“Alright, open up. Let’s see what we’ve got going on in there. Oops. Little tartar in the back there.”
Scraping and humming.
“Just relax honey, I don’t want to poke you.”
Foreigner pumping through the office speakers.
“Sweetie, you’ve met Denise, my assistant, right? Come in here Denise.”
Denise sidling into the periphery.
“Denise and I’ve been fucking for going on, hmmm, three months–is that right Denise? Three months?”
Denise looking at her hands.
“Whoa, sweetie. Honey sit back, calm down, and open up–we’ll be done in a sec.”
It was only after Ann (formerly Mrs. Alex) Bradley had broken into her ex-husband’s new house under cover of night and shoved Denise’s Philips Sonicare Flexcare Rechargeable Sonic Toothbrush ($179.00 from Amazon.com, with the optional sanitizer) up Alex’s dog’s asshole that she felt the therapy sessions were even remotely helping.
Ann had not consciously intended to violate Marshmallow. No, it was comparable to an impulse buy, a quick, unscheduled turn into a beer-and-wine drive-thru after a rough day, which is exactly what she did after carefully replacing the toothbrush in its elaborate holster, retreating out of the jimmied, second-story window, and weeping in her rented Subaru.
The sanitizer would probably get rid of most of the shit on the bristles, but Ann figured there were two or three good brushings before Denise decided to clean the head. There was satisfaction in that. Emptiness too, but mostly satisfaction. She was only thirty or forty percent empty.
The rest: satis-fucking-faction.
“It’s not as if I never loved you, pumpkin. OK, spit. Mind the suction. It’s really a question of perspective.”
Sucking. And more sucking.
“I get it. I know you feel it too. A successful private practice, a refurbished farm house, your research and charities. Cliched, am I right?”
Pain. And more pain.
“Shit. Sorry baby, that right bicuspid needs a little work. Your first filling in a while, huh? You know, my dad used to talk about soft teeth, like there was such a thing, but most of his dental problems had more to do with Jack–watch it honey, little stick here with the Novocaine–Daniel’s than with any kind of genetic predisposition. OK, we’re going to let that set for a while. I’ll get my tools.”
11:30 PM on a Wednesday.
She thought plaintively of kids now, or her lack of them. Not regret, not exactly. It had been a conscious decision, made in the early days of her relationship with Alex, buttressed with liberal screeds about overcrowding, parent complacency, responsible stewardship. The truth, as she saw it now, was that she simply did not want kids; still didn’t. She longed for human contact but not the responsibility of another human’s love. It was as true now, as she took the last sips of Chardonnay from the bottle by her bed, as it had been fifteen years ago.
But they would be useful. They could be useful now.
She examined her pooch and thin legs shrouded beneath the burgundy duvet ($75.95 from Macy’s) that encased the goose feather comforter ($300.00–Macy’s as well). Years of lab work, hunched over a microscope, a carton of leftover Chinese takeout by her side. It was as if she never stopped being a graduate student and simply moved to ever-expanding and improving lab spaces, chasing plaques and tangles, aware but dismissive of the money Alex brought in from his practice, following days of charts and slides with three or four glasses of Burgundy and more takeout.
College-educated, selfish, flush with rationalization. Nothing changed, except she was alone.
She’d served the papers at his work, hoping for some reaction, but was met with hundred-yard stares and people–friends, actually, at one point anyway–too busy to make conversation. They needed their jobs, and since most of them, it turned out, had at one time or another stumbled onto Alex and Denise rutting in the x-ray room, Ann couldn’t even provoke a satisfactory amount of shock.
When she took these thoughts to her therapist, a tall rangy man seemingly more at home on a handball court than an office, she could swear that he hid a rueful smile. That prick was served at work, too, she thought. Is this what women do? Are our little cuckolded fantasies all the same? There must be a private room at some private club where men sit and organize their checklists.
Did she try to embarrass you at work?
Does she still call and hang up?
Key your car?
Stick your new tart’s toothbrush up your old dog’s asshole?
Ignorance is bliss.
Fade to Black
“Alright Lady-Lay. I think we’re good to go.”
Tapping and scratching.
“Feel anything? You know–the more you struggle the longer it’s going to take. Honestly, though, and I have to tell you this, I admire your forbearance, your sense of what’s important. I mean, really, to stay here and finish the procedure after the bomb I dropped on you. It’s what I’ve always admired about you. Priorities. We said no children, and you haven’t whined about it since, and look how easy it makes the split! I wanted a farmhouse, you were skeptical but trusting, and once the property is liquidated and divided in the divorce proceedings it’ll fetch a pretty penny for both of us. I believe in outstanding oral hygiene and here you are, still, after our little talk. Well, anyway, it does impress. Denise, I think we’re ready for the stylus.”
“Listen to that Denise! I ordered new turbines for these bad boys. XGT’s from Midwest. $195.00 retail! Listen to that mofo! I could power a motorboat with this thing!”
Ann had read once, in a New Yorker article, that the stained and microscopically sliced sections of brain tissue that she examined looked like nothing so much as the pickled ginger one received with their supermarket sushi. To a degree, it was how she forced herself to see them. To remind yourself that you were holding someone’s consciousness, someone’s once-functioning self, pressed between two pieces of glass was too depressing. Even she examined a section of brain that controlled swallowing, or blinking, or sphincter control, it was hard for her to remove the person from the micrometrically-sliced bit of gelatinous scrap she hunched over and peered at.
Perhaps it was this required effort of separation–goo from human–that kept her in the standard hamster-wheel of research and observation. She was a conscientious and competent laboratory technician, but nothing more. She spent her days anonymously categorizing and fetishizing: get goo, look at goo, note inconsistencies in goo, return goo, get more goo. Because it had to be goo. A weakness, a career-killer, but born of compassion.
Her lack of advancement could possibly be ascribed to the fact that for the past fifteen years she had a husband with a successful private dental practice and her comfort due to said practice provoked a certain laxity in her ambition.
Her job was never more than a hobby. Like some old codger that retires from his administrative duties at Delco Air-Conditioning and immediately hitches on to an archaeological dig in Belize. She had a job because she was smart and had a PhD and couldn’t stand explaining to other women that she gave it up when she met a man.
To give it up would be to admit defeat, she told herself. Shaking from the hangover and the memory of what she’d done to Marshmallow the night before, Ann jotted several figures on the chart she kept by her microscope and replaced the pickled ginger in the tray to return to the chiller.
I’ve given up, she thought.
“I think that went well, don’t you?”
Rising, staggering, blurred lines at the edges
“OK, baby. All done. Denise will take you up front and we’ll set up your six month. Whoa hon–slow up from the chair. The Novocaine has a kick. That’s it. My people’ll be in touch.”
A distant voice.
“No shit. Hey Denise? Don’t let her fall on the way out–she’s fragile.”
Ann left work early on the thirteenth–two weeks before Thanksgiving, the slush of an early Ohio snowfall worming its way into her sensible slip-ons–bored and addled. Perhaps it was the wine, three bottles the previous night alone, but lab work could do that to you as well (take the goo, watch the goo, etc.); the screaming hangover was only fuel to the fire.
Of course, there was the matter of the job assessment, her weaselly (why had she never seen it before?) boss, the oft-celebrated and embarrassingly touped Edgar Winthop, who spent the first seven minutes of the meeting reviewing her findings/evaluations/personal-situation-related-absences-and-tardies-logged-and-kept-by-the-overly-earnest-but-secretly-dastardly-motherfucking-Scott-Karper and twirling his pearl-inlay Mont Blanc key ring (155 pounds on the website–what is that? $300.00? For a fucking key ring?) at a dizzying clip.
“So, I’m at a loss about your start times.” It was his way of saying that she was coming to work late. Guilty as charged. She was consistently showing up as much as three hours past when she was scheduled, though the lab kept no time cards and work was measured in results rather than time logged. Which meant that someone was writing it down. Fucking Karper, who’d eyed her spot from day one.
She said nothing. What was there to say? I’m frequently hungover. Many of my evenings and nights are spent drunkenly fumbling around my ex-husband’s property. I have successfully absconded with the garden hose, the tiller, and three yard gnomes.
Seen in the light of day, it seemed as if her pride in these crude albeit paltry conquests was misguided to say the least.
“I have no excuse, though I can’t imagine that my reduced hours have significantly reduced my output.” She fumbled with a button on her blouse, re-sewn after it had snagged and torn off on tray of slides the week before. The button slipped the eyelet and came off in her fingers, revealing much more chest than expected and the upper crest of her bra.
“Contain yourself, Ann. This is neither the time nor place.”
“No, I, um–” She held her blouse closed and wondered if a fumbling explanation would do more harm than good. I am not trying to seduce or manipulate you. I am not a seamstress. You are not really my type.
No, she’d let it slide.
“The truth is, in the current economic climate…” So here we go. Her first reaction was to snort at the cliched timbre of her termination. “Current economic climate…” Do people really say that?
Just tell the truth–I have no upside; I am dead weight as a lab technician and could be replaced with an ambitious grad student; I haven’t published in a decade, do not teach, and spend a good portion of my day not here.
She realized only after the words began to tumble from her mouth that she was going to do just that.
“Let me make this easier for you, Edgar. I’m going to leave and not come back. I have been at best an adequate colleague and I can’t imagine the kindness it’s taken for you to keep me on for as long as you have, specifically for the past three months. I’ll always hold you in high esteem. Your toupe makes the top of your head look like a gaping vagina.”
The key ring stopped spinning. “I appreciate your candor and honesty, Ann. You know that you and Alex were always important to Helen and myself. Take care of yourself.” He paused. “My wife has said the same about my rug. I’ll look into implants.”
Edgar smiled and walked her to the door.
“What will you do?” he asked.
“Get drunk, probably.”
“Not tonight, in the future.”
Ann just smiled and looked around for something to put her stuff into. She released grip on her blouse, grabbed a box of test tubes from a counter outside Edgar’s office and dumped the contents on Scott Karper’s desk, sending broken glass in all directions.
“Who is this?”
Breathing, rattling air. “…I can smell you.”
“May I ask who’s calling?”
“You smell good.”
“Thank you, but I’d still like to know whom I’m talking to.”
“I can smell what’s between your legs.”
“I haven’t showered. This is ridiculous. I’m hanging up.”
“I want to get closer.”
After her fifth margarita Ann knew she would have trouble getting off the couch, so instead of chancing it, she grabbed the Snuggie she’d received in the mail the morning before, wrapped it around herself, switched off Be my Valentine, Spongebob or whatever the hell it was, and dropped sideways on the sofa, pulling her knees to her chest.
The Snuggie had been a gift—her only gift that Christmas, actually—from Alex and Denise. The cruel irony of the present—here’s something to keep you warm, you fucking loser—was not lost on her, nor was the knife twist of the card, an extended family portrait that now included that skank Denise where she, Ann, Mrs. Alex Fucking Bradley, used to stand. Of course, the pronounced bump Denise now carried was icing on the cake.
Ann’d been an only child of only children, now both dead, and though she knew of relatives on the east coast, her parents had moved her to the Midwest long before she’d had anything one could refer to as an extended family. Alex’s family had adopted her, grudgingly, it seemed now, though the divorce was a stain on that relationship, like how the shitty finale of a movie ruins everything before it. She had not spoken to any of them since before that day in Alex’s chair.
Of her own family, it was the demented ravings of her father that she associated with her maiden name.
She’d met Alex shortly before her parents passed, her mother first, from an acute and terrible bout of pneumonia, and her father shortly afterward.
Alex had not made the trip with her to watch her mother pass, nor had he come to the funeral, a sorry affair on a cold November morning, sparsely attended by several friends from her mother’s knitting circle, knotted and dissatisfied women, pickled with their discontent and red wine. Ann remembered a strong, weekend-long revulsion, made more so by her solitude. She’d moved only an hour away with Alex, yet this seemed a different world, almost fantastical in its moribund and quotidian details. She was in her early twenties, finishing her degree. She regarded her parents with undisguised disdain for their petty and ambitionless lives. The tended lawn and edged driveway, the vinyl siding, the wrought iron bench no one had ever sat on, the totems of satisfaction she vowed never to substitute for true accomplishment and happiness.
So bourgeois, so self-righteous.
Of course, like anyone with even a glint of honest self-regard, the memory of her former self was balanced on a knife’s edge of rue and disgust. Not to mention a strong glint of bitter irony.
Her father had ranted though her mother’s illness, telling everyone who would listen—in this case the on-call nurse and Ann herself–that the hacking shell of a woman, lying prone between fits for the few days she had left on the earth, was a demon come from the brush pile behind the house to take his soul. His soul had all but left him, neurologically speaking, and any demon would assuredly have passed on such a madman and lighted upon a more suitable target.
Her father’s madness had pushed her into brain research. Not because she wanted to save him—he was well past saving—but because it fascinated her, in a fundamentally perverse way, perhaps, that microscopic burrs and knots could make the man she knew change so drastically and irrevocably. He’s never been a warm man. He was gentle however, if aloof, with a deep reserve that bordered on the autistic.
Now, it was as if the Alzheimer’s had freed him to say the things he had always wanted to say. Revealed him, in a truly frightening way, as more human than before.
Alex had traveled with her at the end, sat with her as her father fell in and out of sleep, in and out of lunacy. At one point, late at night, upon waking and finding Alex asleep and her father regarding him with suspicious, even malicious intent, she asked him what was wrong.
“That man will ruin your life,” he’d said.
“I love him, and he loves me, Dad. That’s Alex—you know Alex. We’re getting married. He proposed.”
“Hmph. Sounds like he’s ruined it already, then,” he said.
She’d brushed some flakes of dandruff from his shoulder, then rested a hand on his forehead.
“Is that what happened to you and Mom?”
Her father had said nothing, merely regarded her with clearer eyes than he’d shown for days, reached out a short, stumpy finger, and tapped her forehead and breastbone twice each, gently and quickly before returning his hand beneath the blanket and closing his eyes.
She lay there in her one bedroom apartment—she hadn’t the energy to shop for a house yet, despite the fact that she could afford one—and thought about those taps. Her training would and had dismissed them as simply the tics of a dying old man, the equivalent of a yip or shudder. But that’s not what they were, not at all.
The blink of her answering machine caught her eye. Three messages, a new record. Two were from the pervert who’d been calling lately (“I smell your muffin,” “Rub it in my face,” “Your pussy makes me spunk,” etc.), a nuisance she tolerated for reasons she could not quite understand. The final message was from the dentist’s office: Just a friendly reminder from the offices of Alex and Denise Bradley! You’re next appointment is scheduled for Wednesday, February 7th at 9:00 AM!
Good grief, had it been six months? Wednesday. She racked her brain. Two days from now. Probably not an appointment she needed to keep. She needed to start looking for a more permanent place, change her phone number, shop for groceries.
She rolled over and listened to the brush and bristle of the rain against the window, looked at the calendar she’d snatched from work the day she was canned.
Wednesday; two days from now. She’d never be able to do it. She had no intention of doing it. She’d never go to the dentist again, even if every goddamn tooth fell out of her head.
She wouldn’t go. She could not go.
She was not afraid.
“I want to get so close I…”
“What do I have to do to get you to stop calling me?”
“Do you want to show it to me?”
“I really think that two or three calls a night is pushing your luck, don’t you? I will call the police if this continues.”
“I want to show it to you.”
“You’re lucky I haven’t got caller-ID yet, buster. This could be the end of you.”
“I want you to open up and taste what I have.”
“Unless it’s a pina colada I’m not interested.”
“Open wide and taste me.”
“I’m hanging up. Again. I would prefer this was the last call.”
“Good bye. Get some help.”
By all accounts, Ann should’ve been pleased to be drinking with other human beings and not just with the dull glow of the television, especially when Hector, a small nondescript Hispanic gentleman who taught across the hall from her, insisted on buying her rounds, but as this was the fifteenth straight Friday she’d ventured out with the staff of Fillmore High School, the thrill had most decidedly tempered into a dull glow of ennui and disdain.
Sometimes, however, good enough was as good as it gets, and she counted her disdain and ennui as blessings.
Fifteen weeks. Three-and-a-half months into a long term substitute position, teaching biology to fifteen-year-olds after their original teacher went on maternity leave after Christmas and then abruptly called after Valentine’s Day to inform the school she would not be returning. Ann had no teaching degree but the school was strapped, and after a brief tussle with the union brought her on to finish the year. Her wages were meager but comparable to the lab, and her position as a sub meant she was not monitored closely, a good thing indeed, considering she had little to no idea what she was doing.
Hector was a godsend, relaying important information (parking, restroom code), sharing materials, showing her how to use the school’s voice mail system. In fact, his easy way and small, well-manicured mustache were immediately intriguing, as was the enormous collection of Seth MacFarlane UFC “collectibles” ($35.00-$250.00 on eBay; she’d checked) he had carefully arranged on the bookshelves above his computer desk in his den. It was all she could look at when she fucked him in the office chair ($75.00 at IKEA) at his house after his wife left for Curves and his son finally fell asleep.
“My wife and I have an open arrangement,” he’d explained.
“Good to know,” said Ann. It was kind of a disappointment, actually, that his wife, by all accounts a radiant woman–tall, broad, undeniably earnest in her fealty to Hector―would or could not feel the sting and embarrassment that she felt with Alex. It was a feeling that placed her in the top fifty biggest pieces-of-shit ever to walk, crawl, swim or fly on this earth.
On the other hand, her shrink would’ve told her that this was all part of the healing process. Maybe she should’ve kept up on her appointments.
She accepted the enormous stein from Hector and sipped the foam from the top, gave a tired and wary glance around the table. Seventeen people, mostly from the social studies department, dressed ubiquitously in Friday casual―Levis ($25.00 at Kohl’s), Sketchers ($45.00 at J.C. Penney’s), and cream polos emblazoned with the school logo and mascot (free―stuffed into everyone’s mailboxes on day one to promote school unity and discourage staff from wearing whatever-they-goddamn-well-felt-like-despite-staff-dress-code).
She hadn’t received the polo, which was no big loss seeing as the mascot was a turtle inexplicably wearing sunglasses and carrying an enormous purple dildo (“It’s a visor and broadsword, like a knight, you know, the Mainville Knights?” Hector explained. “The turtle’s just for merchandising.”) and had to make due with the science department’s shirts, black with red letters that said “I ‘heart’ science” only the “heart” was a visual mock-up of a methane molecule. “’I fart science,’” get it? What a fucking scream,” Hector had explained.
“It’s awesome,” she’d said, “like a pun wrapped in another pun wrapped in the visual representation of a chemical equation nobody really understands.”
“A fucking scream,” Hector agreed.
Everyone looked tired; everyone looked at their cell phones and watches; everyone looked for something to say that would excuse them from this sorry state of affairs. Nobody spoke. Ann felt happier than she had for the past eight months.
“I didn’t think you’d call tonight.”
“You make me want to cream all over my pants.”
“Weird, I never picture you with pants on.”
“Explode all over your face, your mouth…”
“My mouth’s on my face.”
“…um, just your face then.”
“Through your pants? And then on my face? They should use you for deep-core drilling with an instrument like that.”
“Oh yeah, baby. Make you open up and…”
“Well, irony is definitely not your strong suit, is it?”
“I’ll show you my strong suit.”
“Better, better. OK, I’m ready, keep talking.”
As June arrived, Ann could admit that she had been heading down this road from the first call.
Alex and Denise were in Telluride, so any domestic terrorism she could perpetrate on them wouldn’t bear fruit, real or imagined, until the fall. Her substitute position was eliminated by attrition after a long and doomed operating levy campaign failed in May. Finally, it turned out, in accordance with Ann’s resigned suspicions, that Hector’s marriage was far less open than he let on. In fact, it was after running full-tilt through their screen door and diving into her Subaru Dukes-of-Hazzard-style, only to watch in the rear view mirror as Mrs. Consuela Jimenez Calderon stood in the middle of her tree-lined street and hurled a crepe pan off of Ann’s rapidly accelerating rear bumper that Ann realized that the Calderon relationship was decidedly fucking closed.
When she had decided on her plan of action, late evening, the day after her debacle at Hector’s house and a week after she found herself jobless, she was in her apartment’s laundry room, her new cordless (Panasonic Dect 6.0 with two handhelds: $46.95 at Wal Mart) by her side. She was folding and stacking whites, dumping the darks into a nearby machine, and wondering if she should bail on June’s rent, put her heaviest possessions on Craigslist, and head out to parts unknown. She wondered if they still panned for gold in the Yukon, or needed fishing guides in The Keys. God, she would be the most affordable fishing guide ever! She had no fucking clue how to even bait a hook. Maybe that was her in, as it were: an ironic, clueless fishing guide. Would that work in real life or was that amusing only in an SNL sketch? Would they chuck her overboard? Did it even matter?
Maybe she would drive around the country solving problems, like The Fugitive. She often had these fantasies of a rootless life when she was married and she’d gravitated to the romance. Now that it was a real possibility—no husband, job, parents, children, ties of any kind—she wanted to pay the next person to walk through the laundry room door a thousand dollars to start the dryer after she’d already crawled into the drum.
She looked at the phone. For almost five months (hell, ten years if you thought about it) this pervert had been the only man to take a valid interest in her, and as rootless and aggrieved as she sounded when she admitted it to herself, she couldn’t think of a better idea. How was it that she was even considering this? Twelve months ago she was sitting in a dentist’s chair; five months ago she was a drunk, harassed by a gravelly voiced creeper, and yesterday she’d had a crepe pan whipped at her by a huge, hornet-mad Hispanic woman who’d had every reason to drag her from her car and kick her to death with her size-12 stiletto heels ($23.00 at Target). She’d been a cuckold, a canine-rapist, a drunk, a thief, a vandal, a verbal victim of sexual assault, a participant in said sexual assault, and a home-wrecker. Oh, and a substitute teacher, which might’ve been the worst of all.
To think: a year ago she was just Ann, the boring lady who dabbled in lab work and was married to the dentist.
When her mark finally called—she now called him a mark, rather than “creep”, like she had at the beginning, or “Denny” as she imagined his name to be now (she’d had a crush on that particular character in Grey’s Anatomy and fancied that her caller’s voice resembled the actor who portrayed him)–he sounded tired, more haggard than usual. She plucked the phone off the whites and slipped home the cheap latch on the laundry room door.
“Early for you tonight,” she said.
“Yeah, well, life is complicated.”
“So true. If you don’t stop doing this I’ll call the police.” In fact, she wouldn’t, and he knew that, and that certainty would almost make her weep if she hadn’t made peace with the fact that these calls were the only thing keeping her from running a garden hose from her tailpipe to her driver’s side window.
“Jesus, where are you, a refinery?” he asked. She only then noticed the padded clunk and wet chug of the machines.
“I’m in my complex’s laundry facility.”
“You’re what? Like, in public?”
“There’s no one here. See, my apartment has thin walls; I feel more discreet in here, plus I like the smell.”
“Yeah, I like that smell too, but I got to tell you, the fact you prepare for this shit doesn’t necessarily wind up the old crank, if you know what I mean. Are you in your laundry room for every call?”
“Mostly, now, but this is the first time I needed to do a couple loads at the same time”.
“So, you’re like, multitasking while I invade your privacy and and verbally abuse you?”
“Yes, I suppose so, though I have to say that what you do doesn’t really fall under the strict definition of verbal abuse. You’re a more sophomoric, ‘show-me-your-snatch’ kind of tormentor. It’s charming actually.”
“So what, you have a scale? One is, like, a heavy-breathing caveman and ten is D.H. Lawrence? What am I?”
“I don’t have a scale, though if I did…”
“Not interested.” A pause. “OK, I’m going to be honest. The reason I called tonight is I’m pretty sure I’m going to stop calling you. It’s been a hell of a run, you know, three, four months…”
“Yeah. But, see, like, the thing is, I really kind of get off on making chicks uncomfortable, you know, like making them feel violated, and don’t get me wrong, you’ve been sweet, a real peach, and you’ve played along really well and it’s nice to do this for once from my home phone because I know you’re not going to star-69 my ass and talk to my wife and for a long time I had to really dig deep to keep up with the pay-as-you-go minutes on my disposable, so you’ve kept me and mine pretty flush, but this just isn’t working out. It just doesn’t feel right.”
“Well, I suppose we could change the nature of our relationship.”
“Wow. Well, that seems, uh, weird, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m a married man, and an affair is really a level of subterfuge I feel pretty unprepared to, uh, navigate. Navigate I guess is the right word.”
“Maybe just lunch?”
Another pause, followed by a ragged, overwhelmed breath. “Wow, I didn’t see it going down like this. This is…OK, no. Nope. Sorry. This is not how this shit works. Look, if it makes you happy I could talk dirty for old time’s sake, but I guess I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment, and, you know, I’ve kind of made my thoughts clear on the whole late night call deal, so, you know, uh, no. But thanks?”
Ann felt her plan slipping from her grip. She had imagined that she could convince her mark that they should meet, but in retrospect that seemed unlikely. He was right, of course; he was, in his stumbling way, a sexual predator. She was prey. Prey does not, by any means, have the right to invite the predator to lunch at Panini’s; it’s probably a monster turn-off.
She calmed herself. Deep breaths. “I understand. I’m glad we had this talk. I appreciate your former interest and understand your current position.”
“Uh, OK. Good. Glad we could see eye-to-eye on this deal. Just for your information, I guess, this is the best relationship of this type I’ve had. Longest, anyway.”
“Well, that’s something to take away from all of this.”
“OK, uh, bye, I guess.” He rang off and she pressed the “End” button on her keypad, then called up the caller ID, which she recently had installed with her new cable package (Time Warner: $115.00 a month).
H and R Losey. 513-523-7866.
Well, now you know, she thought.
Glad it’s over.
Didn’t expect a 513 area code, though.
It’s probably just a short drive to his house.
Maybe he was just playing hard to get.
It certainly couldn’t hurt to check.
Within the next twenty minutes Ann Bradley had put her laundry away, applied lipstick and perfume, Googled the Loseys’ phone number, Mapquested their address, and driven to their house in the middle of the night, where she parked across the street, between two streetlights and in the shadows. She checked the number she’d copied onto a napkin and redialed the number on her cell.
The house was a modest Cape Cod squeezed between two ranches and abutting the sidewalk. Although she was parked on the other side of the road she felt like she could reach out of the driver’s side window and ring the bell. The windows were thrown open and she heard video game sounds within, sounds that stopped abruptly as her call finally rang through to the house.
Her call was answered on the second ring, a child’s voice.
“Is your daddy there?” Ann asked.
“Hold on,” said the voice.
She saw a boy of around eleven rise from the couch in front room and move to the left side of the house, presumably the stairs, heard him as he wailed “Dad!”
“What, Brad?” a muffled response from upstairs.
“It’s the middle of the night!”
“Not my fault!” The boy, Brad, stood at the foot of the stairs, his head thrown back and loose like a dandelion on a broken stem. Each time he opened his mouth he resembled a disgruntled Muppet—his big eyes disappearing behind his long neck and huge mouth.
“I know, sorry, give me a sec.”
Two things occurred to Ann at this point. First, the the boy and his father were the only people home, because no self-respecting wife and mother would let her son and husband yell at each other like this at 11:45 PM on a weekday. Second, she was a pubic hair’s width from being a peeping tom out there on the street, watching a boy and his father argue from her car. “What’s she sound like, Brad?” the mark asked. She thought she should go. There was no reason to stay, this was a bad idea, and besides, maybe he’d call the next night. She put the car in drive and reached to turn on the headlights.
“Kind of old, kind of sad.” Brad yelled. “Boring.”
And back to park. Did that little fucker just say old, sad and boring?
“Hang it up Brad. Wrong number.”
What the fuck? Did the mark know who was on the phone based on that bullshit description? In context, she supposed it made sense: near midnight, a woman.
But “old, sad, and boring”?
“Old, sad, and boring, Dad.
Oh yes, it must be that crusty bitch I just broke up with. Does she sound like Angela Lansbury?
More like that Rapping Granny.
I suppose you’re right. Hang up, son.
Ann watched Brad punch the off button and throw the phone back on the couch. The sounds of pixelated carnage floated through the front window once again.
Old and Sad.
Kiss my ass.
Ann brought the number up again and was about to hit the send button when, staring at the screen of her cell phone she ran through, once more, the past year and what she been reduced to.
Cuckold, canine-rapist, substitute, drunk, thief, vandal, recipient and participant of sexual telecommunication, homewrecker.
But never old and sad. Never boring. Not anymore.
The woman who’d sat there while her husband drilled into her bicuspid and ruined her life, the woman who’d suspected for years and did nothing, the woman who’d thrown a career away for a gilded lump of bullshit, that woman was old, sad, and boring.
Now, well, now she was stupid and desperate, perhaps. She was quite possibly suffering a nervous breakdown of some sort; that seemed obvious. It could be posited that she was a danger to herself and others; she would concede that without blinking.
But she was not old, sad, or boring.
If she’d hit a bottom, it was long before she ever sat in that dentist chair a year ago. She hadn’t sunk deeper the past year. She’d fought, for the first time in her life.
Tomorrow she’d get some boxes and pack up everything, go to the bank and withdraw everything, get on the internet and cancel everything. She had nothing to stop her. Nothing to hold her down.
Freedom. Freedom from the cares of others. As ghoulish as it sounded, she could not contemplate one face or name that cared what she did anymore. She could, and would, live only for herself. Her life, her train wreck of a life, had afforded her that, at least.
She called up the number again, H and R Losey 513-523-7866. Pressed delete. Took the napkin, wadded it up, popped it in her mouth and chewed, then spit it out the window and into the street.
So where would she go? The Yukon? The Keys? The possibilities dizzied her.
It was then that she noticed for the first time that night that she had a message. The dentist’s office. She called up the message and held the cell to her ear.
Just a friendly reminder from the offices of Alex and Denise Bradley! You’re next appointment is scheduled for Monday, June 8th at 8:30, AM.
She clicked off and stared at the phone. Sonofabitch. Tomorrow morning.
One year down. It’s been a year, she thought. She could do one, five, twenty more. The rest of her life.
And yet, if you don’t have your smile, you don’t have anything .