The story “Tough Love” from Inappropriate Behavior
You know how to tell if a cord’s been frayed? It takes a while to spot them like I can now, but with practice and a few bad shocks you’ll work up your observation skills to the point where a slit in the insulation, one stray copper strand poking out, is like a siren going off in your head. Also, watch for lamps that have been unplugged, the removal of things you need to allow yourself check for other traps. Carry a flashlight. If you just pop a plug in on a cord’s that’s been split, you’ll feel that muscle-contracting thud of AC rifle through you, hear your eardrums galvanize into a high-pitched scream, and you may not live to tell the tale.
Obviously, I lived. But then, I was wearing rubber-soled shoes to minimize the circuit the lamp and I formed with the floor and wall. And part of the wire was against the cast on my arm, not bare skin, so that helped.
Not that my wife, Lurleen, doesn’t have what to watch for. One time I got her so good — I couldn’t believe she went for it. She’s a damn fine housekeeper, as you know; can’t stand a mess even for the length of time it takes to get the boy from the appliance store out to fix the washing machine.
So, feeling frisky, I removed the bolt from the spin arm, that doohickey that rinses the dishes—”doohickey,” great term from an engineer, right?—and tell Lurleen that the big mess in the kitchen will just have to wait.
Of course, she yells down in horror and says she’ll do them this instant! Whatever, I yell, and add that I’ll fill the sink for her. I do—and that’s when I slip every knife, sharp spatula, and serving fork in the house into the soapy water.
Shloop! Her pinky almost slid down into the compactor, but (after emptying the sink) I fished it out and the doctors got it sewed back on. She was hot for a week, although she acknowledged the gag was a good one.
(And yes, lest you think I’m slipping, I did consider putting our rolling pin on the stairs before she came down. But she did that to me last week, and frankly, originality is more important at this point in a marriage than trying to run up some score. I believe I got that from John Gray.)
Especially with the narcotics they gave her, our lovemaking that night was more intense than any we’d had before: biting, scratching (watching out for the pinky, of course), kissing, stroking, gouging. We were closer, more turned on, more crazy for each other than we had been since she filled the refrigerator’s light bulb with flash powder and I had to be rushed to the hospital for a cornea peel.
So when I came home tonight, I got a little excited when I found the mousetrap in the mailbox and the upturned carpet tacks right by the closet where I take off my shoes—I just figured she was feeling affectionate, and after a long day designing missile-tip warheads, I was in the mood for love as well.
But pulling the tacks out of the ball of my foot, I noticed, on the carpet leading to the stairs, a balled-up cocktail dress, run stockings, flung shoes … and a plaid shirt, work jeans, bandana, all caked white with drywall. Cheap sneakers and tube socks lay crusty next to Lurleen’s stripped-off outfit. What was this, some worker man come over to drill my sweetheart after her day at the lounge?
I bent the last carpet tack against my foot and drew it out slowly, agonizingly, letting the spurting blood miss the plastic runner and stain the carpet.
“Lurleen!” I screamed.
“Come and get me, loverboy,” her squeak came from our bedroom. “It’s not as much fun without you.”
Bitch! I limped to the stairs—where my loving wife had stretched chain-link fencing no doubt connected right to our house’s electrical supply. (I met her when I was teaching an adult-education class in home wiring as community service for an aggravated assault charge. She was a damn good student, especially attentive when I described what can happen to a person around faulty wiring. It was love at first sight.)
I knew Lurleen would never juice it up to fatal levels, but I really didn’t feel like trying to jump the stretched metal and take the chance of shitting my pants and being out of it for an hour while Johnny Workman throttled my honey bear in our bed. Cheating? Lurleen? She worked around sexy men every night at the club, served them their glasses of poison, but had never brought anyone home or even expressed the desire.
Still, I could hear her giggling in bed. It got me out of my stupor and out the door to try a different tack.
I hauled the ladder out of the garage—even here she had thought ahead and now my hands were bloody from the splinters that had been raised up out of the wood—and hauled off to our bedroom window.
“Mickey, don’t tell me you two are at it again.” My neighbor, Harry, in Bermuda shorts and an undershirt, holding a Miller Lite. A Miller Lite! And people say Lurleen and I do bad things to ourselves.
“Just a little problem with the door locks,” I said. “Got to climb up there and—”
“You’re bleeding, Mickey.”
I looked at my hands, which were now smearing the ladder red. My stabbed foot was leaking blood out the air holes of my sneakers. “They put glue in Miller Lite, you know. That’s what makes it foam so well.”
“You need help.”
I looked at the high window, behind which my beautiful wife was having her scars lovingly traced by another man. “That would be great,” I said, and held the ladder so he could grab part of it. “Take an end?”
Harry shook his head and waddled back to his property.
You know, my neighbors have had to watch a lot of ambulances come and go, purchase “get well” cards now and then, but it’s not like we’re not productive residents of this subdivision. Our yard sales supply crutches to the whole neighborhood; kids know Lurleen can tie a tourniquet and wrap lost teeth so they can be replanted like no real mother on the block can do. People have such small notions of what makes a “normal” personal life, it colors all of their other attitudes. I mean, Harry masturbates with his bathroom window open in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. You think that’s pleasant to live next to?
Anyway, I charged across the lawn toward the bedroom window, ladder held like a giant bayonet. Not ten feet from where I’m going to plant the ladder, my leg went shank down a freshly dug hole in the lawn. The only reason my shinbone didn’t break like a pencil in the hands of a pissed-off schoolteacher was that I had broken my stride to chat with Harry and hadn’t built up enough speed. Still, my hamstrung shrieked at the offense.
Lurleen was quite the planner, I had to admit. My face burned with love and admiration and grinding bitter green jealousy. Even with my hands pierced and bloody from the splinters, I knew I would have enough more than enough strength to squeeze the life out of Mr. Drywall once I got up there and pulled him out of my wife.
I slammed the ladder into the ground and swung it up against the bedroom window, shattering the pane and bringing shards of glass raining down on me. “Lurleen!”
Her adorable blonde head poked out. “Hurry up! You’re missing the party!”
I threw myself onto the ladder and, stepping gingerly with my injured foot, leapt up the rungs to the sunshine of my life and her new lover. “Stop, honey. Stop whatever it is you’re doing.”
She grinned, showing her chipped pearly whites. “Come on, Mick. Your job wouldn’t be fun if it was that easy,” she said, then took hold of the ladder and shoved.
I was looking at a broken vertebra at the very least, maybe a skull fracture, which didn’t bother me so much (Lurleen makes a great chicken soup that’ll cure almost anything). What did bother me was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to do a goddamn thing about showing Lurleen who her real man was. I couldn’t hit the ground.
As the ladder began its sweep toward the lawn, I pushed off with my good foot and managed to grab hold of the window frame. The shattered glass cut my fingers, but nothing major. I could swing myself in with probably minor injuries if I could get to the top of the window and fling myself in feet-first.
Which I did. My bloody foot squished in its sock as I landed on the bedroom carpet, but I sustained nothing worse than a long scratch on my back. Panting, bleeding, I saw no one other than my wife and me in the room.
“Where is he?” I said to Lurleen, who was sitting at her vanity, looking alluring in a black teddy and sheer robe I had never seen before.
“The drywall guy. The man you’ve been screwing in our bed.”
“Who said there’s another man?” she asked with a crooked smile, standing and showing me the full length of her fine body in the sexy outfit.
“How about another man’s jeans and shirt crumpled next to your dress downstairs?”
“Mickey, Mickey, Mickey,” she purred as she slinked slowly over and put her arms around my neck, “have you been working in an office so long you don’t recognize your own casual clothes? There’s no other man for me than you.”
I could feel red fill my cheeks. “But … why, Lurleen? I mean, you’ve broken my bones before, slashed me, punctured my eardrums, burned me. But this really hurt.”
“I know.” Her lips parted into a huge, loving smile. “Happy anniversary.”
Happy—? It took a second for my own grin to appear. I shook my head in admiration and wonder. “You’re amazing,” I said. “All I did was buy you flowers.”
“You know it.”
“Then I’m happy,” she cooed, and planted a long kiss on my chapped mouth. “Let’s get you stitched up and celebrate.”
That, my friend, is what a wife should be: someone who will do anything for you, and to you. Someone who is willing to shed blood. Someone who knows that kisses come and go, adoring looks and sex are temporary, but scars are forever.