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Babylon by Mark Slade (Halloween in The Gutter 2019)

Every marriage gets tested with trials and tribulations. And trouble has a way of knocking when you least expect ....

Babylon by Mark Slade

John was supposed to be writing his sermon, but with sex on his mind it was too hard to concentrate. The TV was too loud as usual, a girl squealing, nonsense chattering, voices blaring. I was in the kitchen washing dishes. John sat in the living room watching one of his movies when the doorbell rang. He hit pause on the remote, listened.

I poked my head in the living room to listen, as well. The doorbell rang again, a constant church rattling, one right after the other. The person at the door didn’t even have the common decency to let the call resonate before pushing the button again.

“Are you going to get it?” John asked, the remote still in his hand, glass of bourbon in the other.

“Well, dear,” I told him, “since youre in the living room and Im in the kitchen, I think I’ll let you get it. How’s the sermon coming along?”

John rose from his seat. Six months after Sadie and Billy bought him the recliner for Christmas it still somehow retained that new-chair squeak whenever anyone stirred. How those two scraped up enough money to buy it, I’ll never know, both of them still in college.

John placed his glass on the coffee table but not on a coaster, as usual. After twenty-two years of marriage, training that man was near impossible.

“Yes, dear, I shall get the door,” John said. “I’m not doing anything but writing the Lord’s word for a weekly get together.”

“Rubbish,” I told him. “You’re sitting in front of the TV getting sloshed. Now answer the door John Carson.”

I hung around the kitchen threshold, wiping down a bowl over and over, curious to see who was at the door at seven p.m. on a Saturday. Most people in town were in their own homes watching TV or tending to their families or finishing a game of golf.

The bell chimed again.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he bellowed, shuffling toward the door. He opened it quickly.

Nora Simmons stood in the doorway, wearing her skirt too short, her cleavage too revealing. Nora was one of those sorts who always clung to another women’s man a little too long, the kind who would sit in the front row, crossing and re-crossing her legs, talking a bit too close to them, letting her hand linger on a gentleman’s knee or shoulder.

John shuffled his feet, and began stuttering, swallowing after every sentence. “Oh, hello, Nora. Kay? Look who it is,” John called out. “It’s Nora, darling.”

“I can see who it is,” I said wiping down that bowl even harder, faster.

“Gracious,” Nora said, her smile as plastic as her personality, as phony as her dyed blonde hair. “Can I come in or am I interrupting a romantic interlude between you two?” She stepped inside, not waiting for an answer, her jutting breasts brushing past John. He coughed, sniffed, made a false gesture to show her the way.

“What brings you here, Nora?” John fiddled with his glasses, then returned to his chair, sheepishly trying to avid looking as Nora’s skirt rode up slightly when she sat on the couch across from him.

“I need to speak to you and Kay. It’s really important.” She made a dramatic pause afterwards, pouted. “Kay?” she called out to me. “Can I speak to you in here? This concerns you as well.”

Reluctantly, I joined them in the living room, and sat beside her, feigning a smile. I even touched her knee, thoughtfully. “What’s on your mind, dear?”

“It’s a delicate matter.” Nora flashed a strained smile. “You realize that Tom and I are getting a divorce. He has good lawyers, and I have ... George.” George was her brother.

George is a country simpleton and a terrible lawyer even when he’s sober.

“Something happened four months ago, Kay. I’m not proud of it.” Nora turned to John, gave him a cool look, reached into her handbag and produced a DVD with no label. “I’m sure—” She looked back at me, bit her lower lip. “You’ll hate me for this. I know you will, Kay. John and I, while it was fun, Tom had this crazy idea of filming us.”

John looked ahead, eyes transfixed on nothing in particular. He looked a little white, sickly. Nora continued. “I myself wasn
t going to do anything but watch it once in a while. It’s us in living color, Kay ... John and I.

“But now the truth is if I don’t get twenty-five thousand dollars, I might feel compelled to tell the congregation. Maybe the news people, too? I just need enough money to get to Tampa Bay, start over—I’ve met someone.”

The room fell completely silent, the air thick with tension. I stood suddenly. I didn’t say a word. I went to the closet, opened the door. I touched my handbag, the red Carmichael, the one John had gotten me on our wedding anniversary.

Nora’s face brightened. “Oh, thank you, Kay!” Her voice shot up in pitch, into the decimal range only dogs could here. She turned to John. “Don’t feel bad, John, dear, think of it as giving to someone much poorer than you.”

The baseball bat came down hard on the base of Nora’s skull. It felt weightless in my hands. The old Louisville slugger belonged to Billy when he played in high school. I kept the bat tucked in the closet behind my handbags for just such occasions. I swung again, this time the sound more wetness than crack. I swung once more, and the blood splattered the couch like an abstract painting. Nora had slouched over to the left, the back of her head flattened.

“Well?” I said.

“I need to finish my sermon.”

I stared until my gaze burned a hole through the back of his head.

“I mean, I’ll finish the sermon later tonight.”

“Damn right.” I dried my hands. “Now drag that whore around back with the others.”

Since acquiring disturbing and sexually explicit photos of FFO editors past and present, Mark Slade’s stories have been published four times here in The Gutter. His tales have also appeared in places like Switchblade Magazine, Mystery Tribune, and Econoclash Review—and he’s authored the books A Witch for Hire, Mr. Zero, and Blackout City Confidential. Mark also writes and produces the audio dramas Blood Noir and Daniel Dread. He lives in Williamsburg, VA with his wife and daughter, as well as a chihuahua (that studied painting under Bob Ross and uses mind control on humans).

Editor's Note: Mark Slade's female characters are often "redheads." In fact his character Nora in "Babylon" was originally a redhead. To accommodate our artwork for his story, Mr. Slade kindly agreed to make Nora a blonde in this particular appearance of "Babylon."

Courtesy of illustrator Lissane Lake, Flash Fiction Offensive is pleased to share Ms. Lake's artistic rendition of a redhead she created for Mr. Slade. Anyone who's inclined can visit Ms. Lake and see some of her work on Facebook.

Copyrighted Image by Lissane Lake