Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Playing the Field

Explanation: On Thursday, I'm doing another reading with these clowns. Playing the Field was the story I read at the last Lit6 event.

Dwight had been married to Ingrid for 49 years when she died unexpectedly of a heart attack Sort of unexpectedly, anyway-- she'd been ailing, but she'd also been enough of a hypochondriac that each day had supposedly been her last for the previous eight years. She'd made it her habit to call her grandson before got into the bath, just in case she was struck down while in the tub and someone tried to reach her.

Still, Dwight was shocked when the day came. Floored. He hadn't gotten along with Ingrid, but she was part of the fabric of his life. And Dwight was pretty attached to the fabric of his life; he'd teared up when Ingrid declared his TV-watching chair to be too ratty and made him take it out to the curb. If the loss of a chair was hard, well, you can imagine the loss of the person whose voice he'd heard first every morning and last every night for the past half-century.

His days were bad. His nights were worse. He barely ate, and his human contact dwindled to nothing after he got kicked out of the Mac-Donald's for fighting with some old farmers. Desperate, Dwight called his daughter in St. Cloud and asked her what to do. On her advice, he started hanging out at the Morris Senior Center. He wasn't impressed with the meals there, and thought the card games were pretty stupid. But the people were friendly.

It turned out that most of the Seniors at the Center were women. So it wasn't too long before the inevitable happened and he started stepping out with Maisy Brown, a fine-looking lady who was partial to playing Scrabble for nickels. Maisy laughed a lot and liked to go for drives in Dwight's Escort, and Dwight had a fine time whenever he saw her.

Maisy was pretty coy about it at first, but while she was seeing Dwight, she was also engaged to Solomon Bach, a retired soybean farmer from up Chokio way, even though old Bach was wheelchair-bound in the Good Shepherd home. Dwight was furious when he found out: he was sort of a homewrecker without even knowing it, and hated being the talk of the town, at least the part of the town that got a 15% discount on its meals and left fifty-cent tips.

Making it worse, he thought Bach was dull old fart who always smelled like herring. “Why don't you break it off with him?” he asked Maisy. “We have a good time, you and me. Just tell Solomon you don't want to be engaged to him any more, and then let's us get married.”

"Oh, Dwight. I'm mighty fond of you, but I could never jilt poor Solomon."

“Well, what the hell? If you're engaged to him, are you going to marry him? What kind of married life can you have? All he ever does is sit in the lounge at Good Shepherd, for chrissake. And he smells like a Norwegian dinner.”

Maisy laughed. "It wouldn't be ladylike to break an engagement."

"Y'know, um, since his legs are… Um… I don't know how much use he'd be on the wedding night…"

Maisy patted Dwight's cheek. "It's a woman thing. You'll just never understand."

So that was that for Maisy Brown. Dwight figured he was old enough that he didn't need to waste his time on love triangles. Luckily, though, by this point Dwight had a pretty high profile-- notorious for marauding on Maisy Brown and fighting at the Mac-Donald's, he was known as the Bad Boy of the Morris Senior Center. And he found that the bad boy never has any trouble attracting the ladies.

The moth that flew closest to Dwight's flame was a devout widow named Connie Pfeifer. She told Dwight repeatedly that she wanted to reform him and change his wicked ways. Dwight didn't feel particularly wicked , but he appreciated the company.

He was surprised, though, at the pace with which Connie brought things forward. Only two months had gone by when Connie sprung her proposal on him while they sat at Pomme de Terre park. “Dwight Brooks, will you do me the honor of marrying me?”

Dwight was startled-- he'd been watching a muskrat cross the river. "Did you just ask me to marry you?"

"Yes."

"Well, doesn't it seem kinda soon?"

"Time is precious, so they we as well make the most of it… And I haven't known the touch of a man since Gerald passed away, and… I've been harboring impure thoughts about you."

"Well, we can do something about that without the benefit of the clergy."

"Dwight, I like you, but I'm not about to engage in mortal sin for you."

So Dwight shrugged. What the heck; he liked Connie, and she was a better cook than Ingrid had been. Connie glowed with pleasure when he accepted, and let him get to second base behind the picnic shelter.

She had several preconditions for the marriage; the first was that the ceremony be performed, by her Pastor (like Connie, Pastor Jim was thrilled to get a crack at the soul of the Bad Boy of the Morris Senior Center). And the second was that it happen soon. Dwight was amenable, and two weeks later all of his family drove out to Morris for the big event.

The wedding night was pretty good, although Dwight could have done without all of the thanking of the Lord at peak moments. The next morning, he tried to start another round of friskiness, but Connie pulled away.

"We just did that."

"Last night."

"We don't want to overdo it."

Connie moved into his house. While Dwight enjoyed the company and the cooking, he quickly began to feel that he'd been lured into the wedding under false pretenses as far as the impure thoughts thing went. Every night, he would get into bed and start kissing her, only to run into an unmovable wall.

"No."

"But Connie-"

"We can't do that all the time."

"I thought you wanted to."

"I'm trying to reform you. We can't let our flesh rule us."

"Oh, for christ's sake."

"Language!"

"Aww, come on. I can tell you want to."

"I want our marriage to be about more than hanky-panky."

"What if I—"

"Dwight!"

"Sorry."

"What made you think that I would like-"

"Well, I used to-"

"Get out of my bed, you filthy pervert! Good Lord! Jesus, help this man."

"Oh, for christ's sake!"

"Language!"

Dwight slept on the couch that night. The next morning, Connie stood over him in her housecoat and told him that they'd made a mistake, and she had called her nephew, a lawyer in Fargo, and asked him to drive down with some divorce papers. She and Dwight signed them and she loaded her stuff into her station wagon and moved out.

Dwight barely left his house for the next two weeks. He decided that canned Spaghetti-os were perfectly edible straight from the can, and there was no need to heat them up. He spent the next two weeks eating cold Spaghetti-os and watching old Westerns.

One day, the phone rang.

"Dwight, this is Connie."

"Oh, hello." Dwight shut the TV off and strained to keep his voice cool.

"I've been a fool. A terrible fool."

"Hmmph."

"Oh, Dwight. Will you forgive me?"

"Sure. Whatever."

"I'd like to give it another try."

"Hmmph."

"I'm serious. I promise… I promise to be more understanding about… carnality."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Hot damn! Sorry. Hot dang. How about I drive out and we try some of that make-up sex?"

"We can't do that until we're a married couple again."

"But-"

"I think we're still married in the eyes of the Lord, though; so all we need to do is get to the courthouse and get square in the eyes of the law."

"How late's the courthouse open?"

So they got married again, this time by a judge with a couple of county employees witnessing. Connie had a couple of new rules: they should live in her house, because there were too many bad memories at Dwight's place. He shrugged and agreed. His house smelled like Spaghetti-Os. And in the interests of reform, it was very important to her that he become a Mason; her late husband had been a Mason, and she believed that this had been instrumental in keeping him on the straight and narrow. Dwight didn't care much one way or the other about the Masons, but figured he'd give them a try if it would make Connie happy.

Connie made some calls (she'd kept up her contacts, just in case), and he was invited to an induction meeting at the Masonic Temple in Clontarf. Dwight dressed in his best suit and sat in a dark room and listened to a wheezy voice go on about ancient mysteries and sacred oaths and the problems caused by the Catholics and the mixing of the races.

“Wait a minute,” Dwight interrupted. “My son-in-law's Catholic. He's a nice guy. And my granddaughter is going out with a Mexican boy. He seems ok, too.”

There was some brief muttering, and then the wheezy voice informed Dwight that if he was going to be accepted into the Sacred Order, he would need to cut off contact with his papist and miscegenating relatives. Dwight asked the voice if it was serious, and it said yes, it was. So Dwight stood up and told the voice that it could stuff its ancient mysteries up its ass.

So that was that for Dwight and the Masons. And that was that for Dwight and Connie, it turned out. By the time he drove home, she'dheard about how he'd violated the decorum of the Masonic Temple. Tearfully, she told him that it was clear that he wasn't going to mend his ways and that she had no choice but to ask for another divorce. Dwight said that the Masons were a bunch of bigots; that just set her off worse because if he was calling the Masons bigots, well, then he was calling her late husband a bigot, too.

So once again, the nephew drove down. They signed the papers without saying much, and Dwight drove back to his house in tears and opened up the cupboard to get a can of Spaghetti-Os. The cupboard was empty; he'd cleaned everything out to put the place up for rent. Cursing, he shuffled out to his Escort and drove to the store.

Ralph Edgell, an acquaintance from the Senior Center, worked part-time at the store, and was chatty as he bagged up Dwight's cans.

“Heard about your trouble,” he said. “Sorry to hear about it.”

“Yep.”

“I always thought that Connie wasn't right in the head.”

“Yep.”

Ralph cocked his head. “This sure has been a rough week.”

“Yep,” Dwight said on autopilot. “Wait, how come? What else happened?”

“You didn't hear about Bach?”

“Huh?”

“Solomon Bach died on Tuesday. You didn't hear?.”

“Solomon's dead? Really.”

"Hey, Dwight. Don't you want your groceries? Where're you going?"

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