A Short Story by Shane Coffey
The lady of the house was throwing out the bag from a take-out dinner when she spotted the Receipt lying crumpled on the floor behind the kitchen trash can. With little thought she picked it up and was about to drop it in the trash as well when her eye caught part of a familiar logo peeking out between ridges of paper. Smoothing the Receipt, she scanned the short list of items and smiled warmly. Then she noted the date and went mad. Her arm whipped sideways, flinging boxes across the kitchen to explode into hailstorms of cardboard, rice and poultry as the Receipt fluttered to the floor. Her screams tore the air, then sobs, ragged breathing and, finally, nothing. The Receipt sat on the floor, avoided, silent once more.
Minutes like hours limped by until the sound of a key in the front door’s deadbolt raked the silence, and suddenly the Receipt was grabbed, crumpled again in a rage-clenched fist, its edges protruding between knuckles and nails.
The door opened. A man walked through, but “I’m sorry I’m la-” was as far as he got before the woman screamed.
“What is this!? Just what the hell is this!?”
Weary, perhaps too weary to be shocked, the man closed the door, set down a laptop case and stooped to untie his shoes. “I honestly couldn’t say,” he sighed.
“Don’t lie to me!” she screamed again, “Don’t you dare lie to me!”
The word ‘lie’ seemed to trigger something in the man, his weary face hardening into alarm, alarm and maybe anger.
“You need to take a breath and tell me what’s going on before you start throwing accusations,” he said, his voice uncompromising.
“Two weeks ago, you were supposed to be out of town overnight on business, and then I find this!” The Receipt flew into the air, catching currents from nearby ducts and fluttering to the ground near the man’s feet. “Chocolates!” she continued to rage. “Roses! Champagne! Who is she!?”
The Receipt was picked up by trembling fingers and smoothed out once again. “Laney,” the man said levelly, “I have no idea what this is. Where did you get it?”
“You’ll have to do better than that!” the woman yelled. The Receipt was plucked out of the man’s hand and thrust back into his face. “And how could you shop for her here, at my favorite place!? And paid with cash, it’s all so sleazy. Did you meet her at some by-the-hour joint off the interstate!?”
“I never pay cash for anything anymore, you know that.”
“Except gifts for your whores, I guess!”
The Receipt fell once more to the ground as the woman’s hand opened to slap away the man’s. “Don’t call me that! Don’t touch me!”
“Laney,” the man said again, “this is clearly a misunderstanding, so I’m trying to stay grounded here, but this is really offensive to me. I can see you’re upset, but I haven’t…”
“Don’t use that Communication 101 crap on me, Jerry!”
“Fine!” the man shouted. The Receipt was lifted into the air and crumpled again. It hurtled through the air and bounced off a wall, landed on the floor next to the trash can. “You wanna fight, let’s fight. I don’t know where that receipt came from. I’m not your damn ex, and I’m not your deadbeat father, and if you wanna accuse me of cheating again you better be ready to back it up with more than a scrap of paper!”
“So you aren’t denying it!?”
“I’ve been denying it since I walked in the door!”
“You just said I should get more proof!”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“What did you mean then!?”
The man took a breath and spoke evenly. “What I meant was that if you don’t let this drop and apologize to me right now, I’m out the door.”
“Fine! Get out, then!”
The man stomped back toward the door, trailing the laces of one untied shoe that flailed about with his angry steps and whipped at the Receipt as he passed the trash can. The man’s hand reached for the doorknob. The woman sagged against the counter, sobbing once more. The Receipt just sat there and waited.
Then the man’s posture straightened as he dropped his hand from the knob. “I’ve changed my mind,” he said.
“What?” the woman choked, confused, through tears and snot.
“I said I changed my mind,” the man answered, coming back to the kitchen as aggressively as he had left it. “I haven’t done anything wrong, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I throw myself out of my own house for that. And you’d have let me go!”
She shrugged, still sullen and hurt and confused. “You obviously do what you want.”
Suddenly he grabbed her shoulders. “Look at me!” he yelled.
With an effort she looked up, locking his eyes with hers that burned like two embers.
“I have never,” he said firmly, “and will never cheat on you. I could never do that to anyone, least of all you. Why can’t you believe that?”
“I’ve heard it all before.”
“Not from me!” the man yelled, letting go of her shoulders and picking the Receipt up again. “Not from me. How could you put me in the same category as him? If you believed that, then why did you marry me in the first place?”
She hesitated, vacillating between the terrifying surrender of trust and the familiar comfort of suspicion and bitterness. “You’re a man,” she finally sighed.
“And that’s why you married me or why you don’t trust me?” he asked wryly.
The faintest ghost of humor pulled her mouth, though it did not reach her eyes. “Both,” she replied.
“Then I guess we’re in a predicament,” he said.
“I guess we are,” she said back.
“You should never have forced me to this,” he said, “but just this once…just this once…I’ll prove it to you.” Carefully the Receipt was smoothed out against the cold surface of the counter. “Look at this time stamp. 6:03 PM, March 4, right? Here.” He pulled a fat wallet out of his pocket and flipped it open, riffled through the veritable sheaf of papers for a moment, then produced another receipt that he laid next to the first. “Look at that. I was in a drive through in Tampa at 6:11, March 4. See the last four digits of my corporate card?” He pulled the piece of plastic out and set it across the receipts. “How could I cover the entire eastern seaboard in eight minutes?”
She stared critically at the evidence before her, too scared and embarrassed to let go of her anger without a fight, but as the silent moments dragged on, she was slowly overwhelmed by her wrongness, her snap judgment, her history of pain, the ruin she had made of her kitchen, and a million other thoughts and emotions that flooded over her and threatened to drown her. “My god,” she finally whispered, her fingers closing over the gift receipt. “My god, what did I do? How could I…?” Her trembling hand closed tighter and tighter on the Receipt as though it was the only thing in all the world she could hold onto. “And I almost made you…” Her bleary eyes found the door that, thankfully, stood unused. “Can you forgive me?”
“I think so,” the man said after an unsettling pause, “but I’d be a lot happier not to go through this exercise again.”
She nodded, swallowing hard.
“Give me that,” he said, tenderly uncurling her clenched fingers one by one from the Receipt. He held it over the sink and reached for a stick lighter hanging up next to a pair of grilling tongs.
“But Jerry,” she said, “where did it come from?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “and, honey…I really don’t care.”
There was a snapping sound then, followed by a searing heat and rapidly brightening glow that ushered the Receipt into oblivion.