When Bernie realized that the only way to get the charge close enough to Amelia was to carry it himself, he gave a moment’s consideration to the futility of a revenge that ends in suicide. But then he realized that for whatever the brief amount of time that would elapse from the moment of detonation to when her brain stopped functioning, she would know the extent of her mistakes and the effects on those around her.
Only half the lights were on in the office that he had shared with his wife for the past seven years. Amelia was in the break room pouring coffee, unsuspecting that her estranged husband would show up after a month’s absence. The transgressions that effectively ended their decade-long marriage had seemingly also ended the partnership that warranted both names under the State Farm logo on the front door.
Their book of business had been put out for bid and Amelia knew that whatever little compensation they might get would only alleviate an insignificant portion of the debt that now was in perilous default. The bank could have the house and cars, but it was the money owed to Francisco that worried her; the only collateral available to his type of loans was flesh and blood and broken bones.
The sound of her husband’s office door startled her as she took a sip of Folgers and left a small stain on the front of her blouse. She threw the switch for the left-side lights and called out, “I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.”
“Well, hello to you, too, Darling.” Mumbling, “Bitch,” under his breath. “And unless you’ve developed x-ray vision, I don’t think you’ve seen me yet this morning.”
The animus that bloomed from his wife’s financial, spiritual and physical indiscretions was not extirpated by time spent apart. The center did not hold, and things fell apart. The device he secreted in his bag was meant to surgically excise the insatiable hurt and sorrow buried in the hearts of both he and his wife. A final solution intended to end their suffering and circumvent the proposed violence and sexual extortion of the seedy debt collectors.
Bernie reached to close his office door but he was too late; his wife’s figure filled the opening with an insincere smile and two cups of coffee. “Here,” she held out a Discount Double Check Arron Rodgers mug. “Are you getting your things?”
Bernie thought to himself how ironic the question really would be in the next few minutes. He considered a facetious retort but was struck instead by the stunning visage of the woman standing in front of him: his one and only true love. His mind reeled with the unwelcomed recognition that she was still as beautiful as she was when they first met. She was all but perfect with symmetric bone structure, a clear, luminous complexion and a figure that could never be improved artificially even by the most talented surgeons. The small coffee spot on her shirt was her only obvious flaw; a sudden crescendo of misplaced sadness welled within his chest and wet his eyes. He wondered again how things had come to this point; how he missed all of the signs, how she had slid so far, so fast. There was a pounding regret in the back of his mind, but he knew the die was cast and there was no backing down.
“Frankie or Francis or whatever the hell his name is, called my brother. Why the fuck would have told him I had a brother?”
Her smile faded as she dropped her head, “It was in the beginning when things were still good, we had little conversations about family and vacations, shit like that. I realize now, he was fishing for information. I was so naïve, I swear, I -- I never intended --”
She flopped heavily into the guest chair and covered her face, “I never really intended any of this.”
Bernie set his Coach briefcase on the desk, knowing the time had come. “I called him. He wants both of us at La Trattoria on Market at two o’clock today. I told him we would be there, what I didn’t tell him is there is no fucking way we can make him whole, not now, not in the next hundred years. It’s over.”
The zipper released one tooth at a time taking what their minds perceived to be an hour to reveal the detonator at the far left. It took far less time than that for Amelia to understand the intent and consequence of her husband’s slow-motion actions. “It’s over.” Her mind lurched and sputtered at a kaleidoscopic collage of all the decisions that led them to this point; she watched every sure-win bet deteriorate into an unpayable loss, she heard herself retell every lie, relived every argument, cried every tear and felt that one, single, angry punch a thousand times over. She knew that Bernie was right, what was done could never be fixed in a hundred years; this inconceivable solution of his, those wires inside that briefcase, this was the only way out for her, but why he was here, too?
The initial flash of the expanding gases froze as it reached the point of rending the leather of the makeshift bomb casing. Time as we know it stopped and Bernie and Amelia’s worldly existence ended.
The blast shook most of the downtown and fire slowly consumed the remainder of the office complex, but neither of the ill-fated insurance agents, would hear the sound or feel the heat. They would never know the stunned anger of the smarmy loan shark or the savage payments incurred by Amelia’s parents or Bernie’s brother. The bodies of these once impassioned lovers, mated business partners and marital spouses were shredded in the millisecond after their mortal continuum of time stopped. Their bodies, their lives, the structure of their beings were gone, all that remained were two lost souls trapped in an infinite moment.
This is the purgatory of these souls: imprisoned in the lies, deceit, mistrust and betrayal of a destructed marriage. Their salvation or condemnation is now subject to the wife being able to justify the unjustifiable actions of her vices and earn her husband’s forgiveness for the unforgivable. Freedom, in whatever form awaits, is contingent on the husband successfully explaining his inexplicable inattention and once again trust his untrustworthy wife.
The lost husband and the lost wife must find an impossible key to their impregnable jail. They must suffer all of their sins repeatedly and eternally within that immeasurable instant. Locked inside the gates of their own construction and lacking the knowledge of what might lie beyond, there is no choice but to try to escape and then try again.
Does time march on? Yes, but only for those privileged enough to still have a chance at fixing spent mistakes. Some will try and succeed, some will fail, and some will consider this whole concept a worthless faith, a myth for the ignorant. But then for some, time has already ended and nothing will ever be changed; they are the truest believers.