He shifts his head slowly to better hear the train, a low whistle on a black-out track. He breathes deeply and lets the sound of the train fill him. It trips his other senses, and soon he is following smaller sounds. He hears the scuttling of feet on the roof. He hears the gentle breath from her soft lips. She is sleeping, her breath smells like mussmelon.
He shifts in the bed slowly, for her slumber is a monument. Her slumber is peace and serenity and beauty. He will not take it from her. He is on his back, now, mind wide awake. He traces a finger down the soft skin between her armpit and her hip. She makes quiet sounds in her sleep, nudges her face forward like a cat. Crickets own the night.
His pants are in a ball at the bottom of the bed, and he retrieves them with a monkey-grip foot. Slowly. She does not move.
Flipping the top of the pack, he pulls a smoke out with his lips, lights it on the candle that sits by the window, its flame dancing upon a stuttering wick. He pulls deeply, drawing the smoke down into his lungs, releasing it in a thin, fast stream from his red nose.
He does not want to sleep. He reaches into his pants again, retrieving a small plastic bag with lightning bolts on it. The bag is the size of a matchbook. He opens the bag and dumps the contents onto the glass of a picture frame. Her kids. Irony. Brilliant. Fuck 'em.
The little shards of glass wink up at him and he rolls his Bic over them, crushing the crystals to a fine white powder. He kills the line in four goes, his body spasms. He lights another cigarette and lets his mind run.
Stacey. Girl at the mall. Could have been any girl. Up and talking. Being funny. She's a pretty girl and she's tired. Got kids at home. Tired? Hell, that's easy to fix. Her face, horrified. Then, his voice. He tells her about fighter pilots and athletes and JFK and hypocrisy. She's too tired to argue.
Outside the mall, Stacey changes. It's OK. Deal. God, those fucking kids. Whatever. She's hot and she has money and it all don't matter when you got money. You can turn it off.
It is late and very dark. The orange tip of the cigarette dances to a lurid beat, something that needs jungle drums. He pulls the flame to the filter and flicks it out the open window, drops of a light rain tickling. He is out of the bed now. She sleeps on. He goes first to the boy's room. He stands above him and watches him sleep for several minutes. Next, the girl. She is asleep, too, but her eyelashes quiver.
He walks to the kitchen and pours himself some warm vodka from the plastic bottle under the sink. He drinks it in one shot, sucking spit. It barely dents the crystal, but it changes it, shades it a little darker. He looks at the green numbers on the microwave: 3:23. It is his time. He can do anything he wants to do. The world is alseep, his brain, afire.
He pulls the large butcher's knife from the knife block. It isn't a good knife, but it will do the trick. He pours more vodka.
The skinning is easy. The flesh ripe and soft, he feels the warm liquids on his hands. He kneads and pulls and tears at them. The knife removes distinguishing features. Skinless, they lay on the table. He works hard, and he is done when the sun peaks over the ridge. He climbs the stairs slowly.
She wakes when he sets the pie down, canting one eye, shaking her head.
"You made pie?"
"Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie ..."
"You don't know anything, do you?"
"I don't, Stacey. I don't know anything. I fucked up. I'm sorry. I promise -"
"You promise what? What exactly do you promise? You'll stop? You'll change? Please. This is so fucking -"
She smiles and he knows the children are behind him. He twists his face, feet rooted. His eyes bore into her until she sighs, nods. He walks over and kisses her on the cheek. Whispers. I swear to God, I'll get it right. I'll fix it. He can feel the giving in. It shames him, but he releases the breath he has been holding. He fixes a bright smile to his face and turns. Their faces are small, worried.
"Kids, I'm sorry. I just want you to know it won't happen again. I don't want to be an embarrassment. I don't expect forgiveness, but give me one more chance ..."
The small faces are set hard, but the nose-twitches are involuntary. He smiles.
"Yeah, I figured today was a 'fresh apple pie for breakfast' kind of day. Wonderful things, apples. Despite what the good book says. Hell, I don't even know what it says. All I know is there is one goddamn important apple in there somewhere."
The kids smile and Stacey chuckles. He's winning again, he can feel it. He's got them. This time he has to follow through. Or there won't be enough apples in the world. He smiles because, in this moment, pie steaming and fogging the windows, he actually believes. He is shielded from the alleys and compromises and sadness that await him.
Stacey stretches and he jumps on her. The kids follow. They tussle until hunger takes over. They look at the pie and the large knife beside it.
"No plates? Forks?"
"Didn't want to wake y'all up running water. Everything is dirty. Here, I'll show you how they do it in France."
He reaches a hand in, scoops the warm pie into his mouth, trying not to laugh, juice down his chin. Stacey starts to speak, but both kids are already elbow deep and she just smiles. They eat the whole pie before Stacey sends the kids off to get ready for school.
"I only got one more time in me, you know that, right?"
"I know, baby. I told you. I got my mind right. Easy as pie."
He even winks.
She is laughing as he slips the knife down beside the bed, snug against the wall. He tells himself that it is all silliness, a joke. The whole thing. Pie for breakfast? Who does that? He listens to the shower run and licks his sticky fingers.