SEVERANCE • by Michael Snyder

This time, when Sheila breaks up with Rick, she uses fishing line, two bent nails, and her ex-boyfriend’s hammer. She strings the tripwire taut, eight inches high, across the doorframe of his side entrance, guesstimating the placement of the posterboard based on his six-foot, one-inch frame.

By 5:30 am Sheila has parked across the street, chain-smoking and watching and waiting behind a pair of sunglasses (as if Rick wouldn’t recognize her bright yellow Jeep). He’s midway through one of his ridiculous upper body stretches when he topples headfirst onto the driveway. From her vantage it appears to be a direct hit. She inches the Jeep forward to make sure that her newly minted ex-boyfriend’s face is indeed planted in the center of the pink posterboard, the message cribbed from an ancient Steve Martin bit: I break up with thee, I break up with thee, I break up with thee. Sheila pumps her fist and drives away.

He calls hours later, his voice ragged and thick. “We still on for seven? At my parents?”

“You got my note?”

“Nice try,” Rick says. “But I couldn’t read it. Too much blood. And of course my eyes were watering like mad too.”

“Anything broken?”

“Nah. My nose just never all-the-way healed from the last time. So… tonight?”

“Fine,” she says. “Formal or no?”

“Don’t matter to me. As long as it pisses off my mother.”

It’s an elegant affair, the duck delicious, the wine expensive, the gelato divine. As usual, the conversation orbits around Rick’s need to get a “real job.” Despite the many screenshots of his various bank and investment accounts, Rick never manages to convince his parents that his YouTube channel nets more revenue per year than his father’s law firm. 

Back at Sheila’s apartment, nightcaps in hand, Rick blathers on through yet another one-sided argument with his father while Sheila studies the bruises emerging under his eyes. She tries not to worry about her lack of empathy. Then Rick goes quiet, his mouth gets stuck in an O.

“What’s wrong?” Sheila says. 

“I think maybe I’m seeing someone.”

“Don’t even try that—”

“No, seriously. There is someone on your patio.”

“Tall guy? Slight beard? Great pecs?”

“I suppose.”

“That’s Daniel,” she says. “The impetus for my attempted breakup this morning.” 

“Isn’t that your ex’s name?”

“Yeah, but trust me, we’re not seeing each other. Daniel has, like, this hyperactive moral streak. He won’t even hold my hand until you’re completely out of the picture.” 

“So he’s just waiting out there for us to break up?”

“I guess so.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t know. And frankly, it’s none of your business. We’re supposed to be broken up, remember?”

“But we’re not.”

“Only because you bled all over my handiwork. Besides, he didn’t know that. ”

Rick stares at Daniel, who stares at the back of Sheila’s head. Sheila stares at her fingernails and wonders if that feeling in her gut is the duck breaking down. Or if this is what guilt is supposed to feel like?

“So,” Rick says. “You didn’t tell him you had plans tonight?”

“Guess I forgot. I kinda suck, huh?”

“What should we do?”

“My head says to attempt another break up,” she says. “But my heart and my body were kinda hoping you’d kiss me instead.”

“What about Daniel?”

“He’ll get the hint.”

She sees it then, reflected in Rick’s eyes. He actually feels bad for the jilted ex-lover trapped on the patio. Another emotion stirs and Sheila recognizes it at once. Envy. But before it can gain traction, she leans into Rick.

They kiss, tenderly at first. But when things start to heat up the patio door swooshes open and Daniel says, “Hey, don’t mind me.”

Sheila pushes Rick away and reaches for her purse. Both men strobe between surprise and shock and horror when her hand emerges with a hammer. The hammer. Daniel’s hammer. The one she borrowed to break up with Rick. The one she’s now hoisting like a sword. Sheila cannot help but grin at their expressions.

She extends her arm over the back of the sofa and allows the hammer to rest on her open palm. “Thanks again, Daniel.”

“No problem,” he says. Then he’s ambling toward the door, trying in vain to mask his limp. When they’re alone again, Sheila playfully pushes Rick back onto the sofa. Her wicked grin is interrupted by a loud bark of pain. Rick’s arm disappears behind his back, obviously feeling around for something. Then he’s holding another crooked nail up to the light, their eyes converging at the spot of fresh blood staining the tip.

Michael Snyder lives just outside Nashville, TN with his amazing family. His three novels were published by Harper Collins and his stories have appeared in The First Line, Relief Journal, 100 Word Story, Toasted Cheese, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, EveryDay Fiction, Cease Cows, and Hobart. Please check out more stories here:

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