Lifeless blue eyes stared back at him from the scarlet rug. It had been an innocent cream colour just an hour ago.
Just an hour.
It was as if a brick wall had been erected between then and now. Everything beyond that wall felt so distant. It was hard to believe any of it had ever been true.
An hour ago, she had been alive.
A candle still burned on the table, where they had shared their last meal together. Her salmon and rice was untouched. His pork and mashed potatoes had been stained by the red wine he tipped when he got up from the table.
“You’re doing what?!”
She remained in her seat: silent, calm – infuriating. He never liked arguing with her. She never argued back, never said a word, never raised her voice. Her endless reserve of patience would just wait out the tide of his anger.
He walked away from the table then, his back to her, his fists opening and closing. “I can’t believe you would just… leave.”
The only sound that came from her was the clink of her wine glass as she set it on the table. And so he had continued to pace, continued to think, continued to fume.
“Is it your boss?” he demanded. “Is that why you don’t want me to go with you? It’s him isn’t it? With his Oxford degree, and his stupid prissy accent like he hasn’t been here for fifteen years! You think I’ll embarrass you!”
“You’re shouting, Byron.”
“Yes, I’m shouting, mother! I’m angry with you!” The words were a wake-up call. It was time for him to go before he did something stupid, before he became his father’s son.
“Well, you’re leaving anyway, and I’m not welcome,” he said. “So let me just do us both a favour… save you from anymore uncomfortable goodbyes and fake well-wishes…”
He grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair, yanked it on, then reached for her wine and downed it one go. He set the empty glass down next to her plate with a thud. It was a wonder it didn’t break.
“Have fun in California with your boss. Maybe he’ll give you a son, you can actually be proud of.”
He grabbed his bag next and started for the door. Behind him, her chair scraped the hardwood floors, followed by the pitter patter of her bare feet as she followed him.
“Byron, it’s not what you think. There’s nothing going on between me and my boss.”
He paused in his tracks. This was the most he had ever gotten out of her in an argument. For a second, it quelled two years’ worth of insecurity that she was more loved than loving. But then he remembered she was running off with her English boss, and was mad all over again.
“Byron, please listen to me.” She put a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” He hadn’t meant to shove her off as hard as he did.
But he supposed, she hadn’t meant to trip either; her head colliding with the edge of the end table in the passageway, on her way down.
He had tried to stem the bleeding, but it wasn’t just blood that came oozing out. There were bits of bones and brain and mush. More than once he had put his blooded fist to his mouth, willing himself not to throw up.
A knock sounded at the door, just a few feet away. Panic pricked him in the chest as he watched the knob turn, trying to remember if he had unlocked the door while he’d been standing there.
“Penny…” came the familiar voice with the British accent. “I just came to check on you… You seemed really upset when you left, earlier.”
“I’m not going back to jail,” Byron told himself as he paced the walkaway, almost tripping over his mother’s outstretched leg. In anger, he spun around and kicked her.
It was her fault. After years of watching his father beat her to a pulp, he had finally snapped. Ten years he had spent in juvie, because she couldn’t stand up for herself.
And then he had come home to a woman he barely recognised. He had grown rough and angry, and she had become refined and successful. Their reconciliation was a disaster from the start.
“Penny!” the knock was louder this time. “I know you’re in there. I saw your car.”
Byron tip-toed across the rug. He wiped his prints from the door, and anything else he felt he might have touched. He slipped on a pair of gloves, rinsed her wine glass, refilled it, and set it down. He hadn’t touched his own food or drink, but he wiped his knife and fork clean, just in case.
By then, her boss was hammering on the door. He then climbed out onto the fire escape, and down into the dark alley below. As he slipped out of the alleyway, a police car pulled up to the apartment building.
“Some call about domestic disturbance…” the police officer said into his cellphone. “One of those flats over the theater. I’ll call you back.”
He knew he should leave; knew he shouldn’t wait around like a good boy, as he had done fourteen years before.
All around him, people came and went. Lights flashed. Cars honked. People cursed.
Within five minutes, a head popped out of the kitchen window, staring down into the crowd. Their eyes made four. “Hey!” the police officer called. “Stop!”
Byron did not respond. He tucked his bloodied hands into his pockets, and blended effortlessly into the crowd. He knew he was safe. His mother had always been too embarrassed to ever admit she had a son.
For the first time, that was a comforting thought. In fact, he hadn’t an ounce of regret for what he had done.
Maybe he truly was his father’s son after all…
Written in response to the black CATastrophy Writing Prompt 01.