Publisher: Cur Dog Press
Publication Date: December 2017
Genre: Literary, Humor
Not yet thirty, and already Selraybob is beaten down and washed up. He spends his days on his lounger, drinking quarts of beer and talking to his buddy Herm on the phone. Until, during his wife’s long overdue kiss-off speech, he notices two clocks. They’re seven minutes off. And he has an epiphany. Time, he decides, is a count. It’s only a count.
Einstein was wrong.
And life on the lounger will never be the same.
No Good Time to Lose a Wife
I was sitting by the window, quart of Busch on my belly, when my wife Joalene walked in and commenced to tell me that I’m a witless, no-good, washed-up nothing and how I’m never going to amount to even a worm on a pile of mole scat if I spend all my time sitting on the lounger and drinking beer—which, just to be clear, I was not drinking, since it was on my belly. But while Joalene was talking, just as she said the word time, instead of looking out the window at the leafless oak like normal, I looked at the clock. And I started thinking about the black marks on the white face and the hands and how they go round and round and round and round and what that means now that we have digital clocks, one of which was on the top of the movie recorder. So I looked over there. The red numbers were 9:45, and the circular clock, as close as I could tell, was pointing at 9:38. So while Joalene was breathing in, which she almost never seemed to do, I asked her if she had seven minutes I could have. “Because I’m thinking,” I said, “that if you would just move over a bit, so as I can’t see the clock there that says 9:45, then it will only be 9:38, and I’ll have seven more minutes to sit here with my beer, and maybe drink some, and then, if you don’t mind so much, sweetheart, you can get me some lasagna from out of the fridge.”
She scowled and spun around. Her hair went swooshing past her neck, and she went swinging those delicious heart-shaped hips of hers into the bedroom and then back out a couple minutes later with her hair curled, eyes done up all blue and hot, and her lips puffed out showing teeth smudged red with lipstick in the way that used to make me want to jump up and start mashing my tongue into her mouth to clean them off. But it didn’t work that way anymore. She’d become the errand woman and me the pizza eater.
Now that’s no way to think about your high school cherry turned wife. I knew it, too. It’s crap. But when I looked at her parading herself back and forth for me, trying to get me going in that malicious way of hers, I didn’t think about us driving up to St. Louis to get her now dearly-departed toy poodle Lexie, or barbecuin’ quail by the river and sitting naked later and giggling.
No. I thought that she was wasting my time, and where was she going, and why wasn’t she getting me that lasagna? And if she was just going to flaunt herself at me and not come over close so as I could smell her, then she may as well call the pizza man and order us a large pepperoni.
I didn’t say anything, though. She may have been parading, but she was scowling while she was doing it. And even with this acorn I got in my head, after eight years you learn when to shut up. And sometimes you actually do.
So I looked at the clock again, at the circular one with a second hand that goes round and round, tick by tick, then back to the skirt hugging Joalene’s curves and back to the red numbers and back to Joalene as she walked back into the bedroom and slammed the door. I caught myself sitting up and listening and wondering whether she was packing or undressing or adding another coat of gloss to her lips. But I sure wasn’t going to have her burst out and catch me gawking at the light under the door. So I went back to staring at the clock. I almost got myself hypnotized watching the second hand go round and round, which would’ve been good, I tell you, to keep my thoughts from turning on. Because unfortunately, they did. I caught the red number clock flip four to five, and it got me to wondering why one time is right and another is wrong and why one is fast and another slow. Why do we even watch the clocks, and who decided what a minute is anyway?
Of course, then Joalene came out with her yellow suitcase, hand-painted with red flowers—by her, with the paints I’d bought—and planted her heels in the vinyl brick of the entranceway and glared down at me and said, “I’ve waited long enough for you to make something of yourself. I have. A long time, Selraybob.”
After she said that, I said, “Eight years.”
“EIGHT YEARS!” she yelled. “And you’ve become fatter and fatter and less and less.” And I had, I admit. I’d tried plumbing school a few years back, thinking all that bending over and getting up would slim me down, but two weeks in, I flooded a funeral home with a backed-up toilet. After that came furniture moving with my friend Herm. But not three days after the fatal encounter between little Lexie and the blind man with the spiked cane, Herm and I dropped a dresser on a two-pound Chihuahua. Two dead dogs in three days. It was rough. Tearful even. I took it as a sign to ease back on the physical strain. So Joalene was right. “It’s a long time to wait, Sel. It really is.”
I hate to say it, because she sounded a little sad, but instead of looking at her while she was talking at me, I was checking the clock and counting. And the next thing I did was ask her, “Joalene,” I said. “What is this thing ‘time’ you keep talking about, and does it really make sense to wait, or have you just been working a whole lot on improving me while I’ve been doing a good deal of sitting on the lounger and enjoying my quarts of Busch?”
She called me an asshole and told me to get my own self to the unemployment office from now on. Which scared me a little. Joalene had done the financial statements for us. And it’d been three years since I’d been downtown. I didn’t even go the river anymore, and the Mississippi’s king. So I sure didn’t want to go searching Waketon, on a bus, for some office of biggeties telling me all the things I should’ve done. It was a traumatic moment.
What I should’ve done is gotten up and said something, like told her, Baby, all these years I know I’ve been bad, been a selfish swine, but in the future I’ll be different. Promise. Soon as you can blink an eye, I’ll be a new man.
Didn’t though. I couldn’t. Because I tell you, I sure as hell didn’t see any new man popping out of my gut. I did say, “Baby…” but then nothing. I clammed right up.
So she opened the door and let the frigid in, stepped out, turned around and told me, “I’m done caring for you, Sel. I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t.” I didn’t answer, and she waited a few seconds and then said, “Nothing? That’s it?”
My head was still empty and my body cold from the winter coming in, so I just looked at her and shook my head. She spun away disgusted and slammed the door, and I leaned over the arm of the lounger, picked the old corded phone off the floor and set it on my belly and then called the grocery mart to have them deliver a few more quarts of Busch. But I heard Joalene’s fan belts squealing in her old Malibu and then her tires screeching out of the driveway, and I got myself a hankering real strong for some chicken, which, because she’d grown up downwind of a chicken farm and couldn’t stand the sight of it or the smell, even on my breath, I hadn’t eaten since our first date in high school, three years before she’d moved in. So I ordered a roasted one, as large as they had, and mashed potatoes, and some slaw too, since I needed vegetables, and also a piece of chocolate cake. While the mart people were doing their calculating with the register, I looked out the window. The moon was gigantic and low. If I’d still been a farmhand, I’d’ve been out there harvesting into the night. But I wasn’t. Just a guy staring at the moon that pretty much took the whole window. It was a beautiful thing, dammit, and it got me to thinking of Joalene when she wears her gray pants. Not that she’s got an ass as big as a moon, but the pants are spotted, and she only wears them when she’s digging in the garden, which is how we spent our first anniversary together—seeding watermelon and cucumbers and getting ourselves all dirty before we went to the fancy hotel, sudsed each other up in the whirlpool tub and then did what married people do on their first anniversary.
My eyes got foggy. And I don’t mind admitting now that it was probably because of Joalene. No sense sitting and sulking all night though, so I said, “Dammit, Sel!” and punched my thigh—hard too, bruised myself—then I heaved myself out of the chair and put on my jacket, walked outside and stood and watched the moon. I stood so long I saw it move, which got me thinking about sunset and moonset and where Joalene was heading and if she saw the same moon I was seeing and at the same time? What would her watch say and what would mine if I had one, and would we be looking at the moon at two different times if there are two different watches?
The mart guy drove up and I paid and walked inside to the fridge and put the beer in. I found the forks and knives and napkins, got myself a plate and went to the lounger to eat. As I squatted to sit, I passed a little backside wind. And as I settled down I heard the chair squeak and smelled the thick cloud of gas from my insides—the putrid gas since Joalene had been forcing broccoli down my gullet. It was mixing with the spices from the steaming chicken, which should have watered my mouth, but nearly gagged me instead. Luckily, I only passed once, and since the chicken was still hot and steaming and still putting off its smell, I just had to sit quiet, breathe into my hand, and relax and let my bones settle and blood go while the nastiness squeezed its way out beneath the doors.
Once it had, I settled back and watched the clock circle and started calculating the minutes she’d been gone, and then the hours and the number of quarts I’d drunk that day, which wasn’t many really—three, in fact, like every day. Then I took a bite of chicken and tasted that long-lost succulent flavor. I closed my eyes it was so good. Moist and falling off the bone but not overcooked, and with still-crispy skin that I tore off and let sit on my tongue while I looked out the window at the moon and wiped chicken juice from my chin. I took another bite and chewed slowly, trying to make it last. And I found myself doing what they call ruminating. I took another bite and chewed and ruminated some more, then another, and I kept on ruminating.
What happened, the thing that pretty much changed my world—not to say watching Joalene step out didn’t—I’m not making light of that in any way; it’s just not the same—but the thing that screwed with me bad was that two-thirds through the roaster, right after sucking the meat off a wing, I had something foreign and strange—an epiphany, a new thought. A decision.
What I decided was this: all we’ve been doing when we tell time, since we started telling time, is counting things. That’s it. We’ve been counting. I wasn’t sure what things the cavemen counted, but I’d seen on the old westerns some Indians talk about many moons ago, so I figured they counted moons. What other folks counted, though, I didn’t know. I did know that I counted the number of times the clock went around and around and that every time the hours went around twice, I was supposed to put an X on the calendar and add one to the days. Simple. And I caught myself yelling towards the kitchen. “It’s a count, baby. Time is a count.” So I looked over and saw the counter clean and Joalene’s apron hanging on the oven handle. The dish towels were all folded and her spices organized. I glanced to the bedroom. A lamp was still on. I mumbled, “Baby?” And then, “Joalene?” And I heard the sink drip, and the neighborhood cur bark, and the round clock tick and the water drip and the clock again tick, and tick, and tick, and tick.
Selraybob is a philosopher, writer, and, given his modest Missouri background, one of the least expected deep thinkers on the planet. His theory of time—that Einstein and Hawking and the rest of the spacetime preachers are misguided to the point of lunacy—has invited ridicule and hatred and threats of violence. He has become, arguably, an iconoclast. Selraybob continues to pursue Time, related physics theories, and, with the help of his buddy Herm, Herm’s wife Susy Liu Anne, and a small but growing band of supporters, battle the narrow minds of the Time Fixers.
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