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He waved at his two children, boy and girl - two, sad, puppy-dog tissue boxes looking back at him from the rear window of the green Camry. Next time, for sure, he promised in a whisper, his breath fogging up the glass of the bay window, we go to church together, as a family.
 
He hadn't felt well enough for that place in years, not since getting married, though his wife made certain there was always a Sunday suit hanging in the closet for him. The present one was his third or fourth, altered already because he'd been steadily gaining weight. His body was going through changes. It's like your menopause, he'd told his wife, smacking the sides of his belly so she'd understand where his menopause was, except, it's the man kind. She had the hot flashes, and he had the shortness of breath. The dizziness they shared. Just tell everybody I'm not feeling well, he'd remind his wife at the door every Sunday morning, ignoring the look on her face, the children brushing past him silently.
 
But things were getting better. Bringing the children to church was easier for her now, not the chore it had been when they were babies and she'd had to strap them into their car seats all by her self. Ralph had tried his best to help by saying things like: You getting it, sweetheart? - bracing himself against the frame of the doorway so it would seem obvious he'd been fighting a dizzy spell all morning. She'd had to pack and unpack the double stroller just to get them inside the church, sitting at the back, as she'd said, because her arms had been too tired to lift the babies out of the stroller and carry them to a pew nearer the front. This was before he put a name to the illness, before he'd discovered the man kind of menopause. Yah, because men go through something similar to menopause, was how that woman on TV had put it.   

It's time, Ralph said, the bay window at his back as he headed for the kitchen cupboard where his wife kept his favorite chip bowl. Sundays was for golf on TV, for Ralph wondering what it would be like walking over the green at Scottsdale, the back of his neck stinging from a sun burn. But mostly Sunday was Nacho day, a whole bag, jalapeno spicy, well worth the twenty minutes he'd lose in the afternoon listening to his wife's recap of the day's sermon.
 
Ralph found his bowl, but in the wrong place, in the pantry down behind a heavy bag of all-purpose flour. After digging it out, he set the bowl on the counter and immediately began struggling to remain upright. Whoa, he said, worried, because if he keeled over now he'd have to wait until after church for rescue. Why would she do that, hide his chip bowl behind that big bag of flour? He hadn't poured his snack before beginning his collapse, so there wouldn't be a mess to clean, but they'd see the empty bowl sitting up there on the counter, and realize what he'd been doing just prior. His wife would snatch the still clean bowl from the counter and put it back into the cupboard where it belonged - too late, blaming herself for trying to be good to her husband, she finally killed him. Why? Why? he kept asking, even as his head throbbed from hitting the counter and then the tile.
 
But his thoughts quickly turned to his Sunday suit & because it was Sunday, he supposed, and his Sundays had always begun on Saturday night, his wife going about her ritual of fetching the suit from its plastic bag. Just in case, she'd say, taking her time laying out his best clothes over a chair so Ralph could watch her working lovingly in her flimsy night gown. That, too, was part of the ritual, him filling his eyes with her body, naked and middle-aged under the night gown, full-figured so the silk trembled as she moved to the bed, and then Ralph feigning exhaustion. Getting on top of her and thrusting would mean he was well-enough to go to church in the morning. She'd pleasure him, instead. 
 
He wasn't sure how the jacket would fit. It had been months since he'd tried it on last. It was still a good suit, even if it was slipping out of style. The broad shoulders made that extra chair they'd borrowed from the kitchen appear grander than it actually was. Ralph would try, though he didn't think he could ever look as good as that chair. As for the trousers, he'd probably wear them low, under the pot belly. And if the jacket needed buttoning, that wouldn't be a problem, either. His wife could have the mortuary people tear the back right up the middle. If you gain more weight, she'd said after the second alteration, the second fitting, we'll have to buy you another suit. That would be a waste of money. Better for her and the kids if she could have them tear the back right up the middle.
 
It's time, Ralph muttered, already nodding off - a worshipful rest, a Sunday's rest - thankful for the Nachos, the wife whose precious hands had swept away the smell of plastic from his jacket every Saturday night, as hopeful as ever choosing his tie - her husband might be going to church this week - those lovely sermons she'd bring home, his arms comfortably crossed over the remote control resting on his chest, her whispered words filling his sleep with pleasant dreams of maybe next week & when she could finally tell everyone her poor husband hadn't been well for years.


Antonios Maltezos has been published both online and in print at such places as Nighttrain, Ink Pot, Mindprints,
Smokelong Quarterly, Dogzplot, and many other places. He is an associate editor at Vestal Review.
 




Where did this story come from? Not exactly sure. Sometimes stories start with what we know and then grow from there. I've gorged myself on chips in my life, avoided the commitment associated with going to church on a regular basis, been lazy about the gift of having a better half. But that’s life, not necessarily a story. I think Ralph had always known he could be a better person, but had chosen obliviousness, denial, as a means to wade through his life. But even people such as Ralph harbor some measure of hope that they can be all that they can be. I think he finds mercy in the end in that his final thoughts go to his wife and how he’s doing her a favor by dying.

  



  


Copyright 2009