If I'm lucky, Donna's feeling the same way about the revelation of her affair and will have some sympathy for my predicament. Maybe she's wishing she'd kept her own story to herself. This can be just between us. We can forgive each other. Act like it never happened.
I study my nails, square-edged and ragged, taupe polish flaking at the cuticles. Upstairs, I hear a door slam. Donna is still tying the lace of the same shoe. She's tied it no fewer than four times.
Donna pops the lemon slice out of her mouth and peers at me in a way that suggests she thinks I'm a complete idiot. "Oh for God's sake, Jessie," she says. "That husband of yours will live to be a hundred. His kind always does."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know, all that mother-and-apple-pie crap, wholesome as white bread. The kind that's never had a day of fun in their whole lives and resents anyone who has."
"Think so, huh?" Needless to say, Donna and my husband are not the best of friends. He says she's "flighty." She thinks he's, and these are her exact words, "got a metal rod up his ass." I can't disagree with either of them.
"Well," she says, pausing dramatically, "maybe your dreams mean you really want to kill the son of a bitch. You just don't have the guts to do it yourself." Then, "God, Jessie, I may be cheating on my husband, but at least I don't want to kill him. Not yet anyway."
My husband Turner is a creature of finely tuned routines, his life dictated to him by clocks and calendars and the Things to Do reminders he punches into the electronic scheduler he carries with him a good sixteen hours of every day and places on the nightstand, within reach, just in case he wakes up and needs to remember something important. He reminds himself of everything. And not just stuff from work. Everything gets punched in. When to renew his driver's license, tee-off dates with his golf friends, all his various appointments to get his teeth cleaned and to check his blood pressure, his cholesterol, his prostate, and the growth patterns of any suspicious moles. He's got everything planned five years from now. A tinny, piercing alarm goes off every Friday evening, signaling that it's time for him to watch Wall Street Week.
Punctuality, consistency, neatness, consideration for others. These are the traits that define his life, and, I sometimes think, are the only ones that do. He's the kind of man civic clubs can count on to volunteer for fund-raising campaigns and can trust to watch the till at bake sales and carnivals. I've often pictured him as a schoolboy, all his crayons sharpened and stacked in a school box, his head bent over a coloring book, taking great care to stay inside the lines.
He is, at fifty-four, a commercial loan officer at First Glenville National Bank. He long ago earned the rank of vice president, though one could argue that the title was bestowed more in tribute to his seniority and his tenuous social connections of long past than in recognition of any outstanding performance.
bThe First Glenville National Bank is itself an anomaly, having survived the past decade, but just barely, without being gobbled up by some giant multistate megabank. Once recognized as the oldest and most prominent bank in Glenville, Georgia, it now ranks a solid last place in the market, muscled aside by competitors who've wired up ATMs on every corner and, in their drive throughs, give out handfuls of I LOVE MY BANK! stickers for customers' children and gourmet dog biscuits for their pets. At the branch of First Glenville National Bank where Turner works, the brick is starting to crumble, the roof leaks, and the surrounding lawn, once lavishly landscaped, is turning to sand. No wonder nobody wants to buy it.
Copyright 2001 Jeanne Braselton; all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Ballantine Publishing Group.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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