Copyright© 2016 by Lazlo Zalezac
The wipers swung in an arc clearing the droplets of water from the windshield. It was drizzling hard enough to allow the water to accumulate sufficiently to make the visibility poor between the wiper’s intermittent swipes, but not hard enough to justify running the wipers full time. It was a choice of putting up with a speckled view of the world, or the squeak of the wipers on glass.
Paul hated that in-between kind of drizzle. Either it should rain or just not bother. As it was, the road was slippery enough to slow traffic down. It seemed like every jerk in the world had chosen that night to drive. There were the idiots who drove too fast, and the Nervous Nellies who drove too slow. He felt that it was the ones going too slow who created accidents, the ones who drove too fast that caused accidents, and careful drivers who ended up dead.
As miserable as the weather was, he didn’t care. This night was special and he intended to savor it. He was on a date with his wife. It was the first time in twenty-six years they were dining out as a couple. He’d chosen to a try a new place that had received very good reviews since it opened, two months earlier. It was nearly twenty-five miles from home. In this weather, that was a forty-minute drive, but he didn’t care.
Looking forward to a nice relaxing meal, Paul said, “This place has really gotten good reviews. One of the guys at work ate there a couple of weeks ago, and he’s still talking it.”
“I’ve heard the same thing,” Judy said smiling pleasantly.
“I’ve really been looking forward to this.”
“I feel so guilty about leaving Annie at home.”
He stared out the windshield for a second trying to come up with an appropriate response. Annie was their daughter, but that didn’t mean he planned his life around hers. She was twenty-six years old, a college dropout, and worked a part-time job. She still lived at home, and it didn’t look like she had any plans to leave.
According to his wife, they were supposed to arrange their whole lives for Annie’s convenience. No conversation between the two could last more than two minutes without getting shifted to the topic of Annie, and the drama that was her life.
“She’s a big girl and can take care of herself. Besides she’s supposed to work tonight,” he said trying to keep his irritation out of his voice.
“We could have scheduled this for a night when she would be off of work,” she said.
A little kernel of anger tried to escape, but he fought it down. This was supposed to be a date between a man and his wife. There was nothing romantic about an angry exchange of words. He took a deep breath to calm down.
“This is supposed to be a date,” he said wondering if he wife remembered what a date was.
“Annie would enjoy it.”
“A date is two people, not three,” he said.
It was hard to keep from sounding cross. The fact that they were in the car and driving away from the house without Annie was miracle enough. There was no need to force the issue. All he wanted was a nice quiet evening alone with his wife.
“Annie is probably all upset that she wasn’t invited along. You know how sensitive she is.”
Paul didn’t reply knowing that anything he said would lead to an argument. They were almost to the restaurant where they would be able to focus on the food, the service, the general ambiance and maybe each other. There was no reason to be angry by the time they reached it.
The cell phone rang. The loud shrill ring tone announced the caller just as clearly as if his daughter was screeching ‘Mom!’ His stomach clenched at the thought of what it meant.
He said, “Just let it ring.”
Judy, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at his comment, answered the cell phone, “Hello, honey.”
“Shit,” he muttered.
“I don’t know,” she said into the cell phone.
Although he could only hear one side of the conversation, he was well aware of how talks between his wife and Annie progressed. There was the proposal of some activity by Annie, there was the doubtful indecision by Judy, there was the argument to do it by Annie, the grudging acceptance by Judy, and then the working out of details. His hands grasped the steering wheel hard enough to turn his knuckles white.
“I guess we could.”
Hearing the word, ‘we, ‘ was not a good sign. His wife was getting talked into something and that did not bode well for his nice quiet evening alone with her. He swore, “Shit, shit, shit!”
“All right, when?”
‘Not tonight, ‘ he thought. ‘She can’t possibly do this to me again.’
He glanced over at her closing the cell phone. Judy didn’t say anything for several long seconds. He was beginning to hope that the evening wasn’t ruined. Just five more minutes and they would be at the restaurant.
She said, “I don’t want to eat out, tonight. Let’s just go home.”
Her sudden change of heart right after the telephone call was not a coincidence. He was sure that Annie had requested his wife to run some errand. He could feel his blood boiling. He should have known this was going to happen. It always did.
“We’re just a few minutes away from the restaurant,” he said.
“It’s raining and just ugly out. Let’s go home and I’ll heat up some leftovers from yesterday,” she said.
Leftovers? She was offering him leftovers when they were on the way to a nice restaurant? He couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t going to go along with that.
“I made reservations,” he said.
“I don’t want to cancel them. I want to have a nice evening out with my wife.”
“We can have an evening in,” she said.
“No,” he said flatly.
She crossed her arms and turned away from him. In a nasty voice, she said, “I told you, I don’t want to go there. I want to go home. Forcing me to go somewhere that I don’t want to be is not what I call a nice evening out.”
Paul wasn’t willing to give in so quickly.
“We’ve been talking about this all week,” he said feeling like it came out like a whine rather than a simple statement of fact.
“I changed my mind.”
He pulled off the road to park on the shoulder. Cars were whipping past at dangerous speeds considering the road conditions. Putting the car into park, he stared out the window for a second trying to organize his thoughts. A truck roaring past rocked the car.
“I’m tired of this. We’ve been married twenty-eight years. For the past twenty-six of them, we haven’t been able to go out as a couple, not once.”
“You’re exaggerating,” she said.
“When was the last time we were out together as a couple?”
“Annie was with us. I don’t consider that to be going out as a couple.”
That had been a wonderful dinner (sarcasm implied). Annie had ordered two appetizers, a main course, and a dessert. She had picked at her food and had it all boxed up to take home (it all ended up in the trash). Her meal was more expensive than his and his wife’s meals combined. On top of that, she had three Mai Tais and had gotten drunk. Annie was an obnoxious and loud drunk. It wasn’t the first time he’d spend a miserable evening like that.
“We couldn’t leave her at home,” she said.
“She’s twenty-six years old! She can stay home by herself,” he said curtly.
His daughter could go on dates, but they were supposed to sit at home waiting for her to return just in case she had some problem. There were always problems – her date was looking at her in a strange way, a car followed her for three blocks, or one of her friends was acting like a jerk. Then it was a whole evening spent with his wife worrying that the guy was going to attack Annie, that the driver of the car was looking to kidnap Annie, or that the friend wasn’t really all that good of a friend.
“Leaving her behind would hurt her feelings. You know how sensitive she is.”
“What about my feelings? Or am I not allowed to have feelings?”
“Don’t be a baby.”
“How is a husband wanting an evening out with his wife being a baby?” he asked with a chill in his voice.
“It is when you’re throwing a tantrum like this,” she said.
His eyes narrowed, and his jaw clenched giving mute testimony to his anger. He took a deep breath and relaxed enough to say, “Tantrum? What in the hell are you talking about?”
“Let’s go home. This evening is ruined.”
“You can say that again. You and Annie fucking ruined it.”
“No, you ruined it by not listening to me. We could have had a pleasant evening. We could have had a few leftovers and watched television together in the peace and quiet of our own home. Instead, you insist upon this restaurant,” she said.
Angry, Paul put the car in drive and punched the accelerator. The tires spun and then caught. The car shot forward. He edged over into traffic aiming for a good sized gap between cars. A man who didn’t want to let him into traffic sped up to close the gap and started pressing on his horn. He flipped the driver of the car the finger and pulled into the gap anyway. At the moment, Paul didn’t care if they collided or not.
At the first exit, he got off the highway. It was a quick trip across the overpass and back onto the highway heading toward the house. He drove without saying a word. There was nothing left to say. The muscles in his jaw kept clenching as if he was chewing some kind of rubber steak.
She sat beside him with her arms crossed. If he had been hoping to have a nice quiet evening with her that night, he had another thing coming. She was angry that she had to actually argue her case when he should have just conceded to her demand. They could always go out to dinner some other time. They could even take Annie and enjoy an evening out as a family.
Twenty minutes later they were on the main road to the house. They’d made good time, probably because he didn’t care if they got into accident. He knew that he had turned into one of those jerks who drove too fast. At the moment, he just flat out didn’t care.
They were passing through restaurant row, a stretch of the road in town where there were a bunch of fast food places as well as a couple of sit-down eateries. Thinking about it, he should have just gone to one of the local places. At least they would have been midway through the meal by the time Annie had called.
“Would you pull into the burger place?”
“Why?” he asked. Sarcastically, he added, “I thought you were going to heat up some leftovers.”
“Annie wants some fries.”
He was dumbfounded. Annie wanted french fries? His date was interrupted because of french fries. His wife went along with it.
“She’s got a car. She could have driven over here and gotten her own fries.”
“She doesn’t have time. She’s got to be at work in thirty minutes. I promised I’d pick up some fries for her,” she said.
“When did you make this promise?”
“When she called.”
“Are you telling me that you canceled our date, so that we could drive all the way back here just to pick up two dollars’ worth of french fries for Annie?” he asked.
“She needs to eat,” Judy said.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” he yelled.
“How dare you talk to me that way?”
Furious, he drove past the burger place. There was no way he was going to stop and buy french fries for the brat.
Judy said, “Turn around.”
“No,” he said. “You can drive back here and pick up the fucking french fries all alone.”
“Paul! You are being a jerk.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Aren’t you ashamed?”
“No. This is the last time I’m ever doing this. This is it. I’m done with it. It’s over. I’m fifty years old. This isn’t what I want for the rest of my life. I’m not going to put up with it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What’s going on between you and Annie isn’t healthy. She is twenty-six years old, not five. She’s got you trained better than a Russian dancing bear. She plays her music and you just dance to her tune. It has become a reflex for you. She should be living on her own.”
“She doesn’t have a college degree.”
“Neither does the guy at the burger place but he has job and a place of his own.”
“It’s harder for a girl.”
“Bullshit. You’re always making excuses for her.”
“You never supported her!”
“What are you talking about? We paid her college tuition for seven years and she didn’t manage to graduate. We’ve bought three cars for her. She’s crashed two of them already. She lives at home rent-free without doing jack-shit around the place. You buy all of her clothes for her. If that isn’t supporting someone, I have no idea what is.”
“I did all that for her. You didn’t.”
“Who in the fuck earned the money?” he asked harshly.