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      home : book reviews : The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus

My One Great Love
A short story by John Gardiner

I pretty well lived at the pool hall back in my younger days, much to the grief of my good parents, who thought that such places were dens of iniquity where great and wondrous transformations were carried out on young boys to make them turn from the Lord and smoke cigarettes and curse and swear like old salts from the sea. It was a curious sort of place for certain; and one where the Lord was surely not safe. There was for sure lots of cursing and swearing and smoking of cigarettes and there were occasional bouts of drinking and gambling, but I took the attitude early on that it was all in good fun — maybe not good, clean fun, but fun all the same. I revelled in it — much to the grief of my parents, who were probably right in what they thought.

The pool rooms from back in my youth were what I think you’d call bastions of male machismo, where men hid from wives, and boys from their mothers, and every male of the species knew he was safe and secure from all things womanly. The old men contended that no female had ever set foot in the pool room where I got the better part of my learning. I couldn’t prove that to be true, but my mother wouldn’t even go in the place to get my Dad his smokes when he was in hospital for his ulcer. It was just that kind of place where one step inside could taint your soul for an eterninty in the hereafter — at least that’s what I’m sure my mom felt.

But this is the story of a girl I once knew — and she was a special thing, and I loved her with all my heart back in those other olden days. She came into my life when I was in the twelfth grade, struggling to make sense of logarithms, wrestling with the chemical symbols for all sorts of foul and evil-smelling concoctions and generally having a most difficult time with the whole adolescent thing. And it was true that I had never been on a for-real date in my whole life by the time I was in twelfth grade. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t interested, because Lord knew that I was more than interested in anything and everything female. But I just couldn’t get my nerve up. The other guys called it getting shot down when a girl refused their advances, but I called it being humiliated, and I avoided it at all costs.

Now, I’d known this girl for some considerable length of time, both of us living in the same small town, but I’d not known her well because we ran with different crowds. I’d admired her, too, because she was a looker — that’s what the other guys said. Would have liked to have gotten closer to her, but was forever without the chance. Anyway, after we got older, she was constantly on the arm of a boyfriend, usually a big tough, hunk of a guy with the looks and the money and the inevitable car, and I had none of those. So, I kept my distance — knew I hadn’t a chance.

And so it happened that while I was in twelfth grade, I really did struggle with my maths and sciences, but I was a wizard in English literature. There wasn’t a hidden meaning lurking that I couldn’t find as we read our way through some of the great literature of modern western civilization. But others were not so fortunate, and could discover nothing hiding among the words and phrases in their English texts — they saw only the plain language on the surface of the pages and could not mine beneath for the richness of thought contained in their depths.

And it also came to pass that my twelfth grade English teacher pulled me aside after class one day, just before Christmas break.

"That was a great way of expressing that the way you did," she said, alluding to a particularly insightful remark I’d made in a discussion of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I have always considered to be a work of true genius, a slim volume compared to Grapes of Wrath, but packing much more emotional punch.

"It’s just the way I see it," I answered, appearing quite non chalant about receiving such praise.

"Well, I just wish more of the class had your way of looking at work like this," she said. "It would really make my job easier."

I stood in silence, rocking back and forth on the heels of my cowboy boots, but not exactly sure where this was leading, wondering why she’d called me aside.

She seemed to wait until the rest of the class had left, and only when that had been accomplished, did she continue.

"I wanted to talk to you about something," she started.

I knit my eyebrows and got a serious expression on my face to show her I was paying attention.

"I’ve got a student who’s approached me for extra help — from my other Grade 12 class," the teacher said. "The problem is that I’m already tutoring six kids this semester and I’ve gotten myself too busy." She paused.

I regarded her. Said nothing, but waited for her to continue.

"I was wondering if you might consider helping this student understand some of the books on the course?" the teacher asked. "I think it would even be okay if you charged a little something for your time."

I thought for a moment, surprised at what was being asked, caught unawares by her question. "Gee," I started to answer, continuing to rock in my boots………

"You don’t have to answer right now," she interrupted. "Think about it and let me know later in the week, but before the holiday if you can, so we can get the two of you started during the break."

With that, I was off, hurrying to my next class, but wondering about the offer to tutor as I hurried. I could surely use a little extra cash — that was for sure — but it would mean sacrificing time from the pool room and from hanging out with the guys — both major intrusions in my social life and so a cause for serious consideration. I could use the extra cash, but I’d mull it over just the same.

As it turned out, I mulled it over until dinner that night when my Dad announced that he had run into my English teacher uptown, which was not all that strange considering my Dad worked in the post office. That meant he regularly ran into almost every single person in town when they came to pick up their mail, which was what my English teacher was doing when my Dad ran into her.

"Miss Robbins tells me she’s offered you a job," my Dad said between mouthfuls of leather soup, an odd mixture of fatty, end-of-the-line roast beef and flat, doughy dumplings that had been invented during the depression when my mother’s mother had wanted to fool her family into thinking there was still food to eat.

"Well, it’s not exactly a job," I answered, thinking to discourage him from putting pressure on me to accept. After I made the brief answer, I abruptly shoved a spoonful of leather soup into my mouth, hoping he’d get the point and drop the subject.

"Oh, isn’t that nice," my Mom said. "If it’s not exactly a job, what is it she’s offered you, dear?" she asked, maintaining the conversation and almost certainly assuring my position as a tutor.

Likely for some big, hairy, ugly basketball player who had to pass English so he’d be allowed to play for another season, before he dropped out to become human fodder for the furniture factory on the town’s main street. Because that’s who I’d decided my student was most likely to be. The more I’d thought about this, the more sure I was that this tutoring thing was going to be a big mistake.

"Well, what is it?" my Dad asked impatiently. "If it’s not a job."

"She wants me to help somebody with their English," I finally answered. "But I’m not sure it’s a good idea," I quickly added. "I mean, it might just slow me down — I mean, I don’t need anybody getting me confused about this stuff. And that might happen."

My Dad was looking at me like I was crazy, and I probably sounded like I was, both of us realizing that I was offering up some pretty lame material.

"It sounds like Miss Robbins must think you could do it, son," Mom said. "You’ve always gotten really good marks in English."

"I know, Mom," I answered.

"She told me you could make a little money over the holidays," joined in my Dad, adding his usual practical, finance-oriented point to the discussion.

"It likely wouldn’t be much," I countered.

"Well, it sounds like a good opportunity," my Dad said. "You should think about it."

"I am thinking about it, Dad," I answered.

"It sounds like a good opportunity. Maybe there’d be something more next year," my Dad said, relentless in his reasoning.

"I know, Dad," I answered. "I’ve thought about that."

"You two better eat your soup before it gets cold," my mother chimed in, effectively telling us the conversation was at an end. And we both listened to what she said, because there’s nothing that can curdle your blood quicker than to be faced with the prospect of eating some of my Mom’s leather soup after it’s gotten cold and taken on the consistency of wet cement.

But I knew that if I didn’t accept the tutoring assignment, each time I approached my Dad for some cash from now until I reached middle age, he’d remind me of how I’d passed up the one great opportunity in my life — I was trapped in the proverbial no-win situation.

So, I accepted. And the plan was that I would meet my new student on the last day of classes before the Christmas break, right after the Christmas assembly, so that we could set up a schedule of appointments for over the holidays.

So, I dutifully trudged up to the classroom where I studied English immediately following the assembly, painfully aware that my friends were headed for the chinaman’s restaurant where they would sip cherry cokes and plan the festivities for the first night of the much anticipated Yuletide vacation.

I entered the room, and it was empty, except for a single person — the very girl I’d admired from afar for so many years. I stopped short — said nothing.

"Hi," she said brightly. "You must be the English wiz."

"I…I guess," I managed to stammer, knowing full well that I was turning twenty-seven shades of red, embarrassed to be confronted by her, wanting to scurry from the room and hide from her.

"I’ve seen you around," she said. "We were in the same Confirmation Class at church."

"I remember," I answered, and the tone of her voice seemed to set me somewhat at ease, so that I could feel myself relax a bit.

"So, do you remember any of that stuff?" she asked.

"What stuff?" I answered her question with one of my own.

"That Bible stuff they taught us," she answered. "You know."

"Oh, yea," I said. "Guess I remember the important stuff. Haven’t killed anybody recently."

She laughed at my little joke, and the rest of the tension I was feeling seemed to disappear.

Still, there was a silence and I was a little unsure what to say.

"So," I started……

"You likely want to know what a smart girl like me is doing needing English help," she said, seeming to sense my uncertainty. "Well, I’m a wiz at science and math but I don’t seem to be able to get English through my thick head. I just don’t seem to understand what the writers are getting at."

"Well, I’m not sure I always know, either," I answered truthfully.

"Miss Robbins says you’re really good at this stuff," the girl said.

"I do my best, but I’m not sure there’s any trick to it," I said. "I think it’s mostly being able to let yourself go and getting inside the author’s heads."

"Can you teach me how to do that?" she asked.

"Don’t know," I answered, again truthfully. I paused. "Do you like to read?" I asked.

"I don’t read much," she admitted. "I used to read Nancy Drew, but not much past that."

"Maybe we can change that," I said.

"When do you want to start?" she asked.

"Is tomorrow too soon?" I asked back, and the pool hall and my friends were both forgotten.

"That would be great," she answered.

"Should I come to your place?" I asked.

"No, you can’t come to my place," she answered and I was aware that she said it a little more loudly and deliberately than was perhaps necessary. "I’ll come to your place, if it’s okay," she added, and her voice was immediately softer and more like it had been earlier.

"Yea," I answered, unsure what nerve I’d struck. "That would be great."

And so we parted, and I walked on air as we left the room. I didn’t even bother with my friends or the pool room. I went home. I had work to do.

My mother’s jaw must have dropped a foot when I told her my student was coming to our place for tutoring the next day and that the student was, in fact, an attractive member of the opposite sex. I could well imagine her sitting up half the night knitting baby booties for the grandchildren, and knew for sure she’d be up early the next morning to make sure the house was good and clean before my guest arrived.

I was also up early, reading voraciously away, scribbling notes, trying to prepare for the first lesson. After all, I had to make a good first impression, appearing able to make many wise and knowledgeable insights into the work of various great writers — a tall order, even for one much more learned than I. I didn’t have hunk-type looks, or cash, or a car. I would have to dazzle her with my superior brain. I would have to show her that there was more to life than tooling around in a fancy red convertible with the captain of the football team. Everything depended on how we made out at this first session.

She was to come at four and by ten after I was sure she’d changed her mind and not bothered to call.

"Are you sure it was today?" my mother asked.

"Yes, mother," I replied, and just then there was a knock at the kitchen door.

I showed my new student into the living room where we were to work, finally managed to convince my mother that we didn’t need anything, and we settled in to study.

The hour passed quickly, too quickly for my liking. I know for certain that I had never spent that much time that close to a girl who was also surely a woman. I could smell her. Her breath touched me. I could feel her without touching her. I was continually aroused during the lesson, constantly afraid it would be revealed to her. But I did my best to conceal it, and it seemed to go unnoticed. Finally, my Dad came home from work, meaning an end to our time together.

We had said nothing to each other, excepting what needed discussing for high school English, but I felt I could feel something between us as I showed her out. And just as she stepped out the door, she looked back and our eyes connected for the first time since we’d come together the day before. I melted into a puddle of soft, warm emotion at that very instant and could tell she felt something too. But she turned and left, not looking back as she walked down the sidewalk and made her way toward her home. I watched her go, until she was no more.

I waited for our next meeting, two days hence, filled with anticipation. She was on my mind constantly and she came to me in my dreams. I’d heard my buddies discussing the concept of getting "hung up" on a girl, and had laughed at them as they went through the various gyrations of puppy love, but now I felt an awful grasp upon my soul. I wanted to be with her. Indeed, I craved to be with her, and had little interest in the rest of my life.

The two days passed slowly, but finally they were at an end, and I was pacing the floor, again awaiting my tardy student. Then, at fifteen minutes past the hour, just after my Mom had again asked me if I had the right day, I peered out through the kitchen window and saw a bright, flashy, red sports car pull into the driveway, and at once my spirit soared and was crushed. I realized my Venus had arrived, but had come with one of the thick dullards she usually hung with.

I watched from the corner of the window as she climbed from the car. Then, just as she was about to close the door, it seemed whoever was in the car spoke to her, because she wheeled around, an angry, hurt look on her face, and said something back into the vehicle. The car door slammed abruptly shut and the car backed quickly out of the driveway.

She stood for a moment in the driveway, a light snow falling about her, seeming to try to compose herself after the brief altercation with the car’s driver. She brushed her hand across her face, perhaps clearing away an errant tear. And even as I watched her there, I could see only heavenly beauty both in her and surrounding her. She seemed a vision of soft radiance to my lovestruck eyes.

Finally, she came up the walk to the house. I pulled back and gave her time to knock, not wanting her to suspect that I’d seen the exchange in the driveway. But I didn’t wait too long after she knocked and I swept the door open and invited her inside.

Soon, but not until I had fended off the obligatory offer of pop and chips or cookies and milk or whatever and whatever from my mother, we were back sitting in our study area in the living room.

"Are you okay?" I found myself asking after we’d gotten settled, not sure I should ask such a question, but unable to prevent myself from doing so.

"Is it that obvious?" she asked, but she offered up a small smile that made me feel better.

"You just look like you’ve been upset," I answered.

"Oh, I’m all right," she said. "I’m just not a very big fan of Christmas. I find it a hard time of year."

"That’s too bad," I said. "Most people really like Christmas."

"Well, most people’s fathers don’t come home drunk and miserable every night over the holidays," she said.

"Your Dad?" I asked, not sure I wasn’t treading where I shouldn’t.

"Oh, he drinks all the time," she answered, "but at Christmas, it’s always worse. He can’t hold a job, and at Christmas, he gets feeling sorry for himself because he’s got no money and he really takes it out on my Mom."

"God, that’s too bad," I answered. "It must be hell."

"It’s not great," she answered. "And Jeff just doesn’t understand what I’m going through."

"Jeff your boyfriend?" I asked.

"Yes, and all he cares about is whether I’m going to make the big Christmas party," she answered. "He doesn’t understand that I’ve got other responsibilities. My Mom has to work and I’ve got to help with my brothers and sisters and get meals ready and stuff like that." She paused. It seemed a cloud had settled over her. Gone was the bright cheery person I’d encountered at our previous meetings. "And I’ve got to help my Mom deal with Dad. I can’t leave her alone with that."

"That’s really too bad," I said softly, trying to show her that I could understand. "Well, I’ll tell you something," I continued, "if there’s ever anything I can do — anything at all — you call me. You shouldn’t be going through this alone."

"You’re sweet," she said, leaning over and giving me a light kiss on the cheek — a touch that sent a warm, gentle wave of emotion washing over me. I could feel myself blush.

And we waded into that day’s English lesson, and no more was mentioned about her difficult circumstance. And it was a pleasant enough hour, just to have her so close, and to see her face as she listened attentively to my every word — just to have her as mine for even a time so short.

Finally, it was at an end. Jeff’s car horn sounded from the driveway.

"I’ve got to go," she said, gathering up her books.

I escorted her to the door and got her coat for her.

"I’ve enjoyed this," she said, looking back at me as she prepared to go. And, again, as they had on the previous occasion, our eyes locked together, and I was flooded with feelings for her — and I knew she could feel them too.

And just as she stepped out the door, I took my best shot. "Don’t forget to call if you need to," I said. "I’m always here to listen."

And she left my life and went back into Jeff’s, and I could feel jealous anger rise up in me to know that she was with such an uncaring lout, who made no effort to see what she was going through. How could she be with him?

But I went on about my business. We wouldn’t be able to meet now until after Christmas had passed. That meant three days before our next session and I couldn’t just sit about the house and pine away. So, I pulled on my parka and headed uptown for the pool room. With any luck, I’d be able to get into a good game of card pool. Somebody might even have smuggled in a bottle and there’d be a little drinking to be done — that appealed to me on this particular day.

And the rest of that day passed and we were into Christmas Eve day. I was generally discontent, but knew the mood was caused by the girl. I shot a little more pool in the early afternoon, until the place closed for the holi day, then a few buddies and I headed for the chinaman’s restaurant to sip on cherry cokes until that place closed for the holiday, then we were left in the street, faced with the prospect of going home.

Later that night, after my parents had settled in for a long winter’s nap, and the presents were under the tree for another year, I was surprised to hear the phone ring just as I was preparing for bed myself. I hurried and snatched up the receiver on the second ring, not wanting it to disturb any who slept.

"Hello," I said.

"Hi," answered a voice I recognized immediately as belonging to the girl of my dreams.

"How are you?" I asked, realizing it was likely a stupid question.

"I’m not great," she answered. "Sorry to call so late, but I didn’t know who else to call." There was distress in her voice — I could hear it as she spoke.

"What’s wrong?" I asked, almost afraid to hear.

"It’s my Dad," she answered. "He came home drunk again tonight, and he brought a couple of his drinking buddies after the bar closed for the holiday. They were drinking here all night, and, finally the other guys left, but my Dad got really angry. He started to knock my Mom around. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t. I got my brothers and sisters and ran out." It was desparation I heard from her now. Her words quick and tense.

"Where are you now?" I asked, my heart pounding in my ears.

"I’m at the laundromat," she answered. "It was the only place I could think of that might be open."

"Stay there," I said. "I’ll be right over."

"You’ll come?" she asked.

"Stay there," I repeated. "I’m on my way."

We said a quick goodbye and I hung up the phone and walked to the bottom of the stairs.

"Dad," I called into the darkened upstairs where my parents were sleeping.

"What, son?" my Dad called back . "Who was that on the phone?"

"It was a friend, Dad," I answered. "I need to borrow the car for a while."

"Is anything wrong?" he called down.

"No, Dad," I lied. "I just need to go out for a while."

"Well, okay, but be careful," he answered. "It’s been snowing and it’s slippery in spots."

"Okay, Dad," I answered. "Thanks."

And I was out the door, into my Dad’s car, and fishtailing off up the street toward the laundromat.

I found them in good order, the girl and her brothers and sisters, but all looking thoroughly miserable and forelorn to be out and in such a condition on Christmas Eve.

"Oh, God, thanks for coming," the girl gushed as I came through the door, rushing up and giving me a huge hug. She had been crying.

"That’s what friends are for," I said, and I guided her over to where the younger ones were huddled in a bunch.

"How are you all?" I asked, giving them a great big smile, and trying to make them feel more at ease.

I got a round of return smiles from the bunch, except the youngest girl, who scrunched up her face and let out a loud wail.

"Comeon," I said to them. "I’ll take you home."

"We can’t go home," piped up one young boy. "Daddy’s very mad."

"We’ve got to go and check on your Mom," I answered. "Now comeon, let’s go."

And I followed the lead of the oldest sister, who was my reason for being in this strange circumstance, and we gathered up the brood and were soon all in my Dad’s car, the love of my young life just a few scant inches from me. I could hear her breathing beside me.

We pulled up in front of her house, and all was in darkness.

"Let me go in first," I said, knowing that I was now frightened at the prospect of having to enter such a probably hostile environment. "I’ll make sure everything is okay."

I left the car running and padded apprehensively up the front walk, and was finally at the door. Then, I wasn’t sure what my course of action should be, to knock politely and await the confrontation that might follow, or to barge right in and attempt to surprise whatever might lay in wait for me behind the door. I knocked.

There was no answer, so I knocked again. I also looked back toward my Dad’s car and smiled, hoping to re-assure those from the family who waited there.

Finally, I tried the door. It yielded and I pushed it open and stepped gingerly into the near-dark house, looking about in the dim light cast by the Christmas tree.

"Who’s there?" called out a woman’s voice. "Frank, if that’s you come back, you might as well leave right now. There’s nothing more for you here."

"It’s not Frank, ma’am," I answered. "I’ve brought the kids back home. Are you all right?"

The woman appeared in a doorway off the room where I was standing. She looked more than a little the worse for wear, misery etched in a tired-looking face.

"You’ve got the children?" she asked.

"Yes, ma’am," I answered.

"Keep them out of here for a few minutes, until I get cleaned up," she said. "I can’t let the little ones see me like this." She made an attempt to straighten her hair.

"I’ll do my best," I said.

And I headed back out to the car, where I explained the situation.

"Your father’s gone," I said, "and your mother would like you to wait for a few minutes before you go in."

We settled in, but it was only a couple of minutes and we saw the lights come on in the house, and soon the mother was at the front door waving for us to come.

I walked up to the front door with the wayward children, and watched awkwardly as they embraced and wept with both sadness and joy at being re-united. While they were in the middle of the reunion, I slipped quietly out the door and sat on the step. I wondered at what had happened on this night. It was crisp and clear and cold. I looked up to see a cascade of stars spilled across the sky like rare and wondrous jewels. I breathed in huge mouthfuls of the frigid winter air. It felt good.

Just then the girl came out of the house to where I was sitting. She took a seat beside me.

"How is everybody?" I asked.

"Oh, not too bad," she answered. "The little ones want to hurry to bed so Santa will come."

"Yea, I guess it’s Christmas," I said.

There was a long silence. I could see our breath billowing vapourous as it mingled in the night air. The two became one.

"Listen, I really want to thank you for coming and helping," she finally said, interrupting the quiet. "It was awfully nice of you."

"What are friends for," I said. "I’m just glad I was able to come when you called."

"I’m beat," she said. "I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this tired."

"Should I wait out front for a while in case your Dad comes back?" I asked, looking over at her.

"No," she said. "You go home. Mom’s promised that she’ll call the police if he tries to come back. That’s probably what we should have done earlier."

"All right," I answered. "If you’re sure."

"I’m sure," she said, and with that she leaned forward and gave me a kiss full on the lips, so that it took my breath away, and I almost fell off the step. "Thanks. You’re sweet," she said.

"Merry Christmas," I said softly, and it seemed a moment of the most special time had arrived.

"Merry Christmas," she answered, and she disappeared in through the door and closed it behind her.

I walked on air back to my father’s car, glad to have been kissed, glad to be alive, sure that I had made the most of my chance. There could be no doubt that I had rescued the fair maiden in her time of crisis. What more could I have done to win her heart?

It was a long Christmas day. I wanted to call the girl to make sure everything was okay. As it was, I borrowed Dad’s car and drove by her house in mid-afternoon to see if anything was amiss, but all appeared quiet, so I was soon back home, eating turkey with all the trimmings. Finally, the day was at an end, and I slept.

The bowling alley in town was open on Boxing Day, so my buddies and I took advantage of their pool table, playing a few games, whiling away a generally boring day when most things remained closed for the holiday. Finally, that day was also at an end, and I slept.

The next day, there was a lesson and I waited anxiously for four o’clock. It came and went, but I wasn’t surprised because she was always late. I kept a look-out at the kitchen window, expecting to see her come walking along.

But the red car came instead. And I watched as she climbed out of it, then leaned back inside to offer the driver, no doubt the dreaded, uncaring Jeff, a kiss. My heart sank as low as it could go. I even felt the beginnings of a tear in the corner of my eye, but I chased it away. How could I have been so stupid? Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!

"How are you?" I said to her as she came into the house, a smile on her face.

"Oh, I’m great," she answered. "Looking forward to discovering Steinbeck."

"Great," I answered, lying, wanting her to leave so I could be alone, the way I belonged.

But I struggled through the lesson. I even managed to smile in the appropriate places, and once let out a laugh. I kept my real emotions hidden. I couldn’t let her know how I felt. She’d laugh at me, to think I could have cared for her. I’d be a joke.

Finally, the lesson ended — even before the horn sounded in the driveway signalling Jeff’s arrival. Just as we were gathering up our things, I saw she had a ring on her finger. I’d not noticed it on our previous encounters.

"You’ve got a new ring," I remarked. "Christmas gift?"

"Sort of," she answered. "Jeff gave it to me. It’s an engagement ring. He asked me to marry him when he gave it to me on Christmas day."

"You said yes?" I asked, my voice flat and monotone, the life already beaten out of me, knowing the answer.

"I had to," she answered. "I can’t live at home anymore. Jeff can take me away from that."

"What about your Mom?" I asked.

"I can’t help her," the girl said. "She took him back again, even after the other night, just like she always does. I’ve got to get out."

I said nothing. I was destroyed beyond belief. I had no idea what to say. I thought I had done all that I could to win her heart. But I’d failed and lost.

I walked her to the door.

"When should we get together again?" I asked.

"I can’t study together anymore," she said. "Jeff doesn’t think it’s right that I come over here. He’s awfully jealous."

I wanted to cry out to her that he was also an insensitive jerk who’d likely start and finish as a frustrated factory worker like her old man and who’d end up beating the daylights out of her and their snotty-nosed brood of kids. But I was quiet for a moment.

"Oh, I’m sorry to hear that," I finally answered. "I thought we were making some progress." But I knew there was no point in continuing the lessons, because she’d be pregnant before the school year ended — Jeff would have to put his mark on her — make sure her life was over. That’s what happened all too often in this little one-horse town.

Finally, she left and the red car drove out of the driveway. I hurried up to my room so my Mom wouldn’t see me cry. More anger, than sadness.

After I was cried out, I went back downstairs and grabbed my parka off the hook behind the door. "I’m going uptown," I announced.

"You’re going to miss supper," my Mom said.

"I’ll grab a burger," I answered.

"Your Dad will be disappointed," Mom said.

"Tell him I’m sorry," I answered, and I was out into the coming night, knowing that I didn’t need supper on this night.

I needed the pool room with all of its courseness and roughness. I wanted to smoke cigarettes and curse like a sailor. And I wanted to engage in a bout of drinking and gambling. I wanted to be somewhere safe from all things womanly.

So, I got drunk and I gambled away my Christmas money and I staggered home in the wee hours of the morning. When I awoke at about noon the next day, I had one hell of a headache, but the heartache seemed gone. I was thankful for that and when it came back, I drank it away again, and I’m afraid to say but this became a regular pattern in my life from that time forth. And some might say I have a drinking problem, but I really do think it’s more of a woman problem. And although I never lost my love of reading, and although I can still find those hidden meanings faster than anyone, I am a bit of a bum these days. I just can’t take the humiliation that comes from life.

So, I drink. So, sue me. Except I haven’t got any money, because I lost it all playing card-pool. And to this day I never have asked a woman out. And that’s the story of my one great love and how I came to ruin because of it.

What’s that they say?

That’s life.

And so it is.

Copyright © John Gardiner 1997

This article may not be archived or distributed further without the author’s express permission. Please read the license.

This electronic version of The Melancholy Man is published by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.

John Gardiner is a 44-year-old former community newspaper editor from Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada. He can be emailed at <[email protected]> His stories The Melancholy Man, and The Minister’s Son are also published in The Richmond Review.


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