Valentine's Day

Towering orange shelves blur in my periphery as I pass by the new display of lawn mowers and weed whackers. I am focused on my mission to get in and get out. Straight to self-checkout, I hoist a large, wooden-handled axe up to the scanner.

Valentine’s Day.

As cliché as it is, it used to be our special day. But there was no “us” anymore. Everything is his. Everything that makes me me, has been destroyed by him.

Prickling nerves had me on edge all morning. But it’s time. Too many years spent in fear. Too many years of mentally crippling abuse. Too many empty apologies and “second chances.” Trapped in a prison by the person who was supposed to be my best friend, my love.

This axe is my way out.

In the car, I fill out a card—one with sentiments of love and affection. Sentiments I claimed to be true six years ago. I loved—God, how I loved him.

A papercut to my tongue as I lick the envelope stings less than his betrayal. It started as tiny hints of jealousy. Then baseless accusations. His temperament snowballed into a nightmare I couldn’t seem to escape.

Chris watches from the window. Inside, he is probably wondering where I’ve been. I stayed out longer this morning, practicing. There’s gratification these past few months when I come home late and don’t tell him where I’ve been. I know him well enough by now that I can avoid physical wrath if I play the timing of my absences just right.

A master of this deceitful game—but it’s the only way to have some kind of control over my own life. A life dominated by his emotions.

I step from the vehicle, adjust my shirt over my belt, and exhale.

It’s time.

My pulse a rolling boil, bringing waves of nausea through me. I open the hatchback.

The neighbor mows his lawn and gives a wave as he turns the mower around. Across the street, the teenage girl sits with a friend on the porch. All the neighbors who have heard Chris screaming before. They are kind neighbors, who have checked on me when my eyes were red and puffy, arms bruised from a recent scuff with Chris. But I never had the courage to stand up to him. Never had the courage to turn him in. I thought—I hoped—he’d change, like he always promised. I loved him once, before he became so controlling. But six years of gradually intensifying abuse chipped away at my sanity.

I roll up my coat sleeve and lean into the back of the vehicle. The cold steel of the axe blade against my forearm raised the hair on the back of my neck. With a swift, calculated slice, I cut through flesh. A shriek tries to escape, but I bite my tongue and hold it back.

The neighbors are still blissfully unaware.

Using my coat sleeve, I do a cursory wipe of the blade and place the axe in a long flower box. I picked it up from the boutique while running errands this morning.

Blood seeps from my arm, but I blot it before entering the house.

“Where have you been?” Chris greets me with contempt at the door.

I present the flower box to him with the card taped to the top. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

His face feigns a joyless smile, suppressing the rage I know is scratching to be let out.

Chris opens the pink card, and pretends to read it while he asks again, “Where were you all morning?

“Getting your Valentine’s gift.” I nod to the long white box as he sets it on the table. Vomit wants to creep up my throat, and for a moment I consider bailing on my plan. “It’s our special day. Open it,” I say, denying myself the opportunity to give up.

Chris lifts the lid and pulls the six pound axe from the box. “What’s this for?” He laughs. His smile is charming, or at least it was, before I learned what monster resides beneath. No. This smile is not a genuine one.

He remembers.

“Remember when we were at Home Depot a couple months ago?” The vibrato of my nervous voice reveals my anticipation. “You were looking at that axe.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Chris, gripping the wooden handle, allows the steel head of the axe to swing to the floor with a thud. He twists the axe, tapping the head against his boot.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Why do you think I would want this?”

Before I can speak, he cuts me off, taking a step closer. “Don’t you remember why I said I should buy it?” His eyes narrow. Nostrils flared. Coffee and fried egg hangs on his breath as he leans closer to me.

I remember well.

Chris was certain the gentleman in the same aisle was checking me out. Before Chris could make a scene, I led him away to the aisle with the axes. He made a joke about going to that man’s house to lodge the biggest axe the home store had into his head. This axe.

My plan is on track. The axe is in his hand. He’s furious.

Chris might hurt me, but he’s no murderer. At least not yet. Maybe if I allow things to progress like this for a few more years, it might come to that. But that’s never going to happen.

I roll up my coat sleeves to expose my wound and blood-smeared skin.

“What the hell happened to you?”

“I cut myself.” I take a step backward, toward the front door.

“Why?” His pitch rises. Confusion and madness stir behind his eyes.

“You know how I’ve been coming home late from work a lot lately?”

His shoulder twitches, adjusting the axe in his grip. His lip curls. “Yeah…”

I step back again. “I felt guilty about something, so I cut myself.”

The door, ten feet away, may as well be ten miles away. Getting there seems impossible. Maybe I should give up on this attempt to flee.

No. Stop thinking like this.

His jaw is clenches. “What are you feeling guilty about?”

Something rational inside of me takes over. Something superior to Chris, and superior to my fear. My pulse calms. My breaths steady, and I wait for Chris’s inevitable explosion before I make my move.

His voice raises. “What are you feeling guilty about?!”

The axe lifts level to his waist. He smacks the side of it against a wall. “I fucking knew it! Who is he?”

Another step back. I adjust my shirt above my belt behind my back.

It’s time.

“Who is he?”

Certainly, the neighbors can hear him screaming by now. But perhaps not with the mower going.

“What does it matter?” I ask.

Tears flood his eyes as Chris swings the axe into the drywall.

I run to the front door and open it, but Chris lingers behind. Chest heaving, he looks up, dragging the axe behind him as he approaches.

I need him to come after me. I need him angrier. It won’t take much. “What if I told you it was the guy from the home store?” The lie is sure to bring a bigger reaction. I steady my stance on the porch.

Chris charges toward me. “Who have you been with?”

I scream. Before I realize I’ve started running, I’m at the bottom of the steps. I turn to face him as he lifts his axe in the doorway.

The neighbor has stopped mowing. The girls across the street look from their phones.

I pull my concealed .22 from behind my back and draw it on Chris.

His rage, his control over me, his hatred will never end. Never.

I pull the trigger. Three times. Three hits, center mass. Just like I had been training to shoot twice a week after work for the past few months.

I drop the gun, screaming, and collapse to my knees.

My neighbor, whose name I never learned, runs to my side. “Are you okay? Honey, I saw it. I saw him coming after you with that axe!”

Hands shaking, blood dripping from my self-inflicted wound, I fold over in tears.

The neighbor is on the phone with dispatch. “She’s bleeding. Looks like he got her with the axe before she took the shot. Self-defense. I saw it…”

I stand, knees weak, but heart strong. Chris lies in a pool of blood. It pours from his lifeless body. A body that can no longer inflict fear or pain. Can no longer drain my soul. I will, from now on, be in control of my every day, my life.

The crimson puddle absorbs into the warped porch floorboards. Two large tear drop blood stains come together in the shape of a heart.

Valentine’s Day.

It’s now my special day.

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