Sylvia locked the bathroom door, but didn’t know why she bothered. She plopped down on the closed commode lid and listened to the rush of two voices outside, “I didn’t know she’d come home,” her husband apologized.

“Well, you better next time,” the feminine voice returned. She couldn’t cry; it was no real surprise. She had suspected his affairs for months. Hang-ups when she answered the telephone, a few too many “private business calls” to him when he wasn’t working. He was often out all night, “working” when his pay stubs noted vacation time. He’d sneak a day or two off without her knowledge, although she always found out in one way or the other.

She couldn’t pretend to be crushed. Her heartache existed, only it felt different from what she expected. He had only proved what intuition had known all along. It was a difficult situation to come home early and find your husband with someone else. All she wanted was to have some quality time and see if they could be like they used to be. When they were first married, they were crazy in love and addicted to one another. Then, she had the pleasure of meeting his mistress. Thank God, we don’t have kids.

Gerald tried to blame her for it as he scrambled in the other room, the same schlock he’d said before. Her job required forty to sixty hours a week, not twenty or thirty like his, when he had them. She paid rent and put food on the table, while he paid for utilities, when he could. She paid the majority of their bills, while he received the majority of pleasure, and not from her.

She hadn’t even changed her clothes, hadn’t let go of her purse. She hadn’t slipped her shoes off, nor would she. He stood on the other side of the bathroom door, his anger finally turned to tears. “Honey, please, we can work this out. I’m so sorry, I’m a bastard, and I’ll admit it first. I was so wrong. So terribly wrong….” His voice trailed off into nothingness.

Her mind still whirled from the surprise. Life’s a bitch, ain’t it, honey? A whispered from the back of her mind. Yes, it was. She answered herself. He continued to apologize, but she didn’t care, couldn’t care. It was all too much and she was so tired. He hadn’t changed before. He would never change.

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and sighed. She clutched her purse tighter. She didn’t really know what she would do. He was probably standing outside the door, in his underwear, begging and pleading, as usual. It was probably a pair from the pack of boxers she bought the week before.

He said things that she couldn’t hear. He was distant and ghostly, his voice faintly echoed through her mind. Once a bastard, always a bastard, am I right? The voice came. Yes, you are. She thought in response. None of his statements registered; he apologized like a robot; he even cried with flat dramatics.

She stood and slipped out the door past him. His pleas became angrier as she packed the suitcase. His temper grew. He raised his voice to curse himself and then her as she piled clothing in the case.

She couldn’t believe she actually caught him, in the act. It repeated over and over, like a twisted loop in a film she’d rather forget. It was bad enough to be cheating, but for your significant other to bring the third-wheel home and have them in your bed… it was a little too bizarre. He’s crazy. The voice soothed. He’s insane. Look at him. Doesn’t even have the decency to dress himself or wash the hootch off him. You’re better off with a dog… or a cat.

Yes I am, she silently answered the voice. He continued to speak, but she wasn’t listening. I think I’ll get a cat.

She placed the remainder of her clothes in the case and closed the lid. She strode out the front door as he screamed behind her. She couldn’t hear a word. She started to tell him he was wasting his breath, but at least he was wasting something o her and not the other way around. Her ears felt full of gauze and cotton balls. She walked across the front porch, he followed like a puppy in his underwear and bare feet.

It might even appear touching through the eyes of an onlooker.

Unfortunately, as someone who had just experienced what she had, the novelty had vanished. The winter night woke her senses. She gave a faint smile to her bare-footed husband dressed in only underwear as snow fell around them. She was numb and mechanical. Her heart beat rapidly as she slammed the car door behind her. He stood outside the car cursing and demanding. He repeatedly kicked the front wheel; all she could hear was a thump against the tire.

She stuck the key in the ignition, although she didn’t know where she would go. She had little time to make friends or to keep in touch with family with her work schedule. There had to be places to go. Hope swelled within her chest.

It is a big world after all, a great big world full of people and laughter and parties.

The voice had been right. She just needed to leave. She backed out of the drive and he still tried to follow. He slipped and slid on the icy pavement. He tried to grasp the car door handle. She ignored him. The humor was now gone. He didn’t love her. He hadn’t loved her in a long time. She’d grown weary of his act.

He was likely just pissed that he would have to pay rent. She drove into a pitch-black night. She watched him in the rearview mirror. He stopped the tantrum and just watched.

The snow turned into sleet as she drove out of the mountains, then into a steady rain that enveloped the region. She prepared for the drive through heavy precipitation. Fog soon blanketed everything and encompassed the road in a cottony cloud.

The pavement shone, glossy and slick, beneath her headlights. She had her entire life ahead of her. She could have a new job and a new home. Someday, maybe even a new love.

A faint voice bitterly resonated, “Another husband to do you the same way.”

She brushed the thought aside; that was paranoia speaking. She cracked the window and inhaled the cool, damp night air.

She had opened the front door when she came home. She heard wild noises coming from the bedroom. She was always terrified he would have a seizure, or some medical emergency would leave her helpless to save him. It was her greatest fear, had been her greatest fear.

She darted up the steps and flung open the master bedroom door. There they were, both of them. They had just pulled away from a deep kiss, in the same bed she slept in, the same bed she made love to him in.

She kept her calm; her shock wouldn’t allow any vivid exhibition of rage. “Aw…. Did I come at the wrong time?” She venomously fired sarcasm at her husband.

At first, they seemed shocked and hung their heads. It was a split-second before they scrambled to find their clothing. She looked down at both of them for a second. She wasn’t shocked that he was unfaithful, not really. She never expected such degradation to their relationship, not in their own bed, not like this.

She felt superior to them; after all, they were dirty, filthy little people with filthy little secrets. They deserved one another. They could share a life of squalor. They could continue to drag one another down through those depths.

She went into the bathroom and waited for some idea on what she needed to do next. Maybe an idea would come and she could then decide what she would do. She waited for her mind to accept what she had just witnessed. Seconds crawled by, then minutes, yet she didn’t wake as she anticipated. She had felt fuzzy, almost incoherent, before the idea to leave emerged.

Her heartbeat slowed as the miles passed by. The world seemed chaotic and sluggish beyond that road. She’d always believed that something like that would result in immediate heartbreak. She believed it would be crushing and screams would erupt, violence would ensue. It wasn’t. It was slow and painful. It almost leisurely poured into her soul. Vows meant nothing. Years meant nothing. The sacrifice was for a lost cause, which would never rise from the ashes. All her hard work and sacrifice meant . . . shit. He had never cared at all.

She pulled to the side of the road. She shifted it in to park and let it idle. There had to be an idea of somewhere to go, something she could do, or someone to visit. She waited for hope to rescue her.

She looked out over the landscape, empty and black, a world full of nothingness. It was a big old world out there.

Or was it? A question of doubt shrouded the tiny spark of hope.

She looked sideways at a bright prick of light that shone in the distance. The flashlight appeared to be miles away.

There were billions of people in the world, all with the ability to love . . . to love….

To inflict the same torture on her.

The light slowly approached and now it resembled a lamp. It was probably poachers. The illumination split the darkness surrounding her.

Perhaps it wasn’t a big old world, after all. It was a lonely world filled with cruelty and despondency, a heartless place of malevolent beauty and self-concern. Maybe it just wasn’t worth trying again. The light grew larger with each second.

Maybe it’s a small world, she thought as the freight train slammed in to the drivers’ side of her car. The force sent the automobile flying into oblivion and her body crushed on impact. Maybe it’s an awfully small world.

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