It Would All Be Fine in the MorningShawn Mihalik
(Editors Note: The following post is a short story by Asymmetrical author Robert Isaac Brown.)
It Would All Be Fine in the Morning
by Robert Isaac Brown
I had finished my food by the time Lorraine came back from the restroom. It was a cold and rainy night. We were the only occupied table left on the patio, underneath one of the tall umbrellas. The wait staff were staring at us; they were waiting on us to finish, but I had no intentions of hurrying. Lorraine and I had a few wrinkles that needed ironing out.
I sipped my watery bourbon, never taking my eyes off Lorraine, her beautiful eyes staring off away from me. “You’ve barely talked to me tonight,” I said. “Hey . . .” I thought back to the argument. It had been three days since then. I needed to know what was the purpose for all of the silence. “What’s the matter?”
“This is exactly what I didn’t want, Maurice. This is exactly why I did not want to rush back into a relationship with you.”
“This is why. You haven’t changed one bit, and I don’t understand why you would beg for me to take you back and you are still acting the same way. I don’t get you, Maurice.” She pushed her plate of unfinished asparagus and trout toward me. “Do you want the rest of this?”
“No.” I looked at the sky when a flash of lightning wiggled. “It’s probably cold by now. Do you want a box?”
“Wasteful.” I ran my tongue against two teeth in the back, fighting to get a piece of meat from between them. “Twenty-four dollars gone to waste.”
“Stop being cheap.”
“Stop being wasteful.”
A heavy wind came down through the tall buildings around the patio and shook the umbrella. Napkins flew off the table and my blazer fell from the back of the chair. I cursed under my breathe and picked it up, looking it over to see how wet it was. I folded it and sat it next to Lorraine’s purse. Our waiter came over and took our plates, came back and wiped the table, and left our bill on my side. I opened the booklet with the bill in it and examined everything we’d ordered. I took my wallet from my back pocket, got my credit card out, and slid the card behind the plastic cover where the bill was.
Lorraine was staring at the water fountain in the middle of the patio. Some spurts were higher than others, and the rusty fountain bowl was turning a burnt orange. The wait staff started picking up the ashtrays and candles from the tables. Then they took the seat cushions from off of the cast iron seats and covered them up. I watched as one of the short waitresses with long, curling fingernails tried to put one of the covers on by herself. Another worker came over and assisted her, and they started talking low and glancing at our table. Two porters pulled the trashcans out from their working station and dragged them to an alley in the back of the building. Lorraine looked back at me. I went to hold her hand and she yanked it away from me and put both of them in her lap.
“When you act crazy like that . . . that’s what makes everything so hard,” I said. “I thought I still knew what you wanted, but you’re different now. You’ve switched up on me.”
“I haven’t switched up, Maurice. I want more now. It takes more than good sex and a fancy new pair of heels to keep me happy.”I looked down at the new heels I’d bought her the day after the argument—a two-hundred-dollar pair of suede pumps. They were drenched from the rain but were drying. I could see the watermarks on some parts of the navy suede. The combination of the argument and spending over one hundred—two hundred—dollars on a pair of footwear put me in a sour mood, but I knew I had to do something.
Our waiter came back to the table, agitation leaking from his eyes. “How are you guys doing?” he said, impatience in his tone.
“We’re fine. We’re just about to leave,” Lorraine said, pushing back her chair and stretching out her legs.
I pointed toward the bill book with my credit card in it.
“I’ll be right back, sir,” the waiter said.
“Will you please add two Maker’s Mark to the bill . . . Maker’s straight.”
“Maurice, we’ve had—”
“Let’s get a good feeling going for the ride home.”
“I’ve had enough. You can take them both.” Lorraine grabbed her purse from the chair, unzipped it, and began searching for something. Her straight, sheeny hair fell into her face. She pulled a tube of lipstick from the purse and put it on the table. Then she pulled a tiny, circular handheld mirror from it and opened it. She traced the dark red shade over her small lips and ran her top lip against her bottom one, evening it out. She looked up at me and caught me focusing on her, working her over with my eyes.
“I’ll kiss that lipstick right off of you. Dare me,” I said.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes, trying to hold back her smile. She put the lipstick and mirror back in her purse. She looked at the waiter; he was walking toward the table with the receipt, credit card, and two glasses, each with a pour of Maker’s in them. He put the items on the table and walked off. I looked everything over once more, made sure we weren’t charged extra for any bullshit. I was delighted to see how cheap the Maker’s was.
“Come on,” I said to Lorraine, lifting my glass. I scooted the other glass toward her. “Come on.”
We took the shots. The smooth bourbon trickled down and burned our chests. Lorraine’s faced balled up. I thought that was funny and I needed to see that face again.
“Excuse me,” I said to the waiter, who was talking to his colleagues in their work station. “Excuse me.” I waved for his attention. When he came back, I said, “Can we please get two more Maker’s?” I looked at my watch.
“Maurice,” Lorraine said. “That’s enough.”
“Two more and we’ll be out of the way,” I said.
“You’re overdoing it,” she said.
“Smile, loosen up. You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, honey. You’re too young for that.”
“Don’t tell me what I’m too young for.”
Lorraine liked to fire back. She liked to start arguments, the reason for the worst one we ever had three days ago. Her repertoire consisted of all my old mistakes, all of the meaningless things I’d done to her before. She brought up an ex of mine, the one I first cheated on her with two years ago. It annoyed me she hadn’t let that one go. I had let a lot of things go, made it up in my stubborn mind I’d forgive her.
Not once did I bring up past incidents. I could have been petty over the time she picked me up from work when I had the flu. She helped me upstairs, tucked me in bed, and jetted off within minutes. I remember her exact words: “I’m going have drinks with Leslie tonight.” The next week at work, I found out from a coworker she was taking deep back shots from Nimby Percy, the coworker’s twin brother. My heart catapulted to my stomach and leaked out of my ass I was so mad.
It’d been four months since we’d gotten back together, me on both knees in her living room under the dull light, drunk asking for forgiveness. We did all kinds of things to keep the spark alive: sex in the backseat behind an abandoned hospital, a three-day trip to Pensacola that went sour after I had a fight with a bartender, a weekly cooking class, random gift-giving, which I always thought was a waste of a way to show someone how much you cared. Again, shortly after all of my efforts, I was losing the love of my life.
The waiter brought out the two shots. “We’re about to close the top part of the patio. You don’t have to leave. The bottom is still open.”
“All right, all right,” I said. “Bottom’s up, honey.” I scooted one of the glasses closer to her. “Bottoms up, beautiful.” She didn’t move, and so I took the shot for her. I stood up and the slippery ground tilted left. I grabbed an edge of the table. The loud music and every other noise began fading.
“See . . .” Lorraine said, standing and grabbing her purse. “How are you going to drive now?”
“Same as always.” I grabbed my wet blazer, folded it at the shoulders.
Lorraine came around and tucked her arm under one of mine. She helped me down the patio steps. I turned and looked at the fountain one last time before we walked through the bar’s hallways, a line of old, inoperable shotguns hanging from the ceiling. Piano music came from one entrance while a loud sports commentator on television screamed through the speakers from another one. Everything was clear for a moment, and then, once Lorraine untangled her arm from mine, I leaned back on the staircase. She had to go to the restroom.
“I’ll be right here,” I said, watching her walk up the stairs. I tried to look up her skirt once she got to the top.
A short, fat man—dressed in one of those flowery Hawaiian shirts, cargo pants, and flip-flops—stood at the ATM. I watched him work his fingers over the hard buttons on the machine. He looked back at me, and there I was, staring him dead in his eyes, a creepy grin on my face. I nodded my head and he turned back to the machine. He pressed another button and looked back again.
“Just get your fucking money and keep it moving,” I said. “Nobody’s worried about your shit.” My eyes were closed, and that’s what I thought I’d said.
All of the bourbon I’d consumed had maneuvered its way to my defeated bloodstream. I was lightheaded and could hardly hear or see my surroundings. The horrible piano music was no longer deafening and everyone that passed by me looked unrecognizable. One women’s head was on her shoulder. I blinked repeatedly and rubbed my eyes. There was a restroom in front of me; I went in and splashed water in my face, dried my hands with a paper towel, caught the chunky vomit in the urinal with my peripheral view.
I walked out of the restroom. Lorraine was at the front door talking to two doormen. I walked through the crowded hallway and grabbed her by the waist. “Hey, honey,” I said, and nodded to the men. She told me the valet were about to pull the car around, but I was in no position to drive. I walked to the curb and looked down the street. A homeless man was dancing to a brass band that were performing on the corner, two men were arguing—one man’s pointed finger inches away from the other man’s head—and about twenty motorbikes were zooming, their engines hollering, down the street.
The valet parked our Audi in front of the bar and got out. His face was covered with pimples and his hairline was running away; maybe once the wimp reached thirty, it would be gone altogether. He gave the keys to me and I tipped him ten bucks. “Honey, you’re up,” I said to Lorraine, and handed her the keys. I ignored her scrunched-up face, walked around the back of the car, and got in. I inhaled the lemon-scented air, closed my eyes, reclined my seat as far back as it could go. Lorraine pulled off. “Oh, wow,” she said. I pulled my seat up and looked out of the window. The two men we drove past were fighting now. One man kicked the other in the stomach three times, and then he leaned down, grabbed him by his windbreaker, and punched him square in the face. “That’s what I’m talking about,” I said, each word a tangled, inaudible mumble.
I closed my eyes and thought back to the argument, thought back to the very moment the words “You’re a bore” leaked from Lorraine’s small, sharp lips. We were in the kitchen then. I was sitting at the table doing a word puzzle while she rinsed yellow Dutch potatoes in a colander. I was already frustrated because I’d been looking for the last two words—quilt and sympathetic—for over ten minutes. Lorraine’s whining added to that frustration. I’d been working on my spontaneity, but it seemed as if my efforts were going unappreciated. The daffodils I picked from the schoolyard after my class: unappreciated. That new Lavender Pearl perfume I bought her, which was on sale and still expensive at $89.99: unappreciated. The four books I brought home from the library that I thought would help her with her birding pursuits that she never opened: unappreciated.
“Lorraine, don’t fuck with my buttons right now,” I’d said, running an index finger over every letter that wasn’t already circled.
“I’m not doing anything,” she’d said. She wiped her hands with a paper towel and came by me.
“Not right now with the bullshit, Lorraine. Please.”
“No, I feel like we’re heading into a relationship both of us don’t really want. We can be in the same room with each other and not say anything or interact and I just sit there and hope we don’t fall into this pattern of your parents or my mom and Rick.
“I don’t want us to fall into some pattern.” I never looked up from the puzzle. I had found quilt.
“See, you’re not being very attentive right now, and I’m speaking to you.” She paused for a moment. “I really don’t want us to fall into some negative, uninteresting pattern, Maurice, but that’s where I see us heading. You don’t like to do things anymore. We barely go out or hold conversations. Our love shouldn’t be ordinary.”
“We went to a movie last week,” I’d said, looking up with a grin.
Lorraine sighed and went back to the sink. She finished rinsing the potatoes and started chopping the ends off of a bunch of kale greens. The knife continuously slammed into the cutting board, and right then, I knew she had wished my head was on it.
I opened my eyes at a red light at the Judith Street/Saint Rand Boulevard intersection where a house had collapsed a week ago. Rain crashed into the windshield. My vision was better, but I was still in no condition to drive. I looked over at Lorraine. She had both hands on the wheel, focused. I put my hand on her lap. She looked at me, but her face stayed the same: cold and unhappy. I removed my hand and put it back on the middle, knocking a straw and its cap off of a to-go cup. The bright red light switched to bright green and Lorraine pulled off too fast, the tires not catching any traction.
“What’s the matter? Take your time,” I said.
Lorraine was trembling, her eyes squinted, her lips tucked inward. She whimpered once and pulled over to the side of the road. “What are you doing?” I said. Both of her hands were still on the wheel. She looked straight ahead and ignored me. She sniffed and wiped her eyes. I started counting the raindrops on the windshield, and by the time I got to seventy-three, Lorraine was punching me, yelling, “You don’t care about me, you don’t care about me, you bastard, you don’t care about me.” I put up my arms and tried to block the oncoming attack from wild Lorraine. I used all of my willpower and then some to refrain from laughing as hard as I could in her sweet, wet, teary-eyed face. Build up, I assumed, and so I grabbed her arms and brought her closer to me.
“Will you stop it?”
“Let me go!”
“Will you stop it, sweetie—please. Lorraine, you’re acting crazy.”
Lorraine wiggled herself free and opened the car door. An eighteen-wheeler roared its horn as it sped by, and the mist from its tires landed on her. She slammed the door and started walking away from the car, her arms folded. I rolled the window down and stuck my head out. “Lorraine, where in the hell are you going?” I said, and got out of the car. I didn’t close the passenger door. I walked—stumbled—to her and grabbed her arm. She yanked it away from me, falling backwards a little. Another car blew its horn. Thunder came from the sky, and then flashes of lightning illuminated the darkness around us. My heart hadn’t raced like this since I broke in Flander Jeffries’s house back in 2005.
“Lorraine, honey, let’s go back to the car. It’s about to pour again.”
She started walking again. “I’m not going anywhere with you, Maurice. I’m done pretending with you.”
“Honey, let’s just—”
“I said I’m done, Maurice. I’m done, do you hear me?”
I didn’t hear her, because it all sounded the same as before. I’m done. She’d said those two words plenty of times, and each time they lost more luster, more firepower, and it gave me all the more reasons to hang onto hope, all the more reasons to think this was just another one of her emotional episodes. The rain gave no more warnings, and the showers poured down and drenched us. I ran back to the car and closed the passenger door. I was beginning to lose it, and that was what neither one of us wanted. I crawled over the middle and got in the driver’s seat. I could see better now, but the bourbon wasn’t through with me yet. I put my foot on the brake, put the car in drive, and looked in my side mirror. As soon as I saw a break in the oncoming cars, I sped into the lane. I looked in the rearview mirror; no cars were coming. I slowed down next to Lorraine and put the passenger window down, raindrops smashing onto the leather seats.
“Lorraine, all right, it’s all over. You can get in the car now.” I parked the car in the lane, put the emergency flashes on, and got out. I stomped in front of Lorraine’s path and she bumped into my chest, her mud-colored eyes looking into mine. “Now look, I’ve had it. Get back in the car. We’re going home.”
I checked on the car. No other vehicles had passed since I’d gotten out. It was Lorraine and I, giving the performance of a lifetime, no audience. I grabbed her arm and tried dragging her back to the car. She scratched at the back of my neck and got loose. She started striking me again upside the head, first with her tiny fists, and then with her clutch. I didn’t bother defending myself. I took every lick, the pain a short and disgusting annoyance. I could no longer hear her yells over the raindrops. I could no longer feel her punches through the raindrops. The raindrops had become a shield, a gentle reminder that it would all be fine in the morning. I no longer felt Lorraine’s punches. I’d become numb and unaware.
I was done myself, and so I walked back to the car. I got in on the driver’s side and closed the door. Lorraine began walking again, but this time I figured she wouldn’t stop until she got home. I opened the middle, grabbed the box of Pall Malls, lit one. I watched her walk for a minute before I put the car in drive—leaving the emergency lights on—and trailed behind her. One of her heels got stuck in a crack and she almost tripped before she gathered herself. I choked on smoke from chuckling. I felt a raindrop trickling down my forehead, but it wasn’t a raindrop. It was a line of blood that was coming from the corner of my forehead, where Lorraine had gotten a good jab in. I pulled the visor down and opened the flap to look at the mirror. I had more hickeys than the young valet boy had pimples. It was okay, I thought, because it would all be fine in the morning. I kept my foot on the gas. I closed my eyes one more time, and hoped when I opened them, that I’d see Lorraine’s beautiful face in a deep sleep, the sun’s morning rays brushing against her skin.