By Attila Zønn
If Tommy had not gotten piss drunk in the middle of the week at Luigi’s Irish Pub wing night, he would have been at work on Thursday morning and his boss Larry, of The Fine Furniture Folks, wouldn’t have yelled at his wife Ilyse when she refused to drive the delivery truck.
“Why can’t Terry and Les,”—the delivery boys—“ drive the truck?” she asked.
“ ‘Cause they’re low-life knuckleheads. You’re the only one I can trust. Jesus Christ! Can’t you just do this one thing without bustin’ my balls about it?”
Ilyse wanted to get Larry an I Love Jesus sticker for his bumper because Jesus Christ was always shooting out of his mouth.
Any other day she’d have no problem driving the truck, but she had made plans for today—she was going to meet Marty.
Ilyse used to drive the delivery van back when the company was small. It was her and Tommy and any kid Larry could hire off the street for eight bucks an hour. Back then the shop was in their garage—Larry had knocked the back wall out and added an extra twenty feet—and the cops used to show up because Larry worked into the night. It was always the same cops—Paul and Dan—and Ilyse made coffee for them while Larry showed them the finer points of joinery.
“Deep inside,” Larry told her after they’d left, “everybody wants to be a woodworker.”
Finally, a deal was struck with their neighbors—Larry would insulate the garage to muffle the saws and planer, and also repair whatever wooden woes the neighbors might have.
The cops never came by again.
She’d learned to drive trucks in her teens during summer break when she accompanied her father on the long hauls, and sometimes she’d take the wheel so Dad could nap in the back. Dad told her to stay within the speed limit and watch out for cops. She thought watching out for cops was pointless because as soon as you see them, they’ve already seen you.
That was a good time in her life. There she was, with Dad’s cap and sunglasses on, feeling so accomplished maneuvering all that weight. What other seventeen-year-old girl could handle an eighteen-wheeler? She felt safe clutching the wheel because her dad told her, “In a wreck, unless you hit another transport, this rig comes out on top.”
Those were the good old days.
She and Larry had had good old days. Back then she called him ‘Honey’, back when she had respect for him, looked forward to being with him. Then—when carefree was a condition they took for granted. Now he was just Larry or when her ire was up—Fuckin’ Larry.
Larry has lost his enthusiasm for things over the years. He used to make her laugh—so hard sometimes she’d piss herself. The laughter died down as Larry plunged deep into his ambitions and focused solely on his work, and his desire to succeed. They’d bumped into a lot of setbacks, and if it were up to her, she’d have given up and found something else to do, something less stressful than being self-employed.
They’d met that morning when the school bus she drove conked out and left her stranded on the gravel along Hwy 7. A rusty pickup truck coming the other way made a U-turn, pulled up in front of her and Larry jumped out. Other cars slowed down, but Larry waved them away.
“What seems to be the trouble?” he said.
“It just died.”
He looked here and there under the hood as she watched him, hopeful he could flip a switch to get her going again. He wiggled some wires, pulled some belts, tapped on some square things.
“Hmm,” he said, stroking the stubble on his chin. “If this was made of wood, I could probably help you, but as it stands, I haven’t got a clue what’s wrong. I failed auto mechanics.”
She looked at him, wondering, then why did you pull over?
She used his cell phone and called the yard to send somebody.
Later in their relationship, he told her he liked how she’d climbed on the bumper and hoisted down the hood—like a man. She wasn’t a damsel in distress—that was attractive. And the way her ass looked in those jeans was another deciding factor. And when he saw her face it was the icing on the cake.
Being his own boss was what Larry had always wanted. She was swept up in his excitement as they ventured into the self-employed realm. They were naïve. Selling a few tables and chairs at a flea market was not indicative of a viable market. Giving up a bi-weekly paycheck because he didn’t want to be subjected to ‘some asshole’ looking over his shoulder was reckless.
The money was there for the taking he told her. “People want real wood not veneered particle board.”
At the flea market, he had her dress as ravishing as she could to lure men to the booth. She didn’t like being the focal point. She didn’t like the hairy eyeball she got from the men’s wives as Larry explained the woods and techniques.
But it started off with a bang—six jobs. She finally got a dishwasher and Larry put money down on a new F-150, but then it petered out to just an order a month—if they were lucky. He had to diversify. How?
He got his eureka moment one Sunday afternoon drinking a beer in the kitchen. He was looking at the cupboards, then jumped up proclaiming, “Kitchens! Real wood kitchens! That’s what people want.”
Larry and his real wood. Sometimes at the shop, Ilyse felt like grabbing a piece of real wood and clobbering him over the head with it.
He’d always told her, “If you’re going to run a business you’ve got to know more than the people working for you.”
Larry should have followed his own advice. What did Larry know about kitchens? He needed help.
Along came the partner—Orazio.
Larry never told her under what rock he had found this guy. He was an ugly little man with bad teeth, bad breath and big hands. He was nothing to look at, but he sure thought highly of himself.
When Larry wasn’t within earshot, Orazio would say, “My Darling, why you want to be with this guy? Orazio can give you much pleasure.”
She wanted to tell Larry. Larry would have knocked his rotten teeth out of his rotten mouth but that would have been the end of the business, which started doing well.
Orazio had connections. He knew how to get the jobs.
Machinery was bought.
Skilled people were employed.
A large truck was leased.
So she toughed it out.
Then one day Orazio skipped back to Portugal taking all the capital and left Larry with a debt so large the depths from which he could only surface through bankruptcy. The Fine Furniture Man became The Fine Furniture Folks.
Back inside the garage.
A trip to the bank.
Now everything had to be in her name, and it would take two lifetimes to pay off the mortgage.
Larry tried to assure her that, “Starting from zero was better than starting in the minuses.”
Good years followed though, but then the recession came and the phone calls started—creditors calling at dinnertime.
To this day she dreads the sound of a ringing phone.
Larry keeps telling her to get a cell phone, but she won’t have one. She doesn’t want to be that available. She loves her secret moments. Even from Marty.
Though life wasn’t bliss with Larry, she wasn’t looking to have an affair with Marty. She sometimes wondered why she wanted to throw eighteen years of marriage away? She’s lived longer with Larry than she’d lived with her parents.
After Daddy died. After he’d hit that other transport, her mother’s depression had been unbearable. Mum’s life became blurred by booze, and when she was in that state, she’d target her anger at Ilyse.
Ilyse never knew what hell she’d find when she got home, as she nervously slipped the key in the lock, quietly pushed and peered around the door. She’d let out a sigh whenever she saw Mum passed out on the couch. Mum wasn’t the nicest woman even in the best of times, but she was a monster when she got drunk.
She had to admit that Larry’s hard work and perseverance had paid off. They had money now. The company had a reputation. Larry could take it easy, but he still came home late, wolfed down his warmed dinner and fell asleep in front of the TV with a beer in his hand.
But the damage was done—she was bored of him.
It was hot in the cab. Les and Terry were sitting beside her and the B.O. coming off them after an afternoon of deliveries was suffocating. She didn’t blame them for stinking. They were men after all—proficient at grunts and sweat stink. She kept turning her head towards the open window and taking deep breaths.
The last delivery was in a new subdivision.
“Lots of money there,” Larry said. “New houses. New furniture.” They were nice houses, large and ornamented. “One day we’ll have a house like that,” Larry told her. But Ilyse didn’t want a house like that. She was happy with her bungalow and her neighbours.
She sighed. Why did she have to be here?
She was ready to leave him—soon. She was running away with Marty. It was just a matter of time. Marty had to straighten out a few things, then they’d be together forever, and she would have her happily ever after.
Till death do us part, in sickness, in health—all that idealistic shit she believed before marriage kicked her in the teeth and knocked her to her knees. She’d intended on keeping her vows but now…
She had met Marty at the supermarket.
She was comparing weight to price when another shopping cart slammed into hers. There was plenty of room in the aisle for both carts so she couldn’t understand how two carts could collide like that.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the crasher said. “Are you alright?” Then stuck out his hand. “My name’s Martin.”
“No harm done,” she said, and continued down the aisle.
He came after her.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I don’t usually do this, but I must say, you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
She wasn’t falling for that, but it made her blush.
When their carts crossed in the laundry aisle, he said, “I’m sorry to keep bothering you, but I’m new at this. What cleans better, Gain or Sunlight?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I use Tide.”
When they crossed again in the next aisle, he had a large jug of Tide in his cart. This made her smile. And when she reached the checkout, he was right behind her. And for many weeks after she’d run into him.
She thought it was just coincidence in a neighbourhood with one shopping plaza.
He called it kismet.
One day she went around the corner and he came around the corner, threw up his hands and said, “Are you following me?”
They went for coffee.
She had so much in common with Marty. She loved movies, and he had been in the movies. He was in The Bone Collector. Larry called it a stupid movie. He was getting impatient watching it. He said, “Jesus Christ! If that camera focuses on Angelina’s lips one more time…” And gestured as if he’d throw his beer at the TV.
Larry refuses to be insulted by bad movies and turns them off or walks out. He wanted to turn the movie off. “Give it a chance,” she told him. She wanted to wait for the scene with Marty, and there he was! He was standing behind the police tape and out of focus, but she could see him as clear as day.
On her pros and cons checklist, which she keeps beneath her things in the underwear drawer, Marty got more pros checks, and Larry got most of the cons checks. Marty did have some cons though—he was married and had two kids.
She and Larry never had time for kids. Larry said it would drain them financially. It would distract them from building the business. She agreed at first, but now at thirty-seven, she feels an emptiness that maybe the love for a child could fill, and she wouldn’t be alone…but she had Marty.
She did have Marty.
But she also had doubts. Her perspective wasn’t as clear as it used to be.
Last Friday Larry had come home early, which was strange. He’d brought a bottle of wine, which was stranger. A nicely chilled bottle of Liebfraumilch—her favourite. That he had remembered something she liked made her wonder what the hell was going on. He poured them each a glass, tinked his glass to hers, then sat across from her with a big smile on his face.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Great,” he said.
She wondered if he’d found something out.
Then he jumped up, grabbed her and lifted her in his arms, carried her down the hall and dropped her on the bed. Before she could react, he was all over her.
She didn’t resist.
It felt like rape more than lovemaking, but that’s how she had always liked it—spontaneous, rough, animal. Being overpowered had always turned her on. The moment was reminiscent of the vigour Larry once had.
She had missed having her nipples twisted, and ass slapped.
And for that moment her love for Larry flowed back in warm waves. Why couldn’t it always have been like this? Why did he have to focus on work more than he focused on her? Why couldn’t they have had a life together, instead of he always being on the other side of his dream and she alone with no one to talk too?
Afterwards, lying in bed, they talked.
Larry had gotten a new contract—it was big!
“Worth thousands—the race track, where the Queen sits her royal ass to watch the horses—all has to be redone.” He’d put out a tender and they gave him the job. Cabinets, tables, chairs—everything. It was going to take five months.
She was excited by his excitement, and she’d snuggled against him and twirled the hair on his chest as he talked.
Then she heard the honk.
Whenever Marty drives by her house, he honks his horn.
She suddenly felt cold, pulled away from Larry and covered herself with a robe and told him she had to go to the bathroom. She sat on the toilette and wondered why she had let Larry make love to her. Her future was with Marty. It was all planned. She was just waiting on Marty. How could she slip up like that?
Now she felt guilty that she had just cheated on Marty with her husband.
What was going to happen now, when she went back to the bedroom? She couldn’t ignore Larry, after all that.
Larry wasn’t a bad guy, really. They had just grown apart. He was reliable. When he said something, he meant it. Sure, he got uptight when his schedule was upended. Who wouldn’t?
He wasn’t very abusive. He yelled. She yelled back in his face too so she wasn’t innocent in that regard. She’d even told him to fuck off lots of times and that usually ended the argument. That was normal between husband and wife. She reasoned if you couldn’t tell the one you love to fuck off then it wasn’t a close relationship.
He’d never called her names.
Marty had once called her a ‘ninny’, but he said he was only joking.
Marty—was cheating on his wife. His dishonesty had crossed her mind…but…that’s only because Marty wasn’t happy in his marriage…but…what if he cheated on her one day? She wasn’t a saint but even though she wasn’t happy with Larry, she had never thought to look for love elsewhere—until Marty crashed into her.
She’s pictured herself as stepmother to Marty’s kids. How would that work out? Would they want her as a step-mom or would they blame her for tearing their family apart? But it wasn’t her fault. It was their dad’s doing.
Larry never listens. She tries to tell him what’s bothering her but all he ever gives her is solutions. She doesn’t want solutions. She wants him to listen.
Marty is a good listener. He’s very attentive, though sometimes when she’s talking, his eyes poke elsewhere. There was that one time, when they met downtown, and were sitting outside on a patio. He kept looking past her shoulder. She finally looked back and there was a pretty young girl sitting at a table behind them. It was the only time she was really upset with him. She wanted to break it off right then.
Marty explained that he wasn’t looking at the girl but the fancy drink she was sucking on. He’d never seen anything like it before. She looked back then and didn’t see anything special about it—a tall green glass with a stupid paper umbrella stuck in it. What’s so unique about that?
Larry never looks at other women.
Marty was a pothead. He said he needed it to take off the edge.
Larry drank beer but he never got drunk.
She doesn’t like talking to Marty when he’s stoned. And that’s the only time she feels isolated from him—when he’s stoned. You can’t have a serious conversation with someone who’s stoned. They laugh at everything you say.
She thinks Marty’s successful—in something. She doesn’t know what he does. She asked him once, but he changed the subject so she never asked again. He acts and looks like someone who is in command. She thinks sometimes that it’s funny, that she really doesn’t know much about the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with—but that’ll change once they start living together.
Larry is very readable. She knows what he thinks. He doesn’t hold back. He’ll tell her like he sees it.
She wondered how she was going to live with a pothead. At Marty’s age—she never asked him how old he was. Probably in his forties—smoking that stuff at forty, it’s probably going to be a lifelong thing.
Sometimes when they’re together, Marty can’t get an erection, and it upsets him so she has to reassure him that it happens to every man once in a while. Sometimes she feels like Marty’s mother.
Sometimes in the past Larry has had that problem, but he didn’t get frustrated, he’d kiss her and say, “Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, babe.” Then he’d get up and go to the kitchen to grab a beer.
Her life lately has been confusion but also bouts of optimism, all blending together to give her the weirdest highs and lows she’s ever experienced, and she wonders why she had made her life so complicated.
Now, driving the truck, she approached an intersection. Suddenly there was a kid on a bike in front of the truck.
She swerved to miss the kid on the bike and drove straight into the man who was selling golf balls, sitting under an umbrella by the side of the road. Death was instantaneous for the man, and his golf balls flew into the air along with him, over the little knoll and down onto Albino, Manuel and Jose who were framing footings for a new house in that subdivision. The golf ball man managed to break Jose’s neck with his dead body while Albino and Manuel were pelted with dimpled projectiles as they ran for their lives screaming, “Fodas!”
Down one lot they had already started pouring concrete into the footings.
The spotter became distracted by the drama and forgot he was guiding a reversing cement truck, edging precariously to the edge of an eight-foot drop. It wasn’t the reverse beeps that finally brought the spotter to the present but the crashing groan of a fully laden cement truck sliding down the embankment on it’s side…
George Cheese once lived in the country, but now the country is gone, and he feels choked in the grasp of urban sprawl.
“They’ll never get this far north,” the realtor said thirty years ago when George wanted to disappear from the rat race. Now the rats are all around him.
As he sits on the verandah in the mornings, coffee in hand, he watches the rats come out of their all brick nests, hop in their cars and swarm out, bumper to bumper, all the way down to the Big City. And bumper to bumper they all come back before sunset.
Ah, the blessed country.
The serenity of mornings.
George once lived in the Big City. He’d slogged his working days amid the glass and steel, the drafts, the lights, the honks, the people crossing on the green in herds, dazed by the thoughts of their lives.
He can understand the allure.
Downtown—the gleam, the bustle, the happenings, but also its parts of sexy decrepitude.
Downtown—the paradox; inhabited by the wealthy or the homeless.
He had been dazzled by the allure. He had been a suit and a bullshit artist.
Bullshit: if you’re good at it you’ll make lots of money. George believes from 1980 on, it’s all been bullshit. The 1970’s was the last decade with substance. When it ended the world became artificial. With the disposable razor came the disposable relationship. Everything is disposable now, and everything is bullshit.
He looks around him at the million dollar homes made of sticks and plastic and clay.
One day, it’s all going to crash—it has to, it’s unsustainable— and these houses won’t be worth the sticks they’re made of.
The developer had offered him a fortune back when George saw rooftops on the horizon, but stubbornness and stupidity prevailed, thinking he could stop them with his powerless ‘no’.
They went around him.
Now his white siding house on this large lot is an anachronism alongside these tight lots loaded with brick.
He should have taken the dough and moved another thirty years away.
In the distance sirens surge from either that new hospital or the new fire station, and there is a helicopter overhead. George looks up and says, “Those news guys are quick. Jesus! They’re quick. Like Johnny On The Spot.” He looks down at his black lab Mojito and says, “Like Johnny On The Spot, eh, Mo?”
Mojito gazes up at him, licks his snout then lies down.
As the sirens intensify, he sees they’re from a fire truck with an ambulance in tow, then right behind, the cops.
“What the hell’s going on down there?” he says and steps off his verandah. Mojito follows him to the edge of the property. George sees the intersection blocked and flashing lights.
“Stay,” he says. Mojito sits, and George crosses the road to get a better view of the commotion.
George enjoys his simple life but isn’t adverse to the excitement of human tragedy unfolding. As long as there aren’t bodies strewn across the road or pools of blood—the sight of blood gives George a sharp twinge in his groin and wrists—he likes the sight of a good smash’ em up to give him another reason to shake his head.
George has shunned society since that day he sat across from the old lady who handed him her life savings to invest. The woman wanted to grow her money so she could leave it to her grandsons when she went to see God. They lived far away and had only seen her a handful of times, but she loved them and wanted them to remember her.
A loving warmth suddenly came over George at that moment, and he wanted to hold her sweet face in his hands.
He leaned across the desk and whispered, “Then don’t give your money to me or anyone else in this building.” He touched her hand and stood, walked out of the office, out of the building, and went home where he told his wife he was leaving the profession. She had a fit, but that was okay, he was done with his wife as well, and his sons, who only noticed him when they asked for money, and his disingenuous neighbors, and the human race and all that other…bullshit.
Back when they started digging holes around him, they wanted to connect him to the grid, but he refused. He didn’t want to be found because as soon as they track you down, they’ll want to sell you something. He’s proud of his self-sufficiency. He has an excellent greenhouse. He has a lemon tree. A diesel generator powers everything—during the ice storm, he sat comfy in his self-sufficiency while the rats scrambled to find a place to keep warm.
Whenever he requires meat, he heads over to Marta’s place. It used to be a farm, but now the rats creep along the fringes. He’s known Marta a long time and was great friends with her hubby Slatko, but one day the big C took the big Slav, and that ended those exquisite evenings around a bottle of Courvoisier, engaged in discussions of politics, religion, and all that was wrong with humanity.
Marta’s a lonely woman with a young son. She has chickens. Sometimes while her boy Robbie—he’s a bit slow—runs down a chicken, George is permitted a quicky in the kitchen, and for this, he always pays much more than what the chicken is worth.
She’ll sell out soon, and George wonders where he’ll get a chicken and a quicky.
He’s entertained the idea of having Marta live with him, but he’s lived too many years in solitude that the idea of having another body sharing his space would feel like a nuisance. And she’s got a slow boy. Nothing against the kid—he’s eager, and he’s amenable, but George would have no patience with stupidity.
He approaches the intersection and sees a truck with the words The Fine furniture Folks on the side has ploughed into a pile of earth, and there are golf balls everywhere on the road. The paramedics are lowering a dark-haired woman from the driver’s side. Her face is bloody. She’s limp, and it doesn’t look good.
There’s a long-haired young guy with a bloody forehead walking around.
Suddenly, a man stands beside him. He’s missing his front teeth when the man says, “That’s a nasty accident,” then falls to the ground.
“Hey!” George yells to the paramedics and points to the man on the ground.
He leans over the man and takes his outstretched hand.
“You’ll be okay buddy,” he says. The man looks up at George, and sputtering blood from his mouth says, “Will you call my sister and tell her I’ll be late for dinner?”
Jen has tightened the finely crafted linen noose around her neck but hears the commotion outside and wants to be curious one last time in her life.
The methods for ending a life are many—she’s researched. Slitting your wrists in the bath is one, but that’s messy. She’s always prided herself in a sparkling bathroom. An overdose of sleeping pills? Pills of any kind make her gag. Jumping off a bridge? She doesn’t want to feel the impact even though she knows it will only last a millisecond. She’d jumped off a low roof once, and that moment in the air had felt so liberating. She tried to land on her head, but her body decided to land on its feet, breaking an ankle. While she convalesced she’d read that not all falls from heights were lethal, so she never tried again because it could leave her paralyzed and she didn’t want that— confined to a wheelchair and never be able to kill herself again.
At twelve, vacationing in the Kawartha’s, she tried to kill herself for the first time. Immediately after a meal of hotdogs and potato salad she rushed into the lake and waited to drown but she wouldn’t drown, so she tried to inhale underwater but that caused her body to fight for air and the panic frightened her off suicide for a few years, but the urge came back in her teens, spurred on by her sense of worthlessness. Though she doesn’t mind the idea of a painful death, presentation is important. Once, downtown, she’d thought of running headlong into a subway train but reconsidered— she’s always wanted an open casket funeral.
Since her school days, she’s loved the words O happy dagger! This is my sheath. There rust, and let me die. She repeats these words for comfort as she goes about the house tidying and cleaning. Sometimes she puts a tune to the words and it makes her smile.
Jenn unhooks the noose and steps down from the stool beneath the light fixture in the foyer and unvelcroes the ankle weights. She has on the blue dress she wants to be viewed in and wears a pair of Depends, because she’s read that when people hang themselves their sphincter releases and she doesn’t want her body hanging undignified in death.
She opens the front door and walks to the bottom of the driveway. It’s all happening across the street, past the square pits where houses will one day stand, that will block her view of the trees beyond—those same trees that she hurries to whenever there’s a lightning storm.
There’s a cement truck with its wheels in the air, and two men with tool pouches, pacing around like they don’t know in which direction to go, and across the way, a large truck with The Fine Furniture Folks written on its side is stuck on a pile of earth. On the driver’s side, there’s a woman hanging out the window. She isn’t moving.
Her neighbours come out of their houses too, cross the road and some hold cell phones in the air—and that’s when her husband drives onto the driveway.
Jenn sighs, knowing now she’ll have to kill herself tomorrow. He’s brought take out for dinner, and she cringes at the thought that she’ll have to endure another excruciating night of his love and devotion. She wonders what he’ll feel tomorrow when he opens the front door and sees her hanging in the foyer.
Her husband is a nice man. She wishes she could love him. He deserves that at least after putting up with her sullen life.
“That’s nasty,” he says as they both look out at the happening across the way. He puts his arm around her, looks at her, smiles and says, “That’s a new dress. What’s the occasion?”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017