From the series: Old, Embarrassing Shit that Lies Dormant on Writer’s Cafe That’s Gonna Get Lost if I Don’t Transplant it Somewhere. So here’s its new home.
Phil couldn’t wait until retirement. He’d been doing the same old thing for 35 years. And it was boring. Near sixty-five he was envisioning many of his remaining days as an extended birthday party. He and his wife Elizabeth had plenty of money saved and now they’d have plenty of free time. Over those years, Phil had come home dragging, night after night, to a warm supper and his wife’s assurances that once he’d retired, it would all have been worth it. It was a big part of what kept him going, the dreams and his wife’s assurances of their fruition. He retired on October 19. There was a big cake that was good, especially the frosting.
A few weeks later Phil asked her about that cruise.
“The one to Alaska?” she asked. “That’s a few weeks after my surgery. I think we should wait.”
“Okay. You might be right.”
So they waited.
Months passed. Elizabeth recovered from the surgery, but it took far longer than hoped and planned for.
More months and months passed. It was going on two years since Phil retired. He was growing restless.
“Your surgery was almost 2 years ago. Everytime I bring up going somewhere, doing something, like we’d talked about for all that time, you come up with another excuse,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “But we agreed to that when it was all still just a dream. Now it’s here, and I feel a little scared. If I’m honest, and you should respect me for being this honest, I’m a little scared to leave the house.”
She’d been telling him all along it was her fallen arches. But he knew it was something else. Nothing changed in decades around there. And now he knew it wasn’t going to.
“Geeze Louise, Lizzie. Get over it. You’re not a child.”
“But I’m afraid, Phil. You don’t have sympathy? Or pity? Maybe you’re a terrible heartless husband.”
“I don’t have much pity,” he said. “Your fear is all of your own doing. Because you decided never to leave. Never experience what’s going on outside this house, let alone outside this town.” It was a slight exaggeration. She did sometimes leave to run errands.
He added, “You only know or care about what’s on that blasted TV.”
She said it was a much his own doing as it was hers since he’d never encouraged her to leave.
“I never forced you to leave. And that was never my job. My job was to set an example. And I did that.”
She asked what she should have done anyway. Get a job at Safeway for minimum wage? It was hardly worth her while she said.
“Nice. Blame it on the rest of the world,” he said.
LIzzie began to seethe from this attack on her personhood. So she countered.
“You’ve never fully appreciated me. Do you know all these years, sitting here alone with nothing to do. I could have been screwing the mailman or milkman and I never did. Unlike old what’s-her-name down the street.” She was referring to Mrs. Thompson. “You oughta be grateful I wasn’t like her.”
Phil thought he’d be grateful if she was the woman he thought he’d married. But he kept that to himself. He tried bringing the argument back around home again.
“But we planned. And agreed. This isn’t how our life was supposed to work.”
“I know. And I feel terrible,” she said. And that was somewhat true. “I didn’t intend for it to turn out this way either.”
Another few years passed. There was no travel. No parties. No ball games. No weekend getaways. Phil observed his wife mostly sitting and doing very little, as she’d done much of her life. Only then, he’d been away at his 40 hour grind so never knew just how little it was.
Then one day he announced, “Lizzie, I want a divorce.”
She was shocked. And grossed.
“Is it another women?”
“Of course not. Where would I even meet another women. We never leave this house.”
She turned the volume of the TV down so she could pay some attention.
“Then why? I just don’t understand. We enjoy ourselves watching The Price Is Right and Jeopardy! together, don’t we?”
“Well, it doesn’t make me want to shoot myself in the face but I realize there are a lot better things to do. Don’t you?”
Without addressing the question, she asked, “Is this about that cruise? That silly cruise again?”
“I suppose it mostly is.”
Without skipping a beat she added,” you took a vow before God and all our loved ones to stay with me and care for my well being. You’re going to renege on that?”
“I don’t want to. But we had plans. And you made promises. Now all we do is watch cable all day. This isn’t a life.”
“It’s my life. And I’m satisfied,” she said.
“You never stop to think about the things we could do? Places we could go. Things we can see. People we can meet?”
“Not too much. I’m satisfied with The Price Is Right, though Bob Barker was the best. And you could be satisfied with it too if you’d just allow it. If you could just give up this juvenile wanderlust.”
“Remember the vows. You owe it to me to make me happy. That was the deal.” she said.
“I guess you’re right. That was the deal.”
Phil’s seat grows warm as he pisses himself. The salt in his urine makes the bedsores sting.
He yells to his companion behind the sliding curtain, “why can’t they give me a bedpan instead of letting me shit and piss all over myself?”
His roommate, who is demented and mostly deaf, doesn’t reply. He’s probably not dead yet though.
The assistant hears Phil’s cry and comes into the room. She is in burgundy scrubs and has a tattoo on her neck that he thinks says Billy.
“You need changing, Sweetie?” she asks.
“I need a bedpan,” he replies. “I’m shitting and pissing all over myself like a child. It’s humiliating.”
Phil had a stroke about a year ago. By his account, he thinks he’s about 85 now. He isn’t allowed home or out of his bed on his own.
Lizzie had visited him and just left. She’s crooked and frail but she still drives up the hill a couple times a month to see Phil for a few minutes. He likes circus peanuts so she sometimes brings him a bag.
He’d asked Lizzie how things were. How things were going at the house. But she is in an apartment now, which the stroke makes him forget.
“Pretty much the same. You know me, I like my Price Is Right. I just got one of those high definition models so the picture’s real nice now.”
“How are you?”
“Well, I sit here in my piss and shit in this diaper. That’s about it. Ain’t got much dignity left.” Although his wife was used to it, he hoped there wasn’t a smell.
Phil doesn’t bother mentioning that his days and nights are mostly spent trying to think about what might have been but will now never be. He could have gone to Paris. He could have visited Bangkok. He could have skydived. He could have scuba dived in Bermuda. But instead he watched The Price Is Right.
There was a long silence. Then she asked, “does your roommate’s family ever come to visit?”
“No. Not in a long time.”
What lowlifes Lizzie thought.
Phil and Lizzie spent the next few minutes just looking at each other. There was little to say and Phil didn’t like the effort of rehashing the same old stuff. He preferred some peace and quiet and his own thoughts to that. In his alone time, he tries to imagine about what might have been. But it always gives way to what was. Phil hadn’t yet mastered that technique of displacement, if one even exists. He tries to force his thoughts on beaches and cocktails in hollowed out pineapples. But those thoughts won’t stick. They’re always overridden by Jeopardy! And once there, there’s no undo button to go back.
Lizzie gets up to go. “I best be leaving now.” Price is Right was going to start soon.
He wonders if Lizzie ever got a boyfriend since he was in the home. Maybe she did and just wasn’t telling him about it. It would make sense though if she got lonely. But that never happened. The Price is Right was the best companion she ever had.
“I love you,” she told Phil on leaving. He wondered how much of that was true.
“I love you too,” he replied. And wondered how much of that was true too.
“Oh. And thanks for the peanuts.”