liz would keep the house. Her parents were going to help her make up the missed payments, the penalty, and the refinance charges. They talked as they continued inspecting the house. Liz asked Joan about her husband.

“Did you ever hear from him again?”

“Oh, about two years later I started getting these postcards. The first one was from Paris. Then Madrid, then Milan, Venice, and finally Athens. He never said much, just the usual: 'Happy as a lark...Don't be mad... blah, blah, blah.'”

“How about his kids? Didn't he ever mention them or say he wanted to see them?”

“I don't consider them his kids—neither do they. I remarried to a pretty nice guy. He has his faults but he's not a quitter. He helped me with those kids like they were his own. I was able to go back to school, finish my degree and find a real job. Good riddance to the bastards! Who needs them!”

“Elizabeth! Did you see what's in the toilet?”

“Oh no, what now?

The house now belonged to Liz. Ray's name was gone from the contract, the deed, the title, and the insurance. His car had been towed from the driveway. His other possessions sat in heaps around the house waiting for garbage day. Liz spent the rest of the afternoon scraping his name from the mailbox, replacing it with small black plastic letters of her own. She sat at the kitchen table in the dark, her face folded in her hands above the pile of documents, and quietly cried until she had expelled the last of him.

At daybreak, Ray awoke to find himself riding high above an endless expanse of turquoise water underneath a cobalt sky. The bus was barreling over a slender bridge linking two green islands of mangroves and white sand beaches. The sun, rising slowly, added its warm amber glow, illuminating and animating each wavelet as the morning winds freshened. A few gawky pelicans lumbered by, cruising just inches from the wave crests. Terns and seagulls filled the line between land and sea. The sky yawned wide and deep, the remaining glow of sunrise melted into a pan of ocean blue before turning milky white in the distance. Ray saw the sign announcing Key Largo. He thought of Bogart and Bacall, sailboats and rumrunners, key lime pie.

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About Bill McLaughlin


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Bill McLaughlin was born in the later half of the last century. He has worked as a freelance journalist and independent radio producer. After spending more than a decade as an itinerant writer and gardener, living and traveling in a 1973 VW camper bus, he now homesteads in upstate New York where he hauls water,...read more chops wood, and ponders the Rights of Nature, late frosts, and black flies.
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