“We live in a world that’s rude, crude, lewd and screwed.” Would they put that on his tombstone, or was that too honest for the purpose? All he wanted was to tell the world to fuck off. He knew that wouldn’t fly, for sure. What’s a man to do when he’s weary of the world and its ways? All these questions, he thought. Keeping him from sleeping, night after night. He took a last drag from his Marlboro, and stubbed it out, wishing for deliverance. Sooner than he’d expected, if you’d been listening, you’d have heard him snoring. But he slept alone. Some nights he gets lucky, and sleep takes him. And some nights, sleep evades him.
Manny had been married. Everybody seemed to see his flaws, but never hers. He kept his mouth shut, like he was told a gentleman does. Only now, as he tries to put back together the pieces of his shattered life, does he speak up in protest when he hears one of her lies coming from a mutual friend. Make no mistake. When a couple splits, it’s usually assumed that the man was a rat, a cheat, an abuser, or just a cheap sonovabitch. Manny was none of those…by choice. If chivalry is dead, he’ll happily be seen as a throwback.
From day one of their marriage, Manny and Sadie never totally connected. He never knew if Sadie talked about it with her friends. The ones he knew best had their own troubles. He guessed they talked. About him…if Sadie had her way…and he was pretty sure he didn’t come off well in her telling.
There was always the same stumbling block. How do you keep a marriage together when one person always gets his or her way and the final say? Manny wishes he’d spoken sooner and more forcefully. Maybe they could have worked some things out. And as soon as he hears that rattling around his brain, he wonders who’d be fooled by that. “Humph!” He grunts, as he sits alone in his usual booth at the Char Pit.
“So, what happened to you guys,” he hears, as he’s joined at the table. It’s Lucy…Lucy Pratt, a long-time friend. Lucy’s a slender blond, long hair trailing down her back. Manny once had a thing for her, but she was still in college…not ready for a commitment. Lucy was the only one of their mutual friends who now gave him the time of day. So Manny and she remained friends. “Sadie’s been saying that you didn’t want kids, Manny.”
“That’s her story.” Manny slides a Marlboro out of the pack, but remembering that there’s no smoking inside, he just nervously taps it on the base of his thumb and slides it back into the pack. He’s been meaning to quit anyway, he muses.
“I knew it wasn’t true, but the others seemed to buy it.” Lucy places her hand on his and looks him in the eyes. “I really hate how she trashes you.” An earnest look distorts her pretty face.
“I could always count on you to speak your mind, Lucy. We shoulda got married.”
He glances across the table and winks, a shy smile breaking the corners of his mouth. Lucy smiles knowingly. They’d had some good times before they decided they were just not at the same stage in their lives. She always appreciated Manny’s rugged handsome face. He reminded her of the man in the ads for his favorite cigarette brand. Those ads now only a memory, but she smiles that she can still think that. Yep, she muses…sitting across from her is the real thing.
“So, what are you gonna do, Manny? Are you gonna try to set the record straight?” Lucy’s smile was replaced by a frown. “I know why you split.”
He stares past her. “You do? How? I haven’t told anyone outside of my brother. And he swore not to tell anyone.”
“Women see things like that…at least some do. Maybe I’m empathic. Maybe I always wondered what you saw in Sadie.”
“Well, that would have put you in a group of one.” Manny’s really jonesing for a Marlboro. He tugs nervously at the one he’d put away, then remembers the law and leaves it in the pack. He’s not used to this much candor from a woman…one he long ago realized he still cared for. “As I hear it, everybody wondered what she saw in me.”
The waitress comes by with a pot. “Would you like me to freshen that, darlin’?” She nods toward his coffee cup, while he wonders why all southern women are so liberal with that word. He sure never felt like any meant it.
“Just a half, please, Ginger. I’m just getting off a long day of work. Need to catch some sleep and get at it again in the mornin.'” She leaves an extra cream and a smile. Manny’s a regular…and a good tipper.
“I know Ginger likes you.” Lucy smiles. “It’s all right, Manny. Like I said…women see things and understand.”
“Well,” Manny returns. “I’d be glad if you’d share a bit of your knowledge with me sometime, Lucy. But now I have to get some shuteye.”
He moves to get up, and Lucy follows suit. As he heads by her toward the door, she brushes her hand by his shoulder. Both may be having similar thoughts of something that may come on another day. Tonight, they’ll just exchange goodbyes.
© 2016 Robert Mihaly
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