by Anthony V. Toscano
The warm wet air smelled of city sewer gas and cheap fried food. Jonathan Palmer paced the concrete island as he waited for the trolley. His mind devised possible scenarios for this evening’s therapy session. A child of the sixties, Jonathan knew the psycho-lingo argot of warm-hearted health-care workers. Dr. Sarah Bryant was predictable to the intelligent person, and Jonathan understood the searing power of his own intelligence.
The summer drizzle was becoming a shower. Several commuters around him retreated beneath umbrellas. Jonathan wore only a light shirt and slacks, but he didn’t mind the rain; the steady pop and splatter gave cadence to his thoughts.
He watched the young girl next to him and noticed the muscular line of her buttocks. Her crotch ran high and deep. Jonathan imagined the soft pubic hair that must hang thickly there.
The metallic squeal of wheels on track commanded him back to the present.
“Stay with your here and now,” she’d told him last week. “Work on realizing each moment for its potent force and beauty.” But Jonathan’s desires concerned a future moment, a moment of urgent release followed by freedom.
Trolley doors rattled as they folded open. Behind that sensual rear end, he climbed aboard, tinkled change into the coin box, and found a frontward seat, alone.
Alone and facing the aisle, he could observe and think. The yellow light was harsh and unforgiving; windows were fogged with the weary breath of wage-slaves floating homeward.
Two seats farther down sat a man of about Jonathan’s age. Receding hairline, slightly swollen eyes and a blood-flushed complexion recounting an oft-told story of wasted youth. “Are you going home to the wife and kids?” Jonathan wondered. “Is that why you look so tired and bereft of dignity?”
Jonathan’s own wife now waited for him. He wished that she didn’t. He was bored with Daphne. At times he dreamed of her disappearance; at other times he planned it. Jonathan knew his thoughts were wicked.
Of course, that’s not what he would tell his friends; they were too sincere a lot for brutal honesty. So he’d told them his marriage was failing and he needed help. They recommended Dr. Bryant, psychological guru.
The large, glaring green sign advertised Italian food; reflexively Jonathan tugged the cord above his head, signalling the driver to stop. The restaurant was his landmark. Dr. Sarah’s office was two doors away. After his appointment, he’d rendezvous with Daphne for a late supper. At least the food was good and the light soft.
The braking trolley shook him side to side. Once on the sidewalk he stopped a moment to steady himself. Old serpentine and greystone buildings, three and four stories high, spoke of a wealthier time. Recently middle-class professionals had begun to reclaim and refurbish the old, city mansions.
A short walk, and he waited at the wide oak door. He admired the lead-lined panes of stained glass, swallowed hard, and pushed the doorbell button. A return buzz allowed entrance; quickly he pulled at the brass handle.
A single lamp hung high and dim at the top of the stairs. Jonathan felt for, then found, the heavy wooden railing, and climbed. His shoes tapped a rhythm mirrored by the jingle inside his pocket. At the landing he turned and knocked politely at her door.
Dr. Sarah beckoned him to enter with an appropriate smile and a contrived greeting that he didn’t quite hear. He returned the smile anyway, and entered her world of bookshelves, house plants and wicker furniture.
Jonathan felt vulnerable to her professional gaze as he crossed the room. He concentrated hard on composing himself. He sat across from her and beside the front bay window. Outside another trolley passed.
The good doctor wriggled her pretty rump more deeply and cozily into the cane-backed chair. “Where should we begin this evening?”
He looked hard at her and tried to seem sincere. That wasn’t too difficult; he’d been practicing the effect with Daphne for the past few years.
Take off that pure lacy blouse-slowly-and show me your lovely breasts, he thought. Let me stand before you as you sit, and I’ll allow you access to my feelings.
“Tell me, what are you thinking this very moment?”
“That I’m lonely and tired of thinking. I want to tell her good-bye, but I can’t.”
“Her? Please use your wife’s name. Confront the truth and it will be less fearful, less ominous.”
“Okay. I want to tell Daphne good-bye, yet I don’t want to hurt her.” His mind raced ahead. I want her dead but I can’t stand to think of her bloody and in pain.
“Are you thinking there’s no other woman in the big wide world for you?”
“Yes.” As he spoke he listened carefully to his own voice and strove to modulate controlled anger with equal parts of anguish and despair.
“Jonathan, pretend Daphne’s over on that couch. What do you want to say?”
“I can’t do this; it’s too embarrassing.”
“Eliminate me from the room.”
He propped his elbows on his knees and smelled the fruity aroma of summer sweat. He saw his tan arms against a dazzling white shirt and felt dizzy. He’d come here to have her convince him that he wasn’t crazy; instead he was frightened.
“Uh . . . I’d say . . .”
“Just say it,” she insisted.
He raised his voice. “Daphne, I’ve got to end it!”
Then he cried for sweet Dr. Bryant.
“It’s all right,” she reassured him. “You’ve said it; now commit yourself.”
The restaurant was dark, the way he like it. Candlelight seemed to flicker in time to the lilting mandolin music.
Jonathan stared at the wrinkles under his wife’s faded grey eyes and yearned for a new life without her.
Gracefully he lifted the bourbon to his lips and drank cool courage. Jonathan was smiling as Daphne glanced up from the menu.
“Have you decided, Daphne?”
“Yes, yes, definitely.”
“Does that mean we’re ready to order?”
Jonathan swallowed irritation with the next sip of bourbon. This marriage would be finished soon. She was making the separation easy
The waitress was pretty and friendly, so Jonathan spoke with her. He wondered if the strain of anger and frustration was apparent in his voice. More bourbon seemed to help; he stopped caring so much that Daphne sat brooding and ugly across from him.
Daphne drove them home. Her arms almost fully extended, she kept a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. Still, she had little to say.
“Did you enjoy the meal, darling?”
“It was okay.”
“I thought you liked Italian food. It was you who wanted to meet there after my appointment.”
“I liked it. Look, Jonathan, the traffic’s very heavy. I need to concentrate.”
“I need to sleep.”
He lay back in his seat and closed his eyes. His thoughts, mingled with the bourbon, burned clearly. His contempt for her was tempered with regret. She was good to him in many practical ways: she prepared his meals, cleaned his clothes and poured his bourbon. Daphne was a righteous maid.
But Jonathan wanted more; inside he screamed for more. The silent, claustrophobic anger was destroying them both most painfully. Dr. Bryant was right; he’d said it and now he must commit himself. Enough with planning; tonight he must act.
Surprised that he’d slept, Jonathan was startled awake as she brought the car to an abrupt stop on the gravel driveway. He followed her waddling figure inside. Immediately he padded up the carpeted stairway and into their bedroom to undress. Daphne traveled her usual circuitous route: first to the bathroom, down again to the dining room, and back up to their lovers’ nest.
Jonathan turned from the closet and watched her. She set her usual glass of bourbon on the night table, then shuffled back to her bed. Wide hips in flannel pajamas, his worn-out teddy bear curled into her quilted cave.
And then Jonathan moved.
At his bedside he removed watch and rings, stared first at his pillow, then noted the position of Daphne’s face. He hoped she wouldn’t kick and squirm too much. Three minutes, he’d calculated; only three short minutes, and no bloody scars.
Now hovering over her, he spoke softly. “Daphne? Daphne?” No answer. Good, but first one more glass of courage.
The amber heat raced to his stomach, then fanned violently outward across his chest. Tightly twisted muscles knotted and snapped him backward onto the bed. His tongue swelled to grotesque proportions and performed an impossible back flip. Mouth opened wide, he gasped.
Daphne smiled gently into his desperate eyes. “Don’t struggle, Jonathan. It’ll be over soon. Make it easy.”