|Cause For Celebration
I climbed Mr. Baxter's fence, and dropped down into what used to be my driveway. I had resealed the asphalt every August for eight years. Now, it was cracked and heaving. Her new guy, Spencer or something, apparently had no respect for a well-maintained driveway. I quick-stepped across the glow from the streetlamp into the dark of the brick walkway.
I expected the porch light to be on. I didn't need it to navigate the flowerbeds-I'd spent over a hundred hours of Saturdays building them-but we'd always left it on. I stopped beside the tulip bed. I didn't know why I came; I didn't even have a decent excuse worked up. I parked down at the elementary school to give myself time to come up with one, but my mind was blank. Sharon and I legally divorced four months ago. I resigned myself to it when I signed the papers, but lately it was like our seven years together never happened. I wiped my forehead and walked to the steps. I needed to see her, in our house, for reality's sake, even though I knew he was there.
I stepped onto the porch. She had made no great secret of the sacrifice she'd made in letting me get a screen door identical to my parent's, but the new one surprised me. I wondered if they still had mine somewhere, maybe lying against the stack of lumber scraps in the garage. That's where I would have put it.
I knocked, and then squinted against the glare of the porch light when it snapped on. Hadn't that guy Spencer ever been on the porch at night? With both bulbs installed, it was like a spotlight.
"Phil, what are you doing here?" Sharon's hair was pulled back in her nighttime bun. She wore her sweatshirt and those damn black sweatpants with the drawstring that took both hands and full concentration to get off.
"I was just, well I was in the neighborhood, and I wanted to get that bottle of champagne." She looked as surprised as I felt. I couldn't guess where that came from, but I was committed to following through with it. I'd bought two bottles of champagne for our fifth anniversary. We drank one, and decided to save the other for our tenth.
"The what? You mean, oh, I don't know. Why do you need that?" She folded her arms and glanced beside her into the living room.
"I don't know, I just wanted to get it from you. I did buy it after all. I mean you two didn't?"
She put one hand on the doorjamb and leaned closer to the screen. "No, we didn't. I don't know where it is right now. I'll find it and drop it off at the store or something, okay?" she whispered. She started closing the door.
"Couldn't you just go look for it now? It's probably in back corner of the cupboard."
"Is this really necessary, Phil?"
"Umm, yeah it really is. I mean I came across town-"
"I thought you said you were in the neighborhood?"
"It's important to me, Sharon. Couldn't you take two minutes and go look? It's not like I asked you for anything, you know."
She crossed her arms and lowered her head. I couldn't see for sure because of the glare on the screen, but I knew she was twisting her lips around to keep from losing her composure. "I'll be right back." She shook her head.
"Aren't you going to ask me in?" I rocked up on my toes. I didn't want to start any trouble, but she was treating me like a complete stranger, and I did nothing to deserve that.
She looked into the living room again. "I don't think that's a good-"
"Jesus, Sharon. I know he's here. We're all adults you know." I put both of my hands up. "I just came to get this one thing, not start any trouble."
She swiveled back and forth, chewing on a fingernail. "All right, if you leave as soon as I get it."
"Of course I will. I didn't expect dinner."
She turned and whispered something into the living room while I waited for her to open the door for me. When she started down the hall, I let myself in. I was disappointed that the new screen door opened smooth, without so much as a creak.
All of the pictures were gone from the hallway. There were white swatches where the nails had been. The mint green had been her idea, but she ended up hating it. I had thought about repainting for her as a surprise, but never got to it. They were wasting no time getting through the list of things that, according to her, needed changing.
My chest tightened at the spring rattle of my recliner and the rustle of a newspaper. For some reason I felt more violated by him sitting in my recliner than I did about the rest. The urge to size up my replacement just barely overcame my desire to turn and run. It came to me at that moment; this was why I came.
I stuck my hand out as he padded toward the doorway. I hoped he'd be a giant. That would explain it all; the better man got the girl. He peered around the doorjamb at me. He was bald and his eyes were set wide apart like a horse. He looked surprised, though whether it was my appearance, or that I caught him peeping; I couldn't tell. I forced a smile as he stepped into the hall.
"You're Spencer?" I held my hand out further. He looked like he needed reassurance that I wasn't there to rip his throat out.
"Yes, nice to meet you finally, Phil" His voice was deep and brassy.
I frowned when he raised the wrong arm, but then I realized he didn't have another one. His shirtsleeve was pinned neatly to his shoulder. I kept telling myself to put my other hand up, but I just stood still. His face turned red, and I felt ashamed for staring. I grabbed his hand in both of mine and tried, unsuccessfully, not to look at his shoulder.
"Nice to meet you too." I held onto him after he stopped shaking as if I could compensate for my rudeness. When he looked down, I dropped his hand and thrust mine in my pockets. I looked away, toward the kitchen. "I, um, I just came to pick something up. Hope I'm not disturbing-"
"No, no. We were just reading." Sharon had read every night. I watched TV, more often than not falling asleep in the recliner. We had spent entire nights in the same room, never speaking.
Something rattled in the kitchen, and Sharon swore. The plastic bowls in the cabinet never stacked right, and it drove Sharon crazy to have them tumble out onto the counter. I'd seen it many times. I pictured her standing there with her fists balled at her sides. I snickered.
Spencer put his hand to his mouth, but a laugh squeaked past it. He glanced down the hall, and then at me. He had one of those laughs that turned his face red, as if something would fly out of his mouth if he let it go. I started laughing harder, and he did too. The absurdity of my showing up here hit me at once. I didn't know why Spencer was laughing so hard, and it didn't matter. I knew nothing about the man other than my wife of seven years left me for him, and I liked him in spite of it.
Sharon came down the hall. Spencer and I looked at each other and I knew we couldn't stop despite her presence. She raised her eyebrows at us.
"What's so funny?" She asked, holding the bottle out at me by the neck. Neither of us could speak. I raised my hand to slap Spencer on the shoulder but stopped myself in time, and swung it out to the bottle.
"Nothing, Dear," he said. She put both hands on her hips. Spencer leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled and turned her head away from him, probably for my benefit. I couldn't think of a time since before our marriage, when we'd been tender like that.
I thought about that new screen door and how right it looked on the house in comparison to the old fashioned one I picked out. I laughed and they both looked at me.
"Hey, I've got a crazy idea," I said. "How would you two feel about breaking this open?"
Sharon put her hand to her throat and shook her head, "I don't think that would-"
"Yes let's." Spencer said. "I'll go get the glasses. Why don't you take his coat, dear?" Sharon and I watched him waddle off.
I stepped closer to her. "I'll leave my coat on. We'll just have this one, and then I promise I'll go."
Sharon turned to face me. Her eyebrows were bunched together, but I knew she would figure it out later, after I had gone. I stepped past her into the living room, peeling the foil from the bottle.