Phil smacked both of his hands against the steering wheel of his truck in frustration. He chewed busily on the lump of chewing tobacco, trying his best to grind the lump into nothing. His girlfriend was curled up beside him in the passenger seat fast asleep, the movement of her chest barely visible in the thin artificial light streaming in through the windows.
“I don’t know what you were expecting.” He said under his breath in a loose southern drawl.
He could barely look at her. When he came to pick her up from work was barely coherent – she spoke in tired, nonsensical run-ons, reassuring him that she was fine, she was always fine, it had just been a long day at work and she needed a break. He did what he always did, which was never quite believe her. She was on something, some sort of something. It wasn’t weed, she never had time to smoke during work hours, so it must have been pills distance. Her drug of choice.
He asked, if she didn’t mind terribly, if he could stop at a gas station to pick up some chewing tobacco. His “drug of choice.” She nodded, her eyes staring off into the distance at something he couldn’t see. In the space of time between him stopping at the gas station and coming back to the parking lot, she had fallen asleep.
He backed out of the parking spot, placing his hand on her. He sighed heavily. It wasn’t her fault, in his mind. He knew what he was getting into. Three months in, he found empty bottles of Xanax with a name he didn’t recognize, some odd European name. It was around this time that he realized she wasn’t just a space case, she was just always high. He wasn’t quite sure if it meant that she actually loved him or not, but he put that thought to the back of his mind. Of course she loved him, she loved him a lot. She was just sick, and it was no different having a habit then going to a shrink in his mind. Whatever kept her alive, he was fine with.
He wasn’t a man who believed in that sort of thing. You took care of your own problems, where he came from. He had enough foresight to figure out who her dealer was – this skinny little bastard at her job, an actual bastard who lived out in his truck between working the day shift and selling stolen prescription bottles at night. As long as he did nothing untoward to his girl, he would be fine. There was no use getting involved in things that didn’t concern you.
Phil rubbed the worn-down ridges of the steering wheel over his palms thoughtfully. A broken callous or two caught on the fraying fabric. He’d take her home, settle her into bed, curl up beside her and wait for her to sober up in the morning. She’d be fine, she always was fine.
It was about a year and he always wondered where she got the money from. She worked as a server, and he knew for a fact that she got tipped more than what she brought home, but to him it didn’t matter. She could have her pills, and he had his chewing tobacco, and that would be more than enough to provide for both of them. They could be happy together.
He pulled into the front of the little flat they shared. He inherited it from his father years ago, when he died, and he inherited it from his parents. It wasn’t fancy, but it was home, and with the way housing prices were nowadays it was better than living in some yuppie apartment. People didn’t ask too many questions out here, and his girlfriend was from the city – she didn’t know enough to realize when people were looking askance at her, and didn’t go to church. He didn’t mind what they thought about him. Half of them had their own family shames, he just kept his mouth shut and eventually they learned to do that with him.
He opened the truck door. “Delilah, I’m gon’ pick you up, right? Don’t squirm.” She never did.
He cradled her like a baby rag doll, her tiny limbs dangling from his arms. She was out like a light. At least it made things easier. He effortlessly brought her inside, past the well-worn living room and into the small bedroom they both shared. He stretched her out on the bed and let her settle. He gathered up her bedclothes and began to undress her, the nightly ritual before he got settled in himself. It was like taking care of a young child, in his mind. At least she didn’t fuss.
Something caught his attention.
Her upper thighs were covered in deep, round bruises, like someone pressed pennies deep into her skin. Her inner thighs were the color of a bruised peach, red and bloody. Not quite bloody then, but recently.
Phil choked back the bile rising from his throat. He’d dressed deer and rabbits since he was a boy, and he’d seen dogs left out by their owners that had been beat to an inch of their lives, but on a woman it made his blood churn. It took everything he could not to shake Delilah awake and demand what had happened. Part of him already knew, didn’t want to know.
“Delilah, darling, what happened to yer legs?” He placed a hand on her shoulder, and shook her as gently as he could possibly muster. He reached in to his other pocket, feeling for his keys. One of Delilah’s eyes rolled open, stared straight at him in the dark.
“Didn’t have the money to pay Jacob. We had a disagreement.”
“Ah, I see. Go back to bed, darlin’. I’m gonna go pick up some tobacco, I forgot ‘em at the store. I’ll be back soon. Sorry for wakin’ yeh.”
When Delilah woke up that morning he never got her to admit what had happened. She just bruised easily, she said. She never bruised easily as far as he could remember, but he let the matter drop.
Her temper was a lot worse the following week. Apparently Jacob had booked it out of town ages ago, or something. Someone found his truck out in the countryside, empty of money and drugs, so rumors started around town that a couple kids had robbed him blind and sent him out of the county. Nobody bothered to call the cops because nobody cared. You settled your own problems out here.
Finding a dealer out in the country was a little harder than expected. Phil suggested she go find some doctor, someone who could give her some real treatment, but she seemed hesitant and he let the matter drop. You took care of your own problems out here, and if this was how she was going to handle hers, then that was her choice and God be with her.
Later on that week he started construction on a beautiful gazebo in his backyard. Delilah was head over heels for it.
“Gotta cover a sinkhole,” said Phil, lifting a bundle of wood and staring at the soft patch of earth that had already been marked out with posts and dainty orange ribbons that flapped gently in the spring breeze.
“You’re not supposed to build over sinkholes, Phil. It’ll collapse right through it!”
“That’s how we always handled sinkholes ‘round here.”
Delilah shook her head, tossing her curls about her shoulders, and looked up at him with the most beautiful baby blue eyes Phil could ever imagine. “Can we paint it yellow? A daisy yellow?”
“We can paint it whatever color you want, darling.”
Delilah seemed to light up at the thought. She grasped the front of her blouse with one dainty, delicate hand, right over her tiny fluttering heart. “And flowerboxes? Can it have some flowerboxes too? Oh, I’d love to fill them up with daisies and all of those pretty annuals that they have down at the store.”
“It’s for you, you can have whatever you want.”
“I’m such a lucky girl to have you, Phil.”