by M.C. Neuda
The way I see it, all of us have a built-in expiration date, a combination of synapse and sinew. We’re taught to think the brain is all-powerful, that what happens, happens because of our minds. Think it through, that’s the watchword.
The fact is, our minds don’t decide anything. Our synapses and sinews decide for us.
Johnny worries about his high cholesterol. The best minds have come up with a drug for that. Johnny takes it faithfully. “Not going to have no fucking heart attack,” he says. He’s not uneducated. He just likes talking that way.
Johnny came home drunk last night. He’s been doing that a lot lately, ever since he lost out on a construction contract. The beatings have gotten worse.
“He’ll kill you one of these days, you know that, don’t you?” said my sister.
I know that. My brain says go. My synapses and sinews stay put.
“The trouble with you is,” my sister says (my sister always knows what my trouble is), “you think you need someone to protect you.”
I do need someone to protect me. I’m scared all the time. My sis won’t admit she is too. She has someone to protect her; he just doesn’t beat her.
“All you need,” she adds, “is a good sledgehammer.”
Johnny doesn’t need a sledgehammer. His arms and fists do just fine. He came near to killing a man one night when he was drunk as a skunk over a dinged fender. It was Johnny’s fault, too. I finally pulled him off the guy and got a fist in the face for it. Knocked out a couple of front teeth. As I sat on the ground holding my mouth, he said: “What are you crying for? I’ll get you new ones.”
See, Johnny isn’t all bad, and he thinks he can always make it right. He bought me new teeth, both of them, and that can set you back an ugly penny.
Besides, Johnny does protect me. That’s how I met him. He was friends with my first love, Glenn. One day, he saw Glenn hauling off on me, pulled him aside, tried to talk sense into him, and ended up with punching him into my past.
Too bad he took up a while later where Glenn left off. The difference was, Glenn didn’t need to get drunk to be nasty. There’s that to be said about Johnny. Also, Johnny knows how strong he is, so he makes sure not to do too much damage to me at any one time. He’s careful that way.
Last night, though, when Johnny came in drunk, it was too close to the last time and I hid. I’d found a crawl space in the attic, and in any case, I didn’t think he’d make it up the rickety ladder. When he couldn’t find me, he went into a rage and killed my cat. That lovely creature that never hurt him a day in his life. I loved that cat, more than Johnny and Glenn combined.
Something happened to me. I don’t quite know what. My synapses went wild and my sinews spasmed.
Now, tonight, I’m waiting up. Johnny comes in the door, roaring drunk. “This is your night, bitch,” he yells. I know he’s itching to get hold of me, since I cheated him of it the night before.
I come into the room carrying a pail. I’m so surprised how calm I am. I wind up and sling the contents over him.
He staggers back. I flick a lighter, toss it at his feet.
“Welcome to the end of your life, Johnny,” I say as he lights up like a Christmas tree.
Funny how Johnny always worried that his expiration date had something to do with cholesterol. He didn’t understand. Johnny couldn’t not be a bully. That’s who he was. Born or made that way doesn’t matter. Nor could I help that I was born or made in a way where I stood up less for myself than for a cat. Synapses and sinews.
I know what my sister will say. “You’re free now.” But of course I’m not. All I did was exchange one prison for another.
Makes me wonder about my own expiration date.
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M.C. Neuda honed her skills writing such corporate page-turners as training programs, sales copy, and business articles. She focuses now on exploring other subtleties of the human condition in short stories, and the more compressed the form, the more she delights in it. She has previously been published in The Bellingham Review and The Piedmont Literary Review, and Shotgun Honey has just published one of her flash fiction pieces.