A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Marriage"
Originally featured on 07-30-2008
As part of our series "The Ancient Trappings of Humanity’s Endless Summer (Age-Old Traps)"

“Afternoon, sheriff.” Dwight tucked his chin and laughed. “Welp, I can think of about nineteen things that are more embarrassing than what I’m about to explain, namely, that I was not breaking into my ex wife’s house to steal anything; no sir, in fact, I was trespassing for the purpose of returning a possession of hers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be red in the face before I get three more words out. If embarrassed were a sport, like whunna them hammer-swingin beefcake booths at the fair where you show your gal how strong y’are by how many them red lights and whistles go off, I’d be takin’ home the Mother-Goose stuffed whale o’ shame right ‘bout now. I might confuse you by putting it that way; most people’d just say there ain’t nothing more embarrassing, but that would be dishonest, and I hate old expressions that don’t say the truth. I mean, shucks. If I sat here and reminisced through the rearin’ of my bad self, like, the whole of it, suckin’ on titties up through signin’ divorce papers (that’s not to say I’ve outgrew tittie sucking, I just took me a sixteen year breather from it, if ya catch my halitosis), I’m sure I could think of nineteen moments more humiliating than this one. But not more than that.

“To be fair, I knocked at the door first. As you can see, there’s no car in the driveway but ma own wheels. Didn’t hear Sadie barking when I walked up the steps, neither. So what should I have done? What would a gentleman have done, called her and coordinated a time to return the, um, item? Stood on her porch and waited?

“As you can see, I don’t wear any type of badge on my chest — though I admire that you do — and words like dignity don’t hang around in the same sentences as my name (I’m Dwight, by the way; pleased to meetcha). The term pride doesn’t exactly bump shoulders with me at the pool table on Two-Dollar Thursdays either, but I can be sure we’ve met in passing once or twice, enough anyway that I’m not one to drive to the same place twice to do a job that should take one visit. Least not when it comes to Pauline.

“Therefore, since I came here for a singular purpose, and since I’d be insulting myself if I were to come back (unless it was for a second reason, and I highly doubt there will be a second reason), figures’ I’d do well to get it over with. That right there is spit-sparkle-shine, sound, filibuster peanut-butter reasoning can’t no attorney running for town councilman knock down. I make sense. I make so much sense, if sense (they oughta call it something more fancy sounding, like sensicality or sensmackmadooty) could be plucked offa the tips of my beard, raked out of my daddy-crotch-forest to fill up buckets and feed the chickens, I’d put every farmer in the county out of business. Damn right, I’m the heavyweight champion a’ logical thinkin’; anyone who takes me on in a wrassle-tangle a’ wits’ll walk off scratching their head and shaking the pinecones outa their wallet ‘fore I can say give yer best looking sister my warmest regards.

“Just my luck, I reckon a neighbor saw me climbing in the window and called ya’ll.”

The sheriff crossed his arms and seemed to blow bubbles with his chewing tobacco behind closed lips.

“Now, I won’t say what actually I was returning to her. It’s not so much to the point. Remember how I started off sayin’ there are nineteen things more embarrassing than being a suspect pants down on my ex wife’s porch? What I meant was, she ain’t worth getting all poo-poo upset over on a Wednesday. Even if she did- no, we’re finished. Outa the keg and into the bottle. Plenty other fish in the lake, other termites in the walls, whatever. Anyway, if I told you what the thing was in the cardboard box, see, that would be one of those nineteen things I made mention of. So never mind what was in there.”

The sheriff’s mouth remained closed and his arms remained crossed.

Dwight’s shoulders lowered themselves as if his muscles were a descending elevator wherein a ghost had pressed the button. When he remembered things that were disagreeable to his predicament, the knowledge always hit his shoulders before it was absorbed by any other sentient part of him. What he remembered at this moment was where Pauline went on Wednesday afternoons, and that was, she was out tending Bill Ledbelt’s greenhouse with Marsha. Dwight’s watch read Four-Seventeen, and he knew it was eight minutes slow. That meant Pauline was due home in less than five minutes.

The sheriff’s eye followed Dwight’s shoulder.

“I’m what I like to call a git’er-done (no-frills’d, you could say) breed of nice guy; that is, I’m chivalrous in the actual doings of things, I just don’t care to act like it. I’m the guy who’ll hold the door for ya without a thought, but won’t smile or say good day, and won’t notice if you thank me. If I find your purse or wallet in the gutter, I’ll turn it in, but the next time I see you I’ll make damned sure everyone in the bar knows what a clumsy idiot y’are. And if I hear you yell for help, I’ll clobber the miscreant peckerhead till he’s out cold, but I won’t stick around and ask if you’re okay and all that sympathetic mothering hoopla. You prob’ly shouldn’t’ve been there in the first place’s how I see it.

“That’s strangers. When it comes to folks I know well, or, say, ladies who’ve sent me six hundrit miles east of crazy while my heart stayed splat on the floor under the heel of their pretty ol’ leather boot, same applies. If I find something of yours I reckon you might be wanting back, I’ll deliver it to you faster’n Chinese food, but don’t expect no fortune cookies with your feast, or patience on my part neither. Or discretion, for that matter. If I see an open window, that’s as good as you answering the door. Better, in fact, ‘cuz that way I don’t have to cast my eyeball’s fishin’ hook into that familiar face — always with a ripple or two that’s not so familiar — and dredge up a whole bunch of algae and gunk to be reminded of fights we shouldn’t never have had, and get all choked up. I’ll just slip in, leave it on the table with a note, something real succinct, and skiddankle.”

Dwight looked down the driveway and then back at the sheriff. “You married? I hate the word ex-wife. It makes me feel like a redneck; ayup, just went hunting, now’s time to back our pickup out of the mud so’s we can kick back at the saloon and see if I can’t avoid running into my ex wives. Definitely not my style.”

Dwight’s chest was moving at a tempo but standing still. The driveway and the sheriff flashed before him like spokes of a wheel, a wheel as big as the whole world in which Dwight was the axis. “We said vows. Government words. We stood before a clergyman and signed papers obligating us to sleep and fart together till the end of time. And, well, other stuff too. And now I have an ex wife running around. The word makes my chin rattle like dried out cornstalks in a bum-whistler (that’s what I call ‘em — wind storms, the like). They shouldn’t let you say ex wife in a PG movie, if they still do.

“Nothing good starts with the letter X. You have to go all the way to the end of the alphabet to get it, way out into the slums, like you’re a city gangster buying a weapon or drugs or something. Good things start with the letter A. A Team is good. Apples are good. Pauline and I used to eat apples, I mean we’d eat the same apple at the same time, and play a game to see who could bite closest to the core without biting none off, and if one of us lost, then we had to kiss before we finished chewing, kind of like that card game where you slap your hand on the cards as fast as you can if a certain one comes up, except we used mouths instead of hands, and gooey chewed up apple instead of cards, and we couldn’t stop kissing till we’d swallowed all the apple in our mouths between us.

“She could be funny like that. Sometimes. But that was- Yeah. …Bitch.”

Dwight’s eye twitched, fanning heat away from his cornea. His wristwatch angled itself toward his face. He could not look down, because the moment he looked at his watch, he would hear Pauline’s car pull in, because that was how the universe worked. “B, too. Some pretty good stuff starts with B. Like…um…Back In Black, you know, the AC/DC song? That shit rocks. And bologna. It’s not gourmet eating, and it’s not like healthy organic or nothing, but it taste pretty good in a sandwich with ketchup and scallops, and- maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, because not many people know this, but you can fry it too, in butter — I ain’t fooling — and wrap it around potato wedges, and then it doesn’t even look like bologna anymore, it looks like something at a restaurant.

“Pauline used to work at a restaurant. Probably still does. I stay out of her business.

“If all the letters of the alphabet had, like, personalities, like they were all one big family of people on a TV sitcom, A, B and C would be the good kids who don’t drink or nothing, always get straight A’s in school, and X would be the one who’s always in trouble, having unprotected sex and stealing money out of mom and dad’s sock drawer.”

Dwight’s head felt like a balloon, his skull stretched thinner than a sack of air. The sheriff. The driveway. The sheriff… The driveway…

He took another step closer to the sheriff.

“Once you get to D, you start heading off into mediocrity. Darts, for instance; the game you play when you’ve run out of reasons to be drunk, and you’re not quite sober enough to leave. But there’s some potential yet in the letter D. The Dokeskill High football team took state champions last year. Then there’s my name, of course.

“P is kind of in the middle, I guess. Pants. Gotta wear ‘em all the time, but they’re not like a big deal or anything. Pliers. They come in handy if you need ‘em, but there are other tools too. And plastic. It’s everywhere, but it’s just plastic, who cares, right?

“I don’t.” Dwight’s voice lost its consonants in an avalanche of jitters. He rocked forward and steadied himself on the sheriff’s shoulders. “I’ll be right honest with you, sir. I understand you’re doing your job, and I’d hate for you to’ve driven out here for nothing, and I know this don’t look good, ex husband and all, but- It would kill me if she- I mean, this is no saliva off my nuts, personally. But I know Pauline, and this would just ruin her- make her real upset, and I don’t want to- Lord knows we’ve upset each other enough for six lifetimes. This being my fault, it wouldn’t be fair to her if she were to come home and we were standing here talking. It would be dishonorable. So could we, I don’t know, could we possibly- I mean, I’d love to chat more, but maybe we could just, um, take it somewhere else, I swear I won’t try to drive off or nothing-”

The sheriff gestured with his head toward his cruiser parked at the edge of the driveway. It was then that Dwight noticed there was another person in the passenger seat who was not wearing a uniform.

“You two must be hitting it off famously. I’ve seen old women at the laundry take less time to get bored of talking with each other,” Pauline taunted from the window.

“It’s all under control, lemon pie,” the sheriff called back to her.

Dwight’s shoulders tried to squeeze themselves into what space it could find behind the sheriff’s body, but found none.

Pauline shot Dwight a sarcastic palm salute. “Can’t believe you didn’t see me here this whole time. That was improper of me to make my new boyfriend do all the talking, but the introduction was way too much fun to watch. Gee, I’m surprised your high school coaches never told you to look around at your surroundings in real life same as you do so expertly on a football field. You’re a piece of work, Dwight-light.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you.” The sheriff put out his hand. “No need to worry; I didn’t receive any call from a neighbor. I spend so much time here, I’m forgetting to feed my cats. A claw across the face would serve me right. Care for some coffee? Consider it not an imposition. Shikes, did I just- There I go again, acting like I live here.”

Dwight thought about it. “Sure, why the hell not.”

Pauline stepped out of the cruiser and yawned. “So, what’s this I hear, you brought me something?”

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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