What’s it all about? And why would anyone want to read it? Well, let me try to explain without losing your interest too quickly. Basically, it’s all about me. Shameless self-promotion: of my writing, of my novels:
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? and Reis's Pieces, of my amazing ability to come up with clever captions on photos of my travels . . . And also, a blatant representation of my stupidity when it comes to spelling, editing, and computer-type stuff.

My debut novel:
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar Disorder was released in September of 2010. My second novel: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, was released May, 2012!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

After the Wife Knows

In light of recent ‘Tiger’ events, I thought I’d change things up a bit (a little darker) and add this excerpt from one of my old novels -- one that will, most likely, never see the outside of a computer. But, none the less, there is, perhaps, some decent writing in my old stuff.

After the Wife Knows

Tom entered the bar right on time. He checked his watch. It was five p.m.. He flipped open his cell phone -- no messages. He wasn’t at all surprised that she wasn’t here yet, but that didn’t keep him from feeling irritated. Was he the only one in the world that owned a watch and used it? He sat at the bar and popped a pretzel into his mouth. The bartender came up. “What can I get you?” he asked.

“Scotch. On the rocks,” Tom answered. He looked around the room. It was full of the usual after-work-boys that weren’t quite ready to go home to their wives. He imagined there were a few, like him, that had no home to go to anymore. He tried to figure out which ones they were. It was hard to tell. All the men seemed to have that, ‘I’m here and no one can make me leave’ attitude. Maybe he was all alone in here. The bartender brought his drink and he stirred it absently. He checked his watch. It was five-o-eight. He stared at the light tan swirls of the scotch as it mingled with the ice. It was lovely. He brought the glass to his lips and closed his eyes to the gentle sting that bathed his tongue and throat.

He’d gone to see that doctor, just as his brother, Jerry, had insisted. What a joke. He found it amazing that these people, his brother included, actually got paid, and paid well, for what they did. The shrink had sat in his big leather chair, trying to appear as if he cared, and said, “Your brother tells me you’re not handling the separation from your wife very well.”

Tom simply shrugged his shoulders. “The only reason I’m here is that Jerry threatened to have me committed if I didn’t agree to see you. Can he do that? Or is he just bullshitting me?”
“If Jerry feels you are a threat to yourself, or someone else, then, yes, he can see that you’re admitted to the hospital. I doubt he’d make that final decision himself, seeing that you’re his brother; but he has a lot of good friends and colleagues that would happily step in.” The psychiatrist smiled.

Tom shook his head in disgust. “You people make me sick,” he said, but he was smiling good-naturedly. “Okay. So what do I need to do to get Jerry off my back?”

The doctor leaned forward slightly. “Well, for starters, accept responsibility for your affair. If you feel you screwed up, and you want your family back, then stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop drinking yourself into oblivion and fight to gain their forgiveness. If, on the other hand, you truly want a new life, then accept that, and go out and begin it.”

“So you’re telling me I have to act like a normal rational human being -- make hard mature decisions?” Tom said with mock horror.

This time, the doctor’s laughter was deep. “I think that’s what Jerry has in mind.”

Tom grinned. “You don’t think I’m nuts, do you? You’re probably thinking, my brother’s an over protective son-of-a-bitch that throws this perfectly great guy at you just to complicate your day. And you’re right! I really think it’s Jerry that ought to be in here. Do you think you could help him get over this obsession he has with me? I mean, he thinks I’m totally helpless -- always has -- that it’s his place to make sure I make it through the day. It’s truly pathetic.”

“I think you need to concentrate on your own problems,” the doctor said seriously. “If you truly believe Jerry thinks you’re helpless, and that bothers you, then prove him wrong. Take control over your life; and don’t let Jerry or anyone else tell you what to do.” He sat back a bit and tapped his pen on his desk. “But you need to take control. Alcohol won’t ever give you control, only the opposite.” Tom watched the pen move up and down, and then, half way between up and down, it stopped abruptly. Tom looked up, and the doctor continued. “I believe you know that. Maybe your drinking to excess has less to do with your unhappiness and more to do with driving your brother nuts, I don’t know. But I do know that Jerry thinks the world of you and he’s worried sick . . .”

And so that’s the way it had gone -- an hour’s worth of lecturing, with Tom having very little to say. He was just glad it was over. Whether he’d go back, was something he’d have to think about. He checked his watch again and drummed his fingers on the bar with impatience. This was getting a little ridiculous. Why was he sitting around waiting? He didn’t need to put up with this shit. He took another sip of his drink. Maybe he should leave . . .

He knew she’d arrived without looking up. He felt the collective appreciation of all the men in the bar -- the subtle decrease in the volume of their words -- the slight shift in the air as they all turned her way. He fought the urge to look up. Lost. Slowly raising his head towards the door, his breath stopped in his chest. She was floating towards him, her hair swinging from her shoulders, her lips parted, just a sliver of darkness between that red. He closed his eyes to the beauty of her approach. When they reopened, she was there, her soft lips sweeping his cheek, her smell. He heard the almost inaudible moan of disappointment escape from his fellow denizens. He could not help but feel proud, as she sat down next to him, the presence of her body sending shivers of pleasure to his groin -- every bit as powerful as that very first time.

“What are we drinking?” she asked, her voice more lovely than he remembered.


She wrinkled up her nose. “I think, I’ll have something else.”

“You’re late.” It felt good to say something harsh. She shrugged her shoulders -- she was unconcerned. “I thought you’d dropped off the face of the earth,” he continued his attack.

“No, just lost in New Jersey. Ran into some friends in the city, they hijacked me to Jersey. I’ve been there so long, I’m worried I’ve picked up an accent. What do you think?” She smiled. “Am I talking funny?”

Her smile softened him. “No. You sound just fine. Cell phone? You never picked up.”

“Passaic River. Long story.” The bartender came and took her drink order. They watched as the bartender took down the wine glass and filled it with Sauvignon Blanc. He placed a napkin down and placed the glass in front of her. Maura placed a five dollar bill on the bar and took a graceful sip of her wine. She turned her lovely face towards him. She studied him. It was the first time she’d actually given him a good going over. “You don’t look so good.”

Tom frowned. “Thanks. What a lovely thing to say.” The bartender came back with Maura’s change and he smiled appreciatively as she waved it away.

Maura continued to ponder over Tom. He looked away from her and took a long swig from his glass. “Your wife knows about us,” she finally said. “She overheard our last phone call.”

“You’re amazingly astute.”

“Why are you angry with me?” she asked casually, flippantly. “Did you think she would never find out? Do you think that lies upon lies don’t pile up, until even a blind man can see them?” She took a sip of her wine and set the glass down gently. “Don’t you blame me! Everything was out on the table, Tom -- before we ever sat down to eat.”

“Shut up.” He turned away. His face collapsed into tears, and he hid behind his drink. He could feel her eyes on him and he was drawn away from his scotch, back to her eyes. He turned slowly to meet them, prepared for anger, disappointment, sadness . . . But he was shocked, and then annoyed, by the boundless pity they conveyed. He looked away. Things were worse than he thought. Maybe Jerry was right, maybe he ought to be in the hospital. Her hand squeezed his arm and she leaned her head against his shoulder.

“I’m sorry that you’re in so much pain,” she whispered. “I’m sorry that it’s over.” She pressed harder into his shoulder. “I’m sorry that it began. I hate to see you hurting so.”
He pressed his body towards her. “I brought it all on myself,” he whispered back, through silent tears. “I never wanted anyone, the way I wanted you. God, how I ache for you, even now . . .
But, I don’t think I know how to live without my wife and my kids.”

“I know. I’ve always known that.” She brushed her hand to his cheek, pushing away some of the wetness. “That’s one of the things that made it so easy. Me and my carefree life, and you, with all your commitments. It was idyllic.”

He closed his eyes. He’d known that. Somehow, he’d hoped he was wrong -- that she was so desperately in love with him, that she’d see this as a chance to be together. He would’ve liked the chance to make the choice, even if that choice seemed a forgone conclusion. He put his arm around her, and felt the warmth of her body. He smelled the sweetness of her hair, felt its softness on his skin. He was overcome by loneliness.

“Why don’t we go to my place?” she whispered, moving her hand gently along his thigh. He closed his eyes to its pleasure -- let out a tiny puff of air. “The last time,” her words tickled his ears, “can be as good as the first, if only you’re apprised.”

Tom stood outside the door of the house. The night was darker than most, due to the small winter storm that had blown in from the north. The air blew cold against the back of his legs, going right through the thin cloth of his pants, whipping up his spine, and biting hard into the back of his head. He pulled up the collar of his coat in an attempt to stay the cold wet flakes of snow that hit his neck, melted, and then ran down his shirt. The keys to the house were in his hand; and he toyed with them, the sound of their jingling just discernable over the wind. His fingers grew stiff with cold. The keys fell onto the stoop, and as he bent to retrieve them, he glanced back toward the safety of his car, the wind and snow attacking his face. He shivered involuntarily and stepped back from the doorway. Yes, the lights of the bedroom windows above were still dark; the boys apparently asleep. Tom stepped back toward the door and leaned his head against it.

For a full five minutes, he stood there, head to the door, before slipping his keys back into the pocket of his coat. He felt around for the doorbell in the dark; his fingers finally finding the tiny round protrusion and pressed it gently. It took some time before he heard the hesitant words above the hiss of the wind. “Who’s there?” Sarah’s voice. He was paralyzed into silence. Would she let him in? Only when she said it again, a little louder, with a touch more concern, did he find his voice.

“It’s me, Sarah,” he said, loud enough so that she could hear him through the door. “Can I come in, please?” He was answered by silence -- a long moment slipping by -- his emotions surging, his voice just not cooperating for a second attempt. He was collapsing. Collapsing under the weight of rejection. He would freeze to death on his own front steps, key in his pocket, but the door securely closed to him. There was a certain ironic tragic appeal to that . . .
The newspapers would surely pick it up. Maybe even the evening news. Would there be photos? “Here’s Mr. Benson before his breakdown.” Perhaps a nice family shot -- maybe the one where he’s playing soccer with the boys -- Sarah smiling in the background. “Here’s Mr. Benson frozen to the steps.” A gruesome ghastly shot. All human dignity gone. A tearful interview with Jerry. “He was the best brother anyone could ever have . . .”

Then Tom was reprieved by the small sound of the click of the door as it opened. He stood up straight, and tried to look dignified.

Sarah’s eyes scrutinized him as the light from the house struck his face. “You’re drunk,” she observed. He shook his head in denial. He’d only had one drink -- hours ago. “Then why’s your face like that? Your nose all red?” she asked, her voice in light accusation.

“Maybe it’s because I’m standing out here in the fucking cold.” He smiled. He couldn’t help smiling, she looked so good. She was wearing a SUNY Albany sweatshirt with tight blue leggings. Her hair was slightly ruffled as if she’d been cuddling with someone. She was, as usual, barefoot, a fact that always amazed him in the winter. Her toes looked soft and delectably pink. He licked softly at his lips -- he’d always had this thing about her feet.

She laughed, but her face quickly grew harsh. “Don’t you make me laugh,” she warned, her voice mingled with anger. “I’ve got every reason to hate you -- slam this door in your face, and never speak to you again, except, that is, through our lawyers.”

“Please, Sarah. I don’t have a lawyer. I don’t think you do either.” Was it possible she had a lawyer? He pushed that thought aside -- keeping the panic at bay. “Please, let’s you and me just talk.” He looked at her pleadingly. She sighed slightly, then stepped aside and opened the door to him.

“The kids are asleep,” she said.

“I know. I waited until their lights were off,” he said as he stomped his feet on the rug and shook the snow off his coat. “You look so good,” he told her, smiling warmly.

“Don’t start,” she warned, pointing her finger at him. “I’ll throw you right back out in the cold!”

“I can’t help it. I’ve really missed you.” He gave her his gentle, playful, come hither eyes. He added to the look the slightest stroke of his hand against her cheek.

She shoved his hand away, her eyes flashing true anger. “Get out!” she said. “You’ve got some nerve! If you think that you can come in here, pulling that fucking boyish charm on me, you think again!” She glared at him. “Get out!” she repeated.

Tom’s face disintegrated. “Sarah, please. I’m sorry. Sometimes it seems all I’ve got is charm.”

“It’s not enough. It never has been.”

He looked at her. Was that hatred in her eyes? “Eighteen years, Sarah,” he said quietly. “Isn’t that worth a conversation? Can’t we please just talk.”

“No more screwing around?”

He looked at her sadly. “I’ll be good. I promise.”

She closed her eyes and nodded an okay. He took off his coat and boots. He glanced around his house. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed. He took in each possession no longer in terms of theirs. That table was his -- he’d been the one who really wanted it -- that chair . . . Well, that should be Sarah’s. What about the coat rack? He’d made it; but wasn’t it for her? He looked at her, bewildered. Had so much changed in such a small span of time?

She gave him no answers, but turned and walked away. He followed her, as a guest, into the living room. She sat in a chair far away from any of the others. “Come on,” he said. “I don’t want to have to yell. I said, I’d behave.” She gave him a look of distrust, but moved to one end of the couch. She pulled up her legs against her chest and wrapped her arms around them, fitting nicely into the corner. He sat in the middle of the couch and faced her. He wrapped his arms across his chest. He was still freezing. “You should have a fire going,” he told her.

“You’re the one who always liked the fire,” she said crisply. “Not me. I believe in the evenness of central heat.”

Tom nodded his head. This wasn’t going to be easy. He’d spent hours thinking of what he was going to say, once he got the chance, but now, looking at her, nothing seemed appropriate. “I don’t know what to say,” he offered weakly, which was decidedly the wrong thing to say, because he saw the look of disgust cross her face. “No. That’s not what I mean,” he added quickly. “I do know what to say, I just don’t know how to say it.”

“With your mouth, Tom. You say it with your fucking mouth.”

“It doesn’t help that you’re so angry.”

“I’m not sitting here to help you.”

Tom let out a long sigh. “How about, you help us? I screwed up. We both know that’s true. I know things haven’t always been easy for us, but we’ve been together forever. I don’t want to lose you. I meant it when I said, I miss you. Sarah, I can’t make it without you and the kids.”

She just shook her head.

“I know. I know,” he said. “Maybe that should have occurred to me before I . . .” He stopped, ran his fingers through his wet cold hair. “I’ve done a lot of soul searching this last week and a half. Looked at a lot of my faults --”

“So, you took the week off? Just sat around and looked?”

He closed his eyes and sighed. “You know, I don’t always think things through.”

“No shit.” She looked at him coldly.

“Remember your cat,” he said softly.

“How could I forget?” There was a dangerous look in her eyes.

“Will you let me tell you about that? Exactly what happened, without hitting me or something?” Sarah shrugged. He studied her face a moment -- decided to take the risk. “It was summer, as you may recall. I was coming home from work. You and the boys weren’t home. I can’t remember where you were.” He stopped and repositioned his feet a bit. “I was driving down the street, and I saw the cat rolling around in the driveway, you know, the way cats do, like they haven’t a care in the world. I’d had a bit of a bad day, and I suppose it pissed me off a little that here was this cat rolling around in my driveway like he owned it or something.” Sarah narrowed her eyes at him. He shifted his gaze and went on. “Anyway . . . I decided to play a little joke on him. You know, scare him a bit.” He stopped again and rubbed his hand into his face. “I really thought he’d move. I thought he’d run away and then glare at me with those damn cat eyes, just like he always did. I even gunned the engine so that he would hear me coming.”

“He was getting deaf,” Sarah threw in coldly.

He shook his head at her. “I didn’t know that.” His voice began to choke. “I never dreamed he wouldn’t run. Sarah, I swear, I didn’t mean to kill Albert.”

She looked at him with surprise. “You called him Albert,” she said softly.

“Wasn’t that his name?” he said in sad confusion, tears running down his cheeks.
She closed her eyes. “Yes, that was his name.”

“So you see . . . it wasn’t totally an accident. I just didn’t think things through. That’s the way it was with Maura.” Sarah’s eyes flashed at the sound of her name, and Tom regretted using it. He stumbled on. “You see, there she was. I just thought I’d play this little game. I thought she’d run -- this old fart of a married man gunning his engine at her -- but she didn’t.” He shook his head. “And then, I just couldn’t stop.” Tom had his eyes closed; and he was quiet for a time. When he opened his eyes she was staring at him. Her eyes held no compassion.

“Do you think you can ever forgive me?” he asked.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s forgivable.”

“You don’t mean that.”

Sarah’s lips tightened with hatred. “And how’s the slut now? What’s her name? Maura was it? What kind of stupid name is that?”

“It’s over. I won’t see her again.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that, because . . .?”

Tom shook his head. “I guess there’s no reason for you to. There’s no reason for you to believe a thing that comes out of my mouth, except that I don’t think in eighteen years, I ever lied to you, until I started seeing her. True, I might have stretched the truth a bit where Albert was concerned, but I knew how much you loved him. I was scared shitless. You can be pretty scary when you’re mad.”

She smiled. Tom knew how much she liked her power to frighten. He jumped on the moment of lightness. “Dr. Sweeney, that’s the guy I’ve been seeing, he thinks we should come in together -- you know, marriage counseling. That sort of thing . . . Or if you don’t want to go with me, go alone; and tell him all the terrible things about me. He thinks it would help.”

Sarah looked at him. “Help what?”

“Help save our marriage,” he said softly.

“I’m not sure that’s what I want.”

Pain snaked across Tom’s face; and he was left breathless and fighting panic. “Can’t we at least try?” he said, with renewed tears. “I just won’t believe you don’t love me anymore,” he managed to get out, before collapsing into his anguish. He covered his face and turned his head into the couch. A few minutes went by. He could not gain control over his weeping. He longed for the sweet burn of scotch and the soft numbness it would bring. He felt the shift of the couch and knew that she was leaving him. Well . . . Okay . . . But he would stay here, and cry, until all she was left with was a wet couch and a dead dried-up husband. Then she would have to worry about how to remove the body -- how to shield the children . . .

He heard the soft pad of her naked feet as they stepped across the floor-- stop -- and then her words, “I’ll come with you. It’ll give me a chance to tell someone else what a fucking asshole you are.” And then -- the soft noise of her walking away.

The sting of her words hit him like an olive branch, and with that sting, his heart beat a little faster with the sweet flicker of hope.

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