Worriersby Kirk Boys
One night we were sitting around our kitchen table having drinks. Outside the weather had taken a turn for the bad. My friend Royal and his wife, Samantha, Sam we call her, Sam had driven over in the storm. Sam’s tall and on the thin side, Royal has a beard and could stand to lose a pound or two. Royal can hold his booze, and he’s smart. We intended on playing a few hands of cards, but the drinking got in the way of cards, and then we had gotten to talk, as people do when they drink.
“Is there a sound when love dies?” Royal was one to pose those types of questions, especially when he’s had a few. The sort you laugh at, but the more you think, the more you start to chew on, like maybe there’s something to it.
“What kind of bullshit question is that,” Meg, my wife, was working her way down a bottle of gin three fingers at a time. “I thought we were going to play Rummy.” Meg might have a drinking problem, but she has a great heart and takes good care of us. Our son, named Tommy, was the best thing that ever happened to us. He was partial to Meg’s side of the family with big brown eyes and a generous spirit.
Our kitchen table sits in a corner with a large window. Outside a storm was building, dark gray clouds were knuckling up overhead and a stand of tall fir trees near the house were snapping back and forth in the wind. Meg walked over and turned the thermostat up. “Makes me cold just to look out there,” she said.
“Is this one of those questions like the tree falling in the forest when no one is around? Is it another one of those pointless questions, Babe?” Sam had kind, blue eyes. She had a snoot full too. She was used to Royal trying to stir up a discussion, but she wanted no part of a conversation designed to go nowhere. The kind of question Royal was famous for posing. The kind he thought got people to thinking. Sam was curious about Tommy our son. They didn’t have any kids of their own, and you could tell she wondered what it was like being a mother. I think she wondered if she would be any good at it and how it made you feel about yourself.
Meg walked over and flipped on the overhead lights. “Look at those trees bend. I hope that big fir doesn’t come crashing down on us.” She leaned closer into the window and turned her head up to see the top of the one closest to the house, then stepped back cautiously and drained the last of the gin in her glass. Meg was one to get nervous over things like that, storms and such, things out of her control. It was hard for her to think of someone else holding the reins even when it was Mother Nature.
We think a lot alike, Meg and I. Our marriage counselor said we are negative processors. You could say we always think the worst. Like the time Meg had the flu, but was sure it was lung cancer. Meg says it keeps her thin though, all that worry. She still has her figure too. The fact is, I’m not much better. We tried to get help from a psychiatrist. We just couldn’t seem to get a handle on it though. It was like we fed off each other in the same way an edgy dog wants to bark at every noise. Scared I guess. The doctor put us both on Prozac, but that just made us sleepy and nervous. We figured we could get along without the meds. That we were just hard-wired that way. We love each other, so I think we’ll just keep on thinking the worst is going to happen, but do it together.
“I don’t think I am up for this conversation,” Sam said leaning into Royal, grabbing his arm and pulling it over her shoulder. “I don’t want to talk about love’s sad side. I just want to lie down and pull a blanket over me and take a stormy nap.”
“That’s because you’re drunk,” I said. I was too. We all were.
“Doesn’t this storm make you nervous, Sam?” Meg asked, peering out the window again, her face all scrunched up with concern.
“When it’s your time, it’s your time and worrying about it won’t change a thing. It’s the stuff you don’t worry about that happens. That’s what they say,” Sam said with a smile.
“What do you mean by a sound?” I asked Royal. The kitchen lights blinked off for a moment, then back on as the wind rocked the house. It began to rain hard, thumping like a drum on the roof. Behind Royal the oven clock was blinking Reset-Reset. I took another drink of gin and tried to relax. “That was close,” I said.
“There was this girl in college, Allison. We were pretty serious, Allison and me.” Royal had gotten serious on us. “It was before Sam of course, but I was in love with her.” Royal stroked his beard and stretched his legs. Royal liked to think of himself as a deep thinker. I liked that about him I guess. Taking another look at things that seemed plain as day to the rest of us, but had a twist for him. “She said I was her Teddy Bear and that I was clever and bright and funny, but in the end, she couldn’t get over my size, you know.
“You mean she thought you were too heavy?” I asked and immediately wished I hadn’t.
“I don’t know, I guess.” Royal looked down at his glass as if I had hit a sore spot. “She was always wanting me to go on diets. She said she loved me and I think I loved her too, at least at first, anyway.” Royal looked past me and out the window, a hollow sort of look. “Maybe I’m just too sensitive?”
“She was an idiot,” Sam said, kissing Royal’s forearm, pulling it tighter to her chest. “I’m glad of it, I think you’re perfect, perfect just the way you are, Babe.”
“Was that it?” Meg asked reaching for the gin bottle. “She suddenly just decided you were fat and that was more important than all the other stuff she liked about you? She changed her mind about you over your weight?”
“I’m not sure, maybe she loved those other parts of me, but not the physical part. I just remember there was this moment. And I could tell by her face that she had lost her feeling for me. Like something inside her had broken or snapped between us. And when I think back on it, I think there was a sound or a noise or something right then, inside me at that moment. The moment I realized she was gone.” Royal had taken to peeling the labels off the beer bottles that stood empty, like a picket fence in front of him.
Like I said, we had been drinking for some time. Just then another cloudburst thundered down on us, even harder than before. We looked at the ceiling. I know Meg and I were worried the roof might cave in or something. But like I said, we always thought the worst. I looked over at her and whispered that everything was fine, just a hard rain. I could tell that Sam and Royal noticed us, but said nothing.
“That happened to me in high school,” I said. Mary Anderson broke up with me. Started dating the quarterback, Cooper Boone. Cooper made All-State and went to Annapolis. I guess she traded up. I had it bad for Mary too. If there was a sound though, I didn’t hear it. It hurt though. I can tell you that. It hurt something awful.”
“If there was a sound, it would be the sound of a heart breaking wouldn’t it? It would sound like a crackle or a crunch or a splat maybe or a long hiss of air, like a punctured tire. We have all had our hearts broken, right?” Meg said, pouring the last of the gin, a few drops into Sam’s glass. “You haven’t really lived if you haven’t had your heart broken. It’s the kind of thing that makes you a better human being. To feel something that strongly, to feel that kind of pain I think. But as for a sound, well, I don’t know?”
“Where’s Tommy tonight Meg?” Sam asked.
Sam and Royal didn’t have kids. Meg said it was because Royal was shooting blanks and Royal said it was Sam's problem. It was a shame anyway you looked at it though. They decided not to adopt, that it was important to see some small part of themselves in their child. And so they were always asking about Tommy and how we handled things. What it was like raising a kid. They never really said it, but you could tell they wished that they had handled things differently. Meg and I both thought they would have been good parents too. They cared about people.
“He’s at a friend's, thank God,” Meg said. “I called over there after the weather bulletin about a storm and told him to stay there and not to try to get back home. If this rain keeps up, we’ll need a rowboat to get him back.
“That’s good, that you thought ahead and all,” Sam said snuggling closer to Royal, looking up at him and smiling. “It’s great that you care about him so much. It’s important to care about someone beside yourself. Don’t you think, Babe? It’s scary to think of all that responsibility though. To bring an actual life into the world and then be responsible for it.”
“We’re out of booze,” I said looking at the empty gin and beer bottles. “What is it we are discussing: kids or trees or love? I’ve lost track.” Sheets of rain pressed against the kitchen window obscuring the view outside. I caught Meg's eye again and smiled. “Meg, we’re fine. A little rain and wind never hurt anyone,” I said. I wasn’t really sure of that though, but I wanted to appear strong for her sake.
“What are we going to do for booze? No booze no party,” Royal rose up from his chair and reached into his pocket, retrieving his car keys and rattling them as if to taunt us with his driving to the liquor store in the storm. To show us how brave he was.
“No one is going anywhere,” I said. “We have a matter to settle here about love.”
“I’ll be right back,” Meg left the room, returning a few moments later with a crumpled up joint in her hand.
“Is that marijuana?” Sam asked with an innocent smile.
“I found it in Tommy’s sock drawer a couple months back and I told him I would personally turn him into the police. I gave him a strict lecture on how marijuana is a gateway drug. That it leads to more serious drugs and how I refused to find my son’s lifeless body with a needle sticking out of his arm. I told him how disappointed I was in him. That’s part of my job Sam, to scare him straight.”
“Then what? Was he crying, all angry and upset?” Sam asked.
“That’s all it took as far as I know. I haven’t found a thing since then. Of course I didn’t throw it away. I kept it for just an occasion like this, for self medicating.” Meg laughed.
“You’re horrible, Meg,” Sam said. “You didn’t really take that from Tommy did you?”
It was hard to tell with Sam, if she was that naïve or just acting that way because she thought we would think badly of her if she didn’t.
“Are you going to tell us you haven’t smoked pot?” I slid my chair back and grabbed a pack of matches out of the junk drawer. “And, yes, she did take that joint from Tommy.” I said. “We’re horrible parents really.”
“Are we really going to do this, you guys?” Sam had a frightened look on her face.
“I want to be good and relaxed when that big fir crashes down on us,” I said and struck the match for Meg to take first toke.
After the joint had circled the table a couple, three times, the mood changed. No one was talking much. Meg was up scrounging around the cupboards for snacks and mumbling obscenities.
“I don’t think there’s any kind of noise when love dies,” I said, finally breaking the silence. “You know how white is the absence of color? I think that’s how it is with love. There is nothing without love, no noise, no sound, no nothing. Without love there is nothing is what I’m saying. So how could losing it make a sound? Finding it, well that’s a different story.”
“That’s beautiful, Honey,” Meg was still rummaging for something anything to eat. She finally turned with a can of mushroom soup in her hand and a sleeve of Saltines.
“I am starving,” Royal said. “We’ve settled it then. Love is noisy. No love, no noise, just silence.”
Royal stood up and rattled his keys again. “Who’s coming with me?”
“I’ll go, let me get a coat.” I said, pushing my chair back. “There’s a mini-mart not too far away,” I said. We went outside and struggled to get the doors open on the car. It was worse than we thought though. Five blocks away a tree had fallen across the road, and we parked and started out on foot.
“Only a person with a drinking problem would fight this weather,” I hollered over the wind.
“Think of it as a life experience. Something you can tell Tommy about.” Royal was bent over, struggling to keep his footing.
“Probably not a Tommy story,” I laughed. “Risking your life for a drink is not exactly good parenting.” My stomach was turning upside down, but I wasn’t going to let Royal know how frightened I was. I would never hear the end of it from him.
It was another eight blocks from the car to the Gas and Go mini-mart. We bought some Pabst, a bottle of Vodka, Slim Jim’s, Cheese Crackers and some mixed nuts. We made it back to the car and crawled in.
“Sorry about that Allison chick.” I said after we were safe in the quiet of Royal’s car. “She missed out Royal, but you met Sam and things worked out. I guess that’s the way it is with life. You think the world’s going to end, but it never does, does it? Things have a way of turning out for the better.” I looked over at Royal and he smiled back at me soaking wet.
“Most of the time they do. No, you’re right, I met Sam and that’s all there is to it.”
By the time we made it back to the house the storm had died down a little. Meg had the cream of mushroom soup simmering on the stove. It smelled good, as though all was right with the world, if it’s possible to get that feeling from the smell of hot soup.
“I’m sorry guys, it’s all we have,” Meg said. “Guess I’m a pretty lousy hostess. I need to get to the store. She ladled the soup into small bowls and put out a stick of butter for the crackers.
“I guess we’ve decided it then,” Royal said. “We’re in agreement. Love is noisy and that’s just fine with us. We don’t need to know how it sounds when it ends.”
The phone rang and Meg walked over, the soup pan in her hand and picked it up. “Who could be calling on a night like this?” she said.
We were all quiet, staring at her, waiting to hear. Meg’s face froze, the pan fell from her hand, and she screamed.