Monday, 21 September 2009
NO RESISTANCE - by James C. Clar
Kimberly Valentine lay next to her sleeping husband. The air conditioner in their bedroom window – an older, exquisitely energy-inefficient model – was laboring in the hot, humid July night. The room was redolent of sweat and the pungent, uric odor of too-much Sauvignon Blanc. Tom, of course, had drunk too much because, well, Tom no longer needed a reason to drink too much. Kim, for her part, had imbibed to excess simply to forget the humiliation suffered during dinner with Jennifer and Marty Sheehan. Or maybe it was to forget the accumulated humiliation suffered during five years of a failed, abusive marriage. As she tossed and turned amid the damp and tangled sheets she more than recalled, she relived each painful moment …
“You're one hell of a lucky guy, Marty,” Tom Valentine had said between mouthfuls of chicken saltimbocca and long sips of white wine. “Jen still looks like she did when you guys got married. Kim and me, damn, the TSA people do a double-take every time they check our picture ID at the airport. I didn't think they were going to let Kim on the plane when we went to San Francisco this past February.”
Kimberly Valentine quietly dropped her fork and took another drink. She looked down at the stained white table cloth so that her companions wouldn't notice the salty tears beginning to leak from her already red-rimmed eyes. Make-up and mascara could only hide so much. Had it not been for the soft, diffused lighting in the restaurant, she was certain that the small, faded contusion would still have been visible under her left eye. It was a souvenir from an argument (what else?) that she and Tom had earlier in the week. He never swung with his left.
“I keep telling her,” Tom continued, “that I'd spring for Botox treatments but she just ignores me.”
Embarrassed and feeling more than a little guilty, Jennifer Sheehan excused herself and headed for the ladies’ room.
“I guess I could ‘see a man about a horse’ myself,” Tom Valentine barked crudely a moment or two later. He, too, stood and, tossing his napkin on his seat, made his way through the crowded restaurant.
“I'm sorry, Kim,” Marty Sheehan said quietly as he and his old friend’s wife looked at one another across the table, the remains of their meal lay scattered about, the artifacts of an under-funded and, ultimately, abandoned archaeological dig. “You know Tom. His mouth is moving before he’s had a chance to shift his brain into gear.”
Marty’s genuine solicitude served only to make Kimberly even more uncomfortable and self-conscious. She wondered if the man sitting with her were aware that his own wife had been having an affair with Tom now for close to eighteen months. Probably not, she decided. Marty still doted on Jennifer. His puppy-like affection and near total dependence would, of course, blind him to just about anything. Kim suppressed the almost overpowering urge to tell him, to hurt him, as a way to assuage her own pain.
Ten minutes passed in awkward, pregnant silence. Jennifer returned first and, predictably, transparently, Tom followed three or four minutes later. The evening played itself out in much the same way as it had begun. Finally, mercifully, they paid their bill after coffee and desert. The two couples exchanged somewhat stilted goodbyes in the parking lot.
Kim said very little – despite Tom’s nearly nonstop, alcohol-fueled chatter – as they drove across town in the stifling heat. At home, she showered first and, complaining of a headache and an upset stomach, was in bed hours before her husband…
Awake for most of the night, however, Kim wondered yet again how things had gone so horribly wrong. Had she changed? Had Tom? No, the signs had been there while they had been dating. She had just refused to take note of them. If the results hadn't been so grave, she might have laughed at the magnitude of her mistake, of her own myopia. At one point and, unaware, really, of what she was doing, she reached over and began tracing concentric circles lightly beneath Tom’s shoulders with the smooth tips of her fingers. A maze, she mused, a mandala…maybe even a target.
“Um,” Tom Valentine stirred and sighed with the oblivious contentment of a sated animal. “You just can't resist, can you?”
“No,” Kimberly thought wordlessly with tears once again rolling slowly down her cheeks, “I can't. “ And without so much as a second thought, she silently grabbed the scissors that lay so fortuitously on her bedside table.
James C. Clar teaches and writes in upstate New York (USA). He has published interviews with the likes of Ken Bruen, James Sallis, and Ace Atkins. His short fiction has found a home in numerous venues both in print as well as on the Internet. He makes certain that scissors and all sharp objects are safely locked away at night when he and his wife of twenty-three years go to bed.