A scan of my inbox shows the usual junk, except for the message that begins: "This is Jeff from BlimBlam. Thanks for sending ... " It's about the short story I'd sent BlimBlam a few months earlier. Thanks for sending ... your piece of crap. It was easy enough to finish Jeff's thought. Though, of course, he wouldn't put it that way. My hand slides the mouse over the message. Click.
This is Jeff from BlimBlam. Thanks for sending 'Old socks and two shoes,' but I'm afraid it didn't quite transcend the limits of the strip poker genre for me.
My face flushes, the whole of it, not just the tops of my cheeks, where the shame seems to nestle in and burn the hottest. I mumble fuck you too, Jeff.
"Who're you talking to?" I look up to see a helicopter of red hair. My wife. She's jumped up from the sofa where she's watching the latest Ugly Betty.
"No one," I say.
"You said something."
"No, I didn't."
She folds her arms under her breasts. She doesn't like it when I lie.
"Another rejection. Nothing important."
"Those people don't know anything."
She comes up behind me and puts her arms around my neck, kisses the back of my head. She reads the email over my shoulder. "What an idiotic name," she says. I hope she means BlimBlam. "You wrote a story about strip poker?"
"What do you know about strip poker?"
"Then what did you say about it?"
"Nothing much. Nothing that transcended the limits of the genre anyway."
"I want to read it."
"You won't like it."
She folds her arms under her breasts. I'm not lying.
I open the document and print it out.
"Wow," she says when she's done. I can't tell if it's a good wow or a bad wow. "Did she really remember the game after all those years?" she says.
It's not the question I expect.
"The game was traumatic for her."
"Was she lesbian?"
"No. I don't think so anyway."
Her grunt makes it clear she disagrees. She goes back to the first page and begins to read it again. I start to get up. "Wait." She puts her hands on my shoulders. It's a bad story. Jeff's right. I don't want anyone reading it. Shannon's hands stay on my shoulders, kneading my shoulder muscles that are tight. I still want to get up. A few minutes later, she looks up. "Do you fantasize about lesbians?"
I knew she'd make it personal.
"Men are not immune to the attractions of lesbian sex," I say.
"Fuck you," she says and walks away.
I roll my shoulders and then stand to stretch, another rejection weathered.
A week later, we drop off the boys at their respective sleepovers and eat a careless dinner of eggs, toast, and Trader Joe's chuck. The Ducks are on TV, dancing around the Bruins, throwing in one unlikely three after another. It's a ways to go to the Final Four, but the Ducks might make it this year. Shannon swivels away from the kitchen counter with a glass of wine held high over her head, like Brooks spinning under the basket reaching up for a lay-up. She takes off up the stairs. "Don't start anything," she yells back. I shake my head. It's too late in the season to start anything.
When Shannon returns, her funky red hat is plunked down low over her eyes. She's absurdly fat, buried under a thick layer of clothes. Over them all is an old coat of mine half-buttoned up over a heavy sweater I haven't worn or seen in years. The skirt is hers, long, in a print like something from Woodstock. She holds an unopened bottle of wine, a finer vintage than Joe's chuck, and two clean glasses. "Follow me, little boy," she winks, her cheeks deep pink. She hops out of the kitchen.
No, she doesn't always act this way. I follow her, curious, into the living room where she flops down on the floor in front of the red chair. "What's up?" I say. I'm thinking I really should write tonight.
She takes a corkscrew from a pocket of the old coat. "Sit down," she says with surprising authority. I do, on the floor opposite her. She looks like a bag lady. I take the bottle and corkscrew from her and pour the wine into the glasses that sit crooked on the carpet. She picks up her glass. "To transcendence," she says. We clink and drink.
She puts down her glass and slides out a new deck of cards from under the red chair. I give her a questioning frown and she returns a lopsided grin. She rips the plastic off the deck. The cards won't come out. I offer to help. "No!" She clutches the pack to her oversized chest and the cards fall out. She laughs as she picks up the cards and shuffles. "Want to cut?" she says when she's done, cards loose in the palm of her hand.
She deals. "Five card stud," she says.
"Anything wild?" I offer.
"Just me," she says, sipping on her wine, already a little drunk. I laugh, of course. A little.
We play a while. She talks of PTA intrigues and I, after more wine, which is quite good, rail against the dim-witted teachers our thirteen-year-old suffers. All the while, after almost each hand, Shannon's tossed off a coat, a shoe, or an old sock -- from at least three pairs she wore. Then, it's the long Woodstock skirt she unwraps to reveal a shorter, leather one, the one I bought for her one Christmas. She never wore it -- too short for motherly dignity, she claimed. After the Woodstock skirt, she flings aside the new coral sweater she had coveted for months before it went on sale, and then the white blouse beneath it. The silk camisole left behind is filmy, peach, and fetching; it goes next. Shannon wears her red lacy bra, the one she wears only on special occasions, those rare evenings out when she gets to dress up and she hints, if I'm good, I could get lucky later.
She's been merrily drunk since the toss of the second shoe so when she stands up to slip out of the too-short leather skirt, it's no surprise when she almost tips over. Straightening, she pushes her small breasts up and in to make cleavage between the cups of her bra. "How do I stack up against ... What was her name? In your story?"
"Emily," I say. Emily is Shannon and Marie, Tina and Anne, Laurel and Alyse, all the women I ever knew or wanted to, all the women I never met; she is no one who ever lived or ever will, simply a creature of my mind. "Very nicely, very nicely indeed," I say. I stand up and wrap my arms around her. I unhook her bra and push down on the back of her panties. She squiggles out of them and puts her arms around my neck, pulls herself up and wraps her legs around me. I stagger for a moment, embarrassed, middle age more debilitating than I will admit. Shannon doesn't notice. I wobble to the sofa, and drop her there. I don't intend to fall but I do, on top of her. "You animal," she grunts. She's drunk and very willing. I suppose I should be happy, but she bites my ear and it hurts.
Much later, tucked away in bed and near sleep I hear her whisper. "Frank?"
Perhaps, I'm asleep and I don't hear her, but then I remember her wobbly in her bright, red bra and her short, leather skirt and smile to myself. "Yes?"
"Do you think you know now?"
"You know, do you know enough to write your story."
"The strip poker story." I hear her roll her eyes. "You said you didn't know anything about it. Do you know enough now?"
"You're kidding." I'm wide awake, a sudden warmth in my chest. "Tonight was about that silly story?" I don't know why it never occurred to me.
"You didn't like it?"
"I didn't say that." I laugh.
"What's so funny?"
She bolts upright, her arms grasping each other tight, her back straight and stiff, silvered in the light of a low moon, goose bumped in the cold air of the open window above our bed.
"I mean," I say, no longer laughing, "I think I do know." The warmth that had begun in my chest spreads out into my arms and down my legs until I can feel it in my fingers and toes, and then hot under my cheeks. I run my fingertips down the bumps of her spine and back again. She doesn't move. "Come here." I tug on her shoulder, pull her toward me. She resists, but not with a will. In the end, she releases her arms and rolls on top of me, her body flat on mine.
"What do you know?" she says, mocking, a gentle smile, a suggestion I know nothing, that I can know nothing. She's right. She usually is.
Her eyes are bright and crinkled. I kiss her forehead and then her nose; she closes her eyes. I count the freckles on her nose, or try to, but they move and grow, bigger and smaller, they swarm together, merging one into the other. I close my eyes and let my hands see instead, a slow motion down both sides of her back until I find her soft bottom, round and moonlight white. I smile. Shannon is as she always was, the same lovely woman I knew enough to take as my wife so many years ago. It's been a long journey back.
"I know enough," I whisper close to her ear, knowing now, once more, I do.
About the author:
Frank Cappuccio is a husband, father of two sons, and a greased cog in the corporate machine. This is his first piece of published fiction and he is very grateful to Pindeldyboz for letting him expose himself. For the record, his wife states it is absurd to describe her, under any circumstances, as fat.