Keith Manos is a veteran English teacher who in 2000 was named Ohio’s English Teacher of the Year by OCTELA and inducted into the National Honor Roll of Outstanding American Teachers in 2006. He is the author of 9 nonfiction books, including Writing Smarter(Prentice Hall, 1998). Recently, Black Rose Writing published his debut novel My Last Year of Life (in School).His fiction has appeared in national magazines like Wesleyan Advocate, The Mill, Storgy, Lutheran Journal, Attic Door Press, and Wrestling USA, among others. Keith has a Master's Degree in English (Creative Writing) from Cleveland State University. You can check out all his books at www.keithmanos.com.
I love my wife. I really do, and to prove it I’m making her the main character in this story. In fact, over the years she’s been in several of my stories whenever I need a female protagonist who is slender, sexy, and self-assured. I know that if this story gets published, she’ll agree to the second honeymoon I’m planning.
In one of my previous stories, Monica wore a halter top and shorts and shopped at Walmart. I needed toothpaste, and I know Walmart has the lowest prices. The plan there, you can probably guess, was to get the reader’s interest right away, and I figured any editor would recognize the obvious: Almost everyone shops at Walmart . . . and sex sells. That story was nine pages long – a lot of work, you know – but I think Monica stopped reading after page two because she couldn’t tell me later how it ended.
Our third wedding anniversary is in two months, and I’m giving her this story as a gift (I want the second honeymoon to be a surprise). When I tell her I’m writing this new story titled “Second Honeymoon,” she sighs and says, “Adam, at least make me look like Jennifer Aniston this time, will you?”
She demands this while we’re shopping at Walmart, each of us pushing a metal cart since we are totally out of groceries at home. The front left wheel on mine, which is filled with the heavy stuff – ten two liters of Dr. Pepper and a whole watermelon – squeaks a little bit at every turn.
“I was thinking of describing you more like Dolly Parton.” I say that because this new story is about a former brassiere model, and Dolly Parton, whom I’ve seen on television, would be perfect for the part. I’m guessing her bra size is like a double G. In my story, however, her name will be Donna Parton so I don’t get accused of defamation in any way. The conflict is that Donna finds herself in a loveless marriage with a garage door repairman, the kind of guy who can’t help but look left and right every time he drives in a residential neighborhood and announce, “That door would be twelve hundred dollars” or “Probably thirteen-fifty over there” or “That’s an easy nine hundred” as he passes each house.
“I don’t look like Dolly Parton. See?” My wife turns sideways, arches her back, and thrusts out her chest at me. Her eyes go wide: first at me, then at her chest, and then back at me. “Adam, you really need to grow up.” I’m not adding an exclamation point here, but right after she says this she bumps my shopping cart with her own before passing me, like we’re on a NASCAR track.
She’s right, of course, at least about her and Dolly Parton. My wife actually looks more like Mia Farrow before Woody Allen dumped her for the stepdaughter. Her hair is sandy blonde and it comes almost to her shoulders. When we first met, her hair was longer. I remember how I used to hold her hair – romantic like – when we kissed, even though her hair spray made my hand sticky. My wife doesn’t have any hips, and her boobs stick out as much as teacup saucers. Nevertheless, I’ve learned in my writing class to be creative so I’m keeping Donna Parton.
Right now, we’re the only ones in the canned food aisle, and she pushes her shopping cart away from me and reaches for a can of green beans. I watch her and enjoy how she extends her slender arm, gracefully scoops the can, and places it soundlessly in the cart.
This is how my wife and I met: Shopping. I was getting groceries for my dad and me, and I followed her with my cart for two aisles, fearful the whole time she’d think I was stalking her. I finally got up the nerve to ask advice about cucumbers, and when by coincidence we were in the checkout line together later, I asked for her phone number. When she gave it to me, I felt like I’d won a trophy.
Today, when she bends over the cart, her blouse is lifted over the backside of her jeans and I can see an inch of the pale skin of her lower back. Do that again, I plead silently. My eyes go to a can of mushrooms, and I try to transmit my brain waves to her head, directing her to look again at the shelf, to reach for the can of mushrooms, to bend over her cart. I close my eyelids half way, dip my forehead towards my wife, and repeat mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms like thirty times, but my brain waves must be weak because she doesn’t reach for the can, even though I have a vague memory of highlighting it on the shopping list.
Monica continues down the aisle, and I hunch over and lean my forearms on my cart, which is a pose I’ve seen other men do – the cool, I’m-a-veteran-shopper types, although I’m not. “Don’t be so touchy,” I say. “No one will know it’s you.”
She gives me an angry look over her shoulder and almost hisses, “You just want to see Dolly Parton naked.”
“Naked? How do you know you’re going to be naked?”
“Because you like naked people. You have at least one in all your stories.”
I push my cart slowly behind her and consider her analysis. I try to remember all the stories I’ve written, and I have to admit my science fiction story had naked aliens but that was because they were aliens, and my castaways cannibal story had naked people because they were on a tropical island, but they got naked only near the end when their clothes got tattered and the heat became unbearable. I try to argue, “Okay, so what if I do? Demi Moore showed off her boobs, so did Ann Margaret . . . why not Donna Parton?” To be honest, I really would like to see Dolly Parton naked, standing erect with her arms straight up in the air like she was being arrested. I wonder if they would sag.
Monica rolls her eyes. “Those are actresses, those are movies . . . But if you make me naked in the story, I want to look like Jennifer Aniston or maybe a young Liz Taylor but with different hair. By the way, what am I doing in your story?”
“You’re shopping with your husband who’s a garage door repairman. But you don’t really love him.” She doesn’t know it, but I’m gazing at her butt, wondering how she would react if I gently bumped it with my shopping cart. I’m guessing that would bother her, but maybe, just maybe, she would turn, swipe her hand quickly over her butt in a playful way, and smile mischievously at me. She used to smile like that before we got married, especially when I let her read the poems I wrote about her.
She flips her hair off her forehead and rolls her eyes. “Oh, brother, that’s really going to sell.” She turns her cart at the end of the aisle, and her butt disappears around the corner.
The wheel on my cart squeaks when I turn to follow her, and I notice she’s almost half way down the next aisle already. I almost have to raise my voice: “You never know. It could get published.”
She stops, angles her head so I can only see her profile as she looks at something on the shelf, and says, “Don’t count on it, Adam . . . Why don’t you write another story about alien abduction?” She’s pushing the cart, so her back is to me again, and I can’t tell if she’s teasing me here. She’s probably remembering a story I wrote about aliens who abduct humans, perform experiments on them, then erase their memories and take them back in time to the exact moment the abduction happened. The humans, however, only realize they’ve been abducted when they experience diarrhea, a consequence of aliens experimenting on their colon. So now, whenever I feel a bad bowel movement coming on, to be funny I tell Monica that I think aliens abducted me.
I decide to take her seriously and lean my forearms on the shopping cart. “My writing teacher says we should only write about what we know best.”
“Then you should write about pornography.” She grabs a box of spaghetti, drops it with a thud into the basket, and pushes her cart to the end of the aisle.
Like I said, I love my wife. And she loves me: I was certain of that on our third date. After taking her to a fancy restaurant, we spent the rest of the evening watching an Elvis Presley movie on television – the one where he’s in Hawaii – and although my dad interrupted us in his t-shirt and boxers on his way to the kitchen, Monica still agreed to date me again. The next day I was so grateful I bought her a ukulele – resembling the one Elvis used in the movie – at a pawnshop as a present. I figured that when she saw it in her bedroom or even played it, she would always remember that night with me and feel sentimental.
Those were the fun days: Going out to dinner. Watching movies. Staying up late. The days when my wife was both a woman and a girl. I know we’re still in love, but, in truth, I don’t write poems for her anymore, and she always goes to bed before me.
When we get home from Walmart I offer to help put the groceries away, but she tells me to get out of the kitchen, that I’ll only be in the way. So I go into the family room, sit on the couch, and listen to her stack cans in the pantry and open and shut and open and shut the refrigerator door. I know what she’s thinking: My story – this story – will never get published. I’ll send it out, and the editor will send it back, just like all the other ones. I sit on the couch, tilt my chin to the ceiling, and call out to her. “You know, a lot of stories are better if at least one character is naked or has a gun.”
“That girl Rose in Titanic. She posed naked for Leonardo Dicaprio.”
I hear her groan. “That’s another movie, Adam.”
Which is just like a woman. They never want to agree on anything. I wish just once she would see things my way. She got to choose the dinner for our wedding reception, she selected the house where we live, she decided we should lease a car rather than purchase one. No one ever told me before I got married that there was so much politics in a marriage after you come back from the honeymoon. I had lived with Dad after graduating from high school, and not once did he ever tell me what to expect.
Monica doesn’t seem to realize the effort I put in for her: What my days are like while she’s working as an assistant manager at that bank in the plaza, how I have given myself up to my writing, working sometimes three or four hours like a slave crafting all kinds of stories and the rest of the time watching movies just to get ideas. However, I won’t gloat and say, “I told you so” when I finally get something published. There are a lot of great writers who never got published, like my friend Jeremy and my writing teacher Alex. Jeremy, in fact, told me that all best-selling authors – Tom Clancy and Danielle Steele, for instance – have at least one naked woman or a gun in their books. I figure my odds of getting published improve if I have both.
I call out again. “But I bet Titanic was a story first.”
“Whatever.” More sarcasm than indifference. I can’t see her, but I’ve become an expert at her voice.
I’m hoping we’re going to have pity sex when we go to bed that night, but we don’t. She wants to read. I like to read, too, but not now, and especially not a book as thick as hers. I mean, really, who reads Madame Bovary? You should see this book. It has to be nearly 400 pages, and I can’t believe it keeps her interest because it has nothing to do with recipes, lingerie, or the Federal Reserve.
Later, when she’s sleeping, I like to think she’s dreaming – happily, I hope – about the time in our second year of marriage when we vacationed in Hempstead County, Arkansas and saw the world’s biggest watermelon. I also remember those nights when we played foot tag under the covers (I always let her have the last tag). I watch her sleep and listen to her breathe and snore, even timing them, before I slide out of bed, go downstairs, and open up my laptop.
After I finish, I calm myself down and think about that Arkansas vacation, and that reaffirms my belief that Monica and I should go on a second honeymoon. Some place exotic like Albuquerque or a foreign country like Nova Scotia. I suggest that to her when we sit down to breakfast the next morning.
She sips her coffee and peers at me over the cup. “You’re kidding, right? Nova Scotia?” She’s dressed for work in her pinstriped skirt suit, but I can’t take my eyes off her pink lipstick.
“No, I’m not.”
She takes her cup to the sink, rinses it, and says, “That sounds expensive. Let’s think about it and talk tonight or tomorrow.”
“I love you,” I say to her back as she moves to the door, thinking that the sunlight coming through the window must make her hair warm to touch, even if she still uses a lot of hairspray.
She turns and gives me a question mark smile. “Are you alright?”
“I am, and I think a second honeymoon would be a fun vacation for us. We should start planning it.”
“Let’s talk later,” she repeats and grabs her purse off the counter. Seconds later she is out the door, and since this is Friday I wait an hour and thirty minutes after her Ford pulls out of our driveway, grab my lunch bag, and drive to the plaza where her bank is. There, I sit in my old Datsun, look at the opaque windows, and think about her inside in her business outfit and high heels, crossing and uncrossing her legs on her cushioned chair and helping people with their mortgages or accounts. I also watch the bank entrance and the people going in and out.
And for each person I make up a story: That balding guy is a retired cop who once shot
a man in the stomach; that gray-haired woman is going in to get a gold necklace from her safe deposit box to pawn so she can pay for dance lessons and a hot tub; and the middle-aged guy wearing a service station uniform is depositing the week’s receipts from his gas station and he’s bummed because business has been bad. He might lose his house because of it.
Around one o’clock my wife exits with a tall guy in a dark suit. He must be a co-worker because I never saw him enter the bank. He’s laughing at something she said. She’s laughing, too – so hard, in fact, that she puts her hand on the sleeve of his suit coat as if to balance herself. Her hair falls over her eyes when she dips her head, but I suspect her eyes are glistening at the joke.
They stroll to his car, a maroon Lexus, and he opens the passenger door for her. She gets in, tucking her skirt under her, and smiles up at him as he politely closes the door. I turn the Datsun ignition and watch them pull out of the parking lot.
On the four-lane road, I follow them south until he pulls into a Holiday Inn. I’m impressed – one lunch there has to cost at least twelve to fifteen dollars – and I secretly hope that my wife isn’t treating. He should treat, shouldn’t he? We need to start saving for our second honeymoon.
I park two rows away and watch as they walk side by side to the entrance. Just at the glass doors my wife leans her forehead into Mr. Suit’s shoulder, again as if she is losing her balance, and he gently rubs the middle of her back as they go inside.
I wait, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich today, and drink from a Dr. Pepper can. Then I wait some more. A one-hour lunch turns into a ninety-minute lunch, and I’m worried now she truly is spending too much. I’m serious about my second honeymoon plan. If he’s paying for her meal, no problem, but if she splurged on this lunch and later wants to tell me we can’t afford a second honeymoon, I want the evidence to contradict her. I leave my car and when I go inside, the bubbly clerk behind the polished counter asks me if I’m checking in.
“No,” I say. “I just want to go into the restaurant.”
Her eyes narrow but she says politely, “We don’t have a restaurant here, sir, but there are some nice places nearby.”
I look around the empty lobby area, at the silent elevators, then again at the smiling clerk. “Thank you,” I say. “Thanks,” I finally repeat because I’m having trouble swallowing.
I return to my Datsun and head home, keeping the car parallel to the yellow lines like I’m driving on a map. I know from years and years of driving experience that the yellow lines order drivers not to pass, to stay on their side, to show caution. I leave the radio off so I can listen to the wind skim over the hood of the car and rush by the open crack of my windows, making that jet engine sound that drowns out every other sound and even my thoughts. I like driving this way; it’s relaxing. I don’t want to use the stifling air conditioning. I drive around for a while and let the other cars slide by me until I find myself on my street where I slow down to examine garage doors for more material for this story.
By the time I’m home, I’m full of ideas about Donna and her husband, how they met and fell in love and honeymooned in Nova Scotia. And then, once inside our house, I get the revolver we own out of the shoe box in our closet. I undress completely and sit on the living room couch, which you should know is the first piece of furniture we bought together for this house that now smells of dust and stale air. I can just make out through the front window a blue, naked sky, which, as the afternoon drifts by, fades into an orange purple dusk. I feel myself breathe, like it’s something my body is doing on its own, and stare at the sky.
I smile now, knowing the sky will always be there no matter what my characters do, especially the husband who is the garage door repairman. While I wait, I practice aiming the revolver – at the door, at different spots on my forehead, where I feel the tip of the metal barrel soft against my skin, and then at the door again – and hope Donna comes home on time so I can finish writing this story.