An Ed Hardy handbag causes a little disagreement between Cindy and her husband.
| The Singer
Kneeling in the bed of the pickup truck, Cindy struggled, rolling what used to be George across the open tailgate, then over the guardrail and into the river below. She wasn't worried about the body turning up. The authorities would never be able to identify it anyway. Cindy had seen to that. And since George had no friends or family, she suspected that nobody would report him missing either. All anyone needed to know was that George had just up and left again. Probably another four-day trip to Vegas, she would tell them. As soon as he's finished drinking and gambling away our rent money, he'll be back, she would say, should anyone care to ask. But Cindy knew that nobody was ever going to ask. George wasn't the sort of person that would be missed.
The sound of the tailgate slamming echoed across the bridge. She wiped away the last of the tears with the back of her hand, and with it, what remained of the extra makeup she had slathered on that morning in an attempt to conceal the remnants of last week's "little disagreement." That was what George always called them once he sobered up--little disagreements. She jumped in the driver's seat and pulled the door shut. Cindy wondered how she had ever found the courage to stand up to him, how she had found it within herself to knock off her own husband.
My God, she thought. Her hand flew to her face, cupping her mouth.
"I knocked off my husband."
How did I let things get this bad? she asked herself. But Cindy already knew the answer to that--she had known the answer for a long time. George had trapped her. He had set the whole thing up from the very beginning. She couldn't just leave. The house was in George's name and so was the truck. The insurance, the phone, the cable bill--all in George's name. She didn't have a career to fall back on. George had made her give up the only work she had ever known. And he had laughed at her when she asked about evening classes at the community college. The bottom line was that with no job, no address, and no transportation--and with her father tucked neatly away in a bed at Green Meadows--Cindy was trapped. She had no place to go.
As the truck sped away from the bridge, Cindy thought about how differently her life might have turned out if she hadn't gotten married at such a young age, if she had somehow been able to predict that alcohol would slowly draw the Hyde out of George's Jekyll. George made her quit the tannery soon after they were married. Cindy's father ran the small operation out of the same workshop where he had learned the trade from his old man. Cindy had been working in the shop since she was old enough to push a broom. By the time she was thirteen, she was operating the industrial sewing machine by herself, running stitches through saddlebags, and gloves with smooth, flawless precision. A National western-wear chain was doing well with a line of belts and was on their third re-order. It was a big account and if it weren't for Cindy's proficiency on the giant floor-mounted stitching machine, the tannery would never have been able to keep up with the orders.
By the time she was fifteen, Cindy had become a vital part of the business. In the summer before her sixteenth birthday, she approached her father with an idea for a line of children's accessories--cowhide belts and matching gloves in four different color schemes. The commercial machine would be too big for the delicate work. Cindy would need a smaller unit if she was going to launch the idea into a viable business. Despite her age, Cindy's father knew that she had a knack for business. It was in her blood.
For her sixteenth birthday, Cindy's father bought her a sewing machine--a heavy, commercial unit, much smaller than the machine in the shop but larger than the average retail unit. He had bought the machine used and it showed. It was outdated and clunky--an anvil with a needle. Its black enamel finish was pocked with chips and scratches; the word SINGER was painted in gold letters across the top of the unit's main shaft and there was a row of small dents along the bottom, near the bobbin case. But the Singer was still in great working order and Cindy thought it would serve her well.
Cindy built up her line of children's accessories over the course of the following two years and had saved up almost five thousand dollars by her seventeenth birthday. She planned on moving into her own apartment. And her plans were going well until George lured her away from the idea with promises of love and companionship--lured her with gifts, and poems, and kind words. She married George, and at his urging, she stopped production of the children's line. George wanted a family (impotence would later prove that to be as impossible for George as sobriety) and being a mother left no room for career-building. They used Cindy's apartment-money as a down payment on the house--on his house, she would later come to accept.
She withstood eight years and countless disagreements in George's house. The Singer sat atop a sewing cabinet in the corner of the living room--a constant reminder of how things might have been. It still generated perfect seams but the needle had been switched from a thick, leather-stitching needle to a thinner variety, more appropriate for domestic chores.
Last April, with George's permission, Cindy started making baby blankets--selling her wares to the gift shop at the local hospital. The blankets were a hit in the maternity ward and the demand had grown to around twenty blankets a month--not enough to turn much of a profit, but it kept her busy. And when you lived with George, the distraction was good, necessary even. The blankets were bringing in just under sixty dollars in profit every three or four weeks. George kept half of it.
"Gotta earn yer keep!" he would say. "Otherwise, what good are ya?"
It had taken Cindy six months to save the hundred and eighty dollars that sat in a Folgers can on top of the refrigerator. Next month she would have enough to buy the Ed Hardy handbag that she had been saving for. The bag had caught her eye during a rare trip to the the mall (George had sent her to Sears for a new pair of vice grips). It was a tan bag with dark stitching. A silver charm hung from a chrome ring near the shoulder strap. Centered on the flap side of the bag was a heart with a banner running across the front of it--on the side, a red rose that wrapped around the front. Cindy loved the design and she asked George for the purse as a gift for her twenty-fifth birthday.
"Two hunert bucks?" George had yelled. "It had better mow my gull-dern lawn for two hunert bucks, I'll tell ya that!"
Then he had laughed himself into a coughing fit, his face turning so red that it looked like it might explode right off of his shoulders. Cindy hoped that it would.
He had come home late last Tuesday night, his breath, a sweet-smelling layer of Jim Beam on cigarettes. Cindy was still awake when he finally stumbled into the bedroom. She watched as George staggered across the bedroom, bumping into the dresser along the way, knocking over a wedding picture that was perched in a miniature easel next to her jewelry box. When George took his shirt off, Cindy saw the tattoo. It sat between his shoulder blades--a coiled snake in a field of orange and yellow flames. When Cindy first met George, she was intrigued by the tattoo on his left arm -a heart with a sword through it. The image was sophomoric at best, but to Cindy, it was a symbol of independence, an act of non-conformity that, at the time, had been enough to impress Cindy into a first date. The heart tattoo was small compared to the flames and snake. Cindy was no longer impressed.
"When did you get the tattoo?" she asked.
George spun around, still holding his dirty T-shirt. His thin, greasy hair hung over his forehead like the wet strands of a mop hanging over a dirty bucket.
"A few days ago," he said, his upper lip pulled back on one side. "Why you wanna know?"
Cindy looked down to avoid eye contact. "Oh, nothing. I...I just thought-"
"Wow!" George interrupted. "You thought? Well, stop the gull-dern presses ladies and gentlemen! Cindy was thinking! And what, pray tell, were you thinking about, Cindy?"
"Nothing. I...I just wondered how...how much something like that costs."
"Well, you ain't gotta worry your perty little head 'bout that now, Cin-cin (she hated the nickname). "B'sides...the tat didn't cost me a damn thing! I found some money in a coffee can on top the fridge."
Cindy's eyes widened to circles.
"Tell me you didn't, George! You knew that money was mine! I earned it, George! I earned it fair and square! Please, tell me you didn't!"
"Well, 'course I did!" George shouted. "You don't got a problem with that do ya? Ya gotta earn yer keep Cin-cin!" Spittle flew from his mouth, landing in cold pinpoints on Cindy's face. She ran to the kitchen, climbed onto the step stool and grabbed the Folgers can from atop the refrigerator. She thumbed open the lid. The money was gone. In its place was yellow sticky-note that read I.O.U. on one side, and the word NOTHING in capital letters on the other. Cindy felt a burning behind her eyes. Rage swelled in her and she swallowed hard, trying to keep herself from bursting into tears. She wanted to confront George about the theft, to call him out for it. But Cindy suspected that he wanted her to as well. And she wasn't about to subject herself to another round of open-handed slaps across the face.
There had been a similar incident last year when George came home with a new piercing --a ridiculous silver ring through his left nipple. The piercing had turned into another little disagreement, and Cindy had ended up in the hospital--a nasty fall down the imaginary staircase of their single-story house.
Staring into the empty coffee can, Cindy's expression went from helpless to stoic. From the bedroom, a thousand miles away, she heard George's voice.
"Didja git my note, Cindy? I owe you NOTHING!" Then laughter.
Cindy looked up from the can. That's okay, Cindy told herself, holding back a flood of emotions -a sour cocktail of grief and anger. Just keep your mouth shut and let him pass out on the floor like he always does when he's trashed, she told herself. And it didn't take long before George had done just that.
When Cindy returned from the living room she found George still lying on the floor, face up, with his arms strait out to each side. George was snoring in deep growls and Cindy stood over him, straddling him with her feet planted below each of his armpits. She lifted one foot. With the toe of her Nike, she tapped George lightly on the temple.
"George," she said, like a mother waking up a child that's late for school. "I'm sorry about our little...disagreement."
George's left eye fluttered, then opened slightly. Cindy stood over him holding the Singer above her head. She was just about to let it drop when George's eyes snapped open. He managed a puzzled look and the words, "What the-" before his hands reached up and grabbed Cindy, his big fingers wrapping around her knees. George pulled on her legs and with the Singer still held high above her head, Cindy felt her balance betray her. She was falling backwards, like an unsuspecting pedestrian slipping on a patch of ice. She let go of the sewing machine. The Singer came down hard on George's face. It landed with with a sickening, hollow pop, sending a fan of blood and bits of yellow teeth in an arc above George's head. Cindy landed hard as well, the back of her head contacting the floor with enough force to send fireflies dancing across the room. George's body stiffened then shook in violent convulsions before finally going stiff again. There were two brief twitches from the third finger of his left hand then George was still. Cindy laid between George's legs with her hands covering her face and wept. This time, her tears were born out of relief rather than fear and for Cindy, that was a welcome change.
Cindy carried the Singer back to its place on the sewing table. The machine was freshly dented but still in working order. The needle had been snapped in two but that was nothing that couldn't be repaired. She planned on installing the thicker needle anyway. She would need the old sewing machine if she planned on making a life for herself. To Cindy, the Singer was now more than just a potential source of income, it was her salvation. To Cindy the Singer was a symbol of freedom, a monument memorializing her liberation from George, from his trap.
She worked all night cleaning up the mess. With an X-acto knife, Cindy removed any identifying marks from her husband's body, including the new tattoo. There wouldn't be any dental records to worry about. The Singer had shattered most of George's teeth into oblivion. Cindy collected the remaining fragments and tossed them in the garbage disposal. She would need to take care of his fingerprints as well, along with that stupid nipple ring. She went to the garage to get the wheelbarrow. The hardest part would be getting George into the back of the Chevy. 'The rest,' she thought, 'will be easy.' She was right on both accounts.
She hopped into the driver's seat still crying, still relieved. When she reached the top of the bridge, Cindy backed the pickup truck up to the guardrail, jumped out of the cab, and hurried to open the tailgate. It was four O'clock in the morning and Cindy needed to be done before the sun came up, bringing with it a new day, and for Cindy, a new life.
Cindy bounced along, humming to herself as she walked out of the department store carrying a fistful of shopping bags. She would take the bags to the car then return to the mall. Maybe she would grab a bite at the food court, maybe she wouldn't. Either way, the choice would be hers. She was planning on a trip to the fabric store later. She needed to pick up some soft fabric and some thinner needles for the Singer. The machine sat in her living room waiting, as it had for so many years. This time Cindy wouldn't let it wait long. The Singer had been her salvation and now, it would be her livelihood. As Cindy loaded the shopping bags into the front seat of her pickup truck, a woman that had been headed toward the mall entrance approached her.
"Excuse me," the woman said, "That handbag is absolutely exquisite!"
Cindy looked down at her purse. It was tan with dark stitching. A charm hung from a silver ring that was pierced into a nub of leather on the flap side of the purse. The heart with the sword through it was perfectly centered. There was a snake with orange and red flames that wrapped around one side of the bag, the tip of the flames licking at the silver charm.
"Is that an Ed Hardy?" the woman asked.
Cindy, surprised that the woman hadn't noticed the matching gloves, looked up smiling.
"No," she said, "It's a knock off."