"Hey, you're not the first guy to have a fight with his wife and end up closing this joint, but I do have to close. You haven't had much to drink the last hour, but you sure have stared a hole in that glass. You need to talk about anything?"
Doug Hawkins looked up from the dregs of a beer he'd been nursing in a corner of the bar for almost two hours. "Nah. I had a fight with the wife – same old, same old. I guess I'll head home and hope for the best."
"I think you're good to go, but drive careful like."
Doug had been here many times before: Skugg's Bar and Grille. Sandy had occasionally come with him for a dinner when neither of them wanted to cook, or just to get out of the house and have a drink somewhere. She knew he liked to go there to think too. There was no other place like it for miles.
Doug's head was scrambled after the argument with Sandy. She wanted a new house, a house that would be much larger, but leave them in debt for centuries and in a situation with little financial flexibility.
They had a nice house they'd owned for five years, having even bought at the low point in the housing market. Yes, it was small, and yes, they'd been shortsighted about having a house they could raise kids in.
There were deeper things in the argument too. She was vitriolic about his point of view, and she yelled at him – something she'd never done before in their ten years together. There was a frustration about his intransigence about their finances, and about when they could start a family.
Doug pondered his relationship with Sandy as he drove the four miles back to their house. Was this the end of their marriage? Would she even be there when he got home? Could they try to find a house they could afford; he'd at least try that. Could they start to have kids, but then she'd have to take time off of work and then there'd be childcare expenses and her lost income stream? This was such a hard time in their lives.
Sandy was so fiercely independent and opinionated; it'd be just like her to do something rash yet with a long list of rationalizations. Doug thought about how she should have been on the debate team; any point of view she took had to be the right one at all costs. She took no hostages, and usually she got her own way except on these two issues where he hadn't budged. He knew he frustrated her, but what could he do?
As Doug drove home, he thought about how they might make up. Couldn't there be a middle ground on the house issue? Sure they were cramped for space, and sure they wanted a baby, but they could add a couple of rooms onto the house they had, or pop out a dormer, or all sorts of things without the huge expense of a new home. If they did the right kind of addition to the house they had, he could even do a lot of the work and save a lot of money.
He sighed as he pulled into the driveway. Sandy's car was gone.
Inside on the kitchen counter was a note: 'Our paths may cross. Sorry to leave things in a mess this way. Sandy.' She had drawn a little heart next to her name. Did that mean she still loved him? He'd come to wonder whether there was any love left in their relationship.
Despite the late hour, he wanted to wait for her. He moved to the sink and washed the dishes piled up from their dinner – the dinner where the argument had started.
Doug thought about how she seemed to love her job at the bank more than him. She always raved about the work, and the people there. She'd even piqued his jealousy by talking about Matt Thornton – her handsome supervisor and one of the other customer service reps in her branch. They spent a lot of time together according to Sandy – training sessions, lunches, and coffee breaks. She always talked about how he was such a mover and shaker, a gentleman, and how he'd end up as head of the bank someday.
Doug sank into his big chair in the living room to wait for Sandy's return. He even thought about how they could make the room look larger if they bought some furniture that was more modern and not overstuffed, like the hand-me-downs they'd accepted from their two families. He tried to imagine the room with toys scattered all around too; this would be a comfortable place for a child to play.
A ray of sunshine crept across Doug's face, making him blink awake. Morning. The events of the previous night flashed back like a bad movie.
Had Sandy come home? He checked the bedrooms, and the garage, but there was no sign of her. Damn!
Doug showered, and dressed for work. He couldn't afford not to show up, despite how bad he felt inside. He had a good job, a few friends there including the owner of the computer repair shop. Computers didn't argue with you. They did what you asked until some piece of silicon or a magnetic disk did something wrong electrically or mechanically. You then replaced the errant part, and all was well again. Why couldn't humans be like that? Maybe some day he'd write a science fiction story like that.
He plodded along through the day, expecting that he'd have to find some way to apologize to Sandy, and to win her back about the house, having a baby, and all. He thought about calling her, but decided to let her stew about things. Maybe if they both thought about what had happened, a middle ground would emerge that they could both live with.
Doug wrapped up work about five-thirty and went home. Sandy's car still wasn't in sight. He wondered if she'd come home, but a look around inside showed no signs of her presence since he'd left that morning.
He fixed himself dinner, and by eight o'clock had started to worry a little.
At nine, he called her friend Alice. "Hi Alice, this is Doug Hawkins. I'm sorry to bother you, but is Sandy there?"
"No, I haven't seen her since the weekend."
"We had an argument last night and she left to do some thinking about it, I guess. Look, if you hear from her, even if she doesn't want to talk to me, would you let me know. I'm starting to get worried about her."
Alice agreed, and so did Debbie and Sheila her other friends when Doug called them.
The night drifted by, and Doug again slept in the chair waiting for Sandy's return.
The next day after work, he made another round of phone calls to no avail. No one had heard from or seen Sandy.
The next morning, instead of going directly to work he went to the bank. Sandy had loved her job at the bank so much, he couldn't imagine her missing a single day there. There were days when she'd barely been able to move because she had some flu bug, but she'd gotten up and gone to work. She wanted a perfect attendance record, and to be known as someone who would do anything to be at work. One time, she'd admitted that she was trying to also impress Matt, her boss.
As he came into the large branch, he could instantly see that Sandy's desk was empty but neatly organized. He looked around, trying to spot her.
"May I help you?"
"Oh ... maybe. I was looking for Sandy Hawkins."
The woman was cautious, "She's not in yet; may I help you?"
"I'm her husband. I ... need to talk with her."
"Oh, dear. Well, she hasn't been in since Monday. Funny, but neither has Matt Thornton." She thought a minute and said, "Let me check whether they're off at some kind of training session."
The woman, whose nametag read Rene, went into one of the glassed in cubicles, and referred to her computer screen for a minute.
She came back into the open lobby area, "Mr. Hawkins, there are no training sessions going on this week, so I don't know what to tell you. Mrs. Rice is here, our branch manager; maybe she knows something."
She led him across the lobby to a nicer office that even had a door. She leaned in, "Mrs. Rice. This is Mr. Hawkins, Sandy's husband. He's looking for her."
"Come in, please. Have a seat." She smiled at him, and seemed genuinely happy to meet a family member.
Doug automatically sat, and the other woman left the two of them. She looked at him with an open question written on her face.
Doug started, "I'm looking for my wife, Mrs. Rice. We had a bit of a spat on Monday evening, and I went out to think about things. When I got home a couple of hours later, she was gone, and I haven't heard from her since, and now it's Thursday, and I'm wondering what to do."
The woman behind the desk softened, "Mr. Hawkins, I'm sorry we can't help you, but Sandy hasn't been in to work since Monday. We've been short handed too; I had to call in reinforcements from one of the other branches."
Doug thought to ask, "Michelle mentioned that Matthew Thornton is also out... ?"
Rice nodded, "Yes, and that's what made us so short-handed. He's been out all week. We've tried to call him, but to no avail. Well, if you find you wife, please ask her to let me know what she plans to do." She shrugged.
Doug rose, "I will. Thank you for your time." He obviously wasn't going to get any further information.
As Doug walked to his car, he thought, 'Damn. She's taken off with that guy. They've taken the car and gone somewhere. I'm screwed."
Hitting a psychological low point, his ego shattered at the obvious infidelity, Doug sat outside the bank for a long time, trying to think of next steps. He dismissed turning to the police; there was nothing there for them to do but commiserate with him about his failed marriage. Doug thought, 'I don't want to see it end. I still love her. We have to make a big effort to start over. I hope she hasn't done anything foolish to prevent that.'
He thought about their joint bank account. Would Sandy bleed him dry? Was she that mad about their relationship that she'd screw him over? He doubted it, but didn't want to trust that assumption.
Doug got out of his car, went back into the bank, opened an account in just his name, and moved most of the money in their joint account to the new one. He'd have to adjust his payroll check deposits, and figured he'd continue to pay for things as he always had. At least if she tried to spend anything, he'd know about it.
At work, he noted how terrible his productivity and problem solving abilities were.
Alan, his boss, came up, "Doug, what's wrong? You've been a little 'off' about everything all week."
Doug's eyes filled with tears. He felt the wash of the love he felt for Sandy, and the terrible hole left inside him by having her flee.
He described the situation to Alan. "Sandy and I had another fight on Monday night about money, and getting larger house. We want a family, but the little house we're in just won't support another person. Anyway, she tried to be persuasive in her way, but missed the facts about our ability to carry a larger mortgage. We argued. She was really pissed that I wouldn't agree with her. I went out to get a beer and think about the whole situation, and when I got back, she'd left. There was a note that said she was sorry about things, but nothing else."
Doug then reported, "I went to where she works this morning. She hasn't been in there since Monday, and the guy she liked there, her boss, also has taken off. The two of them have gone off somewhere."
Alan commiserated, but knew enough not to try to offer any quick fixes to the situation. There were too many variables, and too many loose ends to even begin. If he took sides, it would inevitably be the wrong one.
The rest of the day, and even into the following week, Doug slowly recovered some semblance of normalcy at work. At home, he was a disaster. Fast food containers piled up in the kitchen. The neatness of the house that Sandy maintained gave way to a more sloppy appearance, with dishes, mail, and an occasional beer bottle left on every table and chair.
When Sandy had been gone for almost three weeks, Alice stopped by just after lunch on Saturday.
Doug answered the door, unshaven and unkempt from his romance with two bottles of wine the evening before.
Alice looked at him as she stepped into the house, "Hi Doug. Could I see Sandy?"
Doug looked puzzled, "She's not here. She hadn't been here since I talked to you three weeks ago. She's gone ... eloped I guess you might say with her beguiling boss. She's gone off someplace to start over with him."
Alice looked around with a shocked expression, "That's terrible. You poor man. Look at this place. It obviously needs a woman's touch." Alice pushed past him into the living room, picking up some of the plates and beer bottles and heading for the kitchen with both hands full.
She yelled over her shoulder, "You go and clean up while I straighten up down here. I'll take care of the upstairs next. I can't believe that Sandy would do that to you. She never gave a hint of anything like this, but she could be headstrong."
Doug had always liked Alice. She was a doer; she didn't sit around when she saw something that needed fixing. As he trod up the stairs, he thought about how he needed fixing. Sandy needed fixing. The marriage needed fixing. He wished Sandy would come home so they could start the repair work.
When Doug came downstairs, the house looked remarkably different. The windows had been opened, the stale odor the house had adopted was gone, and the place was back to its neat state. Alice was washing dishes in the kitchen.
"You ran out of dishes," she said. "What'd you do after that?"
"I reused the nearest one I could find."
Alice rolled her eyes. "No more. Start being civilized, Mr. Hawkins," she admonished. "Your wife may have run off, but you need to get YOUR act together. I will help you." Alice sounded like his new best friend, the way she took him under her wing.
She looked him over. "Have you done any washes since Sandy left?"
Alice rolled her eyes, and as soon as the dishes were done she headed upstairs. Seconds later, bed linens and pillowcases full of dirty clothes came rolling down the stairs. She followed, collected the large piles, and lugged them into the small laundry room off of the kitchen. Seconds later, the washer had started to chug on the first load.
Alice instructed, "Doug, if you'll allow me, I'll come over every day or so to check on you, and to do some cleaning. Sandy may show up, and you can't have the house looking like it did when I arrived."
She thought a minute and announced, "Now, give me a key so I can come in if you're at work."
Doug said, "I'll pay you."
Alice shook her head. "Nonsense. You couldn't afford me. Today, as my pay, you're going to take me to Rosetti's for dinner. In the meantime, you are going to mow your overgrown lawn, prune the shrubbery by the front door, wash our two cars, and vacuum upstairs and down. Get going."
Doug actually smiled for the first time in three weeks. "Yes, sergeant," he replied and gave her a mock salute. Alice pushed him towards the back door and the garage, as she went back to work off the remaining mess in the kitchen.
The following Saturday, Alice was back again to do the heavier cleaning and straightening. She could tell that Doug had made some effort to keep things neater and picked up.
As she got ready to go, Doug came up and took both her hands in his. "Thank you, Alice. You gave me a bit of two-by-four across the head. I was depressed; and I still am, about what happened with Sandy, but at least you got me off my ass and moving again. I'm doing better at work too."
Alice chuckled, "Well, my pay this week is dinner tonight at that fish place on the lake. Pick me up at seven, OK?"
Doug nodded, and even looked forward to the companionship. He realized how lonely the line of work he'd chosen left him. He had a nose in the guts of an errant computer all day, usually with parts splayed out all over the table in front of him; old parts on the right, and new parts on the left; that was how he worked – left to right."
With Sandy gone a month, Doug realized he had to do something else regarding their dead relationship. He made a list, but decided to wait another month to start anything. As he ran out of things to itemize, he realized he'd categorized the relationship as having ended. A month away from your husband with a lover boy sure put the kibosh on any ability to recover.
He'd already talked to her parents, but they hadn't heard from her either. Of course, Sandy had been angry at them for years, so that wasn't news.
At the end of the second month without the bitch, as he'd started to refer to Sandy, he talked to a lawyer. A no-fault divorce cost $495, and Doug wrote out the check and filled out all the forms. Since Sandy was fully out of the picture, it would be a unilateral award by the court. It would take six months for that to become final.
Alice was over a couple of weeks after Doug had filed for the divorce, and he pulled her upstairs. "Come with me, I need your help."
"What with?" Alice asked as they went up the stairs. She sounded hopeful.
"Bedroom," Doug teased.
In the room, he sat Alice on the bed, and opened the closet door. The aroma of Sandy's favorite perfume accosted him, and made him stop for a second. Why did the shrew have to walkout on him, and with someone she worked with too?
Matthew Thornton was a womanizing skunk. He'd not been back to the branch either. Doug had gone looking for him one day, and noticed that his name had even been removed from the cubicle he'd occupied where he could help bank customers with their accounts.
He wanted to get a voodoo doll for Matthew and his soon-to-be ex-wife, and stick pins in them, hoping that aches and pains would develop in the various places he pinned them. He'd do Mr. Matthew Thornton in the balls. That'd serve him right for stealing his wife. For his wife, he'd put a pin in her mouth, right where all her arguments came from; then he'd do her ears because she never listened to him. She just ignored his wishes and opinions. He wondered whether a pin through her heart was justified because of the terrible heartache she'd left him with. He was slow to heal.
Doug reached into the closet and pulled out the nearest dress. He announced, "I see three piles developing here: trash, charity, and anything you'd like."
Alice looked surprised, "I couldn't take Sandy's..."
Doug said sharply, "Then there are only two piles. She's not coming back. Four months is a vote of 'never' from her. She's probably out on the west coast building a new life without a care in the world, or maybe she and lover boy went down in the Caribbean to rent boats to tourists. I don't care anymore."
"But don't you want to know?"
"No. She broke my heart. I need to clean out her stuff – today. After that, I'll be prepared to move on. You know I've filed, and I want all this stuff gone before then." The pain and strain in Doug's voice was back, and even as he spoke tears streamed down his cheeks. The pain of her leaving was more than evident. Every time he thought of Sandy his eye teared, and often he cried. He never thought she was this callus that she'd shaft him so royally.
Alice went to work in the closet. As the piles on the bed grew, Doug came to Sandy's dresser. He opened the top drawer.