(“Angie.” College Times 2007: Pages 25-26. Print. Riverfront Times: St. Louis.)
It’s not as if he asks a lot of his wife. He could deserve more than this dubious reward: standing in the parking lot of a shabby apartment complex by the River de Peres, cold, slow, autumn rain pelting his forehead, making his thick brown hair stick to his face. He could warrant a little better than her choice of this location, at least, than her choice of a man, someone even worse off than he is. And what could her point be with it? He could understand if it was a rich guy, or a fucking musician maybe, but not a greaseball who’d live at this place. Picture window with beige, vertical blinds drawn tightly shut, cheap hollow-core door with several deadbolts on it. He could smash the frame if he really wanted in. Anyone could. Maybe even a woman.
It’s not as if he’s such a rock-bottom, barrel-scraping himself. Things aren’t over for Dave, not by a long shot. He’s sorry as hell that Angie has to do the earning for them, okay? Things just weren’t working out with the home maintenance business, it was a bad season, and how could he know his own brother would dick him over with their investment capital? It wasn’t as if Dave didn’t have jobs coming in. When it rained, it poured. But jobs thinned out when summer ended. Angie ought to understand, and what was so bad about being a secretary, anyway? How hard could her job be, sitting downtown in that temperature-controlled, plush fourth floor office with a coffee pot nearby and a boss who doted on her? God-damn.
He steps closer to the door, finds himself less than two feet away from it. Angie’s car is nowhere in sight, but she isn’t completely dumb, even if some days she definitely seems a few fries short of a happy meal. She probably met the guy somewhere else and rode back with him. Dave had found the scrap of paper, a receipt from the nearby fast food dive, and on the back of it was the scribbling: “Bryon D- Apt 1A Hickery Complex Royale.” It had been lying in the pile of garbage that always seemed to find its way to the floor of his Ram truck, insignificant, something he might have ignored had Angie not started acting funny on him. Like how she started having more girls’ nights out, or how she started buying tight clothes. She was looking around, he knew. He could tell before she herself knew it. He began checking scraps and notes.
There are voices coming from inside the apartment, faint and muffled, slight rises and falls in the conversation. Laughter. A man’s and a woman’s. Dave’s jacket is thin and wet.
It is getting late in the afternoon. The whole world has become gray almost overnight, the steamy summer days gone just like that, Dave’s carefree, hot hours spent. And now he’s looking winter square in the eye: it’s a peephole in some loser’s apartment door, an inside-out eyeball that Dave can’t see through. An aperture through which Angie’s image becomes distorted and twisted into something he can’t stand to think about. A place where she giggles for another man, places her small arms around his neck, tilts her head slightly to the side in the flirtatious manner she once used on her husband.
Things had been good at first, hadn’t they? Maybe they’d married a little too young, barely into their twenties, but they’d grown in the last decade, changed, matured, and their love had deepened into a sort of mutual respect and comfort. What was wrong with comfort? What had she meant with all her demands, her need for understanding, conversation, self-fucking-actualization? How did Dave hold her back, anyway? She was free to have a career. She chose to put off kids a little longer. She chose the house, not him. She planned their vacations, not him. It’s not as if he asks a lot of her. It’s not as if he makes any demands on her, and couldn’t she forgive that for the first time since they’d been together he just couldn’t bring home the bacon?
Dave deserves more than this, he knows it, he feels it. He can hear Angie’s voice in there, in that disgusting, stinky rathole of an apartment. How can she sink so low? Was this her way of telling him that her standards had never been very high, actually, as a matter of fact? He smooths the hair back off his forehead then rubs his sides with his damp hands, shifts his weight from foot to foot. He’s a fairly big guy, he thinks, he could take on most men. He’s kept himself from getting a spare tire around the middle like all the other guys from the old neighborhood. He’s worked hard to keep the beer from creeping up on him. What could Angie want in someone else? How could she pick that moment to do this, just when he was down, for the very first time?
He’d followed her to work downtown a few times, sat outside her building, watched closely who she walked off with for her lunch break. There were men, women, all sorts, but none looked intimate. Dave figured out pretty fast that Bryon wasn’t the businessman type, judging by his living at Hickery Complex Royale. And then, a month ago, Dave followed Angie to work, but she didn’t go there. She drove across the state line, miles on a highway, and then onto a college campus, where she disappeared into a bland, brick building for two hours. She then came out, got into her car, and went on downtown to her office building. He couldn’t help but notice the grin on her face, the disheveled appearance of her clothes. Maybe Bryon was a student, or a teacher. That would explain the crappy apartment.
Dave hates the position he finds himself in. He isn’t the sort to lose control over some chick, even if it happens to be his wife.
A car pulls into the parking lot, drives slowly past him. He stares hard at the driver, but he can’t see much through the fogged-up car windows. It cruises past and around the road to the apartments in the next row back. He stands and waits. The highway is nearby. Dave can hear the rush of traffic over the rain. He stands more. He knows he has to do something, but he’s starting to lose his nerve. It’s actually hurting him, the idea of his wife in there with another man. He hears more laughter, words, but he can’t quite make them out. The rustle of paper, maybe bags. It’s almost dinner time. They could be eating together.
He knocks loudly on the door because there is no other option. The apartment goes silent.
There is a low thud of movement within, and silence again. He hollers loudly and bangs his fist, “Angie! I know you’re in there.”
He hears the male voice cursing, “What the–” and the deadbolts are thrown, the door is yanked open wide. “Yeah? Well?” It is a thin man, with coarse, curly hair hanging down to his shoulders, curly hair on his sunken, bare chest. His skin is bad, his eyes are very pale. He is short. The warm air from the apartment creates a mist of steam before him.
“I’m here for Angie,” Dave growls, confidence growing. There is no way this Bryon could take his Angie, this Bryon who is so different from what he imagined.
“Ain’t no Angie here, man,” the person spits back.
The impertinence. Dave shoves the man backwards into his apartment, informs him, “I’m asking. Now where is she?” He looks around the place, sees bland, brown carpeting, beige walls, sparse furniture, and open pizza box on the floor. Smells Pine Sol and old garbage. A small television is on the floor, tuned in to the local news, sound muted.
“Hey!” the small man barks. “Hey, you got the wrong place. Just back off, man!”
Dave goes past him into the dark hallway beyond the living room area, pushes open a door, sees a woman’s back, a woman who is still dressing. She has reddish hair, not black. She is full-figured, not petite. She moves slowly, carelessly, indifferently. Her hands work the front of her blouse buttons. She has only a pair of panties on below.
“You are some kind of jack-ass,” she mutters, and then laughs, turns to face him.
It is Sabrina. His lover.
It is not as if he asks a lot of his wife. Angie attends classes two nights a week, a flurry of motion between the moment she rushes in after work, changes into jeans, grabs her bookcase, nibbles on a bit of food on her way out the door. Dave’s work has picked up and he gladly obliges her the huge tuition her college charges. Angie has this idea that she’ll be the one working after the baby is born, and that she’ll need to earn a lot to keep the family afloat, since Dave’s handyman work is so irregular. She thinks that getting her associate’s degree would earn her a raise at the company, maybe a promotion into the marketing department. She has ideas about doing international telemarketing, and she wants to learn more about business, brush up on her Spanish.
Dave turns a lot of his energy to getting the house ready, fixing things he’d been neglecting, painting rooms he’d meant to paint. It takes a lot of effort to scale the hill, to climb over his guilt. It is not as if he should harbor too much of it, anyhow. Sabrina was just a meaningless fling that summer. He has fatherhood to look forward to after winter finally ends, he has his intact marriage to be thankful for, and he needs to stay focused.
Angie still cocks her head to one side in the morning before she goes off to work, gives him her sweet, tiny grin, a soft kiss, tells him how lucky they are to have each other. He kisses her in return, tries not to see the little twinkle in her eye, like a little spark of heaven in her angelic face. She is basically a good woman. He wonders how long it will be before he can sleep with her again. It’s been almost a year. Maybe after the baby is born.