Kip lives in sunny Phoenix, where his wife makes him watch Poltergeist while
insisting clowns are not scary. You can find his work scattered...read more about the
Internet, at Foundling Review, Inkspill, Monkey Bicycle, Absinthe Revival, and a
few other places, proving that a blind squirrel does occasionally find a nut.
YESTERDAY MY WIFE caught me with a picture of her best friend Liz. It was the one of her at the Christmas party, wearing the skimpy red dress and the reindeer antlers. It’s my favorite photo.
So I’m standing there, the photo of Liz propped against the bottle of expensive hand cream Jen always buys, and she busts through the bathroom door like it’s the last toilet on earth.
“Jesus, Jen. Ever heard of knocking?”
She takes one look at the photo and starts bawling. “That was my favorite picture of her,” she says. I try to explain, telling her that even though I’ve been seeing Liz for five years, nearly as long as Jen and I’ve been married, it’s not what she thinks.
She doesn’t buy it. “Bastard,” she says, and runs for the car keys.
My belt buckle scrapes across the kitchen floor as I follow her. She tries to jam her shoes on but the laces have knotted. As I reach to help she pushes me away, furious. “Pull up your pants, pervert.”
I want to tell her she looks like Patty Duke when she’s mad. “I love you, Jennifer,” I plead.
She opens the door to leave and I offer up a last ditch cliché. "She doesn't mean anything," I say. But we both know that’s a lie. Liz means everything to me.
“Pack your clothes and go. I’m keeping everything else. I’ll be home by three.” Jen’s always been punctual.
She gets into her Subaru and leaves. Seconds later, my cell phone rings. “One other thing,” she says. “You’re fired!”
The kids, the house, my job as the shop foreman: all gone, just because I couldn’t resist banging my wife’s business partner. Will she and Liz reorganize the office furniture with me out of the picture? Or let that idiot Bob manage the shop?
In the closet I push aside the box marked CHRISTMAS, another marked PHOTOS. There in the back is the pistol I've kept secret even longer than Liz.
It’s Saturday. I was going in to clean the silk screen machine today, tidy up the shop. Maybe Liz would be there and I could watch her model t-shirts. No chance of that now. The two women I love are gone because I forgot to lock the bathroom door.
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My life is over, but I can’t finish it here. I don’t want the kids finding their dad in a spatter of cherry Jell-O. I’ll head north, away from all this. That’s it; I’ll get a fifth of Jack Daniels, find a cheap hotel, and put an end to my immoral self.
I toss a change of pants and a shirt into a paper bag, clothes I’ll never wear. My wallet, so they can ID the corpse. My toothbrush and deodorant, in case things run late. I slide on my Rockports, make the bed, and adjust the thermostat. Jen always keeps it too warm. On the way out, I grab the picture of Liz.
Two hours later I’m at the Blue Moon Motel. The manager sits behind the counter, toad like in a green housecoat. A lonely hair sprouts from her chin. Still, she’s not bad looking. “Need a room?” she says.
I give her my credit card and she shoves a key across the counter. “You gotta be out of here by eleven sharp. We got a strict policy.”
“No problem,” I say, taking a long pull on the Jack as I head to my room.
My cell’s been ringing for the past forty-five minutes, and now the hotel room phone starts up too. That Jen, she’s a bloodhound on a trail; she must have tracked me down through the credit card transaction. Should have used cash. I give the phone a shove and it tumbles to the floor. Jen’s voice is a mosquito of concern.
Sometime later, I’m lying adrift in a fog of Kentucky’s finest. The radiator ticks patiently, and the rumble of semis rolls past the window, headed anywhere but here. On the TV, Sheriff Andy Taylor lectures his deputy, “Let her go off somewhere else... gig some other frog.”
It occurs to me that’s darn good advice. Jen and Liz, they’re not worth it. Let ‘em have their stupid t-shirts, their company bowling events and potluck lunches. Tomorrow, I’ll drive to Wal-Mart and buy some clothes, a pair of cowboy boots, and go west. Seattle, maybe, or Carmel by the Sea. I always wanted to see the ocean.
“Go west, young man,” I croak to the empty hotel room. For the first time in years, I’m happy.
In the morning, I’m at the window, shading my eyes against the many possibilities, when a blue Subaru pulls into the parking lot. The license plate reads TSHIRTZ.
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Two women get out and there’s Liz, pointing up at my room. I let the curtain fall but it’s too late: they’ve spotted me. I grab the mostly empty bottle of Jack, polish it off, and slide the pistol under the pillow.
They’re coming up the stairs, so I prop the door open, resigned to the inevitable. Catlike, they slide into the room. Jen locks the door behind her. They sit, bookending me on the bed. “I’m sorry about this morning,” she says at last, and takes my hand. “It’s just that…I love Liz too, Jim. We’ve loved each other since college.”
I look at the clock. “It’s almost checkout time,” I protest weakly. But these two care nothing for rules.
Liz seconds her lover. “We don’t want you to go, Jimbo. We can work all this out, the three of us. Partners. We need you.”
I know I’m being used: they’ve simply realized Bob could never have run the shop. But what choice do I have? Helpless, I close my eyes and lay back on the bed, surrendering to my black widows.
It’s only what I deserve. Still, I would like to have seen Carmel.