by Lori Fetters Lopez
The dog’s name was Fred. When I woke to find Fred dead at the bottom of the stairs, I saw it as a sign that my life needed a change. But in the abstract, I wasn’t sure where or what. After burying the dog, I returned to the house. My husband sat in the kitchen at the small table for two doing what he always did. That’s when I knew.
For thirty-six years, I’ve been married to the same man. Little has changed in those years beyond addresses and jobs, and today was no different. The newspaper held at arm’s length with his reading glasses sitting on top of this head. A cup of coffee sat at his right hand and a donut at his left. He was dressed in a brown suit, white shirt, and the color of the day, blue tie. I knew in exactly fifteen minutes he would refold his paper, tucking it under his arm, place his cup in the sink, and toss the napkin in the trash. He’d then wait for me to join him at the door, kiss me goodbye, and drive off to work returning sometime between six and seven.
When I was in high school, I wanted a marriage like my parents, stable. I never considered how boring and predictable my mother’s life was, I just knew I never wanted to end up like my friend’s mothers. Angie’s parents were divorced and they played the guilt game with her stuck in the middle. Many nights Angie could hear her mother cry herself to sleep. Craig’s dad died in the war leaving his mother a widow and struggling to raise three kids alone. But most of all, I was never going to end up like Samantha and Nathan’s parents. Samantha’s dad was a philandering cretin and her mother put up with it, forgiving him each time she caught him with the other woman. Nathan’s mother was the other woman and if his dad knew, no one could tell. I made a promise to myself then that if I were ever in that situation I’d kill them both.
I looked from the dog reading the newspaper to the dog lying under the mound of overturned dirt in the backyard and formed a plan.
The first time Fred cheated was before we had children. I didn’t find this out until the second time, which I suppose was for the best because who knows what I might have done. By the time I became aware of his infidelity I could hardly walk away leaving my babies without a father and me to handle everything by myself.
Fred has a heart condition associated with his diabetes and excessive weight. Some years ago he had a pacemaker put in, but the doctors said he was a prime candidate for a heart attack if he didn’t begin exercising, suggesting he start slow. Even as I bought the sexy negligée, I wondered if I could entice Fred’s winkie into action, and how physical it would have to be. I skimmed the racks of clothes at the local department store, calculating how much salt to put in his food over the next days and if I could substitute water for his insulin without him becoming suspicious. That night I met Fred at the door in little more than a basic black trench coat and five inch FMPs the color of celery. For several weeks, I greeted him like this, varying the outfits. Twice I served him his meal wearing only my birthday suit, and once dessert was drizzled over my body. Within a month, I was well sated and Fred had lost interest along with ten pounds.
The second time Fred cheated I caught him with his hands in the ‘cookie jar’. He claimed it didn’t count because even as he was performing he was asking for forgiveness…but let’s be grownups. Worst part of the whole unfortunate incident was she looked like me only younger. She had less weight, less grey, less wrinkles, less sagging, less brains. If the kids hadn’t been months from graduating and thus close to moving out, I tell myself now as I did then, I would have done something.
Fred is mechanically inclined, but after nine hours selling used cars, the last thing an ex-mechanic car salesman wants to do is fix his own car, so I fixed the brakes. Funny thing about brakes, sometimes days can pass before they fail. It wasn’t supposed to be me behind the wheel, alone, on a dark country road when they finally went out sending me over an embankment. I don’t remember much of the crash, but I’ll never forget the sound of metal crunching as the car rammed through the guardrail. I suffered a mild concussion and after being held overnight, the hospital released me with the provision he not leave me alone until I’d completely recovered. Taking a month’s vacation, he doted.
We all do it, get complacent with age, start to convince ourselves that if he comes home every night, takes us to a movie and dinner a couple times a month and hands over most of his paycheck, everything is fine. It’s okay that he diddles around now and again, that’s what romance novels are for. I have two full bookcases.
With spring’s arrival, I imprudently forgot to refill the Epipen we store in the first aid kit attached to the side of the white wooden boxes housing the beehives. It wasn’t hard to order the more aggressive bees and mix them into the colony. I worried at first they might kill off the originals, but they all survived. The ER doctor said Fred was lucky the medics arrived when they did considering I was at the library. If the neighbor hadn’t looked out the upstairs window into our yard when she did, who knows how long Fred would have laid there before I got home.
The third time Fred cheated, I had just returned from the grocery store when I received the call. Greta from our pharmacy had been let go because she was caught sneaking out of the bathroom, half dressed. Ten minutes later Fred exited. For legal reasons they keep that part of the store locked to prevent entry without an escort and no one admitted to letting him in.
The copperhead rattlesnake was a little harder to procure and far more dangerous to let loose. Plus I worried it would escape to the neighbor’s yard before Fred went to work in the garden. He’d caught a summer cold staying in bed for two days. My scream at the slithering thing was genuine and Fred came out to the carport brandishing a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, the smell of pine tar floating with him. I think it was the sound of me slamming the car door that caused the snake to strike. The man from the snakebite response team said Fred was fortunate he was wearing his work boots because it prevented the snake from getting both fangs into his leg. After one course of anti-venom, and twenty-four hours monitoring, he was back home sitting in his leather recliner with a bottle of beer in his right hand and the remote in his left.
With winter setting in and his arthritis worsening with the cold, he decided to retire. It took only a few weeks for his smile to return. He started bringing me flowers, books, and hardly ever left my side. We would sit for hours reading together and I joined his bowling league. By the time we received his first retirement check, I’d decided I was happy with our relationship and it didn’t matter what he did when I wasn’t around because he loved me and I loved him. I grew. Life and marriage isn’t about perfection. Sometimes you have to be big enough to let another’s hand instill punishment.
We were talking as we strolled hand in hand down the boardwalk after an exceptional dinner and a very enjoyable touring Broadway production of Guys and Dolls. Thinking it was a nice night, and our house is only a few blocks away, we decided to forgo the cab ride home. He nuzzled my hair, whispering sweet nothings like we were kids. Slipping lower, he was kissing the nape of my neck when I felt the first raindrop. Moving into a storefront with an overhead awning, he continued the passionate kiss while pulling me closer. We waited for the rain to decide what it wanted to do. When it started in earnest, he said he’d catch us a cab and I should stay where I was so only one of us gets wet. Just as he stepped away, a woman in stockings with a seam running up the back of her very nice legs walked by. Fred’s eyes followed each of her long strides, suddenly forgetting I was standing behind him.
I didn’t see the bus hit Fred. Calling out his name, I waited for him to turn around. He continued walking backwards toward the street as I blew him a kiss and mouthed ‘I love you Fred’, leaving him to puzzle why I’d called him by the dog’s name. I turned back to the storefront display of a black dress perfect for a funeral. Under my breath, I was singing, “When I think of the time gone by…and I think of the ways I tried…” A witness told the police Fred’s foot slipped off the curb causing him to stumble directly into the path of Crosstown number thirty-six. “You could honestly die…”