Jerry Smith, damp from his shower, drops of water beading his shoulders, stands in his bathroom, shaving. He crouches at the mirror; wears a white towel. His wife, Karen, for whom Jerry’s attraction has waned because of all the weight she’s gained, sits at the foot of their bed. She can see Jerry through the open bathroom door. She watches him. Lately, Jerry has noticed Karen noticing him. On a typical morning she’d still be asleep.
New day streams through the open windows, past the curtains, and fills the bedroom with lemon warmth. Karen stares at Jerry. She cannot help comparing herself to her husband. It pisses her off. She’s given up on her girlfriends because they’re too fucking cute. She's sure at least one of them has an eye for Jerry.
Karen, a lawyer, quit work two years ago. She stays at home now. The've not had children despite Jerry’s fervent desire for a family. Karen doesn’t want to resign herself to a fate like that, shut off from so many career possibilities, possibilities she never pursues even though she has a BA from Brown and a law degree from Cornell.
Karen lays around all day, watches television while snacking on fries and ice cream. When Jerry gets home from work, she harps. She watches more television while Jerry reads. He cooks his own dinner, usually in the microwave. At times, he brings home Chinese and treats for her from Dairy Queen. Other times, he comes home late to find her eating and watching Seinfeld reruns or romantic comedies.
By ten every evening, Karen is in bed with People magazine and buttered popcorn. She’s devised this rule that prevents her from drinking until two in the afternoon, and never in front of her husband. Jerry's in training, he claims, for his next triathlon. Karen takes her afternoon libations with five hard splashes of vodka and one of tonic water. She sips a couple from two until five. These are three hours when she doesn’t eat. She used to love to read, even wrote a little, but these days she prefers Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil. She goes through batteries like a voyeur with a flashlight.
Karen weighs just shy of two hundred pounds. Jerry suggests diet counseling. Karen suggests marriage counseling. Jerry's talked to a lawyer.
So Karen sits there and watches Jerry shave, looking at the back of him, his ass, his narrow waste, the patch of hair at the small of his back. He’d put gym equipment in the basement.
Karen didn’t like the way women looked at her husband. Jerry turned heads. Why do women act that way in front of a man’s spouse? It made Karen so angry she would like to slap the bitches, or sit on them. Karen wouldn’t say she was angry, but rather that she was infuriated, at times, apoplectic.
Jerry flirts. He’s a leg man, an arm man, an ass man, whatever, so long as it’s lean. Years ago, Karen had liked those preferences in her husband, as well as his personality, his intelligence and his voice. Now, all Karen has for her husband are suspicions, but no proof. Why did he work so hard on his body? Who was there to impress?
All Karen knew for certain was that she felt horrible about most everything, almost to the point of giving up. There was a Smith and Wesson in the bedside table next to Mr. Pinky, a 38 Special. It was loaded.
Karen had grown to hate men, and several particular women, including herself. She didn’t know if she felt this way because she was fat, or if she was fat because she felt this way, but either way, she was fat and she felt this way. Karen would say she was disconsolate and demoralized.
It's Friday morning. Jerry, as usual, ignores Karen. Karen glares at Jerry’s backside as he primps himself for work, primping, if truth be told, for little hardbody Marsha. He’s been having a fling with Marsha months.
Jerry thinks about sex much of the time, sex with different women, women where he works, women where he doesn’t work, almost any women other than his wife. Jerry fantasizes. Sometimes, he uses the internet. Jerry is normal and justified. That’s what Jerry thinks.
“Honey,” says Karen from the end of the bed, “why don’t you come over here for a few minutes?” She’s changed from the pajamas she usually wore, the tented affair with booties, into an old nightie she’d been sewing with extra fabric to make it bigger, much bigger.
She stretches her body across the end of the bed. The wide white thighs, her bit of patch tucked down under her gut somewhere, the tits she’d bought years ago and that now showed plastic with every sag, as if she were deformed or nearing eighty. Or, as Jerry said, “grocery bags filled with canned goods.” These days, Jerry liked them natural.
Karen got caught up in all the tit frenzy back in the days when it seemed as if women had given up and succumbed to the porno desires of superficial men. She went all retail on her own tits, carnival size. Jerry told her that the number one porn category for men these days was ‘itty bitty titties.’ He claimed to have read that somewhere. Jerry said he would prefer downsizing, and a reasonable tattoo, instead. “May as well be stretch marks,” he would say, as he shook his head at her chest, disgusted because she didn’t want kids. Karen worried that her tits would encroach on her navel one day. They appeared to be growing downward.
Karen, sitting on the edge of the bed, asks Jerry, in the indirect manner of women, for sex. She parts her legs a little, sucks in as much belly as she can and still breathe. She pats the bed. “Sit down here, honey,” she says. “I’ll rub your back.”
“I need to get into work, Karen. What’s into you?” asks Jerry, as he takes a step inside the bedroom, his face half covered in lather. “Since when are you interested in sex? I thought your cravings went to calories.” He chuckled, turned away, wiped fog from a section of mirror and continued his shave. He brushed his teeth, then flossed.
Karen should have washed her hair. She realizes this in a moment of remorse. She keeps forgetting to wash her hair. She sits up and chances a look in the mirror above the dresser. Not a good look. She’s too white, resembles a large deep water fish. She’s a blubber blob. She can’t get the words ‘blubber blob’ out of her head. They keep repeating themselves. “You’re a blubber blob.” She hears these words in the voice of her husband. She’s embarrassed. Karen wouldn’t use the word ‘embarrassed.’ She would probably use ‘chagrined,’ or ‘mortified,’ instead. Remember, she has degrees from Brown and Cornell.
“Why don’t we get in the shower, Honey? That could be fun. I’ll lather you up. I'll just do you this morning, since you’re in a hurry.” She thought if she did a little work here, Jerry might not be so tempted. Her suspicion was on this Marsha, one of the tellers at the bank where Jerry was vice president, the petite little whore with nothing but a junior college diploma.
Karen rises from the bed, enters the bathroom, comes up behind Jerry and begins to fondle his package. Jerry turns, while brushing his hair. The towel falls. Karen kneels and puts Jerry in her mouth. She’s never done her husband this way. He pushes her away, and stands there with his dead bird. Not even a flutter. Karen would use the word flaccid.
“It’s not so much that you’re fat,” says Jerry, as he turns back toward the mirror to conceal his limp, “It’s that you’re so damn moody. You’re crabby all the time. You’ve got a bad attitude, Karen. Maybe you wouldn’t be so unhappy if you exercised a little, got a hobby or a job. There's more to life than food and television.”
Jerry wishes he had a spouse who liked him. That’s also how Karen feels. That’s how Marsha feels, as well, and does Marsha’s husband.
All the lonely people.
“Go to hell, Jerry,” says Karen. “I can’t come anyway, even solo, so what’s the use? Enjoy Marsha, Jerry. God, I’m glad we don’t have any fucking kids.”
Blood and heat redden Jerry's face. He’s both angry and ashamed, sorry he's said such things to his wife. Jerry wouldn’t use the word ashamed, too imprecise. Neither would Karen. Instead, they'd say, contrite. Jerry and Karen are the literary type, highly educated. He enjoys Faulkner, Phillip Roth, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, reads them while he sips his single malt Scotch in his den in the evening until Karen eats herself to sleep. Often, he meets Marsha in the woods behind the house. Karen, on the other hand, is inclined toward Jane Austen, George Eliot, Virginia Wolf, but now opts instead for television soaps with Oreos and chocolate milk. The vodka is for getting through the afternoons, worried about her husband. Her nightly dreams are filled with buffets.
“There you go again,” says Jerry. “Those are hurtful things to say, accusatory and without a shred of evidence. You’re being both presumptive and envious. You’ve become a boor, Karen. I’ve seen the vodka bottles, the cigarettes, the candy wrappers. You can quit hiding.”
Marsha had come to the house three weeks ago, when Karen was away for the weekend to visit her sister in Portland. Marsha drove into the garage just after dark while Jerry waited behind the living room curtains with the garage door remote. Marsha stayed the entire weekend. They had the wildest sex either had experienced. They stayed back from windows.
Marsha likes Jerry. Jerry likes sex. He spends a full hour on Sunday after Marsha leaves getting rid of evidence. Marsha is married to a preacher, has three small children. This worries Jerry, but, still...
“Don’t forget the damn groceries on your way home, either. We’re out of butter, popcorn and Mars Bars,” says Karen as Jerry walks out the bedroom.
* * *
I’ve heard enough. Something has to give here.
A big wind comes through the bedroom window. Whoosh! Karen is gone.
Now, I’m kneeling on the bathroom floor with Jerry’s people a foot from my face. I freeze the action for a moment, lose about eighty pounds, wash my hair, recapture my old breasts, only smaller. Let’s try something unique.
“What the hell?” says Jerry. “Who are you? Where’s my wife? Where is Karen?”
“Karen has vanished. You’ll never see Karen again. Ever.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” says Jerry. He walks around me and sticks his head into the bedroom. “What’s you’re name?” he asks.
“Bard. Like a poet, a writer.”
“What’s your last name? Where did you come from?”
Jerry stands at the door of the bathroom, facing me. His bird has flown the coop. We’re left with just the perch. Let’s call it a pipe.
“I don’t have a last name, not yet anyway. I live in here,” I say. I raise my hands and point to my temples with my index fingers. “It’s all in your mind, Jerry. Don’t think so much.”
I’m still on the bathroom floor. I squat like a basketball coach during a timeout. I’ve turned to the side a little so Jerry can see my legs. Picture this lean man with six-pack abs standing pronged before a hot chick, some brunette with perfect arms and a great tan, who kneels in the bathroom wearing nothing but a thong. We’ll throw a bit of steam in the air. Let’s turn on a radio to some easy listening.
Jerry bends and picks up his towel. He puts it around his waste and steps into the bedroom and looks around, hollers for Karen a couple of times.
“Karen is gone, forever. I told you, I got rid of Karen,” I say still squatting below him.
“How’d you get rid of my wife?” Asks Jerry.
I stand and make typing gestures midair in front of me, my arms taut with new muscle. Jerry gives me his close look, his eyes darting over my body parts, every perfect inch. He grins as if he ate the cheese. He drops his towel. It snags and hangs for a moment, then falls to the floor. He returns to the bedroom.
I follow Jerry and throw myself on the bed in front of him and roll over on my back like a puppy. Remember, I’m just wearing panties, black, like a bit of webbing.
“Take a look at this, Jerry,” I say as I raise my knees. “Get over here.” I begin to caress myself, my breath comes in rasps.
“Damn, real tits, bite sized. Quite special,” says Jerry as he examines my chest with his fingers.
Suddenly, I hear voices, female voices. One of them says, “We like the music, but there’s too much light for the mood, pull the blinds.” A second says, “Let’s see some kissing, get a good look at his ass. We’re not near ready.” Another voice says, “What should we do with our tits. What’s the cost of downsizing these babies?”
Too many demands. Too many questions.
“Come here, Jerry. Give me some help,” I say.
“What did you do to the light in here? I think it’s too dark.”
In response to his question I make the typing gestures. As for Jerry, things are really looking up, the stakes have been raised, so to speak. Someone is paying attention.
I wait to see how the voices respond to this upturn of events. Some want oil. Others need batteries.
A voice yells, “I don’t care how hung he is, just shoot the cheating bastard.” I rise up on my elbows. The one with the gun is a rather large woman. She tosses a Smith and Wesson toward me. It lands beside me on the bed. .38 Special. I check the cylinder. It’s loaded. Jerry has my panties off. He can’t see the gun. He’s not looking in that direction. He’s busy. I pull back the hammer, reach forward and place the end of the barrel at the top his head.
I decide to wait a few minutes, to delay things a little before pulling the trigger. Some things are best prolonged.
* * *
Life can be painful, even absurd. Luckily, especially for people like Jerry, we have the option of fiction. It’s why we have writers, after all.
That’s what Karen thinks.
She sits up in bed and puts the computer to the side and removes the bag of vanilla wafers she’s been eating – and her other familiar plaything -- from her lap. She places the wafers on the nightstand, puts the thing in the drawer under some magazines.
She unloads herself from the bed.
She walks to the window, parts the curtains and watches Harold, her husband, heave his fat ass into his car and drive away, already late for work. He’d best remember the ice cream.