Everyone agrees it’s the right thing, but the thing is, nobody asked for my opinion. I hear her talking to Mildred on the phone, the two of them closing in for the kill. They’re on me hard and steady now, especially Helen.
“If not now Harry, when? You’re almost fifty-five years old and you’re getting sugar. You’d think in thirty years on the force you would have learned something besides how to drink. Just for once in your life do the right thing, can’t you? Get out of that smelly robe, take a bath and go already. You’ve got to put your mind to it, that’s all. I mean, what in Heaven’s name have you got to lose? Mildred says it’s the only way it’s ever going to happen. Her Arthur is a changed man.”
“Yeah, well I’m not Arthur, am I?”
Jesus, what a wimp he turned out to be! I’m sorry I ever introduced them. But that’s what I get for hanging around with desk jockies. In thirty years he never left the station and now he’s the hero. Maybe I should give him my goddam service medal.
She thinks I can’t face up to it, she’s counting on it in fact. Well I’m not that far gone for chrissakes. Not like Artie. I saw what he went through. Shaking, sweating it out, phoning people because he couldn’t make it through the night. Damn fool even called me! Boy was that ever a mistake! I guess telling him to have a couple of doubles and go back to bed wasn’t exactly what he was hoping to hear. Wow! Did Helen ever land on me for that one! How was I supposed to know he would actually do it? Ask a silly question, right? But he always was a jellyfish.
Nobody can say I haven’t given this thing due consideration though. Because I have. I really have. The fly in the ointment is that when it comes right down to it, what I’m really afraid of is not that it won’t work but that it will. I don’t know if I want to be a “changed man”. What’s wrong with things just the way they are? Aside from Helen making my life miserable, that is. Love is blind, marriage is an eye-opener. Was that Shakespeare? No, probably Helen’s mother. She’s famous for one-liners that are supposed to sum up life on earth. Thank God Helen didn’t inherit the talent. She has enough perfection going for her as it is.
Christ! What if it turns out I’m actually able to beat it? How will I ever put up with her then? It’s bad enough now all the time carping and nagging. Never a let-up. Blah, blah, blah! Enough to make you want to plunge a butcher knife into the bitch. Or let her have it with a meat cleaver. Right in the side of the neck! That’d be the ticket. Then she couldn’t scream.
“No, I am damn well not Arthur.”
“No, and more’s the pity! At least he helps Mildred around the house. Do you ever take a look at yourself, Harry? Really take a look I mean? How can you stand yourself day in and day out? I mean, look at you! You’re sickening. You really are. You sit around all day smoking cigarettes and sucking at that damn bottle. You never go out. And you stink! Stink, Harry. That’s right. You’ve even taken to scratching at your crotch. And you know how I always hated men who do that. Of course I know you do it just to irritate me. Vulgar, that’s what it is. It makes my skin crawl. Well, I can’t say Mother didn’t warn me, God rest her soul. She must be rolling over in her grave.
“I’ll tell you another thing while we’re at it! From now on, you’re not sleeping in my bed! There. It’s out! I’ve wanted to say that for years and I finally have. From now on you can sleep in that so-called study of yours. Drinking and reading, reading and drinking! And don’t expect me to clean up after you anymore either. Vacuuming, dusting, picking up your empty bottles! I’ve just about had my fill of being your lackey.”
Wow! I guess that’s telling me! I’m really going to miss sleeping with her.
It’s now or never, then. I wonder if I’ll have the guts. Jesus, it’s getting sticky in here. Must be the jitters again. I need a belt but I guess if I’m going to do this thing I should try to hold off. Confucious say, “Journey of thousand miles begins with single step”. The journey to a new life. Ahh So!
Here goes then. Out of the easy chair. Upsi-daisy, Harry! Whoa there! Steady as she goes! Jesus, she’s right about one thing. I do stink. The old armpits smell like the back end of a sanitation truck. A nice shower, shampoo and shave will take care of that little problem.
It is nice to be out. You forget how fresh the air is in April. Kids playing. Young honeys on park benches squeaking baby coaches back and forth. Maybe I should just walk it instead of riding the bus. I hate those stinking diesels. Jesus! Don’t any of the guys down at the station hear me talking like this! I sound like a tree hugger. But it is nice it really is, birds in the trees, kids laughing, dogs barking, sun warming everything up. I’ll bet I could even stop in McSorley’s without touching a drop. It’s right on the way. “One Birch Beer in a tall, frosty glass, please.” That would give Charlie a laugh.
But Jesus! After a week with her a man needs something better than root beer! One couldn’t hurt⎯just to set the world back on its axis.
Maybe then I’ll just have one. If I make it a vodka and those holier-than-thou preachers at the AA won’t even know. Strictly a woman’s drink, you know. I’ll be like those bags who hide it in the icebox in a water bottle so their old man won’t find out. Ha! What about when he comes home from work with a tongue like a potato chip and goes to the fridge for a nice glass of ice water?
But give me the real thing every time. Amber and thick, that great smoky taste⎯just to see it against the light. What is it about good scotch? Like when you feel it sinking down through your gullet, settling into your stomach. Maybe I should ask them about that at the double A. I wonder how they’d handle that question?
“Oh Sir? Will you kindly tell us what can take the place of a slug of Glenlivet as it tumbles into your throat? Or a double shot of Irish swimming in a glass of ice just sitting on the bar waiting?”
Hey! Righto! Reward yourself! Make it a double! Just the thing to steady the hand.
But that makes it sound like it was hard, and to tell the truth it wasn’t. Something I should have done years ago. Funny, I never knew it could actually feel good. Goes to show. They say there’s a first time for everything.
Was that Confucious, too? I don’t think that was her mother. The first time’s always the hardest. God! There I go again.
All the chances I had to snuff somebody over the years and I had to start right in my own kitchen. Who knew it could be so easy? Fixed her ass, that’s for sure. God! The surprised look on her face! Not a word out of her! And blood? Jesus! It even came out of her nose!
In the end, I probably did her a favor. She was always saying she was sorry she ever left Bridgeport. Well, now she’ll be heading back. Talk about the sticks! What a shit hole! Well now she can be with the nasty old bitch full-time, just like she always wanted, and they can lay there side by side not scratching their crotches together. Maybe her mother can make up a saying. She’ll finally get her wish and I’ll be a free man into the bargain. What could be better?
Maybe only having a little money in your pocket. I don’t think she’ll mind if I close both accounts. Where she’s going they don’t need money, maybe just an asbestos suit. Or a nice coal shovel!
And speaking of hell, you know what, my friend? To hell with McSorley’s! And Charlie too. And to hell with Alcoholics Anonymous! It’s damn near time I took a pass. Who needs that shit anyhow? All by myself with no help from her or anybody I’ll be a changed man, just like they think Artie is. Ain’t that a hoot?
Whada’ya think, world? Money in my pocket, Warm breezes, white beaches, beautiful broads! Damn! Ipanema, get ready, baby, because here comes Harry!
So let’s see now, suitcase, plane ticket, passport . . . .
“Harry! How’s it hanging? Long time no see.”
“Hi, Charlie. You're looking good, same as ever. Say, let me have a Stolli neat. Make it a double.”
“Where you been hiding out, Harry?”
“Hanging around the house, that’s all. Cold weather makes my bones ache. It'll be better now that Spring's here.”
“My sister is always complaining. Soon as you retire it seems like everything starts. Tell the truth that’s why I’m still working. What brings you down this neck of the woods?”
“You won’t believe it, Charlie. The old lady wants me to start going to AA.”
“I’ll tell you the truth Harry, I started going and it’s helping me. In this business it’s an occupational hazard, you know. I just had to do something. It’s tough at first but I promise you won’t be sorry.”
“Well, here’s looking up your assets, Charlie. I’ll stop in after the meeting on the way home. She wants me to call her as soon as it breaks up.”