The End of Our Love Song
This short story will be included in my upcoming short story collection.
“The truth is I don’t love you anymore. At least, not how you’re supposed to love your wife. I want out.”
Alan’s golden hair glinted in the tropical sun as he said this in a tone meant for commenting on the weather. He sipped his too-weak margarita. We were staying at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, and anyone who’s been to one knows the bartenders dilute their drinks to the point they taste like fruity water. I didn’t care that much, content with my slushies and mini-Coronas, until that moment.
I leaned forward slightly, the blanket making a tiny tent in the sugary sand, and my face flared under its’ sunburn. A dumb, neglectful move, the sunburn, for someone fifty-three and trying to stave off sagging and spots. My left eye twitched under the sunglasses.
“You actually cajoled me into this trip to tell me you want a divorce?”
If his tone was reserved for weather, mine was a mere notch above asking a stranger for the time. Thinly veiled resentment was our forte at this point.
“C’mon, Lisa. Don’t make me out to be the bad guy here.”
At this I almost laughed. “Technically, a man who backs out of a deal he made with his wife years after the fact does indeed make you that. Not to mention, people don’t come to Cancun to break up with their partner. They come for honeymoons or getaways, or second chances. Where they have sex with that partner morning, noon, and night.”
I sipped from my raspberry daquiri’s soggy paper straw.
“Remember? How we used to be?”
I wasn’t bitter, not anymore, but my words echoed with disappointment nevertheless.
“I know. I’m sorry—”
“No, you’re not. Why? Why would you do this now? Haven’t I been begging you to go to therapy with me for months?”
He turned to me, shading out the sun’s glare with his hand. Once, he’d sported fancy Ray-Ban’s, but after losing pair after pair he stopped. If he was a calculating person, like me, he’d continue to avoid wearing them, to ensure the nubile, fertile young women would get lost in the deep cobalt of his eyes. But he’d never needed manipulative moves for a harem to fall in line after him. All he had to do was exist.
“Therapy solves nothing,” he said, his tanned face twisting in frustration. “It won’t change how I feel. I thought…I thought if we came here, we’d go out on a nice memory. I still care about you. I always will.”
I stared. Back in the day I’d tease by calling him “Frank,” after Sinatra’s blue orbs. Now, with tears glistening their rims, they just looked babyish and pleading.
“You’re forty-eight. By the time you’d theoretically meet someone and have your beloved offspring, you’d be sixty-six or even older when the kid graduates.”
He wiped his cheek. “I can do the math.”
“And you don’t care. You don’t care your trophy wife might have to eventually change your diapers, or your kid will be embarrassed by having a dad that looks like a grandpa, who will likely die long before they’re ready for it.”
“You know as well as me nobody’s ever ready for that. And frankly, I’m tired of these same old arguments. You’re not going to shame me out of this. How many times can I say I’m sorry I didn’t know at twenty-five this is how I’d feel? Am I really that selfish? Why should I apologize for longing for a real family?”
I traced the sand with my finger. Our voices were still at a level that we could be mistaken for lovers whispering sweet, post-lovemaking conversation.
“I guess I was just an apparition? A fake model?”
He shook his head, a few highlighted locks falling on his forehead. He was lucky he still had all his hair.
“That’s not what I mean. You want to punish me for wanting more out of life than weekends at the Hamptons, Gucci handbags, Mediterranean cruises, and dinner parties for eight. None of it means jack shit in the big picture. It makes me sad you disagree.”
“Funny, as someone bathing in privilege since birth, you never complained before.”
“I’ve felt this way for years. I wanted to be with you so much, I thought I could love my way out of it.”
“Or hope I changed. Or you know, you’d make me magically forget what I told you on our third date, that I was done with mothering, and if you had a problem with that, now was the time to walk away?”
He shrugged, his muscular shoulders rippling with the motion. With his surfer-boy persona, he’d have no trouble attracting exactly what he wanted. He looked at least ten years younger, was in prime physical condition, and to top off the sundae, was a trust fund baby to boot.
I got up, brushed off the fine, white crystals clinging to my oiled legs.
“I’m booking a flight out of here tomorrow, and getting my own room tonight. Have your lawyer contact me when it’s necessary.”
“Leese, please. Let’s not end like this, clipped and business as usual.”
This time, I did laugh. Bitterly. “What do you want, a goodbye blow job? Me, sobbing up a storm?” I leaned down into his perfect, faintly lined face. “I’ve done that already. And to answer your question, yes. To toss this marriage after twenty-five years, to subject your new “family” to the painful realities of aging--all because of biological whims, is selfish. To the core. The irony is, it’s the one trait I’ve claimed all these years as mine. The one thing I never thought you were.”
I picked up my beach bag (not Gucci, thank you very much), deposited my daquiri at the bar, and headed to the resort to make the room and travel changes.
My plane took off in eighty-degree sunny weather and landed in Chicago’s cold April rain. It was an uneventful flight, thankfully, and exhausted, I retrieved my car. I turned the radio on at a red light and caught a tune that almost did me in, about how there’s no good guys and no bad guys, just you and me and we don’t agree. Simple failed love. I cherished that song in the seventies, when I was Dick Devine’s girlfriend for two weeks in middle school, and he mysteriously broke up with me.
“Why?” I asked him. “Do you like someone else?”
He shrugged, much like Alan had, except Dick wasn’t gorgeous. His face was studded scarlet with acne, which I’d found repulsive, but I gracefully overlooked it due to the fact he was a popular star athlete.
He shuffled his feet around and avoided my gaze.
“No. I don’t like anyone else.” I just don’t like you were his unspoken words, and I’d cried like the hormonal idiot I was and ran off to the girls’ bathroom.
“I guess not much has changed, Lisa,” I said, to nobody but Dave Mason’s mournful words.
I was distracted from my self-pity by the various smells of fast-food emanating as I drove. I’d been ignoring the rumble in my belly for hours. The traffic unsnarled, thank God, and it dawned on me I was close to Fox’s, a favorite restaurant as a child. To be accurate my family rarely went anywhere else, and even then, it was a special occasion. A treat. With five younger brothers I was constantly ordered to dress, feed, and corral, there wasn’t much pleasure involved in special occasions.
What the hell, I thought. Maybe it was worth stopping to see if their pizza was as good as I remembered. I parked and went in. The interior seemed to be the same; nondescript, beer signs posted, wood trim everywhere. The hostess told me to sit wherever I liked, so I scoped the bar and found an empty seat toward the end. Eating or drinking alone as a woman didn’t faze me in the slightest. I’d done it so often it wasn’t much different than sleeping alone, and I’d had my share of that too in the last couple of years. It was kind of pathetic, really. Why hadn’t I complained, or at the very least, gotten angry?
Lisa, Lisa. Driven and demanding perfectionist. Admired executive at Whirlpool. When did you become so complacent?
The bartender, a middle-aged woman with her bleached hair in an updo, approached. Her nametag read “PENNY.”
“Hiya, honey. Here’s a menu. Can I getcha a drink?”
“Sure. How about a glass of your house red wine? Dry, if you have it.”
“You got it.”
I was sipping the wine, which was surprisingly good, when men’s voices erupted at the other end of the bar. There were three of them, maybe in their seventies. The man in the middle, bald with glasses slipping down his nose, yelled irritably.
“Shez a goddam bitch. I didn’t have much before, and now I got nuthin.’ I can’t even buy yous a round, becoss she fuckin’ robbed me.”
The man next to him clucked like a mother hen. “Shush, Jimmy. C’mon, now, eat somethin’. I’m gonna eat it if you don’t.”
Jimmy shoved the plate at him. “Have it, Stan! I doan wan it. I can’t eat anythin’. I can’t do nuthin’ now, because of that fuckin’ whore. That devil beeeeaaaatchh!”
The third man, who Penny had called George, raised his voice. “That’s enough, Jimmy.” He flung his arm wildly, gesturing around the bar. “That’s enough. We got women in here. Ladies, tryin’ to enjoy a nice drink on a peaceful Sunday.”
Jimmy didn’t stop, in spite of their insistent pleas. I smiled. The three reminded me of old Saturday Night Live vignettes with Chris Farley and crew, imitating Bulls and Bears fans. Complete with the flat, nasal Southside accents. The whole scene was more amusing than offensive. Besides, it took a hell of a lot more than that to insult me.
Like getting dumped. That was offensive.
My pizza came, cooked to perfection. Thin crust, not too much sauce, the right amount of seasoning, sausage, onions, and not drowning in bubbly cheese. I was ravenous, quickly devouring three pieces. Pizza wasn’t something that was usually included in my mid-life diet. Every indulgence went straight to my belly.
Tonight, I wanted to eat until I was sick. Who cared?
There was more ruckus at the end, until an Uber came for the drunken Jimmy and he left.
“Okay, Penny, sweetheart.” Stan motioned her over. “I’m buyin’ the whole bar a round for puttin’ up with that shite. What you havin, pretty lady at the end there?”
He meant me, as there were no other women at the bar. I swallowed the last of the pizza in my mouth.
“Oh, thank you, I’m good with the one glass. I have to drive to Michigan.”
“Michigan, is it? Like, to Detroit?”
“No, no. The southwest corner.”
Stan said something to George, and the two were quietly consulting with Penny.
I got a to-go box, and asked for my bill.
“Hey, those fellas got you.” Penny smiled, her green eyeshadow crinkling. “You’re good to go.”
She laughed, a cigarette-induced, husky sound. “Ya look like ya just found out you’re pregnant.”
I nearly coughed on the wine I’d sipped. “That would send me into shock, trust me. But, why—"
She waved a hand. “Honey, they do it all the time, covering for poor Jimmy. We got good people around here. Don’t think nuthin of it.”
I gathered my box and approached the two men. “Thank you for your generosity. That was truly unnecessary, though.”
Stan reached for his lite beer, exposing a considerable belly. His worn-out tee shirt read O’MALLEY’S CONSTRUCTION. “Ah, it definitely was necessary. We gotta apologize for our buddy, for runnin’ his foul mouth.”
George nodded. He was standing, wearing jean shorts and athletic shoes with white socks. “Sorry ‘bout that, ma’am. Truly. Jimmy’s a good guy, I swear it. I was a cop for thirty years, and haven’t seen a mess like him for some time. I had ta pick him up at this fleabag joint ‘bout two in the mornin’ a few days ago, he was so out of it.”
“C’mon, now. Cut him some slack.” Stan said to George, then looked at me. “Jimmy’s had some tough luck. Like, really tough. His wife ran off with some schmuck, drained their account, and here a week ago his dog Tuggy died. Man, he loved that dog. Fed him hamburger from the butcher every day. Can ya believe that? He didn’ have a pot to piss in, but he made sure Tuggy got his ground beef. Sorry for the language.”
George tsk-ed. “I never knew that, about Tuggy.”
“I seen him feed it to the damn dog with my own bad eyes. So, yeah, he ain’t doin good. I mean, ya get to a certain age, we all get heartache, amiright? Some of us get it handed in spades, and that’s where ya pals come in. Do a little rescuin’. It’s what ya do for friends.”
The tears that had refused to come in the last two days inexplicably welled up and flooded my cheeks, unabated. I was helpless to stop them, nor did I have a desire to.
“You are right, sir. If we live long enough, heartache comes to us all,” I blubbered. My knees weakened, thinking of Jimmy, his wife, the dead dog, and Alan. Worse, I couldn’t think of one friend I could call at two in the morning. One who’d swoop in silently to help and ask no questions.
George scrambled to my side. “Ah, no, look what we done, making this beautiful gal cry now. Jesus! Here, sit for a minute, will ya?”
I did, feeling no protest within, while they shoved handfuls of bar napkins my way.
“It’s my turn to apologize.” I blew my nose. The raw wound inside me split open at the sight of their concerned, sympathetic faces. “I arrived a few hours ago from a romantic resort trip to Mexico, where my husband told me he wants a divorce. I was keeping it together.” I honked into the napkin once more. “Or so I thought. Your kindness was the last straw to break my restraint, I guess.”
Stan gulped his lite beer. “That’s a rotten move. By your guy. Who the hell does that?” George concurred. “A regular douchebag move.” He frowned. “Um, sorry.”
I laughed, a genuine laugh this time. “I must tell you, I’m not in the habit of laying personal traumas in complete strangers’ laps. I really should go. Thank you again for my dinner.”
Stan peered at me. “You sure you don’t want ta sit here for a minute? We’re good listeners.”
The treacherous tears crept in again, and I blinked them back. “I can see that.”
Stan said worriedly, “C’mon, and have a rest after that trip. Ya ain’t gotta think us weird or nuthin’. We got wives and kids your age, I bet. In fact, my Angela has strawberry blonde hair like yours, and a pretty smile like you, too. Oh, and we got Penny to keep us in line. Right, Pen?”
She glanced over from washing beer glasses. “Right, Stanley.”
Against all odds, I found myself staying. And to my utter shock, relaxing. Their warmth was a welcome balm, a throwback to my blue-collar grandfather, perhaps. The one stable presence in my childhood.
“Jimmy’s lucky to have you both,” I said.
George scoffed. “It’s what ya do, ya know? When you have friends in trouble. And if I ain’t mistaken, you could use a friend now, Miss.” His calloused hand patted mine. “Amiright?”
“It’s Lisa, George. And you are absolutely, unequivocally right.” My lip trembled with the admission. I glanced at my brown and tan Lois Vuitton handbag, with its’ ancient hieroglyphics pattern, and in that moment it looked as out of place as I’d felt for years. I sipped from the fresh glass of wine put in front of me.
“Yes. I could use a couple of real friends.”