Monday, March 4, 2013

Stephen Dixon, Goodbye to Goodbye: Time To Go, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. pp 64 – 74.


This is a short story by Stephen Dixon that is a part of a larger collection of short stories.  It is long for this type of thing but it is good.  Enjoy.


Goodbye to Goodbye

"Goodbye” and she goes.  I stay there, holding the gift I was about to give her.  Had told her I was giving her.  This afternoon, on the phone.  I said “I’d like to come over with something for you.”  She said “How come?” I said “Your birthday.”  She said “You know I don’t like to be reminded of those, but come ahead if you want, around seven, okay” I came.  She answered the door. From the door I could see a man sitting on a couch in the living room.  She said “Come in.”  I came in, gave her my coat, had the gift in a shopping bag the woman’s store had put it in.  “I have a friend here, I hope you don’t mind,” she said.  “Me?  Mind?  Don’t be silly – but how good a friend?”  “My business,” she said, “do you mind?”  “No, of course not, why should I?  Because you’re right, it is your business.”  We went into the living room.  The man got up.  “Don’t get up,” I said.  “It’s no bother,” he said.  “How do you do?  Mike Sliven,” and he stuck out his hand.  “Jules Dorsey,” and I stuck out mine.  “Like a drink Jules?” She said, as we shook hands, and I said “Yes, what do you have?”  “Beer, wine, a little brandy, but I’d like to save that if you don’t mind.”  “Why should I mind? Though something hard is what I think I’d like.  Beer.”  “Light or dark?” she said.  “Whatever you have most of,” I said.  “I have six-packs of both.” “Then…dark.” I said.  “I feel like a dark.  Suddenly I feel very dark.  Only kidding, of course,” I said to Mike and then turned to her so she’d also see I was only kidding.  She went to the kitchen.  Mike said “Now I remember your name.  Arlene’s spoken of you.”  “I’m sure she had only the very best things to say of me too.” “She did and she didn’t,” he said, “but you’re kidding again, no doubt.” “Oh, I’m kidding, all right, or maybe I’m not.  Say, who the hell are you anyway and what the hell you doing here?  I thought Arlene was still only seeing me,” and I grabbed him off the couch.  He was much bigger then I, but didn’t protest. “Where’s your coat and hat? I said and he said “I didn’t come with a hat and my coat’s over there, in the closet.” “Then we’re going to get it and you’re going to leave with it.” I clutched his elbow and started walking him to the closet.  Arlene came into the living room and said “Jules, what are you doing? – and where are you going, Mike?” “I think out.” He said.  “Out,” I said.  “I came over to give you a gift and take you to dinner for your birthday and later to spend the night with you here or at my place or even at a great hotel if you wish, and goddamnit that’s what I’m going to do.” “What is it with you, Jules? – I’ve never heard you talk like that before.” “Do you mind?” I said.  “No, I kind of like it.  And Mike.  Are you going to leave when someone tells you to, just like that?” “I think I have to,” he said, “since if there’s one thing I don’t like to do in life it’s to get into or even put up a fight, especially when I see there’s no chance of wining it.”  I opened the closet.  He got his coat.  I opened the front door and he left.  I locked the door.  Bolted it, just in case he already had the keys.  Then I turned around.  Arlene was standing in the living room holding my glass of beer.  She came into the foyer with it.  I didn’t move, just let her come.  “You still want this?” she said.  “No, the cognac,” I said.  “It’s brandy but good imported brandy.” “Then the brandy,” I said.  “How do you want it?” “With ice.” “Coming right up,” and she went back to the kitchen.  I followed her.  She was reaching for the brandy on a cupboard shelf above her, had her back to me.  I got up behind her – she didn’t seem to know I was there – put my arms around her, pressed into her.  She turned her head around, kissed me.  We kissed.  I started to undress her right there.

That’s not the way it happened, of course.  The way it happened was like this.  I did come over with a gift, it wasn’t her birthday, a man named Mike was there when I thought she’d be alone, she said he was a good friend, “in fact, the man I’m sleeping with now.” “Oh,” I said.  “Well, I still have this gift for you so you might as well take it,” She said “Really, it wouldn’t be fair.”  Mike came into the foyer, introduced himself. “Mike Ivory,” he said.  “Jules Dorsey,” I said. “Maybe I shouldn’t stay.” “No, Jules, come in and have a drink.  What’ll you have?” “What do you got?” I said “Beer-light and dark-wine-red and white-scotch, vodka, rye, bourbon, gin, brandy and I think a little of that cognac left, and all the mixers to go with them, besides other nonalcoholic stuff if you’re suddenly into that.” “Come on, Jules drinks his share, Mike said, “or at least will with us here,” “I drink, all right.” I said. “Though not that much.  But tonight I’d like a double of that cognac you said you have if you’ve enough for a double.” “Why not - right, Arlene? Want me to get it?” “It’s okay, I’ll get it,” she said, “but what’s a double?” “Just double whatever you normally pour, “ he said.  “If there’s so little in the bottle that you don’t have enough to double what you normally pour, empty the whole thing in his glass.” I just usually pour, I don’t know how much,” she said. “So do it that way, “ he said, “but double it.” “Fill half a regular juice glass,” I said, “and then put some ice in it, if you don’t mind?” “Ice in one of the best cognacs there is?” He said.  “No way sir.  Sorry.” “Then make it your worst cognac,” I said, “But ice in it, please.  I feel like a cognac and I feel like a double and I feel like I want that double cognac ice-cold.” “Sorry – really,” he said.  “We only have one cognac and it’s one of the rarest there is.  Gin, vodka, bourbon, scotch, even the beer, light or dark, I’ll put ice in for you, and the wine, either one, too.  But not that cognac or even brandy.  They’re both too good.  I’m telling you the truth when say I couldn’t sleep right tonight if I knew I was instrumental or helpful in any way or even allowed it, just stood by and allowed ice in cognac or brandy when I knew just by saying something I might be able to stop it.” “Listen, you” I said and grabbed his neck with one hand.  He swung at me.  I ducked and hit him in the stomach, he fell forward and I clipped him on the back.  He went down.  I put my foot under his chest and nudged him with it and he turned himself over on his back.  I looked at Arlene. Her hands covered her eyes but she seems to be peeking though the finger cracks.  I said to Mike “Probably Arlene won’t like this but I’m going to give you to ten to get your coat and hat and – “ “I didn’t come with a coat and hat, he said.  “Then ten just to get the hell out of here.” “Jules, this is awful.” Arlene said, not looking alarmed or frightened or really upset or anything like that.  “I don’t care.  It’s what I suddenly felt like doing even if I didn’t feel that right about doing it so that’s what I did.  Now get buddy,” I said to Mike. “One, two, three…” He got up, help his stomach as he went to the front door.  By the count of eight he was out the apartment.  She said “I hate when anyone does that to people, but I think deep inside I loved it when you did it to him.  Not because it was Mike.  He’s very nice.  It’s just that you were, well - I’ve never seen you like that before.  I don’t know what that makes me, but come here, you rat.”  I came to her.  She mussed my hair, with her other hand slipped off one and then the other of her shoes.  “Shall we do it here or in the bedroom?” “Here,” I said, “or the opening part of it, but first let me lock the front door.”

That’s not the way it happened either.  I happened like this.  Arlene’s my wife.  We’ve been married for three years.  We lived together for two years before that.  We have a nine-month-old son.  During dinner Arlene said she wanted a divorce.  Our son was asleep in his room.  I’d just put the main dish and side dish course on the table.  I dropped my fork.  I was in what could be called a state of shock.  I don’t like that term but for now it’ll have to do.  Figuratively and maybe in some way literally - technically, scientifically – was in a state of shock.  I didn’t move for I don’t know how long.  A minute, two, three.  Just stared at my fork on my plate.  Till the moment she told me this I though that though we had some problem in our marriage, they were manageable and correctable and not untypical and that we were serious at working them out.  All in all I felt we were very compatible in most ways and that the marriage was a successful one and getting better all the time.  Arlene had said it several times- many times- too.  About once a month she used to tell me that she loved me and loved being married to me and about once a month, and not just after she told me this, I’d tell her the same thing.  I meant it and felt she meant it.  I had no reason to believe she didn’t mean it.  This is the truth.  Sometimes out of the blue she’d say “I love you, Jules.” Sometimes I’d answer “You do?” and she’d say “Truly love you.” We could be in a taxi and she’d turn to me and say it.  Or walking to a movie theater or in front of a theater during intermission of a play and she’d break off whatever either of us was saying to say it.  At that dinner, which I cooked – it was a good dinner, a how to do - a backed zucchini dish, a great salad, a good bottle of wine, crabmeat cocktail to begin with, two drinks with cheese on crackers before we sat down, we had made love the previous night and we both said later on that it was one of best acts of lovemaking we’d ever had, our son was wonderful and we loved being parents though admitted it was tough and tiring at times, both of us were making pretty good income for the first time in out marriage so as a family we were financially sound, nothing was wrong or just about nothing, everything or just about everything was right, so that’s why I say I was suddenly in a state of shock. “You want a divorce.” “Whatever for?” “Because I don’t love you anymore,” she said. “But just last week or the week before that you said you loved me more then you ever have, or as much as you ever have, you said.” “I was lying.” “You wouldn’t lie about something like that.” “I’m telling you, I was lying,” she said. “Why don’t you love me anymore?” “Because I love someone else.” “Since when?” I said.  “Since months.” “And you stopped loving me the minute you started loving him?” “No, a couple of months earlier.” “Why?” “I don’t know.  I asked myself the same thing lots of times and all I could come up with was that I felt rather then knew why.  You fall in, you fall out.  You fall out, you fall in.  Though this time I’m sure I’ve fallen in forever, since the feeling has never been stronger.” “I can’t believe it,” I said.  “Believe it.  I’ve been having the most intense affair possible with a man I met at work - someone you don’t know- and he’s married but will get a divorce to be with me, just as I’m going to get a divorce to be with him.” “But the children, I mean the child,” I said.  “We’ll work it out.  We were always good at working things out in the past that most other couples never could, and we’ll work this out too.  I’ll take Kenneth for the time being and when he’s completely weaned you can have him whenever you like for as long as you like so long as it doesn’t disrupt his life too much,”  “But just leaving me, divorcing me, breaking up the family, will disrupt his life,” I said.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to, I in fact tried not to, but the force of the feeling I have for this man and he for me- “ “What’s his name?” “What’s the difference?” “Just tell me his name?  Maybe I do know him.” “Even if you did, which you don’t, nothing you could do or say- “ “His name, please, his name?  I just want to know what and whom I’m up against.” “What could you know by just his name? If it was Butch or Spike or Mike, would it make you feel more or less confident that I’m not very much in love with him and that I’m not going to divorce you to marry him?” “Is it Mike?” “It isn’t but you now that wasn’t my point.  – All right, it is Mike,” when I continued to stare at her as if I’d caught her fibbing, “but so what? Mickey, Michael or Mike, it’s just a given name.” “Mike what? I said. “Now that’s enough, Jules.  I don’t want you starting trouble.” “I won’t start anything.  I just want to know the man’s full name.  That way I can begin saying to myself you’re leaving and divorcing me and breaking up our family for Mike So-and-So and not just a shadow.  I’m not sure why, but it’ll make it seem realer to me and it will be much easier to work out in my head,” “Spiniker” she said. “Mike Spiniker.” “With an ‘i,’ ‘a’ or ‘e’ or even a ‘u’ on the second half of his last name?” “Now you’re going too far,” she said. “Anyway, good -  I have enough.” I got up, got the phonebook off the phone stand in the living room.  “What are you doing?” she said.  “Can’t be too many Mike Spinikers in the book with an ‘z,’ ‘e,’ ‘u’ or second ‘i.’ “I looked up his name.  “One, a Michael, with two i’s on Third Avenue.” I dialed him. “Stop that.” She said.  “He lives in another city, commutes here,” A women answered. “Is Michael Spiniker in?” I said.  “Who’s speaking?” the women said.  “Lionel Messer.  I’m his stocks and bonds man.” “Mike has stocks and bonds?” That’s new to me.” “He has a huge portfolio of them and I’ve something very urgent to tell him about them if he doesn’t want to go broke by midnight tonight.” “I’ll get him, hold on.” She put down the phone. “Stop wasting your time, “ Arlene said on the bedroom extension.  “Hang up.  It can’t be him.  I’m telling you, he lives fifty miles from here.” “Hey what’s this about stock and bonds?” Mike said.  “Hello, Mr. Spiniker.  Do you know Arlene Dorsey? Arlene Chernoff Dorsey – she goes professionally by Chernoff.” “Sure I do.  We work in the same office building.  But anything wrong? Because I thought this was about some stocks and bonds I don’t have.” “You seem very concerned about Ms. Chernoff.  Are you?” “Sure I’m concerned.  By your tone, who wouldn’t be?” What’s happened?” “You sound as if you’re in love with Ms. Chernoff, Mr. Spiniker. Are you?” “Listen, who is this? And what kind of jerky call is this? You either dialed the wrong Spiniker of you’re crazy and not making any sense, but I’ll have to hang up.” “This is her husband, wise guy, and you better stop seeing her or I’m going to break your neck with my bare hands.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll put a bullet through your broken neck.  I have the means.  And I don’t mean a weapon or two or people to do it for me – I’ll do it gladly myself.  I can.  I have.  Now do you read me?” “I read you, brother.  Okay, fine.  You have the right number and you’re not crazy and you’re probably right on target in everything you said, so my deepest apologies for getting excited at you.  But let’s say there must be two Michael Spinikers in this city because I have no stock and bonds broker and after what you told me, I don’t ever plan to do anything with my money but keep iy in the bank, okay?” “Got you,” I said and hung up.  Arlene came running back to the living room. “You’d do that for me? You’d’ really go that far?” “I wasn’t just threatening for effect of it because I knew you were on the line.  The way I see our marriage is that until it’s clearly impossible to stay together, we’re stuck together for life.  If course I only feel this way cause of the kid.” “I bet.  You know, awful as this must seem about me, I think my feelings have come around another hundred and eighty degrees.  What a husband I now realize I have.  And what a weakling and pig that he was for taking it the way he did, even if you weren’t all bluff, after all he swore the other day about how he’s stand with me against you and his wife when it finally came down to this.  I’m sorry, Jules.  So sorry. I want to beat my brains in against this chair.  If my saying I love you very much isn’t enough, what else can I say or do to prove what I just said is true and that I never want to stop being married to you?” “You can take my clothes off and carry me to bed.” “Will do if I can.” She put her arms around my waist and tried to lift me. “Oof, what a load.  Instead of carrying you, which I no can do, what would you say to my just taking your clothes off and we do whatever you want to us right here on the floor or couch?” “Fine by me,” I said and she grabbed my shirt by the two collar ends and tore it off me.

That’s ridiculous also and never happened.  Why not say what really did happen and be done with it?  It was all very simple and fast.  We were eating dinner when she said she was leaving me for a man named Mike.  We had no child, we’d been married for eight years. I said I wouldn’t try to stop her.  I could see it’d be useless and I did only want her to be happy.  If she couldn’t be happy with me, I was glad she was with someone she could be happy with.  She said she was thankful I was taking it so well and in such a decent way.  I asked about him.  She said he worked in a law office on the same floor as hers.  They’d been carrying on for six months.  He was divorced, had two children.  That night Arlene and I slept in separate rooms for the first time in our marriage, or for the first time when one of us wasn’t very angry at the other or wasn’t so ill that he or she needed to sleep alone.  We just thought it best to sleep separately till she moved out.  They rented a new apartment together the following month.  I helped her pack and bring her belongings to the van she rented and drove.  I told her I wouldn’t mind if Mike came and helped, since she had several vanfulls of stuff to move.  She said she felt I shouldn’t meet him till much later on: when they were married, perhaps; maybe a year into their marriage when I could come by with my new woman who she said she knew I’d have by then.  “You’ll be as much in love with someone else in a few month as I am now with Mike.” I said “I hope you’re right.  It’ll certainly be what I want.” So she was gone.  I thought I was taking it well but I wasn’t.  I couldn’t take it, in fact.  Every night I’d get drunk thinking about her.  I read her old adoring note and letters to me and looked at her photos and would slam the wall or table with my fists and shout and cry.  I couldn’t stand thinking of her being with another man, kissing him, whispering to him, making love with him, doing all those private things with him, confiding to him, telling him what happened to her at the store that day, asking him if he’d like to see such and such movie or play that week, meeting him for lunch, going away with him some weekend, visiting friends, maybe even planning to have a child.  It also distressed me that they were in the same profession. I knew that’d make them even closer, all those professional matters they could discuss and look up and share.  A month after she left me I showed up in front of their office building at around the time I know they’d be finished for the day.  They walked out of the building fifteen minutes later, holding hands, chatting animatedly.  I had a wrench with me.  I pulled it out of my jacket, ran up to him and screamed “Meet Jules, her husband, you bastard,” and hit him in the hand he threw up to protect his head from the wrench.  He grabbed that hand, turning to run and I hit him in the back of the head with the wrench.  He went down.  I kept yelling “I’ll never let her be with anyone else, you bastard, never.  I love her too much.  I’ll love her forever,” and swung the wrench over his face but didn’t hit him again.  The police came.  I didn’t try to get away.  I don’t know what Arlene was doing at the time.  I was arrested.  Mike was taken away in an ambulance.  Later he pressed charges against me.  I pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years.  That means I’ll serve around thee and a half years if I don’t cause any trouble in prison. Arlene visits me every day she’s allowed to and stays the maximum time.  It’s six hours by bus for the round trip but she says she doesn’t mind.  Twice in my first half year we were allowed to walk around the prison garden for an hour. She broke off with Mike and he’s already moved in with another women.  “So much for his professed eternal devotion,” Arlene said, “not that I would want it now.”  She’s said several times that she will never again be with another man but me.  She hated me hitting Mike with the wrench but sees now it was probably the only way I could ever get through to her how much I loved her and wanted to get her back.  “In some oddball way,” she said, “it made me fall or you all over again.  Maybe also because what I did and the way I did it forced you to lose control and try to kill him and I’m trying to make up for that too.  But it’ll all be different from now on.  I can’t wait to be back home with you, my arms around you, in bed with you, I can’t wait.” At certain designated spots in the garden we’re allowed to hug and kiss for a half-minute, which we always did past the time limit till one of the guards order us to stop.

That’s not it.  This is it.  There wasn’t a wrench.  There is a Mike.  My wife fell in love with him and told me this at breakfast, not dinner.  She said she didn’t want to tell me at night because she wanted to give me plenty of time to adjust to it before I went to bed and also time for her to get her things out of the apartment and move in with a friend.  We have no child.  We tried foe a while but couldn’t.  Then I had a corrective operation and we could have a child, but she said the marriage wasn’t as good as it used to be and she wanted to be sure it was a very good marriage before we had a child.  That was three years ago.  She’s had several affairs since then.  She told me about them while she was having them.  I didn’t like her having them but put up with it because I didn’t want her to leave me.  I don’t know why I mentioned anything about a gift.  Maybe because her birthday’s in two weeks and I’ve been thinking recently about what to get her.  A bracelet, I thought.  But that’s out.  This morning she said she realized this is the third or fourth serious affair she’s had in three years.  She’s had one or two others but they were quick and not so serious.  She doesn’t want to continue having affairs while she’s married or at least still living with me.  It isn’t fair to me, she said.  She also said I shouldn’t put up with it and shouldn’t have in the past.  Not that if I had told her to stop she would have she said.  But I should tell her to get the hell out of the house and should have two or three years ago.  Since I won’t, she’ll have to leave me. That means divorce. She said.  The marriage is so bad that she doesn’t think it’ll ever work out - it never will, that’s all, never.  And because she wants to have children, maybe two, maybe three, but with someone she’s very much in love with, she’ll have to end our marriage and eventually get married to someone else.  Maybe it’ll be with Mike but she doubts it.  He’s married, but about to separate from his wife, and he has indicated he never wants to marry again.  He also has two children from a previous marriage and has expressed no interest in having more.  Anyway, she said, it’s fairer if I stay here and she goes, since she’s the one breaking up the marriage.  Of course, if I wanted to leave, she said she’ll be more then happy to stay, since it’s a great apartment and one she can afford and she’ll never be able to get anything like it at twice the rent. “If you don’t mind,” I said, “I think I’d like to keep the apartment.  Losing you and also having to find a new place might be a little too much for me.” “I don’t mind,” she said, “why should I mind? I already said the apartment’ is yours if you want.  So, do you mind if I start to pack up now to go?” “No, go right ahead.  I’d love for you to stay forever, naturally, but what could I do to stop you from going? Nothing, I guess, right?” “Right.” She went to the bedroom.  I brought the dishes into the kitchen, washed them, sat down at the small table there and looked at the river.  She same into the living room an hour later with two suitcases and a duffel bag.  “This ought to do it for now,” she said.  “It it’s okay with you, I’ll arrange with a friend to come by for the rest of my stuff some other time.” “Sure,” I said.  “You moving in with this Mike?” “No, I told you, he’s married, still living with his wife.  I’ll be staying with Elena for now.  If you want to reach me for anything, you can get me there or at work.  You have her number?” “I can look it up.” “But you won’t call me at either place for very personal reasons, will you? Such as saying how much you miss me or things like that and you want me back? Because I’ve definitely made up my mind, Jules.  The marriage is finished.” “I understand that.  I mean, I don’t understand why it’s so definitely finished, but I so understand that you definitely feel it is.  But I can’t make just one more pitch?  There’s nothing I can do or say or promise to help you change your mind?” “Nothing.” “Then goodbye,” I said. “I’ll miss you terribly.  I love you tremendously.  I’ll be as sad as any man can be over a thing like this for I don’t know how long.  But that’s my problem, not yours, I guess, and eventually I’ll work it out.” “I’m glad you’re taking it like this.  Not that you’ll be sad - O don’t want you to be like that – but at least that you see the situation for what it is and that in the long run you’ll be able to handle it.  Because it’ll make it much easier - it already is- for both of us. You’ll see.  You’ll get over me before you now it.” “Not on your life,” I said.  “Yes you will.” “I’m telling you.  Never.” “No, I know you will.  Goodbye.”  She opened the door, put the suitcases right outside it, said “I’ll be back for these in a minute,” and carries the duffel bag downstairs.  “I’ll help you with the suitcases,” I yelled down the stairs.  “No need to,” she said.  “It’d actually be better if you closed the door so we won’t have to say goodbye again.”  I shut the door.