But as his now contented wife slips from their warm embrace, and the clock downstairs signals the beginning of the eleventh hour, he is weary as he steps toward their king-sized bed.
Slowly, Nikols opens his eyes, and has to shield them from the blinding noonday sun. When his vision slowly returns, he can see Susan standing a few feet in front of him. Her shorts are just as short as the day he met her, but her face has only slightly matured, having grown more stunning with age. Her smile is warm and inviting, with lips that have beckoned to him, when she use to writhe beneath him. With the speed of a snail traversing a muddy garden, Nikols advances and Susan swiftly turns her back and begins to walk away. Her footsteps echo, resounding painfully in his ears, as he tries to catch up to her. Yet, before he can clear two feet, she is nearly out of sight. Off to his right the sound of shrill laughter catches his attention and Nikols can see his college roommate, Kelly, who has maintained his youth, playing gleefully with countless, faceless children.
Overjoyed, he calls out, “Kelly, help me, man. I can’t catch her.” “Don’t.” Kelly calls back to him. “Faces don’t build a…” But Kelly is unable to finish. Two of the faceless children grab his hands, and they run off together, quickly fading from view. Still struggling, Nikols can feel his heart pounding, as the weight around his feet triples, forcing him to scream out.
When he quiets, Nikols is laying in his bed with the comforter tangled around his feet. His throat is raw and his head aches, as the alarm obtrusively alerts him that it is 6:30 am. In one motion, he frees his feet and brings his fist down on the alarm clock, silencing it. He then calls out for his wife, but receives no answer. With this being his newly adapted routine, Nikols climbs out of bed, and gets ready for work. Much like his dream, he has not laid hands on his wife to even kiss her goodbye in several weeks. He is asleep when she arrives home and she is gone when he awakens. So when he calls her office, he expects an argument from her, but much to his delight, she agrees to be home by 9:00 pm.
At 8:20 pm, Nikols finds himself standing in the wine section of the grocery store. He is seemingly in a daze.
“I’m not sure what I should buy?” He thinks to himself. “Milk isn’t romantic, but she can’t have wine. Soda is too casual…..Ah, juice.” Quickly, he turns and strides speedily to the juice aisle. He has an anticipatory smile on his face, as he turns the corner and enters aisle six. Coming to a stop, he scans the shelves, dismissing the various beverages, just as quickly as he reads the label.
“Pineapple juice….Not sweet enough. Grapefruit juice…. Not sweet at all. Apple juice, hmmm…. To juvenile. Grape juice…uhhh, maybe. Ahhh! Sparkling white grape juice. As benign as it is elegant and it’s even corked like champagne. She’ll like this.”
Grabbing two bottles of the name-brand sparkling grape juice, he goes to the check out, where he places the two bottles on the counter. Glancing at his watch, he sees that he wasted 10 minutes choosing juice, and curses his indecisiveness. Robotically, he pays for the bubbly and takes the bag from the cashier, hoping the traffic is light on the way home. Once in the car, he plans his spontaneous attack.
“I’ve already asked if she’ll be home by nine tonight and she guaranteed she would. She wants lovemaking to be spontaneous, so I haven’t told her that based on her past record tonight will be her most fertile period this month. She said she wanted sex like it used to be, but that hasn’t happened. It’s gone from scheduled to none at all.” Glancing at the plastic grocery bag in the passenger seat, he makes the necessary left turn as he enters the final stretch towards home. “Maybe I won’t even use the juice. Maybe I’ll sweep her off of her feet as soon as she walks in and take her on the stairs. Hmm, I read somewhere that rear entry was optimal for conception.”
The prospect of sex after more than a month, especially non-missionary sex causes Nikols’ pants to become tight and uncomfortable. Yet thankfully he pulls into his driveway and parks, while glancing at the digital clock on the dashboard, which reads 8:45 pm. Grabbing the bag, he gets out and sprints towards the home, determined to at least shower before his wife arrives. After a quick once over, Nikols runs downstairs with wet feet, wrapped only in a towel to retrieve two elegant champagne glasses for the two of them, all the while expecting the front door to open and interrupt his preparations.
It’s 9:05 pm, and the juice has been poured, sending an effervescent mist dissipating into the still air. The glasses sit on their bedroom dresser, which stands next to the window that Nikols stares out of, as he absently continues to dry his damp hair. “She’s late, but only a little. I should put some clothes on.” He says aloud. “I shouldn’t look too obvious.”
By 9:20 pm, Nikols is fully dressed, and he even decides to take a moment to attend to his hair. At 9:30, his hair is perfect and he takes his first sip of the sparkling grape juice. It isn’t long before he consumes his glass of juice and hers, too. Beginning to pace the floor, he makes his way to the phone and calls her office. There is no answer, and her cell phone goes immediately to voice mail. All at once, Nikols anticipation, his lust and his hope sinks to the soles of his expensive shoes, as he swipes the champagne glass off the dresser and trudges downstairs.
When Susan stumbles through the front door, Nikols has been sitting alone in the dark for more than an hour. As she regains her footing, he quickly gets to his feet, and gestures to approach her, until she begins giggling adolescently. Susan is wearing her standard business suit, but her shirt is untucked and she is carrying her two-inch heels in her right hand. There is a slight tilt to her stance, and a single step across the threshold forces her to grab the door banister in order to steady herself. Propping herself up, she feels around for the light switch, while announcing much too loudly that it’s too dark. Her lack of balance accompanied with the slur of her words, extinguishes the worry that had grown in Nikols, allowing the choking anger to surge within him. As the overhead light erupts into life, both Nikols and his wife must squint their eyes, but then they are soon aware of each other. With a bottle of Hennessey dangling from his fingertips and a champagne glass in the opposite hand, Nikols observes his wife’s stumbling gait, who just barely makes it to the sofa.
After taking several moments, Nikols is able to mutter, “You’re late.” Watching his wife conform to the sofa, like water to a glass, he bares her wide berth, as he crosses the room to the front door, which she left standing open.
“This is the best day of my life.” Susan slurs in a drunken daze.
“Oh is it?” Nikols finds himself saying automatically. “Why?”
“Because I made partner!” She exclaims, though her voice has grown more sluggish.
Before Nikols can finish giving his false kudos, he can hear the telltale snore of a drunken sleep. Glancing at his wedding ring, which gleams too brightly in the light from the ceiling fan, Nikols gulps the remainder of the liquor in his glass and overhead pitches the elegant stemware through the open door, where it shatters on the stone walkway. Grabbing the door, he slams it closed and makes a steady ascent up the stairs to their bedroom, alone.
In the morning, Nikols awakens to the sound of a loud thud, followed by the sound of his wife’s voice. When he exits his bedroom, he is surprised to see two men dressed in beige work coveralls, maneuvering a walnut-colored wood desk into a doorway, that is nearly too narrow for it. Susan quickly comes up the stairs behind them, berating them for being late and potentially damaging her expensive new desk. Once they are inside the room, Susan exits and immediately spots Nikols, closing the distance between them.
“Honey, did the movers wake you? And I’m sure they’ll still be expecting a tip.” Susan says.
Unsure of how he should respond, Nikols simply nods, while sleepily rubbing his eyes, before being compelled to say, “Congratulations.”
With a bright smile and a polite hug, she says, “Thank you, honey. I’m sorry I got home so late last night, but I didn’t know they were throwing me a party. I see you hadn’t made dinner or anything. What’d I miss?”
“Nothing. New desk?” He asks while nodding towards the room where the desk now resides.
“Yeah. I can get more work done, if I have an office here. So I’m turning the spare room into one.”
Before Nikols can speak, Susan darts back to the top of the stairs to heap criticisms on a second set of movers carrying a bookshelf to the second floor. Confident that her warnings will keep the furniture safe, Susan turns to go back to her husband only to find him standing inches from her, wearing a confused expression.
“But Susan …I thought we were saving that room for a nursery?”
Minutely rolling her eyes, Susan says, “We are, but that’ll be in a while. We can always change it later.”
Nikols can see himself lunge at her, taking her by the shoulders and shaking her until the woman he married returned to him, but instead, he settles back on his heels and sniffs the air several times, recoiling with distaste.
“What is that scent?”
Eyes brightening, Susan says, “It’s a new fragrance. It’s called Ambition.” Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she returns to the threshold of her new office, and loudly asks, “Do you like it?”
Turning his back on her, Nikols mutters, “No.”
-If you have enjoyed my commentary or my short stories, then please check out my youtube channel, The Wicked Orchard; where you can listen to me read my short stories