Willy, you son-of-a- . . . You’ve finally done gone too far this time! This is the last straw! The straw that broke the camel’s back!
Fred toed one of the three squeaky boards of his front porch with increasing force, his boot nudging the faded wooden slat deeper against the pull of the antique nails. His hands – clinched and reddening, then loosening for the briefest of moments to restore the flow of blood, then clinching yet again, an involuntary loop – were jammed deep in the pockets of his faded overalls. He searched his mind for yet another cliché, some well-worn turn of a phrase upon which to hang his mounting rage.
He’s gone off the deep end! Pushed me over the . . .
“You’ve PUSHED me over the EDGE, you crazy . . . BASTARD!”
This felt good. His words bounced off the overripe-peach-colored siding of his neighbor’s house. With one final jab for emphasis, the board snapped and caved in, sending Fred into an unbalanced yet somewhat elegant sashay toward the paper bag that sat crumpled at the foot of his front door.
Fred had given him the bag earlier in the week. Not in person, though. Willy quit answering his door not long after Ethel passed. He’d simply sat it on the stoop late one evening just after sundown as he returned from the market where the young man at the counter, the son of a different neighbor down the block who’d decided to stay instead of leaving with the other children of neighbors, made sure the bag was sealed tightly around the neck of the bottle with a length of twine fished out of a box buried under the counter. His look as he fulfilled Fred’s request had been condescending, bisected with a crooked and accommodating smile.
Willy’s shadow appeared, distorted and stooped by the ever-present glow from the television that sat upon a milk crate against the easterly living room wall, upon the blind which he had duct-taped shut one weekend late last spring. It was the weekend Willy decided he’d had enough company for three lifetimes. Enough tasteless casseroles made of undercooked elbow macaroni and stale Post Toasties. They would have turned Ethel’s stomach.
Fred didn’t enjoy going through all this again. It’d been several years since he’d sat on the edge of his bed – having figured out how to tuck the corners in like Sarah had, so the sheets would stay straight – and thought about road trips to Kansas City, the four of them crammed in the Falcon, stopping at scenic outlooks to eat bratwurst on crackers and sip Nehi from returnable glass bottles, and seeing new grandchildren for the first time at the end of the day. A few nights ago, sitting in his leather La-Z-Boy brainstorming a plan, he ticked off the times they’d cracked open a bottle of something a bit stronger than Nehi and raised a simple glass to better times.
“Leave me alone, Freddie.” Words muffled by glass and distance yet scribbled in capital letters on the bag, wadded and thrown back on Fred’s porch.
Fred fetched his toolbox and set to work mending the porch.
EDIT: I should have posted this information earlier . . . This short fiction piece is in response to a challenge issued by my blogging buddy Pat over at Single for a Reason. Her post about the paper bag started the ball rolling, and then she threw down the gauntlet in a comment to an earlier post I wrote about quitting smoking. Pat is the best. Check her out if you get a chance . . .