“The Good Life”
by Aubrey Elliot
There was a heaviness on my chest. I didn’t want to open my eyes, so I rolled over instead. I heard my cat “thud” on the floor beside me. He wasn’t happy. I knew he would be coming back to lay on my head in revenge. I turned over again and hid beneath my pillow. Plop. I could feel his little kitty paws digging into the fluff just above my eyes. He was in full assault mode and nothing would appease him. I sat straight up, flinging him to my feet. The room began to spin. I reached over to wake Ellen up, but found only covers. I lay back down. The cat moseyed back onto my chest.
I closed my eyes to think. I was trying to figure out why I felt so bad. With a little work, I was able to determine that it was Saturday. I risked opening my eyes a bit to look out the window. It was late Saturday morning. That meant that something had happened the night before. Friday night. Ah, that was it. Friday night had happened. Ellen had come home unexpectedly which meant that our neighbors had come around too. Ellen was like their magnet. Where she was, they gathered. Beth came over after her husband had gotten home. It was his job to watch their son a couple of evenings a week to give Beth a break. Eric, one of the gay boys next store, had stopped by for a chat. Hmmm, Glenda might even have stopped by later, but for most of the night it was just Ellen, Beth, and me.
There was wine, scotch, beer, and pizza, lots of pizza. Pizza while you’re drinking is almost always better than sex, especially, because when you drink, sex is usually unsatisfying, while pizza never fails to please, especially Saint Louis pizza. Imo’s. Imo’s, and Imo’s is a monument to all that is gooey, crunchy, and delicious. It comes piping hot, thin-crusted, smothered in sweet sauce, and topped in great quantities with provolone cheese. It is an acquired taste, but once you have a taste for it, there’s nothing better.
I slowly raised myself up on my elbows. Thinking about Imo’s pizza was helping my dry mouth and aching head come together to sour my stomach. I couldn’t hide my hurt in sleep anymore. It was time to put my feet on the floor and face the day. I looked down at my cat. “This is all your fault, you know?” He licked his paw with a self-confidence that dripped with indifference and closed his eyes. As far as he was concerned his job was done.
I made my way downstairs and into the kitchen.
“Hey there, little one. You don’t look so good. Want some hair of the dog?” She came over and slipped her arms around my waist. I let my head fall on her shoulder. A little moan escaped me. “How about a Bloody Mary or something,” she continued.
“You’re not funny.”
“You thought I was hilarious last night.” She pulled away and went back to making her coffee.
“I’ve also been known to carry on conversations with myself when I’m drunk, so what does that tell you?”
“That you have good taste?”
I groaned and poured myself some coffee as well, lots of sugar. I sat down at the table and tried to gather my thoughts. Other than a dull throbbing between my eyes, my head was empty. There was nothing in there, just pulsing gray matter a sure sign that today would be long a long unremarkable marathon of couch, soda pop, and television.
“You’d feel better if you had something to eat. Why don’t we go to Uncle Bill’s?”
Ahh, good old Uncle Bill’s known for its heaps of bacon, butter-soaked toast, and eggs anyway you liked them. It was the perfect place to recover from hangovers or to satisfy the munchies depending on your drug of choice. I considered for a moment. It was better than just laying on the couch all day.
“Okay, but you’re driving.” I took in a deep breath and willed my body up from the table to get dressed. It was a long trip back up the stairs.
With effort, I found my way to the closet and pulled out a pair of jeans. Slowly, very slowly, I slipped one leg in and lost my balance. The floor was hard and unyielding. I pulled my leg back out and sat down on the bed. I tried again. Both legs in. That was good. I stood up and tugged at the waistband. It didn’t budge past my hips. I yanked and wiggled. I walked around the room shifting my hips back and forth to no avail. Fuck it. I went back to the closet pushing the stupid jeans off my legs. Another pair out and another failure. Despite a fleeting hope that the third time might be the charm, I took out a pair of sweat pants. I slid into their cotton softness easily. It took a few minutes to tie my tennis shoes, but eventually I was dressed and ready to go. True to her word, Ellen drove while I hung my head out of the open window letting the cool air rush over my sweaty forehead. In just a few minutes we were in a booth contemplating a wonderful variety of “greasy-spoon” specials.
“What’ll you two girls have?” our waitress asked.
“I’ll have a couple of eggs over easy, bacon, toast and a side of biscuits and gravy.”
“And you?” the waitress looked over at me.
“Two poached eggs, sausage, wheat toast, and a large tomato juice with lemon, please.”
“All right, thanks.” She tucked her pencil behind her ear and was gone.
“You know what I want after this?” Ellen asked. I shook my head. “I want a big, fat, chocolate shake from Steak ‘n Shake.”
“God, don’t say ‘fat.’”
“We’re not going to talk about losing weight while we’re eating are we?”
“I tried on two pairs of jeans this morning, and I couldn’t get into either of them.”
“Maybe they were the old jeans I told you to throw away. You look fine to me.”
“You always say that.”
“You’ve trained me well.” Ellen smiled at her joke.
“I’m serious, though. We only have ‘old’ jeans because, well, because we’ve outgrown them.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“I am!” The waitress came with our order.
I watched Ellen dig into her biscuits. They looked really good. The gravy was white and thick with little dark specks of sausage sprinkled liberally throughout. I would have put ketchup all over it, but then my tastes are a bit different from Ellen’s. I poked the eggs and dipped my buttery toast into their golden juice. A bite of sausage completed the experience. One forkful led to another and all too quickly my plate was empty. I leaned back in my chair. The elastic in my pants was beginning to itch.
“Why is it that the clothes you want to wear when you’re the most relaxed are the very same things that you’re supposed to wear to workout?” I asked.
“Freedom to move around. Jeans are never as comfortable as sweats.”
I scratched my stomach. By that definition, I would need to buy new sweat pants…not because I wanted to sweat in them, but because I wanted to be more comfortable when I ate. Working out wasn’t why one wore stretchy, accommodating, soft cotton. I looked down at my empty plate. Streaks of egg yolk were congealing on its surface.
“How fat have you ever been?” I asked.
“That is beyond a doubt the worst question asked at the worst time I could possibly imagine. I’m not telling you.”
“More than you weigh now?”
Ellen raised an eyebrow. I was entering territory that obviously was off limits.
“I am not going to talk about this with you. Come on, let’s go home.”
It was a long drive. Ellen wasn’t speaking to me. I leaned my head against the window and let the bright sunlight warm my face. I closed my eyes and drifted.
“Do you want your own milkshake or do you want to share one?” I heard from a long distance, across a vast room where people lounged about on couches, sipping cocktails and laughed, and laughed…
“What, uh, no I’m good.” I sat up. I tried to keep a neutral face as Ellen ordered a large chocolate shake. I watched as she took it from the cashier’s hand. I watched her push in the straw. I watched as she sucked the thick dark liquid up the straw and through her lips. My tongue tingled just watching her. I think my mouth actually watered. I reached over to take the frosty drink from her hand.
“Hey get your own. I asked if you wanted one.” Ellen yanked it back.
“I didn’t want a whole one.”
“Well, I want all of it.”
“I bet you could be convinced.” I leaned over and rubbed my hand slowly, seductively, between her thighs.
“Don’t start something you’re not in the mood to finish,” she answered through a mouthful of sweet, chocolate, gooeyness.
“Just give me a sip, would you?” I pleaded. She handed over the cup. It was cool, sweet, and satisfying. “Oh, that’s good.” I said and took another sip, deeper this time. I sucked the creamy, rich, icy liquid around my mouth and let it linger on my tongue. God it was good. I, reluctantly, handed the nectar back and let Ellen finish up.
When we got home, I lumbered up the stairs. I hesitated as I reached the top, to the right was our bedroom, to the left was the den where the couch and television lay waiting. It wasn’t difficult to decide which way to turn. There was no way I was getting naked today. I quickly gathered up the pillows from our bed and went into the den. Before you could say “what’s on?” I was comfortably ensconced atop my fluffy pillows and beneath a warm comforter. I switched on the television. This had to be a slice of heaven.
“I thought you had something else in mind,” Ellen said from the doorway.
“Oh, come on. Lay down here with me awhile. We’ll watch a little TV and relax.”
“You’re not in the mood are you?”
“Why is it when I have a hangover, you think it’s an invitation to sex?”
“Maybe it’s because you seemed interested when there was a milkshake involved?” Ellen pulled back the comforter and sat down at the opposite end of the couch. She pulled my feet onto her lap.
“What do you want to watch?”
“I don’t care.” I tossed the clicker over to her.
“Now, I know you don’t feel good. You never let me have the clicker.”
“Really, I don’t care. I’m just going to lay here and relax.” I closed my eyes.
I listened to Ellen begin to flip through the channels. A talk show. A drama. A sitcom. The usuals for a Saturday. It reminded me of when I was a little girl in a sad sort of way.
When I was young, Saturday mornings were the best. I would get up early while everyone was still asleep and make my way into the kitchen. Mom always kept the cereal in the bottom cabinet. I would look over the selections and pull out one of the boxes. As I recall, Count Chocolate was my favorite. With breakfast in hand I would scurry into the living room for a morning filled with Bugs Bunny, Scooby Do, and Speed Racer, all my favorites. Whatever happened to all those shows anyway? Back then, there was something to watch from about seven in the morning until noon. Of course, my mother would usually turn off the “trash” long before then.
She never understood how I could sit in front of the television for hours at a time. To her and therefore for me – good weather meant an afternoon riding my bike through the neighborhood, hanging out with the other kids who had their televisions turned off too. Bad weather meant going into the playroom where I have to admit I had an obnoxious number of toys. The bike riding was the best though.
I could ride for hours with friends or just on my own. Every street held a different treasure. There were endless sidewalks to discover and endless people to annoy. My favorite thing was to try and get lost, then, to try to find my way home again. Hell, one time, I was gone so long that one time my parents had called the police. I think I was grounded for the better part of a month, but it was worth it. When it came right down to it, I think my mother was right. The world is a whole lot more interesting than television.
I opened my eyes. “You know what I think we ought to do today?”
“Finish the yard work?”
“No…god no. I think we ought to find something to explore.”
“Why not go camping or something?”
“Does everything need to be a big event?”
“How does camping qualify as a big event?”
“For one, there’s packing. For another, there’s driving. Then there’s the unpacking…”
“You’re a real pain in the ass. How about just hiking? I don’t think we’ve ever been to a park around here.”
“You find the park, and I’ll think about it, but I mean it about the yard work. Have you actually looked at the backyard?”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because it’s ours maybe?”
“Yeah, but really, why do we have to do something about it. Can’t you just hire some young kid trying to work her way through college or something?”
“Gee, I wonder why we don’t do that? Maybe because you’d be a little too interested in the yard then?”
“You have a point.”
“Besides, I think one of the joys of owning a house is the yard work.”
“Oh really, why is that?”
“Because it feels good to take care of something you value.”
“God, do you know how sappy you sound?”
“Whatever. It’s how I feel.”
“You really want to go outside in the hot sun and work on the yard?”
“It might make you feel better.”
“How about we compromise?” I had to ask. This ploy usually works well for me.
“With you, compromise means we do what you want first then if there’s time we argue about what I want to do.”
“Have some faith, will you? Look, let’s go to Forest Park and walk one of the trails then come back and do the yard work?”
“See? I told you. Your stuff first. I can see it now. There will be a sprained ankle or we’ll get lost, or…”
“Alright already, let’s do the yard.” I closed my eyes. I had been hoping to avoid any real work today. Cutting the grass was not my idea of communing with nature. Communing with nature meant hearing the birds, smelling the earth, and feeling cool fresh air across my skin. Instead, Ellen wanted me listen to the lawn mower roar, smell gas, and let sweat drip from my armpits. It just wasn’t the “back to nature” I had in mind.
“You know why you want to go out camping don’t you?”
“You got all worked up because you’re feeling old and fat.”
I looked at the woman I had loved for so many years. I looked at her dear sweet face and thought how good it would feel to smack the shit out of her. I refrained. Instead, I simply asked, “What in the fuck makes you think that? It’s because you think I’m fat, don’t you?”
“Nope, but I do think that’s why you’re all worked up about camping. It will make you feel young again.”
“Now I’m old?”
Ellen rolled her eyes.
“I’m not fat, you know.”
“I know that.”
Good answer. I’ll let you live. I thought to myself. I settled deeper into the couch and turned my attention back to the television. Ellen started to flick through the channels. A car chase, News, a crying woman, bombs dropping from planes, cooking. Finally, I looked out the window just to give my mind a break. The “stimulation” was killing me.
Outside, fluffy little white clouds drifted across a cool blue sky. It looked pretty and peaceful. It was a nice day, and I was going to miss it watching, watching…I looked back at the television…someone, a guy, was eating worms.
“What?” Ellen sounded surprised.
“You heard me. You’re right. We ought to get outside.”
“You want to work in the yard?”
“‘Want’ is a relative term. I’d like to go outside. I’d like to be with you. I guess we can do both getting off this couch and doing the yard thing.”
“You really mean it? We’re not going to get started and you bail on me are you?” Ellen must have realized that the longer she questioned my sincerity, the more likely it was that I would change my mind. She didn’t wait for an answer.
“Stay there,” she said. She left the room, and I could hear her rummaging around in our closed.
“Good lord, these were buried.” She came back into the room triumphantly holding two pairs of old dirty tennis shoes.
“What did you expect? It’s not like we wear them everyday.”
Ellen threw the shoes on the floor at my feet.
“Come on. Let’s go.”
In a few minutes, we were in the garage. I stood in the doorway and took in the smell of musty old grass and looked at the dust mites as they danced along the sunbeams from the window. I don’t know what came over me at that moment, but all of a sudden yard work didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all, not that I’d tell Ellen that.
“Okay, look, I’ll get the weeder. Why don’t you get the mower?” Ellen asked.
“Why can’t I do the weed wacking?”
“Because you can’t ‘whack’ in a straight line.”
“Okay, alright. I’ll mow.”
The work went quickly. To this day I can’t explain how good it felt to be out there smelling the fresh cut grass and feeling the sun on my face. There was a lot of sweat, but it was good sweat. It was the kind of sweat that reminded you that you were alive. It was the kind of sweat that made you remember what life was all about. It was the kind of sweat that made a hang over a distant memory. It was like being cleaned up from the inside out.
It was about five when we finally finished. Ellen poured us a couple of iced teas and joined me on the back porch.
“It looks pretty good doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it does. I think this turned out to be a good day.”
“Better than sitting on the couch?”
“Yeah, I suppose.” I didn’t want to give her too much credit.
“You know what would make this perfection?”
“I think we should take a walk up to that coffee shop you like so much. Maybe we could have dinner up on Grand or something.”
“That sounds almost as good as barbequing the hamburger we’ve got in the fridge.”
We sat down to dinner at our table on our porch at just about sunset. The burgers were juicy; the fries were crisp; and, the tea was cold and sweet. I took it in slowly, with deep satisfaction. My body had earned it. I stretched out my sore muscles with a yawn. I hadn’t felt so relaxed and tired in years.
I raised my glass of pop and said, “This was a pretty good day.”
“Yeah, yeah it was. Let’s do it again sometime.”