Marie sighed as she made her way to the sacred recliner. George, her one-time Adonis, was dozing quietly – but even the memory of his snoring irritated her now. She watched his bulging belly move up and down as he breathed, and actually felt a strange pleasure at the sight of that once rock hard gut now in shambles. But lurking right behind that thought was a wish she wouldn’t let herself think about.
“Cut the crap!” she told herself and moved in to poke her aging Adonis in the ribs.
“Wake up, Prince Charming.”
George’s eyes opened. “What are you poking me for? I’m watching the game.”
“Yeah. In your dreams.”
“I wasn’t sleeping. I just closed my eyes to savor the Mets lead.”
Marie sighed again. If only this once things could be different. But she hardened herself against the thought and directed her focus to the TV screen. “They’re behind two runs, genius.”
George held his tongue…as usual…allowing the announcer’s voice to transport him from the grating sound of Marie’s contempt. Mets at bat. Two men on base. Two outs. The new shortstop, Alvarez, was at the plate. Swing and a miss. Marie snickers. Strike two. Marie smirks. Then Alvarez connects, sending the ball way back toward left field…foul. George glanced at Marie from the corner of his eye, noting her disproportionate pleasure as Alvarez struck out. George felt Marie’s eyes drilling into him.
“Gotta go to the pharmacy.” She was already wearing her red nylon “we’re going for a ride in the car” jacket with the hood.
“I’m trying to watch the game!“
“Don’t talk to me about a game. You were sleeping ‘til I woke you. Is it too much to ask my husband of 16 years to drive me to the pharmacy? It’s not like I ask much of anything of you anymore, god only knows.”
“OK, Marie. If you’ll shut up, I’ll drive you.”
“You got it, mister,” she spit back. “As if talking to you was anything I’d miss.”
George begrudgingly took his eyes off his beloved TV and Mets and put on his “I’ll wear this until I die no matter what the weather” blue wool jacket. Since 1986, George had been waiting for the Mets to win another World Series and they were actually having a good season. In fact, they were in first place. He was almost afraid to say it out loud. And he knew that if he took his eyes off this game, even for a second, their luck would change – as proven by what happened when he dozed off.
But he also knew when Marie decided it was time to go shopping, there was nothing – absolutely nothing – he could do to change her mind. They’d been married 16 years, and in all that time, he – just like the Mets – had never caught a break. But now the Mets were in first place. Anything was possible.
Marie was already sitting on her side of the front seat, her wide eyes staring straight ahead, remembering George’s words all too well. George got into his 1986 Cutlass Sierra with a sigh. He loved that car almost as much as he had once loved Marie. “Why couldn’t people age as well as cars?” he thought.
George could drive the route to the mini-mall blindfolded at this point, which is a good thing since he stubbornly refused to get the glasses he now needed. Twice a week he took Marie shopping there, even if she only needed bananas or buttermilk. Why she couldn’t buy enough to last a whole week was never a question he dared ask; nor did he dare suggest that she could actually walk the four blocks. It was easier to just get in the car and drive.
Of course, sometimes Marie made him drive to the Waldbaum’s five miles away just so she could buy the milk on sale there. He had long ago given up trying to convince her that they were spending more on gas then they were saving. And even if they were going to Waldbaum’s, Marie still insisted on stopping at the mini-mall in case the avocados at Al’s Groceteria looked better there. This drove George crazy, but he never said a word – at least not to her.
Today the Walnut Lake Press told Marie she could find 100 generic aspirin for 99 cents at the Miller Pharmacy in the mini-mall. Marie didn’t need any more aspirin, but 99 cents was hard to pass up.
“Traffic’s unusually heavy today,” George thought to himself. “Guess everyone wants that aspirin.” After 16 years of marriage, he found great pleasure in his own amusing thoughts. It was one of his few pleasures now. But it hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time when he and Marie, armed against the world by their love, had found great pleasure in each other. He wondered how things had gotten this bad between them.
Pulling into the parking lot near Miller’s, George was surprised to hear Marie’s voice. “Go get these,” she said handing him the coupon for the aspirins. She wasn’t giving him one more word than she had to. “O.K.” George grunted; and off he went to do what he was told. Marie waited in the car thinking about what she knew she had to do.
Before George returned, Marie remembered that Al’s had bananas for 39 cents a pound. So she got out of the car and went to get them. “I’ll buy the green ones,” she thought to herself, since she already had 8 bananas in the house and George never ate bananas.
George reached into his pocket and found the exact change for the aspirins. Somehow things like that amused him. Getting back to the car, George noticed a bit of rust just above the left rear wheel. “Gotta do something about that,” he mused to himself. Back in the car he also made a mental note that he was a little low on wiper fluid.
Their next stop was the bank where George needed to make a deposit. Millie, the teller, recognized George immediately. George was sure she had a crush on him. He lit up like a firefly in heat when he saw her girlish wave. He was glad he had remembered to wear his good tie.
Back behind the wheel he wondered if Millie ever dreamed about him. He smiled to himself at the silly thought. “Well, that’s the last of the errands,” he said out loud, not really expecting an answer. It was time to go home. But when he pulled into their driveway, George immediately noticed something was wrong. The light was on in the living room and he KNEW Marie had turned off the switch when they left; she always does. Well he hadn’t lived this long to be afraid of some dumb ass burglar, he thought to himself. Angry and determined to confront the villain, George ran from the car, bounding up the steps two at a time. He grabbed a shovel from the porch and threw open the door, where he came face to face with Marie.
“Why didn’t you wait for me at the mini-mall?” she screamed at him. “You idiot. I had to walk home.”
“How was I supposed to know you weren’t in the car?” George countered without an ounce of guilt. “You should have said something.”
“How could I? You told me not to talk. And…and anyway…I wasn’t even there!” Marie was turning purple as the words squeezed out.
“Exactly my point,” George smiled. “So how was I supposed to know?” Marie stood speechless, unable to even answer. George couldn’t help smiling to himself. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time. If only the Mets would win, it would be a perfect day. He turned on the TV, happy to see the game was still on.
Marie picked up her romance novel and reread the part where Arturo looks deeply into Diana’s eyes and proclaims undying love. As the tender and caring Arturo sweeps Diana into his Herculean arms and carries her to the magical rose-petal-covered bed, Marie is surprised to feel her own eyes well up and threaten to erupt. She knows if they do, they might never stop. She couldn’t help wondering how she and George had ever gotten to this point.
It was days before they spoke again. This time Rodell’s Drugstore had 200 generic aspirins on sale for $1.98 and Marie wasn’t going to let a good thing like that pass her by.
But, even though she was wearing her red nylon “we’re going for a ride in the car” jacket, she knew things would never be the same again.