Hunting for Duck (3)
Marlene lived fifty miles up the line, and Sal drove off on the Sunday morning to go pick her up. She’d wanted me to go, too, but I’d planned to get some writing done. I had a story coming together and needed to get something moving with it. I thought they’d be better alone together, anyway.
After she’d gone, I shifted the stuff around and got the room ready. I carried the table through to our bedroom, and pushed it into a corner. It was tight, but there was still some space. Enough for me to sit and work. Sal had already looked out spare bed things and left them by the couch. I opened the windows to air the room and sprayed some stuff around – I usually chain-smoked when I was working, so it was thick in there. And that was it: a couch and some bedclothes, and an empty vase on the window ledge. Nothing else. I had no idea what she was bringing, though I knew she didn’t have any furniture. She’d have to make the best of it. She was lucky to have it anyway. Lucky to have someone to bail her out. I never did.
When things were straight, I went down to the store for some beers and a couple of packs of cigarettes. As I was paying, I saw a stand by the door with small bunches of flowers. I picked out a bunch of red carnations and added them in. I thought they’d go in the vase in the spare room, cheer things up. Just a little thing. When I got back, I trimmed them up and put them in the vase. It was half-past eleven. Sal said she hoped to be back by one at the latest. An hour and a half. I made a pot of coffee, unplugged the phone, sat at the typer, rolled in a sheet, lit up, started…
I was going pretty well, though the story had taken a bit of a detour and I wasn’t sure if it was the right one. It was about this guy, Tom, and his brother-in-law, Steve. Their wives are sisters. Tom and Steve are pretty close and often go off on hunting trips together. Shoot some duck, sink a few beers – guys on their weekends away. After a few trips, Steve wants to add an extra element. Pick themselves up some ass. Tom refuses. But things aren’t special between him and his wife just then, and Steve tries to convince him it’ll help. Says he’s been doing it for years and his marriage is as solid as ever. This shocks Tom, whose sense of loyalty to his own wife is strong. He now has a dilemma. He refuses to be unfaithful, and he has this knowledge about Steve he’ll find it hard to live with, too. They have an argument. Steve now suspects that Tom may spill the beans. The next day, there’s a hunting accident. That’s the general idea I set out with. Except I was starting to get a different kind of Tom – one who had designs on Steve’s wife: an attraction that he knew was mutual. Tom bargains with Steve: he’ll keep quiet about Steve’s whores if he can fuck Steve’s wife. So, how does Steve feel about that?
And that’s where I’d got to. I kind of liked it. It was a more interesting complication to the plot. I’d gotten horny thinking about it, too. I took a break and got a beer from the fridge. It was then that I saw the time. Nearly half-two. Christ! I plugged the phone back in and called Sal’s cell phone number, but couldn’t make a connection. I went to the window and looked down into the street. Leaves blowing around, kids on their bikes. Nothing. I tried her phone again, but still no good. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I didn’t want to go out in case she rang. I paced around our rooms, looking at everything as it was, thinking all the worst kinds of things. I made up my mind to call the state patrol to see if anything had happened – a hold up or an accident.
And then, through the kitchen window, I saw the car coming up the street. I ran along the corridor and down the stairs, making it out there just as Sal pulled in. That’s when I saw the damage. The front wing on Sal’s side had taken a bash and the headlight was smashed. Sal’s door was banged up, too, and the mirror was broken. Metal ground on metal as she opened her door and got out.
“Jesus, what happened?” I said, reaching for her arm. She snatched it away and used it to slam the door shut again instead. Her face was white, except where her eye-liner had smudged and run.
“What happened? I’ll tell you the fuck what happened. We were in a fucking accident. I tried fucking ringing to let you know, but the phone was unplugged. Why the hell was the phone unplugged?”
“I was writing.”
She turned on me.
“You were writing? We were almost getting killed, and you were writing? ”
She pushed past me towards the lobby. The kids with their bikes were stopping to watch. She turned once again. “Did you think about calling me when you saw the time? Or were you too busy writing?”
She went in and I made to go after her. But then Marlene got out of the car.
“Just leave her, Ed. She’s not hurt, just a bit shaken up.” She came up to me and put her hand on my arm. “She was upset because she couldn’t get through to you. She’ll be okay.”
She had the same clothes on she’d had before. The same scent. It was strong, but underneath it was something else. The staleness. A smell I knew too well. And strangely it was that, and the pressure of her hand, that made something stir.
“Seems like everyone’s having a bad time,” I said.
She squeezed again. “I’ll go make sure she’s okay. It’s good to see you.”
She went in and I turned back to the car. The damage was bad, but mainly cosmetic. The insurance would cover it. It was driveable, anyway. I knew how much Sal loved that car, though. Inside, the back seat was piled with boxes and cases, and a few loose items of clothing on hangers. I walked around and popped the tail gate. In the trunk, a huge bunch of plants had tipped over, spilling soil everywhere. There was a box of soft toys and about a dozen pairs of sneakers and boots. An old grocery box was full of toiletries and other personal things. Talcum. Pantie-Pads. A hair brush full of strands of her hair, like copper wire. The accumulated possessions of a life. Not much more than the stuff I had when I moved in with Sal. I looked up at our window, then along the street. Quiet as a Sunday afternoon usually was around there. I lifted out the box of toiletries and took it indoors.
Sal and Marlene were sitting on the couch in the spare room. Sal was crying and Marlene had her arms around her. I put the box down by the door. I went over and squatted beside Sal, taking her hand.
“I’m sorry, hon,” I said. “I lost track of time. We’ll get the car fixed. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
She looked up at me through her tears. For a second, I wasn’t sure which way it would go. Then she leaned away from Marlene and put her arms around my neck, sobbing like she was fit to bust. Sobbing for all sorts of things. I pulled her to me. I looked at Marlene, who smiled back and got up.
“I’ll go get the rest of the stuff,” she said. She went out and I sat next to Sal, hugging her, rubbing her arms, kissing her head. She wiped her face with a tissue.
“It was my fault, Ed.”
“I pulled out too soon. I didn’t see him.”
“It’s okay. No one was hurt.”
She shook her head.
“I - looked, but - but I didn’t see him coming.”
She started to sob again. I heard Marlene’s footsteps coming back up the stairs. Sal looked up.
“Let’s just get this stuff in.”
I held her tighter.
“I’ll help Marlene. You sit there.”
“No. I need to do things. I need to contact the insurance people, too.”
She got up. Then she noticed the carnations on the window ledge. The corners of her mouth twitched. Almost a smile. She went over to them and touched the petals.
“I thought they'd brighten the room up, " I said. She pulled up a couple of stems and moved them around in the vase.
“Sure. It was a nice idea.”
Then Marlene was in the room again. She had a couple of the plants. There was soil over her t-shirt. She put them down on the floor beside the box.
Sal turned and smiled at her, though she was working hard at it.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Come on. Let’s get you in.”
(to be continued)