Jerry Smith, damp from his shower, stands in his bathroom, shaving. Droplets glisten his tan shoulder muscles. He crouches at the mirror, leans in, a white towel around his waist.
His wife, Karen, for whom Jerry’s attraction has waned because of her heft, sits at the foot of their bed. She can see Jerry through the bathroom door.
Newday sunlight streams through the windows, past the curtains, and fills the bedroom with the refracted warmth of lemons. Karen stares at Jerry. She cannot help comparing herself to her husband. His dedication to fitness 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’s a homebody 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. He cooks his own dinner, usually in the microwave. He’ll come home late to find her eating chips, drinking cokes, and watching Seinfeld. She watches more television while Jerry reads. At times, he brings home Chinese, or treats from Dairy Queen.
Karen’s devised a rule that prevents her from drinking alcohol until two in the afternoon, and never in front of her husband. Jerry's in training 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, three hours when she doesn’t eat. She used to read voraciously, even wrote a little, but these days she prefers Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil. She reads Penthouse Forum and goes through batteries like a voyeur with a flashlight. By ten every evening, Karen is in bed with People magazine and buttered popcorn.
By now, Karen, at five-foot-four, weighs just shy of two hundred pounds. Jerry suggests diet counseling. Karen suggests marriage counseling. Jerry's consulted a lawyer. As if Karen gives a shit.
So this morning Karen watches Jerry shave, looking at the back of him, his ass, his narrow waist, the patch of dark hair at the small of his back.
Karen doesn’t like the way women look at her husband. Jerry turns heads. Why do women act that way in front of a man’s spouse? They make Karen so angry she’d like to slap the bitches, or sit on them. Karen wouldn’t say she was angry, not her vocabulary. She’d prefer infuriated, apoplectic.
Jerry flirts. He’s a leg man, an arm man, an ass man, whatever, so long as it’s young, female, and so long as it’s lean, and available. Years ago, Karen had liked those preferences in her husband, as well as his humor, his intelligence, his voice. Now, all Karen feels for her husband is suspicious. Why does he work so hard on his body? Who to impress? She needs a name, someone to hate, or worse.
Karen feels horrible about most everything, to the point of giving up. There’s a Smith & Wesson .38 Special in the top drawer of the bedside table next to Mr. Pinky and the extra batteries.
Karen has grown to hate men, and several particular women, including herself. She doesn’t know if she feels this way because she’s fat, or if she’s fat because she feels this way, but either way she’s fat, and feels it. Karen would say she was disconsolate and demoralized. In the first years of their marriage, ten years ago, Karen, still slim and attractive, had several affairs. But Jerry doesn’t know about them, so they offer him no excuse.
It's Friday morning. Jerry, as usual, ignores Karen. Karen broods as he primps himself for work, primping, if truth be told, for little hardbody Marsha. He’s been having a fling with Marsha for months. Karen can’t prove it, but she knows.
Jerry thinks about sex so much the time, he considers sexual addiction counseling. He’s obsexed. Almost any women will do so long as it’s not Karen. Sometimes, he uses the internet. Jerry is normal, feels justified because his wife is Karen, a lazy, fat, dependent bitch. At least, according to Jerry.
“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 wears, a tented affair with booties, into an old nightie she’d been sewing with extra fabric to make it bigger, much bigger.
She stretches her jiggly frame across the edge of the bed. The wide white thighs, the dark patch tucked down under her gut somewhere, the tits she’d bought years ago that now revealed plastic with every sag. Or, as Jerry said, “grocery bags filled with canned goods.” These days, Jerry likes them smaller, natural—Marsha.
Karen worries that her tits will encroach on her navel one day, sagging south toward the equator.
She asks Jerry, hints, 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 you only craved calories.” He chuckles, turns away, wipes fog from a section of mirror, brushes his teeth, flosses.
Karen sits up and chances a look in the mirror above the dresser. Not a good look. She’s too white, resembles a bloated deep water fish, a blubber blob. Karen should have washed her hair. She realizes this in a moment of remorse. She keeps forgetting to wash her hair. 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 say, ‘chagrined,’ or ‘mortified.” Remember those 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. You’ll owe me one.” 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 and hard legs.
Karen waddles into the bathroom, comes up behind Jerry, reaches around and begins to fondle his package. Jerry turns while brushing his hair. The towel falls. Karen kneels and puts Jerry in her mouth. He pushes her away, and stands there with his dead bird. Not even a flutter. Karen would would say, 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. Crabby all the time. 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 junk 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, as 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 frustrated and ashamed, sorry he lost his temper and demeaned his wife. Jerry wouldn’t use the word ashamed, too imprecise. Neither would Karen. Instead, they'd say, contrite.
Jerry and Karen are literary types, 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 his 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, thinking about her husband’s affairs. She dreams of endless buffets.
“There you go again,” says Jerry responding to Karen’s Marsha allegation. “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 remote. Marsha stayed the entire weekend. They had the wildest sex either had ever experienced. Marsha likes Jerry; Jerry likes sex, especially with Marsha. She’s married to a preacher, has three small children. This worries Jerry, but, still...
“Well then, don’t forget the damn groceries on your way home.” says Karen. “We’re out of butter, popcorn and ice cream.”
* * *
I’ve heard enough. Something, someone has to give.
A whirling wind comes through the bedroom window. Whoosh! Karen is gone.
Now, it’s me kneeling on the bathroom floor with Jerry’s junk a foot from my face. I freeze the action, lose eighty pounds, wash my hair, recapture my natural small breasts.
“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 are you talking about?” says Jerry. He walks around me and sticks his head into the bedroom. “Karen? Karen?” Getting no response, he asks, “What’s you’re name?”
“No, Bard. Like a poet, a writer.”
“What’s your last name?”
“No last name.”
“Where did you come from?”
“I’ve always been here.” I raise my hands and make typing motions.
Jerry stands at the door of the bathroom, facing me. His dead bird has rigor mortis. I’m staring at it. It’s quite the pipe.
“Where do you live”” asks Jerry.
“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, a matter of perspective, point of view.”
I’m still on the bathroom floor, squatting 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, easy listening, an instrumental, something cliche like Kenny Gee.
Jerry bends and picks up his towel. He wraps it around his waste and steps into the bedroom and looks around. Again, he hollers for Karen a couple of times. I turn up the music, lose another ten pounds and grow my hair darker, longer.
“Karen is gone, forever. I told you, I got rid of Karen,” I say still squatting.
“How’d you get rid of her?”
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’s eaten cheese. He drops his towel. It snags and hangs for a moment, then falls to the floor. He returns to the bedroom, looks around again, hollers for Karen again.
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, just webbing.
“Take a look at this, Jerry,” I say as I raise my knees. “Get over here.” I begin to caress myself, my breath coming in rasps.
“Damn, real tits, bite sized. Quite special,” says Jerry as he fondles 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 retail 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? It’s too dark all of a sudden.”
I make the typing gestures. As for Jerry and his package, things are still looking up, the stakes have been raised. Someone is paying attention. I wait to see how the female voices respond to this upturn of events. Some want oil. Others need batteries. Two begin to cuddle, but that’s another story.
A voice yells, “I don’t care how hung he is, just shoot the cheating bastard.” I rise up on my elbows, look around. A woman who spoke is rather large. She tosses a handgun toward me. It lands on the bed. .It’s a Smith and Wesson 38 Special. I check the cylinder. It’s loaded. Jerry hovers over me, leans down and rips my panties off, then he kneels and leans in. Maybe, he can’t see the gun. 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 plaything in the drawer under some magazines.
She hauls herself off 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.