Harry Brooks had loved Martha McCarthy since he was 11 years old. When he saw her, he smiled, not just on the inside but on the outside too. They met at a Tosco Powder Summer camp when their troop leaders left them alone to argue amongst themselves on whether John Travolta was sexier in Saturday Night Fever or Grease. Martha snuck off to enjoy a cigarette with her more mature friend Perrin when Harry walked over and introduced himself. After a short awkward exchange Martha ditched, “The Loser” and joined her friend back in their tent to talk about boys. However, Harry was persistent; he followed Martha throughout the week offeringher his desserts and juice during each meal, both of which Martha happily accepted. One thing that could always be said about the boy was that he was persistent and when Harry’s constant irritation eventually resulted in a kiss between the two under the large oak tree with the entire camp cheering them on, he had finally won his prize. When their mother’s picked them up after the 2 week long love affair, the two promised to write each other; and they did. They stayed pan pals until they were 18 years old and while Harry stayed true to his word about not being with any other women, Martha confessed to having “played the field, a bit.” At the age of 20 they both went to St. Abernathy’s College in Brightside Wisconsin and after Martha had broken up with her boyfriend Mark, Harry promised her that he would never allow her to get hurt again. They were married by the age of 26 after much convincing from Harry. They never had children, not because Harry didn’t want them but because Martha wasn’t sure that their children would be empirically beautiful based on their mutual families’ genetics, and feared that their children’s ugliness might reflect poorly on her. She never took his name either, but Harry didn’t care as he was happy to have the woman he had loved from a young age all to himself, life in his mind, was good.
When they were 31 they went on a vacation with their friends, or rather Martha’s friends, Paul and Regina which, on the whole, was no fun at all. Because of Martha’s restriction of certain foods and Regina’s pretentious attitude towards anything under 100 dollars a meal, he was forced to secretly cram his face full of crackers and wine at any wine tasting they were lucky enough to go on. As well as having generally nothing in common with Martha’s friends he often found himself off getting drunk with the locals and on two occasions found himself having a much better time alone than if he were with Martha. It was on the sixth day of their vacation that Harry after deciding not to go out and instead attempt to bond with Paul over their mutual respect for the game of pool walked back to his room and found Martha and Paul fornicating. The depressing thing was that after the fact, all he could think of was, “I was really looking forward to playing a game of pool with Paul.” Martha apologized and promised she would never do it again, Harry eventually forgave her and after room service replaced their linen, they resumed their happy lives together. However much to his disdain Martha and Paul remained friend, Martha insisting that it be a constant reminder of a mistake she will never relive.
Life went on uneventfully once again, occasionally they played poker with their new friends and Harry focused all his energy on work. Their lives became perpetually duller and Harry feared that nothing would ever change the routine of his dreary life. That was until their 2nd honeymoon. At the age of 37, Harry and Martha decided that it was necessary to revitalize their relationship and would go on another vacation, however to Harry’s surprise, Martha threw a large party at their house instead and upon coming home from work was forcibly thrust into conversation with fake friends and work acquaintances. It wasn’t until much later that night when most of the guests were either in the pool or hot tub that Harry noticed the complete lack of his wife, he then went inside and entered the laundry room to find Martha and a friend of his from work Martin, in an act of mutual masturbation. Besides the heartbreak of seeing his Wisconsin Badgers 1993 commemorative towel being used to separate Martin’s ass from the cold steel of the dryer, Harry once again had only one thought, “I’ll need to find someone else to carpool with on Monday.” Once again Martha apologized but this time blamed Harry for his lack of interest in the woman he once followed around for an entire week just for a kiss. Perhaps she was right, but Harry knew deep down that the pain her indiscretions had caused him would never entirely heal. Life went on once again as usual both living their lives in supposed happiness, that is, until today.
Harry stood on the other side of the street looking through passing cars at a Restaurant, “Truffles.” In the front window at a table was his wife with a man Harry had probably heard in conversation or even met before but couldn’t place. He stood in his long coat and tie as the rain beat down on him, people rushed past trying to get back to work on time from lunch. Harry felt the rain soaking through his jacket, through his vest and dress shirt into his undershirt as the tune “We’ll meet again,” By Very Lynn played silently in his head. He stood there transfixed on the image that was presented before him, like a stuffed caveman on display at the ROM, never moving or blinking, just frozen in this state. For a long time he forgot to breath, his mind swelled with images of his wife Martha promising him that never again would she break his trust, that she would, from this moment on, be faithful to him and always tell him if she showed these feelings again. Roger, that was his name, it was clear through the concern he showed when she started at a new gym, and he wanted to know the name of everyman that introduced himself to her. It wasn’t that Martha was beautiful; she was to Harry, but not in the empirical sense, it just that she was just always ready for a challenge. Harry thought at one point that she might have been sociopath, but brushed it off when he saw her kiss a dolphin once. But he knew she barely knew Roger, as she hadn’t been to the new gym for more than a month, that’s not long enough for him to know her darker side, the side of Martha that pushed children out of the way in malls and attacked birds that landed on their back porch with pellet guns, not the TRUE Martha. Harry knew that even if they were to remain together, Martha and Roger, and he finally cut the reigns of their wild adolescent relationship, he would only be condemning another man to a life of misery, which even though he hated the thought of Roger, wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Than a final thought dawned on him, perhaps this relationship was purely platonic, the idea of Martha cheating again simply seemed the logical choice and it never even came into his mind the notion of her actually being faithful for once. And just as he thought this the final nail was struck in the coffin as Martha leaned over the table and kissed Roger more passionately than Martha had ever kissed him in the accumulated years they have been together.
Without thinking Harry stepped out into the busy street before him, a ford focus nearly missing him laid heavily on the horn, cars swerved and stopped in anger and avoidance of him. A bus nearly flipped as its tires spun attempting to grab traction on the wet asphalt but luckily it grabbed control at the last minute and corrected itself. Harry stepped onto the sidewalk on the other side of the street and instead of going into the restaurant entered the convenience store next to Truffles. He walked to the back left aisle of the store with determination, blinded by the action on the street. He searched the shelves of the store until he found what he was looking for and took it off the shelf. The shop keeper stepped out of the shop to look at the commotion on the street and upon re-entering the store saw Harry aggressively eating out of the jar. The shop keeper became irate, but before he could approach Harry was out the door jar in hand. He walked past people who were now out of their cars yelling at him and went directly into Truffles approaching the table with purpose. Martha looked up in surprise.
Harry ignored her and talked directly to Roger.
“Roger, I presume?”
Roger sneered at him.
“And you must be the husband, listen man; I want you to get…”
“Roger, I’m going to do you a favor.”
Martha stood up quickly and in a hushed voice said,
“Harry get the hell out of here, you’re making a scene.”
Patrons of the restaurant began turning to the confrontation and stopping their meals. Harry only continued to talk directly to Roger.
“Roger I know you think you know this woman, but you really don’t. I want to do you a favor…”
Roger lifted his hand in a gesture that meant silence and spoke, Harry paused smiling and gestured for Roger to speak.
“Harry. I know more about this woman than you ever have. I know that she likes to be tickled in the back of the knee during our love making; I know that she enjoys summer over fall; I know she cheated on you, twice, and I know you deserved it. I know that you have never understood this woman or treated her as well as she deserves. I understand that you tried to trap a flower instead of planting it in a garden of understanding and nurturing. And I know that I know her better in one month of listening to her body and soul than you have in the 30 plus years you have known her.”
Martha smiled at Roger softly and turned to Harry scowling. Harry looked at Roger still smiling and spoke in a calm and sincere voice.
“Roger you may know all of that…”
Harry grabbed Martha by the waist not forcefully but with passion and kissed her like he had never kissed her before; Martha felt the warmth that she felt when they first fell in love. She felt the man she promised to keep and hold for her entire life in sickness and in health, she felt a sudden regret and anger at herself, and him for never showing before how much she meant to him. But most of all she felt his tongue, his soft yet strong tongue caressing her mouth and teeth and tongue in a way that made her wilt and excited a little. Harry let go of her suddenly and with force, so much so that she fell to the ground with a thud and turned to Roger.
“But I bet you don’t know where she keeps her epinephrine pen.”
And with that Harry tossed the half used jar of peanut butter he’d been holding at Roger, turned on his heels and left the restaurant smiling. Behind him Roger leapt out of his seat in order to help Martha who was lying on the ground, her face swelling up and coughing. The patron of the restaurant were up and out of their seats screaming and trying to help, Roger trying to interpret Martha’s gurgling and irate pointing as communication. With the restaurant moving in slow motion Harry walked out of there feeling like the man he always wanted to be, and he smiled, not just on the outside but for the first time in a long time on the inside too.
By Harlan Guthrie