The Anniversary

By  Attila Zønn

I came back to the shop and popped my head into the shipper’s office to wish Lorenzo a nice weekend.

“Hey Lorenzo,” I said.

I caught him staring into space, but when he saw me he said, “David!” and hurried towards me from behind his desk. He grabbed my hand. “Are you busy tonight? I got a big problem. There is a truck coming, and it won’t be here before we close. Will you stay for me and receive the delivery?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Bravo. Bravissimo.” He shook my hand. “You know I would stay but I am in communication with this woman and we meet for the first time tonight. I buy you lunch on Monday.”

“No problem,” I said.  I’d do anything for Lorenzo.

Now it’s two hours later and I’m still waiting for this delivery. I had a chair set up at the loading dock and was reading a book when the back door opened and Freddie walked in with his girlfriend Gin.

“Just dropped by ‘cause I knew you were lonely,” he said. He brought me a coffee.

Gin made a beeline for me saying, “Is this the famous David I’ve heard so much about?”

“The one and only,” Freddie said.

Her breath smelled of alcohol when she kissed me on the lips. The kiss surprised me. I had seen her before sitting in Freddie’s BMW but I didn’t know her. I looked at Freddie.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “She kisses everybody she meets.”

Gin wasn’t stumbling but she wasn’t walking straight either. And along with the boozy breath, she also smelled like she’d been dipped in vanilla.

She looked around. “Wow,” she said. “I’ve never been inside before. So this is all yours Freddie? It smells yummy in here.”

He laughed. “Yeah, it smells yummy,” he said. “It’s taken twenty years to get it smelling so good.”

He put his arm around my shoulder and said, “I’ve missed you, little buddy.”

“It’s only been a couple of days since we last talked.”

“That was brief.  It’s those long conversations, those  intellectual discussions that I miss.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“I know.  I’ve seen the orders. You’re the best. Keep it up and you’ll be driving a BMW in no time.” Then after a moment, he said, “Well . . . maybe a used one.”

I smiled at that and sipped my coffee. It was lukewarm.

“That favour we talked about a couple of days ago? Are you still gonna do it?” he said.

“Sure, no problem.”

“Good.” He gave me a pat on the back. “Let’s  sit down.”

We walked into Lorenzo’s office and sat on the couch. Gin stood in the middle of the room. She wore a formfitting dress with black and white vertical stripes that tapered tight and ended just above the knees. She had a nice figure. But the black plastic jacket she wore looked cheap and unsuitable for this cold night. Her heels were very high. It boggled my mind how she could walk without falling over. She was pretty—probably in her late twenties or early thirties, but there was a teenage aura about her. Her red hair fell nicely on her shoulders.

“What’s this place?” she said.

“The shipper’s office,” I said.

She looked at a calendar on the wall that had a picture of a topless woman with big tits. “Oh,” she said and giggled. “He must like big boobies.” Then she focused on me, raised a brow and smiled.

She went to Lorenzo’s desk. “Oh, this is cute.” She picked up a cube paperweight off the desk and turned it all around. It had the colours of the Italian flag. “It’s heavy. What’s this for?” Then she saw something on one of the shelves and moved towards it. She bumped into Lorenzo’s chair and stumbled. The paperweight fell out of her hand, the chair rolled across the floor and hit the photocopier.

Freddie stood up.

“OK, look,” he said. “I didn’t bring you here to bump into shit and break stuff.” He grabbed the chair,  rolled it towards her and held it there. “Be a good girl. Sit down and cool it.” She slumped into the chair, put on a pout and sat staring at the floor.

Freddie picked up the paperweight and examined it. “Jesus! It’s chipped!” He held it out towards her. She looked at it then looked back at the floor.

“You realize I’m going to have to get him a new one?”

“I’ll pay for it,” she said.

“Yeah, you will—with my money.”

He set the paperweight on the desk and walked back to the couch shaking his head. Gin looked over at me, then looked back at the floor.

She was the latest and so far the longest-lasting of Freddie’s girlfriends. He told me she was great in the sack, never said no, loved to experiment and had a manageable temperament. “After a lifetime of bimbos,” he said. “You eventually come across a bimbo that sticks. This is the one.”

Freddie liked his women taller than him, leggy and they’ve all been redheads.

“Red hair’s always been a turn-on for me,” he once told me. “Especially if they’ve got freckles on their tits.” This puzzled me at the time because Freddie’s wife was a brunette.

He looked impeccable all suited up. For a guy pushing fifty, he was in great shape. “I eat what I want to eat,” he’d say. “Drink what I want to drink and if that means I gotta take some pain at the gym, so be it. I’m not gonna become a fat old man.” He didn’t want to become a grey-haired old man either. Every two weeks he had his hair dyed jet black because, as he’d say, “Appearance is everything.”

We were talking a couple of days ago and that’s when he told me he thought his wife was giving him the horns. He thought the guy she was screwing was Ludy. I didn’t believe it. Short, fat, big-eared Ludy? There’s no way. And overlooking the fact that Ludy was an ugly motherfucker, why would any woman want to suck on those big fish lips, that if they weren’t telling people what they were doing wrong, had a cigarette dangling from them?  Ludy smelled of cologne and smoke, and when he tried to look sharp and put on a suit, I felt sorry for the suit. To this day whenever I see Ludy in a suit, it brings to mind that saying about putting lipstick on a pig.

“I’m telling you,” Freddie said, “I feel it, and I’m asking you to do me a favour. You gotta find out for me—for sure.” So starting next week, I was going to take some time off and follow Freddie’s wife around.

“Yeah,” Freddie said. “And take some pictures.”

“What if I find out it’s true?” I said. Freddie thought about it.

“Then I’ll have to kill them both.” He said it with a serious face then laughed as I stared at him. He grabbed me around the shoulders, gave me a shake and said, “Just see what’s going on.”

So I’m sitting here thinking of Freddie’s problem tonight.

Gin got up from the chair and said, “Freddie love? Can I go look over at the photocopier?”

He nodded. “But be careful. Don’t break it,” he said.

I looked at Gin then I looked at Freddie then I looked at Gin again, and I couldn’t understand why, if Ludy was supposedly fucking Freddie’s wife, why Freddie had a problem with that since he was cheating on her.

Maybe it was the way I was looking at the both of them that made Freddie say, “I know what you’re thinking, and I never explain myself to nobody, but I’ve really come to like you David, like you could be my little brother. As far as I’m concerned, you’re family now, so I’m gonna tell you a story.”

He sat back, cleared his throat and said, “It was my seven-year wedding anniversary. That’s a big deal right?”

I shrugged.

“Seven years? With the same broad? I think that’s a major accomplishment. I wanted to do something spectacular and unforgettable so she’d remember it the rest of her life. I used to love the bitch that much. So I went all out. I told my Ma to keep the kids for the night. I talked to her boss to let her out early. I rented a limo. Got tickets to one of those stage shows downtown. Got us a suite at The Four Seasons and I made reservations at a French restaurant ‘cause that’s class, right? French is class, right? I wanted everything to be classy for my girl. So, I show up at her work with a big bunch of flowers. The limo’s waiting outside. The girls in the salon are all falling over themselves at my thoughtfulness. You know what she did?”

“She fell over too?”

“No—she rolled her eyes at me. Can you believe it? You want a beer? I gotta have a beer.”

He stood and went to the fridge beside the calendar and came back with two beers, cracked one open, handed it to me, then sat holding his unopened bottle.

“We go to the limo. I open the door for her, like a gentleman would open the door for his lady, but before she steps in she says, ‘How much did this cost?’ Now, I’m trying to keep cool. This isn’t the reaction I was expecting, obviously, but hey, the night is still young, and lots more fun to come right? She said she wasn’t dressed to go out. She had to go home and change. You’ve seen her. When is she never dressed to go out?”

I had seen Freddie’s wife a few times, but never spoken to her. I didn’t think she was such a prize. She gave the impression that she thought everyone around her was invisible until she needed something.

“I told her she looked fine,” Freddie said. “She said, a little too loud, ‘I’ve been wearing these clothes since eight o’clock this morning. I have to change.’ The driver looked at us in the rear-view mirror. So we go to the house. She wastes a half hour getting dressed, but it wasn’t from not knowing what to wear. She was deliberately dragging her feet. I saw it. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, she was knocking around in her closet, pulling clothes off the rack, looking over at me, rolling her eyes and sighing. Then she stomped a foot and said, almost hysterical, ‘Why are you doing this to me, Federico? I really don’t need this tonight!’ My heart deflated right there. My whole evening was almost deflated, but I was an optimist back then. I was thinking, oh, she’s just put off because she doesn’t like surprises. I forgot. You never sprang shit on her at the last minute. It would get her all flustered. But once she starts thinking about it, she warms up pretty quick. So I kept the faith that at some point that warmth was going to materialize.

“We get in the limo, and I got to tell the driver to hurry up or we’re gonna be late for the restaurant. She just sat there, arms folded, looking pissed off. And I’m sitting there thinking of all those times she wanted to do things, always telling me that if she didn’t think of it herself, we’d always be sitting at home. She told me for once—for once I’d like you to think of something. So here we are, doing something, and she’s pissed off about it? Does that make any sense?

“We get to the restaurant. Nice place. Five waiters to a table. It had romantic lighting. Personally, it was a little on the dark side, but I thought, this’ll soften her up. There’s no way a woman can’t be softened up by lavish catering. I get the menu, but I can’t read a fucking thing on it it’s in French, obviously. I asked the head waiter to suggest something. He picks boeuf with hollandaise sauce on it, and you know what? I liked it. She ordered the poisson. She didn’t like it. She said the food was phony food. That it was ‘fake art on a plate.’ That it was ‘unsubstantial and arrogant.’ I never heard her talk like that before, like she got a Ph.D. all of the sudden. I heard somewhere that a woman’s brain is smaller than a man’s brain.”

“That’s only in proportion to body mass,” I said. “They’re no less intelligent than men.”

“Yeah? Well, I gotta argue with you on that one.” He looked over at Gin who was pushing all the buttons on the photocopier. She looked back at him and smiled then continued pushing buttons.

“Are you having fun?” he said. She nodded.

“So dinner’s over now, and we’re headed for the show. She’s not even a bit curious as to what we’re going to see. But I picked a good one—the one with Donny Osmond in it—the story from the Bible about Joseph and his Technicolor dream coat. I picked that one because she said she used to love Donny Osmond when she was a kid. You see?  listen. I was getting excited just thinking about seeing her face light up. Do you think she got excited when Donny came onstage? Nope. She just sat there like a lump on a log. But you know? I liked the show. It had funny bits. I didn’t know live theatre could look so polished. I was hooked, and it distracted me from all her negativity. There were moments when it felt like she wasn’t there. But then I became aware of her again—fidgeting in her seat, looking at her watch, sighing.”

He shook his head and stared at the floor. “That fucking sighing.”

“Sighing is a sign of stress,” I said.

“Oh really? Stressful for her or me?”

“Maybe she’d had a bad day.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Her bad day started when I showed up.”

“No, it could be she was going through some kind of mental distress over something that had nothing to do with you.”

He held up his hand and said, “Hold on. I’m her husband, right? We’re supposed to back each other up, right? If that was the case why didn’t she talk to me? I’d have helped her out of it. You know, every time she ever got in these moods I’d ask her ‘What’s wrong?’ and her response was always ‘Nothing’ so I stopped asking.”

I nodded.  “But some people keep things to themselves. Maybe that’s how she is.”

He stared at me.

“David, you’re the smartest fucking guy I’ve ever known, and you could probably explain the possible why-fores of all my wife’s mental hang-ups on any given day, and maybe you want everybody in the world to get along but you’re talking to a guy who’s developed selective hearing when it comes to her feelings. It’s too late. I don’t give a shit, and you’re interfering with my story. Let me continue. I’ve been carrying this around for all these years and now I’m going to get it off my chest.

“So…the show’s over now. Here comes the surprise—big surprise. I said, ‘You want to meet Donny Osmond? I made arrangements.’

“She said, ‘No.’

“I said, ‘But baby, you loved Donny Osmond.’

“She turned to me and I’ll never forget this. I’ll never forget that sour look on her face and the tone of her voice when she said, ‘I was a little girl once, now I’m a woman. I want to leave.’”

Freddie stared at his bottle of beer then quickly clamped his hand around the cap, gave it a violent twist and flicked it across the room. He downed the beer in one shot and then set the bottle on the floor beside him.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned. Why the hell did I do this? Not for me. I could give two shits for boeuf with hollandaise sauce and Donny Osmond. I blew a shitload of money for this fucking special occasion, and what did I get in return? Attitude.

“So we went to the hotel. I made myself a drink, she took a shower, then she came to bed. We got in bed, and you know what she did?”

He turned to me.

“Do you know what she did?” he said.

I shook my head.

“She went to sleep! She rolled over and went — to — sleep. No goodnight, no thank you, and most of all no sex. It’s our anniversary for Christ’s sakes and not even a blowjob to tide me over? What the fuck? She just rolled over and went to sleep, to hell with me. Now, you’re asking yourself, did I expect any sex even after she trashed the whole evening, and I say yeah, why not? We’re married aren’t we? It’s our anniversary isn’t it? I did my best so how about some wifely duty here? What’s her problem? What the fuck is her problem? She lives in a nice house, drives a nice car. She can buy anything she practically wants, and I’m responsible for all that so how about something for me? She doesn’t make any money at her job. It’s a joke. It’s just a gathering of gossiping women and a nail polish competition. I told her one time that she didn’t have to go to work. Stay home, baby, relax. She said she didn’t want to be a kept woman. She wanted to contribute. I said baby you can contribute by keeping the house clean and having my dinner ready when I get home. She didn’t like that. Boy, she didn’t like that. I got the cold shoulder for a couple of weeks. Anyhow, what’s wrong with being a kept woman? Is that a bad thing? I wouldn’t mind it if I was a kept man. If there was some rich broad who wanted to keep me in a nice place and pamper me all over, I wouldn’t disagree with that.” He turned to Gin and said,” Hey, Ginny, you got a problem with being a kept woman?”

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“There you go. Anyhow, she was my wife. That meant something to me. She wasn’t some strange pussy you snagged on a Friday night or some ditz who’d spread her legs for you whenever you wanted it.”

I looked over at Gin who was reading the copier’s operating instructions out loud. I leaned towards Freddie, lowered my voice and said, “I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with this girl, but the way you’re talking in front of her, it’s pretty disrespectful.”

“What are you talking about? Don’t worry about her. She’s got thick skin. Hey, Beautiful, you don’t feel insulted do you?”

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“No. She doesn’t mind, and she knows,”—he turned towards her—”that if I ever say anything bad about you I don’t really mean it. Right babe?”

“I guess,” she said.

“You know I don’t mean it,” he said raising his voice. She smiled and looked embarrassed and focused back on the copier.

He glared at her.  “Say it,” he said. Gin looked at him then at me. She blushed.

“I know you don’t mean it,” she said, a little bit snidely.

“Fucking right,” he said, and moved his shoulders as if shaking off an insult.

“So there I was, lying in that bed thinking—I might as well be lying next to a dead body. Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t do all this for sex. I’ll be honest, I’ve paid for sex a few times, but a fuck has never cost me what I paid out that night. I did it for her, out of love. I wanted her to enjoy herself, have a laugh, be happy, and then as a climax to a wonderful time, we would make love, like husband and wife, reinforcing our bond after seven years. Tell me that’s an unreasonable expectation. To say I was disappointed is a gross understatement and I’m thinking why am I wasting my time with this woman? Now, I`ve got two beautiful girls at home, and I would never do anything to destroy their sense of security, but I’m a man. The pressures of life build up inside me till I need to explode, and this thing I call a wife? She’s not helping me explode, so I gotta find another outlet, and I end up with this.” He waved a hand towards Gin who had a chair up against the photocopier.

“It’s not good for kids to witness their parents arguing all the time,” I said. “It rattles their sense of security. If you’re not happy wouldn’t it be better to make a clean break?”

“First off, they’re not kids anymore. Maybe they’ll understand. Maybe they won’t. But if I left the house it would be quite a disruption. They’re living their carefree adolescent lives, and I don’t want to rattle them with thoughts of mommy and daddy splitting up. I don’t want to take the chance. Besides, that’s a moot point. We don’t argue. We don’t even talk. I come home, she goes out. She comes home, I go out. It’s a cold arrangement, but it works.”

“While you guys were married, did you ever screw around on her?”

“Never!” he said, his eyes wide. “Are you kidding? Even if I wanted to, I had no time for that. I had a business to grow. Maybe I wasn’t around enough. Maybe I didn’t have the energy for some things. I was always working, but I did that for us. So we could get ahead. So we could have what we have now. But after that night my attitude changed. I started banging broads left, right and centre—free or paid I didn’t give a shit. I had to relieve my stress.”

“Freddie?” Gin called out. “Freddie? I want to make you a copy of my bum. Is that okay? You can keep it with you, to look at whenever you want. So I’ll always be with you. So you won’t forget me.”

Freddie smirked at me.  “Go ahead,” he said. “I’ll put it next to my heart.”

She rolled up her dress, slipped her panties to her knees and mounted the copier. She pushed the button, and as the beam of light crossed from one side to the other, she looked at me and said, “I really do have a nice tushy.”

Freddie laughed. “That’s right. If you didn’t have that ass, you’d have nothing.” She smiled. I  felt sorry for her because I thought she had taken his insult as a compliment.

“Ginger’s a nice girl,” I said. “There’s a lot more to her than her bum.”

She hopped off the copier, wiggled her panties back up, pulled down her dress and walked over to me.

“Oh, no,” she said, “No. You’ve got that wrong. My name’s not Ginger.” She leaned towards me and whispered, “It’s Ginesta.” She giggled. “Isn’t that the strangest name you ever heard?” As she spoke, her boozy breath came at me in puffs, and at that moment I couldn’t help taking a quick peek at her cleavage. She saw it and smiled. A knowing smile, I thought, and for an instant, I wondered if she wasn’t consciously portraying an airhead and that it was her choice to be no more useful than an inflatable doll. Then that spark of awareness disappeared, and with her drunken eyes she focused on my eyes and said, “Do you want me to make you a copy of my bum too?”

I turned to Freddie.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” she said, stroking my cheek. “You don’t have to ask him. It’s my bum. I can show my bum to whoever I want.” Then she took a step backwards, stumbled and fell on the floor. I got up from the couch, but Freddie stuck out his arm and held me back. “I’ll take care of this,” he said and stood up. “Why do I always have to pick you up off the floor?” He grunted as he helped her to her feet. “Slow down,” he said. “You’ve got the rest of your life.” She embraced him and cried.

“Aw,” he said and rubbed her back. “Who’s feeling sorry for herself tonight? I told you—you’re my only girl.”

They swayed as they stood there. She sobbed into his shoulder, holding tight to him while he rubbed her back. Then he looked over his shoulder at me, winked and said, “She’s no brain surgeon, but she gets the job done.”

Copyright© Attila Zønn 2014