Sue L was a failure; it's the only thing that she knew for sure, that she even pretended to know for sure.
"Look around, kid, and tell me what you see," she said to herself with a note of finality in her voice.
When she did that, the things that she saw didn't even come close to convincing her that her 'failurehood' was anything but the truth. After all, 'the Ultimate John' was gone. (She knew that she could put her finger on why she'd begun calling him 'the Ultimate John', if she really tried. She just never thought that it was worth the effort.)
So, 'the Ultimate John' was gone off with his Bimbo and here she was living in her self proclaimed land of shadows.
If reality were tested, of course, one would see quickly enough that things were not all a bust. After all, 'the Ultimate John' sent her money regularly, which she recognized as the fee that he was paying for being free to go off with the Bimbo.
And, her job was secure and she was good at it. She had been able to sufficiently compartmentalize her life to not let her contemporary and total ennui spill over into her work life. She knew that she had to live. But as soon as she was home--another 'victory' prize in her struggle with 'the Ultimate John'--an had closed the door, she allowed the gray funk, the clouds of her own self proclaimed failure to simply gather around her.
Initially, she thought that she could lose the funk in certain kinds of activities. She had, at first, thrust herself into the world of sex and chat rooms, but found it stilted, infantile and certainly not satisfying. She also discovered that she was not really any good at sexual small talk. She gave it up as lost. It was one more 'notch' in the long line of personal failures that Sue was gathering to herself.
Her next line of personal defense was in smoking and drinking. She'd while away even hours with a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes. This lasted an even shorter time than the sex chat rooms. After all, the cigarettes made her mouth taste really foul, and the wine gave her a headache in the mornings. When she had no answer for the obvious question of 'Is this worth it', she simply gave both of them up.
She had her period of spectacular, and continuous house cleaning. For a while, it was her nightly passion, cleaning, straightening, making everything right around the house. Eventually, however, the little voice that seemed to invade every one of her compensation tasks, spoke to her and asked politely, if somewhat smugly, 'just why she was doing all the cleaning, and who was going to see the clean house anyway?'
Sue, having no correct answer for this whispered question, gave up on the furious house cleaning. Things got lax but the place looked 'lived in', was what she told herself. But secretly she knew that she added the 'house cleaning' to her list of things at which she had failed.
She didn't even consider the outside; it had been 'the Ultimate John's' area of expertise and she never did much with it. Now she did nothing at all with it, and all of her attempts to force herself to think of what needed to be done were not availing her of anything.
She would sit, of an evening, and allow her foggy mind to swirl around these 'failures' and contemplate what else was in store for her to be dreadful at. It was cold comfort to have these negative sessions but they did help her pass the time. They passed the time along with a long line of tv shows that she never really watched, didn't really remember, and certainly didn't care about.
At times she'd talk to herself and ask the necessary question of whether 'the Ultimate John' was really that much of a prize to live with. These sessions brought her too close to a reality that she wasn't ready for at all, and normally, if not always, they ended with her crying.
But then that was something that she could count on. In the midst of all of the funk, Sue realized that there were three things to which she could and did still cling: taking long hot baths, dressing in a really sloppy fashion at home, and crying.
It ended up giving her a vision of herself as nice smelling, disheveled, and red eyed. This became the center of her universe, as the tv took up less time and the baths took up a little more of the time.
She hated to admit it but there was really also something that was vaguely comforting about knowing where she was at; she at least knew that she was a failure. She had that to count on, and reckoned that there were no extra surprises to be had in that direction.
She had stopped looking in the mirror also. During those first days, after 'the Ultimate John' was gone, she'd spent the requisite amount of time in front of the mirror. She'd gone through the whole gamut in her sessions to try to come to grips with what was wrong with her that 'the Ultimate John' had slipped from her grasp.
There were times, when she stood in front of the mirror, 'in those days', as she thought of them, though they were only a few weeks in the past; she stood in front of the mirror in just panties and tried to take an objective look at herself.
"Hmm," she said to herself then, "Breasts don't sag; not huge but still kind of nicely grapefruit rounded; nice tushy, flat belly, legs not too bad." This was the conversation in front of the mirror, whether she was waring panties or, as on some occasions, nothing at all.
At those times, her conclusions about the way she looked at the age of 40, simply contradicted her unforeseen loss of 'the Ultimate John', and so, she just gave up on looking at herself in the mirror. Instead she started wearing sweat pants and baggy, shapeless tee shirts at home. It became her cultivated 'slob' look, and it was comforting to her in a kind of perverse way.
"After all," she thought, "If all of this about me is so drab and gray, why shouldn't I look that way?"
She got no answer to that one, and so she extended her 'pity party' to include her new 'slob' look.
"Well, 'the Ultimate John' is not coming back," she reasoned with herself, 'So why not just be comfortable around the house, like I want?"
"Why indeed," was the only answer that she ever got to that and so, she was content with the way she dressed around the house.
The only semi-bright light in those days, those long gray days of funk, were her phone calls for her "Johnnie", her son. He was away finishing his schooling and called her a few times each week.
She began with a determination to lie to him about how she felt and how she was doing. It rarely worked for long with Johnnie.
He was angry, and he told her so, about his father's irresponsible behavior in running after 'the Bimbo.' She appreciated his attitude about 'the Ultimate John, ' which she began to call him in talking to Johnnie, but that didn't seem to help her that much.
The one thing that the calls from Johnnie showed Sue was that the hurt that led to the funk and all of her self proclaimed 'failures' was so inward and personal that even her Johnnie's calls weren't lifting her from the depths to which she allowed herself to sink.
It was a grim world for her but one that she recognized, had in a large part created, was familiar with, was comfortable with, and, as the days went on, one that she reveled in. It was a solitary world; no one was trying to break in, no one was applying for 'the Ultimate John's' job as the provider of those interminable 5 minute passion sessions, which were always shrouded in dark, and inevitably left her wondering about the hoopla about sex.
This was Sue's world in those days; it was her entire package. It almost existed for her as her defense against the outer world, and she took her baths and clung to it.
The early Saturday morning knock on the door, was startling for Sue; after all, she realized, no one came to see her these days. Even friends stopped coming around, when they realized that she was so serious about her doom and gloom.
She answered the knock warily. It was Wayne B, a friend of her son Johnnie's.
"Hey, Mrs. L," he said with simple enthusiasm, "How are you doin'."
"Wayne," she said with obvious surprise, "It's, uh, nice to see you; what's going on these days."
Sue was both surprised and chagrined at Wayne appearing at her door. She was, after all, still dressed in the sweats that she'd worn now for two days. Her bath that morning had made her all fresh and lovely smelling but the sweats certainly counteracted that impression.
She stood for a moment, and then finally remembered her manners:
"Oh, I'm sorry, Wayne," she said, "Come in; I don't know what has happened to my manners."
He followed her into the foyer trying not to notice the somewhat messy house. He was becoming embarrassed now at being faced with such obvious signs of how unhappy Johnnie's mom was. It affected him because he had always had a soft spot for her, and considered her one the loveliest women he knew.
"She looked for all the world now," he thought to himself, "Like she somehow desperately lost."
He just smiled at her. She, for her part, looked around and was chagrined at the disarray of the house. She ran her fingers through her hair, and began to make an excuse:
"I'm sorry, Wayne, that the house is such a mess; I ... I just haven't gotten to it, it seems..."
Then she retreated to one of her proven methods of dealing with things in those days: she cried.
Wayne was really uncomfortable now; he just stood there not knowing what to do.
Sue straightened herself out soon enough, after her cry.
"I need to apologize again, Wayne, I have no excuse at all; it's just the way I am these days, since Johnnie's dad left."
"I understand, Mrs. L," Wayne said with compassion, "But look, I'll be straight with you; I got a call from Johnnie and he wants me to do some outside work here that he didn't think you'd be getting around to."
"Uh, outside work?" she said, as though she didn't understand him.
"Yes, if you don't mind!" he said politely.
She smiled then, and said: "How nice of Johnnie and you to think of it; please let me know how much I owe you, when you're done."
"Oh, I don't think so," Wayne said with a kind of finality in his voice. "Johnnie'd kill me, if he knew that I charged you anything for helping out."
"Ohhhh," Sue said, close to tears again.
She waved her hands in front of her face and said; "I'm sorry, Wayne; it's ... it's ... I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Mrs. L, he said quietly.
Then to turn the subject in another direction, he said to her: "Can you tell me where the mower and trimming stuff is?"
"Yes," she said quietly, "Come and I'll show you."
They went together to the shed and she showed him where all the equipment for doing the outside work was.
She turned to leave, and brushed by him in the small space of the shed.
He took a chance then, thinking to himself, "Maybe it'll cheer her up."
He said to her simply: "Mrs. L, you certainly smell nice."
It startled her so much that she stopped, and stared at him for just a moment, and then blushed and said 'thank you, Wayne," before she walked away.
When she got into the house, she was angry with herself.
"Fine be a slob in your funk," she said with asperity, "But that doesn't mean that the place where you live needs to look like the huns have been here."
It was one of the first times in a long time that she remembered anything that caused her to take notice and actually get something done around the house. While she listened to the motors running outside, she straightened and cleaned the house. She promised herself another bath as a reward for her labor.
At mid morning, she went out with some iced tea for Wayne. He took it gratefully. He also noticed that her hair was combed and looking nice. He mentioned it to her.
She blushed again; she didn't even remember straightening her hair but she obviously had. She wondered if she was losing her grip but a grim voice inside of her echoed back at her:
"Losing your grip on what? On your funk? On your gray moods? What' so special about holding on to that stuff anyway."
She tried to ignore the voice but it was hard.
At times during the morning she peeked out of the window, and was confounded to see Wayne with his shirt off, wearing a pair of running shorts as he did the yard work.
She looked away and promised herself that additional bath sometime that day.
Toward lunch time, she brought out a plate of sandwiches, and chips to the deck to share with Wayne. She didn't know if he'd recognize it but she had also changed and put on clean sweats.
She told herself, not sure if she believed it or not, that it was only because she was tired of wearing the old ones.
But Wayne noticed. He grinned at her, as he approached the deck:
"Spruced up, Mrs. L! Lookin' nice!"
She blushed yet again, and said to him quickly: "Oh, Wayne, I need to apologize for the way that I look with these dumpy sweats on; it's what I wear around most of the time these days."
"You look fine," he said, adding: "Hey, thanks for the lunch."
They sat together kind of companionably and ate. He was soon finished, and said that he had to leave because of afternoon commitments but that he'd be back tomorrow to continue getting the necessary work done.
At the door she smiled at him and said:
"Wayne, I really sorry to put you out like this; it's been ... it's being a great help to me."
"Mrs. L, don't say another word about it; I'll be back tomorrow and will get more of the work done."
In a fairly unconscious frame of mind, she spent the rest of her afternoon cleaning and straightening the house. She didn't think much about the fact that she now had the impetus to do this kind of task, where she hadn't in the past. She just did it.
Then she rewarded herself with her second bath of the day. It was a luxury soak for her. She did her hair, and afterward put on some make up. She spent a bit of time lounging around the house dressed in a silk robe and felt pretty decadent.
It was just a little while later that she sat down for, what she described, as a good talking to.
"Sue L.," she said impressively to herself, "Don't you go off half cocked just because a young man comes here to help out. You've been in your own personal funk, and Johnnie knew it. So, he sent over a friend to simply help get things arranged. Just stop this mooning about. Stop it now. Grow up."
The talking to did the work that she intended. She realized that she'd spent the past few hours in her silk robe and panties, and she also knew that it simply wouldn't do. She returned to her bedroom, which hadn't yet been cleaned or straightened, and put on a pair of sweats that just happened to be on the top of the hamper.
She was back to familiar territory, back to familiar inaction, back to her familiar funk. It fit, it was hers, she liked it, and she would nurse it some more. It was the way she spent the rest of the day.
Her attitude in the morning was different though. She was up fairly early and one cursory look around was enough to make her disgusted with the state of the bedroom. She spent an early hour working on it and returning it to a proper state. She was surprised, at the end of that time period, at how much better the cleaned up room made her feel. Still, she thought little or nothing about it, not even noticing her not having descended into her usual blue mood for the day.
She wandered then into the shower and took a shower to start her day. She didn't even notice that it wasn't a bath day.
It was only a short time later that the doorbell rang; she had been anticipating it and had tried not to anticipate it. She jumped just a little, when she heard it. She was wearing a pair of clean sweats for the day. Her hair was done, she had makeup on.
On the way to the door she even played the game with herself about 'who that could be at the door'. She actually arrived at the door smiling.
Wayne was there waiting patiently for her to open the door.
"Hey, look at you, Mrs. L," he enthused, "You look spiffy this morning."
"Thank you, Wayne," she answered with some pleasure, "I'm really sorry that I always seem to be dressed like a slob, when you are here to help out."
"Don't think of it, Mrs. L," he said, "You look really nice today."
"I do?" she asked quietly and then settled for a simple: "Thank you, Wayne."
"There's a pile of things yet to be done out there; so, if you don't mind, I'll just go ahead and get at them."
Sue spent a bit of her morning watching him work again. It was a bit cooler today and he didn't need to take his shirt off, as he had yesterday. She found herself reacting to that with disappointment.
When she discovered that, she gave herself another one of her 'get a grip' lectures. At the end of the 'lecture' she didn't notice that she wasn't tempted to go and put on some clothes that were more 'comfortable', the old urge to get on the old sweats didn't seem to be part of the mix that morning.
She interrupted him at mid way in the job he was doing with some ice tea and cookies. She asked him, as he sat eating and drinking with her, if he'd rather have a beer but he told her that, since he had work to do yet, he'd better keep his eye on the work.
At one point, as they sat on the deck, he ventured to say to her:
"Mrs. L, you certainly look like you're in a better frame of mind today. If you don't mind my saying so."
"Thank you, Wayne," she said simply "I guess I should apologize for being so gloomy yesterday; it's been that kind of time for me lately."
"But you're looking so much brighter today."
She blushed then. He smiled at her thinking how much he liked it when she blushed.
She prepared an early lunch for them but before she did the lunch, she went to her, now neat, bedroom and put on a blouse and skirt. She did it automatically, as though it was the thing to do, ignoring the fact that she had consciously, and continually adopted a 'slob' look for her time around the house.
He wandered up to the deck at the time that they had both agreed upon for a light lunch. She came through the door with a tray for them, and he reacted immediately:
"Hey," he almost crowed, "Transformation, transformation; look at you, Mrs. L, you look marvelous."
She blushed. And this time he didn't try to resist what was on his mind:
"I love it, when you blush," he said simply.
"I've been blushing a lot lately, I guess I should apologize for that, Wayne."