James Patton in HelloHorror: And/Or full screen background image
         
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JAMES PATTON
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e stopped going by Danny when they married. Danny and Angie sounded too cutesy, like they should wear matching sweaters or something. Dan and Angie sounded so much better.



Dan and Angie. He liked the almost alliterative quality of the four syllables, liked the way they machine-gunned off of the tongue. He liked the four-count rhythm to their names.



Dan and Angie. Dan and Angie.



He tapped out the cadence on the scarred top of his oak desk. Dan and Angie. Tap tap tap tap. The brass cartridge made a small sound against the big desk, but it was there.



All present and accounted for, sir, yes, sir.



Tap tap tap tap.



Dan and Angie.



She had bought him one of those clocks that projected the digital numbers onto a wall or ceiling. She laughed when she gave it to him.



The clock told him in big green numbers that it was 1:24 AM.



“Now you won’t be able to get out of eating dinner with me,” she said when she handed it to him. “And I got you the old-man version that has the big numbers.” She laughed and he laughed and that evening had ended up with two empty bottles of wine on the floor and two exhausted people in the bed.



That had been nine years ago. He remembered because it was soon after she got the clock that they got the dual good news that she was pregnant and that his first manuscript had sold.



The clock told him that it was 1:28 AM.



Tap tap tap tap.



He hadn’t missed that many dinners. She taught middle school science and was kept busy with the unknown rigors of a schoolteacher. They had a running joke that dinner would be at six, but if he came down at six, she would be grading papers until seven. If she wasn’t grading, then he would be writing until seven.



He thought about that now, all of those missed dinners.



Dan and Angie.



Tap tap tap tap.



It was a late term miscarriage. A stillbirth. He had been born dead. For the first time in his life, words had failed him. There was no way to capture the pain with the twenty-six letters of the alphabet he used. And as hard as it had been on him, he knew it was worlds harder for her. She had buried herself in her work, and he had accepted that. He had even welcomed it. It was a good distraction from her hurt, he had thought.



He just wrote. It was all he had.



Tap tap tap tap.



He looked over his desk. There wasn’t much light in the room with the switch off, but the sodium arc light in the driveway illuminated everything with its harsh yellow glow.



He looked at the stack of pages on the left: his last book. His editor had told him, “You write too fast.” He still had two books in the pipeline, waiting their turn on the press, and here was his last, the last of his contract.



It was good, he knew. Not much in the way of editorial cuts or revisions. They could handle it, if need be.



Tap tap tap tap.



Dan and Angie.



Tap tap tap tap.



The first leg of the tour had been cancelled at the absolute last minute. He had already passed the TSA screening and was waiting to board when Susan, his publicist, had called and told him to go home.



He didn’t want to be home. He didn’t want to hear any more lies or obfuscations.



Dan and Angie.



Tap Tap Tap Tap.



TAP TAP TAP TAP.



The second item on his desk was a .44 revolver. Go big or go home, wasn’t that what they said?



He had put the barrel in his mouth. The hardened steel barrel had clinked against his teeth and the front sight had dug a furrow in his palate when he jerked away.



He could still taste the gun oil.



2:08 AM. Do you know where your wife is?



Tap tap tap tap.



Dead.



A teacher’s conference in San Diego fourteen months ago.



Was that when it started?



He thought he knew, but had to admit that he didn’t. He had been too wrapped up in manuscript number three. It was so much easier to deal with the words on a page. He didn’t want to know why she suddenly had to have her phone passcode locked. He didn’t want to think too hard on all of the days when she stayed late at school and came home smelling like vodka and cranberry. He didn’t want to think about the widening gulf between them.



TAP TAP TAP TAP.



TAP TAP TAP TAP.



TAP TAP TAP TAP.



2:22 AM. He heard the car pull into the driveway.



Her car.



He looked at the stack of pages on the right side of his desk. She would be so angry to know that he had gone through her phone.



“Where is the trust?” she would have told him.



Angie: “Do you think I’m a bad person?”



Tony: “It was beautiful. You are beautiful.”



Angie: “Are you sure?”



Tony: “Just laying here in bed thinking about how wonderful it was last night.”



The pages were printed out, neatly arranged and the pistol was in his hand.



And who the hell is Tony?



He released the catch and the cylinder of the revolver fell open.



He inserted the cartridge.



He heard the front door open.



Dan and Angie.



Dan and Angie.



Dan or Angie.



   
   

 

endmark



A search of public records will show that James Patton is married, has seven children, and works full time making things out of metal. He lives in Texas. He does not own a pistol or belong to any political party. He will tell you that he thinks his wife is living art and that he rules a house of madness. jamesrpatton1975@gmail.com is his only known point of contact.



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