Friday, January 28, 2011
For Better or Worse
With the bills piling up, I was trying to put the finishing touches on my latest romance novel. If the Editor-in-Chief at Rosebud Romance Publishing didn’t go for this one, I’d have no choice but to call my travel agent and have her book a one way trip to the poor farm. I looked at the computer screen to review my opening scene.
On her way out of the apartment, just before she slammed the door in his face, the young woman took a raspberry sucker—the one she had been licking for twenty minutes—from her mouth and hurled it at Bart Boneheart.
Bart glanced at his wristwatch. “Time is running out.” He peeled the sucker from his forehead just above his right eye. Wet candy was a lot like glue, but he’d have to wait until later to wash it from his eyebrow.
He jumped into his BMW and pulled away from the curb. Tires squealed and horns honked when he made a left turn against a red traffic light. Margo Fox would be arriving on the 4:00 train. There was no way he could be late. He'd break every moving traffic violation the city had on its books to watch her climb down from the passenger car and run into his arms. Margo was worth every penny of the fine and the jail time to boot, if the police stopped him on the way to the train station.
Fourteen minutes and twenty-three seconds later, he slammed on the brakes and slid his car into a no parking zone near the entrance to the station. Let them tow it, for all he cared. One look at Margo stepping into his life again could make him forget he even owned a car.
Six years earlier, she had shredded his heart, ripping out the veins and arteries along with it, when she left town, without so much as a note. Why, after all this time was she coming back to him now? Right after he’d met a nice girl who liked candy and knew how to lick it.
There was a pounding noise at my back door, more like a hammer than a fist. I saved the file and ran downstairs hoping a bill collector hadn’t nailed a board across my rear exit. What a relief. My neighbor, Eddy stood on my back deck with a beer in each hand.
“It’s Friday and I thought I’d come over and see if you wanted to have a beer.”
One Friday of each month, Eddy and I drink beer on the back deck, sometimes on his deck, other times on mine. After weighing the option of whether I should finish my story or drink a beer with Eddy, I said, “Sure. Which one did you use to knock on the door?”
He held up the bottle in his right hand.
“In that case, I’ll take the other one.”
With temperatures reaching into the low fifties, I walked out onto the deck and tossed a couple of more logs in our outdoor metal fire pit for a little extra warmth. I pulled up a couple of chairs and we sat down side-by-side, facing the water. Bare tree limbs reached toward the sky and framed the lake on both sides of us.
Grabbing the beer from Eddy's left hand, I twisted the cap off and waited for him to open his. A fourth of his brew foamed over his hand and spilled onto the deck. It had flowed upward out of the bottle like a lava flow after a volcanic eruption.
“Not to worry,” he said hiking a thumb over his shoulder to our left. A cooler sat not three feet away, no doubt, full of replacements. He had come prepared for the evening.
By the time the sun created an orange haze in the western sky, offering up its final rays of the day, Eddy and I were on our third beers. Our wives were in the kitchen plotting our demise with a recipe Eddy’s wife, Darla had found on the back of a sardine can.
Leaning forward to get closer to him, I asked, “Are you serious, Eddy?”
He looked over his shoulder to make sure Darla and my wife couldn’t hear us.
“It’s awful. That’s why I brought over a cooler full of beer. It’s probably the only way we’ll survive it.”
Something about the thought of eating sardines made my stomach feel like it was trying to wrap itself around my spine in an effort to hide from the esophagus.
“Are you going to eat them?” I asked Eddy, between sips of beer.
“If I don’t, I’ll be sleeping on your deck tonight.”
He had a point. While I was trying to remember where I put my sleeping bag, Eddy came up with an idea.
In Darla’s opinion, Eddy was one of the smartest people who had ever loaded trucks at The Co-Op Store where he worked. He had a high school diploma, and he had gotten it the old fashioned way, by completing all the credits in four years. Darla should know. She’s a teacher’s aide during the school year and a life guard at the city pool during the summer break.
After hearing Eddy’s idea, I held the bottle two inches from my right eye and looked down the neck of it to make sure we were drinking beer. I lowered the bottle. “For one thing, I don’t own a gun, and if I did, I wouldn’t shoot myself over a can of sardines.”
Eddy crossed his legs and leaned back in his chair. “You say that now, but wait until they bring it out here. The smell alone is going to make you reconsider.”
Seconds later, my wife stuck her head out the door. “It’ll be ready in five minutes.”
As soon as she went back inside, Eddy and I both grabbed fresh beers and guzzled them.
We were about to reach for another beer when the door swung open and our wives walked out. Darla was holding a big casserole dish in her hands. She set it down in the center of our deck table. Twelve skinny things were sticking up on end above the casserole. The sardines looked like they had been cooked to a walnut finish. I thought about my wedding vows. I had hoped for a married life of better. Unfortunately, it looked like things had taken a turn for the worse.
My wife reached over my shoulder and plucked one from the casserole. “Here, honey. Try it. You’ll love it.” She had it in my mouth before I could move.
I closed my eyes, shook my head, and chewed as fast as possible.
Darla, Eddy, and my wife all broke out in laughter.
I gazed at my wife and knew I had been had. Homemade bread sticks hand molded into the shape of sardines.
She and Darla placed their hands on my shoulders and said, “Gotcha.”
After a delicious meal, we all sat out on the deck and watched the moon slowly lay a carpet of shining silver light across the lake. I thought about my wedding vows again and realized I had lived a married life of better. So what if Rose Bud Publishing turned me down again. The bills could wait a while longer. I put my arm around my wife. Everything I needed in life was right there beside me, a loving wife and two beta readers.