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News & Features » May 2017 » “The Pilot Light” by Paul Renault

“The Pilot Light” by Paul Renault

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays. 

This week, Paul Renault considers the painful redemption of second-chances.

The Pilot Light
by Paul Renault
Lansing, MI

Rachel warmed her hands on the cup at my kitchen table. “Daniel came over last night,” she said.

“You call the cops?”

“No.”

“What about the restraining order?”

“He called first. I said it was all right. He came over and picked us up . . .”

***

She carried her daughter into the room at Sparrow, after a change of pants. Daniel jumped out of his chair by the bed and grabbed at Molly. The little girl buried her face in Rachel’s neck and began to cry. Rachel cooed to her as hot tears soaked the collar of her blouse.

“I need a Mountain Dew,” said Daniel, and he rushed out.

As his boot-steps faded, Rachel sighed. Molly relaxed her grip. Rachel set her down, and the little girl toddled over to the bed.

“You look funny,” she said.

“It’s my liver,” said her grandpa, patting his belly. “It’s the body’s filter. Cleans out the blood. Mine has a cancer in it. Metasta-sized. I’m sick. But they gave me a sponge bath and a
Vicodin before you got here. I feel all right.”

Daniel came back with four cans. “My treat,” he said, offering one to Molly.

“No,” said Rachel.

“She’s my kid too,” said Daniel. “I can give her a pop if she wants one.”

“Caffeine,” said Grandpa. “Molly doesn’t need it and neither does her mother. She’d be up all night.”

Daniel shrugged. “You want one?”

“No,” said Grandpa.

Daniel tossed the cans on the foot of the bed. He picked up the accordion. “Aunt Agnes leave this?” He began squeezing noises out of it.

Molly covered her ears.

Grandpa rubbed his face. “Put it down,” he said.

“It’s your own fault, Dad. You never taught me to play.”

“You wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t sit still—”

“You never gave me a chance.” Daniel threw the accordion down, and he kicked it back into the corner.

“I want to go home,” said Molly.

“Me too,” said Daniel.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

***

I asked her if she wanted another cup of coffee. Rachel dabbed at her eyes with a napkin.

“I’d better go,” she said. “You’ll be late for work.”

“So?”

Rachel got up and pushed her chair in. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“Anytime.”

“Molly conked out on the ride home,” she said. “Daniel and I sat in the car for a while in front of the building and talked. He quit drinking, he says. He’s in AA. He’s trying to turn his life around.”

“And you believe him?”

“I don’t know. But I want to believe him.”

***

The phone woke me. I fumbled for it.

“He ditched me,” said Rachel.

“What?”

“He ran out. Knocked me down.”

“Who?”

“Daniel.”

“Are you all right?”

“Can you pick me up?”

“Where are you?”

“At the hospital,” she said.

“Sparrow?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll be right there.”

***

The cold air set off my asthma, and I forgot my inhaler. I went down Capital, through LCC, wheezing. The light turned red. I pumped the brakes. I fishtailed across Shiawassee. Nobody hit me. I had the streets to myself. The car stopped against a curb. The tires spun. But I rocked the car off the icy patch.

I made it to the hospital, to the pick-up area off Michigan. Rachel came out holding her wrist. She had raccoon eyes from the mascara and had lost her red knit cap. She hopped in the back, like I was driving a taxi. “Take me home,” she said.

I handed her a tissue. She blew her nose and kept the tissue balled up in her fist as she steamed up the window. I crept across town like a man on his hands and knees.

Rachel lived eight blocks from the house I rented. The door to her apartment laundry didn’t lock. I used those fifty-cent machines. That’s where I met them. One morning, I juggled balled-up socks for Molly and she stopped crying. Rachel liked that. We got to talking . . . After about a month, I asked her to move in with me. She and Molly could have the other bedroom, I said. Rachel said no, it wouldn’t be right. I thought once the divorce went through . . . Now I wasn’t so sure. And I worried about Molly, where she was tonight, if she was scared. If she was safe.

“He flickered, there at the end,” said Rachel. “He looked up at me and tried to say . . . I don’t know, something—something important. Then he just . . . just . . . went out.”

***

PAUL RENAULT’s credits include “Bush Meat” in the British science magazine Nature, as well as flash-fiction pieces “The Last Stud,” “Idle Hands and the Devil You Know,” and“Take Two” in Akashic Books’s Mondays Are Murder series.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: May 15, 2017

Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , ,



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