For some strange reason, the image of his father reading the newspaper filtered into his head. His father would snap the open newspaper, making a sharp report, followed by a soft rattle of pages being shaken. This would indicate that he'd found some article that he wanted to share with whoever was in the room at the time. It was an unconscious habit on his father's part, but it managed to draw everyone's attention to him.
Irving closed his Kindle, thinking that it was a shame that one couldn't make an attention getting sound with it in the same as when his father had snapped the newspaper. Even closing the case quickly just made a disappointingly muted whump. He supposed that throwing it against the wall might get some attention.
Irving cleared his throat while looking at his wife, Susan. Her eyes stayed focused on her Kindle. He sighed loudly. She flipped to the next page.
"I'm reading," Susan answered without even glancing in his direction.
"I'm going for a drive," Irving said.
Susan didn't bother to answer. She was engrossed in a historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots. She'd been on a women in history kick for the past two months, reading an average of one historical novel every two days. Before that, it had been ancient Rome.
Irving sat in his older model sedan trying to figure out where he was going to go. His view impeded by the drizzle beading on his windshield, he stared at the garage door for a full five minutes without starting the car. He'd had no real destination in mind when he had left the house. He just needed to get out before he went crazy from sitting around doing nothing.
Unable to think of anyplace better, he started the car and headed towards the mall. He wasn't in any particular hurry to get there. The simple fact was, he wasn't looking forward to window shopping, surrounded by hundreds of teenagers who were cruising the mall as a means of killing off a Saturday on a wet fall day.
Although it wasn't a long distance to the local mall, it took him a while to get there. The traffic was pretty bad. It seemed to Irving that everyone had forgotten how to drive in the rain. It didn't bode well for his visit to the mall.
The mall was one of those 'L' shaped buildings with a hundred stores and food places on two levels. There were three major stores, one at each end and one at the bend. The outside of the building was basically concrete with enough texture on the walls to keep from looking like an oversized brick. The entrance, eight doors side by side, was well lighted.
The parking lot was packed with cars. Drivers cruised around the lot hoping to find a spot that minimized the distance from the car to the entrance. Irving didn't waste his time in that fashion. He parked at the far end of a row.
Dreading the hike through the drizzle, he headed towards the mall entrance. There was just enough of a chill in the air that he needed a jacket, and enough wet that it didn't help. He was cold and damp by the time he reached the mall. A quick gust of cold air sent a shiver went through his body as he reached the door.
The air inside the mall was warm, and had a tinge of an unpleasant odor to it. Initially, the closest Irving could come to categorizing the smell, was that it was kind of like a gym changing room, but without the sweat. Then he thought of the smell of the inside of a laundromat. It dawned on him that he was smelling damp clothes, air drying.
Irving walked around the mall gazing occasionally at the displays of the goods in a few of the stores. The women's clothes on display left him feeling empty. He just didn't see them as being attractive and thought they didn't compliment the female figure all that well. Then he realized the mannikins didn't have female figures, but were basically parodies of the female form.
He came across a coffee shop and went inside anticipating that a nice hot cup of coffee would warm him. He stood in line behind young people who rattled off complex coffee orders using terms he had never heard before.
When it was his turn, he said, "I'll take a small coffee with milk."
"The smallest size we have is medium."
"Then I'll take a medium coffee with milk."
"What kind of coffee?"
"We've got breakfast blend, dark roast, french roast..."
"I just want coffee. You know that hot black liquid formed by brewing ground coffee beans in hot water."
"Do you want any flavorings?"
"Do you want it frothed?"
"No," Irving said.
He ended up paying a small fortune for a plain coffee with milk. He took his purchase to a little table outside the coffee shop. He took a sip of his coffee, finding it too hot drink. He removed the lid so that it would cool down a little quicker.
It had been a while since he had spent any time 'people watching.' He was shocked by what he saw. Young women who were thirty or forty pounds overweight, and women who were twenty or more pounds underweight, walked past him in a never ending stream. It was like none of the women looked normal. Even worse, there were quite a few teenagers sporting tattoos – something that he felt should be illegal until one was old enough to know better.
Ten years ago it had been his daughter cruising around the mall, there to see others and to be seen. He remembered the heated arguments about her clothes, or rather lack of them, along with the tears and wails of anguish when he wouldn't let her out of the house without wiping off some of her makeup. With her hormones raging, everything had been so important to her, from what some girl said about her to how some guy looked at her.
He looked around at the girls thinking of what their parents were experiencing. He knew the drama would pass, but getting through those years of raising a teenager wasn't easy. There would come a day when these girls would turn into women, and then move out of the house to make their own way through life.
He looked at the women who were closer to his age, late forties. It was depressing to think that these were the same women who had been so vibrant, sexy, and alive, only twenty years earlier. It was as if they had given up on being attractive: short hair, no make up, loose shirts, and stretch pants that should never have been worn on their overweight bodies. Some of the stretch pants left nothing to the imagination, cottage cheese patterns on their butts and thighs, as well as 'camel toes' in the crotch, peeking out from under a big belly. Unfortunately, his wife had adopted the same fashions.
He sipped his coffee. It had cooled enough to be drinkable, while he'd been watching people walk by. The women weren't the only ones who had forgotten how to look good. The men were overweight, as well. They wore wrinkled pants with loose shirts that helped hide their substantial gut. He looked down, and sighed. He wasn't ready to be on the cover of GQ magazine, himself.
He had never thought about how much life inside the house had revolved around the children, until after they were gone. The conversations had all focused on what the kids were doing right or wrong, their plans, their dreams, and just the general drama of being young and exploring the world for the first time. His wife even planned all activities around the kids. Without the kids at home, there was nothing to talk about.
His daughter, Molly, had moved out of the house four months ago. That had been a big deal encompassing three months of talking about it, weeks of apartment hunting, and more weeks of shopping. His wife had been right in the middle of it, buying housewarming presents of a practical nature, such as a vacuum cleaner, and presents of a less practical nature, such as a picture to hang on the wall. He had been surprised to learn that his daughter's move had cost him as much as three months rent had cost her.
Irving wasn't upset about the money. After all, he had slipped her some cash to help out with the bills until she had gotten an idea of how much it would cost her to live on her own. He was her father, and fathers did care about their daughters.
It hadn't been the same when his son, Kevin, had moved out of the house. He, his wife, and Kevin had gone to 'Wally World' one afternoon, and purchased everything the boy would need for his place. The next day Kevin had moved into his apartment, and that was that. The noise level in the house dropped a little, but not a lot, as Molly tended to be involved in a lot more things, socially, than had Kevin.
Now, with both kids gone, the house had turned into a mausoleum. No one came running into the place shouting that they had good news, or that some life-shattering disaster had befallen them that day. The incessant music that had blared out of one bedroom was gone. The telephone ringing at all hours of the day or night had stilled.
To be honest, he had appreciated the peace and quiet for the first month or so. It was nice to sit down and watch an entire movie without interruption. He had enjoyed reading a book in a tranquil environment. He had even appreciated being able to have a drink at night, without fear that he'd be called away for some reason. It was nice being able to plan things without having to learn the kids' schedule first.
Then, the quiet began to eat at him. He couldn't understand what the problem was. There was something missing, something which was very important, and he didn't know what it was. A sense of unease was eating away at him, making his temper short. It was getting so bad that it was affecting his job.
Sighing, he realized that he was getting old. It had crept up on him without him being aware of it. Yesterday, he thought of himself as twenty something, and today he felt eighty. He was becoming the grumpy old man who looked at everything around himself, and found that he didn't like it.
Irving finished his coffee, and tossed the cup towards a nearby trashcan. Although the cup hit the edge, it did go in. He raised a fist in a little sign of glory. It was the first little spark of pleasure in his whole day.
Continuing his little tour through the mall, he stopped in a small electronics store. It had the usual selection of computers, cell phones, electronic accessories, televisions, and stereos. He paused in front of the stereo systems. There were only four different styles of stereos on display. He picked the smallest and least expensive one, thinking that he could get a little music to chase away that depressing silence in the house. Maybe if it wasn't so quiet he might get rid of that uneasy feeling, although there was a worm of doubt that it wouldn't be that easy.
It didn't take long for him to discover that lugging even a small stereo system around the mall, wasn't the most pleasant activity in the world. The box was bulky and there just wasn't a good way to hold it. Carrying the plastic bag in the normal manner had the box hitting his knee with each step. Slinging the plastic bag over his shoulder caused the plastic to cramp his fingers.
He took his purchase out to his car, getting soaked again from the continuing drizzle. He looked at the entrance to the mall, and didn't feel like taking that hike again. He spent some time in the car waiting for it to warm up before driving off. Actually, he was waiting to warm himself up, before driving off.
There wasn't much traffic on the road leading away from the mall. He still didn't have a real destination in mind, so he just kept driving. A long drive in the countryside would have been ideal if it had been a nicer day, but he couldn't see that it would be fun trying to make out the landscapes through the drizzle. Driving around in the city traffic wasn't all that much fun, either.
He was still trying to come up with a destination when he passed a small grocery store/deli, set a little back from the side of the road. His stomach growled reminding him that it was well after lunchtime, and he hadn't eaten since breakfast. He pulled off the road, so that he could turn around and head back towards it.
It had been years since Irving had been inside a little family owned deli like this. There were a couple of small tables in front of the deli counter. To the side was a small grocery area that provided a small selection of soft drinks, chips, and dessert snacks. It didn't have the kind of variety of products that most convenience stores carried. The overhead fluorescent lights were dim and one of them flickered. Still, it was a nice clean little place.
The guy behind the counter looked to be only a couple years younger than Irving. He had a ready smile and wrote down Irving's order ... an Italian sub with the works, plus potato chips and a pickle ... on a restaurant order pad. Irving watched the man cut the bread in half, slice the meats and cheeses, load it with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and peppers before drenching it with the oil and vinegar and finally sprinkling spices over it. He put the sandwich on a plate with a handful of chips and laid a pickle beside the sandwich. It looked delicious.
Irving grabbed a soda from one of the coolers and paid for his lunch. It had been years since he had eaten a sandwich made like that. He had gotten the 'full size', only thinking after the fact that he should have gotten the half. The sandwich was more food than he normally ate for lunch.
He carried his plate and drink over to one of the tables. It wobbled when he set the plate on it, so he tried one of the other tables. It was solid.
"I've been meaning to fix that table," the man behind the counter said.
"It should just take a minute to fix. What's the problem?"
"Parts. I can't get the little foot that screws into the bottom to level it."
"That's not a problem. You get a good long bolt that's the right diameter and, if you can't find one with the right thread, tap the holder to fit it. It won't be pretty, but it'll keep the table from wobbling," Irving said.
To keep the head of the bolt from scratching the floor, he recommended using the plastic top from a soda bottle as a cap on the bolt. No one ever looked under the table to see what made it stable. They only looked when it wobbled.
"I don't have the tools for that," the man said.
"I bet you've got a lot of construction crews that pick up lunches here. I'm sure one of the guys has the parts and the tools in the back of his truck. Offer him a sandwich if he'll fix it for you," Irving said.
"You seem to know how to do these things, could you do it?"
"Actually, I'd probably hurt myself if I tried. I'm not all that good with tools."
"What do you do for a living?"
"I manage properties for people who are too busy to manage them, themselves," Irving answered. Gesturing to the table, he added, "I run into a lot of nuisance stuff like that table over there. It costs too much to replace, but you can't get the correct parts to fix it properly. I've got a fellow that I use who is a shade tree mechanic, at heart. Ernest can patch up most things like that, in a minute."
"I'd say he's a handy fellow to have around. I'm not all that mechanically inclined," the man said.
Irving said, "I could send him around here. I'm sure that in less than an hour, he'd have that table fixed, the fluorescent light replaced, and the cooler over there leveled."
"How much would that cost?"
"You'd have to work that out with him," Irving said.
"If you could send him over here one afternoon, I'd be most appreciative," the man said.
Irving said, "I'll do that. I figure this a win win situation: you need stuff fixed, and he needs a little work."
Irving took a bite out of his sandwich. It tasted as good as it looked. The crust of the bread had just the right amount of hardness while the interior of the bun had a great texture. The ingredients were fresh and flavorful. The vinegar and oil had covered the lettuce, tomatoes, and onions without soaking into the bun. He was definitely going to come back here!
He ate his sandwich watching the owner at work. A few customers came in and purchased sodas and snacks from the market side of the store. It wasn't very busy, not like a corner convenience store. He imagined the guy had plenty of business around lunch time, particularly during the workweek.
Between customers, the man spent his time cleaning up the place. It wasn't an overt kind of scrubbing, but a easy wipe of his wash cloth, here and there, while he did other things. There was no build up of dirt or grim anywhere that required a rigorous application of elbow grease to remove it. Watching him at work, it was obvious that the man took more than a bit of pride in ownership.
Irving finished the sandwich, surprised that he had managed to eat it all, and sat back with a satisfied groan.
"That was good."
"Thank you. It's pretty hard to go wrong with an Italian sub."
Irving said, "I've gone to that big chain, and I'm often disappointed."
"That's a chain. You've got to expect that."
"I guess so. How long have you owned this place?"
"My dad opened this place when I was a little kid. I took it over when he retired seven ... no, it's eight years ago."
"Wow. You don't see many businesses getting handed down father to son like that any more," Irving said.
"Dad had dreams of me going off to college and becoming an engineer. I think he was kind of disappointed that I wanted to work with him."
"Why would he be disappointed?"
"He's kind of old world ... you know ... from the old country? He opened this place to provide for his family after immigrating here. I think he wanted a better future for his son, than being a shopkeeper."
"What country did he come from?"
"Hungary. He got out after the Russians invaded Budapest, back in 1956. My Dad really hated the Russians and communism. He was one of the students who had been protesting communism and helped bring down the government in the revolution. In fact, he was the organizer of a Petofi Circle."
"What's that?" Irving asked.
"A Petofi Circle was what they called a group of students who would meet regularly to discuss politics. In particular, they were incensed by the creation of the Warsaw Pact, which basically annexed Poland and the Eastern European countries as satellite countries to the Soviet Union. Those circles formed the core of the protesters who marched on Parliament, and ultimately brought down the government of Rakosi."
"I don't know much about that time in history," Irving said.
"It was a big deal, in its day."
Irving said, "I can imagine. By the way, my name is Irving."
"Imre? That's an unusual name."
"My Dad named me after Imre Nagy. He was Prime Minister of the provisional government that was established after the fall of the Soviet backed government. He was kind of a moderate and respected by just about everyone. My Dad was one of those who felt that Nagy hadn't gone far enough when setting up the provisional government, but appreciated that he had taken it in the right direction. Nagy was moving the country towards a multiparty political system and announced that Hungary had withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact. It was a move that cost him his life through an act of treachery. Nagy was killed by the Soviets after they invaded Hungary. They promised him safe passage and then didn't let him pass."
"Sounds like he was a brave man," Irving said.
Imre said, "I don't know. My Dad spoke well of the man, but he didn't know him."
Irving and Imre talked about history between the infrequent customers. Irving ended up spending an hour, just talking. It was a very pleasant time.
It wasn't until Irving was driving home that he realized he was feeling pretty good. That sense of unease had backed off a bit. He didn't know what to make of it, but he liked how he was feeling. Imre had been an interesting person, and it had been a nice little chat. It had killed an hour and a half of what had been a long and boring Saturday.
He returned to the house. Forgetting that he had purchased the stereo system, he left it in the car. He stopped in the living room, to let Susan know that he had returned. Looking as if she hadn't moved an inch from when he had left earlier, Susan was still reading her book on her Kindle. She didn't bother to look up when he entered the room.
Susan tore her eyes away from her book.
"Oh, you're back."
"That's what I just said."
"There's sandwich makings in the kitchen in case you're hungry."
"I ate, already," Irving said.
"That's nice. There's sandwich makings in the kitchen in case you're hungry."
Dismissing him, Susan returned to reading her book.
Maybe her book was just so interesting that she was lost in reading it. It had been a long time since he'd found a book that engaging. Irving stood there looking at her while she appeared to be oblivious to his presence. This awkward exchange had basically summed up their relationship.
Irving wandered through the house looking for something to do. The quiet in the house was almost oppressive. Perhaps it was the thin layer of dust that dampened the noise. Even the little sounds that a house makes, the fan of the heater, the low mumble of the refrigerator, and the moans and groans of the house settling, sounded muted. There wasn't the drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet, as he'd had Ernest fix that months ago.
It took about five minutes to remember that he had a stereo system in the car. He hauled it in, and went through the process of setting it up. The first thing he did while unpacking the stereo, was to set the directions aside where they could be safely ignored. Of course, the instructions were unnecessary; and, considering how small the print was, unreadable. All he had to do was plug in the speakers, and then plug the stereo into the wall socket. The total time required was less than it took to retrieve the box from the car.
He turned on the stereo and found a classic rock station. A slight adjustment to the volume, and music filled the room. At least the oppressive silence was gone.
"Is Molly home?" Susan asked from behind him.
"Oh, I heard the music, and..."
"She's not here," Irving said.
"Okay," Susan said.
She returned to the living room. Irving watched her walk off, puzzled by her behavior. That uneasy feeling returned full force. He didn't know what to make of it.
He shrugged it off and went over to the computer. He spent the next hour reading what he could about the Soviet invasion of Hungary. It was kind of interesting how few names were mentioned. It was as if people like Imre's father didn't really contribute to what was an historic event. A few leaders within the interim government were mentioned, but that was about it. He did read a bit about Imre Nagy.
His cell phone rang. A coffee shop in one of the office buildings he managed, had a water leak. According to the caller, water had spread into an adjacent office, and through the building lobby. The water had been turned off, but he was needed down at the building to decide what to do about the damage. Little disasters like this didn't happen frequently, but when they did, he had to respond.
"The Harrell Building has a water leak. I've got to check it out," Irving said while patting his pockets to make sure that he had everything he needed.
"I'll save dinner for you."
"Thanks," Irving said.
Facing what felt like a never ending drizzle, Irving drove off to the office building with his thoughts on what kind of mess he would find once he arrived. His imagination didn't do justice to it. The pipe had sprung a leak the previous evening and had been dumping water onto the floor for nearly eighteen hours. It was so bad that water had been running out the front door of the building. In the drizzle, the trickle of water under the door wasn't even noticeable.
He spent time on site with the phone to his ear. First, he contacted a water damage company to come out to deal with the water. It was necessary to get the water removed before it caused more problems. The last thing he wanted was mold and mildew! Fixing that would cost a fortune. He knew the folks would show up with the equipment to get up as much water as possible and then dryers would be used to get rid of the dampness. They'd be pulling water out of the place for the next forty-eight hours based on how much was there.
After he had arranged for the water damage company to come, he called in a plumber to take care of the water leak. The water had been shut off, but an office building could not run without water. The owner of the coffee shop would want to open Monday morning and that wouldn't happen without water.
He then called the owners of the businesses on the first floor and requested them to come out to assess the damage to their businesses. For the next couple hours he was dealing with angry and upset businessmen. In the midst of all of that, he spent a great deal of time dealing with the insurance company.
It was not a very pleasant afternoon and evening. It was well after ten at night before he able to head home. He passed a restaurant on the way home. He considered pulling in for a meal, then remembered that Susan had promised to leave something for him to eat.
Pulling into the driveway, he could see that the house was dark. He knew it meant that his wife had already gone to bed. She'd been getting up late and going to bed early a lot, lately. He entered and went into the kitchen to discover a plateful of some kind of casserole on the counter. He poked at it trying to figure it out, before deciding it was some kind of beef and noodle dish.
He looked at the unappetizing meal, wishing that he had given in to the impulse to stop somewhere on the way home, for something a little better. It was too late, now. He popped it into the microwave, and waited for it to heat.
He sat on the bar stool at the kitchen counter and ate his dinner. It was a rather bland meal, but filling. There had been a lot of it on the plate. He ate as much as he could. He still left a lot on the plate. He emptied the leftovers into the trashcan and rinsed off the plate. He didn't know if she had run the dishwasher, so he left it in the sink.
After all of the hassles of dealing with the water leak, he wanted to relax a bit before heading to bed. He debated between taking a headache pill, or having a drink, before deciding to make a simple scotch on the rocks. Carrying his drink, he went into the living room and sat down in a chair. The house was quiet, oppressively so.
He sipped his drinking thinking about his day. The trip to the mall wasn't exactly how he'd wanted to spend a Saturday morning. The lunchtime conversation with Imre had been fascinating, but the guy was just a person he had met. Although the water leak had consumed a lot of his time, it was work and not relaxing. All in all, it was a pretty bad day. He hoped tomorrow would be better.
His thoughts turned to what had to be done the next day. He would have to run by the Harrell Building to see how things were progressing on the clean up. He wasn't looking forward to Monday morning, when all of the people working in the building would come to work to find everything was a mess.
He was left with an sense of unease – as if something in his world wasn't right. He couldn't place his finger on it; but something, some horrible thing, was niggling at the back of his mind. He finished his drink and sat there staring off into space. He fell asleep in the chair, woke around three in the morning, and made his way to bed.
The next afternoon, Irving returned from the Harrell Building feeling confident that things would be back to normal there in a day or two. The water had been removed, and the dryers were doing their job. It would take some time for the offices with carpets to dry out, but the tile floors in the lobby area were dry. People would be able to come into the building and get to the offices on the upper floors. The office next to the coffee shop would be out of business for a day since the carpets in it had been totally soaked.
He pulled into the driveway, taking note of Molly's car sitting there. He entered the house to find Susan and Molly chatting at the dining room table. The remains of some pastries were scattered around the table, but he noticed that there was nothing left for him. They had coffee cups that were half full, but it looked like they hadn't been touched in a while. It looked like the two women had been there for several hours, at the least.
"Hello, Molly. Are you enjoying the independent life?" Irving asked.
"I love it," Molly said.
"That's great," Irving said. "So when..."
Interrupting, Susan asked, "Are you sure that you can't stay for dinner?"
"I can broil some chicken breasts," Susan said.
Molly looked tempted, but she replied, "That sounds good, but I've really got to go."
"I'd really love it if you stayed," Susan said.
Rising from the table, Molly said, "I'd better go."
Susan rose and followed Molly out of the dining room talking about future shopping trips leaving Irving standing there. With nothing better to do, he picked up the assorted dishes on the table and carried them into the kitchen. He returned with a wet rag and wiped up the crumbs. After pushing the chairs in, he went into the kitchen to take care of the few dishes. When he returned to living room, Susan was back to reading her book.
"She didn't say goodbye," Irving said hurt by his daughter's behavior.
"I'm trying to read."
"I can see that," Irving said.
Susan looked back down at her Kindle.
"I got out the chicken," Irving said.
Irritated at the interruption, Susan looked up at him and asked, "Why?"
"You said you were going to make broiled chicken, tonight."
"We'll just have leftover casserole," Susan said.
"I heard you say that you'd make broiled chicken," Irving said starting to get angry.
"We're having the leftover casserole. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to finish this book," Susan said firmly, in her don't argue with me tone of voice.
"Excuse me," Irving said.
Feeling angry at being ignored, he turned and walked out of the house. Again, he was left with nowhere to go. After thinking about it for a minute, he smiled before pulling out of the driveway and heading away from the house. It was a short drive to the restaurant. He went inside like a man on a mission!
It was early and the restaurant was practically empty. The hostess, after leading him over to a table, handed him a menu.
He glanced over it, smiled, and then said, "I know exactly what I want."
"Your waiter will be right with you," the hostess said before leaving the table.
Irving watched her walk away appreciating the nice roll of her hips as she moved. He sighed.
Although Irving knew exactly what he wanted to eat, he glanced over the menu while waiting for the waiter to arrive. The Georgia Peach was one of his favorite restaurants. It was normally too expensive for him, except on special occasions. It wasn't the most expensive place in town, but he felt that it was one of the best places to eat, in terms of food.
The waiter arrived and said, "Good evening, Sir. My name is Charles and I'll be your waiter tonight. The hostess said that you already knew what you wanted to order."
"That's right. I'll have the broiled chicken with garlic sauce, and a glass of the house Chablis," Irving answered.
He had selected the only broiled chicken dish on the menu. It came with herbed potatoes and steamed green beans. Normally, Irving didn't like steamed green beans finding that they were usually just tough little things with almost no flavor. The chef at the Georgia Peach managed to do something ... Irving didn't know what he did ... to the green beans, that made them Irving's favorite side dish at the restaurant. The herbed potatoes they served there weren't bad, either.
"Would you prefer the garden salad or the spinach salad?"
"The spinach salad," Irving said.
"Would you care for an hors d'oeuvres?"
"No, thank you."
Irving handed the menu to the waiter.
"I'll be right back with your wine, Sir."
It wasn't long before his meal started to arrive. Irving proceeded to enjoy every bite of food. The wine, he had two glasses, was excellent. The hot bread, slathered with a thick coat of soft butter, melted in his mouth. The spinach in the salad had to be the most tender leaves of spinach he had ever tasted. The dressing, he didn't know what kind it was, had a delightful citrus flavor to it. The main dish surpassed his expectations. For dessert, he had coffee and a slice of a chocolate cheesecake.
After he had finished eating, he relaxed, sipping his coffee and looking around at the others enjoying their meals. He watched a young couple, clearly in love, eating their meal. They were so lost in looking at each other that he doubted they even knew what they were eating. He remembered when he and Susan were like that.
They had been seniors in college when they had met, and began the process of falling in love, while taking an anthropology class. He was a business major, taking the course as a general elective, and she was a history major taking it as a required course. Her father often joked that there were no jobs for historians and that she was actually working on what he called a MRS degree rather than a Bachlorette Of Arts Degree. Her father had an odd sense of humor that Irving had slowly learned to appreciate.
Being college students, money for dates had been a problem, but it wasn't insurmountable. The early dates had them attending university events, with them going to movie presentations on campus, special lectures hosted by various departments, and other campus based activities. They studied side by side in the library, ate together in the cafeteria, and necked in little isolated corners of the campus. It really didn't matter what they did, they only had eyes for each other. It was a time of excitement in which they nervously expanded the the boundaries of their budding relationship and explored their sexuality. By the time they graduated, they were in love and a few months later they were married.
Irving glanced back at the loving couple sharing their meal, and then at the empty chair across the table. Understanding of what had been eating at him, crashed down upon him. He now knew what had been bothering him. It wasn't that the house was too quiet, it was that the house was too empty. With the children gone, all emotion seemed to have evaporated. He wondered what had happened to the couple he and his wife had once been.
'Is this a mid-life crisis?' he wondered.
The idea of going out and buying a sports car, wasn't all that attractive to him. He hadn't ever been out cruising for a mistress. That didn't mean that he didn't check out the women – just that the thought of pursuing one had never crossed his mind. He was married to Susan, and hadn't seen any reason to chase after woman. All of a sudden, he felt trapped in an empty marriage. What unnerved him in pursuing that thought, was that he suddenly had a reason to chase after women. He nearly spilled his coffee when that thought crossed his mind!
The waiter brought the bill over to the table. Irving paid it without really looking at the amount. If asked later, he would have had no idea how much he had spent on the meal. His mind was on other, more important matters.
Irving drove towards his house. He didn't drive directly home, but stopped along the way at little stores to make a few purchases. Feeling a slight headache, he stopped at a pharmacy and bought a bottle of aspirin. Noticing that his gas tank was nearly half empty, he stopped at the gas station, and put eight gallons of gasoline in his car. His mouth was a little dry, so he stopped at a convenience store, and bought a cup of coffee. It was only when he was pulling into a second convenience store, to buy a newspaper, that he realized what he was doing: he was avoiding going home!
He entered the house and made his way into the kitchen. It appeared that his wife hadn't been in there. The chicken he had set out to thaw was still on the counter. The dirty dishes he had stacked in the sink hadn't been put in the dishwasher. He wondered if she had waited for him or hadn't gotten around to making dinner. He wondered if she had even noticed if he had left the house.
He went into the living room. Susan was still seated where she had been when he had left. Her eyes were still glued to the Kindle.
She looked up and said, "I'll reheat the casserole after I finish this chapter."
A sudden rage welled up inside Irving. He grabbed the Kindle from her hand, and threw it like a Frisbee. It sailed across the room and hit the wall, edge on, leaving a dent before falling to the floor.
Susan, shocked speechless, stared at him open mouthed.
"You're done with that God Damned Chapter!" Irving shouted.
Susan just sat there staring at him wondering what had set him off like that. She hadn't seen him as angry since catching a boy making out with Molly in the living room. The boy had been lucky to leave the house with all of his body parts, much less his life.
Thinking she would placate him, she said, "Okay ... I'll put the casserole in the microwave now."
"You can take that casserole, and shove it up your ass!"
Realizing that he was about to lose it, Irving stormed out of the house before he said something he would regret.
Susan, caught completely by surprise, broke out in tears.
Edited By TeNderLoin