Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue is a writer living in Fort Worth, Texas. His stories have appeared in Lynx Eye, Hardboiled, and the on-line literary journals Scrivener’s Pen, SouthLit.com, Verdad.com, and The Write Room. In 2013, he was one of four finalists for the Texas Observer Short Story Contest.
O Lydia, lying on your side in your purple robe—like a Matisse with blossoming flowers instead of lines—lying alone on our rumpled bed. Oh, how I long right now for just one caress of your gluteus maximus, love juice, an all-together divine tangle of sheets, a clandestine meeting at Vine and Tongue.
But, alas, not this night, for your usual soft face has been made hard from the molten heat emanating from its center, those two, and here I must mix metaphors, ice-cold blue eyes—what got me into this mess in the first place. Oy! I am sunk, all of me—all because of—well, to be honest, me.
Of course, you could say dinner with friends is what did us in, but if not that it would’ve been something else. You see, not to brag, but I am a prize-winning poet, tenured professor, and a self-admitted pendejo-holic. Or to put it another way, I suffer from what I’m afraid is a terminal case of assholishness.
Or, perhaps, more charitably, I suppose I could be suffering from a learning disability. You see, I’ve always been easily bored, and if I can’t be grousing and chiding, life just gets too damn boring. Or it’s that I need repair, new disc pads on my tongue. I’ve a shortcut, a super fiber-optic highway from brain to tongue that’s faster than a speeding bullet and more hurtful, yes, than the Lone Ranger’s silver bullet right between the eyes.
Believe me, I know, I know, what a barbed thorn in the side I can be. But on the other side of the ledger, I once was quite a hit at academic parties where any excitement to break the boredom and complacency is always welcome; and I walked away with more than my share of conquests into the wine-drunk, late-night, early-morning streets made electric by what was very soon to come.
But what’s to come of us—Lydia and me? While musing about my still-barely wife, I sit in my green vinyl easy chair, reading Aquinas of all things. I have an idea that may be still-birthed before embryonic to write a sequence of poems on those mind-set setters—Aquinas, Marx, Freud, Augustine. Just fishing around, really. I’m no name dropper, me.
If truth be told, I prefer comics—Howard the Duck, Mickey & Minnie, the adventures of Uncle Donald, Aunt Daisy, Huey, Louie, Dewey, and, of course, my all-time personal favorite, Scrooge McDuck.
More my speed, but it pays the bills, this poetry affliction of mine. And if a Jew, bar mitzvahed at Beth-el Temple, Chicago, 1954 ( Barashith bara Elohim eth . . .) can say—it is my cross to bear.
And Lydia, well, I am clearly her cross to bear. She is in our bedroom, on our bed. I can hear her loud and clear not make a single solitary sound. I ask you, how is that even possible?
A few months ago, I would’ve heard crying. Then I would go in to make up, and there’d be her face hot with tears and soon my cheeks, too, damp. Then our two-fold heat would transfer from cheeks to, well, you know where.
But now no tears to kiss away. Just anger turning, I’m afraid, to hate. And ladies and gentleman, I have lots of talent—wordwise & lovewise—but, I ask you, how do you kiss away hate?
All because of—“Another tortilla.” That’s all I said. Well, in the interest of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, I guess, I did say it a certain way. Like this, “A-Nother TOR-ti-LLA.” Exasperated as her soft small—so small, so soft—hands flicked off the pink plastic tortilla warmer to get one more flour delight (She’d already had four!) made so special at Abelardo’s, the Tex-Mex joint we frequent.
But please understand that she wasn’t eating those tortillas plain. Every one of those beauties was stuffed with whole dollops of refried beans, carne guisada, guacamole, and chile con queso, so we’re talking one heart-clogging, cholesterol-increasing snack here.
Liz, an old student, with husband numero two in tow, eye-witnessed it all. As a matter of fact, I also blame it on Liz’s eyes. Her eyes and Lydia’s, two pairs, mismatched, two green, two blue.
We had met at our house, the very one I’m now sitting in reading about the limits of changeableness. Poor Aquinas. And when Liz saw Lydia, Liz’s eyes got BIG—we’re talking pizza pie big, Elmer Fudd right before the gun backfires because Bugs’ finger stops the bullet big.
Lydia noticed, of course. Her voice dropped an octave or two and her lashes too, not an octave, just dropped closed like two reddening window shades.
Why? Well, you see, Liz hadn’t seen Lydia since the wedding—a mere six months ago—and since that beautiful, cloudless night of our reception, which I was daft enough at the time to think was a good omen, Lydia, my sweet Minnie, has bulked up in all the wrong places, added multiple-layers of lipo, has really put the pounds on—31.2 to be precise.
When we were married, she was an in-shape 135—big hipped and thighed, to be sure, but healthy—“choice” as Spencer Tracy said ogling Kate Hepburn, his real-life paramour, in Pat and Mike.
Not much fat on her then except a bit on her butt, slight love handles, and a knot or two in the upper reaches of her thighs. But if you ask me, those are sweet, sweet places for fat. Yet now, there is no denying that my Lydia has become one rotund mama, on her third set of clothes. She is literally eating me out of house and home and for once, I’m afraid, this is no mere metaphor.
At first she said it was because she was happy. So the reason that she downed two lobster tails, a dozen oysters, plus a baked potato packed with sour cream, bacon bits and chives, and topped all that with chocolate cheesecake madness on our honeymoon was because she was elated. At first, I was glad to comply, thinking that her lust for food would feed other lusts, which at first it did. We were extremely busy those first wonderful months, setting many personal best records in the Orgasm Olympics.
But at some time, between ten to fifteen pounds of weight gain, she switched from telling me it was happiness to whispering between gasps of sobs that it was her profound unhappiness at my constant ragging that was driving her to all-you-can-eat-buffets at all hours.
“What’s it matter?” I pointed out one argument-laced night. “You eat when you’re happy. You eat when you’re sad. How do I figure into this equation at all?”
“I just want you to love me,” was all she said in her little girl voice as she slipped down the hallway for a late-night snack of Blue Bell chocolate ice cream with bananas and pecans.
“I just want you to love me.”
So my buying her a membership to a gym, my getting her expensive walking shoes, my promising a trip to Amy’s Ice Cream with 42 “homemade” flavors after a two-mile walk proved to be all for naught.
So I turned, dear Reader, to the only weapon I had left, my bitter, sarcastic, vitriolic tongue. And I turned my Lydia, my sweet Minnie and her Mickey-love, to if not hate something pretty closely resembling.
She is still up in what I can still barely call our bedroom. It is now half past two and, for some odd reason, dry, thin-voiced Aquinas is finally beginning to make sense to my REM-starved brain. “So it is apparent that it is characteristic of the very species of human acts for some to be good and some evil.” And that, my friends, is about as true as any truth can be.
But from the mantle another truth waves its emaciated arms, a photo of Lydia around the time we first met. It was taken at Zilker Park. Oh, I remember that day so well. I caught her midway to turning around. She was dressed in a yellow t-shirt and jeans that I longed so for her to step out of with those bright blue eyes so full of new love’s playful, cuddling freshness.
Then from some reservoir in my cortex blossomed a bouquet reeking heavily of heather and whisky. These lines from Yeats suddenly popped into my head: “Wine comes in at the mouth/And love comes in at the eye;/That’s all we shall know for truth/Before we grow old and die./I lift the glass to my mouth,/I look at you, and I sigh.”
Then I did. Sitting on my green vinyl easy chair, my still-barely wife quietly nursing her well-earned grudge in another room, dry, long-dead Aquinas closed on my lap—I sighed. And heaved another and another. Then, for good measure, one more.