Eric: D minus 547h : 23m : 04s and counting

r | graphic violence | dysfunctional family | abuse & alcoholism



"Wait, you said it was $4.29. You only gave me sixty-one cents back."

"Oh, heh. I'm sorry."

Eric hit the No Sale button, dreading having another one of those show up on his register report, and stared at the change drawer, trying to figure out what he still owed them. The amount was no longer displayed on the screen. Sixty-one plus twenty-nine was ... was ... why couldn't they have one of those registers that dispensed the change for them? He understood Regina liked the store to have an old-fashioned feel, but -

"You owe me another ten cents, moron."

He didn't let himself frown as he fished a dime out of the drawer and handed it to the customer. He checked the clock again, eager for his shift to be over, so he could go talk to Regina. He didn't know what he'd do if she said he couldn't take time off. He was still kind of vague on details but proposing to Mira on Mars - even if it was a fake Mars simulation - had to be the most romantic thing he could think of. Surely she wouldn't say no if he proposed there.

He wondered if they'd have to wear spacesuits the entire time. He didn't know how he'd be able to put the ring on her finger with a spacesuit in the way.

"Um, excuse me? I said I want a double scoop mint chocolate chip in a classic cone."

The corners of his mouth twitched, but his smile stayed in place.

-

Regina reminded him of his mom. Not physically, obviously. Regina was tall with dark hair and skin and eyes and his mom had been small and fair but Regina was just as kind and gentle as his mom had been.

So he couldn't see her saying no when he asked for time off to do the Mars simulation.

Still, he cleared his throat a dozen times and tried to get the wrinkles out of his shirt before he knocked on the door of her office.

"Come in, Eric."

He didn't have to ask how she knew it was him. The shop only had four employees and he was the only one who ever knocked. He shuffled in and rehearsed his argument in his head. He never took vacation time or sick leave. He always covered for Daryl and Steve when they called out an hour before their shift. He already had Joe ready to work his hours. He had all his savings moved into his checking account and if Regina said yes, he was going to go straight to the pawn shop and pick up the ring he had his eye on.

"Oh, Eric." She smiled at him. A real smile. She was always happy, really happy, no matter what was going on. "Mira stopped by this morning. I think it's a wonderful idea and you'll both have so much fun. It's no problem to give you the time off."

His wish was granted but he was disappointed to hear that it was because Mira had asked for it. He could be a man. He could have handled this. Why did Mira butt in?

"Great!" he said, putting on his best fake grin. "Thank you."

He couldn't be angry with his angel as he got in his car. Did she not have faith in him? Did she think he wouldn't have been able to pull it off? She hadn't said anything last night before she left, when he told her about his plan to talk to Regina. She had smiled at him and kissed him on the cheek.

"I could have done it just fine!" he shouted at his steering wheel as he got to a red light. "I'm not stupid!"

He heard laughing from off to his right. A group of girls in a convertible were pointing at him, giggling. He didn't wait for the light to change. He slammed on the accelerator, barreling through the intersection, narrowly avoiding a small black car that had to veer off onto the shoulder.

"Should've watched where you were going!" he yelled.

By the time he reached the pawn shop, he had calmed down. Mira was probably just anxious that Regina wouldn't let him go, so she went there to plead his case She was just scared, upset about the idea of him not being able to accompany her. That was all. She knew he was a man who could handle things on his own. And there would be lots of opportunities to prove that during the Mars simulation. When he kneeled down in the ... what was the ground on Mars made up of, anyway? Rocks? Whatever it was, he was going to propose right there, maybe even in front of everyone, and she'd be so overwhelmed and happy and she would have to say yes. They would be happy forever.

Using his phone, he checked his bank balance one last time. He definitely had enough money and the ring was still there. He had called during his lunch break.

He didn't really like the store. It was dark and kinda dirty and the boss smelled like his dad used to but Steve told him they had really great jewelry for really cheap prices. He couldn't afford one of those Tiffany rings or anything from a nice store, even though Mira deserved the best.

His heart sunk when he saw the ring he wanted - a diamond in the shape of a heart - with a new price tag.

"Hey! This was only $350 the last time I was here!"

The owner - a skinny man with scary tattoos - shrugged. "Demand. Had a guy call for it this morning."

"That was me! I just wanted to make sure it was still here."

"And it still is. Now it'll cost you six."

"But I can't afford six hundred dollars!"

"Then you don't get it."

Eric stared down at the ring - the most perfect ring he'd ever seen, the only thing fit to grace his angel's finger. Six hundred dollars would mean he couldn't pay the electric bill on time. He had already been late three months in a row. He really couldn't afford the upkeep on his father's house, but it was hard trying to find someone to buy it, so even though he didn't want to live in his old home, he had moved in after his father died. It was cheaper than paying the bills and his apartment rent. He had to put his father's cremation on his credit card so if he used it to buy the ring, he'd be almost maxed out.

But what did it matter? The Mars thing was going to get him and Mira a million dollars altogether! He could pay off his debt and maybe if Mira moved in with him, the house could be happy again.

"I have to put it on my credit card."

The owner pointed to a card reader on the front of the register. "Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Amex, we even take Diner's."

Eric hesitated for a moment. The ring was worthy of an angel. Mira deserved it. He swiped his card and scribbled his signature with a shaky hand.

When it was all over, the ring was his.

-

He couldn't resist showing Joe. Daryl and Steve made fun of him and called him stupid but Joe was always nice to him, just like Regina. Sometimes they'd even go out for beers after work, and Joe didn't even tease him for drinking the non-alcoholic kind. Eric never told anyone about his father's drinking or anything but it was a small town.

The small obituary said he died of a 'long illness'; everybody knew his death was really suicide by shotgun. Everybody knew he spent his disability check every month on beer. Everyone probably knew everything that went on in that house. The only reason they hadn't ended up completely homeless was because his dad still had enough sense after his wife died to use her life insurance money to buy a house. Back when he still cared. After that, half the time his electric or water was shut off, but he didn't care anymore. He didn't care when Eric and Chris went to school in too-small clothing or that the only reason they had dinner sometimes was because Eric would pick thrown away food out of the school trash can.

He stopped caring about anything, except where his next beer would come from.

Joe was on his third beer when Eric took the ring out of his pocket. "You don't think this is a little sudden, Eric? We've never even been on a date."

"Oh, heh. This is the ring I got for Mira. It's perfect, right?"

"It's huge, man. How did you afford this?" Joe took the ring and examined it in the dim light of the bar.

"I'm switching you over to pop, Joe." Aimee, their waitress, picked up the empty bottles and put a glass of Coke in front of him.

"This ain't Omaha, honey. How many times do I have to tell you? We call it 'soda' here."

Eric didn't really understand why Joe and Aimee argued about this every time they came here. Valley was only half an hour from Omaha and almost everybody Eric knew called it 'pop'. Maybe they were flirting but Aimee was married. His Mira would never do anything like that to him when they were married. Even if Aimee never did anything else with Joe, it wasn't right.

"Golly, that is a big fake diamond."

He frowned at her words and grabbed her wrist. "What? No! It's real. I got that for my angel!"

"Whoa, Eric, chill." Joe took his hand and pulled it off Aimee's arm. "Hey, what are you talking about, girl?"

"Daddy used to run a jewelry store." She grinned at Joe and leaned in a little closer. "First guy who proposed to me did it with a CZ. He clearly didn't know who he was messing w-"

"This is a real diamond," Eric insisted. "You don't know what you're talking about."

The smile faded from her face. She took the ring from Joe. "Honey, I'm sorry, but I could tell just by looking at it. It's the way the light hits it, goes through it. CZs don't look as pretty. And look here; when I breathe on it like this, it fogs up and stays that way for a bit. Diamonds don't do that. Up close I can see chipping on this edge, and I'm sure if I tried to scratch this beer bottle glass with it ... see? Nothing. Maybe you need to go get a refund."

Eric snatched the ring back and stormed from the bar, ignoring Joe's protests that he needed a designated driver.

-

Eric woke up with a headache. He turned off the alarm and was surprised to see he was still wearing the same clothes from yesterday. There was a new ring on the nightstand, too. The diamond was smaller but ... he was able to scratch a heart on his window. It was real.

The owner must have ... wait, did he go to the pawn shop? He must have. He remembered Aimee telling him the one he bought wasn't real. He left the bar to get his money back. But why couldn't he remember? He used to black out all the time, but the last time was when his father died. It hadn't happened since then.

He showered, finding a piece of glass in his hair and a strange bruise on his shoulder. He changed into a clean uniform, but when he went to shove his wallet into his back pocket, it was thicker than usual. There must have been ... six hundred dollars in there. Why would the guy give him his money back and give him a new ring? Maybe he felt sorry for ripping Eric off.

"Eric, what the fuck are you doing?"

He squeezed his eyes shut and put his hands over his ears to quiet his father's voice. It wasn't real. His father was gone. His ashes weren't even in the house anymore.

He fixed a bowl of cereal for breakfast. When he was putting the milk back in the fridge, his eyes settled on the beer bottles in the back. Real beer. He bought it for Thanksgiving because Mira was supposed to come over but she had some emergency come up. He left it back there in case Joe ever came over, even though Joe never came over.

There wouldn't be any harm in having one beer with breakfast. He just needed to relax. He hadn't had one in almost six months. One wouldn't be bad.

He set the bowl on his coffee table and turned on the television. When he cut his finger while opening the beer, he cursed.

"Fucking pussy!" His dad threw a bottle at him. "You don't have the balls, boy!"

Eric ducked behind the sofa; when he lifted his head back up, it was the skinny tattooed man from the pawn shop, sitting upright in the chair, even though his chest was a bloody mess.

"All sales are final," he said, spitting blood as he spoke. "Go fuck yourself."

With a shaking hand, he shoved a spoonful of chocolate puffs in his mouth. He must have had nightmares last night. That's what it was. He used to have them all the time. A sip of beer turned into him downing half the bottle in one go. He changed the channel to the morning news. There was another one of those Heart Ripper victims, only this time right next door in Omaha. The reporter said before this, there were murders in New York, D.C., California, and Kansas. Now here. Maybe he should get that broken deadbolt fixed on his front door.

"And residents of Waterloo are waking up to a murder in their backyard as well. George Parker, the owner of a local pawn shop, was found shot to death late last night."

Eric dropped his spoon as a picture of the man who had sold him the fake ring was shown on screen.

"Parker, who was apparently shot with a gun from his own store, was discovered shortly after midnight by his wife. She had come looking for him when he didn't come home and wasn't answering his phone."

They showed an interview with the wife as Eric picked up the spoon and wiped it off with a napkin. Something must have happened after he had left. The guy probably ripped off lots of people.

"Pretty fucking stupid to keep the ammunition and the gun in the same place in this shithole store!"

He fired the gun at the surveillance camera. It fell off the wall. It wasn't even real. Cheap plastic shit held up by a suction cup.

Parker opened the register; as he handed bills over, he morphed into Eric's father, blood dripping from a gunshot wound under his chin.

"You don't even know how to fire that thing."

He got out his wallet and looked at the money in it again. There was a bloody thumbprint on one of the twenties.

"Police have no leads at the time and are asking anyone who has any information to come forward."

His father - his father had been told his liver was failing and he wasn't a good candidate for a transplant. He'd never be able to get on a waiting list. His doctor told him that Eric could be tested to be a living donor, to give his father half of his liver, but that was the only way. He killed himself with a shotgun. Maybe Eric saw something that reminded him of that.

Parker was on the floor, coughing, reaching for his cell phone. Eric stomped on it and fired again, this time at his father's face, but nothing happened.

"You're my fucking son. I pissed away my entire fucking life taking care of you! You drag your ass down to the doctor tomorrow morning, you little shit!"

The glass case in the shop shattered.

A lamp fell off the side table, breaking in front of the sofa.

Eric wiped off the gun with a towel.

With his sweater.

"Shut your goddamned mouth!"

"Your goddamned mouth!"

"Goddamned mouth!"

He ran to the sink. The cereal still tasted like chocolate on the way back up. He fell to his knees, trembling, his arms wrapped around himself. His own words kept rattling around in his head.

Then nothing.

-

He woke up to the sound of his phone. His face felt cold and clammy and he had clearly thrown up. He told Regina he was sorry, but he wasn't feeling well. He couldn't come in.

His cereal was spilled all over the floor. There was money, too. He had left the bar intending to go back to the pawn shop. He must have gotten his money back ... along with the ring, he guessed. Maybe the guy felt guilty.

He swept up the cereal, mopped up the milk. Stuffed the money back in his wallet. The morning news was on but when the theme song played as it was about to go to commercial, it made his queasy feeling worse. He needed to rest. Before he knew it, it would be time to go to Dcom with his angel and he had to make sure he was completely healthy.

He kicked off his shoes and took off his belt, but didn't bother with anything else. As he curled up in a ball on his bed, he held the ring tightly in his hand.

Everything was going to be wonderful.

(fin.)