She slides into the taxi,mid-bitch, not even breaking her stride;
“…and you know I hate when you commit me to these lame ass work parties, and especially on a Tuesday night. I just want to relax, not force conversation with the dipshits you work….”
“Honey it’s just a couple drinks,” he’s using the low, quiet voice he uses when he wants to create a calming effect but in fact it irritates the fuck out of her, that condescending look-at-me-and-my-self-control tone.
She’s revved up now, no end in sight. ”And then you spring it on me, last minute, like I’m a blow-up robot doll, perform wifey, perform!”
“Babe I told you last week. Jane and Kat will be there, it’s gonna be fun and we can leave after a couple drinks.”
“You didn’t tell me, I write it all down. If you had told me I would…”
He tunes out as the taxi glides through the quiet midweek night. He listens to the radio, “Young Americans” David Bowie. He gets lost in the driver’s whorl of male pattern baldness. He thinks about the back of his own head and his own hair fate. He thinks of tits. He notices her too sweet perfume and the prickly scent underneath. He thinks of the remarkable heat of her skin and the way her flush used to turn him on, but now made him think of night sweats and menopause and stale bathrobes.
“Fuckin midweek work shit. I hope they have decent wine this time at least, not that crap ironic jug table wine. I bring a good bottle that gets put in the kitchen somewhere and get a plastic cup of nail polish remover. God, get some class.”
A pause. A reprieve. She fumbles around in her bag and pulls out a little compact with lip glosses and a brush. These little details and accessories of femininity used to delight him. He remembered the first time he went to her house; seeing her necklaces hanging in a little bird cage and her rings on a mannequin hand just about tore his heart out.
She scrutinizes herself in the mirror and makes quick work of the gloss application. She takes a breath, sighs, and seems to resign herself. Perhaps the night isn’t lost, he is hopeful. She slides her eyes to him, and it’s a moment like she is recognizing him for the first time in a long while. Appraisal.
“Sorry I’m being an asshole. It’s been a shit time at work since we lost that client and I’m just hungry. You know, a HALT.”
HALT- Hungry Angry Lonely Tired, an acronym they use as shorthand when they need to stop talking. It’s something from a self help book they read together years ago, an earnest exercise they both enjoyed, and the reference is connected to a whole universe of good feelings. He’s grateful. He touches her hand, “Hey, it’s ok, we’ll get in, get out.”
She gets out of the taxi as he is paying. There’s a fuss and bother with his card, and she stands waiting in front of the apartment building. A drunk hulk of a frat boy in a striped polo shirt approaches, “Hey, ya got a smoke?” He leans in too close and there is menace in his little bloodshot eyes.
“Sorry.” She turns her attention to the life ring of her phone, unlocking the keypad and scrolling meaninglessly.
He loses his balance and teeters forward, knocking his shoulder into hers and causing her to step back and stumble on her heel.
“Keep on moving! Get away from me!”
“Chill out, bitch, You’re not hot enough to pull off that attitude.”
“What the fu-” She’s flaring and wild, made taller by self righteousness.
The husband is by her side, “Hey buddy, chill out.” He takes her by the arm and leads her to the entry of the building, punching the apartment number into the call box.
“Hey, learn to control your bitch, man!” The drunk lurches down the sidewalk, mumbling around the cigarette between his teeth. “She thinks she runs things.”
They get buzzed into the building and she rages as they make their way to the elevators, “Buddy! Buddy! He’s your fucking buddy? What the fuck was that, you are supposed to protect me! Fucking mild-mannered people pleasing ass kisser. I’m surprised you didn’t shake his hand, Jesus Christ….”
He looks up at the ceiling as the elevator door closes. The whole night is off the rails, it’s in a ditch, it’s falling from the sky.
The elevator opens on the 5th floor.”….your judgement. I hitched my wagon to the wrong guy, clearly. Jesus, stand up for something.” She sneers with disgust at him. “Coward.” He has a squiggly feeling in his stomach.
They arrive at the apartment door, he knocks and they put on game faces. The door opens, and she calls out, “Hey guys, I brought wine! You will not believe what some asshole just said to me…”
It’s a house party of about 20 people milling about an under-furnished apartment. The prime real estate of this party is the couch, and she is holding court there. She’s drunk and sloshing a plastic cup of wine on the batik cover.
“And he says ‘Hey Buddy…Buddy!” she’s mocking him with a dopey imitation. He sees her cruelty, that steel rod that resides within her that she occasionally reveals like a cop showing a concealed weapon. He realizes, not for the first time, that he hates her.
“I think we should get going, babe. Long day to-” He’s standing over her, offering his hand to help her up.
She disregards him. “What happened to men? Like grow a pair, be a fuckin man! Chop some fuckin wood and fix shit! I’ve had it with this sad sack no balls bullshit…”
“Babe, let’s go…” He grabs her arm above the elbow. She looks at him like he’s an insect. “What the fuck? “ she shrugs him off, “now you’re the big strong man?” She seems blurred around the edges, like her intoxication has somehow affected his vision.
He reaches for the drink in her hand. There is a frozen moment where her eyes flash and a demonic smile settles on her face. She’s enjoying this. “Oh, you want to do this here?”
In one motion she stands and throws the drink in his face. Instinctively he covers his head as her fists thunder down on his head, neck, and shoulders. The room holds its breath for a moment as he ducks and dodges the assault. He is able to grab her hands and restrain her, turning her around in a bear hug from behind.
“Get the fuck off me! “ She’s incandescent, writhing in his arms. He lets her go, panting and reddened by shame and exertion. She pitches forward, grabs her bag and storms out. The party is abuzz.
“Someone call the police! I saw the whole thing and he was physically intimidating her, towering over her like that…”.
“Dude, you never touch a woman. I think you should leave….”
“Just cool off, man. Go out on the balcony for a minute….”
“Whoa, kitty can scratch!” Collective nervous laughter. Damage assessed, mitigated. The party will go on.
He looks around and slowly raises his eyes to the ceiling. Inhales, clenches his jaw. He turns deliberately and walks after her towards the door.
The taxi is silent on the way back. He leans his head against the cool window. He thinks about time and memory and the mess he’s made of things. He feels the acid burning in his gut and knows he has a window of time to medicate before it chews him up from the inside for half the night. He thinks of the way the word shame reminds him of the feeling of stepping in fresh dog shit. He hears her breathing next to him and her manicured nails rat tat tatting on her phone. They lock eyes, and she asks;
“Pepperoni or Hawaiian?”