Good Enough

“It’s never good enough,” Harry said.

“I love you,” Therese said, “and I want you to do well. That’s why I tell you these things.”

“I love you too, but it never seems good enough.”

For three hours, Harry and Therese had been at each other, yelling, screaming, slamming doors. They were in their mid-forties, married for five years.

“I’m getting the hell outta here,” he said.

“Fine. Just go,” the dark-haired woman yelled and went into their bedroom and threw her body onto the bed and cried.

“I will,” he called to her. Then he stalked out the front door, pushing the door behind him closed. He was surprised to hear it slam.

“Shit.”

He kicked the tires of her Ford and said shit again. He moved on to his blue ’57 Chevy pickup, got into its cab, and backed out of the driveway.

Ten minutes later, he pulled into the parking lot of the Alley-Oops Tavern. There was a sign above the building of a giant cave man, his right hand holding a mug of beer topped off by suds. His left was wrapped around his girlfriend Oola’s waist. Five o’clock and only two cars were in the parking lot. None of the regulars had showed up yet.

The owner Jewel with her gray “Lucille Ball” poodle cut stood behind the mahogany bar. The Drifters crooned from the jukebox. Behind the bar and above the liquor bottles was a large mural of Ted Williams at bat. It was one of several baseball oils distributed along the walls of the small pub, all done by her thirty-five year old boyfriend, Marty.

Marty was at his usual spot at the end of the bar, nursing a bottle of Schlitz and puffing on a Marlborough. He wasn’t wearing a tie. Harry had never seen him without one.

Jewel came over and reached up to Harry and gave him a big hug.

“How’s my favorite brother-in-law?” the fifty-five-year old woman asked. “Hmm, let’s see. Not good.” She released him and escorted him to one of the stools. Behind the bar again, she pulled out a bottle of Hamm’s, popped the cap open and sat it down before him.

He took a swig from the beer.

“He’s a big deal now,” Jewel motioned toward Marty. “Got a promotion.”

“Great,” Harry said, lifting his beer toward the other man. “Congrats.” He took a drink of the beer, then sat it back on the counter.

“Yep. I’m a big deal now.” Marty said.

“I knew he had it in him,” she said, smiling at Marty.

She walked over to him, patted him on the cheek, kissed him light on the mouth. At the end of the kiss, Marty took her hand into his and massaged it for just a moment. Then he released her hand. He took a last drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray. He lifted the beer that made Milwaukee famous to his lips and finished it off. “You want me to get you some supper?” he asked Jewel.

“Burger and fries sounds fine.” The bar didn’t serve food, only snacks.

“Okee doke. See ya, Harry.” Marty’s six-foot-three frame stood up, reached over and kissed her, and sauntered out of the bar.

Jewel walked back over to Harry. “I’d be proud of him no matter what.” She studied his face briefly. “Want to tell Jewel your troubles?” she asked. “You do have troubles, don’t you? You know I can tell from those sad, puppy-dog eyes of yours.”

“How have you and Marty been able to keep it together for fifteen years?”

“”Tain’t easy,” she said as she wiped the last of several mugs dry and sat it in its place below the counter. “We both keep our mouths shut and wait for things to pass. It took me two divorces to learn that.”

She opened the refrigerator and took out a glass of ice tea. Placing it on a coaster on the counter, she sat down across from him. Her sky blue eyes searched his brown ones as she sipped the tea. She had given up alcohol after her second marriage. That had been the one that had convinced her that she was an alcoholic.

Another swig from the Hamm’s for Harry. Elvis sang in the background.

“You know,” he said, “I don’t even remem…oh, yeah. It was over that piece of shit she calls a car. I knew it was a lemon when she bought it and I told her so. But she don’t listen. Then she says she shouldn’t have listened to me. Like I wanted her to buy it.”

Jewel took another sip of her tea.

“Damn, I hate Edsels,” he said and drank the last of the beer. “It wasn’t even that good a Ford new. And she got it used. And red too. Damn piece of shit, that’s what it is.”

Jewel handed him another Hamm’s. He started laughing. She looked at him with a what on her face.

“I was just thinking,” he said, “how much I love my ’57 red. Man, that’s a man’s ride.”

Harry looked at his watch. 6:00. He took one last swig of the beer. “And how much I love my sister-in-law.” He gave Jewel a kiss on the cheek, then made toward the door. He stopped.

“Jewel, why don’t you and Marty come over Sunday? You know, we’ll put on some steaks. Therese makes the best homemade ice cream.”

“We’ll be there,” Jewel said. “Sundays a good day for homemade ice cream.” She closed Alley-Oops on Sundays, the day she referred to as “the Lord’s Day.”

Harry walked out into the early evening daylight and over to his truck. Marty was leaning against the Chevy bed. Tears were in his eyes.

Before he could ask, Marty blurted out, “Jewel has cancer.”

“What?”

“The doctor gives her six months. Maybe,” Marty choked out. “Don’t tell her I told you.” A long pause, then, “And for God’s sake, don’t tell Therese.”

For the next five minutes or so, the two friends stood quiet and tried to think of something to say. But nothing came.

Finally Marty said, “Well, I got to go get some burgers.”

“Yeah, man.” Harry watched as Marty walked away. He pulled himself into the truck and took his time putting the key into the ignition. He started the engine and turned on the radio.

“Here’s a new one,” the d. j. announced. “It’s Patsy Cline singing ‘I Fall to Pieces’.” Harry pulled out of his parking spot and headed onto the street. The song seemed to assuage some of his grief as the voice, words and music perfectly mirrored his sorrow.

On the drive home, the people in his life passed through his imagination person by person. His buddy Frank, dead at Normandy. His mother Mavis in the small cemetery by the country church just outside of town. His no good son-of-a-bitch brother Tom, serving a life sentence for murder. His kid Jimmy, hadn’t seen him in twenty-three years. All these passed through his mind as he kept driving. And Jewel. Man, he was going to miss her. She had more spunk in her than most women half her age.

Sitting at a stop light, he remembered the first time he saw Therese. When they met, she was still on her first marriage and he was finishing off his second. She was a waitress in a small diner where he ate breakfast as he started his delivery route each weekday morning. Sitting on one of the stools and nursing his cup of coffee, he watched her body move around behind that counter and he knew he was in love.

“You doing anything after work?” he asked.

“I’m married. See,” she said, showing him her ring.

“Your husband won’t treat you as good as I will.”

“How do you know?”

“I know these things,” Harry said.

Two years later they were married, and they’d fought once or twice a week since. Disagreements, they called them. But, after five years, they were fights, and both of them knew they were fights.

Crossing the intersection, his muscles ached from the loneliness he’d feel if he gave up on his marriage. And soon he’d be sixty, seventy, and his life would be all gone. He’d return to the dirt in the ground just like his old man, all alone.

He swiped the tears from his eyes. He heard Ray Charles come onto the AM station with “I can’t stop loving you.” He listened. The words in the song cut him to the quick. He pulled the Chevy up behind Therese’s Edsel and braked and stopped. Getting out of the truck, it hit him.

His life was more than good enough. It was damn good! And he was not about to miss out on showing his appreciation for that.

Lost and Found

Supper was over and the dishes done. More out of boredom than anything else, I decided our black and brown German Shepherd needed a walk. I kissed my wife and said, “I’m taking Ranger for a walk.”

She looked up at me from her comfortable chair. “Ranger will like that.” She returned to her television program. Then she joked, “If you see Jesus, tell him I said hi.”

I laughed. Beth wasn’t religious. She found humor in the religiosity of people she knew.

I grabbed a sweater, then said, “Ranger, c’mon.” He jumped from the couch and followed me outside into the nippy night air. I pulled on the sweater and attached a leash to the dog’s collar. Ranger and I headed for the street.

Several blocks later the dog indicated he wanted to go into the empty field. If Ranger indicated he wanted to do something, I’d best do it. Or have a darn good reason not to. So I allowed myself to be pulled along after him.

Our German shepherd strained forward across the field. With the lease, I commanded the dog to stop. He stopped and I undid the lease. Then he was off into the woods nearby. I followed him into the trees. He disappeared and went off to do his business. I sat down on a log and waited for him to return. The tree canvas blocked the stars. Only a slight bit of moonlight made it through the leaves and branches.

Ranger reappeared in the clearing and came over to me, barking. I stood up, not knowing what to make of the dog. His mouth grabbed my hand, not biting, but secure around it. He pulled, then dropped my hand and turned and went back deeper into the woods. I made my way after him, then he stopped, sat on his hind legs and barked twice.

I saw what the dog saw. A baby in a basket and bundled to keep warm. It appeared to be asleep. But it wasn’t. It was unconscious. All pale. I checked its little pulse and felt barely a beat. But there was still a beat.

I grabbed the basket and ran, Ranger ahead of me. Almost stumbling several times, I reached the house. The dog had aroused my wife, and she was standing on the porch.

I handed the basket to Beth. “It’s still alive,” I went inside and got the keys to the car, then I told Ranger to stay indoors and watch over things the way he always did. He took his place on the couch. I came back out and she handed me the basket. “I have to get my jacket.” She threw the jacket over her nightgown and joined me as I was warming up the car.

On the way to the hospital, she kept saying, “Hurry. Hurry.” I was driving as fast as I could on the dark streets and then out onto the main thoroughfare. A cop pulled up behind me, lights flashing. I did not stop. I did not dare stop. “Is the baby still breathing?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “but hurry.” A second police car pulled up behind the first as I turned into the hospital and pulled up to the emergency room and came to a halt. She jumped out of the car with the basket. The baby started screaming. Then Beth was inside.

A cop ran after her. Two other cops pulled me out of the car and threw me on the ground, face down. I heard a muffled “You’re under arrest” as they cuffed my hands behind me. Then “Stay there and don’t move.” The other cop, the one who had followed Beth into the emergency room, pushed her outside. Her hands were cuffed behind her.

A cop lifted me off the ground and threw me into the back seat of the police car beside my wife. A nurse and a doctor came out of the emergency room door and walked up to one of the men in blue.

“Who’s in charge here?” the doctor in his white coat demanded.

One of the three cops stepped up to the doctor. “Sgt Henry, sir.”

“Let them go,” the doctor almost shouted.

“What?” Henry said, looking like he was about to arrest the doctor.

“I have some questions for them. I’m Doctor Joe Samuels and I am the super for the E. R. Uncuff them and bring them inside.”

Henry signaled for one of his officers to pull us out of the car. He pushed us both into the hospital and sat us down. My wife and I were keeping quiet. Neither of us wanted to make matters worse and get anyone hurt. I could feel one of the cops behind me. The sergeant and the other cop took their places by the emergency room door and watched us.

Then Beth asked, tears in her voice, “How’s the baby?”

“We don’t know,” Dr. Samuels said. “Tell me what happened.”

“I found the baby in the woods close to our house. It didn’t appear to be conscious but it was still breathing. That’s why we rushed here.”

We explained the whole incident to the sergeant and the doctor, Beth interrupting me, me interrupting her. The sergeant uncuffed us.

“We’ll need your information,” Henry said. “But, due to the circumstances, I think any charges will be dropped. No one was hurt. Just a little of everybody’s pride.” Then he said to one of the other two cops, “I want you to take Mr. Wayne here back to where he found the baby.”

“Yessir.”

I showed the two cops the spot where the child had been left. They called for a detective. Once the detective arrived and took my story, the cops dropped me off at the hospital. Beth was being interviewed by the local news.

Several hours later, Doctor Samuels came out to let us know the baby was sleeping, recuperating. “It’s going to take a lot of care but I think the baby will survive. At least, we can hope.”

“Can you show us the baby?” Beth asked.

We stood and looked through the glass, our arms around each other. The child had needles in its arms attached to feeding tubes. It seemed to be resting. My wife asked the doctor, “Who would leave a baby to starve like that?”

“I don’t know. I can’t imagine.”

“So what happens next?” I asked.

“Social services.”

My wife looked up at me and her arm squeezed me. Since we had no children of our own, she was thinking adoption.”Perhaps…we can call her Nicole.”

I said, “I think Ranger will like that name.”

Saint Peter and Mrs. Saint Peter

Just think. For three years, you’ve been out doing the Lord’s work. “On the job training,” Jesus called it. You come home for a few days rest and relaxation. You’d think the wife would be happy to see you. But here’s what you get.

Mrs. Saint Peter runs out to meet her husband. Hugs him. “I’ve missed you a lot.”

Saint Peter hugs his wife real good. “I’ve missed you too, Agatha. It’s been three years on the road. I sure could use one of your extra special back rubs and a pile of your homecooking. And it’s been three years since I’ve had a good bath.”

“I can tell.” They walk hand in hand back to the two bedroom house Saint calls home. “Well, it’s good to have you back.”

“But you know what? Jesus—”

“You’re home for good?” she interrupts as they walk into the living room.

“He rose from the dead. It was the most amazing—”

“There’s so much work to be done around here,” she says enthusiastically, her voice full of hope.

“thing,” he finishes his sentence. “And He put me in charge. I sure have a lot to do. It’s not—”

“The roof needs mending and there’s the boat to patch. Things have just gone to rot since you left.”

“BUT WOMAN, I CAN’T STAY. I HAVE TO LEAD THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS.”

“Don’t shout. It’s not the Christian thing to do.”

“Well, He put me in charge.” Saint is adamant now.

“Jesus did what?” Hands on her waist, she stares at him with disbelief.

“Jesus left me in charge,” he says with pride, a big grin on his face. “He even called me Rock.”

She laughs. “Rockhead more likely. If Jesus left you in charge, he sure made a big mistake.”

Peter’s face is starting to turn red from anger. “You never did believe in me. And you just don’t understand.”

“Understand? What’s there to understand? All I know is there’s a lot of work around here that needs doing and you’re never around to help.”

“Woman, all you do is—nag, nag, nag. Tar the roof, mend the floor, fix the wall, hinge the door. Catch the fish, sail the boat, paint the house. I’m a joke.”

“Peter, Peter, I wish you could hear yourself. All you do is brag, brag, brag. Walk the sea, heal the blind, change the water into wine. Thousands fed, raise the dead. He chose you, you dumpy head.”

Saint storms out of the house. “I don’t know why I ever came back, Nagatha.”

“Me neither. You never change.” She stands at the door.

“That’s not true. I do change.”

“Peter, you’re a good man, but you’re awfully hard-headed.”

“I’m not going to stay here and listen to this. I’ll go where I’m appreciated. And can be in charge. I’ll see you in three more years.” He stalks off into the darkness. “Women.”

“Men! Hmph!” She slams the door.

Blue

Linna always looked good in blue. Everybody said so. Blue was her color. So, of course, she wore a blue when she went to have her portrait taken.

She sat in front of the camera, posed with her smile, waiting for the photographer to come back. But she was thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? Is this really what I want to do today? But it’s what Robert and David want, so it must be what I want.”

Her two sons stood behind the camera and watched her as she posed in her blue suit and blue shoes.

“Had she been a good mother?” The question flittered through her mind. Of course, she had. Just look at the two of them, standing there, smiling back at her. They seemed so happy.

Robert, the older, now worked in a prestigious law firm and pulled in a great salary. He took after his father, her first husband, even walked like his father in that plodding kind of way he walked. He was walking back and forth, impatient for the photographer to return from the bathroom.

What about her younger son? He was more like her than she wanted to admit. He leaned against the wall, hands in the pockets of his jeans, and watched her watch him as she posed.

David. Son of her second husband, that sad bastard of a son of a bitch.

Three husbands down—all bastards—and here she was, posing in blue and thinking about them. Couldn’t get them off her mind. They were always with her. And they all insisted that blue was her color. Damn them!

Now here she sat in blue, a middle-aged woman with her middle-aged smile, with three ex-husbands and two grown sons, and she didn’t know what had happened to her life.

She had always worn blue, even as a baby. Guess that was because her dad wanted a boy.

Her blue strapless gown had caused such a stir at the high school prom, had caused all the boys to turn their heads her way and stare. She’d liked that.

Her first car, a mustang, it was an almost blue—a bit of a turquoise—but it drove nice. She didn’t mind that it wasn’t completely blue.

The gown at her first wedding was white. But she’d had a blue corsage. Everybody said she made such a beautiful bride. So why had she felt so shitty inside when she said her I dos that day? Though it had been a clear blue sky of a day that day of her wedding, it had rained all through their honeymoon. And she’d given up a promising career as a singer to have babies and be the perfect wife and mother Bruno wanted her to be. Course that was what her mother told her a woman did in those long ago blue days.

Five years to the date and one kid later, she woke up to the phone ringing. It was four o’clock in the morning and Bruno’s side of the bed was empty. She picked up the phone.

“It’s Bruno,” the blue phone said. “I’ve been arrested.”

In the next week, she lost everything—her blue car, her blue house, her blue life. She was on her own with a four-year old-son to feed and care for and a husband who was going away to prison for embezzlement and a whole lot more. So much that she’d forgotten all the charges. She didn’t even like thinking about the stuff the prosecutor had thrown at him. And that was not counting the things the feds had on him. The day of his sentencing was a real blue day.

After that, she moved on with her life. She started selling real estate and found that she was good at it, showing the clients around in her light blue suits.

She winked at youngest son. David smiled back. She tried to wink at Robert but she couldn’t bring herself to it. He was much too serious for winking. She tried not to play favorites, but she knew she had a favorite. It was David, son of her second husband Charlie.

Charlie may have been a bastard, but, at least, he was a lot of fun. And the sex had been great. With Bruno, it was slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Charlie’s lovemaking lasted all night long with lots of romance and lots of foreplay. Just thinking of him gave her goose pimples still.

She’d met Charlie when a coworker, Joan Vargas, insisted that they go to Vegas and get in a little gambling.

“Sorry,” Linna said and took a last sip of her coffee just before showing a house, “I’m just not interested. I’ve got way too many houses to show to take time off.”

“It’s been five year since you divorced Bruno and you’ve been working your ass to the bone. It’ll do you good. And the kid too. He’ll love being with his grandma. She’ll spoil him like crazy. Grandmas do that, you know.”

“But I can’t,” Linna said.

“You’ve been working like since forever. You need a break. It’s just a week off. Doug can show your houses. You still get in on the take if they sell. All work and no play…well, you know.”

She was right, of course. But Linna wasn’t sure she wanted to go off with Joan and her don’t-give-a-shit attitude. Linna wasn’t sure she was ready for the kind of time Joan would show her. If there was a good time, Joan would find it. After much coercing, she decided a trip to Gambler’s Paradise might be the thing she needed to get her out of the blue funk she’d been in lately.

She left her nine-year old with her twice-divorced mom, and off to Vegas she and Joan went. They’d only been there for one night when she met Charlie. Tall, blue-eyed Charlie with that killer of a smile of his. She should’ve known he was trouble. He was wearing a blue suit with a blue tie when she met him, throwing dice at the craps table. Three nights later she woke up in bed with Charlie and a wedding ring on her finger and a wad of hundreds in his pocket.

Charlie was a professional gambler. Lately he’d been on the winning spree to end all winning sprees. It seemed he couldn’t lose. That is, until two months later when they were dead broke and in hock up to their asses. She left Robert with her mom and followed her second husband from poker game to poker game, living in cheap motel after cheap motel, always broke and on-the-bum. It got so bad that they would’ve been living in his old beat-up Buick, except he lost that in a crap game.

One night, she found him in an alley with a knife in his gut, almost dead from loss of blood.

“I really fucked up this time, Linnie,” he said, looking up at her leaning over him. Then he closed his eyes and died.

She was six months pregnant. She went home to her mother’s I-told-you-so’s and Robert.

Lloyd came along a year later. He was Robert’s Little League coach. Though she didn’t love him, he seemed like a stable guy, a secure bet. He had a job, he was a real gentleman, and he would get her away from her mother’s constant nagging. It was a whirlwind of a courtship, three dates, and then they were married. He even wore a blue suit to the wedding at the justice of the peace.

Three days later he came home drunk and punched her in the gut. Linna grabbed her two kids and left him on the floor, vomiting from the booze. She jumped in the car he’d just bought and off she went.

She drove for three days until she came to Florida. She pulled up alongside a small motel and walked in and told the lady behind the desk that she needed a job. She had two hungry boys and no gas for the car.

Now here she sat twenty years later, waiting for the photographer to come back from the bathroom. During those twenty years, she’d scrubbed floors, sold real estate, sang back-up, even worked as a bartender at several of the Disney resorts. Her Robert was a hot shot attorney and David had just been hired on as a graphic artist. She was proud of them. Proud of the way she’d raised them. Proud of all she’d done to get here.

It was her fiftieth birthday and the boys were treating her for the day. But, first, they insisted they wanted her portrait done.

The thirty-year old blond-haired photographer came back into the room. She looked into the lens as he snapped the camera several times. Then he instructed her to change poses. As she moved from pose to pose, she wondered if blue was really her color. Maybe she should take up green.

The session ended and she noticed that he was wearing a green tie and had green eyes to go with it. He smiled a very nice smile and winked at her. It had been a while since she had been with a man. Perhaps a younger man was what she needed. And this guy had a head full of blond curls she suddenly wanted to run her fingers through. She winked back.

The boys left her behind in the studio to gather up her things. The blond approached her.

“This was a good session,” he said. “I’ll have the photographs ready for you to choose from in two days. Would you like to go out sometime?”

After thinking about his question for a minute, she leaned over and lightly brushed her lips against his. Then she whispered in his ear, “I’m not interested. Blue is my color.”

The Night Job

It’s rough being a super hero these days. The things you have to put up with. For instance:

S walks into the living room and yells to his wife in the kitchen, “Honey, I can’t get the stains off my outfit. Any idea what will take blood out?”

“If it’s yours, no,” she yells back. She’s fed up with this superhero gig.

“It’s just a little nose bleed.” S walks into the kitchen. Goes over to give her a smooch.

She’s not in the mood for smooching. She’s ready for combat. “I am not going to do any more cleaning up after one of your night forays.”

“But it’s my job.”

“No, your job is to drive a bus, Ralph.” She pushes him away. She is not having any of his excuses this time.

“That’s my disguise job, Alice. My real job is to fight crime. Since crime happens most at night, I have to go out every night and fight it. You know that.”

She goes over to the coffee pot and pours herself a cup. “All I know is that you were quite normal. A good husband and all. Then you saw that ‘Avengers’ movie and some bug must have bit you.”

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I told you that I received a call from the Planet Varsa. They gave me strict orders. If I don’t do this, they will come and destroy the earth. They said they needed one man to prove that the earth was worth saving. I asked them how could I prove to them that I was that man. You know what they said?”

“Yeah, go suit up in some purple spandex and a t-shirt with a big-ass S on it. Oh, and don’t forget the cape. It’s gotta be periwinkle. It can’t just be blue. Periwinkle, geez. Even Superman wears a blue cape.”

“It’s not just any blue. It’s phthalo blue.”

“What?” She is really laughing now. “What the heck is phthalo blue?”

“That’s the color of Superman’s cape. That’s what it is. Everybody knows that.”

She’s starts to choke on her laughter. Finally she catches her breath and calms down. “C’mon, Ralph, you expect me to believe that cock-and-bull story of yours. Some idiot from God knows how many billions of light years away wants you to be a crime fighter. He just up and calls you. Give me a break.” She laughs again. She can’t help herself. It happens every time she imagines her husband in that get-up.

“I’m telling you. It’s true, Alice.”

“Look, I’m going to my mother’s. You call me when you’re ready to settle down and be the nice, lovable Ralph I married.” She goes to the sink and rinses out her coffee cup.

“Before you go, can you just show me how to get this blood out?”

She shakes her head, walks over to him and takes the suit. “You’re phthalo to the point of being pathetic. You know that.”

He takes her in his arms and kisses her. After a long embrace, she looks him in the eyes.

“You really have to do this?”

“I really do.”

Alice pushes her husband away. “Well, if you gotta, you gotta.” Her voice has resignation in it. “You be careful out there, you hear?” A look of love for her husband fills her eyes. She kisses him lightly on the lips. “Sit down at the table and I’ll make my big superhero some breakfast. But first, I have to take this out to the laundry room. Okay?”

“Okay,” he says thoughtfully. And goes to the table and sits down. She leaves the room, humming.

“It took three wives and I finally found one who will let me be the S I am supposed to be.” Then he calls out to his wife, “By the way, I’m going to need a new mask.”

In the laundry room, Alice rinses Ralph’s costume. There’s a smile on her face. Then she says, almost whispering so her husband won’t hear her, “That guy from Varsa is right. He’s going to need a sidekick. Otherwise.”