“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.
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.”
“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.