“I’m going to disappoint you. But you knew that already.” Bennie flashed a sheepish smile, as he sat down. Sue wasn’t amused. She’d heard that line before, and it was his way of breaking bad news. She waited for both shoes to drop. It wouldn’t take him long to disappoint her.
“So what is it this time? You know I hate bad news. There’s been too much of it lately.” She stared at him, clearly irritated…again. “Can it just once be good news, Bennie? I don’t like to always be arguing about things. We’re doing it all the time.”
Bennie looked at her, trying to gauge how upset she was. He paused, to think about what to say next. He’d already realized he’d started a serious discussion by putting himself on the defensive, riling his wife. How dumb of me, he thought, shaking his head. Would he ever learn? He stared down self-consciously at his hands clasped together on the table.
“Spill the beans, Bennie,” shocked him to attention. “If it’s bad news, just get it over with.” Bennie felt her eyes boring through him. When he mumbled something about X-Ray vision, he heard, “What?” Bennie hesitated, knowing there was now probably no way to save himself…or an ounce of his pride.
“You know that job I bid on…to remodel the old Hermann place?” Sue was listening. He knew he had to somehow make himself out as less than a fool. Good luck with that, he now feared. “I put in what I thought was a good bid. And they accepted it.”
“And?” Sue was already putting things together in her mind. “You goofed! Didn’t you?” When he heard the truth so bluntly stated, he felt three inches tall. But there was no taking anything back.
Bennie swallowed hard. “When I bid, the cost of hardwood was down. And now it’s gone up…way up. I was cutting my profit thin, hoping I would get a shot when Hermann was ready to build more hardware stores. Now I won’t break even, unless I do a lot of the carpentry myself.” He let that all sink in.
“So how does that affect us, Ben?” Sue was less upset than he’d expected. He knew the other shoe would make a difference.
“For me to do all that carpentry, not hiring two guys, I may make a small profit.”
Sue was eying him, now suspiciously. “And?”
“The downside is that we can’t take that vacation this year. I’m sorry, Sue…but what can I do?” He sighed, waiting for the blowup he’d felt was coming. Sue was staring at him.
“You thought I was going to beat you up over this. Didn’t you?” He had. “Well, here’s the thing.” She paused, then went on. “I’ve been thinking about going back to teaching, now that the girls are old enough to take care of themselves. I’d need to take a couple courses this summer to get up to date. You just made my decision easier. The vacation can wait. I’ll be in school.”
It’s always a shock when a long-married couple doesn’t know more about each other, but it shouldn’t be. It’s way too typical. Bennie took her hand and squeezed, at the same time mouthing, “I love you.”
He was glad he had a wife who did a better job of reading him than he feared…or than he read her. He was also glad to know how lucky he’d been to be sharing a life with her. His thoughts drifted to thinking he’d dodged a bullet…no divorce court dead ahead. He smiled at that thought. Maybe it’s time to ditch the line that made him fear his wife’s response. A learning experience. Who says an old dog can’t learn?
© 2016 Robert Mihaly
(Entry in a Writer’s Digest short story contest)