I just thought I would point out something before you read this. My attempt in writing this story was to elicit some sort of emotional response. When it was shared with the class I was happy to find that it did. In fact, one guy was nearly in tears talking about his Aunt who had cancer and, basically, scolding me for being a heartless bastard. I'm not sure he realized that this story, while fictional, is based on events from my own life! Anyhow, if you hate the Narrator, feel sorry for him, love him or whatever, let me know. I'm not pulling punches anymore in my fiction.
The Tale of the Jack Ass
by D. Gage
by D. Gage
I watched her watching people.
I took a sip of my soda.
The cold AC of the shopping mall eatery made my skin break out in goose bumps, which contrasted with the burning sensation from the hot sauce I had liberally drizzled onto my burrito moments before.
I was not that far from the girl in the pink Lolita dress. She was probably nineteen, maybe twenty. Her bleached white hair was tied into piggy tails framing a baby doll face that was cluttered with piercings. She had a tattoo of a star on her left cheek. She wore Goth makeup and black combat boots with black and white striped nylons covering her slim legs that disappeared beneath the frilly hem of her pink dress. She was an enigma of fashion yet somehow that drastic juxtaposition between the innocent, little Lolita girl-look and the rebellious Goth girl-look worked for me. She looked like what Alice would look like if she had, instead of falling down the rabbit hole, fell into a tattoo parlor.
She looked at me, smiled and turned back to her coffee. God! I would rip off that dress and make a woman of her if I could just get her alone. But I couldn’t. I took a bite of my burrito. She didn’t notice me. I took a drink of my soda. Her eyes wandered aimlessly towards the large glass wall of the eatery’s terrace; her pale, ivory neck curved flawlessly.
A pigeon struck the glass with a thump and fell down dead. She giggled. She sipped her coffee from a cardboard cup, crowned with a white plastic lid that was smudged with ebony lipstick. I was in love.
* * *
Years ago, I married a girl with cancer. I suppose you don’t choose who you fall in love with. If I could I might have chosen differently. Nevertheless, I found myself standing at the altar, watching this thirty year old redheaded Catholic girl walking down the aisle towards me, dressed in a white wedding gown. She was radiant and I was in love.
Carol and I were wild lovers. It’s as if we were spitting in the face of cancer with our sex. I mean, we did it three or four times a day. And we had sex all over the place; on the washing machine, in the back seat of the car, on the couch, on the bed, on the bathroom floor, on the back patio while the neighbors were having a BBQ. Sometimes it went on for hours.
“Open the curtains,” she said.
“The lights are on,” I told her.
“Let the world see me!” she said. Her breasts heaving as she rode me like a cowgirl.
Other times we laid in post-coital bliss with only the moon light embracing our naked bodies; warm, spent and happy; Adam and Eve alone in the garden of Eden.
Well, I suppose it wasn’t always like that. There were many days when the Chemo and cancer and drugs were too much. Those were quiet days when you didn’t talk too loud or move too fast for fear of disrupting the delicate balance of Carol’s disease.
Those were the quiet days Carol and I spent lying on the bathroom floor after a twenty minute long seizure. Carol would stop breathing and stop moving, her heart barely beating. I would cry. I would beg her to wake-up. I would place the lens of my glasses under her nose, looking for her breath to fog them up.
Before I met her, she had signed a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ addendum to her Will which made it illegal for medical professionals to perform any life-saving feat should the need arise, which meant that if she didn’t start breathing again it would be pointless to bring her to the hospital and I would have to sit and watch her die, incapable of doing anything about it.
“Come on, baby. Don’t leave me here alone.”
There were lots of seizures and morphine hallucinations, temporary blindness, night terrors and fatigue, not to mention the sickening smell of sulfur on her skin, her lips, her sex. There was the feeling of powerlessness when she told me the doctors found another tumor, this time in her stomach, which was why she was unable to keep any food down. She was living on health shakes and green tea.
God, this shitty, messed up life! But that was what made our passion louder and longer and deeper, knowing that any moment she could be gone, that any morning I could wake up and she wouldn’t. What a fire we had! Every little thing meant something profound, every household accessory we bought, every meal we ate, every movie we watched, every kiss… profound!
* * *
The girl in the pink Lolita dress pulled out her cell phone, held it up and took a picture of the dead pigeon. She looked at the picture and then laughed again. I have always liked pigeons. Most people don’t. They’re filthy birds who live on garbage.
What was I thinking? I had no place to take this strange, macabre goddess once I lured her in. I couldn’t take her home. I didn’t have the money for a hotel room.
I glanced down at my wedding ring. I started to slip it off but then I paused. I looked up. The girl was getting to her feet. She started walking away. She dropped her trash in the bin that said RECYCLE which was only eight inches away from the bin that said TRASH. The wedding ring hovered over my knuckle. “It’s now or never,” I thought to myself. But I hesitated. I thought I should just go home to my wife; that I should try, somehow to make things better, to fix her.
“Make good what is yours.”
* * *
It had been three years since Carol’s cancer had gone into remission. We drifted apart afterward; after the fear of death, the fear that was a catalyst for our unrestrained passion, was no longer there, we had nothing holding us together other than the lack of motivation to get divorced.
Death was no more a threat to us than it was to any ordinary couple. And just like any ordinary couple, we had nothing in common, nothing left to say. She stayed up late and slept on the couch. I went to bed early and slept on the bed. On and on this went, drifting further and further into apathy.
The passionate lovemaking was replaced with sporadic sex-making, then replaced by head aches and ‘not-in-the-moods’, until it was almost a taboo topic to bring up. So, I resigned myself to concentrating on my hobbies and my work. And I kept my manly urges to myself. Could I really stay celibate the rest of my life just to stay true to a woman who was incapable of having a healthy relationship?
The Chemo had done a number on her brain. She developed bi-polar disorder, mild schizophrenia, agoraphobia. All of this was shameful to her Catholic sensibilities, her stubborn Irish pride and so she covered it up with lies, lies that I could see right through. I couldn’t trust her. She pretended everything was normal. It’s easy to pretend when your mind can’t grasp reality half the time.
I just wanted to be free from this prison of responsibility. I wanted to be rid of this anchor tied around my neck that was named ‘Carol’. But I couldn’t leave her. What would people think of me when they found out I left my wife because she was sick? What would I think of myself? What kind of jack ass does that?
* * *
I didn’t miss a day of church from my baptism day until my twentieth birthday when I finally moved out of my parent’s basement, got a job working for the city recreation center as a janitor and started living my own life. Every Sunday afternoon my mother would call and ask me where I was; why I wasn’t in church. Every time she called I was high or drunk or getting laid, which only compounded the guilt trip she never failed to lay on me during those calls.
Two years later I met Carol in a British-themed bar called Watson’s Pub. She had dark auburn hair and wore tight blue jeans and was drinking a Guinness straight from the can. I fell in love with her that very night.
A month later we got married and my mother stopped calling on Sundays and I got a better job working for the Postal Service as a mail man. Carol had an inheritance, not a large one. Her father had owned a construction company which he built from the ground up and he was also very savvy with stocks and bonds and when he died he left his only child, Carol, three hundred thousand dollars.
Three hundred thousand. That’s about the cost of two years of Chemo-therapy, hospital visits, morphine prescriptions, and other related expenses.
“Sometimes I feel like that money could be used for something more important,” she said to me one day.
“What’s more important than saving your life?” I asked.
She never told me. But the thought that something else was more significant to her than her own life made me a little disheartened. Maybe she was right. Maybe there was something more important than her. But the need to survive for the sake of our love was too strong to make me quit on her.
Back then, anyway.
* * *“I don’t know if I would like that,” Shelia said.
“What don’t you like about it?”
“Well, I do like the idea of getting all that attention from other men but I think I would feel bad for you.”
“You don’t get it, do you? I like the idea of you being a slut. It turns me on.” I paused. “Hold on one second.”
I flipped off my head set, walked to the bedroom door and stood there for a moment, listening. I could hear my wife downstairs talking to herself as she always did. I could hear the roar of the cars outside. Our townhouse was built close to a busy highway which would have bothered some people but the sound of traffic always soothed me to sleep at night. It was a constant reminder that life goes on, that the world was still there, that I wasn’t alone.
I stepped back to the computer, slid the head set on and said, “Hello?”
“Hi. I’m here. Were you checking on your wife?”
“Yeah. She’s down stairs. So, where were we?”
“What’s she doing down there?” asked Shelia.
“I don’t really want to talk about her.”
When I asked her out, the girl in the pink Lolita dress told me her name was Shelia. Shelia was twenty two. Shelia had a thing for married men. Shelia had always been close to her father until he committed suicide three years ago.
Shelia loved her father more than any other man. No one could compare to him and so she never dated during high school but instead she would run home every day after school and wallow in her father’s affection. She told me this. She told me she knew her mother was jealous of her father’s fondness of her. She told me she liked seeing her mother jealous. She told me that she would fantasize about kissing his lips in a sexy grown-up way and watching her mother seethe with anger. She had the power of youth and beauty, tight thighs and firm, young breasts. At the age of forty, her mother had sagging tits and wrinkles and couldn’t compete against this charming Lolita.
“I’m gonna get a divorce. Then we can be together for real,” I told her.
She didn’t answer at first. I could hear her soft breath over the microphone.
Finally she said, “That’s a pretty big decision. Maybe you should wait and think about it for a few weeks.”
* * *
There was this mobile that hung from our bedroom ceiling. It had moons and stars and a big sun hanging down from the center. Carol made it years ago out of wire and paper mache. She painted it with metallic gold and silver model paint. She gave it to me as a birthday present.
I remember I was really drunk and I thought it was the stupidest gift I had ever gotten. I told her this and she got angry and threw the thing against the wall. A second later she fell to the floor and started having a seizure. She nearly died and I felt so guilty that I stayed up all night repairing the mobile and then, when it was finished, I hung it above our bed.
Now, the mobile was caked in dust. A few stars and a moon had broken off; they had been kicked under the bed. When I looked at it I thought of the seizure she had on my birthday. And I thought about the day she went into remission; that day life had, for once, handed her a good deal. And then I thought about the past few years and how she seemed to have forgotten that life was precious, that we could die of cancer and lose each other at any moment.
Carol was lying next to me, lost in her own thoughts. She rarely ever came to bed anymore but now she was sick with the flu. She was dehydrated, her lips cracked and dry, her forehead burning with fever. She always came to me when she was feeling sick. I tucked her in and crawled into bed next to her. We just laid there in silence, listening to the cars speed past on the highway.
I felt my cell phone buzz and I glanced at Carol. She had fallen asleep. I pulled the phone out of my pocket. It was Shelia.
Thinking about you.
I replied back:
Thinking about you to.
That was a lie.
* * *
The county fair was on a Saturday and it was raining. I told Shelia I would meet her at the fair. But, when I got off the bus and walked through the muddy parking lot of Johnson’s Field, I received a call from her saying she wasn’t going to make it.
“Are you kidding me?” I said.“I swear I told you already that I was going to a concert today,” she replied.
“You told me it was tomorrow.”
“Whatever. I’m not going to be there so… why don’t you take your wife to the fair like a good husband?”
“Shelia, my wife hasn’t left the house in over a year. She’s not going anywhere.”
“I don’t know what to tell you.”I thought about leaving. I could walk home from here; it was only a few miles. But I was wet, cold and pissed that Shelia had stood me up; pissed that she mentioned Carol and my ability as a husband. She didn’t have a clue what I was going through. I don’t think anyone did. I didn’t talk about it much so I couldn’t blame anyone for not understanding, but still…
I walked through the fairgrounds, hell-bent on finding the beer tent. Instead, I found the girl at the 4H kiosk. There’s nothing better to take your mind off of your problems like a bored teenage girl.Overall, the fair was not going very well. Most of the patrons looked as miserable as I was. This girl looked even more miserable than most.
“Hey, your name in Deborah, right?” I asked the cute blonde. I recognized her from some church function Carol had dragged me to a year ago. Deborah sat with her feet tucked up against her tanned, sexy thighs.
She was chewing gum and texting. But, when she realized I was talking to her, she handed me a brochure. “If you have any questions concerning 4H there’s an address for the website in the brochure,” droned the teen. And she went back to texting having never even looked at my face.
I stood there, watching her and after a moment she looked up at me as if she was annoyed that I was still there. “Did you need anything else, sir?”“You look bored,” I said.
“No way. Having a helluva time,” she sneered. She tossed her cell phone into her purse and began file her nails with a peach emery board. She glanced back up at me and blew a bubble with her gum.
“You know there is this maze made of hay bails. No one is using it because of the rain. I was thinking you and I could check it out,” I said.
“Why would I want to do that?”
I pulled a small bag out from my jacket and the girl recognized it immediately.
“Hell yes! I’ll go,” she said.
Deborah brought a camouflage poncho -probably her father’s- and I had a towel and a pipe and a bag of weed. We quickly got lost in the hay bail maze, smoked a bud and had some pretty crazy sex. Before we finished, the rain began falling harder than it had all day and the poncho was leaking bad. So, she tossed it aside.
I felt like a virile stallion with the rain pounding on my naked flesh; this beautiful young girl pounding down on me with her naked flesh! I felt like a Greek god! I can’t tell you what Deborah felt. However, when we got back to the 4H kiosk she was smiling from ear to ear. Maybe it was the pot, but I like to think it was the wild sex in the pouring rain.
* * *
I was at work when I got the call from Johnson’s Community hospital that Carol’s cancer had returned and it was more aggressive than the first time.
“I can’t do this again,” she told me.
“I know,” I replied. “But what other option is there?”
She didn’t reply but I knew she had already decided on her ‘other option’.A week later, after a long day at work, I returned home to find Carol lying on the floor, her head resting in a pool of bile, her arms folded up against her like she had had cramps in her stomach. A bottle of pills and several empty wine bottles sat on the coffee table. It looked as if she was trying to get to her phone on the kitchen counter but fell before she could reach it.
The strangest part about the whole scene was a sense of relief. I knew it was wrong to feel this way but I couldn’t help myself. I wasn’t happy. But I wasn’t mourning her loss, either.
The police questioned me and I explained to them about my wife’s failing health, her refusal to go through treatment a second time. I thought they were going to blame me for her death. Maybe I was responsible. I didn’t feel responsible.After Carol’s funeral, I went to the bar to drink. A few days before, my parents cleaned out the townhouse, putting my stuff in storage and giving Carol’s things away to charity. They were sensitive to my grief, despite the fact that I had none. They thought I was in shock. I wasn’t. Or, if I was, it was the shock a convict feels when the warden suddenly releases them from prison without warning.
Now, I could get back on my feet! I could live my life to the fullest. I toasted myself with a glass of whiskey, swallowed it down and pulled out my cell phone to call Shelia.“Hey, beautiful! How are you?”
At first, she didn’t respond. I could hear her soft breath over the phone. Finally she said, “I’m moving to Florida with my mother.”
“You’re what?”“Don’t make a big deal out of this, alright. I’m just not ready to be with one man exclusively.” She paused. I was stunned. “You know what? I got a job at Disney Land, so I’ll be working when I get there.”
“Disney Land is in California,” I said.“Oh… which one is in Florida? Never mind, I have to go. And Aaron, I’m sorry about your wife. I think you should go see a grief counselor. It would be good for you. My mom went to one after my dad died and it helped her a lot.”
“Don’t... Look… Can’t you just… you know, stick around for a little while; see if we can work this out?”
“No.” I could hear her mother’s voice in the background. “What? Dammit, mom! I have to go. My flight leaves in twenty minutes, so…”She hung up the phone.
I tried to call Carol, but I forgot she was dead. I thought about erasing her number out of my phone but something stopped me. Something hit me, something I had never expected. Carol had been an anchor, a constant. That’s what a spouse is, a rock to stand on in a storm. Even in her sickness she was there for me.
Now, she was gone. Now, Shelia was gone. Now, I had nothing. Life started hurting even though I had spent so much time building up this armor of cynicism and detachment. I needed someone to tell me everything was alright but the only person who would do that was buried in the ground.
I paid my tab and staggered out of the bar. I thought about going to her grave, maybe bring flowers. I couldn’t do that. The idea made my stomach churn. I thought about going to the airport to find Shelia. No, she would probably be gone before I could get there. I thought about Deborah. That was a waste of time, I mean, it wasn’t even raining!I don’t know why I went there but I found myself driving back to the townhouse. I still had a key. I opened the door and looked in. Everything seemed cold and dead and dark. I walked through the empty rooms trying to remember what it had looked like before the furniture had been taken out, before the pictures had been removed from the walls and the nick-knacks Carol had gotten from her grandmother so long ago, had been given away to the Salvation Army.
There was a strange sense about the place that reminded me of a story I heard as a child about a death in the family and doves flying out of a radio that played ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. It was creepy, like ‘Catholic church’ creepy. Death, creepy.
I slowly walked up the stairs. My heart was beating fast. I was sweating. A knot was swelling in my throat. The floor boards creaked under my weight as I stepped through the hall and into the bedroom. The bed was gone.I stretched out on the floor and listened to the cars on the highway outside through the window and a started singing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ under my breath. I looked up, I saw the mobile still hanging there, stars and moon missing and only a metallic gold sun remained. I started to cry.
* * *I was lying on the couch and Carol was with me. It was the Sunday after our one year anniversary and a warm beam of light spilled out across the carpet of the living room and onto my bare arm. From the open window a tranquil breeze found its way in, cooling my warm sunlit skin. The light also fell on Carol’s dark red hair, causing it to shine brilliantly like fire.
“One day we’ll have a baby,” Carol promised. “After this whole cancer thing is over with.”“A red-headed baby?” I said.
“Yes,” she replied. “With your blue eyes and perfect German nose.”
“And he will be stubborn and he’ll talk too much,” I added.
Carol poked me in the ribs. “Stop it. I don’t talk too much,” she said. She laughed and I laughed. I buried my perfect German nose into her dark auburn hair and squeezed her gently.
“One day, everything will be wonderful,” I told her.And we fell asleep.