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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Alimony Payment, Gary Sprague

Ed sat hunched over the card table in his tiny kitchen, filling out the check with a trembling hand. In the memo space he wrote HIGHWAY ROBBERY. He scribbled it out, but not enough to cover completely. His lawyer had strongly advised him to cease writing derogatory remarks on the alimony checks, but it was a hard habit to break. To Ed, there was nothing derogatory about the truth. Besides, for two hundred dollars a week, he should be allowed to write anything he wanted on the damn check.

He grabbed an envelope, writing Barbara’s name and address on it. Not difficult to remember; he’d lived there with her for twenty years. He worked some spit around in his mouth, back and forth, until he had a good amount. Spreading the envelope open, he leaned over and slowly drooled into it. Placing the check inside, he dipped it in the thick glob a few times like a chip in salsa. When the bottom of the check was properly soaked, he smiled.

Reaching with his left hand - it still felt strange not wearing a wedding ring, like going without underwear - he plucked a couple blond hairs from the back of his head and dropped them into the envelope. When Barbara had told Ed she was leaving him - leaving him, yet it was he who had to leave - she had admitted that his hair loss was a large reason for it. There were other reasons, of course, but nothing worth remembering. “You are a failure, even your follicles are failures,” she mocked. And it was true, the top of his head was bare as a nuclear wasteland. But the sides and back were full, thick as a deep-rooted forest. It was normal for a middle-aged man to experience some hair loss, he knew. His dad’s head was smooth as a cue ball, so Barbara had to know what was coming. Funny how she’d never mentioned this repulsion to baldness before. So he threw in a couple hairs with every check. Childish, yes, but it made him feel better.

Sealing the envelope, Ed stood from his rickety chair and stretched. It was Sunday, his only day off. Sunday used to be for mowing the lawn or playing a round of golf at the club. But now he had no lawn, only a small, dark, paneled apartment, and no money for golf. Sunday now revolved around writing and delivering Barbara’s check. He grabbed the envelope and walked out into the warm sunshine, across the parking lot to his truck. He didn’t bother locking the apartment, there being nothing inside worth stealing.

It didn’t take him long to drive to Barbara’s, twenty minutes or so. It would have been faster to stick the check in the mail, saving himself some gas money. But he delivered it himself every Sunday, hoping to see Barbara. He didn’t know what he would say if he did see her, whether he would be polite or punch her in the face. So far, he hadn’t had a chance to do or say anything. Every week he pulled up in front of the house, saw no one, and placed the envelope in the mailbox.

But this time he pulled up and there she was, trimming shrubs in the yard. He remembered planting those shrubs, watching like a proud father as each year they grew taller. Something else Barbara got in the divorce, he thought. She waved and began walking over as Ed parked his truck at the end of the long drive. He got out and watched her approach. She wore a tank top, shorts, and a large brimmed floppy hat. Ed had bought her the hat the summer before their divorce. It was green, matched her eyes. It really did look cute on her. He wanted to pull it over her head and suffocate her with it.

“Hi, Ed. You look well,” she greeted him.

“Thanks, so do you.”

She really did. She was a very young forty, just as good-looking as she was twenty years ago. Her legs were tan, flawless; Ed couldn’t resist a long gaze, up and down, for old times sake. The sweat glistening on her face and arms only enhanced her beauty. Ed did not like what he was feeling.

“I’ve been wanting to speak with you, but I didn’t have your number.”

“You have my house, my car, my money. I didn’t know you wanted my number, too,” he said.

Barbara wiped her wet forehead. “Ed, I hate that we’ve become enemies. I thought maybe we could have dinner together, or something.”

Ed’s heart pounded loudly. He wanted to hit it back, tell it to shut up. “Why would you want to do that?”

“I miss you, I guess. You can’t live with someone for twenty years and not miss him.”

“I didn’t realize you felt this way,” Ed said, softer than he’d meant to. Suddenly he was self-conscious about his hair and wished he’d worn a hat.

“I do, Eddie, I really do.” She placed her warm hand on his forearm. His chest jackhammered.

“Yeah, I guess I miss you too,” he mumbled. Sweat was beading up on top of his head, but he didn’t wipe it for fear of attracting attention to it.

“Are you busy tonight?” she asked “You could come here around six, if you’d like.”

“Sounds good,” he said, smiling. Every flower smelled like a sweet bouquet, every bird chirp was a love song. He gazed into Barbara’s soft green eyes and loved her again.

“This makes me so happy. I’ll have Ron make seafood alfredo.”

Ed laughed. “You hired a cook? I guess I’m paying you too much alimony.” It felt good to laugh, it had been so long.

Barbara laughed with him. “No, Ron isn’t my cook, though he is incredible in the kitchen. He’s my boyfriend. I thought you knew about him. I know you two will get along great. He’s a Yankees fan, like you.”

Ed’s heart dropped so fast he thought he heard it splatter. “Your boyfriend? But what about all that talk about missing me?”

“I do miss you, Eddie. I want us to be friends, the three of us. I thought you wanted to be friends, too. Didn’t I tell you about him?”

A man stepped out of the garage up at the house. He bent down and grabbed the newspaper. Ron. Tall, good-looking. Full head of hair, of course. He waved. Ed gave him the finger.


Without another word, Ed turned and got back in his truck. He wiped his face and head - his slick, bald, ugly head - and began pulling out of the driveway. He heard Barbara call to him, and looked back. Desperation filled her face. Ed stopped and she ran up.

“You forgot to give me my check.”

He threw the envelope at her and slowly pulled away. He didn’t look back. From now on, he would mail the check.

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