The Mess, Part VI

Frank responded with just a tinge of steel in his voice “No honey, I’m on it… I was just thinking…”

It was at that point that he realized that the steel that was in his voice was there to protect something he wasn’t concerned with.   Yes he was concerned in making sure the place got cleaned up, and that the heat was fixed so he and his wife could live in peace.  What he wasn’t concerned with at this point in his life was defending his feelings from his wife, of all people.

Why the hell would he do that?

It didn’t make sense and the thoughts behind it, behind even thinking about talking about events from 20+ years ago to protect his feelings seemed a bit childish. Although childish wasn’t the word that came to Frank’s mind. The words “Stupid Bullshit” came to mind.  And Frank disliked stupid bullshit.  He didn’t like the fact that he was going to hurt his wife like that to defend himself, and from what?  He was 55, not 25. He was thinking like a kid there, and he was angry with himself over it, angrier with himself than he was with his wife a scant 60 seconds ago.

Frank walked over to the coffee table and began to take all the papers off of it.  But first he had to move the dishes off of them.  And he had to move the remote controls that were on top of them to move the dishes.  With a deft flick of the wrist, he backhanded three remote controls off of the coffee table, which fell with a cluttered series of thuds on the floor in front of the couch.  One of the backs of one of the remotes fell off in mid air, and batteries went flying.  Frank looked at this and groaned very slightly, and began the process of cleaning up the mess he had just made trying to begin cleaning up the mess that was on top of the mess that was on the mess of papers on the coffee table.

For a moment he was tempted to just get a garbage bag and toss everything in there, but only a moment.  There were the remote controls, but besides that there were old bills, not so old bills, her painkillers for her back, his old painkillers for his sciatica, 7 candles (only two of which were left over from Christmas), newspapers from last week, pictures from a party they went to in 1986 in Bangor, Maine, and for some odd reason, a first edition copy of “The Stars, Like Dust” that looked, curiously, to be covered with dust.

As Frank bent over and groaned while picking up the batteries and the back of the cable remote he knew she was thinking about his drinking.  So he brought it up as he picked himself up from getting those.  He said  “Hon, you seem tense, and I think I know why.   You’re afraid I’ll go out drinking with Jim aren’t you?”

She was in the middle of moving a pile of papers, and the question so completely caught her off guard that the entire ple of papers went flying when he asked her the question.   It only took her a second to compose herself.  Agnes thought Frank was trying to sound calm cool and collected, and she was damned if he was going to be the only one to do that.  She said “Ya, I am, but you’re an adult and you can make your own decisions.  If you do, you are done here.  You know that, right?”

He nodded, but behind that nod he was suddenly nervous.  That was the threat she had used on him a number of times when he was still drinking.  The words resonated in his mind, and he repeated “Done here.”   He looked at her while trying to fix the remote control he had broken and said “I wouldn’t do that to you, or me for that matter.  I’m not like that anymore.  I’ve been good since I decided to stop, haven’t I?”

It was her turn to nod at him.  She was of two minds about this.  On the one hand she had dealt with him being a drunk for years ad was frankly sick of even the thought existing in her head.  On the other hand she had in the last few months seen her husband return to being the man he was before all the drinking, and was filled with joy over that.  She hoped that he would not have to go through with her threat and kick him out.

The thing was that this was the first real test since he had quit drinking.  The first time he would be seeing anyone who he used to go to the bar and hang out with(as far as she knew,) and she was not sure how he would do.  This was his best friend Jim.  The man he called brother, and he had told her he was probably closer to him than his real brothers, so she was afraid of what would happen, afraid she might call her bluff.  And she was afraid that it was just another bluff.  Frank had correctly pointed that she had thrown that threat at him before.  She was not sure she was strong enough to carry it out this time, any more than she was before, but she felt like she had to.  He was too old.  He should know better.

She hoped he did, but she could do more than hope.  This time she felt she might have to.


That’s it from here, America. G’night.

The Mess, Part V

Frank was not a stupid man.  He could see that his wife was unhappy, and with more than just the heat being out.  He knew there was the underlying tension that still existed in her mind because of his years of drinking. And that with Jim coming down to fix the problems with the boiler, Jim one of his old drinking buddies, he knew that things were coming to a boil in her head over it.  And to be honest with himself, he knew she was right as far as she went, to be concerned about it.

For a second he played with a thought.  It was a small thought.  Nothing outlandish.   Nothing insane, he thought.  He could always bring up the emotional upset over what she had done before he began drinking.  When she took his heart and stomped on it.  When she cheated on him.   He still saw those days like they were happening before his eyes.  They were still, after all these years, a painful shock.

Back in the early days he had always played it straight.  Dudley Do-right was what people called him, Mr.Clean Marine.  “Hard charger” is how his bosses described him.  H worked hard for his money, worked all the time.  And that did something to his wife of two years.  He didn’t realize it at the time or he would have done something about it.  She was lonely, at home all the time, with him on job sites most of the day every day, seven days a week for months sometimes.  Then when he came home, he was bone tired, had no energy for anything. He would often fall asleep on his favorite chair within minutes of getting home.  He’d eat dinner, take a shower,  and fall asleep almost immediately.

She was frustrated.  She wanted her husband, and he was there more for his work than for her, and she was not happy about it.  She tried talking to him about it, about giving her more of his time.  He told her he would try to do everything he could.  But when he said “If we want a better life together in the future, I have to do the hard work now.  I love you, but we need the money and they need me too. I’ll do all I can for you.”

He tried. For weeks after that first conversation about her wanting him around he made a real effort to be there for her, and she was the apiest woman in the world.  But work began to encroach again and now things were too busy there for him to get her the time she wanted with him.  The seven day work weeks began to pile up, the 12 hour days began to come back to back again.  Agnes thought it felt like she had lost her husband.  There were nights that she cried silently to herself over it.

Frank found that out later. All he new at the time was that he was busy, and tired. He tried to make time for his wife, to give her everything he could of himself, but work and life left him with less than what she wanted.

And then she met Kevin.  Kevin was strong and something of a party animal and had just broken up with his girlfriend, so he said.  He had long thick black hair and deep blue eyes and the beginnings of a beard. He was 29, she was 26.  He said all the right things to Agnes, from the very first time they met in the parking lot of the local supermarket.

He was there when Frank was not.

Frank was beginning to remember first meeting Kevin when Agnes snapped him back to reality.  He had been standing in the middle of the living room for a few seconds remembering all this when she said “Do I have to hold your hand to get this cleaned up?  We haven’t got all day. ”  Frank responded with just a tinge of steel in his voice “No honey, I’m on it… I was just thinking…”


That’s it from here, America. More later, perhaps.

The Mess, Part IV

Frank walked from the far side of the bedroom, gait filled with purpose. As he navigated the labyrinth he smiled because things were going to get done.  He was pleased. As he took his first step out of the bedroom he nearly ran over his wife who was walking in the room as he was walking out.  Startled, she jumped back and  bumped into a table, nearly knocking over a lamp.  She put a hand to her chest and said “Jeez, hon!  Ya startled me!”   Frank was equally startled but was unwilling to show it.  With a happy tone to his voice He said “Ya.  I’m your husband.  I’m the last person you’d expect to be walking out of your bedroom, right?  After he said this he kissed her forehead and smiled and tried to get by.

She was less than happy with being scared like that, and not at all happy with freezing in her own home.  Agnes saw the way Frank walked out of the room bouncing around like a kid and knew something was up. She didn’t know what exactly but she knew something was up. She had been married to him for nearly 30 years and knew Frank better than he did himself in some ways.  Agnes looked at him and blocked his path.  He tried to go left, and she moved in his way.  Move right?  She moved with him. And she did it in a way that made it look like it was accidental.

His happy mood dissolved almost immediately and his face soured, if only for a moment.  After trying and failing to get past her twice he was ready to pick up his wife and move her aside so he could get past her.  Before he could do that though, she said “So what’s happening?  When are we going to get heat back?”

He stopped for a second to take her in with his eyes.  The face was the face of the girl he married. Wrinkled?  More aged?  Of course, but that happens. He still loved that face, and the person behind the face.  The body had taken a beating over the years.  She had put on weight.  Her breasts, once perky and as he had once jokingly put it “forward looking” now sagged and looked down at the floor, like they were disappointed with what they had seen. He didn’t mind so much. His “equipment” did much the same thing now.  The two of them joked about this, but ever too much and never too loud, for fear that it might get worse, that aging might do more to them than it had, and neither wanted to face that.

That took about one hundredth of a second to think that and then respond.  He said “I called Jim, and he just called me back.  He’s bringing the work truck down here.  He’s on the way, he’ll be here in about an hour so it shouldn’t be too long before we have heat, with any luck.  Then the two of us can warm this place up ourselves.”  He wrapped his arms around her, and went to kiss her.  She pushed him away.  Frank put on a mock hurt face, laughed and said “What?  Ya don’t love me anymore?  Do I stink?  Did I do something wrong?  Do I Offend?”  He felt like playing around a little before the serious work was going to get done, but she was very serious about it.

She said “Listen, We can do that later if you like but if someone is coming over, we should get this place cleaned up.  Might even warm me up a little bit.”  She looked at him for a second before continuing.  His face was not the boyish face that she had first fallen in love with.  It had matured, hardened, grown stronger.  As it had changed, her love for him had grown, because as he had grown into his face he had begun to emerge as a successful man in the construction business.  He was never the type of guy to buy expensive things for her, or himself, but he tried to make sure that they had everything that they needed. It didn’t always work that way, though.

Then she thought about his drinking. That was the one thing he ever did that she felt would drive her crazy.  It started out slowly, years earlier.  He would come home from work after having a few beers, then having a few more before going to sleep.  He would tell jokes and generally be funny, sometimes a bit too much.  And he was loud and sometimes he would break things, but never trying to.

Not then.

But as the years went on it began to become a great deal more of a hassle.  He got loud and angry at her sometimes if he had a bad day at work, fighting with her like it was her fault.  But he aways apologized the next day.  Finances started to become a mess because he spent money like a fool, much of it on drinking, and that left little to nothing for anything that had to get done at home.   The yelling and fighting got worse and worse as he got older and started to drink more and more.  And getting calls to pick him up because he was passed out again at the bar was a hairy pain in the ass.  Or seeing him come home covered in his own barf, or someone else’s blood if there was a fight was depressing.  She hated watching the man she had married turn into, something, what it was she had no words for.  But it wasn’t the man she fell in love with all those years ago.

After getting hurt on one job he spent six months at home on comp, and he spent seemingly all of his time and most of the money that was coming in at the bar.  The fights on those nights were the worst.  She almost left him several times but he would apologize the next day and she would decide to stay.   Sometimes he would yell at her for no reason while cracking dishes in his hands, slamming things around into jagged pieces on the brown kitchen tile floor and she broke things in response, in her own frustrated rage, and none of it made any sense to her but he apologized and tried to make it up to her, and she stayed.

The whole thing was hellaciously menacing because he was so much larger than she was, but she was no shrinking violet. For better or worse after all.  The whole thing felt like hell.  After nearly a decade of it, she had finally had enough, she was done listening to “I’m sorry” when he decided to quit. It came as a complete shock.  A welcome but completely unexpected. She was ready to turn around and leave, but he had started to turn his life around.  But she had doubts.  It hadn’t been long enough for her to put it all behind her. Meeting up with Jim, one of is old drinking buddies could upset the whole damn thing and push her out the door.  She was not going to deal with him being a drunk again.

Thoughts of that past danced through her head, turning her face sour as she said ” Maybe you can give me a hand with this.  Theres a lot to do around here. We’ve both been pigs of late, and something has to be done.  Now.”   She had found that being adamant and strident with him went further than pleading and prodding, she learned that early with him, a lesson that stuck.

Frank nodded, smiled at his wife and said “Let’s get to it.  Don’t want him thinking we’re dirtbags, especially since I’m the dirtbag here. where do you want to start…” as he walked into the living room of the one floor ranch house, oblivious to the thoughts in his wifes head.  He was thinking about meeting up with Jim and getting the heat back on, and just getting back on with his life…


That’s it from here, America.  G’night.

The Mess, Part III

One ring. No answer

Two rings.  No answer.

Before the third ring started, country music began to play from the receiver, a Waylon Jennings song from 78, “Don’t you think this outlaw bit has done got out of hand” for a few seconds, then deep voice with a thick southern accent spoke   “Hello, this is Jim Davidson.  Leave a message.” The music continued for a few more seconds, the words “New York sent a posse down, like you ain’t never seen…”  Then a beep.

Frank said “Uh.. hey Jim.  It’s Frank.  Frank Jensen.  Listen. My boiler is out and I need help getting this thing going, and your the only person I know who fixes them.  Give me a ring back and let me know if you can help me.  Give me a call on the new number here 555-652-5515, it’d be nice to see you again.  Later.”  And Frank closed his small black flip phone, and plugged it back in and put it back on the table on his side of the bed.

After he did this he looked around the bedroom and thought for a second about where he was in his life and how he had gotten there.  He thought about school, and all the good times he had there, and all the stuff he learned there that he never needed, and the things that were indispensable,the girls and the drinking, aka social skills.  He laughed to himself at that thought.  He wasn’t the ladies man and he was never much good at school. But he managed to get the most out of it that he could.  He got his degree, a bachelor’s degree.  He told people that it didn’t matter, but it got him the job he had been working for the past three decades, where he was now foreman.

He shivered just a hair, and for as much as he told himself he didn’t get cold, he hoped that Jim would call back so he could get on with his life, and not be cold living it.  Sitting on the edge of the unmade bed, cold and unhappy about the events of the day. Knowing that it was unavoidable was no solace, and his wife’s bitching didn’t make it any easier.  He looked at the mess in the bedroom and kicked all of the dirty clothes that were on the floor into a corner. He was beginning to get sick of all the crap laying around, and if he had his way would just take all of it and throw it out.  None of it seemed necessary at this point.

He thought about the work he had done.  He had been there to work on the church tower of Saint John the Divine in the 1980’s. He worked a few years ago on the 9/11 memorial at ground zero.  He thought about all the great people he had worked with.  He thought about being up on scaffolds hundreds of feet in the air untethered, and about how much he enjoyed that, the rush of being up there.

He would have thought more about it, but his cell phone rang, pulling him out of his reverie and back into the real world.

Frank unplugged the phone and opened t in a single practiced gesture and said “Yello?”  The voice on the other end said “Frank, that you?”  Frank pretended to sound surprised “Jim!  What’s going on man!  It’s been a while!”  Jim’s deep drawl rolled slowly off his tongue as he said “Frank, it’s been ages.  How’re you ‘n the wife?  Besides cold I mean?”  He sounded honesty concerned, which felt good to Frank.  “Frozen like ice cubes up here, brother. Damn heater went on the fritz and died on me, and as much as I know my way around a tool set, I don’t feel like blowing up the house fixing the damn thing.  Don’t think the wife would approve.”

Jim waited a long thick second to respond, he was clearly talking to someone standing near him, then let out a hearty laugh and got back to talking to Frank, saying  “Listen, I’d never turn my back on a brother from back in the day.  I’m almost done here, give me about an hour. Boiler crapped out right?”  Frank said “Ya.  Damn thing..”  Jim cut him off  “Damn thing is right, I’ll bring the work truck with me.  So long as you don’t smell gas I’m not worried.  I’ll cut ya a deal when I get there.  Sound good?”   Frank replied “Hell ya, outlaw.  See ya in a bit.”  And both men hung up.

Frank hung up, put the phone down and walked out of the bedroom with purpose in his step…


That’s it from here, America. G’night.

The Mess, Part II

These people needed help, and they knew that they had to get someone to come and fix this, maybe even get a new boiler.  But neither of them wanted to make the call.

The old woman looked at her husband sitting in his dirty old clothes watching the television and said “Make the call, Frank!  I’m sick of freezing here!  Why are you waiting?  What is your problem!?  We’ve been freezing for hours now, you did everything you could do, and it wasn’t enough.  You’re not a repairman.  You never were.  Please make the call for me, honey!  I just want to be warm again…”

Frank shifted his weight uncomfortably in his old tan recliner when she started talking, moved up to a more upright position and stared at her.  He knew he would have to call the company to come down and fix the damn thing in the basement.  He testily said “Dammit Agnes, alright, alright!  Calm down.” Just to get her to stop whining for a minute.  He got up out of the chair with an unnecessarily loud groan and said “You know the reason I’ve been holding back on calling them.  But if we don’t care about having enough money to get food, I’m fine with it. We can be warm and starve if that’s alright with you.”

He knew that she knew about the money issues.  He knew that it wasn’t quite as bad as he had said it was, but that it was going to be very hard to make ends meet.  But he also knew that while he could handle that, he wasn’t so sure she could. He’d been married to her for nearly 30 years, and had seen her in high stress situations, knew how she got when the shit hit the fan.  And it wasn’t always pretty.  But it wasn’t exactly pretty now, and to be honest she was starting to get to that point already.  He said “Ya know, hon, there was no reason to say I wasn’t a repairman.” He pointed at a table and a lamp and said “I fixed that table leg, and I fixed that lamp.”  He smiled at her and winked, waved a hand at her, fingers extended as if trying to stop her from saying anything further and said “Calmness, love.  I’ll call Big Jim, he’s good with this stuff, and hopefully it won’t cost too much.”

She was of two minds about this.  On the one hand she was happy that her husband was going to get this done, get done what he should have done a few hours before.  He always thought that any job that could be done could be done by him.  He was good, but he wasn’t that good.  And while he had fixed those things he said he did, she knew that it was a whole world of difference between a few screws in a table leg and a small solder in a lamp and troubleshooting a boiler.  She said nothing, knowing that the job would now get done by someone else.  But she also knew his buddy “Big Jim.” Jim Davidson, a friend of his since his childhood, and a terminal bad influence even in his old age.  He and Frank had been drinking buddies back when Frank drank. She never did trust Jim, because despite his age, Jim still partied like he was a kid, and acted like one as well.  At least he was the last time they had seen one another 6 months ago.

She didn’t want Jim trying to drag her man out and dropping Frank back in the bottle.  She said ”  You know I don’t like Jim. Your buddy always gets you in trouble.  He can work here.  He can’t drink here.  Understand?”  The look in her eyes when she looked at him when she said it almost plead with him to please say with her, don’t go back.

Frank smiled at this.  He knew this was coming.  He hadn’t had a drink in almost 6 months, and was pleased with it.  Maybe a little bored sometimes, but more or less happy with sober life.  He atHe knew being in his 50’s his party animal days were done, which was why he had said yes when his wife asked him to stop drinking.  She had asked a hundred times, a thousand times, and he had surprised her in the summer when he finally just said yes.  He figured it would cost less if he didn’t drink, and he was tired of all the hangovers.  Plus the crowd at the bar he hung out at was changing, and he didn’t like it. It just made sense to stop when he did.

But he was also unsure if calling Jim was the right thing to do because of the history between them.  Jim was fun.  He’d known him all his life, almost, and honestly wondered if he could call him and get Jim to work without some kind of run to the bar afterwards.  He could barely afford to get this work done, he wasn’t sure he could afford to get this done AND drink with him.  But it did guarantee a good time, though…

Frank, unsure if he was telling the truth or not, said “I won’t let you down hon.  I promise.  Now let me go make that phone call.”   He looked her in the eye, smiled at her and kissed her forehead, ran thick stubby fingers through her hair, then crossed the room and grabbed the phone and unplugged it from the charger and started to call his buddy…


That’s it from here, America.  G’night.