BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL

By Robert Pesa

She had things to tell him and wanted him in a good mood, so she fixed the green bean casserole, the recipe she'd gotten off the back of the can of French Fried onions, the recipe which lately had been his favorite. She left the can on the table because she knew he liked to read the back while he ate.

Now, while Bill worked on the casserole, grunting the way he did when he was satisfied with the food, she came to the table and laid her coupons on the green Formica.

"I've been saving us money, Big Bill," she said, calling him by the name he preferred, the one he made sure people used after he'd known them for a while. It made him feel good, hearing his name when he walked into a public place, hearing people shout, "Big Bill!"

He grunted, reading. She knew it would take him the entire meal to read the can because of the trouble he had with big words. He called them "dictionary" words and said regular people had no use for them, and why couldn't they just say fix instead of prepare, or mix instead of combine?

"See, these coupons come from the Sunday paper," Lu Anne said, "the one Mrs. Bowman gives us after she's done reading it?"

Big Bill grunted.

"Don't you want to see this, honey?" she said. She waved a coupon, seventy-five cents off any two packages of gourmet pistachios, in front of him.

He looked up at her, finished chewing and swallowed, giving her what he called his warning look. She looked away and Big Bill settled back to the bean casserole and the can.

Lu Anne said, "I've been clipping them out since April, saving money. When we had enough I was going to buy something special. Something real nice, like I couldn't afford otherwise."

Big Bill took a pull off his glass of Jim Beam and Diet Coke, glanced at it, then looked at her before returning to the casserole. It was a signal the drink needed freshening.

Lu Anne got up and retrieved the cereal bowl full of ice that Big Bill liked her to keep on the counter during the afternoons. She dropped two cubes into his glass - only two, he didn't want no goddamned watered-up drink when it melted - and poured him a generous helping of Beam, counting to three Mississippi instead of two, and a splash of Diet Coke. She had talked him into switching to diet after she had seen a man on a talk show saying that high amounts of dissolved sugar could cause colon cancer. Big Bill was terrified of colon cancer, what he referred to as The Ass Rot. Walk around with one of them calliope bags hanging off you.

Big Bill took another pull off the glass, which featured a faded picture of the Flintstones from back when they sold jelly that way. He raised his eyebrows; the extra Beam made him happy.

Lu Anne took that as a sign and spread some of her better coupons on the table. "The Shop 'n Save doubles them, see? That's why the seventy-five cent ones are the best, because you get a dollar-fifty off. What you do, you watch the flyers and wait for something to be on sale before you buy it. Heck, sometimes you can get an item for practically free."

This time Big Bill's grunt changed slightly in tone, which either meant he was interested or irritated. Probably irritated since the front of his tee-shirt was damp with sweat, the hot afternoon sun slanting across his thick arms because the trailer had no curtains. Big Bill's chest and arms used to be bigger when he was employed by the ice packing plant, but most of the muscle seemed to have given way to gravitational pull and found its way down to his gut. It pressed against the front of the white T-shirt, a natural collector of sweat and dirt, so by the end of the day that part of him was gray while the rest of the shirt was still white. Lu Anne didn't mind because she got great deals on laundry detergent with bleach, sometimes paying only half price with her coupons.

"They know me down at the Shop 'n Save," Lu Anne said. "See me coming and say, 'Look out, here comes the coupon girl, gonna clean us out.' Then sometimes a couple of the cashiers and bag boys will come around and watch me check out, just to see how I did. Heck, one time -"

"You been messing around with one of them bag boys?" Big Bill had stopped eating and was looking up at Lu Anne with the fork in his hand.

"Well no, honey. I just -"

"Cause you know what'll happen Lu Anne, I catch you screwing around. You know that's why you had to quit the Wal-Mart, don't you? You messing around, making friends with all those young bucks, acting like you was at some night club or something."

"They were old men, Big Bill," she said. "Not a one of them was under sixty-five."

Big Bill pointed the fork at her. "Don't go getting on like that with me. You just watch yourself down there at the Shop 'n Save. Get your shopping done and get back here where you belong." He gave her his warning look again, then went back to the casserole.

Lu Anne said, "It's just, this makes me happy, you know? Making a difference, saving money. See, there's more to it than you think. There are some coupons, you can buy a different item than it shows. Or a smaller one, or maybe just one instead of two like it says. It goes by the bar code on the coupon, but the codes aren't accurate. It's exciting, once you start to figure out how to do it. I saw it in a magazine."

No grunt. No sound at all, just Big Bill's chewing, crunching on some of the French Fried onions that hadn't softened in the toaster oven. He had gotten bored with the writing on the can and twisted it to look at the picture of the bean casserole. Lu Anne knew he would stare at it for a while then make a comment about how much better the one in the picture looked, with the checkered tablecloth and a glass of wine beside it, flowers on the table.

"It's astonishing, the things one can buy with coupons," Lu Anne said, using a big word to show him she was moving up, moving ahead. A small show of defiance, but he didn't notice. "Maybe some day we can afford a baby like we talked about."

"Ain't no babies coming into this house," Big Bill said around a mouthful of casserole, waving the fork around, "until you can make the place look presentable."

"Shoot, that's what I'm trying to do," Lu Anne said. "Anyway, you were the one ripped down the curtains. That time you thought I was fooling with the septic man."

Big Bill looked down and waved his fork, indicating the end of the conversation. It was one of the many gestures, Lu Anne thought, that the common table fork could be used for. She felt the sting of tears, hoping it would have gone the other way but knowing in her heart it never would.

Lu Anne took a breath then sprung it on him. "I saved us two twenty-seven fifty."

Big Bill looked up, working to arrange the decimal point in his head. After a moment the thick eyebrows went up. "You mean two hundred?"

"Takes me a long time to make that at the Chuck Wagon," Lu Anne said. "Take me a year with the way they tip down there, a dollar or sometimes less, after I ran around keeping water in their glasses and waiting on them hand and foot."

Big Bill had stopped eating, interested now. "Well, let's see it, woman."

"I bought something with it Bill. Something I wanted. I deserve to have things, Billy," Lu Anne said, reverting back to the name he had used in high school when she met him, not caring anymore how mad it made him.

"God damn it, Lu Anne. You didn't even ask me before you spent that money?" His face was getting red. When he got mad you could even see the color up on his head, right through the crew cut. "What in hell did you buy?"

Lu Anne went to the cupboard where she kept her cleaning products. It was a good hiding place; as far as she knew Big Bill had never even opened it. She pulled out a flat wooden box and set it on the table.

"What in hell is that, woman?"

Lu Anne opened the box, lifted the nine millimeter from its blue felt bed and shot Big Bill straight through the head. As she put the gun away, she was thinking how astonishing it was, the things one could buy with coupons.