The reflection of his summer whites blinded the navy man. He closed his eyes to shut them out, to shut out the harrowing workday he’d just finished. A naval hospital ER had sounded so exciting in the recruiter’s office. Now, slumped against the smudged trolley window, he tried to lose himself in the lull of the swaying car, the rhythmic clicks, and the whirr of street sounds that rushed by. Just pulling his willowy frame out of the seat made him sigh with effort. Once he got on his connecting bus he’d be home in less than ten minutes, and she would be there.
It was her fault they were trapped in this squalor, where even the pizza man wouldn’t deliver. Evenings were an endless screaming soundtrack of salsa music from the multi-family commune of illegal aliens next-door. He was sure they held tactical meetings on how to ruin his life. Right when the music stopped, his other neighbor would crank up her push mower with the headlight duct-taped to the front and mow her lawn. “It’s cooler at night,” she would giggle when the navy man brought it up. How smitten she was with her own ingenuity. A punch into her pasty jaw would wipe that smile from her face.
He dropped into a bench to wait for his connecting bus. A beautiful woman wearing make up and lipstick sat a few feet from him. She whispered furtively into her cell phone, and he strained to hear snatches of phrases, “no activity… hungry as hell… suspect hasn’t moved…” Taking notice of the navy man staring at her, she winked at him, then put her slender, manicured finger to her lips in a communication meant just for him: Shhhhh. He noticed the belt, the sidearm, the practical wardrobe.
His breath caught.
She must be part of a surveillance team casing the seedy laundromat across the street, the navy man’s own laundromat, where they spent their Saturdays washing his uniforms, his wife’s tentlike clothes, and all the little outfits the size of dish rags.
Not wanting to move away from her, he drank in her voice, her hair, her thinness, her make up. Why couldn’t his wife wear make up like she used to? His connecting bus came and went, and he hoped she wouldn’t notice that when he got on the next one. It was important to him that she not think him a fool, but he couldn’t will himself off the bench. If only he could come home to her. Just the thought of her made him feel lighter inside, his chest puffed out a bit, his slouch straightened. For an enchanted moment, he imagined himself coming home to her… until the second bus came and he had no choice but to get on it. She didn’t look up from her phone. He willed her to, but she didn’t.
As usual, his wife was waiting, tittering like a fat bird, talking about things he could care less about: How was his day? Did he do this? Did he do that? Did he stain his whites again? Had he filed the claim on their lost couch cushion? What earthly good is a couch set that’s missing one seat cushion? Somehow the van lines lost it in the move, and it fell to him to walk the claim form to the office. They deserved a whole new couch set, she contended, but it wasn’t going to show up by magic; he had to put in the claim. For now, they had a bed pillow where the missing seat cushion should be. It looked ridiculous. Thus he spent his evening in a stupor, alternately hating the salsa music or his wife or the misshapen couch. Sleep was his only reprieve.
At 10:13 he was yanked from sleep by the snarl of his neighbor’s lawn mower. He spasmed and knocked over the lamp. The sound of its breaking filled him with rage. Next to him his wife lay like a cow, snoring softly, her frame heaving and falling. How he hated her for sleeping on when he was ripped awake.
They’d been asleep nearly an hour and a half because the pregnancy exhausted her, and the princess needed sleep to “grow their little guy.” It made him want to vomit every time she said that. Somehow other people thought it was cute, that she was cute. He flinched at the hill of life under her belly, and it was all he could do to not jerk his hand away when she would place it there, beaming at him like it was Christmas.
The mower continued to scream at him. What if he just got out of bed, took his Smith & Wesson, strode over to that wench who had the audacity to mow her lawn after ten o’clock at night, and put a bullet in her skull? Then he’d run her over with her own mower for good measure. That would teach her.
He looked over at his wife sleeping next to him, oblivious. He thought of the exotic woman at the bus stop. And for the first time, his thoughts took new, exciting directions. It amazed him how simple a solution could be, how in-your-face it could be, yet he’d been blinded to it all this time. The impossibly bright navy whites he wore every day, they’d get blood-stained by the thick, crushing moments of his job at the hospital, but the blood came out, and if it didn’t, he just got a new set. It wasn’t like he couldn’t get a new set of whites, no matter what happened.
He smiled to think of it.