Copyright is held by the author.
IT WAS very early when the man woke beneath the tree he had rested against the night before. His clothes were damp with the morning dew. His lips, stained purple by wine, were crusty. In the distance, a car braked and the weighted thud of a newspaper stack struck the sidewalk. The man righted himself against the tree then rubbed the sleep from his burning eyes. He looked at his crotch and was relieved he hadn’t pissed himself. A pair of joggers passed and muttered, “Fucking drunk.” The man stood, sighed, and thought maybe today he wouldn’t drink. On his walk home he assured himself he would not drink today.
“You said this was the last time, last time,” Sally said, when he opened the door.
“I’m trying,” he said, and meant it.
“Where were you last night?”
“I worked the late shift.”
“I stopped by Murphy’s on the way home.”
“Of course you did.”
“A man can’t put in his eight hours and relax with a beer afterwards?”
“When have you ever had ‘a beer’?”
“This is how you want to start the day? I said I was sorry.”
“Start the day? Do you think I can sleep when you’re out all night, drunk off your ass, fucking who knows who?”
“And no, you didn’t apologize.”
The couple stared at each other.
Beads of sweat formed on the man’s forehead. Barley seeped through his pores. Whiskey soured his breath. He decided not to argue. “I’m going upstairs to shower.”
Even with the door closed, he could hear his wife crying in the kitchen. He turned on the water, hot, and let it run. Steam filled the bathroom. He couldn’t hear his wife any longer. The man inhaled deep like a good pull from a cigarette. He closed his eyes and exhaled the air. “I was just a little drunk,” he said to himself. “She always thinks it’s something else. It was just a drunk.”
The man was slow to shower, slow to shave, slow to dress, and even when presentable, lingered at the top of the stairs. He wasn’t hung over; long ago he learned that a hot shower and a clean shave subdued any strong aftereffect. He listened for his wife. She was on the phone but he didn’t know with whom.
“Yeah,” Sally said. “This morning.”
The man hardened his face. There had been a time when marital issues were dealt with at home.
“You should have seen him. The bags under his eyes like he’d been up all night doing cocaine, nose red, teeth stained merlot. I’m sick even thinking about it.”
The man chuckled. It wasn’t that bad. And now, cleaned up, no one could even tell.
“I’m doing it,” Sally said. She sounded confident.
The man started down the stairs.
“For sure this time.”
His wife was sitting at the kitchen table. She wasn’t crying any more. A stoic resolve had become her face. “I’ll call you later.”
He poured himself a coffee, “Who was that?”
“Excuse me?” Sally said.
“On the phone.”
The man’s wife stared at her coffee.
“Sally,” the man said. He paused. He wanted her to look up at him. When she did he said, “I’m sorry.”
The wife laughed.
“This is a joke now?” the man said.
“It has to be,” Sally said. “Who are we kidding?”
“You and me. Our marriage. This.”
He sat in the chair across from her.
“Things aren’t so bad.”
“You didn’t come home last night.”
“It was a mistake,” he said. “But nothing happened. I promise.”
“Wow,” she said. “You promise. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous to you?”
“You accused me of cheating.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” said Sally; her glare taunted.
The man set down his mug. He tried to keep his fists from clenching. “That was a long time ago,” he said. “Before we were married.”
“And that makes it all right? I’m such an idiot.”
“I got off work then I stopped by Murphy’s and had a couple drinks.”
“You said ‘a beer.’”
“It was a long day Sally. I was exhausted and didn’t realize it until I was falling asleep.”
“Why didn’t you call?”
“I’m trying, for real. I knew you’d be disappointed that I stopped for a drink, I didn’t want you to be upset.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
The man pressed his face into his hands.
“Where did you sleep last night?”
“Who were you talking to?” he said.
“Not until you answer my question.”
“I fell asleep in the park.”
“When I left the bar, I stopped to rest a minute and must have closed my eyes.”
“You passed out in the park? Like a bum?”
“Please, I already got it from two joggers this morning.”
“People saw you?”
“Would you rather I drove?”
“I’d rather I didn’t have a drunk for a husband.”
“Who were you talking to?”
The wife stood up, placed her mug in the sink, and leaned against the counter. She crossed her arms. “I was talking to my mother.”
Sally averted her eyes.
“Why would you involve her? Why not come to me? Do you know what this does to our relationship?”
“What relationship? I never see you. You’re always at work, or at the bar, or out with whoev–”
“I’m not having an affair. You need to stop that.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“You can’t pit your mother against me.”
“You’ve done that all on your own.”
“I have done nothing.”
“When was the last time we had sex?”
“You’re always asleep when I get home.”
“Because you don’t come home until late. And when you are home, you’re half cut on rye and ginger.”
“You knew I enjoyed my drink before we got married.”
“You love the bottle more than you love me.”
“That’s not true.” The man stood up, walked over to his wife and placed his hands on her hips. He traced the small of her back to her shoulders. He rested his forehead on hers and said, “I love you, Sally. I do. More than anything.” He tried to kiss her.
“Gross,” she pushed him away. “I can smell the booze on your breath. Did you even brush your teeth?”
The man slammed his hand on the counter.
“You did this,” she said. “You did it. Not me.”
“It was an accident.”
“How many more accidents before you come home at night?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I want a divorce.”
“I. Want. A. Divorce.”
“Did your mother put you up to this?”
“My mother had nothing to do with this.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“We’re not getting a divorce.”
“Well I don’t want to be your wife anymore.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“You’re damn right it won’t.”
The man’s face turned red. His body tensed. He raised his hand.
“Look at you now,” she said. She shook her head. “I’ll being staying at mother’s until you can move your things out.”
“Sally, I didn’t mean that,” the man said. “You know I’d never hit you.”
The man’s wife looked him straight in the eyes. Her eyes were wet. “I don’t think I do,” she said, and stepped past him. “Please don’t take long. It will be better for both of us.” She closed the door behind her without saying goodbye.
The man steadied himself on the counter. Things couldn’t be that bad, he thought. Or, how hadn’t he noticed? He rinsed the mug then kneeled to open the cupboard. He removed the window cleaner, the bleach, the scrub pads, and the bucket. In the back corner, hidden safe where he left it, was a tall pebbled bottle, corked at the mouth. The sight of the amber liquid calmed his screaming nerves. He removed the bottle and poured himself two fingers. Today might have been the day he didn’t drink, he thought, tossing back the whiskey. It sure could have been, he reasoned, and poured another glass.