I love anecdotes. Notice how I didn’t say “short stories?” I’m talking about vignettes less than 1,000 words. There’s something delicious about the slices of everyday life you’re more likely to hear from a friend over drinks than from an author in a 350-page thriller.
Generally, I post short tales on Algonquin Redux for two reasons. One: I want to remember them. There’s no substitute for saving a story in bytes. Two: It’s like taking batting practice for a book. I can warm up to a character, a situation, or a defining moment that deserves further exploration in a full-length novel.
When people tell me stories, I’m all ears. Which takes me to Sue, not her real name, and “bad booger man.” I’ve changed a few details to keep her identity secret, but, by and large, the details are all true. This is the story of a philandering husband, his brazen mistress, a wife—that would be Sue—who just couldn’t take it anymore, and the family dog.
Sue and I ran into each other last week. We hadn’t seen each other for twenty years, give or take. But it was like old times. We have kind of a brother-sister affinity and caught up on our respective lives: kids, family, you name it. Sue told me her husband, Eliot (not his real name but a plausible name for a philandering husband), died several years ago.
“I’m so sorry.” It seems to me I had heard about Eliot’s heart attack through the grapevine. But I felt a genuine sympathy and had never sent her a note to express condolences. My bad.
“He cheated on me all thirty years of our marriage.”
“From day one. Friends. Casual acquaintances. Women who worked for him at the office. It got so the gopher holes in our backyard weren’t safe.”
Okay, I’m taking license with the dialogue.
I was about to ask, “Why’d you put up with it?” I had my own suspicions. But there is no substitute for listening when others speak about their emotions and life experiences.
“This is a story for one of your books,” she continued.
That really got my attention. “Okay?”
“Eliot was in the shower one morning, and I took Murphy out for his constitutional.”
Murphy was their dog. I can’t remember the name of the breed. Maybe Murphy was a Rottweiler. Whatever he was, he was huge. One of those breeds with lots and lots of hair.
“I wanted a divorce,” she said. “Eliot refused and promised to change. Meanwhile, he had a thing going with one of his employees on the west coast. I think he was telling her he would dump me.”
“While I was out walking Murphy, Miss West Coast arrived on the red eye and took a cab directly to our home. My house!”
“I left the door unlocked when Murphy and I went for the walk. You know the neighborhood. Safe. Safe. Safe.”
“Right…” Frankly, I was afraid to say anything for fear of breaking her momentum.
“When we returned to the house, Eliot was still in the shower. And her clothes were all over the hallway.”
“I think she wanted to surprise him.”
“In your house!”
“I picked up her bra, her stockings…”
“I get the visual.”
Sue smiled from ear to ear as though delivering the punch line. “I said to Murphy, ‘Bad booger man.’ ”
“It’s like telling Murphy, ‘Sic him.’ He goes bat sh–. Barking and spraying drool everywhere. Teeth like tusks. Remember, Murphy’s about one-seventy but looks twice as heavy with all the hair. Miss West Coast jumps up on the toilet seat, dancing around in the altogether. Eliot is yelling in the shower. And I’m standing there with red-eye stockings in my hand.”
“What’d you do?”
“Called the police. I told them there was a crazy woman who had broken into my home and was running around butt naked.”
“What did they do?”
“Asked for her clothes, when they arrived.”
“What’d you do?” I asked again.
You can always tell when a story gets somebody’s attention. The dialogue turns into Ping-Pong.
“Said I hadn’t seen them.” Sue flashed me the kind of smile that belongs on toothpaste commercials. She was savoring her moment of retribution in the same way, I suspect, readers have been savoring The Count of Monte Cristo since 1844.
I know what you’re thinking. Sad story. There’s nothing funny about infidelity. I agree. But it’s also a story about triumph. Sue moved on, built a great life, and tells the tale with gusto. The police never found the other woman’s clothes. And when Sue described the chaos in the bathroom, I wanted to cheer.
The mistress baffles me. I doubt I’ll ever understand what was going through her mind. Sure, she probably thought Eliot was alone. But really. She had a lot of chutzpah.
What do you think?