Linda came home and found me muttering in the dark. When she switched on the lamp, the illumination was blinding.
“I’m glad you were able to have a good time tonight,” she said. She wanted to sound cross, but was too tired to really pull it off. I tried to apologize, but she went into the bedroom before I could muster the words into a cohesive sentence. Oh well. There was always tomorrow. There’s more than one way to say you’re sorry and I’ve discovered most of them. When you spend most of your life (it seems) apologizing, you find ways to get creative.
She walked back out of the bedroom wearing her favorite pajama pants – the pink ones (she insisted they were peach) with the Rosie the Riveter print, and one of the t-shirts she got when she joined a Smoking Cessation Program. The t-shirt was white with NO SMOKING ZONE printed on the chest in black capital letters. The t-shirt – along with the same exact t-shirt except the message was in Spanish instead of English – and a truck load of free Nicotine gum she couldn’t use because it raised her blood pressure went a long with membership. I never said anything, but I always wondered if the meetings went the way AA meetings went in the movies and on television. Did she have to stand up and proclaim “Hi, my name is Linda and I’m a smoker.”? Did they hold hands and chant the Serenity Prayer? I had often thought of asking her, but I didn’t want to sound unsupportive. I started smoking outside instead.
Linda sat down and lit a cigarette; the t-shirts lasted longer than the group, which had lost funding and had to disband two months before.
“Kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?” I asked, nodding to her t-shirt.
“You should appreciate the irony,” she said.
I didn’t answer.
“How much have you had to drink?”
“What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“I can tell,” she blew out a trail of smoke and rolled her eyes. “I can always tell. Don’t you have to teach tomorrow?”
“You’re gonna hate yourself in the morning.”
I already hated myself, but there was no point in saying so. She knew that already.
So I told her about my evening; about Red calling and informing me of Pendleton’s death; about how he’d been dead a month and nobody saw fit to tell me; how the sound of Red’s obligatory tone pissed me off down to my bones; how I wanted to yell and scream and punch something really really hard. I hadn’t thrown a punch in more than a decade; but I knew that if Red or Brenda were standing in front of me, I could’ve beaten either of them into a bloody fucking pulp. I told her how I could close my eyes and imagine their faces mashed and smashed and pouring with blood, and how thinking about it made me laugh.
But Linda knew it didn’t mean anything. She knew it because I knew it. “I can’t believe Brenda would keep something like that from us,” Linda said. Though by her tone, she was clearly not too surprised.
“I should call the bitch,” I growled. “I should call that fat inbred cunt and tell her what I really think about her.”
“She probably already knows what you think about her,” Linda said. “Besides, that wouldn’t help anything.”
She was right. As usual. The last time we’d seen Brenda was right before we left the hospital after Pendleton’s surgery. He’d come out of it okay, and there was no reason for us to stay. Brenda had been polite; conciliatory even. She asked if I liked teaching. She asked if I was still writing. She gave Linda a disingenuous hug and said, “Don’t be strangers.”
“I should call Red back,” I said. “Tell HIM what I think.”
Linda stood up and moved next to me on the love seat where I was slouched. “Don’t,” she said. “You’ll regret it tomorrow.”
“He didn’t give you a reason?”
“For not telling you sooner?”
“Not one that matters. Not one that explained anything. The lack of clarity would’ve pleased Pendleton.”
“Don’t do that,” she said. “Don’t take it out on him, either. Then you’ll REALLY feel bad tomorrow.”
“Well, he’s not here for me to take it out on,” I said. “What the fuck ELSE am I supposed to do?”
“Did Red say where they buried him?”
I knew the place; Pendleton took me there once on one of his junk jaunts. It was a small cemetery in a small town along the river in Kentucky, where he was born. Both his parents were going to be buried there, and so was he. It was the town he’d lived the first nine years of his life in before his old man sold the farm and moved to Cincinnati. In the narrative of his life, he’d been a happy, normal kid until he turned nine. And he liked the symmetry of knowing he’d end up there in the family plot.
“Do you want to cry?” Linda asked.
I wanted to cry, but we both knew I wasn’t going to. “It won’t do any good.”
She sighed and put her arm around me. She let me lay on her. She was warm and safe and loving. She ran her fingers through my hair.
“You shouldn’t drink when you’re upset. It doesn’t help.”
“Nothing helps. Nothing matters.”
“Some things matter.”
I knew she was right; but I wasn’t about to say anything. She let me lay on her until I started to pass out. I didn’t remember going to bed; but the next morning when the alarm went off, that was where I woke up, with Linda laying next to me, holding my hand.