Claire and the Fool

 

by

Josh Whitt

 

In the marble-floored great hall, amongst the standing
suits of armor, hanging weaponry, and my flouncing self, Henry
VIII, King of England and Scotland, Prince of Wales, Duke of
Normandy, and all that happy horseshit, stood and raised his mug
to the crowd, shouting, "All hail!" 

"Wassail!" said those gathered, in another display of
Pavlovian obsequiousness that sickened me more and more nightly. 
Cornish game hen was served, and cheesecake for dessert.  At
length the serving wenches took the diners' credit cards, for
this was The Monarch's Den - the crown jewel of medieval dinner
theater in the Midwest.  
     

This is not exactly where I pictured my acting career
peaking when I started auditioning for parts as a teenager. 
This is not even where I pictured mopping the floor at nights
while I auditioned for better parts.  However, it is steady
work, and I like my co-workers.  Plus, for what it's worth, I am
acting.  Fortunately, my role is more anonymous than all the
rest: I'm the jester.  I get to wear clown makeup for the entire
performance, and my costume covers most of my body, save for my
face.  I get to do physical comedy, and my lines are sparse. 
Occasionally, I sing, which is about how often that I should
sing.  Mostly I just prance around like an idiot, which is at
least period accurate.  Then the customers bang on the table
with dowels, just like in the old days!  Oh, what fun they had.
***
The shows went on until 11:00, and after I took a shower
and made the drive, it was usually midnight before I got home. 
Tonight, Brianna was in bed already, which was a relief.  I had
nothing to say to her anymore, and conversation was a chore
after acting on stage all night, singing those stupid-ass songs. 
I slept on the couch, by choice.
     

Brianna's near-daily exhortations upon me to find a real
job had really started to wear me down of late.  The next
morning, her attitude was no different.  She told me she was
leaving for work, and then stood in front of me with her arms
crossed across her print scrub shirt - I should explain that
Brianna was a nurse.  She did deadly serious work, at the
St.
John's
Mercy NICU, the neonatal intensive care unit.  I had
always admired her for that, but it had hardened her over the
years since we graduated from college to the point that she now
believed everyone's work should be as stressful as hers, and if
it wasn't, they were just pussies.  That was something that I
did not admire her for at all.  When asked, Brianna told our
neighbors that I'm a bartender at a titty bar on the east side. 
In return, I told them that she danced there. 
     

"Hello?  Joe?  When are you going to find a real job?" She
repeated, stridently, disgusting me.
     

"Right after I find a real wife," I said, faster than I
could think.  She swore at me, stomped out and slammed the door
so hard that it bounced back from the frame without even
latching, and pictures fell from the wall.  We had so many
pictures in this house, of us, of her family, and not mine. 
Furious, I kicked over an end table and shattered a porcelain
lamp that may or may not have been her grandmother's.  Her
family was well off, and had so many heirlooms and shit that I
couldn't keep up. 
     

The odd thing was what she did no longer bothered me.  At
that point, I didn't care if she even came home or not.  She
could go to hell, in fact, and I wouldn't feel sorry for her at
all.  I looked at the broken pieces of the lamp for a couple of
seconds, and unplugged the cord from the wall; pushed the front
door closed.  The house was empty now, except for me, and it
felt dead, airy, and cold, and I could relate.
***
I mentioned serving wenches earlier, and I was serious. 
The script calls for a skinny wench, a fat wench, a buxom wench,
and a couple of average ones.  At tonight's show, the buxom one
was non gratis.  That's because George had fired her a few days
ago for snorting coke off the ladies' room counter top.  An
occupational hazard.  We were able to fill the time with musical
numbers by Ruth Ann, who had by far the best voice of the entire
troupe.  The show had been going on fairly well this way for a
couple of weeks, but the owners insisted that we still needed a
buxom wench.  We had readings and interviews today to fill the
part.  George, the director/pianist, had drafted me to play
opposite the wench wannabes. What can I say, seniority still
counts for something.

I met George at the theater at 10:00.  He was one of those
guys who spoke with enunciation in his tone, agile facial
expressions, and a lisp; he was no help in the prevention of the
perpetuation of stereotypes.  No matter to me; I was glad that I
didn't have to be there alone for any length of time.  This
place creeped me out when it was empty.  The knotty pine
paneling on the walls looked like a bunch of rats' eyes, staring
at you out of the honey blonde wood.

 

We had had many job openings in my time here.  It was
always hard to hire for this place because we needed a certain
ethnic look as well as multiple talents.  Our shtick was 16th
century England, and according to the real history, that wasn't
exactly a diverse place.  We had to turn away a number of
talented actresses with great voices just because their skin
didn't fit the part.  That was medieval in itself - I had never
succumbed to the racism that still infested this city - and it
was disappointing that we had to resort to it, but theatre, even
this low on the artistic totem pole, must maintain a certain
purity of itself. 

 

We had this Latin chick named Carmen come in,
who had the body and knew all of the lines, but she couldn't
waitress.  Then we had several who couldn't act or sing, but
were experienced waitresses that could carry half a table's
worth of dishes up each arm.  Sorry, that's a great skill, but
we needed actresses.
     

By 3:45 George, our Artistic Director/Pianist, was as tired
of bad singing, bad acting, and bad waitressing as I was by
then.  I asked him who was next, drinking some coffee.
     

After a suitable roll of the eyes, he propped his half-
glasses back in place on his nose and said "Okay, so now we have
Miss," George paused dramatically, and lowered his voice an
octave, "Claire Bender."
     

Who?  That woke me up.  Couldn't be her.  "Who did you
say?"
     

Again with the James Earl Jones: "Claire Bender.  With an
'e'.  Do you know her?"
     

 "I was in high school drama classes with a Claire Bender." 
I guess she didn't meet with smashing success, either.
George shrugged.  "Hmm, well, small world.  Go get her,
will you?" 

 

Oh Christ, George, why did you make me do this? 
Obediently, I did the honors, bringing along my clipboard, for a
prop.  All the world's a stage, you know.
     

I stepped out into the next room, which was a two-room pub
with a bar occupying most of what would be the north wall.  The
show didn't happen out there; I had never actually been in that
part of the theatre when it was open.  It made for a serviceable
waiting room, and the bartender was working.  Some of the other
auditioning actresses had obviously been patronizing him.
"Claire Bender, please?" I said, head tilted down at the
clipboard, eyes up at the room, shifty.
     

From a chair at a table in the back of the room, she stood. 
I was right.  It was definitely her, though it took me a second
to realize this.  Last time I had seen her, the styles had been
drab and modest, and young women often interchangeable. Today,
not so.  I recognized her by her delicate features, that
possessed her face as opposed to defining it: her nose finely
rendered and drawing to a point, her lips full and feminine, her
eyes enormous, brown, and deep - not in their hue but rather
their figure - and all of it blended at the edges by her pale
feathery skin as if she were the subject of a Renoir. 

 

 Her hair was parted to the side and straight and multicolored from blonde
through sienna red to the black-brown of burnt soil, and she
dressed to prove that, yes, she was indeed qualified to be the
Buxom Wench.  She looked good in the room, with its ponderous
oaken bar and dire British fetishes strewn about.
     

She walked towards me and said, "Joseph?  Joseph Arundel?"

"That's right," I said, allowing recognition to traverse my
face, slowly.
     

"It's Claire!  From Ritenour!  The fifth period drama
class!  Oh my God!"

"Hi," I said, eloquently, "I didn't realize you were
coming."

"I saw the ad in the paper, and you know how I always was
about medieval stuff." Yes, I did.  Claire was one of those
girls that got hooked on Tolkien and Feist and Jordan at a young
age, and saw reflections of herself in the realms of hobbits,
elves, and wizardry.

"Well, you've come to the right place," I said.

"After my reading we have to get together and catch up,"
she said.

"Yes, I would like that.  Right now, though, I am
technically working, so I have to be brief and bring you in for
the reading.  We can talk later at the brewery."  I held her
hand shortly, and I caught her eye.  The twinkle in it was
honest, direct, and ancient - primal.
***
I brought her through, introduced her to George. 
Pleasantries dispatched, he had her read lines from the script
against me.  For the sake of the readings, I played the role of
the king.

"Oh sire," said Claire, "could I not make thee a wife?"

"Tell me, wench," I said, suppressing a giggle, or perhaps
an episode of vomiting, "how couldst thou serve me?"
She gave me a look, one that we used to share, when we
would speak similar lines in high school drama.  The pure cheese
that Mr. Fuhr had inflicted upon us - "Our Town" and the like -
seemed designed more to drive us from the theater than acclimate
us to it.  But then again, in those days, my tastes were
suitably hard-boiled as befits a high school kid.  I had been
teaching myself the Kevin Spacey part in "Glengarry Glen Ross"
and my acting hero was Christian Slater, of all people.
     

Technically speaking, Claire's reading was as spotty as the
rest.  She didn't sing all that well, but she was mostly on key,
her acting was okay, and her waitressing passable.  She spilled
some beer, but didn't drop any dinnerware.  After I walked her
out to the pub, I reminded her that we would meet up, at the
brewery next door.  We were upstairs, so there was an elevator
ride down to street level, and at the bottom, we again squeezed
hands a bit too long, and after she left.  I smelled her perfume
in the elevator; I felt as if the car would never stop going up.
     

George asked me, "What do you think?"
     

 I thought for a second, clearing the memories away, being
professional.  "I think she's about as good as we're going to
get all-around, but I can't work with her."
     

"Why not?"
     

"I can't afford a divorce."
     

"Oh, I thought I saw some chemistry there!  If you were the
king I'd hire her anyway."  George nodded once with that,
playfully slapping my arm, giving me his mischievous smirk.  He
understood heterosexuality, if not firsthand.
     

"George," I scolded him.
     

 "How do you know her?  Tell me.  I have to know."  George
fascinated now, he leaned forward with his chin on his
interlaced hands.  I hesitated to respond, but hell, my wife
wouldn't come within 20 feet of the front door of this place,
and George was trustworthy enough. Might as well let it out.
     

"Okay," I sighed.  "I went to high school with Claire.  I
always liked her, in that way.  We were a lot alike, and we
ended up spending a lot of time together.  She was one of those
girls that I always had an attraction to but I was afraid to act
on it."
     

"Why were you afraid?" George asked, solicitously.  "She
seemed very down to earth and, if you don't mind me saying so,
like she wouldn't have been averse to your advances.  Even now. 
She looked at you like that way."  He dramatically rolled his
eyes.
     

"It's stupid."  It was, and I didn't want to admit it.
     

 "Tell me," he said, and added, "As your boss I order you
to."  He added a nod to this that made me chuckle, and then
apologize.
     

"Okay.  This is so idiotic looking back on it."  He raised
his eyebrows, go on.  "When I was in high school, I didn't have
many friends.  In fact people hated me."
     

"Same here," said George, nodding.  "I never got the St.
Louis
high school obsession."
     

"You're not from here?  I never knew that."
     

 "I'm from Kirksville.  Anyway, you were saying, go on."  He
gestured for me to do so, while he wrote something in his
notebook.
     

 "I wouldn't have guessed that.  Anyway, I thought that the
key to being accepted was to have the approval of all of the
popular kids.  You know, the cheerleaders, jocks, the school
aristocracy."  George nodded.  "Claire and I had a mutual
attraction going on, but she wasn't popular, so I was afraid to
hook up with her.  I was afraid that other people might make fun
of me for being with her because she wasn't the type of girl
that popular kids liked."
     

 George's mouth gapped open and his reading glasses slid
back down his nose.  "You said what?  That you wouldn't ask out
a girl that you obviously STILL have the flaming hots for - oh,
don't deny it - because you were afraid that some jocks and rich
kids wouldn't approve?"
     

 "High school is stupid bullshit," I shrugged. 
     

Placed in blunt terms like those George used, the shame
drilled even deeper, and I slumped down in my chair in hopes
that it would pass over me.  It had been following me for many
years.  Truth was that I thought about Claire often.  Not quite
daily, but I remembered her, and unlike a lot of my memories,
those of Claire were good ones.  I often recalled one episode
when we were staying after school for rehearsals, and we were
both waiting on our parents to pick us up.  The school had a
foyer where we could see the front breezeway, where our parents
would stop for us.  This foyer was unheated, this was late fall,
and we were cold, huddled and shivering in the doorways.  I can
remember what she was wearing: school jacket, a blue turtleneck,
jeans as always, and deck shoes - Dexter moccasins.  Those were
popular that year.  She had pulled back her hair, then a dull
walnut shade, with a bobby pin or barrette on the top of her
head.  We sat or leaned on the rails that separated the
doorways, talking about seemingly innocuous things, drama class,
the play we were doing, school politics, I don't know. 

 

But the eyes, they were overflowing with curiosity, perhaps lust, and
the winter dryness, or perhaps something else, made us lick our
lips as the other spoke.  It was the kind of scene where ideal
people like those in the movies would pounce on each other and
ram their tongues down each others' throats, and the camera
would do some kind of spiraling trick and we'd fade to black and
the morning would come eventually, then we'd try to figure out
what the hell it was we just did - although, at 15 it was more
along these lines: mom honks the horn, you run to the car saying
"I'll see you at school tomorrow," and once you get home, you
proceed to masturbate furiously.  We implicitly understood this,
even as the moment presented itself; we were aware of the cliché
aspects of our situation and jointly refused to feed the
infernal machine of high Romance.  My mother, who picked me up
that night, asked me who that girl was, and Claire told me the
next day that her parents had asked her about me.
     

George looked at me thoughtfully for a while.  He pushed
his glasses back up his nose; the effect was Elton John playing
the role of therapist. 
     

"Hello, Joe?"  I must have zoned out; I acknowledged. 

"What's your wife doing right now," he asked.
     

 I checked my watch - 4:55.  "She's probably just got off
work; she's at home watching TV, playing with the cat, maybe
checking her email."  I breathed deeply, the nerves starting
already.  "She knew that we had readings today and that I would
be home early.  She might have made plans with her girlfriends
to go out for some drinks or something."
     

George crossed his arms and said contritely, "You have no
clue what your wife is up to right now, do you?"
     

"No, I don't," I had to admit, "and at this point I don't
really care a lot as long as she's not stealing from me or
killing someone."
     

George silently gasped.  "I didn't realize it had gotten
that bad," George said, with wide-eyed surprise. 
     

"I'm starting to think that it's gotten to where it needs
to be to fix it."
     

 George sighed.  "What?  Oh, you boys and girls and your
love games."  He shook his head exaggeratedly.  "Now go talk to
Claire.  I know you had to have made plans."
     

"How-" I said.
     

 "Just go.  I'm ordering you to do that, too."
     

 I frowned at him. 
     

"Don't you want to?" he asked.
     

 I paced in front of him, wringing my hands, shrugging. 
"I'm a married man, George; I can't put myself in a situation
like this."
     

"Why not?  Your marriage is busted, you just said so
yourself.  Right?"
     

"I don't know," I said.
     

"If you don't know," said George, "Then you aren't married
except on paper.  Go.  Go on, get out of here."  He motioned as
if he were sweeping me out.   I guess Claire was the last
reading.
***
The brewery next door had a name, but it might as well have
not.  I had been in dozens of places that were exactly like it
since I had gained legal age: microbreweries/restaurants in old
brick buildings with exposed structural beams, which offered
straight-from-the-vat beer with your meal and tours of the
working facilities.  There were 6-8 different in-house brews on
tap and a smattering of bar & grill food, with appetizers such
as toasted ravioli and deep-friend artichoke hearts.  Standard
stuff for the city.  This place in particular had some good beer
that didn't taste too much like malt; the pizza was pretty good
too.  Since I worked next door, I was a regular, and the
bartenders knew me by name.  On the weekends, this place became
a meat market after dark and the building behind it became a
dance club. 

 

Twilight was invading right now, late in the fall,
and the kids were taking over from the tourists, slowly.
As I stepped inside the brewery's corner front door, I saw
Claire sitting at the front bar, perched anxiously in front of a
beer glass containing the remains of a beer.

"Hi, Claire," I said, feeling my heartbeat skip just like
the old days.

"Hi, Joe," she said, closing her eyes for a moment and then
smiling warmly.  She offered me her hand, and I took it in both
of mine, holding it until I sat down on the stool next to her,
and she watched me all the way.  "This place has good beer; I've
actually never been here before."  Barry, behind the bar
recognized me, gave me the old "whattaya have, Joe" - two red
lagers, please - and a skeptical glance when he saw us touching. 
I ignored that, and started a tab.
     

Claire said, "I don't have a chance for the job, do I?"

"If the final decision were mine you'd get it," I said.

"Oh, that's nice of you to say, but you don't have to be
nice," she said.

"Seriously.  You were the best all-around."
She half-smiled, appreciative.  "You're just being nice.  I
can't sing!"

"You're better than me!  I have a musical number in the
show and I butcher it every time.  It'd be really humiliating
without the jester makeup to hide my face." 
She thought this was funny; leaned forward, sophisticated
with her legs crossed and an eager warmth and wisdom in her
voice.  "I can't believe you ended up doing this.  How long have
you been at this place?"  I told her, six years.  "I always
thought you must have gone to New York or something, really
tried to be an actor.  You were always so talented, I had no
idea you stayed in town."
     

"I majored in computer science in college.  I tried to be a
programmer.  Parents talked me into it.  You know how my dad was
with McDonnell Douglas."
     

"Couldn't stand the cubicle life?" she said, from obvious
experience.
     

"Not at all.  I lasted a couple of years out of school and
then I went back to theater."  We commiserated on office work
for a spell.

Eventually, she asked, "What about your wife?  What does
she do?"

I hadn't mentioned her.  This means that she had been
looking at my hands, which meant that she had been looking for
my ring, which meant that she was curious about my marital
status, which meant what I thought it meant.

"She's a nurse," I said, and explained.  She watched babies
die, daily, as I gallivanted about the Den's low stage like a
medieval Village Person.

She was impressed.  "Oh, that's tough work; I bet she has a
hard time with it."

"She's kind of gotten numb to it all now," I said.  The
bartender brought us refills, and we went on to discuss what we
had been doing since high school.

At length, I asked her, "So where did you end up going to
school?"

"Colorado College," she said, sipping her beer and
approving of it.  "English major."

"No way!  I have friends in Colorado Springs," I said. 
One of my favorite towns, to visit.

She smiled, "Oh really?  Do they go to school there?"

"Well, no.  They're online friends.  Never met them in
person."  I felt a little ashamed, as she drank her beer again,
never removing her eyes from me.  For that matter, I watched her
the whole time.

"I have some friends like that," she said, "they live in
Connecticut, though, and Wyoming.  Would you believe how rural
some parts of Connecticut are?  I guess we Midwesterners always
think of New England as one big city, but.."
     

She rambled on and I pretend-listened.  When we were young,
her eyes had always lit up when she was giving one of her
expositions on a part of the world to which she had never been,
and that was one of her great hobbies.  Tonight was no
exception; I stared mesmerized.  As her story wound down, I
glanced about at the room, at the clientele and the bourgeois
that offered context for our aristocracy of two.  A young couple
at the tall table in the corner, holding hands, leaning into
each other and laughing at the jokes they told at each others'
expense.  New romance, their meals cooling, them not paying one
damn bit of attention to us.
     

Claire had finished her story, and to this day, I have no
idea what happened at the end of it, but I must have really
gotten the hang of faking attention over 5 years of marriage. 

"Wow, but I'm prattling.  So do I really have a chance for the
job?"  She made a fist, leaned her chin on it, and stared at me
with eyes wide open, batting lashes.
     

"I think so."  I swallowed the rest of my beer.  "Let's
walk around," as this would allow me to step away, which I
couldn't do at the rapidly filling bar.  We wandered around to
the back of the room, past the pool tables and the back
bartender. 

 

There were some tall guys there - everyone that came
here was taller than me - talking shit about some other tall
guys that were there, and beyond them, as they glanced and
scoffed, we found a secluded corner.  It wasn't totally dark,
but then it didn't strive towards illumination either - nor did
we complain.  It was proper.
     

She said, "I'm curious."  This is never good.
     

"About what," I said.
     

"I can feel the tension," women could always feel the
tension, "here tonight, and we haven't seen each other for
years.  We were spending all that time together every day in
high school.  Why didn't we ever hook up?  Why didn't we date?" 

She had inched toward me and now we were shoulder-to-shoulder;
whispering and talking at the same time, here in the dark, I
smelled what was left of her perfume and it agreed with me.  I
hovered around there for a while.
     

I knew the answer, but could I tell her? 
     

No, I couldn't.  "It never seemed right, I guess."
     

"It always seemed right, after that time in the foyer.  You
know this." 
     

 I said, "Which time in the foyer?"  Knowing exactly what
she meant - the story that I told George, earlier.
     

She sniggered to herself.  "You were so cute," she said,
holding onto my forearm.  "We were waiting in the foyer at
Ritenour for our moms to pick us up, and we were talking about
each other, what we wanted to do after high school.  You wanted
to be a film actor in stuff like David Mamet or Ridley Scott
would do," she said, chuckling.
     

"So did you."
     

"Yeah.  We always wanted the same things," she half-spoke,
half-sighed.
     

"Such as?"
     

 "Each other," she said, and now she was now very close to
me, mouth to my chin.  I stand up straight involuntarily and she
lays her cheek on my collarbone, tired but content and
beautiful, soft, powdery feminine and oh so light at the touch;
witness all of Her melting into me as she looks straight up at
me, like a teenager, idolizing. 
     

This couldn't go on.  "Shit, I'm a married man, Claire," I
said to her, "Fun as this game might be, I have to stop it." 
But I didn't move.
     

She sniggered, holding up her left hand, where I saw a
bigger engagement ring than I could ever afford - "I'm almost a
married woman, Joe."  One-eyed, appraising me.
     

 "And?  There's still a big difference between being engaged
and married," I said.
     

"Oh, just kiss me, you asshole.  It's been years, she'll
understand, not that she even has to know.  My fiancé gets it. 
It's something we never had together and we got a second chance. 
This is one of the last weekends before we get married.  I let
him hook up with a girl from his high school a couple of weeks
ago, so it's my turn.  It's just a kiss, at least for now."  At
that last, she squeezed me, and I enjoyed all the connotations.
     

"I can't do that," I argued.  "My wife doesn't get it.  I
made a promise to her that I would forsake all others.  You know
how that works."
     

She said nothing, and grabbed me down to her; okay.  Five
beers in, I'm too drunk to argue as she grips me.  It burned
through me, as cliché as it sounds, was there; a furious ardor,
the kind that lives in the hearts of those who never let
themselves give in to it until it builds to a head.  She touched
me and it all went to shit.  The self undermines, turns you
inside out and makes her/them feel what you want to be in the
soul and then the flood; you come up for air and there she is,
staring without pretense afterwards of the expression.  You've
been all technical while she's been all artistic, and she lets
the distinction go.  It's your turn: you give up your own leash
and pour your soul out into the lady's waiting grasp.  A real
man would have held up against the onslaught of lust and
nostalgia, and pushed her away.  But there was such passion
there, good Lord it was overwhelming.  A hell of a squall of
emotion over just the touching of lips and tongues.
     

Here is how she would have looked had this happened when it
should have, back in the school days: eyes wide, hair pulled
back, and beaming at me, smiling and batting eyelashes, just
like tonight.  I held her tightly with my right arm but loosely
with the other and her face, turned up to me, caught the light. 
I saw imperfections that I didn't remember, but hey, what else
is new.
     

"I've waited a long time for that," she said, half-whispering,

 as if anyone could hear her speaking in this place.
     

 "Me too, but we need to talk."
     

 I stepped away from her, and towards the lighter parts of
the room.  I should have thought of this sooner.  She followed
me, and we sat down at a table, not too close to the tall guys,
who were still flexing their nuts.
     

"You want to know the reason why I never asked you out?"
     

"Yes," she said, scooting her chair around towards mine and
blowing trumpets across the hardwood.
     

"Okay.  I was stupid.  Nobody ever taught me better, so I
actually bought into all that high school shit and I thought
that the way to get girls and have people like me was to be
popular."  She nodded.  "You weren't popular, so I thought that
if I was seen with you or that people knew we were together, it
would ruin my chances to have a social life.  There, that's the
truth." 
     

As I finished, I looked at the floor, and I wished I had
another beer, because as I told her the truth, I saw her face go
from hopeful to optimistic to apathetic to sad to dejected to
angry.  Virtuosity.  The truth will set me free.
     

"You were ashamed of me."  Her face was red, and she was
close to tears. Sigh. 

 

"No, that's not it, damn it."
     

 "Yes it was," she was sobbing now, "you were so ashamed of
me so you didn't want to be seen with me, you fucking prick! 
Fuck you!  I can't believe I humiliated myself like this!"  She,
of course, screamed all of that and the tall guys looked in our
direction, and then turned back to their conversation without
comment, which made it somehow all the more insulting. 

 

She stomped out of the brewery, and that's the last that I ever saw
of her, as chasing her would have been undignified, and besides,
I have my wife at home, waiting on me.  No need to bring
attention to myself, when I shouldn't even be here.  At least
she didn't throw her beer at me.  Brianna probably would have.
***
  I do not often make romantic gestures, but when I do, I
make them count.  I felt like I needed to make up for the fight
this morning, and, yes, I felt guilty about what had just
happened - so one such gesture was called for.  First, I stopped
at a florist, and got a dozen roses.  Being out of season, they
were expensive and pink, just the way Brianna likes them.  I
then bought her a couple of CDs that she had been wanting
lately, of some nutless crooner and a comedian.  Finally, two
bottles of our favorite wine, or as I liked to call it, "truth
serum."
     

I called her at the house to see if she wanted me to pick
up dinner.  There was no answer.  Her cell phone, the same.  I
thought that maybe she had to work late, but when I pulled in
the driveway, all the lights in the house were off, and her car
was still there. Was there a power outage?  No, the streetlights
were on. This couldn't be good.
     

I walked in the door to total darkness.  I flipped the
light switch for the living room; it worked.  There was nothing
out of place, other than the lamp that I had broken that
morning, the pieces still laying where they had fallen.  I put
the merchandise down on the kitchen table, and there I saw the
Note.  You know the kind, As Seen On TV.  The one that all
husbands dread finding on the table, when they come home with
flowers and gifts; this example was written in blue ink on a 4x6
legal-yellow pad.
     
      "Dear Joe,
     
      You bastard!  Breaking my grandmother's lamp was the
last straw so there's no need to draw this out.  I'm
leaving you, for a better man.  He had been wanting me to
leave for a long time, but I wanted to try to save this
bullshit marriage of ours.  How stupid of me.
     
      Don't worry about getting screwed in the divorce. 
You've never given me anything worth taking.  Even that
piece of shit car isn't worth the trouble.  Have fun paying
the property tax.
     
      My lawyer will be in touch.  Goodbye.
     
      Brianna
      P.S. Keep your job as the fool, it suits you."
     
      I stared at it for a while.  It didn't seem real; it seemed
like some instrument of a cosmic joke.  Surely, she jests. 
Then, I tore the note from the pad, wadded it up, and threw it
away.  I stumbled through the house, wine bottle in hand, and
looked at all of those pictures on the wall, of family and us;
of all of those two-dimensional people staring at me out of the
captured moments, unable to break free.


Bio:   Josh Whitt recently started writing seriously again after a long
hiatus, during which he had delusions of being a rock star and a dot-com
millionaire.  He lives  in St. Louis with his wife and the world's laziest cat.