Since you always wanted to know. Since you’ve been asking me ever since I moved here.
I had lost my job and she had lost her mother. We were great at losing things. She asked her therapist, how could we lose all these beautiful things in a small world? Where do they go if we live in the same house, barely leave town? There was no good answer I ever heard. She stopped seeing the guy after he suggested we break up. No way, she shook her head. I can’t lose anything else. He can’t lose anything else. There’s no sense in that, she screamed. She got led out of there by a rent-a-cop.
We sat for hours at the kitchen table, going over the same bills, plucking magical money from the sky. I drank gin and she drank milk as The Band played on our old record player, like a haunted old quartet that roamed the narrow nearby dirt roads. The same piles of dust appeared on our cabinets and duvets. I put a hand on her shoulder and she said, don’t tell me it’ll be all right, I’m just not in the mood to hear that right now. I said, what are you in the mood to hear? She just shot me this pathetic smile and said, this dumb old song on the record player. So I took my gin outside and watched a few hawks fly back and forth in the dark ugly air.
I think what really started it is that her fucking brother showed up one day. He carried this old Sears & Roebuck luggage bag and started asking for money. He was missing a few teeth and was growing this biker beard, much different than the college know-it-all that he was when I first met him. My wife gave him the royal treatment, letting him sit down in my chair, even, and I told him he couldn’t until he shaved off that ridiculous beard. A small fight broke out. I knocked over the lamp. He got me in the kidney with a decent hook. My wife screamed at us to stop and I made sure to put a hand on her shoulder this time to tell her I would be all right. She said something and I said something and her brother did leave and he never got his fucking money. Which is all I wanted in the first place. That takes a real coward, to walk into a house of confusion and ask for something. I never did see him again but I’m sure she ran after him days later when I was off looking for work.
And I did look, too. I tried warehouse and farm work. I even tried the goddamn diner as a fry cook but nothing ever came out of it. Most days I would just sit with a six pack of Shiner and a pack of Parliaments on a park bench and watch the same dark ugly air. This entire place was just coated with the stink of everyone’s lives. I knew the end was coming and I tried to blanket it with as much beer and smoke as I could, as most people around these parts do.
I drank gin and she drank milk as The Band played on our old record player, like a haunted old quartet that roamed the narrow nearby dirt roads.
I know this story isn’t exciting. But you asked.
So about a few weeks later, what I was waiting to happen finally did happen. I caught her sneaking around. I had come home in a haze and I found them necking on the back porch. He was drinking my gin and they had Blue Cheer on the record player. I tried to be stealthy but all I did was grab the motherfucker by his neck and throw him down and kick him in the ribs. My wife just sat there. Didn’t say a word. Which was surprising. I threw him down in the yard and he tried to run but I caught him down by the marsh and grabbed a big clump of mud and rammed it down his throat. I let him go after. I saw him stumble off towards the ridge up far ahead and those same damn hawks were flying, watching us, watching him, thinking what fools we were, more than likely.
I went back up to the porch and she didn’t say a word. Is it all right now, I said? She sat there, silent, happy probably, in a stupid tiny kingdom. I said, I’m gone. Still nothing. I went in and threw everything I could in a few trash bags. I stood in the doorway then, all these shadows of us and other things dancing around, trying to settle. I called her name and said to kiss me goodbye but she sat there, just listening to the music. I left and took the truck, figuring it’d be a good damn idea to strand her for a while.
Well, it really didn’t end there. Because she found me soon after. It really was a small world. Remember when I said how could we lose such things in a world as small as this? We never lose them. Not finally, anyway.
I moved back home with my mother. She wasn’t doing very well. I did all the housework and was getting it ready to put up for sale since I knew she didn’t have long. I didn’t have much desire to sleep in the same room again, drink gin in the same basement. So it had to go. Everyone would have wanted it that way, I think.
Well, one day my mom was at the doctor’s office, and I came home quick to eat lunch. I was out in the front yard, about to get the mail, when this taxi pulls up and my wife gets out. In this big old white sundress and this ridiculous hat, like she was First Lady or something. Guest speaker at the church bazaar, I guess. Well, she took a long deep look at me, and I held out my arms, as if to say, make your move, this is a boxing match now. She started to weep and I didn’t know what to do so I started to turn back to the house when she grabbed me by the arm. I turned and I finally saw the grief in her eyes. All the sorrow she had conjured in full plain view now. But I didn’t give in. I said, go find the man with mud in his mouth. Go run to him and sing Rock Me Baby, maybe he’ll come by and make you feel sixteen again. She acted like she was going to slap me, but instead just turned and went back into the same taxi. I guess she told him not to leave. She stuck her head out of the window and told me that if I ever changed my mind, I would know where she was. I just spat on the ground and they drove away. I got the mail. Everything became ordinary again.
A month later my mother did die. I guess she just had a bad doctor. I buried her, sold the house, had a yard sale, left everything that didn’t sell in the small dead yard. I posted signs all over wobbly telephone poles and grimy phone booth walls, but no one came biting. No one wanted the things I had, even for free. I expected her to come by, to rifle through all the dust and gin-soaked pieces of my life, but I guess she had enough of seeing the dots and blurs and marks of our ridiculous time spent. I left it all in a box for the trash man and I went to go find another place to live. What I had fit in the trunk of the car. I went to a diner, asked to see a phone book, picked the first town that I thought sounded even halfway welcoming, which was here. Got back in the car, drove down, knowing full well that even though I had a wife I guess I could go home to again, she wouldn’t be able to accept my dust, and I wouldn’t be able to accept the bullshit silence she gave when I beat her lover to an inch of his stupid, rotten life. I couldn’t live with someone who didn’t appreciate what I did for them. I can’t even live with myself, barely. It’s enough to make a man sick.
One day I know she’ll find me, she’ll have to. She’ll search for an address just like I searched for money or reasons or even another glass of something cold to drink. You’re given things throughout your life and you can choose to hang on or you can choose to lose them, only to find them and touch them again. There’s plenty of chances for someone—even if you’re pathetic like that guy who drank with my wife—to find what you want, to find what you need. Right now, I have no reason to get up off this stool and go hunting for something that’s just an ugly piece of an old nightmare. Especially not now, when this town looks the way it does. It’s better than the old ugly air that I saw before, many times, many nights, when I knew that life could get better than what I had.
I’m rambling, I’m sorry. But you wanted to know. You’ve been asking me ever since I got here. Tell me your story, now. Come on. I’ll buy you another beer and we’ll take a table and you can tell me the best story you ever heard or the worst one you ever heard. I promise to listen. I promise not to talk over you.
That promise I can keep, this time.
Kevin Richard White is the author of the novels Steep Drop and The Face Of A Monster. His short fiction has been previously published by Akashic Books, Tahoe Writers Works, Crack The Spine, and Cactus Heart Press. He is also a contributor to the indie music magazine Manifesto Of Sound, and is the head editor of Viewfinder Literary Magazine. He lives in Pennsylvania.