Is there anything so warm and reassuring, so constant and reliable as family? 

Yes: The great grinding steel wheel of karma.

Regret by Tabitha Wilson

The house is burning down. I am maybe half a mile away, but I can smell it plain as day. I walk, one foot in front of the other, steadily hauling my ass out of town. No reason to stick around this dump anymore, not since my family passed.

Funny thing about regret, it doesn’t hit you where you think it ought to. For instance, take me. You’d think I’d be bawling my eyes out over losing a wife and kids, their memories playing across my brain like a private picture show. But that’s not where my mind is focused. No sir. I am thinking long and hard about Penny from the bank. I really think there was something there, the way she’d look at me sideways from the teller counter while I was dealing with a client at my desk. Penny. We could have had it all. I know that in my heart.

My wife is—excuse me—was, quite a looker. Can’t tell you the number of times she was responsible for a traffic jam. She could literally stop traffic with that tight little figure. All my friends were jealous up to their eyeballs, stopping by the house whenever they could to catch a glimpse or two of heaven. But you live with someone day in and day out, most days you don’t even notice if they’re still breathing. Until they’re not. Then it’s time to haul your ass out of town.

I wish I could have taken the car, but that wouldn't have made any sense. Not when you take into account most folks will naturally assume that’s my charred body up in the master bedroom in a few hours time. What can I say? Ned Biederman had it coming, candy-ass interior designer. I’ll say this honestly. I thought he was a fruit. I think everyone did. My wife sure didn’t.

The bank was just a stepping-stone for me. I did well there, naturally, but I was always meant for bigger things. Even in grade school, the teachers would say, “That little Robert Jones is really something. He’s going to do something really wonderful one day.” And here I was, about to embark on something really wonderful. Sure, it was a cakewalk embezzling funds from the accounts of old folks around here. There’s plenty of them, too. Florida is nothing if not a haven for the affluently retired. You take a few dollars here, a few dollars there, and bam. Ten years later you’ve got a nice little nest egg waiting for you in an offshore account.

That damned wife of mine. Wanting to redecorate the house. I hate thinking of all the money I doled out to that fruit. Meanwhile, he was banging my wife in my own bed.  There’s some regret for you. About thirty grand worth of regret. All your hard work, up in smoke now, pal.

I never really connected with the kids, to tell you the truth. Seemed as much to me like someone else’s kids as they did my own. Times I probably couldn’t even have told you their full names, but that’s partly because my wife was a damned Catholic and gave them each about five names. Foolishness, if you ask me. The oldest one, Billy, was probably my least favorite of the three. He reminded my of my pig snot little brother, so much so that there were times I didn’t wonder if maybe my wife had fooled around on me with him right about the time we were married. I might have to revisit that notion, now that I know about Ned Biederman.

I know there’s a car rental place over on Seever Street that’s pretty sketchy looking. That whole area is sketchy. I bet they won’t look too hard at old Ned’s driver’s license. We’re both sandy blondes. I guess my wife had a type, except I’m no fruit. Once I grab a car there, I’ll drive due south to the Keys, charter a plane, disappear. I probably should have done a little more planning, though. I don’t even have a phony ID yet. This Ned Biederman business just sprung up out of nowhere. Stroke of luck the fruit kept his passport in his leather design bag. I’ll look into a new identity once I’m safely out of this place.

It’s just past 3 o’clock as I approach the car rental place, way too early for it to be open, but there’s nowhere else to go. Sitting in all-night diner would be too risky. There’s a bench out front and considering I've just walked several miles and it’s the middle of the night, I’m going to rest a little while.

“Excuse me!” Someone is yanking me around. “Hey asshole, wake up!” I sit up groggily and wonder where I am. Two hoodlums stand before me in front of the bench. One shows me a gun.

“Give me your wallet, watch, phone, whatever you got in those fancy pockets, faggot,” the one with the gun says.

“What happened, your boyfriend toss you out?” They laugh as I begrudgingly hand over Ned’s wallet. I keep the passport, though. I also have my own IDs in my inner jacket pocket. I am not giving up on my dream. The kid with the gun starts rifling through Ned’s wallet.

“Wait a second, what the fuck? You’re Ned Biederman? This can’t be no coincidence. Oh man, dude. This the homo that broke up my parents a couple years ago and we had to move into an apartment in this shithole neighborhood.” The kid’s face crumples up a bit when he says it, and his grip tightens on the gun. My teeth begin to chatter. I’m no dummy. I already know what’s coming next. Forget Penny at the bank. Forget my wife. Forget the money. I regret not knowing my kids’ full names. Even now, I cannot remember them to save my life. 

Tabitha Wilson is a bloody fool who makes the same mistakes over and over again. Her flash fiction stories can be found on the Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Yellow Mama and Microhorror.