Obsessive Compulsive Amateur Sleuth, Scene 6

Written by Mark Wm Smith

An overeducated, blue-collar cowboy, Mark Wm Smith grew up on along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. Raised by a long haul trucker and a bartending waitress, Mark learned the hard ways of the modern frontier, scraping life from the unforgiving high chaparral.

March 10, 2020

“Obsessive Compulsion” Scene 6

The smell of rain still in his nose, Bennington stared at the pictures hanging in their melancholy entryway. Water ran down his cheeks as he tugged the overcoat free and suspended its soggy bulk from the coatrack.

She’d chosen broody colors and dark hardwoods during the build. One miniature table lamp, rendering Wisteria in stained glass, wrestled the bleak tones into partial submission. Sheets of water kicked at the frosted window designs flanking the front door. Rivulets dashed for the hem of his trench coat, ending with a satisfying plop onto the plastic sheet under the coatstand. The clink and chime of Gloria setting dishes with military precision played counterpoint. 

Bennington disregarded the dense aroma of fried chicken coaxing his appetite and stepped closer to the photographs. He dabbed a handkerchief across his sopping hairline. A ghostly aura of talcum haunted the air.

She had corralled each memory in an ornate wooden frame. 

His fingertips traced the detailed carving of the first, allowing its knife-like contours open an emotional recollection. Gloria stood beside him on the edge of the Grand Canyon, her smile as big as the chasm behind them. 

The next photo showed them perched in a Swiss gondola over the Alps. She wore a black silk jacket embroidered in scintillating Himalayan flowers. Her hug smothered his pastel anorak in vibrant energy. 

In a snapshot of their informal outdoor wedding, she outshone the white gleam from her dress, cheeks ruddy with anticipation of their honeymoon bed. 

His softening gaze countered the sharp energy of that moment. 

The last photo, later in life, captured the two of them, tucked and grinning, among the horde of siblings and children of their siblings.

Bennington removed this one from its hook. He inspected Gloria’s eyes. Disappointment, perhaps resentment, glinted from her pupils. 

He squeezed the sharpened whorls with his thumbs. 

“Are you coming inside?” Gloria’s voice called from the dining room. “Or just drip-drying in the hall.”

He yanked a drawer in the highboy and shoved the image beneath old letters and seed packets. “You’ve established a time limit on entry and exit of our home now, have you?” 

“Tarts are not on the menu this evening,” Gloria was saying as he entered the dry warmth of the inner rooms.

The dining area amplified his displacement. Her best china aligned and true, chairs standing guard at each position, chandelier glimmering artificial brilliance onto the cloud of steam billowing over mashed potatoes. 

Bennington’s damp clothing stuck to his skin in disheveled contrast.   

“We need stronger lighting in the foyer.” His gaze searched the bookshelves behind her. He ticked off the titles on the fine art of hosting, decorating for everyday life and making riche out of remnants.

“I can see your day went poorly.” Her tone dispensed a ruling. 

His rubberneck veered toward the shelf of anachronistic books about caring for your newborn, and then careened into the mirror surface of the picture window reflecting their conflict. “The mood in here would make Martha Stewart proud.”

“I wanted it special. So we could talk. You know, dear, resolve expectations for our holiday trip. Structure our daily activities.”

Raindrops thrummed the rooftop. A gust slapped water against the oversize glass.  

“Will this discussion erase your exclusion of romance?”

Her eyebrows raised. 

“Every detail included, each destination deliberate and delineated.” A surging downpour against their home frothed his boil. “You account for everything the guidebooks expect. Each item in the agenda dovetails into the next. YouTube has a niche for your immaculate vacation planning with impeccable timing and inerrant routing between venues.” 

She pinched her trembling lips. Resolution cracked around her eyes. Heartbreak threatened to shatter the ideal hostess. 

Time to quit, walk away, make oxygen available for rational thought. 

Her brow gathered to block the deluge.

His heart burned. “Passion, Glory. Where is the passion?” 

“What do you think motivates me to plan these things?” Her voice approached a whimper. “Did you hear me say I booked The Delightful Restaurant for our anniversary dinner?”  

“The perfect vacation restaurant,” his voice blasted. “Every detail refined and flawless. Leaving out my relational expectations. I need spontaneity, Gloria. I search the horizon to discover it. When did you put your sense of adventure on a bookshelf?”

“What are you saying? Search the horizon—”

 “Maybe arranging things with precision makes it okay for you. Maybe that’s how you forget, continue on, keep moving. Maybe you need the order.” Bennington turned from her fortification against his assault. “But I want excitement, exposure, an unseasoned trail. Don’t you realize that murders happen every single day? That kid in the paper. There’s no orderliness in that. Geometrical regularity can’t make that better.”

“Someone died?” she asked. “What’s this about, Benny?”

His mind stumbled over confidentiality and the problem of sharing his relationship to Josiah. The answer slipped below the foam of his diatribe. It didn’t matter. Dead was dead. “It’s nothing.” 

“It sounds like something,” she countered, gaining strength. “I don’t understand. Why are you holding me accountable?” Her argument gained momentum. “I just wanted to make our twentieth special.”

Mention of their anniversary twisted things, knotted itself in with the strands of homicide and that detective’s questions and the missed interlude with Erin, all wrapping round the center strand of personal injury to Glory. 

Her words cut off his braided reasoning. “You’ve been acting childish these past few days.”

Bennington attempted a glare. It bounced from her accusing scrutiny to a book title beyond her right shoulder—Baby Makes Three. His throat thickened, checking his tongue’s retaliatory obligation. A buzz skittered from his breast into his ears and rushed into his fingers. He tapped the side of his head with the heel of his palm. 

Forget about it. Forget Josiah. Humiliation—unrequited love followed by death—this is enough for any man. Stop letting fear and ego drive the bus. Fallacious boundaries designed to foster relationship stability doggedly shackle the courageous. 

A flash of inspiration settled it. He would confront Erin about the murder of her former lover, Josiah Madison. She’d defend her innocence and end his confusion. Then the road was clear to consummate his ardor. He fixed the decision by facing Gloria. 

She gripped the chair back, scowling disapproval.

“Your fastidious plan obliges my playful curiosity. Balance out the inflexibility. Adventure doesn’t arrive on schedule.”  

“Well!” she said.

They sat in silence and picked at Gloria’s utopian roasted garlic mashed potatoes and impeccable country fried chicken. 

Later, alone, from the sitting room couch, Bennington listened to the rhythmic babble of the storm until sleep freed him.

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