Maurine may have calmed down to the point of a rational tone of voice, but Paul's ears still thrummed with blood pressure. The vibration in his veins became a shiver and his eyes narrowed unbidden. That goddamn condescending bitch! He thought. What she needed was a good ass-whupping, and he would have joyfully volunteered, but he knew how angry he was, and he knew how badly it would turn if he ever struck her. With his anger percolating as it was, he might not be able to stop with just a slap to that smug face of hers. He sometimes found himself daydreaming of socking Maurine in the jaw and giggling as she crumpled to the ground. Bitch.

But there was something there once. Something like love, he didn't know. They were both nineteen when they met, and really good for each other for a while. But it wasn't a year before she started yelling at him, hen-pecking, trying to control him. He was actually thinking of leaving her when she had told him she was pregnant. So he stayed. He tried his best to work with Maurine, to find some way to be a reasonably functional family, but in the end things between them had deteriorated to the point of misery. He left Maurine and Annie about a week before Annie's fourth birthday, the night he threw the phone at Maurine.

Her goddamn lawyer had made it sound as though Paul was some kind of abusive monster, when the opposite was closer to the truth. It was Maurine who derided him. It hadn't been his fault when there had been an altercation, even a physical one. It had rarely been his fault. She had always rode him to the breaking point, made him feel crappy about himself. She never had anything nice to say about anything he did. Always nagging him about his frivolous spending, always with the impression he was ogling other girls. It was almost as though Maurine's existence was spent trying to bring him down.

Even now.

With that finger pressed up against him like some kind of weapon, threatening him. Who the hell did she think she was?

That bitch.

The End

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