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Something Happened

Something Happened

Something Happened 43


  "Come on in buddy," he invited convivially, and started to move from the bed. "I'll go eat."

  Both naked girls waited for me with blank, phlegmatic smiles. The white one had a sore on her jaw that looked bleached with calamine lotion.

  I left.

  I have stopped using Red Parker's apartment in the city and no longer go to his noisy cocktail parties there on the chance of striking it lucky with one of the large number of girls he is still able to persuade to attend. (I have made out well more times than I can remember with girls I've met through Red. I met Penny through Red and still have her. And soon I will have to fire him or design some gentler means of getting rid of him. Like an antiquated building with white X's on the front, he must be demolished shortly. He has a naturally disrespectful way with women I've always envied. It's effective. They mean nothing to him; they mean dramatic things to me. It's really hard to be indifferent laying somebody new the first time. His girls have gotten older, though, blowsy, thicker about the waist and chin. But so, for that matter, have he and I. His wizened cheeks are veinous jowls now, and his lips are blistered. He chortles as much as ever, as though his wife were not dead and his job not in jeopardy. He heh-heh-hehs a lot now too. He's been warned by Kagle. The apartment is garish and sleazy. Furniture is stained and needs cleaning and upholstering. Will it be with someone like him that my wife decides to cheat on me? I hope not. I would like it at least to be with someone I can look up to, a man to whom she'll mean a little more than just another married piece of ass. I'd hate her to do it with that arrogant, obstreperous, bad-mannered, flamboyant type. I am that type. I would not like them to think I am married to just another piece of ass.) The last time in town I took my wife to a big room at an expensive hotel. My wife loves it in expensive hotels. So do I. There's something about my own wife in a luxurious hotel that beats everything else in the world.

  "I'll fuck like a racehorse in a room like this," she glories, a vibrant strumpet lying eager for more as soon as I'm ready to supply it. "Don't I?"

  "Ride, racehorse."

  "You jockey me."

  "Or I'll whip you some more."

  "Do what you want, darling."

  "Stop talking so much."

  "Put me in a bed in a hotel like this and I feel I can fuck the whole world."

  "Put your knees up."

  "Oh, good. God. Goodness gracious, deary me."

  My damned dumb wife still can't remember to put her knees up after all these years--and she feels she is ready to fuck the whole world.

  I wonder what I would feel like if my wife ever did come home smelling of another man's semen. I think I would die a sudden, shriveling death inside. (Would it excite me?) I would wither and curl up inside my skin and spend the rest of my dull, spiritless life hiding my dead, small self inside a head and torso now many sizes too large. I would pray my wife and children would let me keep it secret. (I'm not sure what other men's semen smells like, unless it smells like my own. I'd guess it smells of sweat and hair. I've caught the scent of sweat and hair on my wife a hundred times when she's not had time to wash and change before I plant my perfunctory kiss on her cheek, but it's only sweat and hair, I think.) She does not guess what I'm thinking as my eyes examine her critically these days. (It would not excite me.) It would fill me with saddest resignation and lifelong self-disgust. Judgment will have been rendered against me by her and someone else behind another closed door I did not know was even there, and the judgment will be irreversible. I hope it will not be with someone crass and repellent like Andy Kagle or Red Parker. I would not want their hands or fluids on her. (Someone like Green might be better for me.) Sometimes on my train ride home from work--I even have trouble sleeping when commuting--I have the clairvoyant certainty I am going to catch her that very day within the next forty-five minutes, and just that way: by a stain. She'll hurry into the house after I do, dinner will be late reaching the table, and there it will be, that smudge, that stain on her slip, her belly, her skirt. The details of sequence are disorderly--but they won't matter. I will not be able to say anything in the dining room because of the children. Later, I will not be able to say anything anyway. I will not want her to know I know (and hope she doesn't make a point of telling me. I would have to do something if she knows I found out, and there'd be nothing I'd really want to. I would even have to fake the anger and unhappiness I was experiencing. I could not let it emerge so vulnerably. It would be easier for me to rot and decompose in hidden torment for the rest of my life than to let her see how cruelly she hurt me and how easily she could do it again every time she chose. I do not want her to). I must never let her see I care.

  "I love my wife, but, oh, you kid."

  I am not as big a shot as she and the children think I am (but must not let them find that out). I have horrendous visions of her being felt up greedily on packed subway trains, and enjoying it, and my wife doesn't even have to ride the subway trains. Penny does. A man came on her dress in the rush hour during the summer. She didn't know it until she was off the train and the fingers holding her pocketbook brushed against the sticky substance on the back of her hip. I began in a random glob shot like that and will end, if I'm lucky, decaying like Red Parker with white-washed X's splashed across my eyes and a sign on my chest or forehead reading: COMING DOWN SOON. FORGIONE DEMOLITION CO. While Negro junkies, winos, and dealers in stolen wallets, cameras, and wristwatches hang out in my squalid, dimly lit hallways.) "I knew it was either that or phlegm," Penny told me with a snorting laugh she has I often find grating. "And no one was doing any coughing. Was I ever embarrassed. Imagine the nerve."

  I can't.

  I miss my mother, sister, and brother more and more often lately and regret we did not remain closer as a family when we were all still together. On balmy evenings in spring and summer, my mother would send down to the drugstore for a container of bulk ice cream, and we would eat it together. She let me get it when I grew big enough to go. We liked strawberry best of all, and it was good. Sometimes we had strawberry mixed with vanilla.

  I don't think I have ever had a homosexual experience that counted. I was molested twice as a child, once by an older boy, but I don't think that counted. The other time was by an older girl in the same apartment house who pretended to wrestle with me but was really intent on giving me an erection and feeling it bounce against her. That does count because it felt so nice. I was lucky. I was eager to have her do it to me again and lurked around her optimistically. She didn't. Poor me. It's hard to believe one can experience such acute sensitivity and still be unable to come. How does it end? We can't remember. It peters out. Penny never has to be reminded to put her legs up and keeps them up for the longest time without complaining of aches or strains. She's good. She takes dancing lessons still (which might help), along with her singing lessons and exercise classes. At age thirty-two, she still wants to be Shirley Temple. For a little while last spring I had a nice-looking, slightly nutty, twenty-six-year-old, tall, ex-college kid from Ann Arbor, Michigan, I met at an office Christmas party who would start to come as soon as we began and raise her legs from feet to hips straight up toward the ceiling for as long as it took. I liked that: I liked her quick response and that feel of ass against my knees; it let me think I was getting away with something extra. She made shrill noises and I would have to muffle her mouth. (It was soon very tiresome listening to her. I do not think of it as doing something together and don't believe anyone else really does, either.) She got to be a nuisance and a bore. She had spare time. She's the one that made fun of my garters. I could not brook such churlish insolence to the Slocum name from such a woozy upstart (she did take drugs, which made her even more vapid still), and I began to snub and neglect her. I played on her ignorance and provincialism. (She really knew almost nothing.) She thought it was beautiful.

  "Isn't it beautiful?" she would say.

  Anyone could please her, and she left me in the warm weather for younger men in beach houses with less money who played v
olleyball in the sand but had more time to spend with her. I tried to get her back but failed. She jilted me. (I had to face the fact I bored her, too.) She outgrew me, saw through me. There was degradation--oh, boy--turned down by her. She had never seen men's garters before or noticed them in fashion ads, and she had never heard of Camus, Copernicus, or Soren Kierkegaard (the three big K's, ha, ha), either. She found my garters quaint and curious; she never actually ridiculed them, but her amusement was insult enough. I guess men's garters do look funny. I had to employ some technique, though, for keeping my socks up during important business meetings. I've switched to full-length stretch socks now--always dark, except in summer at the country or shore or on weekends at somebody's club. (I won't join a club until I've got the new job and know I can keep it.) They look funny too. Stretch socks choke. I shove them down around my ankles whenever I can in order to release my calves from their abrasive grip. With my dark socks down, my ankles remind me of shifty, slimy men I used to see in dirty movies, the kind of unshaven, evil sneak who'd sidle close and feel my wife or daughter up on crowded trains or come on Penny's pretty skirt and make a mental note (perhaps even jot it down industriously on a small record pad) that his day as a molester was off to a shooting start. I bet these people organize their work week around their sly, depraved perversions. (I've got them ghosting around inside the narrow passageways of my brain also, with this difference. They aren't ghosts. I feel it when they walk about.) They try to take what doesn't belong to them. What do they do on vacations? I wonder how the poor creatures got along before there were buses and subways. What effect will growing investments in mass transportation have upon their activities, particularly in respect to productivity and competition? Will the liberated woman feel back? Will the homosexual liberated woman on crowded buses and trains start feeling my wife and daughter up also? Maybe people will begin riding the subway trains just to be felt up. They could sell tickets, raise the fare. I see a panoramic mural. (My wife thinks I have a dirty mind.) Imagine the trainloads of smiling faces. No one would want a seat. Every hour a rush hour, every rush a crush hour. That could be a partial solution to the energy crisis. (A lot of energy would be discharged.) After all, the opportunities for being felt up in one's own automobile aren't that promising, unless you're my daughter or one of her teen-age friends, or a college kid, although I've done some hearty automobile groping myself from time to time, most recently while being driven home from a party by the heavyset wife of one of our millionaire corporation executives. She wore heavy perfume I didn't like and took me by surprise.

  "Do you have to go right home?" she asked unexpectedly. "Or aren't you afraid of your big, mean wifey?"

  "No to both," I responded with terse bravado.

  "What do you have in mind?"

  "Lover's lane," she announced, then tittered a moment. "Do you know where lover's lane is?" she asked. "Right here," she answered with another laugh, and touched herself.

  She was a millionaire's frolicsome wife with a double chin and acrid perfume I didn't like, and I had always had to respect her (because she was a millionaire's wife. I was afraid of her husband). She was four years older than I was and had a hearty, predatory vivaciousness about her. She made fun of my shy caution and was entertained by my ignorance and naivete.

  "I've got a reputation as big as this whole county, baby. Oh, have you got a lot to learn. Didn't you know that?"

  I felt like a yokel. "Does Bill know?"

  "A lot I care. I'm a free spirit, puddy poo. I do what I want."

  "Will Bill know about me when he finds you dropped me off?"

  "Don't be such a worry wart," she chided with a squeaky titter.

  My skin prickled, and I thought for a moment she might pinch my cheek or tweak my nose. She tore her stockings at the knees on the floorboard of her car and stuffed them in her purse before she started driving again.

  "I can't walk in with these, can I? I'll call you in the city. I come in every Wednesday to see my mother."

  "I have an apartment."

  "We own a co-op."

  "Will Bill know?"

  "Don't be such a worry wart."

  "Don't use that phrase. It makes my skin prickle."

  "Your skin prickles easily, I've noticed."

  "It isn't fitting for a woman of your position."

  "I'll show you some new ones. Bill and I have an understanding."

  "What does that mean?"

  "I do what I want. And he can go to hell if he doesn't like it."

  "That's some way to talk about a millionaire."

  "Puddy poo."

  When she called on Wednesday, I didn't want to see her again and told her I had a meeting. (I was afraid of Bill, and I didn't think I ever wanted to see again someone who had called me puddy poo.) "I'm at the hair dresser," she said on Thursday the week after.

  "I was expecting you yesterday," I lied again.

  "You'll have to take me when you can get me. Let's have lunch."

  "It can't be done."

  "I'll pay."

  "It's not that."

  "You think I'm homely?"

  "No. I think you're sexy as hell."

  "So does he, puddy poo."

  "Who?"

  "The guy I'll meet instead. You're not the only fish in the sea, baby. We'll talk about you."

  "Does he know me?"

  "We'll have a big laugh."

  "Who is it?"

  "That's for me to know and you to find out."

  (I began to feel she had the whammy on me.) I began to believe she would come up to the office unannounced at any time just to make a fool of me in front of the others there.

  "You're afraid of me, puddy poo, aren't you?" she taunted prankishly the next time we met at a party, and she did indeed--while my wife and her husband observed from different parts of the house--tweak my nose. "Isn't he, Mrs. Slocum?"

  "I wish he were afraid of me," my wife yelled back.

  "Call me Wednesday." I ordered her curtly. "And I'll show you how afraid I am."

  "I'm at the Plaza," she said when she called.

  "I think I've got the flu," I apologized with a snuffle.

  "I thought you might, baby," she chirruped pleasantly, "so I brought along a list. And I do mean baby. You come on much better at parties. You're not the only fish in the sea."

  I wish I had her on her knees again right here right now. Alongside Virginia. I've done it with my wife here in my study many times. My wife and I go on honeymoon sprees still, lashing all about the house and grounds in frothing spasms. We need liquor. We've done it in all the rooms by now except the children's and Derek's nurse's. We've done it in our attached garage at night when we did not want to risk waking up anybody inside, and we've done it outside in the darkness on soaking wet grass. (If we had a swimming pool, I'm sure we'd try it in there at least once.) We've done it on our redwood patio furniture. I whiff her dense perfume again (and turn around to look). Of course her husband knew. I wonder how he stood it. I know it vexes me almost beyond toleration--I could bang bricks against my head with both hands--to recall I was called puddy poo not long ago and tweaked on the nose in public by someone tasteless and vulgar like her and that my garters were the source of innane merriment to that uninteresting Ann Arbor dropout who wore denim jeans and jackets and never seemed clean. I do not want such people to enjoy even a moment's advantage over me. I wish I had them both magnetized on computer tape and could bring them back to start all over again. It would be the same. One would tweak my nose, the other would smile and quiz me presumptuously about my garters. I called her once two months later to make a date and had to call her again to break it. I did want to see her.

  "This time it's true," I explained. "I have to be out of town. Let me call you when I get back."

  She sounded unexcited both times, as though all the tittering had run out of her. She didn't seem to care.

  "It's all right," she said. "You're okay. My looks are gone. I lost them overnight."


  She and her husband split up, and both have moved away. The children were all at college. The house stands empty and no one knows if it's for sale. I suppose my wife and I will have to split up finally too when the children are away at college. I hope it doesn't have to happen sooner while I'm changing jobs at the company or while my daughter is still mired indecisively in adolescence and high school and my boy stands rooted numbly in terror of Forgione and rope climbing and gives no sure indication yet of whether he will make his way up or down. She has nothing to do.

  "I have nothing to do."

  She has nothing to do but align herself unpassionately with the new women liberationists (although all that blatant discussion about orgasm, masturbation, and female homosexuality makes her uneasy).

  "That's only because," I inform her, "you've been conditioned to react that way by a male-dominated society."

  She is not certain whether I am siding with her or not.

  "Why should you," she wonders dejectedly, "have all the advantages?"

  "Do I seem to you," I answer mildly, "a person with all the advantages?"

  "You've got a job."

  "Get a job."

  She shakes her head with a soft snicker. "I don't want to work." (She does have a sense of humor.) "Do you want more money?"

  "It's not money. You always think it's money. I've got nothing to do."

  "Have love affairs. Commit adultery."

  "Is that what you want?"

  "It's not what I want. I can give you more money, if it will make you happier. I'll be able to."

  "That's not what I want. There isn't anything I can do."

  "Cure cancer. Money isn't shit, you know."

  "Please don't get mad at me tonight."

  "Money is love, baby, and that's no shit. I'm not getting mad."

  "I'm feeling so bad."

  "Don't drink whiskey after wine, and maybe you won't feel so bad."