This is the third round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these submissions, it’s the letter “D”.
Readers have until the publication of the next story (about two weeks) to vote for their favorite story in each round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on the voting rank.
For each letter, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “D” as submitted by its author.
WARNING: some of the stories deal with adult themes and events (somewhere between PG and R rating). Plus, one might encounter the occasional use of the more colloquial word for fornicate.
Copyright 2020 — (to be added after voting)
(2,850 words – approx. reading time: about 11 minutes based on 265 WPM)
We never knew we could want more than that outta life
Surely Brenda and Eddie would always know how to survive
Brenda punched the power button on the stereo, killing Billy and his tired song. It had been pointed out to her, decades ago, that she and her husband, Eddie, shared the names of the star-crossed couple in Billy Joel’s classic pop song, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” It had been hilarious at first. Then merely amusing. After a time, it became droll, then dull, then deranging.
“Shut your stupid face,” she said to Billy Joel. “What do you know about Brenda and Eddie? You married and divorced nine supermodels.”
Eddie happened to walk into the media room as she was scolding the stereo. “What did you say, Bren?”
She pointed at the sleek silver box. “That damned song!”
Drinking from a milk carton, Eddie glugged, then wiped his mouth with his hairy side of his forearm. “Oh, the Brenda and Eddie song?”
“Yes, and would you mind putting your pants on?” she said, braving a glance at his jungled loins.
“Why do you hate that song so much?” he asked, turning his back, toddling to the laundry room.
She collected her thoughts, and then, as she was prepared to deliver a fulsome defense, she realized he was no longer within earshot. “Why do you do that?” she griped. “You ask a question and then walk away . . . naked?”
Two minutes later, Eddie reentered the media room. “What . . . did you say something, Bren?” He was now dressed; if flip-flops, cargo shorts, and a torn t-shirt qualified as such.
She tipped her head up and down, aggressively judging. “I thought you were going to the bank?”
“I am,” he said. “Gonna get that signature loan for my new golf clubs. TaylorMade.”
“Yeah, the P700 Spider Series,” he said. “I’ve been talking about this for months. Driver, irons, and putter. Soup to nuts. Remember, on my birthday, in October, you said ‘Sure, go for it’?”
“I thought you were talking about a new wardrobe,” she said. “You said Tailor Made and I thought”–
He slapped his good knee and brayed.
That laugh, she thought, how could she have ever found it adorable? Oh, that caustic barnyard bray. She wanted to clamp her hands over her ears and scream.
“Just stop,” she said, eyes shut, hands up, palms out. “Stop making that . . . that noise.”
Eddie collected himself and muttered the word wardrobe. He shook his bald head in disbelief. “Why would I need a new wardrobe?”
She stepped up to him, almost charging. She pushed three fingers through the hole in his old shirt. She recoiled when she felt his gelatinous flab underneath. “You’ve had this t-shirt as long as I’ve known you – that’s 25 years. Not only is it torn, it’s ugly and it doesn’t fit.”
Eddie rubbed the faded silk-screen design. It was Robert Crumb’s iconic character, Mr. Natural, strutting down an unnamed road, saying: Just Passin’ Through.
She wanted to tell Eddie that their marriage felt like that sometimes. Like he was only partially there, partially committed. Just Passin’ Through. But she swallowed it. There was something unseemly about fighting at 1:00 on a Thursday afternoon.
“Just go,” she said, suddenly exhausted. “I need a nap.”
Brenda and Eddie were still goin’ steady in the Summer of ’75
When they decided the marriage’d be at the end of July
Everyone said they were crazy
Brenda you know you’re much too lazy
The word woke her.
Stupid song, she thought, now I can’t get it out of my head. And why does Brenda have to be the lazy one? Who worked at a dog kennel for five years while Eddie flitted around campuses getting his Humanities’ degree?
She was grumpy. The song had stolen her sleep, burgled her serenity. She felt half-napped. Perhaps, she thought, a toddy would set her right, help her slide back into slumber. Brenda looked around the room, assuring that Eddie had not returned early and curled up on the sofa. No, he was still haggling over the interest rate on his loan for his fucking clubs.
Bastard, her brain blurted.
The unbidden expletive shocked her, causing her hand to jerk, the bottle to pitch, and the vodka to surge. That’s too much, she gaged. Then quickly covered the crime with club soda.
She sipped the drink and clicked on the TV. She found a House Flipping show – her guilty pleasure. Eddie hated these shows; would mock them; jeer, call out the minutest flaw. Even now, she could not enjoy her story, because she could hear his petty echo: Can’t use screws in 1/4 inch drywall. Won’t countersink. Gotta use joint compound, you fucking poser.
How had this once-beautiful human being managed to ruin her day . . . ruin her life? It started with her body. He ruined it by blasting oceans of semen into her, ruining her hips and tits with big-headed kids. Then it was her dreams – her ruined dreams of becoming an interior designer. After she put Eddie through college, time had run out. Their roles were concretized. She was the mommy and he was the breadwinner; winning their crumbs as an adjunct Greek Mythology teacher for a community college.
He ruined her trust when she caught him screwing a student. He ruined her credit score when he bought round after round in the college Rathskellar. He ruined her relationship with her parents when he called her father a fascist one Thanksgiving day.
She sighed and sipped and sighed and sipped.
Worst of all, he’d ruined himself. Once chiseled and muscled and indefatigable, he was now none of those things. When his hairline began to retreat, he overcompensated, growing out a gruesome ponytail. To further insult his own masculinity, he would occasionally scrunch up the mop and bunch it into a bun – a man bun. Oh, the spiritual energy she’d exhausted nagging and pleading and with him to forego the unholy practice.
After 6 years, when she’d all but given up, he suddenly cut his hair – all of it – without any notice or explanation.
What if I came home bald? She thought. What if I came home with P700 Spider golf clubs . . . TaylorMade?
She titled the tea glass until the ice bumped her front teeth. She poured another.
Eventually, sleep did return. And with it, a dream.
They lived for a while in a very nice style
But it’s always the same in the end
They got a divorce as a matter of course
And they parted the closest of . . .
Were they friends? her sleeping-self asked. Were Brenda and Eddie ever really friends?
In her dream, she saw Eddie loading his new clubs in the back of their early-model Ford Fiesta – a jalopy that she whole-heartedly despised. His face was flushed with a fusion of excitement and exhaustion. He was not one to carry clubs – on the course, nor to the car. He was a Golf-Cart King, never without a cooler of Coors Banquet, a batch of 80 ring-gauge Dominican cigars, and a flask of barrel-aged, 90-proof Woodford Reserve Bourbon for birdy putts.
In her dream, he caressed the bag and fondled the hosels of his clubs. Writ upon his inflamed face, was joy . . . barrel-aged, 90-proof joy.
And then Eddie was driving – not the family Ford, but a Ferrari. A racecar. Dreams worked like that, she conceded. Disjointed montages. Spliced tableaus. Random vignettes.
Eddie’s joyful face was now fearful. His knuckles whitened on the small wheel as he raced around the track. Another racecar cut him off. He swerved. His tire clipped the wall, and his car lifted, flipped, and rolled. Fireballs and black smoke belched from the wreckage. Eddie was dead.
She did not awaken, clammy and agitated. Nor did she question the inanity of the dream. She rolled with it.
In the next scene, she was dressed in black, head to toe – soup to nuts, Eddie would’ve said, if alive. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought the gown she was wearing might be her wedding dress; only it was black, of course. As Eddie’s casket was lowered into the fresh grave, she couldn’t help but marvel at her own physical appearance. Despite being cloaked in the dark requiem garb, she looked absolutely smashing. She’d lost 30; no 40 pounds. Her tits were high and tight. Her ass was champion, and her face . . . when the sheer veil was lifted . . . beamed with the youthful exuberance.
A bagpiper approached her. He spoke with a brogue and looked like a young Sean Connery. He kissed her hand and extended his condolences. When he did not release her hand, she did not protest. On the contrary, she followed him to the hearse, hands clasped, and giddily climbed into the back. He pushed up her dress and she pulled down his kilt.
They did not make love. They fucked. He her, and her him.
Back in her lounge chair, in her media room, in the realm of reality, she squirmed. Her hips lifted, and her sex thrusted. She bit her bottom lip and curled her toes.
Eddie, she did not moan. Eddie, she did not mourn.
They started to fight
When the money got tight
And they just didn’t count on the tears
A noise awakened her. Caught between sleep and consciousness, she thought it might be the wailing drone of a bagpipe. No, she corrected, it’s a horn. A fucking car horn. The strident bleat made her sick head sicker.
“All right, all right,” she said, rising slowly from the lounger, feeling her full awake weight, not her diminished dream weight. She was wearing light gray sweat pants. There, on her lap, was a dark gray stain. Had she spilled her drink? She looked to the end table. Her glass sat empty but upright.
“Christ,” she said aloud. “Did I just have a wet dream?” She laughed and then covered the spot with her untucked shirt. “Brenda Jane Baily,” she playfully scolded, “you are one bad broad. Day drinking. Day dreaming. And day . . . what . . . diddling?”
Her horniness was fractured by the blaring horn coming from her carport. The UPS guy, she guessed, delivering some dumb package – something Eddie ordered online. Golf shoes, golf pants, or the newest golf gadget. The guy probably needs a signature.
Brenda checked her sweatpants one last time, ensuring discretion, then stepped through the front door, out into the sunlight of their tiny yard.
Who’s that? She wondered, shielding her eyes, observing the jerk behind the wheel of a shiny red Jeep Wrangler. “Eddie?” she said, “That you?”
He stepped out of the driver’s side, smiling widely, daring her to guess his gambit.
“Where’s the Fiesta?” she asked. “And your clubs? Eddie, say something. What’s going on here?”
“I got tenure,” he said. “And with it, a big bump in salary.”
“Last October,” he explained, “Bernard confided that I was on the shortlist. That’s when I started thinking: Why not me? Good things happen to good people, right? That’s when I got the idea about the Jeep. You hated that Ford.”
She approached him. She needed to see him up close, in the sunlight, to be certain it was him . . . Eddie “Man Bun” Baily. Was she still dreaming? Was she drunk? Nothing made sense.
“You bought this?” she asked. “Today? Just now?”
He simply stood and smiled and waited for the pennies to drop.
“The golf clubs,” she squealed. “That was a ruse. You lied about”–
“Fibbed,” he corrected. “But go on.”
She was suddenly super-conscientious about her damp lap. She tugged her shirt over it and continued to deconstruct her husband’s machinations. “Is this for me?” she asked softly. “Did you trade in the Fiesta for this . . . this . . . Eddie . . . I love it!”
“I did,” he said. “Because I love you, Brenda.”
That’s all I heard about Brenda and Eddie
Can’t tell you more than I told you already
“The top comes off,” Eddie said.
Still stirred by her earlier ecstasy, she agreed. “Take me for a spin and this top will definitely come off.” She pointed her thumbs at her shirt.
Eddie looked at her, then at the Jeep, then back at her. “God, you’re beautiful,” he said.
“You better be talking to me and not the Jeep,” she joked.
He blushed. His cheeks mimicked the crimson paint of the Wrangler. He unlatched the cab shell and removed it. “Let’s hit some trails,” he said.
They piled in, buckled up, and sped out. They thrilled as the gears engaged and the engine raged and the sun blazed and the radio played. They were Brenda and Eddie the King and the Queen of the prom, riding around with the car top down and the radio on.
“Let’s grab a bottle of wine,” Eddie said. “Take it with us to Moorhead Point, watch the sunset. Make out a little. Like the old days.”
“You had me at wine,” she trilled.
He wheeled the Wrangler into the lot of a strip mall. He parked at Scotty’s Liquor Emporium, next to the Parkway Diner. He turned to her and kissed her. Really kissed her. Then he asked, “Red or White?”
“Surprise me,” she flirted, kissing him back with wet passion.
He killed the engine and opened the door. “Wait,” he said, jamming the key back into the ignition. “You probably want some radio.”
She smiled and said thank you. As she bounced from frequency to frequency, she realized how lucky she was to have such a thoughtful husband. The word blessed came to mind, but not being religious, she quickly swapped it with fortunate. The word fortunate, she thought, implied that she might just have a hand in it – a thumb on the scale. Not entirely. But a little influence was better than none.
One lonely night when Eddie was at the Rathskellar drinking with colleagues and kids, she plucked one of his books from the shelf. As fate would have it, she landed on a chapter describing Fortuna, the original Lady Luck.
Fortuna was the Greek Goddess, she read, that spun the wheel that meted out luck: good and bad. Brenda liked this tale because it implied that the highs and lows of life were not completely arbitrary. In the myth, there was a goddess, a wheel, and the hand that turned the wheel. In her version of the myth, she, Brenda, was that goddess; she was Fortuna. And she could fling the wheel pell-mell, or carefully, conservatively measure its turn. The notion gave her comfort; the illusion of control. Fortune, she hoped, favored Brenda and Eddie.
She found a Golden Oldie station on the radio. Funny, the amazing eighties’ band Journey was just wrapping up Wheel in the Sky.
Don’t know where I’ll be to-mor-ro-oww . . .
The station faded into a hiss of static, the waves barricaded by clouds.
Must be crowded in there, she thought, staring at the liquor store’s glass door with its advertising placards. Probably getting some Woodford Reserve, she thought. She checked her watch. Been in there for 10 minutes. Eddie, just grab a bottle of red and let’s get on the road. I don’t need anything fancy.
Eddie came out of the liquor store. He was holding a bottle of wine in each hand.
“Want a ride, handsome,” she said, reaching across his bucket seat and popping the door latch.
When Eddie didn’t get in, she looked up at him. Something was wrong. His face was drained, his eyes dilated. His shirt – Mr. Natural – had another hole in it. Just Passin’ Through.
And there was blood.
“No,” she said to herself. “It’s wine. Red wine. The bottle broke, that’s all.”
“Brrrrnnnaa,” he said, then fell face forward, downward. The sound of his breaking nose and teeth were followed by the sounds of the breaking bottles – one red, one white.
Whatever kind of mood you’re in tonight
A man burst out of the same door that Eddie had just exited. He had a sack of cash in one hand. In the other hand, was a smoking gun.
“Had to be a fuckin’ hero, didn’t you, pal?” he spat. He then leaped over Eddie’s cooling body and hopped into an early-model Ford Fiesta and raced away.
Deep in shock, Brenda sat in the red Wrangler, breathing in new-car smell.
Unseasonal winds shoved clusters of clouds west, toward the mountains. Sunshine broke through. Radio airwaves penetrated, pinged radio towers, and frequencies were reestablished. Static gave way to music. Brenda clamped her hands over her ears and screamed as Billy Joel sang his oldie but goodie.
Brenda and Eddie had had it already by the summer of ’75
From the high to the low to the end of the show
For the rest of their lives . . .
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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