It was one of those in-between days, in that wasn’t unbearably hot but had a filmy grime quality that makes you feel like you need a shower. It’s hard to get motivated in times like these and really try to make a go of it. Max hadn’t. The suit he had on was too small because he couldn’t afford a new one and ever since twenty seven he began to get fat in all the wrong places. But he had to wear a suit so he wore the one he had.
See, Max was driving home from the first grown-up job that he had really ever held. He wasn’t pumping gas or Xeroxing papers at a stationary store. He had gone to college like an ambitious man should, and now at thirty, he was working a job that required grooming and that’s what made his wife happy.
Still, this filmy, filthy fucking weather made it so he couldn’t wait to get out of traffic. His ten year old car stank from the smoker that had owned it before him. The heat and the cloth interior and the smoky ghost of the previous owner was pushing things to the limit as he pulled his car into the too-narrow carport that passes for parking when you live in an apartment.
Once inside, the place was an icebox and the TV was cranked all the way to the “E” in “VOLUME.”
“What the shit is going on here?” yelled Max.
The lack of immediate answer was made more irritating by the suit jacket bunching along his sweaty expanding back as he tore it off.
“I said, what THE SHIT?!”
Laurel came out of the kitchen dressed in the same dumpy stay-at-home clothes she always wore. Some loose old skirt and a loose old shirt. She didn’t try anymore because she didn’t have to.
“What are you screaming and carrying on about Maxy-poo?”
Her teeth were already that sickening maroon. The bloody tusks of an elephant. She’d probably been at the cabernet for hours and it was only seven o’clock.
“Nothing, just why does the TV have to be so goddamned loud? My head hurts and my feet hurt and all hell broke loose at the office just before the day was up.”
“You say that every night. If you were supposed to like it, it wouldn’t be a JOB, silly.”
These comments made things more irritating, but Max was learning to pick his battles. They had only been married a year and although she had suggested it, they never got a pre-nup, so if he blew it she’d be getting fucked by someone else while he got stuck with the tab.
“I’m gonna change –”
Laurel was already back in the kitchen. There was only so much she could be expected to care about Max’s woes when every single day was a slight variation of the last.
“– AND I’M GOING TO HAVE TWO MARTINIS!”
He climbed out of the tiny suit and hung it up next to the portable steamer. One of the few practical things that came from the wedding, since otherwise he’d go broke trying to keep the damn suit clean and relatively wrinkle free.
The road to success had more booby traps than the Ho Chi Minh trail. You weren’t really ever supposed to make it, unless by it you meant success and fortune for other people.
Max walked into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. Amazing how once you notice age it spreads like a cancer. The cracks and spots and wrinkles; the gaping pores and random hairs. It was well past time for that martini.
Back in the living room, Laurel had mercifully turned the volume down on the television. Max went over to their sorry excuse for a bar cart and poured cheap vodka and even cheaper vermouth into the shaker.
“Got any olives left?”
“Mmm?” Came muffled from the kitchen.
He stirred it up and poured it into a glass. More of a shot that a martini, but he rather not go in there for ice and olives and catch hell for something. He sat down on the couch with his drink and picked up the remote and pulled up the menu. Laurel was on him immediately.
“Don’t what, for fuck’s sake?”
“Don’t CHANGE it! I want to see who she ends up with. I bet it’s Skylar.”
“Skylar’s a faggot.”
“You’re just jealous. What you have there? A martini? Ugh, is it hot? It looks hot. Why didn’t you ask for ice? Why do you insist on drinking martinis? Do you think you’re some big Don Draper type now that you have a job that requires a suit? Your boyfriend?”
“Don Draper doesn’t drink martinis, he drinks old fashioneds. Now stop being vulgar, I’m trying to unwind here.”
“Don’t call me that! I’m just teasing you know. You can dish it, but you sure can’t take it. Such a hypocrite. My hubby is such a hypocrite.”
“You just don’t understand the psyche of the creative male. I’m being murdered slowly by this nonsensical shit created by depraved monsters to collect money from me that I don’t care to earn.”
“I thought you wanted a Ferrari? Hypocrite. Right, the car from the poster from when you were a kid? If you drink too much you won’t shut up about it and you always drink too much.”
Max kicked his legs up on the coffee table and wiggled his toes as he drained the warm, shitty martini. He thought that he should trim his toenails soon.
“Oooh, look who’s mad now? Ignoring me? You can dish it, but can’t take it. What are you thinking about?”
He put his glass down on the table. The table needed replacing. Or at least re-finishing.
“Do you ever think any thoughts that you don’t barf out and hurl at me?”
Depending on what kind of wine-drunk Laurel was on she’d either laugh it off or he’d just wrote his own ticket. She looked down at him quizzically for a moment and then here face softened and cracked into a playful grin.
“Come here, Maxy-waxy!”
Her breath was of stale wine and garlic and cigarettes. Apparently he’d married a Sicilian woman ninety years ago. Still, better than fighting. She broke the kiss and smiled at him.
“Let me get you some ice and olives so you can have a REAL one of those.”
“It was real enough.”
“I mean, thank you babe. That’d be nice.”
Foolishly, he took it to the brink that time. In this god awful greasy in-between weather it’s no good sleeping on an itchy old couch like this, chicken feathers from the pillows poking you in the ass and behind the joints as you toss and turn.
Max took the opportunity to smack Laurel on the behind as she wiggled away. They were too young for everything to go to hell, but at least she still had a nice ass. Nice and round. Maybe they weren’t so young anymore after all.
Laurel came back out and fixed him a new martini in a fresh glass and handed it over. This one was good and chilled. She had a good ass and she could make a good martini. Two things to be thankful for as long as they lasted.
She handed it to him and took the dirty glass and with a peck on the head she went back to the kitchen.
“Dinner’ll be ready in a few, so don’t get too comfortable, Maxy.”
What was it about everything that’s so goddamned annoying? At least sitting wasn’t bad. And this drink wasn’t too bad as long as you watched it, because then it’d get too good and then it would be so much worse later.
Then the lights dimmed. Laurel poked her head out of the kitchen with her fishbowl full of red wine.
“Dinner’s on, babe.”
“What about your TV show?”
“That’s what the DVR is for, now come on before it gets cold!”
“So it was recording…”
“Okay. And don’t MUMBLE. I hate it when you MUMBLE.”
“Yes, treasure. I know. I love you and I’m sorry.”
She was already back in the kitchen. He followed her in. The kitchen flowed into the dining area which was all just one cramped space that was only partially separated from the rest of the tiny apartment. She had lit candles and the food was laid out nicely on wedding-gift plates atop wedding-gift placemats.
It was the same meal as always. Stuffed frozen sole and some pre-packaged greens and some cheap wine. Sometimes the meal was chicken. Laurel was no good at cooking so this would have to do until they went out to eat which wasn’t often.
She poured him a glass of wine as he worked on the second half of his second martini. Then she topped herself off and pleased as punch, took off her apron and placed it up on a small hook next to the stove. She took a seat on that rump of hers.
“How was your day, sweetie Maxy?”
Laurel paused and then took a small bite and paused again. She looked Max square in the face but he was moving his fish around with the fork and wasn’t paying attention.
“Why was it shit?”
“I mean, why was your day shit? What made it so o-so shitty?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it. No big deal, it was fine.”
“No it wasn’t. Now what made it SHIT?”
He took another sip.
“The usual. Answering phones, moving paperwork from one place to the other. My suit bunching up, people talking and me pretending to give a shit, feigning concern and smiling.”
Laurel went back to eating her food as she eyed her quarry. Max didn’t acknowledge it with his two martini buzz and his desire to avoid a fight. If he kept it quiet and maybe they would screw later. They never fucked during the week because they were both tired and they both stank and usually had a bad attitude.
“Yeah, babe? The food is great, thank you.”
“I don’t want to talk to you about the fucking FOOD, Max. I want to know what you would do if you won the lottery. Let’s say a hundred million dollars. What would you do? Think you would EVER have another shit day?”
“Those are two different things.”
He knew it was boiling up and now he was deep in enemy territory. If he didn’t watch his next step, he’d be in worse misery than at the office and in traffic and all of it. He naively tried to set things right:
“Well, I guess I would pay off our debt and we could get a nice house. Go on vacation and maybe start a family. Have kids. With that kinda dough we could send ‘em to a good school. I think that’s what I would do.”
Laurel thought on this for a moment before she downed her wine in an impressive gulp and THREW the glass against the wall which was near enough to get shards on both their plates.
“DON’T GIVE ME THAT BULLSHIT!”
“NO! NO, NO, NO, NONONONONONONO! FUCK!
“What’s up, peanut? You on the rag, huh? Here, let me pick up that glass. I guess we both just had a bad day.”
“You pick up that glass and I’ll cut off your cock and cook that up for dinner. Just see if I won’t! Now I asked you: if you WON a HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS, what would you do?”
Max took down the rest of the martini and chased it with the sugary cheap wine as he chewed the olives.
“I guess, I would invest the money so we would never have to work again and I would write. Maybe move by the sea.”
Laurel was staring right through to his cowering soul and then she began to laugh.
“There. The truth. The truth! My little Ernest Hemingway and Warren Buffett baby. You think Ernest Hemingway and Warren Buffett FUCKED and you’re their kid and maybe you just don’t know it but you got this FIRE that only YOU have, and you just haven’t gotten a chance to BURN yet?”
“Don’t give me this load of horseshit, Laurel. You asked.”
“And I got the same answer I got every goddamn night! If you had money you could do whatever the fuck you wanted! You have the brains for art and finance and travel and charm! You’re the most interesting man in the goddamned world! Rotting away in this shitty apartment because you wanted to marry me to shut me up!”
“No, I married you because I love you. Now don’t hassle me about my dreams. We’re not gonna win any hundred million bucks.”
“Your dreams. What about MY dreams?”
“Those are good too.”
Laurel flipped her glass-covered plate across the table into Max’s face and onto his lap.
“What the hell, babe? Just cool it, okay? Laurel?”
“DON’T ‘BABE’ ME, YOU COCKSMOKING SON OF OLD MEN! I SIT HERE ALL DAY ALONE AND MISERABLE WHILE YOU GO OUT INTO THE WORLD AND THEN I GET CRITICIZED FOR WATCHING TV AND COOKING YOUR DINNER AND LISTENING TO YOU WHINE!”
A drop of blood fell on the table. Probably from his face somewhere. He had a good big head and a wide face perfect for catching shit. He got up and walked out of the kitchen area.
He cleaned himself off as the banshee screaming continued and Laurel broke more of the little they had. He put on his old sneakers and observed the holes forming over the pinky toes. He had a good wide face and good wide feet. Too bad about his dick.
Then Laurel appeared, wild eyed and dripping crimson gore.
“Jesus, what did you do?”
“It’s WINE! The only thing that makes me happy in this joke of a marriage!”
And with that Max stepped out into the night. The air had calmed some and the dirty filthy feeling wasn’t as bad anymore. He had two martinis down and most of a glass of wine and was feeling okay. Work came awful early so he needed to get a drink before he crossed into the hour of regret.
Walking down the street he knew he looked like hell but no one seemed to notice or care. That was the beauty of living in the city. There was always crazier and everyone was too self-absorbed to pay any attention to you. Max bet himself that he could shove a roman candle up his ass and fart fire at cars and no one would really care.
As he got to the bar he figured there must be at least six million other pathetic bastards out there who got put through the wringer like he just did. Good thing there were plenty of bars and liquor stores. Maybe he should go into the liquor business, it seems people need it more than food most times.
The bar was gloriously sparse. He sidled up on a stool as Davey, the washed out fag that tended bar came over.
“How’s it going Maxy?”
“I had a bad day at the office, Davey. Give me a well whiskey and a beer.”
Like magic, the drinks were there within seconds. That’s what made Davey a miracle worker when it came to tending bar. He didn’t ask too many questions and got your drink right and stiff the first time.
“I know what would make your day better.”
“If that worked for me Davey, I would get divorced tomorrow and move you in. I could almost give up tits for the way you make a drink, but not the other.”
“Some girls have all the luck.”
Davey moved back down the bar as Max drained his whiskey and gazed out the open door into the cooling night. Out there was everyone. The sick and the rich, the ambitious, the mad, the lazy. All the girls in the world lived here in this great land of opportunity.
Then a low GROWL grew as it neared the stretch of road in front of the bar. It was the Ferrari that Max had on his poster as a kid. Must have been twenty five years old but it still looked great. The guy driving looked like he shat gold nuggets out of his tight little asshole and the girl next to him looked like she ate them up as quickly as she could. The light changed and the car roared off.
Max turned back to his beer and looked down into the glass, and the bubbles moving up in erratic trajectories toward his face. I wonder what it would be like if they could move past the top and hit my face? He thought. Might be nice when it’s real hot out. Max ordered another round and thought about the bubbles.