The sun was setting on this particular Sunday evening when Walter, standing in the recently remodeled kitchen with the expensive granite countertops that his wife wanted, stared out the window at the orange glow and purple haze. Often times, Walter liked to have a snack before dinner, and, with a good two hours to go before his wife would mechanically bake some chicken or potatoes or whatever, Walter’s eyes started searching. After some debate in his head, he realized what he was craving. The pop and fizz sound of the cold beer being opened made Walter smiled as he closed the fridge, turned around, and returned his gaze to the granite countertop. Glancing around the kitchen, he noticed the bread basket. It was a large and flat shaped wicker basket that his wife had purchased some years back, and it was used to hold all the different types of bread that could possibly be imagined. Hoagie Rolls, Hotdog Buns, Hamburger Buns, Cinnamon Buns, French Baguette, Raisin Swirl, Six Grain, Seven Grain, Eight Grain, Cranberry Apple Walnut, Lemon Blueberry Poppy Seed, Banana Berry Bullshit. Walter sighed and shook his head.
With his eyes closed, he reached into the pile of breads and grabbed a smaller bag at random. Plain old wheat, Walter thought to himself with a smile, which was now once again painted on his face. He took the only remaining non-end piece out of the bag, sipped his beer, and took a generous bite of the whole wheat bread. Instantly, the bread cracked and crumbled, as if it lost the will to keep itself whole until it became nothing more than a broken outline of crust with thousands of little crumbs spilling wholly on Walter’s chin and shirt, and the floor.
Walter, who was not tall or short, not skinny or fat, and certainly not happy or sad about this incident, shrugged and set his beer down in anticipation of sweeping up the mess he made. After kneeling down to inspect the mess, he began to hear that all too familiar clomping sound of his wife’s hard rubber clog shoes as she made her way down the wooden stairs and across the wooden floor toward the kitchen. Amy, Walter’s wife, who stood much shorter than he, seemed to tower over him as she stood at the end of the kitchen entryway and looked him up and down.
“What is wrong with you? Clean up that mess.” Amy said while crossing her arms.
Walter quickly stood up and replied, “Yes, dear,” and, as he looked at her, he noticed her holding the phone. Amy stared at him for a moment.
“Is there something else?” Walter asked.
“Yeah, Karen is going to keep me company while you’re in Vegas for your little bachelor party.” Amy relaxed her stance and let her arms swing to her sides. She continued to grip the phone tightly and eyeballed Walter’s grainy mess.
Walter shook his shirt and swiped at his chin with his hand, causing the rest of the wheat crumbs to tumble and fall to the kitchen floor, joining the rest of their bready brethren.
Amy bit her lip and shook her head. “I packed your bag for you,” Amy said.
Walter sipped his beer and raised his eyebrows before responding. “I don’t leave until tomorrow.”
“I know. I just wanted to help.”
“Thanks,” His eyelid twitched twice before he lowered his eyebrows, “…Hon.”
Amy turned around and left the room as Walter stood like a mannequin to finish the last of his beverage. After a quiet air puff of a burp that was more like an exhale of stale breath, Walter hung his head low and slowly walked to the pantry to grab the broom.
After a five hour drive to Las Vegas, Walter found a large hotel suite at the Mirage waiting for him. Walter was happy to see many familiar faces in the room. The suite was fairly large, with several oversized love seats all around so that everyone had a place to sit. Walter looked around the room and noticed the usual suspects: Matt, Reggie, Ralph, Mike, Kjell, and of course the man of the hour, Andy. All of the guys were in their early thirties, except Andy and Ralph, who were still both twenty-nine; but, everyone always thought they were even younger, a quality Walter envied. Walter sat toward the front of the cushion so he could lean back, and sunk into the couch. A bowl of pretzel sticks sat next to Walter and he meticulously ate a few of them while waiting for Reggie to hand him a beer.
Within an hour, most of the guys were well on their way toward a blacked out night of inebriated fun, and conversations shifted toward the most obvious topic and the reason for the gathering: marriage.
Reggie, the beer-master of the evening, spoke up first, bellowing to Andy, “Andy, Andy, Andy, take it from me, marriage is a waste of fuckin’ time, dude. Use her like a dishrag and go.”
Andy shrugged. In his mind, Walter shook his head, but in the room, let out a hearty chuckle, shooting pretzel crumbs out of his mouth and onto his lap while the rest of the guys flooded the room with a roar of laughter. They all knew Reggie’s history of being unable to have a girl for more than a week. He’d probably been with more women than any of the guys in this room combined, but he’d never been happy with them. Despite knowing all of this, they didn’t care. The laughter started to subside.
“Don’t listen to him Andy. Just make sure you let Martha know who the boss around the house is. You bring home the bacon; you get to make the rules,” Mike said.
“But what if she makes more than him?” Matt asked.
“Oh, don’t worry, I make more.” Andy said.
“That’s right, Mr. senior analyst, congrats on the promotion!” Reggie chimed in.
Laughter broke out amongst the guys again while Walter continued to sip his beer and munch on his pretzels. Kjell stood up. “I need to bake some bread.” Kjell said, or so Walter thought he heard.
“What?” Walter asked.
“I need to use the head,” Kjell repeated, walking toward the bathroom.
Mike walked over to Andy and sat down next to him, placing his arm around him like an old friend. “Andy, I love my wife, but these guys are right. Get out while you still can,” Mike said. Andy politely removed Mike’s hand from around him and stood up.
Walter glanced over at Andy and cracked half a smirk at him. Andy returned the look and asked in jest, “What horror story do you have to tell me, Walter?” Walter finished his beer and set the empty aluminum container down.
“Why is marriage so bad?” Andy asked him.
Walter ate the remaining pretzel in his hand.
“Why shouldn’t I get married to Martha?” Andy continued to ask.
Walter cracked his knuckles and brushed his palms a few times.
“Is my breading crumbling fine?” Andy asked.
Confused, Walter said, “What?”
“Is my wedding a waste of time?”
Walter shook his head. “Andy, you’re lucky to have Martha, so don’t fuckin’ blow it.”
“We’re just fuckin’ around Wally, relax.” Kjell said, reappearing from the bathroom. The soon to be shared sentimental moment for the drunken cadre was quickly interrupted by a knock at the door. Rather than take a seat, Kjell walked directly to the door and opened it, letting in a young woman. She had a symmetrical face and her stunning curves were pushing out of the fancy business attire she was wearing. Her pinstriped skirt was very short and her long legs shined brightly from the lighting in the suite.
“Gentlemen, this is Star,” Kjell said.
Star walked in and Walter’s eyes followed her blindly. She placed a CD in the stereo and the thumping of the beat seemed to match up to the pulsing of Walter’s heart. He imagined his head dripping wet, but when he used his sleeve to soak up his sweat, it was already dry. Star began to dance, her whole body flowing smoothly to the music. Her movements were dry and slow at first, but every once in a while her thighs and butt would vibrate rapidly, causing Walter to blink and swallow. The rest of the guys hooted and hollered.
Walter’s could not seem to pry his eyes from Star’s shirt, and eventually it was on the floor. Soon to follow was Star’s skirt. Before long, all Star was wearing was her high heels and black lacey panties. Star made sure to give each guy at least five minutes for their own private show. While dancing in front of Reggie, he extended his curious, perverted hand to touch one of her perky breasts, but she slapped his wrist. He immediately retracted his hand while the other guys laughed at him. By the time she made her way to Walter, she was completely nude. Her repetitive dance moves kept Walter in a trance.
Her glossy skin glistened with a thin layer of sweat. She smelled like Amy, or maybe Walter wanted her to smell like Amy. He wondered if Star and Amy wore the same perfume. After having a few too many beers mixed with the essence of flowers and the beach that filled Walter’s nostrils, and the boom-boom of the rhythmic music, he felt like he nodded off to sleep. The only image he could muster was his wife. He remembered the first moment he met her. She was bicycling in a park while he was throwing the Frisbee for his basset hound, Dingo. Amy stopped and gently pet Dingo on his head. Walter jumped at the opportunity to speak to Amy, and she eventually sat next to him. He remembered that it wasn’t awkward at all, which was a new feeling for him at the time. Within a few short weeks, Walter wanted to spend every moment he could with Amy. He told her he loved her, and he made sure to tell her every night, and he made sure it was the last thing he said to her if they ever had to be separated for more than a day. Walter suddenly remembered that he didn’t tell Amy he loved her before he left for Vegas this morning.
Walter thought about how different things were now. She wasn’t the same Amy he once knew, or maybe he wasn’t the same Walter that she once knew. He thought about how maybe the two of them had started to undo their love, like taking slices of bread from a loaf and leaving unwanted end pieces behind. The magic that once was, was hanging on by a thread. Walter assumed that all relationships had a plateau, and he simply had already hit his peak and obviously settled with the girl who took his heart when she stopped to talk to Dingo. Walter revisited his thought about the fact that when he left for this trip, he didn’t tell his wife he loved her. Then, he wondered if he did love her. Walter came back to reality, realizing at some point his lap dance had finished, but he didn’t notice because he was thinking about Amy. He saw Star dancing for Matt and blinked a few times. He had another pretzel stick still in his hand and swiftly guided it toward his mouth. As he bit down, the pretzel unexpectedly turned to pretzel powder, which Walter accidentally inhaled. He choked on the pretzel bits and nearly threw up, but started breathing normally within a few seconds. Ralph looked over at him, “You okay?”
“Yeah, bad pretzel,” Walter said. “Bad pretzel,” Walter muttered again under his breath. Walter quietly sat motionless and the uncomfortable sobering effect of the choking left Walter deep in thought about Amy.
While the other guys watched with the stunning and sultry stripper, Walter’s eyelid twitched a few times and he quietly made his way to the door. He could hear the music fizzle as he closed the door and began walking toward the elevators.
Walter leisurely fed the hungry slot machine a quarter every few minutes and continued to lose, but he didn’t care. In fact, he wasn’t even paying attention. While he blocked out the noisy cling clangs of the slot machines and the drunken gamblers betting and busting, his mind had different sounds and images. As he was biding his time, he was reflecting on Amy. He thought about the more recent times where whenever they saw each other, she would yell, or he would get annoyed. If he left a dirty dish in the sink, she would have a fit about completing the task and placing the dish in the dishwasher; or, if she turned off a light he wasn’t using, he would yell at her, telling her that he was using it.
A voice other than Walter’s flooded his head. It was a nice, simple voice of a female. “Hello, Mr. Happy” the voice said. Walter pondered the sarcasm. It was partially the very thought that had been running through his mind all night.
It was the word happy that resonated through his head. Walter decided to pry into his memory bank and pull out the happiest moment he could think of. He knew it, and he thought to himself how simple it was; still, it was his happiest moment. It was a night he spent with Amy, about six years ago, when they were still considered a new couple. They had plans with some friends, but they fell through, and it was raining. Making a spur of the moment decision, Walter told Amy he would be right back. He leapt out the front door into the rain and jogged down the street. The cold water splashed over his warm face, and he trekked on. The late night Jewish deli wasn’t too far down the street, and when he walked in, soaking wet, he basked in a new set of comfortable and relaxing smells of freshly cooked meat and baked bread.
Walter had the old Jewish man make two sandwiches. The first one, for Walter, was hot pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing, onions and extra sauerkraut, his favorite. The next, Amy’s favorite, was roasted turkey, Swiss cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, tomatoes and avocados. Walter quickly ran next door to the twenty-four hour convenience store and bought a ten dollar bottle of a 2002 Chateau St. Michelle Riesling.
Dripping wet, but bringing a much needed surprise to a so far uneventful night, Walter walked back in and Amy helped dry Walter off. They curled into his bed and ate sandwiches, drank wine and watched a movie. The warm, playful cuddling eventually turned into frisky, lust-filled touching, and when that reached its peak, they made love.
When they were done, he held her close and she began to cry. Confused, he asked her if she was sad, “just the opposite,” she said. “I’m happy, and I love you,” she continued. Relieved, Walter relaxed his entire body, and drifted off to sleep.
Walter looked up to see that it was in fact a woman he had never met before, talking to him. He thought about his current situation; lazily feeding quarters into a machine while he sulked and ignored everyone and everything around him. Walter responded just as the woman was about to lose interest, “Yeah.”
Slightly annoyed, she stayed anyways. “Wait, what?” Walter said. What kind of greeting was that, Walter thought to himself. Walter was befuddled at the ridiculousness and audacity of this woman; to call a stranger Mr. Happy. He then realized it was a rather harmless comment regarding his current mood.
Now that his head was full up, he finally got a good look at her. She had strawberry blonde hair down to her shoulders, framing a mildly average face including two bright blue eyes, a small nose and bubble lips. She wasn’t thin like a model, but Walter decided she definitely took care of himself.
Walter cocked his head to the side, and she spoke up, “You just looked so sad from across the way, I just had to see if you were okay.” The compassion and caring from this stranger was too much for Walter to bear, and he wanted to cry.
He stood up and kept his gaze fixated on her. He imagined that if he had a fedora on, and he would have tipped it before saying, “Can I get you a drink?”
Not that Walter was a liar, but he didn’t open up to anyone except Amy, and lately that was not something that occurred much anymore. He opened up to this woman, and after buying her two drinks, they began talking.
“I’m Walter, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“I normally don’t do this.”
“Talk to other women.”
“Oh, are you married?”
Walter held up his hand with the ring on it and wiggled his fingers around. “Married? Technically. Things are complicated.”
After an hour, they found themselves in the same spot they met, next to the slot machine that was only interested in Walter’s quarters. Walter learned that her name was Samantha, but she went by Sammy, she was the same age as him, thirty-two, she worked as an assistant at a successful investment firm not too far from where Walter lived, and the most important thing, she seemed to genuinely care about Walter.
“Do you want to go up to my room?” Sammy asked.
Walter thought it over briefly, but he didn’t seem to hesitate as he said, “Yes.”
They both got into the elevator and ascended up to the 20th floor, where she was staying. Walter fought the uncomfortable elevator silence by asking her the first thing he could think of, “What’s your favorite type of sandwich?”
“Pastrami,” she responded.
“I love pastrami.”
They both laughed. By the time the door opened, they were kissing. Walter held her head gently as he led them out the elevator door.
“What number?” Walter asked.
As they approached the door, she pushed Walter against the door and she kissed him hard. Walter smiled. The incessant making out ceased so they could enter the door with little interruption. She fumbled through her purse while he scratched his forehead. Within a moment, the keycard was out, and she slid it through the device allowing the red light to turn green. Walter took one step in her hotel room, when he felt his foot land on something odd shaped on the floor. Walter looked down, pried his foot back and noticed he stepped on a piece of dry bread, halfway eaten with remnants of day old mustard still on it. What the hell am I doing, Walter thought to himself. Frozen, Walter swallowed and Sammy heard it.
They stared at each other for a moment. Sammy nodded her head and leaned in to hug Walter. She kissed his cheek and whispered into his ear, “If you change your mind, give me a call.” She dropped her business card into his pocket and walked into her room. Walter stepped aside and let the door slide shut. The door light turned red.
Heavy on the gas pedal, it took Walter only 4 and-a-half hours to drive back. On the way, he decided he wanted to rekindle the fizzled fire in his relationship with his wife, and make it a better marriage. One that was more eventful, where they spent a whole lot more time together. A marriage where they would go to parties and movies together, and where they would cook and clean together, and where they would have children together. Walter was sure this was the slice of his life that he was missing, and he was ready to embrace it and hit it head on.
Walter pulled into the little Jewish deli near his house, remembering the night with the sandwiches, and how happy it made him feel. He ordered his favorite hot pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese, and all the fixings. He also ordered Amy’s favorite; roasted turkey, Swiss cheese, and everything else. Finally, satisfied with his sandwiches, he ran next door to the convenience store to find a bottle of wine. Sure enough, they had a Chateau St. Michelle, his favorite, so he bought it. Walter drove down the few streets to his house, and pulled into his driveway. He jumped out of the car with full hands, ran through his front lawn, and up the steps of his house, still lit up inside despite it being about two hours past midnight, and approached his front door. Walter unlocked the front door, and flung it open.
“Honey?” Walter said. He waited a moment, and all he heard was indistinct creaking. “Oh shit,” he whispered, suddenly remembering Karen. He made his way down the hall and realized where the noise was coming from. Walter’s slow footsteps didn’t make a sound as he entered the living room. Amy was bent over the side of the couch, and a lanky man Walter had never seen before was standing behind her, thrusting, with both of them grunting. The lanky man opened his eyes to see Walter standing there, staring at both of them.
“Shit!” The lanky man said. He stepped back, and stood still like he was in a nude lineup. Amy looked up a second after the strange man yelled and pulled out of her.
“What…,” Amy cut herself off, as she looked up to see Walter’s eyes, fixated on her.
“Walter!” Amy said. Several seconds of silence and staring transpired.
Walter finally spoke up, “Okay.” He threw half of the roasted turkey sandwich at Amy, hitting her in the chest. The butcher paper opened and some of the mustard and mayonnaise spattered on her breasts and neck. Walter flung the other half of the sandwich at the lanky man. Flinching only a little, he was hit in the head, and the sandwich innards trickled down his face, but mostly landed on the floor. Walter had a wet streak from his eye to his cheek.
“Walter!” Amy repeated. Walter turned around and walked out. He traced his steps back to his car, tossed his sandwich and the bottle of wine in the passenger seat. Amy followed him out, holding couch pillows over her breasts and pelvis.
“Walter, get back here!” She shouted.
“No. Not anymore. I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”
Walter drove down the street, away from Amy. It looked like she mouthed vulgarities in the rearview mirror, but Walter’s attention switched and stayed on the road ahead of him. Walter eventually grabbed his sandwich, opened it, and took a generous bite. Walter thought about that business card that Sammy left in his pocket as the hot and salty meat mixed with the fresh soft rye bread, satisfying his tongue while he chewed.
I completed this story late December 2007. I believe this to be one of my better ones that I wrote early in my short-story-writing career. I did do this one for a class and it was highly regarded amongst my teacher and my peers for the most part. I will not be revisiting it, but any comments, feedback and criticism is still much appreciated, as it will always help me with future works. Thanks!
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