Saturday, October 30, 2004

One Day

"Never let the sun set on an unkind word". These words hung with a glazed hardness above Geoffrey's bed. The sun had set many a day now on all sorts of words - kind and unkind, euphemistic and explicit, loving and hateful.

Geoffrey woke with thoughts about work, about month end, which was tomorrow and how stressful it was. Jules had risen early to work out at the gym. 5:00AM in sweats and spandex, she tried to stay as active as she could. Twenty-five years of marriage had the look and feel of luggage with a broken handle. With thoughts of balancing accounts and spreadsheets dancing around the frontal lobes of his brain, Geoffrey nervously considered other options.

It was not that he didn't love Jules any more. That was not it at all. He wanted so hard to be alone and the feeling of being lonely as a couple pulled at his soul with a sort of sad violence.

Geoffrey showered and shaved, noted the grey hair in his goatee and on his chest. He sat and ate the same breakfast he had for every day for the last 40 years of his life: two eggs (over easy), toast, a cup of juice and vitamin. He went into the bedroom, and stared at the motto over his bed. It was a purchase from the recent What On Earth? catalog. Jules loved to buy things from this catalog. Geoffrey thought these things as faux art and never paid them any mind. Except for today.

How would he decorate his apartment when he left? He mulled over the possibilities. He selected his tie from a neatly folded group of ties in a drawer, organized in shades of flaccid tones: from near-pastel to various charcoal grays, all in the proper chromatic sequence.

Geoffrey was unhappy and had been for some time. It wasn't the kind of unhappy that one usually just moves out on, but this was different. The kids were grown, they would adjust, he reasoned.

He walked to the front door, picked up his brief case and looked around the foyer. A silence had moved into the house with them some time ago. Geoffrey could not think of the defining moment; it was a silence that was so uncomfortable and loathsome that it made him start and jump, only to catch himself.

The quiet covered the walls and floors; it gathered into the corners like too much paint. It was real, thick and tangible. It met him each evening, sat with them at dinner, and rose to greet him each and every morning.

Geoffrey looked about their spacious house. He stepped, clicking his heel onto the gleaming marble foyer floor, opened the door and walked to his car.

He drove to work and began considering how he would tell Jules, and envisioned how she would take it. He imagined her breaking down and sobbing and begging forgiveness. He imagined her making a scene. Stopped at a light, he then considered the freedom of being alone and the thought lightened him a bit. He imagined a life with the freedom to laugh again.

Geoffrey went into work and turned on his computer. He hung his coat on the same hook in the cubicle he had occupied for 20 years. He opened spreadsheets, summed columns, sent emails. He took the right length breaks at the designated hours; he stood around the appropriate coffee machine, making the right kind of small talk accepted at offices everywhere. He talked about the fall, his lawn, the World Series. He ate lunch alone, always the tuna sandwich from the machine with low fat milk and an apple.

He imagined Jules becoming angry at his decision. After 25 years? How could he? He thought back: "How could she not see how unhappy he was?” He cried so easily these days and rarely laughed. Truth be told, Geoffrey thought with some guilt, he had even come to hate her scent.

At 3:00 o'clock Geoffrey went to get a coffee and was summing in his head how much money per week he would need to live on his own. His mind opened and closed little spreadsheets, as he summed and averaged, performing regressive analysis about cost-benefits, cross-footing numbers, arriving at satisfactory margins and risk-to-rewards ratios.

He then imagined Jules being so gracious about his decision. "Yes, darling - I so quite agree", she would say. "Let's just get the divorce done quickly, and let's not fuss over the things."

On his way home, he looked up at the moon. It was naked without the stars yet out, as the sun was just setting. It seemed the cold autumn air froze the disk directly into the flat smooth dark twilight sky. Large and white, it appeared like a blanched potato against a dark field.

Geoffrey noticed the tepid color, observed the nearly skeletal trees this time of year. They seemed to beg for something he thought. Halloween was coming: that meant costumes and masks. Geoffrey had never been much for costumes but Jules loved this time of year. She would dress up and hand out the candy. Yet one more way they had grown apart. Geoffrey decided to stop trying to cipher just exactly what had happened to each of them to make him feel this way. How had she changed? How had he? It was a zero-sum proposition, he reasoned.

By the time he placed his brown wingtips over the dry, straw-like Bermuda grass of his lawn, he knew exactly what he had to do. He knew exactly what he had to say. He didn't want to hurt Jules, but he no longer wanted to hurt himself.

Jules' red Corolla was parked outside by the curb. Geoffrey made his way to the door. He gripped the doorknob, drew a deep breath, closed his eyes and pushed his way into the house.

He entered, placing his briefcase down on the sharp cold marble floor. The click made a hollow sound. "Jules?" he called out. The silence was a harder one this time. He walked into the kitchen missing completely the lime green 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet printed from their computer.

Geoffrey opened the refrigerator, as he always did after arriving home, looking for a snack, hoping to make what he had to say as routine as his coming home each night. He stared at the food in the refrigerator, not really hungry. "Jules?" he called again, with his voice trailing off this time.

As he moved from the den back into the kitchen he noticed the green note now on the floor. He had knocked it off the counter during his last pass through.

Geoffrey stopped and stared at the note, long and hard. He did not stoop to pick it up, nor could he read it from his standing position. He stood motionless, observing and noting the font - Serial Killer Bold - he knew that font. Like a tower he was planted staring down, but fully erect, staring at the floor with a stark, white face. He broke the stillness suddenly, pulled himself off to the bedroom and closed the door.

Tomorrow was month end and it was going to be a long day.

MB 2003


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