Your character’s boss invites her and her husband to dinner. Your character wants to make a good impression, but her husband has a tendency to drink too much and say exactly what’s on his mind…
“She’s in love with you, you know.”
She sharply turns toward you, her eyes wide, the skin at the base of her throat quivering with the rise of her pulse. At first, you’re surprised that you even notice these little things, being as drunk as you are, but you’ve also always believed that although alcohol dulls the ability to drive or handle a hammer, it doesn’t make a person blind. If anything, it provides the exact opposite: unremitting clarity. You have come to depend on this for the past few months, clarity by way of Scotch (or whatever else you can find). Your wife reaches over to pick up the bottle of Scotch and your glass, but you beat her to it and hold both of them close to your chest, away from her. Slowed reflexes, my foot.
Across from the two of you sits her boss, his demeanor a comical amalgam of shock and alarm. His eyes are also wide; his lips are slightly open in surprise. He is about 20 years your junior, in his early 30s, one of those upstarts that inherited a Fortune 500 company from his millionaire father and likely never worked a day in his life. He can run faster than you, hasn’t lost his left knee to surgical intrusion, and, worse, has your wife’s heart in the palm of his wealthy hand. You’d like to throw the bottle of Scotch in this face and find a match, quite frankly. “Oh, you didn’t know? Really?” you ask him drily.
“Barry, please,” she hisses.
“She talks about you incessantly. Mark this and Mark that. Her eyes…what’s the word…they gleam when she says your name. I used to do that. I used to make her eyes shine like that.” You drain the contents of your glass and follow that with a long swig from the bottle. You close your eyes as the liquid burns your throat, your lungs, then ends with a satisfying tickle in your chest.
“Perhaps it’s time to put that away, Barry,” he says.
You open your eyes. He’s giving you orders? He’s telling you what to do? “Shut up,” you say, pointing at him. “Shut up, I swear to God. You may run her life and her schedule and own her—her heart, but you don’t own me. Oh, no, sir. Not me.”
Maureen abruptly stands. “Barry, that’s it. Please just leave the table.”
You gaze at her, your vision slightly blurry. At 49, she still looks like the 18 year-old girl you married. There are no wrinkles, no blemishes on this face that looks like a pearl. Three children later, nothing about her has changed. You would climb a mountain—with your rotten knee, no less—for her. But she’s also the woman who has betrayed you. “I’m not going anywhere. Let’s all sit and discuss how this will play out. Sit, Maureen.”
Reluctantly, slowly, she sits down.
You point a finger at Mark, who still seems visibly surprised, but is now leaning back in his chair, his arms crossed, and his eyes fixed squarely on you. Going toe to toe, are we now? you wonder. “All right. Be straight with me, kid: how far has this gotten?”
“God, Barry, stop this,” she muttered, her head in her hands.
“Maybe you should consider dignifying your wife. In fact, I would highly recommend it,” Mark said icily.
You slam the bottle of Scotch down on the table and rise from your seat, despite the shakiness of your legs, of your entire equilibrium. “What do you know about dignity, you little rat?” you demand. You are vaguely aware of Maureen now reaching over to pick up the bottle, but it doesn’t matter anymore. “Dignity is not stealing her from me. Dignity is not calling her in the middle of the night and pretending it’s about work. You don’t think I hear standing outside, laughing and whispering into the phone? You know nothing about dignity, my friend. Nothing.”
You gape at him. He’s laughing at you?
“And you think this little display of drunken bravery will win her back?” he taunts. “I’m everything you’re not. I’m what she deserves.”
Slowly, you regard Maureen, who gazes at her paramour with pride. It has come to this. Thirty-two years of marriage has dwindled down to this moment, where your wife gazes at another man with the pride once reserved for you.
Mark then stands up, his outstretched hand presented toward your wife. She smiles and accepts it. As she and he exit the dining room hand-in-hand, she doesn’t look back.
Confused, blurry-eyed, and stunned, you gaze at the bottle of Scotch. “Did you do this?” you ask the bottle.
It doesn’t answer.
You blink and peer around you, your vision hazy and unsure. What is happening? You hear your name being called, as if from several miles away.
You turn toward the voice. It’s her voice. Did she just call you “honey?” You feel a hand slide in yours, breath in your ear. “Honey, maybe you’ve had one too many,” she whispers. “I’ll get you some coffee. Ok?”
You nod, your head feeling as if it weighs 100 pounds. She gets up from the table and disappears into the kitchen. He still sits across from you, the wunderkind millionaire, yet something feels different. Wasn’t he laughing smugly before? Hadn’t they walked away from you a few moments ago, her hand entwined with his? When she returns, the aroma of hazelnut coffee fills the room. Your favorite. She sets the mug before you. “Mark wanted to know if you’d like to do some consulting work for the company during the teacher’s strike. I told him about your background in project management.”
You pick up the mug and sip the warm liquid. Things slowly, slowly dawn on you. What happened before was imagined, a waking nightmare.
“We’d love to have you,” you hear Mark saying. “We can set you up in an office, and, believe me, we’ll have plenty of work for you.”
Your wife is not having an affair with your 30 year-old boss. She did not leave your home with him.
You’ve been drinking too much, ever since the teacher’s strike at the college a month ago. You’ve been filling your long, endless days with Scotch and suspicion.
It ends now.
You tell Mark that it sounds like a great idea. Maureen claps with enthusiasm and slides her arm around you, thanking Mark for the offer. You gaze at her. She deserves more from you, more than an alcohol-infused downward spiral and feeling sorry for yourself. Unremitting clarity, indeed.
2 Replies to “Short Story Prompt – 03/24/14”
Ahh! I was wondering how that was going to end – I read it with bated breath as I waited for it to play out. I’m glad the ending was a happy one, and I love how you wove “Clarity” all throughout the story. Absolutely brilliant. 🙂
Thank you! I was originally going to leave Barry cuckolded, drunk, and alone, but I was in a good mood. 😉 Haha. Thanks again.