Bart lifted the beer bottle to the light, discerned in its murky tint that a couple of swigs remained, and put the bottle to his lips. He laid his head back on his grandfather’s armchair, for which he fought tooth and nail to keep, and glanced around the living room as the bitter, yet nutty dark beer fizzled on his tongue. Everything in the room was Kathy’s, and a sense of slow-moving displacement had been creeping over Bart since she moved in with him. This was his apartment, his living room, his bedroom, his kitchen. He paid for every inch of space, yet Kathy had seized it with her things, her furniture, her decor. Bart’s love for—and infatuation with—Kathy blinded him to the stealthy invasion slithering into his house, until one day, he realized only his grandfather’s armchair, his beer and his heavy metal music prevailed. Even a wine cooler full of merlot, pinot and who-knows-what had snuck into the corner beside the stereo.
Steve Vai blared from the speakers, and Bart let the heavy metal music soothe him. Kathy neither understood nor appreciated the rough sound of his music, much less the wish to relax to it in the evening. She preferred actual music, she quipped, and Bart snorted at her musical tastes. He fought tooth and nail to keep his CDs too, as well as the beer.
Kathy never drank beer; and Bart never drank wine. He told her once about the first time he tasted wine. An image had shot through his mind: a silhouette standing before him in the moonlight. It was a woman wearing a small straw hat cocked to one side. He recalled a long-sleeved full dress draped and layered at the back. She pointed at him and the image vanished in a bright flash. Since then, wine churned his stomach. Kathy had giggled and told him not to be silly.
But Bart loved Kathy, and the hot sultry nights in bed with her meandered through his brain to the cadence of Steve Vai’s melody. The tune ended, and the sensual memories faded. A pause, then the harsh riffs of electric guitars and the bombastic roll of drums exploded as a new song began. The powerful intro returned Bart to the moment and reminded him of the quiet decision he had made that very day. As the track played, Bart’s confidence in his resolution grew.
Bart nodded, agreeing with himself, then took the last sip of beer and let the music flow through him, as his muscles relaxed and his body melted into his beloved armchair. His eyelids drooped, and darkness closed in around him.
He awoke to the muffled sound of a key in the door. The room was dark and silent and Bart glanced around it to get his bearings. He felt everything was different, though he could only discern dark masses of furniture in the shadows. Somehow, this was his living room, but not his living room.
He reached for his cellphone on the side table and found nothing but a book and a glass of wine. He frowned, confused. Then—in this room that was his, but not his — a door opened and he heard the click-clack of women’s shoes in the dark.
“Kathy?” he called, but no one answered.
He turned towards the living room threshold as his eyes adjusted to the faint moonlight peering through the window before him. But in his living room, with his beer and Steve Vai on the stereo, he sat with his back to the window, not facing it.
A shadow stepped into his line of vision and, outlined by the dim light from the window, a woman stood in front of him. He recognized the hat and the long-sleeved dress of the image evoked by wine, but in the moonlight, he distinguished Kathy’s scowling face. She fixed her steel gaze on him as her lip curled into a lopsided sneer. She raised her arm and pointed at him. The gun glinted in the window’s light behind her.
“No!” Bart yelled as a flash of light shot from the barrel.
He woke up with a shriek. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his breath came in ragged gasps. Heavy metal was still blaring on the stereo. The lights were on, and he had knocked the beer bottle off the side table. He took deep breaths, hoping to calm his thundering heart thumping in his ears and muffling all sound.
A figure stepped in front of him, and he gazed up at Kathy.
“I had the worst nightmare…”
He had only just registered Kathy’s icy glare and fiendish sneer when the banging flash ended his life.