Thursday, June 19, 2008

The End Of Love

Their blue gray Grand Torino rounds the corner to the house, middle of the block, south side, and all the lights are blazing. It's June 15th at 3:48 AM. She pulls the big quiet car to the curb and cuts the lights, the engine, and sits there listening for a minute. The engine of the Torino pings a few times, but other than that, it's silent. This is later than she usually gets home on Thursday night, or rather Friday morning, but not much. She runs the biggest restaurant, and only disco in town and has turned the dead zone of Tuesday night into big news by transforming the disco into a stage for a variety of themes, but Tuesday night is Male Strip Show with a female-only audience. There's a Jazz trio in the bar for the line of women waiting to get in when the doors open at seven, so the restaurant is packed early and the bar is doing brisk business since the place opened a couple of years ago. She's made the Evening News in Fayetteville and Paducha. So, now, getting home before 3 AM is damn near impossible. But why would all the lights be on? Oh God, she hopes he isn't waiting up for her.

The "he" she doesn't want to wake up, is her husband. He forgot her birthday, three days ago, or four, depending on how you count the days. It doesn't matter to her. On the actual day, she left for work late, giving him time to call, or come home early himself. When she got up, there was no card or gift left behind. No call during the day. So she hung around for awhile kind of loitering in her own home, until she was an hour late for work. It's not up to her to remind him. She never remembers their anniversary. They got married on Bastille Day, but she can't remember the year. So, when her little calender says, Bastille Day, she wishes him happy anniversary. Nothing more.

She walks softly across the wooden porch and tries the door. Oddly, it's locked. She runs her hand around inside the bottom of her bag and finds her keys--they are a large clump, a fistful. Carefully she finds the key by the light shining from the living room window. She hears Dinah when she opens the door. Her small gray female cat is waiting at the door meowing loudly. As Judith enters, Dinah turns and runs for the kitchen. Shit, he didn't feed her. How could he sleep through her nagging? She glances at his chair. It's empty. The ashtray is emptied. His iced tea glass is absent, so it is either in the bedroom with him, or in the kitchen sink. God he's predictable.

She quietly opens the fridge door, and gets out the can of cat food. A small dish is on the floor behind her. She bends to pick it up, turns to the counter and scoops out a couple of spoonfuls. Then, when she picks up the cat food can plastic lid, she notices a few dark leaves and blue red petals in the sink. She picks one petal out of the sink and rubs it gently between her thumb and finger. Unmistakable long stemmed red rose petal. She hates them. Such a fucking cliche. They are overpriced, never fresh, and remind her of all the men she's known who had no imagination. Shit!

She grabs her smokes and lighter, sets her bag and keys down on the kitchen table, and wanders back through the house, her heels percussive in the early morning silence.

The dining room is full of them. How had she not noticed? Selective blindness? There are tall tea glasses with three or four each, wilting high on the stem at each tightly packed bud. These are some droopy assed roses. She turns the corner into the living room and finds them everywhere. Every vase they own is crammed with the thorny stems of too-tall, dark red roses. The end of love, she thinks, but doesn't say aloud. This is what the end of love looks like.

She bends and puts her face in a huge cluster of them and smells the inside of the refrigerator truck they were shipped in. "Jesus, what a waste of money." They'll all be dead by tomorrow night. Just out of curiosity she walks around the room and counts them. Thirty-one long stemmed red roses. Fuck that! She just turned thirty. Asshole doesn't even know how old she is. Can he count? She is four years older than he is by only a month. She sits down hard in his chair and lights a cigarette.

As she smokes, she tries to figure out what that extra rose is all about. Some symbolism? Junior speaks symbolism but doesn't know it himself. It's his secret language. They have been together four years, and she has been listening to this secret language, since he has taken to actually using words less and less. He has non-verbal tells. Not a card player himself, he isn't familiar with the term, but one of his tells is the shifting of his scalp, much like William F Buckley, when Buckley used to do Firing Line. In Junior's case it means, "This makes me uncomfortable" as in, "shut the fuck up!" Another of Junior's tells is the raised left eyebrow. If they are at a faculty dinner party and he wants to go, he finds her, makes eye contact with her, and lifts his left eyebrow. She starts making excuses, claiming she has to get up early, when they all know it's a lie. She thanks the host and hostess, finds Junior and says, sweetly, "Junior, we need to go now." He looks around, smiles weakly, and turns to follow her out. How has she let it get this bad?

The first year they were in Springfield she was expected to join in all the faculty wives' functions. There were teas. There were luncheons. Then there were the dinner parties that Junior had to attend as well. It was at one such dinner party, fairly early on, that she realized she could not keep up this masquerade. Junior was seated across the table from her between two women, one of whom had just asked Junior a question about his writing. He looked up from his serious consideration of his baffling plate, loaded with things he would never eat, if given the option. There was an awkward silence. Heads were turned his direction, all eyes on Junior. He looked up at Judith, wiggled his scalp and raised his left eyebrow. Judith turned to the man next to her left shoulder and said softly, "I think Junior isn't feeling well; we better go home."

Junior had started his serious drinking in Denver. She ignored it. It didn't start until his last year, and he was home from teaching and grading papers. But one night he pissed the bed they shared. When she woke up cold in the middle of the night, she found all her paintings removed from the walls and pilled in a corner. Junior was on the floor, wrapped in a blanket and snoring softly. She woke him up and demanded, "What the fuck is up with the wet spot in the middle of the bed.?" He said, "I mushed have shmilled my ash." This cracked her up. "Well, shmarty smants, why don't you tell me what you did with my paintings while you're sober and inert." He yanked the blanket out of her hand and slammed his head back down on the hard, cold floor. She moved to the guest room, and wondered how long he'd been getting this drunk.

So now she sits in the living room of the the house they rent, in Springfield, Missouri which she pronounces Misery, and looks at this disgusting display of Junior's guilt. Maybe $150, $200 worth of guilt. Probably called in and ordered over the phone. Delivered in a very big, long box this afternoon. They are dying by the second. And so is her love.

Finally she lifts herself out of the Windsor chair and walks, still in her high heeled boots, into Juniors room. It reeks. She can see from the light of the dinning room, that his bed is empty, and there is a very large wet spot in the center. She sees his naked foot and leg extending on the other side of the room, partially hidden by the bed. She walks over, no longer careful of the sound her boots make on the hardwood floor. He is naked, no blanket or sheet clutched to his chest. Flaccid penis lolling to the left. His arms are flung outward, palms up. His black hair is wet and curly around his blue shaded face. Jesus on the cross. She nudges his leg, hard, with the pointy toe of her black, patent leather boot. "Junior." Nothing. He doesn't even flinch. She moves up his body and aims a mighty kick at his rib cage, but cannot make herself follow through. She leans down and touches his shoulder. He is warm so not dead yet . She leans over, catches the faint whiff of vomit, and shouts, "Thanks for the dying roses motherfucker."

The song, "Dance Me To The End Of Love," starts playing in her head. She can't remember who wrote it, but can hear a man's voice singing it, sadly, softly. She rummages in her closet for a couple of suitcases, and starts singing along with the vocalist in her head.

"Dance me with the beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

When she's finished packing, she picks up the phone and makes her plane reservation.

©2009 Peggy Pendleton

24 comments:

Je ne regrette rien said...

I think the wet spot might have been like the raised left eyebrow. Part of the secret language.

enjoyed that, thanks.


(one misspelled word spotted - mascaraed instead of masqerade. 7th paragraph, 5th sentence).

Utah Savage said...

Thank you for the editorial help. You deserve some blessing from the writer's muse. She will sit on your shoulder and whisper in your ear.

D.K. Raed said...

such rich imagery! I especially enjoyed the Wm Buckley shifting scalp (since I remember it so well). "blue shaded face" ... I think Jr is dead, the bad smell possibly vomit asphixiation.

I like the way you presented Jr as not necessarily a bad or evil guy, just the absolutely wrong guy.

enigma4ever said...

(( I thought it was suppsoed to be mascaraed-right?))

I thought it was really good...I like that Leonard Cohen is singing her through this....it's good, gritty...messy....life is messy...even when someone gets sent flowers....my only wish- we need a little more meat on the Bones of the man- a little more about him....so we can see his fall from grace a little better--but maybe that is the way of it- that she really didn't see it..or does see it clearly...that she only sees the little things that hit her square in the eyes...
the wet spot...the bare leg....the reeking...)

You definently have Dorothy flowing in your veins....and she would appreciate this tale...

Ghost Dansing said...

body language......
Junior drinks alone 

Randal Graves said...

cuts the light COMMA, the engine
the "he" NO COMMA she

(I'm a comma bastard, but I know I use far too many, so you should probably find an English major)

and Day in Bastille Day should be capitalized.

This piece is like Bastille Day. There's some storming of the gates going on, 'cept here, the gate won't break, merely buy some long-stemmed roses.

Utah Savage said...

Thank you Randal, that was very helpful.

Scarlet W. Blue said...

Good stuff. You are so good, UT. You are too good for blogtopia. YOu should be published.

Day-yum, I thought I invented "Misery."

*Sighs*

Scarlet W. Blue said...

Oh, and have I told you lately that I love you?

Utah Savage said...

No, Scarlet, you haven't, but I'm happy fairlane let you out long enough to visit. You probably did invent "Misery." I probably "borrowed" it without permission.

DCup said...

This is excellent writing and a great story. A couple of minor technical suggestions:

But why would all the lights be on. should end with a question mark.

She runs the biggest restaurant in town and has turned the dead zone of Thursday night into big news as far as Kansas City.
Did you mean for this to end with something like "was concerned." ?

Carefully she finds their key by the light shining from the living room window.
Should it be the key instead of their key?

She grabs her smokes and lighter, sets her bag and keys down on the kitchen table, and wanders back through the house. Her heels percussive in the early morning silence. The dining room is full of them. How had she not noticed.
how about back through the house, her heels...
and How had she not noticed?

The end of love, she thinks, but doesn't say aloud. This is what the end of love looks like. She bends and puts her face in a huge cluster of them and smells the inside of the refrigerator truck they were shipped in.
I would start a new paragraph with she bends so that the reader can get the full effect of the preceding sentence.

They'll all be dead by tomorrow night. Just out of curiosity she walks around the room
I'd start a new paragraph with Just out of curiosity (same reason as before)

The first year they were in Springfield she was expected to join in all the faculty wives functions.
Add an apostrophe to wives'

Please don't smack me. I love technical editing. It's like doing crosswords for me. And, of course, I hate editing my own writing. I miss all kinds of mistakes!

Hope this helps you. I think you should start submitting pieces. Maybe a literary magazine?

Utah Savage said...

Dcup, you are the world's best editor. I agree with every suggestion and as soon as I put the groceries away will go about making changes. I wish I could plant a big kiss on your cheek. For the moment I actually smell good, so it wouldn't be so bad. I should send you a check, but you're going to have to get in line behind my brilliant Administrator, Phillip.

DCup said...

I'm glad you liked those edits! I really would love to make a living as an editor, but haven't been able to figure out how to get into it mid-career without taking a huge pay cut. Plus I'm totally lazy about job searches and I took the job that just hopped right into my lap.

But seriously, I'd be happy to help you with any of your writings.

Utah Savage said...

If you'll agree to allow me to pay you. Find out the going rate. I don't even know where to begin to research these little things. Or else I'm incredibly lazy... All I want to do is write. I want the rest of us to do the marketing part of the writing thing. Why not freelance part time? Editor, agent, contributer, maybe not so get rich quick, but get rich sometimes. There is enough writing talent in the few women I mentioned to put together a collection. I've got more than one murdering wife story in me, and that doesn't include the murdering lover stories.

Freida Bee said...

Ok, first my editing 2 cents:

-I don't think you need the decimal points after $150, $200, and they're awkward with the comma.

-My guess is that Windsor chair might be capitalized. (Looked it up. Yep.)

-Paragraph before song, "Juniors room" needs the apostrophe.

-"I think Junior isn't feeling well, we better go home." would be better with semi-colon, no?

AH, but these are the impertinences compared to his eyebrow lift at the table. You're not only a knock-out, but a genius to boot.

(You know I'm in on the murderous wives tale. Just give me 6 minutes, I'll conjure one up. Ok, give me a couple days, but that's just cause after I finish bringing home the bacon here, I gots to go fry it up in a pan.)

Utah Savage said...

Thank you Freida. Yes, you were so right. Done and done!

eProf2 said...

Utah, after reading your End of Love entry this morning, I just had to post on my blog a YouTube video of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me To The End Of Love. I've also referenced your blog in the post and have placed your blog on my web pages section. I hope you approve. If not, I'll be more than accommodating and remove each. Thanks for the interesting reading. And, a big applause to DCup for introducing you to Leonard Cohen and other artists.

Stella said...

Every vase they own is crammed with the thorny stems of too-tall, dark red roses. The end of love, she thinks, but doesn't say aloud. This is what the end of love looks like.

This is the way love ends,
This is the way love ends,
This is the way love ends,
This is the way love ends,
Not with a bang, but with a whimper...

OK, inpired, I stole that from Stephen King's The Stand and was inspired to rewrite the beginning of the book to match your short story.

Utah, the best thing you ever did (if I may be presumptuous) is start a blog displaying your considerable talent. I am honored to be named as an inspiration. I couldn't edit perfection.

I love this story. But as far as being a critic:

'tis easy to assign the proper employment of a true ancient genuine critic; which is, to travel through this vast world of writings; to pursue and hunt those monstrous faults bred within them; to drag out the lurking errors like Cacus from his den; to multiply them like Hydra's heads; and rake them together like Augeas's dung. Or else drive away a sort of dangerous fowl, who have a perverse inclination to plunder the best branches of the tree of knowledge, like those Stymphalian birds that eat up the fruit.

Thank you so much. I had to read this before I went home tonight. With all due respect to the wonderful people who frequent your blog, Utah, they have already made great suggestions. Great comments, dcup. You've got a far sharper I than eye (pun intended).

You are the bomb, rebel grrrrrl.

goatman said...

Love the Cohen song and copied your story for a more relaxed perusal away from the screen; listening to--- what else,--- ol Leonard.

goatman said...

Okee, ready.

I love the "percussive heels"
I liked the suspense as she figures out whats going on.
I am confused as to why the restaurant made the news in Paduca and Fayetteville (or "fatville" as they say it!)
I like that they have a cat.
I like that he sleeps on the floor (just saw "There Will be Blood")

If you would grant me some leeway, though, the ending is somewhat mundane and figurable.

How about something like: She hears music playing softly and as she enters his room he approaches, takes off her boots and they begin to dance to the song. Include only the last stanza and the refrain to the song (this will cause reader to be curious and checkout the rest of the song on Amazon.) After "Dance me to the end of love" she realizes through the literary device of your choosing, that it was just a dream, a hope, a past wish; now impossible. She returns to reality and sees it as the hopeless "end of love" that it is, then prepares to sky out.

I like the story and how it is just a moment in time. Just needs a twist, so to speak.
Course, I could be wrong.

Utah Savage said...

You men are so incredibly romantic and unwilling to see and hear that he is a piss the bed, pass-out drunk. What single word has given you any hope that this marriage can be saved, let alone this man?

As for the big news in Paduca and Fateville, i'll either drop it or fix it, but it will be dealt with.

goatman said...

No, the marriage obviously cannot be saved. What I was going for was a connection to the past. The feelings that were once theirs when they first met but are now impossible: some history.
Love lost. . . the end of love, which must have had a beginning.

(I have known drunks,and a bit of urine in the bed is not the worst that could happen!)

Utah Savage said...

Thanks, I needed that clarification. I've been working on the first paragraph's problems. Your suggestions are very helpful. And I am trying to write about the beginning of this story as a separate story called, The Contessa. I have lost interest in Junior, and so it's slow going, trying to see through Junior's eyes.

Angry Ballerina said...

Holy. Fucking. Shit.


Color me intimidated.