Independence Day

03/23/23

Looking around his yard at what would be his last 4th of July neighborhood shindig, Bob Lawson felt a twinge of regret.

He’d miss the familiarity. The neighbors mingling and loitering around the patio, loomed over by that maple he and Sheila had planted when they’d first moved in twenty-seven years ago. The aroma of grilled burgers and hot dogs, the coconut tang of sunscreen. The screeching of a new generation of kids running around the Slip & Slide. Once young, he and Sheila were now the middle-aged folks as young families bought in the neighborhood.

He’d miss this. But he was getting Tiffany.

He saw his wife, Sheila, talking to Mark Sizemore, the cardiologist who’d moved into the Blanchards’ house down the block a couple of years before.

Sheila had been a good wife, loyal and supportive.

But she wasn’t Tiffany.

His firm had hired Tiffany in January as a junior financial analyst. Her limited experience as a receivables and payables clerk was perfect for tracking his clients’ investments. But she asked pertinent questions, displaying unexpected intelligence and ambitions. She listened attentively to his answers and advice, laughed at his jokes. He found himself looking forward to going to work, then reluctant to see the workday end. He started dieting and walking, and bought new slacks and dress shirts. By the time her ninety-day probationary period ended, Tiffany already consumed his thoughts.

Eight weeks ago, while working late on his quarterly presentation for the Hollingsworth Foundation, infatuated by the sweetness of Tiffany’s perfume and captivated by her curves, Bob expressed his desires. To his amazement, Tiffany responded that she, too, was attracted to him. They consummated the relationship that night, then repeatedly since.

He told Tiffany he’d soon be free of Sheila. Tiffany said she’d wait, all she wanted was to be with him.

Then Bob’s financial planning discipline kicked in. Divorcing Sheila meant losing half of their marital assets, perhaps more. Why should he shoulder that burden? He’d earned the money while Sheila stayed at home.

After the Millers’ Memorial Day party, Sheila started talking about their annual July 4th cookout. As usual, Sheila would take charge of food, games and decorations, while Bob would handle drinks and fireworks. An idea popped into his mind.

After doing some Internet research, he called Frank Michaels, a longtime client. Frank made a surprising amount of money running roadside stands, selling whatever was in season – fruits, vegetables, fireworks, crafts. Bob had been getting the neighborhood fireworks from Frank since forever.

“You wanting your usual order for the 4th?” Frank asked, his gravelly voice unmistakable.

“We’ve got special guests. I wanted to do a more spectacular show.”

“Some of that stuff’s pretty powerful. Can you handle it?”

Bob bristled at Frank’s implication. I’m man enough for Tiffany. “It’ll be fine.”

Frank’s company delivered the fireworks, and Bob spent the morning setting them up. Aiming the rockets toward Sheila, the “accident” would be awful. He’d be devastated by Sheila’s death. But after an appropriate time, Tiffany would comfort him.

“You’re awfully pensive.” Sheila handed him a bowl filled with blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream, their traditional Independence Day dessert.

He swallowed a colorful spoonful. As always, the contrast between tart and sweet was delicious, although the berries seemed more tart this year. “Just enjoying the day.”

“I’m glad you are.” She smiled. Still attractive, Sheila was no Tiffany. “I was worried hosting this was getting too much for us.”

“We’re good.” He ate another spoonful.

“It’s a great tradition for us. Everyone enjoys themselves.” Sheila reached over and squeezed his hand. “I’ll hate to see it end.”

Bob felt dizzy. Must be the heat. He shook his head. “Why would it end?”

“You won’t be around to be our ‘genial host,’ honey. And I’ll be too distraught to continue.”

Sweat dripped from Bob’s face. His heart raced into overdrive. He wiped his brow. Heart attack?

He stood. The world tilted.

Sheila wrapped him in a hug. Weakened, he couldn’t move toward help. Sheila whispered into his ear. “The pills are kicking in. Tiffany will get over you, dear. Mark and I have other plans.”

~ fin ~

C Brownman 1

Becoming an “overnight writing sensation” after twenty-five-plus years, Chuck Brownman’s short crime fiction has been published in several anthologies, including the “Eyes of Texas” (Down & Out Books) and Volumes 4 and 5 of the annual “Death Edge Tales” anthology. He’s a past winner of the Arizona Mystery Writers Short Story Contest, and was a finalist in the Criminal Element.com short fiction contest. In addition to Shotgun Honey, his latest stories appear in the “Mysteries to Die for” podcast/anthology (tgwolffcom.wordpress.com) and on the Kings River Life website (kingsriverlife.com).