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[ Dear Readers:
If you prefer to read episodes of this series without their predecessors, that’s fine and I hope you enjoy them that way. Just a heads-up, though: It’s not meant to be an anthology. All the episodes (except the first) build on those before them, so you’ll probably conclude some things differently from what was intended.
Some of our readers’ public and private comments touch on unmentioned matters, just a few of which are safe sex, STDs and common real-world consequences of things and events in the story.
Two chief rules in theatre are, first, everything on stage must have a reason to be there, second, everything that the action requires must be present, whether explicitly or implicitly. It’s not much different in written fiction. By the second rule, if a story does not get into some particular issue explicitly or implicitly (for example, indirectly through consequences) then it is irrelevant because the author deems it so and asks the reader to consider that issue adequately handled without mention. Sometimes action may be simplified a little from what is actually meant for the sake of smoothness and avoiding distracting details unnecessary for understanding the scene. A good author has respect for the reader’s intelligence and imagination and does not feel compelled to paint every scene with photographic detail.
In short, if it ain’t there, it don’t matter. Please remember that this is a story, not a case study or the news.]
SECRET NO LONGER
When the Body of Friendship Houses the Soul of Love
“Hi, Fred. I’ve been expecting your call.”
Dumbfounded, I held the telephone receiver away from my ear and looked at it, like they do in movies. How Sammy might possibly have expected anything from me escaped me entirely. Shaking my head like someone trying to clear some confusion from it, I returned the receiver to its accustomed place.
“Sammy! You turned mind-reader now, or what?”
Under any normal circumstances I’d have joshed a bit at the parallel between this and Jannie’s consistent prescience whenever she and Linda would get together over coffee. Right now, though, nothing associated with Linda was very interesting to me, at least, nothing I cared to touch even with the proverbial ten-foot pole.
“No, no, not that, Fred,” he replied, not in the jovial fashion such an exchange might be expected to express, but in a tone serious, but meant to be comforting. For some reason.
One of those long pauses.
“I know what happened. I was hoping you’d reach out to a friend. I have a pretty good sense you could use one.”
“Oh, I see. Two days ago, mowing your lawn. You saw me leaving, right?”
“And you knew something was up.”
“Well, you won’t believe what it was. I saw…”
“Fred, I do know. I know exactly what it was.”
At this news I fell silent, stunned, for quite a long time.
“What? You’ve known about this.”
“Yes, I have. We have.”
“How long have you known about it?”
“Pretty much since it started.”
“And you did nothing about it?” I shouted in fury, “Well thanks a whole fucking lot, pal!” Fierce rage waxed and then just as quickly waned in my heart. As the dust settled I steeled myself for the click from a phone hanging up. It did not happen.
“I’m sorry, Sammy. That was dumb. There’s nothing you could have done. Forgive me.”
“Nothing to forgive, Fred. That’s exactly why I’m here on the line. I’m quite prepared to hear you out, even if what I hear runs into high numbers of decibels–and high levels of anger.”
“You’re more than a pal, Sammy.”
“I know. Just be glad I don’t put you on a couch and charge you by the hour.”
“Well, I hope you have a lot of time right now, because I have a lot to say.”
“Actually, Fred, I’m not going to listen right now.”
“I have a ticket for a flight to D.C. I’ve been waiting until you were ready. I’ll be there before noon olgun porno tomorrow. Then we can talk–face to face. I don’t need a degree in psychology to figure out that’s what you really need.”
“Oh, wait a minute Sammy! That’s really too much. You don’t have to do that!”
“I know. But I want to.”
Probably for the first time, I felt a true, deep sense of what it means to have the kind of friend Linda had always said Jannie was to her–and an even deeper sense of gratitude. A whispered farewell and the phone returned to its cradle.
“You know well how Jannie and Linda help each other through tough times. Now it’s our turn.”
“Thanks, Sammy, but I’d appreciate it if you’d mention Linda the very least you can.”
Calmly, Sammy looked down to the rather ragged patch of grass beneath the picnic table in the park we had chosen for lunch, then returned his gaze back into my eyes.
“I know you do, but that ain’t gonna happen. Freddy, you have my ear and whatever I might be able to say back to you that’s worthwhile. But don’t think I’m gonna spoon-feed you just what you wanna hear. And don’t expect me to stuff a sock in it when there’s something you don’t wanna hear, either. If I think you need it you can expect a good-sized dose of tough love now and then. I would be less than a friend if I didn’t call you on a few things. You’re in pain; you’ve been sorely wounded, and sometimes healing a wound means applying medicine that stings at first.”
I sighed deeply.
“This whole mess is about Linda–Linda and Jason,” he went on, “When you say don’t talk about them, what you really mean is, I don’t want to think about them. And as long as you don’t think about them, this problem is going to just get worse, not better.”
“Well, let’s just play this out,” I replied, wearily. “You are right, in principle, I can see that. I just…” I really didn’t know how to complete that thought.
“Good. So now, let’s talk about Linda,” he said. His tone had the compelling force of a command barked by a drill-sergeant.
“Right. Linda. Linda, the whore, the perverted bitch who sucked me dry of my love, respect, caring, and then paid me back with lies, the Jezebel of Jezebels, who doesn’t care about one damned thing in the world but what makes her body thrill, and managed to hide it all from me for twenty-odd years. Yeah, let’s talk about her. Really talk about her.”
If this were a musical score you’d see a crescendo spanning the entire length of that statement, and a fortissimo at the end. I stopped to indulge the impulse to direct the emotions in my words into the expression on my face. I didn’t have to see it to know how vile and bitter it was.
“Go on, go on…” Sammy urged. My voice rose higher and more shrill with each word. Somewhat late in the day as it was, the park was nearly deserted, as I later discovered had been Sammy’s conscious intent. He rose and casually headed in a direction away from the center and the few people remaining, subtly heading me away as well.
“How did she fool me for so long? Tell me that, Sammy, how did she? How could she play me like a stupid fool, dancing on her fucking strings, laying all that sweet loving wife bullshit on me, all that lovey-dovey crap and…everything. And then–get this, will ya?–playing the devoted, nurturing and all that bullshit mother? The woman I trusted to share with me the task of turning a squalling infant into a man, all the while raising a fucking pervert who would come right back and give her birthday presents from between his legs instead of his heart? Fucking perverts, both of them!”
I should have expected Sammy to pat me on the shoulder and tell me to calm down. But he just kept listening, prodding me when I stopped too long, which didn’t happen very much. The vitriol gushed on, more and more, to where I was nearly hyperventilating.
“Oh, yeah, they must have been tickled pink to have the man of the house on the road most of the time. Plenty of time to fuck each other silly. How long, how many years playboy porno now, has my own dear son been stuffing his precious mommy with…” I lost the word I needed, but so the hell what? There were plenty more to choose from, and choose I did.
“But now that I think of it, I’ll bet Jason shouldn’t have to take much of the blame. No, I know very well the way that hussy can seduce a man when she wants to. Oh, yeah, she’s got that down pat; she’s a real expert. She could get a hard-on from a brass monkey, to pervert a phrase–hell, why shouldn’t I pervert something, for a change? Go ahead; go back and get her to prove it to you. I don’t care any more. Shit, she’ll fuck you blind. Ride her all you want, why the fuck should I care?”
Sammy remained the picture of patient, caring attentiveness. I would only learn later how these words, despite his understanding of what they meant, and did not mean, broke his heart.
“Sure enough, she probably turned on the charm long ago, probably the first day she found that boy had hair on his balls. I’ll be she caught him jacking off to a sticky-paged copy of Playboy, and then when she should have been giving him some mature wisdom about the whys and wherefores of sex, instead… Well, now I can just see her now, hear her. Yeah, like this. ‘Hey, kid! You don’t need that. Not with mommy hear to give you the real thing.’ I wonder if she sucked him off before she parked her sorry cunt over his cock. Oh, yes, I know how well she knows how to do that, but I never thought anyone but me was supposed to get the benefit of it. That slut, that rotten excuse for a human being, that worthless…”
Suddenly, with a shock of recognition, I fell silent as that last word caught in my throat and died there. I felt as if I had tried to swallow a chunk of barbed wire which had instead lodged in my throat, barbs penetrating the tender flesh within, releasing rivulets of blood from the wounds to trickle into lungs and viscera, there to die.
I could suddenly taste the very venom in the word, the taste of sickness, horror, the unequaled injustice of uncontrolled anger. Worthless…beyond hope of redemption, undeserving of the slightest consideration, the slightest thought, the merest effort to find value within it–within her–for whom even the tiniest expenditure of time and effort was just so much time and effort wasted…
“No, no, not that, Sammy,” said I, the soft, hoarse whisper of shame instantly replacing the bellowing, screaming shrill. “Never that. Never. Anything…but never worthless. No matter what, no matter what she’s done, why she’s done it, how long she’s done it…she may be a lot of very bad things…or maybe, just have done bad things…but Linda…Oh, God, my Linda!…There’s nothing she could ever do, not even this, that can turn her into something you just throw away. Never…”
Before, I had risen to my feet as my fury rose, and now the strength drained from my legs as I fell onto my knees on the sparse grass. You’ve seen it in the movies lots of times. I now knew exactly where that picture came from.
“Oh, God, God and Sammy, please, please forgive me! How could such things even enter my mind, much less come out of my mouth? How…?”
My cathartic fury discharged, the yelling was over, the venomous torrent halted. The adrenaline pumped into my system by frustrated agony and rage was now still, and a man, not unlike a lot of men, disinclined to shed tears even when alone, much less when anyone else was around to see, suddenly exploded in a furious torrent of sobbing.
Sammy, as if guided by some divine wisdom, found exactly the right time and took the seat next to me, close by but not too close. Like a drowning man who suddenly sees a life saver floating by him, I reached desperately to his shoulder, buried my face in my hands upon it and let it all go, praying he’d have the patience to give me the time I needed. I should have known he would; that’s exactly what he had come for.
I don’t know how much time pornhub porno passed, but it was a lot. Finally, eyes sore with weeping, sounding like I had a terrible cold, I rose from his shoulder and bowed my head, ashamed of my vitriolic outburst.
“I should never have said those things, Sammy,” said I, still blubbering.
“On the contrary, they are exactly what you should have said, and did,” he replied, his voice rock-solid and yet compassionate. “What you should not have done, and in fact did not, is believe them.”
“I don’t. I never will. There’s something wrong, Sammy, something terribly wrong in this household, but I refuse to believe it’s because either one of them is so horribly corrupted that there’s no hope for them. But then, what is it? What in all fucking hell is it? What could be so terribly awful in the life we have led there together to make a good wife and a good son start fucking each other? It just…it just, makes no sense.”
I turned my head wearily and looked Sammy in the eye.
“What have I done, or failed to do, that could have driven them to this?”
Sammy studied me in silence for several seconds.
“What do you think it might be, Fred?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Sammy, I don’t know. I just can’t think of anything.”
“Maybe that’s because there’s nothing to think of..”
I raised my eyes now, and looked right into his.
“I wish you were right, Sammy.”
“No, you’re missing my point. I said maybe. Not yes, not no, maybe. What I mean by that is, the answer to your question will not come from me. What you do need to do is to avoid flatly assuming there has to be a reason for it somewhere in your home and the life the three of you lead there. Or that there’s any particular reason anywhere at all. Don’t assume there isn’t, either. Don’t assume anything, or you’ll end up cutting your mind off from recognizing answers when they’re right in front of your at this moment very drippy nose.”
I grabbed a handkerchief in embarrassment and corrected the problem, eliciting a nice, deep laugh from my friend. I was more than amazed when I actually found myself echoing it.
“Your heart is broken, but it’s not dying. You may not believe it, and you won’t really know until you see it for yourself, but those two hearts living next door to Jannie and me are no different. Take that on faith for just a little while, if you can, but cut yourself slack if you find you can’t right away. If you forget you’re human enough to be unreasonable for a little while, while you’re in so much pain, you’ll never find your way back to being human and reasonable again. It’s just a good thing that you’ve got this time to tackle your unreasonableness up front like this. You’ll be in a lot better shape when it comes time to deal with the other parties to this drama.”
“Yeah….” I said, gazing into the growing darkness, “Yeah. Let’s get back to the hotel.”
Yes, a lot of healing happened in those couple of hours. It would be very nice if the nature of the human mind and heart were such that we could hold fast to this kind of progress at times like this. It isn’t; this was, you might say, ten steps forward, but thereafter slipping five steps back is the rule. At least I knew that much, and was ready for it.
This would not heal overnight. That was a certainty. But, increasingly, it felt just as certain that, with patience and perseverance, there was hope; there was reason to believe it would heal, in time–perhaps a little time, perhaps a lot–but in time.
My thoughts swirled and chased each other madly as I lay in the darkness of the room that night. When a particular thought was one of my wife or my son, bitter and uncharitable emotions were the usual products, though, thankfully, never remotely like the emotional excrement I had spewed into the air not long before. But there were times, just a few, when a picture of a woman and a young man, troubled, just as much, and in much the same way as I was, flitted past. The maelstrom surged on, those thoughts merely a few of many, very gradually transforming from those of logical, rational wakefulness into those of abstract, subjective slumber.
That night sleep did come, and with it some actual rest. Not a lot, but enough to leave me just a little stronger.
(to be continued)
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