I finally make it home. I’m finangling with my keys to open the door while I hear shouting back and forth. One from a tinny, haughty voice and another from a sobbing, blubbering mess. Karen is probably harassing Josemarie again. “Karen is caring,” went the slogan for the only fridge most of us could afford. I’m sure the person who thought of that slogan felt they were so clever. The only question is whether the person who came up with it was the son of a billionaire or a dude whose tongue was coated in shoe shine.
“...and I haven’t seen that hussie of yours in a while, babe. I bet it had something to do with that tub of ice cream you finished the other night,” Karen spat.
“SHUT UP!! You stop that shit right now!” Josemarie spits back. “My girlfriend LOVES ME. You’re just mad she refuses to leave any of her food with you because she can see you for the petty bitch that you are.”
“She’s hiding something, is what she’s doing. Or maybe she’s afraid you won’t be able to control yourself from eating all of her...”
I put down my grocery bags on the counter and walk past them. I make my way to the bedroom I share with Iris (I love not being able to afford even my own bedroom, by the way) and open the closet. My hand hovers past the hand axe and the splintered bat with nails, finally landing on the aluminum bat. On my way back to the kitchen, I first pick up a washcloth from the bathroom. I gently offer the washcloth to Josemarie, who is kneeling on the couch hunched over, knuckles pale from gripping the head of the couch tightly. She stops mid-sentence, looks at me, looks at the bat, looks at me again, looses her grip on the couch, takes my washcloth, then collapses on the couch to sob some more.
“Oh, are we gonna go again? BRING IT, ya fuckin’ screen saver! You won’t stop me. You’re so full of shit I’ll never be able to get you enough fiber to get it all out, you spineless fuck.”
I hold up the bat and aim. I look at all the dents, the rusted scars, the scuffed paint and find a good spot. I give Karen a good whack. Again. Again. Again and again and again and again. I wail on her until my mind is white static. I shouldn’t have to put up with this. Because I’m poor. Because I can’t get my life together. Because every time I try I trip and fall and skid, getting covered in dirt and mud and trash and piss. Something clicks. The world comes back into focus, slowly, like an amateur adjusting the focal lens on an old camera. I let the extreme amount of tension I’ve built up in my muscles relax. I lower the bat. Karen is still talking but I don’t hear her. Josemarie is quiet.
“Now I remember. ‘Filth.’ ‘Filthy.’ ‘A filthy mouth.’ It’s time to change Karen’s water filter,” I say, finally. A small ‘oh yeah’ followed by a sniffle can be heard from the couch. Karen is still talking.
“You need me,” is the first thing she says that finally reaches me.
“Go, run, see if I care,” I retort.
“Ambiguous statement. Processing...” Karen says in a monotone voice.
“That should keep her busy for a bit,” I say. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
Off to the hardware store, I guess.