The pot boils over
A little fiction, seeded by Stephen King.
The afternoon was bright and airy and Dick hadn’t felt either in a long time. It was a rare afternoon out of the office. A friend’s birthday party for 5 year old Nell was the catalyst for Dick even being able to ask his boss Randall for the time. This ask was bookended by the boss realizing that it might be the time to finally give out those half days on Fridays that he’d been dangling all summer. It was late August and the office held its own air, an air of frustration and distraction. Most of the guys at the small insurance office in the strip mall in town were already looking out the window. It wasn’t a busy time. The phones weren’t ringing. They were putting in their time. Randall accepts defeat when the open office has heard Dick’s request at 11am.
“You know what Dick, let’s all take off at 1pm today. We don’t have much of summer left” Randall submitted as the guys already began to plan their afternoons.
There was a moment where Dick felt the pang of not having anyone to go home to. The house had been a safe haven without her, but the whir of the appliances and silence after Nell went to bed each night was beginning to feel like Dick was in deep space. Safer at least than all the years he lived with Jane in that house, he thought. He could live with some silence.
When 1pm came around. Dick was the first to head out of the office. He’d been the one to ask after all, he’s the one who got this windfall for the group. As he stood, Randall looked over and nodded. He told Dick to enjoy the “long weekend”. An audible huff left the guys who were still at their desks. Although Randall had given them permission, until he stood up himself the guys couldn’t really be sure if this was really an afternoon off. Randall and Jane had a lot in common. Charming and calm at first glance with rage just under the surface. It was a current, and Dick knew it well. It was one he didn’t want to get caught up in. As he left the office, the bell on the door clanged. The sound of freedom.
As Dick puts the key in the ignition of his old maroon cavalier, he thinks about how he never wanted this car. He thought the name was silly and the car too small to grow a family. Jane liked it. She got attached to it in what he now knew was a manic way. As soon as the car salesman had listed some of the model names. When he got to the Cavalier she had exploded with laughter in the way that had always made him uncomfortable. Remembering that feeling coming on, that ping in the pit of his stomach as he had raced to get her out of the dealership that day. He knew that one wrong look at his then pregnant wife at the dealership would erupt in conflict. The wave of rage would rise. He didn’t want that. These days even with little Nell riding along inside Jane would erupt. He had thought it would get better with the pregnancy, or after the baby. When Nell was born it was like all of the good left in Jane’s body left with the afterbirth.
Nell was just a baby in the car seat the first time Jane exploded inside the cavalier. It was like a bomb went off the car. The screaming and clawing. A wreck from the inside of the car. They may as well have been flipping end to end remembering the baby’s screaming.
Dick knew this wasn’t where his head should be right now. He was headed to his mother’s to pick up Nell. This was a fun day. He tried hard not to think of Jane in her episodes. She was getting help now. He was safe. She should be off the radar. His therapist had been reminding him to stay positive about the little girl’s mother. That’s all she was to him anymore. Memories. When Jane was in a good mood she’d rib him about not being so “cavalier” when he was driving. Now that she was gone he finally felt that way.
Pulling up into his parent’s driveway, the house he grew up in . The one where he dreamed all the big dreams. Dreams of baseball and family, moving away and making a name for himself. It hurt every time he pulled in. As if being forced to face all of the things he had never done. All of the things that changed his dreams. All of the things that stood in the way of him playing baseball, it was all Jane. When she got pregnant at the beginning of college he had to choose between his scholarship and his wife? How did that happen? Where did this come from? He always did well with women, he was moving through the beautiful girls at his highschool and he’d been in the greatest shape of his life. He was going to play professional baseball. That had always been the dream. The plan.
Instead here he was sitting in his parent’s drive way in a car he hated, in the worst shape of his life, living half a mile away in a house he could barely afford. He still turned heads at the grocery store, sure, but the person he’d been just a few years ago was gone. All he could measure time by any more was Nell. Almost 5 years. Jane had been gone for almost that long. She had finally exploded in a place he couldn’t contain. She had been on her own, picking up Nell from daycare. She didn’t want to leave the baby with his parents. She’d begun telling him that they were going to steal the baby while they were still in the delivery room. He should have known then but all of the red flags that had waved in the wind for so long seemed invisible to Dick. He’d never known anyone like Jane. It was like she had put some kind of spell on him. His therapist told him he was working on deprogramming. He never thought of Jane that way. The idea of crazy didn’t come with the ability to manipulate. He’d never seen that. Mental illness wasn’t something he hadn’t known much about. He would never forget it now. He couldn’t, it was the way her eyes changed that day at the daycare. He’d gotten the call from Lynn the lady who ran the small home daycare not far from their house. The place where they’d had to leave Nell while they both worked to try to make a way for their family. Dick’s parents had helped with a downpayment on a little house not too far away, they were generous and loving and they wanted their grandchild closeby. Yet Jane insisted on daycare. They could barely provide for themselves and now they had to find the money for daycare because Jane was paranoid. That’s how he’d thought of it then. Paranoid.
When he’d first caught her smelling his dirty laundry near the hamper in their ensuite, he’d shrugged it off. It wasn’t until she cut up his clothes and set them on fire in their tiny backyard one afternoon while the baby slept upstairs that he realized something was wrong with her. He has seen her from the kitchen window. She looked wild and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing as his body moved to the door . She was screaming at him when he came outside. She thought he was having an affair. She said she smelled it on his clothes. With Lynn. From the daycare. He’d met her once. He was faithful, and he was also too exhausted to deal with any other women. That day Jane had kicked the burning pile of his own clothes toward him and his leg had been burned by the fire. The most frightening thing about that day was that she acted as if nothing happened and sat in the rocking chair in Nell’s room for the rest of that afternoon, singing lullabies. He could hear them as he tended to the burn wounds on his legs. He didn’t imagine it would escalate. He thought it was resolved. She’d apologized later. She said she knew he wasn’t having an affair with Lynn. She was sorry about the fire. He couldn’t imagine what was to come a few short months later.
That day almost 5 years ago, when Lynn called him. When he saw the name on his phone he was nervous. He didn’t want to answer. He didn’t want to talk to her on his own. He didn’t want another fight with Jane. He didn’t want more accusations. He let it go to voicemail. When the notification pinged he listened.
Lynn sounded afraid. She said Jane was there and she was being aggressive and that she thought Dick should come to pick up Nell. Lynn sounded apologetic. Lynn said she didn’t want to escalate it so she was calling Dick.He could hear Jane’s muffled voice in the background of the voicemail. She knew how new moms could be. The stress, the post partum. She asked if he could come as soon as he got the message. He was embarrassed that he hadn’t answered. He was a father now. He couldn’t run away. As he drove over to Lynn’s that day, he had no idea how far he would want to run.
Jane had been standing in the driveway of Lynn’s small house. Her small frame heaving from behind, he could tell she was crying. As Dick got out of the car and began to walk up behind her, he said her name. When she turned around her hands clenched at her sides he knew it was Jane but it was like she wasn’t there. Her eyes wild, and almost black from her wide pupils. It didn’t even look like her.
“Jane. What are you doing?” Dick begged
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING????” She screamed back
In that moment he realized the danger of the situation. What was he doing there at Lynn’s? He hadn’t thought of that. It looked bad. Him showing up midafternoon. He knew what Jane was thinking. Dick’s eyes darted to Lynn’s house. He could see Lynn standing in the window. She was watching through her curtains, holding Nell. As he got closer he recognized the end of the handle of one of the knives from their kitchen clenched in her fist. Facing backward the blade it glinted in the sun. How had he missed this? It was like he and Lynn saw it at the same time. Their eyes met through the glass and her eyes widened and she disappeared from the window.
“NO! Jane, No, Lynn just called me, She was concerned she asked me to come to pick up Nell.”
“BULLSHIT — I KNOW WHY YOU ARE HERE” she screamed.
She charged toward him. He didn’t remember much after that, only the sirens and the lights. She’d been taken into custody that day. He had lost consciousness after being stabbed by her in that driveway. Lynn was the one who pieced it together for the police. When she saw the knife, she ran to call the police, and when she returned to the window where she’d been watching she saw Dick laying on the lawn and Jane driving away in the cavalier. He had been stabbed. He’d passed out. He’d been lucky. The surgeon had said it was his lucky day.
When they found Jane that afternoon, she was at home. She had stopped for a coffee and was watching Ellen in the living room of their home. When the police arrived she’d acted as if nothing ever happened. It was as if she couldn’t remember leaving her husband bleeding out on the neighbor’s lawn.
Attempted Murder. Her mental health issues were magnified during the trial. 15 years to be served in a mental institution. It took this experience to try to begin diagnosing Jane. It had been almost 5 years and they were still working on it. It made him feel better about not seeing it himself. The professionals not being able to name it right away. It had taken this long for him to ease back into life. The guys at work, and his old friends had been understanding but what do you say to a guy whose wife tried to kill him? His parents were mortified and had been more than happy to act as if nothing had happened. It felt like Jane had merely gone on a long, long trip. That’s where the therapist came in. Dick had needed someone to talk to. Someone to listen. Although sometimes not much came out of him in his sessions, he felt better being in a room with someone who could understand. Things were moving in a great direction now. Nell was thriving, making friends. The birthday party she was attending today would not only give her some much needed playtime but would give Dick some rare time alone at home. He felt a twinge of excitement at the idea. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a few hours to himself without any responsibilities. A lot of guys would go golfing with friends, or have an end of summer drink on a patio, not Dick. He wanted to relax. He wanted to be alone. Some TV, and an herbal tea to help him get a nap in. Since the incident sleep wasn’t always easy to get. Although he knew Jane was incarcerated, it didn’t help the feelings that would come at night. The sleeplessness. Any small sound would wake him. So the idea of an afternoon nap was exciting.
As started up the driveway of his parent’s house, Nell was already out the door in her birthday party best. Her brown hair was full of barrettes and her hands were full with a gift bag exploding with tissue paper. His Mother stood at the screen door holding back the dogs from running into the front yard.
“She’s excited!” Dick’s mother yelled to him from the door. “Did you get the rest of the afternoon off?” she called from behind the screen.
“Yes, Randall gave it to all of the guys actually, so I think we’re both excited” Dick smiled as he looked down. Nell spun around him
“Let’s GOOOO Daddy!” She started to tug at his pants. The ones that hid the scars from the burns on his legs from his daughter’s eyes. She didn’t know. He didn’t want to have to lie to her.
His mother waved them off laughing and the dogs barked at him. Dick loved dogs but Jane didn’t. He’d been thinking about getting one for Nell and it was this afternoon he realized good things shouldn’t wait. He’d have to get going on that. It would be nice to have some company around the house for those quiet nights. He got Nell strapped in and loaded up in the back seat and they as they backed down his parent’s driveway they both waved
“Bye Grandma!” Nell Yelled out the window.
“What are you doing to do this afternoon while I’m at the party, Daddy?” Nell piped up from the back seat.
“I think I’m going to enjoy some TV and maybe, even take a nap!, but don’t worry I’ll be up to pick you up after your pizza party” Dick said looking up at her in the rearview mirror.
Nell was smiling back at him. It was these times where he couldn’t believe that he and Jane had made this incredible kid. He wouldn’t change a thing. The failed baseball dreams, the house he didn’t like, the scars. They all felt worth it with Nell. She was everything and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
As they pulled into the driveway of Nell’s best friend’s house not too far from their own. It was decorated in pink balloons lining the walk up to the house.
“Ohhh I love the Balloons!” Nell said as she was already trying to get out of her carseat.
“Nell, no. I’ll help you, wait until the car is off” Dick said turning off the car, half laughing.
She was always one step ahead of him. It was always that way. His mother told him little girls were like that. Organized, busy and always one step ahead. She always had a busy mind. At 5 it was fun, though he knew when she was 16 it was going to be a different story. Unbuckling Nell from the carseat was a formality. She knew how to do it. He knew she knew how to do it but it was one of the things they still did together. She smiled as he helped her out of the carseat. He noticed her little party shoes were a little scuffed. He couldn’t help blame himself for not having someone around for her to help him with these things that he missed. The things a mother would see.
Nell grabbed his hand and her gift bag and they walked up to the door of her best friend Eleanor’s house. Nell pulled Dick’s hand as she moved to ring the bell. Suddenly screaming toward the screen door was Eleanor, followed quickly by her mother Doris.
“Yay — you came early!!” Eleanor shrieked, throwing the door open.
Nell was already inside off into the maze of a house calling “BYE DAD!”
Doris had made her way to hold open the door, leaning out onto the porch.
“Thanks for doing this, Dick” She said apologetically.
“No, It’s my pleasure really, I’m happy to do this. Nell told me it was VERY important she be here early to help with the loot bags and what kind of pizza to order”
“You’re a good sport” Doris said
“Look, I feel like it’s my birthday too, I am getting the afternoon off — uninterrupted” he smiled
“Oh good — any special plans?” Doris said
“Yes, actually. My special plans will hopefully include a nap” he trailed off
As the girls screamed from somewhere in the background Doris looked over her shoulder. She was half shaking her head “Don’t open gifts yet!” she shouted down the hallway.
Then even more screaming and bellows of little girl laughter.
“I better make sure they aren’t killing each other” She stopped short. She looked like she wanted to scoop the words back up out of the air. “I’m so sorry, Dick, I…”
“It’s okay Doris, It happens.” Changing the subject “I’ll be back around 6:30? Is that still okay?”
“That’s fine. If it’s a bit later that’s fine. You know she’s always fine here. As long as you need for that nap, Dick.” She said, almost sheepish.
“Thanks Doris. I’ll see you in a few hours, Good luck with eighteen 5 year olds. I still don’t think you have to invite the whole class, you’re a saint”
She waved him off as the screen door closed. As he got in the car and he looked up she was still standing there waving as he backed out of the driveway. He knew it was because of what she’d said. He could feel her sadness. He could feel her regret. It hit him with her wave. He hated that part of this.
As he rounded back down the road to their street in the cavalier he wondered if Nell had any memory of that day at the daycare with Jane. Sure, she had been just a baby, but babies felt things. They had memory. He knew that from the way she would smile at him when he brought out her favourite things. The way she reacted the day that Jane exploded in the car. The screams. He tried not to think much about the impacts on Nell. He focused instead on making it safe for her. He hadn’t told her the truth about Jane. Everyone thought it would be best to wait until she was older, if at all. He couldn’t imagine how to have that conversation.
As he pulled into the driveway of the house he felt the exhaustion from earlier this morning kick in. He hadn’t slept well. Tossed and turned. He had some complicated dreams, woke up and tried to watch some tv. He’d ended up back to bed where he found himself laying awake until it was time for work. Now that he was back home he was feeling the fatigue. As he turned the door handle and opened the front door he realized it wasn’t locked. This was what being tired does he thought. It makes you forget things. He shook his head at himself. The air of the house wafted into his face as he entered, and he felt something in the pit of his stomach. When he got tired he felt more on edge. That must be what it was. He was more tired than he thought.
He tossed his keys on the counter and filled up a pot of water. Herbal tea always helped him relax. Doris had recommended it. He set the pot down on the front burner of the stove. He still didn’t have a kettle. It was between shoes for Nell and a Kettle and he chose the shoes. He would always choose Nell. He left the water to boil and went into the family room to turn on the tv. The perfect storm for an afternoon nap, some boring television and an herbal tea. He’d set the alarm on his phone to be sure he didn’t sleep too much, he knew Doris meant what she said about picking up Nell but he didn’t want to ask too much. There might be a time when he’d need the favor.
Dick got to the couch in the living room and set his alarm for 6. That would give him enough time to pull himself together after the nap and get back to pick up Nell by 6:30, or 6:45 at the latest. Turning it on, it was the local 24 hour news channel. The same channel he left it the night before when he got up because he couldn’t sleep. As the anchors droned, he got up to check on the water. Still not boiling, a few more minutes. There was one of those breaking news sounds on tv that caught his attention. He craned his neck and then went back to the living room. He was down on the couch in front of the tv as the anchor started in:
“This morning three female inmates from Meadow Valley Mental Health Facility escaped from transport and assaulted an officer. We are reporting that two inmates have already been apprehended by Meadow Valley police and one other remains at large. Police are asking anyone who may encounter anyone unusual to call police and that this inmate may be dangerous. So far no identities have been released but we are working on this story”
He didn’t need a name. He felt it in his bones. Dick felt the blood leave his face. He knew it was Jane. He didn’t need to wait for the media to find out. He knew. He felt frozen. It was like he couldn’t move. He realized that feeling when he walked in the door of the house, the pit of his stomach. It was the smell of her hairspray. Of course it would be like Jane to have found hairspray in a mental institution. He wants to run but he can’t move as he hears her footfalls down the stairs. She’s here.
She’s been laying upstairs after an exhausting morning. When the transport came for them she already knew what she was going to do. She’d been holding this plan together for three and a half years and she wasn’t letting it go. Every month they went to medical and every month she watched as the dumpy pasty faced female officer waddled around the van and left herself open. This morning Jane couldn’t wait any longer. Spending almost 5 years without her baby was enough to make any woman mad. She knew it would be today from the moment she woke up. Officer Dumpy didn’t know. She never saw it coming. The other two didn’t stand a chance. Jane knew they would stick together and she would be the one to run. Hell, she was the only one of the three who could run. That’s the thing about institutions. They don’t tell you that they build it into the program to get you fat. They want you dumpy and dozy. Lazy and compliant. See Jane. See Jane only eat half of what she is given. See Jane run. She’d taken extra time to get ready this morning, she knew she would need a ride. She wouldn’t make it to Dick’s house to get Nell if someone wouldn’t help her. She even used the last of her hard sought hairspray. She wouldn’t need it any more.
It wasn’t that hard to find a ride to the house. She’d made quick work of turning her institutional outfit into what looked like an upcycled jumpsuit. She was always the kind of woman who caught eyes. That’s how she got Dick. She knew she could find a ride. As soon as she was out of that van, after she got a few kicks in on Officer Dumpy, Jane ran to the gas station. She was going to find her ride. She’d plotted this out for years and she was right. As an older man filled his tank, she slid up beside him.
“Excuse me,” She had clearly startled him “I locked myself out of my car over there” she gestured to the nearby strip mall, “and I could really use a ride home to pick up the spare key, My husband is dropping off the kids and I must have missed him, I’m just 5 minutes west. Would you be so kind?”That’s the closer she thought. Tilt the head and grin. She grinned at him.
He finished filling the tank and looked at her. She looks harmless. Busy Mom. Can’t hurt he thought.
“Sure, Let me go in and pay and I’ll be right back” he said and turned to head into the gas station.
She watched him walk inside.
She was getting nervous. She was starting to sweat. She could hear the sirens now. She needed to get out of sight. She should have asked him to open the door. On a whim she tried the handle, it opened and she slid inside.
It was a cavalier. A smile spread across her face as she buckled her seat belt.
When he came back to the car from the gas station the man seemed startled that she was already in the car. He leaned in and looked at her.
“We have the same car! So I just got right in. I’m sorry, I hope you don’t mind.” she smiled as he got in the car. She could tell he was disarmed.
“Really? Well, that’s lucky. It’s your lucky day” He said as he turned on the ignition.
You have no idea she thought to herself.
“So, young lady where are we headed“ as he thumbed his GPS.
“I’ll show you the way” She said, as she guided his hand away. She didn’t know much about technology but she knew they’d be looking for her. She didn’t know if they could track her like this, but she wasn’t going to take that chance. She’d worked too hard to get to this moment. She was so close now. So close to finishing what she had started she could taste it.
When they pulled up in front of the house, Dick’s car wasn’t in the driveway.
“Here we are” She said gesturing at the driveway. “I knew it he is still not home. Thank goodness you were there to help me. You’re a lifesaver. I’d still have been stuck at that mall if it weren’t for you. At least I know how I’m getting back there, in another cavalier! How funny.“ She said under her breath. She was charming and already out of the car. Jane was waving at him from the front steps of the house signaling for him it was time to go. As he drove away the man from the gas station watched her open the front door.
When she walked in the house it didn’t look much different than it did 5 years ago. It was almost as if she’d just left that morning but the photos on the fridge told a different story. There she was, Nell. Smiling back at her, no longer a baby but a little girl. Tears started to well up in Jane’s eyes but it wasn’t the pain it was the rage. All the days Jane had been plotting and sitting, Nell was growing and changing. She went upstairs and laid in her little girl’s bedroom. Waiting.
She must have fallen asleep. She could hear the TV downstairs. They were home. She started to make her way down the hallway toward the stairs. Walking as silently as she could. Bare feet. She’d learned this at the institution. You could go anywhere with bare feet if you could do it right. They couldn’t hear you coming down the hall when you walked with bare feet at the institution. She’d learned that much, as she moved toward the stairs she could hear on the TV that they were talking about her.
“Police are asking anyone who may encounter anyone unusual to call police and that this inmate may be dangerous. So far no identities have been released but we are working on this story”
She couldn’t help it. She started down the stairs faster than she wanted to. Her feet hit the wood. Her silence was broken. She didn’t care. She was too afraid that Nell would hear them talking about her. Too afraid that Dick would run. As she hit the last step she got a visual on the family room, it was the back of his head she saw first. She wished it would explode — not in front of Nell — she caught herself. He had heard her, his head began to turn, and as he did she saw the pot of boiling water bubbling on the stove.
“Nell isn’t here. ” Dick said.
As he turned around Jane grabbed the pot of boiling water from the stove and tossed it at his face.
Lucky Day. She thought.