Author's Note I'm trying something different with this piece. I don't normally write in present tense, at least not in this manner. I've never attempted using indirect dialogue in a story before--as I'm a big fan of the old rabbit ears, but I felt that I needed to stretch myself a little and see if I could get through a short piece without fucking it up too badly. Judge for yourself whether or not I was successful. I also changed my approach to sentence structure, stepping away from my usual dilatory style--more prone to tangent than substance. I'm not at all comfortable with this technique, but it's been a lot of fun to attempt. I've come across this type of indirect speech in a number of novels that I've read in recent months and I've been waiting for the right dance floor on which to get down, as it were. Either way, I love what's here, thoroughly enjoyed the process and hope that you enjoy reading it at least half as much as I enjoyed writing.
About the story: I was considering past lives, past relationships, and past substance abuse. What better way to exorcise old demons than to write about them, right? I put a lot of it on Burt's poor head. I drew on a few elements that are known about the character, specifically the promise he made about alcohol. There's a reason behind that, and in my head it made sense that he was an alcoholic that had a rocky past with his wife. Having my own demons with alcohol and addiction, it seemed a natural place to explore some of those elements. My take on his relationship with his wife is, perhaps just a tad dramatic, but hey... it's exploration. The story is somewhat adult based in its themes, language, and situations, though it isn't graphic in nature. If you didn't read this, don't complain later, because I put that shit right out on Front Street. It's in the thread title. That being said... let's get to the fuckin.
Just Two of Us
A short story
He's wide awake, shes asleep beside him, naked and warm from the night they had just enjoyed together. Its rare now for the two of them to get together like that anymore, not since he had come back from his tour. That was a long time ago; a lifetime ago when they were just kids and didnt know what the future was going to bring them. She rolls over, the sheets slipping lower. One of her breasts is exposed fully in the pale light coming from the open window. Its hot tonight, a smothering heat, thick and moist. Once in a while he catches a whiff of Pad Thai from the restaurant on the corner, and together with the heat, reminds him that he was too young to serve in Vietnam. Hes bitter about it, and drinks.
He slips out of the bed, stretching and letting what little breeze is blowing, move over his sweat slick skin. He keeps himself in good shape, just in case they call him up. He wants to go to war. Wants to do what his dad did. What his grandfather did. For them, it isnt enough that he enlisted at 18. To them he wont be a man until hes looked the devil in the eye and sent him back to hell, whatever devil it may be for him. Soviet seems to be the most likely of all devils he will face. If they call him.
He waits for their call. Every night, he sits watching the television with the phone sitting on the kitchen table beside him in the cramped apartment he and his wife rent. He sits and drinks and waits, watching Whos The Boss, Family Ties, and once in a while the Bob Newhart show, but he doesnt like it and only watches it to avoid the inevitable fight with Shirley. He cant stand Dynasty, but she begs him. She never knows when to shut up, and eventually, after a few drinks he has to tell her. She tries her best not to cry. She takes it in stoic silence, but he can see the hurt in her eyes. Beneath the bruises shes still beautiful.
Tonight, the world is hot, pushing down on his shoulders with a weight that makes him thirst. He drags his feet across the linoleum into the kitchen, digging in the freezer for an ice tray. The window over the sink is closed.
I told you to open the fucking windows before you came to bed, he says more to himself than to her. Sometimes he forgets how hes angry at when hes yelling. He drops a couple of small, cold cubes into the bottom of a cheap tumblerthe kind you get at a gas station, with a city scape and the words New York painted below. The paint was wearing and the city scape faded and cracked, great chunks of buildings missing, lending it an ominous apocalyptic look that stirred something in his stomach. He hates the city. He pours the last of his whiskey over the cubes, the hate, and the shame. He stares out of the small window overtop the sink, ignoring the stained, orange flower drapes hanging on either side. His view is a brick wall. He takes a big drink from the glass, feeling the cool burn as it sears into memory.
She stirs on the bed, he turns and watches her from the kitchen sink. The apartment feels smaller than it did this morning. It feels smaller every night. It presses on him. He tries to blame her, but it isnt her fault. She works two jobs to pay for this shithole. He hasnt worked for some time now, but hes been waiting for that call. She says she supports his desire to serve his country, she says she understands it, but he can see in her eyes that she doesnt. She says she does, but shes lying to him. She doesnt want him to leave.
He walks back to the bed, sitting on the edge, staring out the window as he swirls the painkiller around the ice cubes. The cubes make a morose clink, reminding him that hes destined for something better. He catches that whiff again, but smothers it with another big drink from the glass. The whisky is cooler now, but the burn is just as deep, just as welcome as earlier. Welcome always. He doesnt notice that shes sitting up, watching him in the moonlight. He doesnt notice her until the sudden flash of her lighter snaps his mind out of the past. He turns to look at her nipples harden as the breeze from the open window rushes over the sweat on her skin.
Shes sitting up against the headboard, cigarette in hand, the sheets twisted around her hips. Shes beautiful. More beautiful than he deserves, though hes done his best to change that. She never wears skirts that rise above the knee, for fear that someone would see the marks where hes put out her cigarettes on her thighs. If they see, theyll only ask her why she doesnt leave him. They wouldnt understand if she told them. They wouldnt understand that when he yells, takes one of her cigarettes and pushes it into the inside of her thigh that she gets wet further up. That when he slaps her that her heart skips a beat, her mouth waters and her knees buckle. They wouldnt understand that she cums every time he chokes her for burning dinner. He doesnt realize that shes been doing it on purpose for almost six years. She could leave him if she wanted. He wouldnt be able to stop her. She didnt think that he would try to stop her either.
She loves him, loves the things he could do to her, and wont give him up for anything. He never insulted her, or belittled her. He never called her whore or any other horrible name. He slapped her when she needed it, choked her when she wanted it, and burned her when shed been bad. He looks at her with those sad, pitiable eyes. She leans forward, reaching for his glass. He lets her take it and watches her as she took a sip, sucking one of the cubes up into her mouth. She eyes him for a moment, running her tongue around the cube, feeling the cold in her teeth. She spits it back into his drink and hands him the glass. She leans back, taking a long drag from her cigarette.
Thats a terrible habit, he tells her.
She rolls her eyes and told him, Im not a little kid and I can make my own decisions. He grumbles something that she doesnt quite catch, taking another drink of the liquid. He imagines that he could taste her spit.
Its still a terrible fucking habit and one day youre going to regret ever starting, he says. She flaps her hand open and closed, miming a ducks bill. She quacks once, then again before taking a big puff and blowing it at him. He ignores it, swallowing the last of the painkillers. She's trying to bait him, but it wont work. He wont give it. It was too hot.
I hate this fucking city, he says, hearing a siren in the distance. I hate it, he repeats, I hate it and I want to leave. She's sitting up in bed now, worrying about what was coming next. She wouldnt care if she left him, but she couldnt stomach the thought of him doing the leaving. That was simply too much for her fragile ego to deal with.
What do you mean, she asks as she crushes the cigarette out in the ashtray lying on the nightstand on her side of the bed. She has the side furthest from the window. They never had a discussion about whose side belonged to whom, but he had always slept on the side closest to the window. She preferred to sleep on the side closest to the wall. She felt safer like that. Whatever was going to get to her would have to crawl over Burt first, and being the light sleeper he was, she knew that would be its last mistake. She watches as he sits there, silent in the cold light from the window. The screaming siren passed quick, and she asks again, what do you mean, leave? Where will you go?
He shakes his head, chasing the last drops of liquid around the bottom of the glass with the ice cubes. He raises the glass and slides one into his mouth, crunching it. Hes certain he can taste her spit and that certainty pushes blood downward. He focuses his mind on the ice and the glass, trying to ignore it. He doesnt notice as she slides down the bed, wrapping her legs around him, hooking her bare feet around the insides of his knees. She runs her hands down into his lap. Her breath is hot against his back.
You wouldnt leave me, would you?
He sighs, shaking his head. The thought has crossed his mind more than a few times over the years, but shes always been there for him. Always been there to take care of him. Shed been loyal enough to deserve his loyalty in return. He managed a smile that she couldnt see, sitting in silence, listening to the breathing of the city. Her embrace felt good, the heat of her bare skin mingled with his, turning to gentle fire. He thought that as long as she and him were together that they could suffer anything that life set before them. He thought of the green fields that hed walked once in his youth, far from here and a hundred sunrises ago. The cool breeze ripe with the songs of crickets and humming with fireflies. he thought of the shit flowing steady beneath the city floor.
She breaks the silence first saying, come back to bed and lets forget about whatever it is thats bothering you. She laces her fingers together across his chest and pulls him back to the center of their old, lumpy mattress. Hes too tired to protest. She shushes away the sadness welling up in his chest and he lets himself relax, melting into her as he closes his eyes. He hardly notices the breathing of the city as he slips away into sleep.