In part two of the Moustache Club’s (Early) Father’s Day Fiction Special, Oliver Lee Bateman offers a short sketch of a couple planning their second honeymoon.
The two of them decided to take a second honeymoon. They had been married for thirty impossible years and it seemed like the right thing to do. One afternoon, while they sat at the table picking at a cheap, unappetizing lunch, they started to plan their journey.
“Well,” he began, dropping crumbs as he spoke, “We should go and get lotto tickets if we’re going to cross the border. Cigarettes, too. They’re a lot cheaper down there, without the state taxes.”
She didn’t pay any attention to what he had just said, focusing instead on the crumbs. With a deft hand, she reached out and swept them off the table. “Yes, and I’ll buy some wheat bread and make some turkey sandwiches for the trip. I’ll write numbers on the plastic wrappers so that we eat them in order, and I’ll put our names on them so we don’t get confused.”
Numbered sandwiches meant nothing to him, but the prospect of cheaper cigarettes filled his heart with unbounded joy. “They’re nearly twenty cents less a pack,” he said. “It’s a shame what the politicians are doing in this state. Bunch of bums! We ought to vote them all out of office.”
She had already started thinking about wiping off the table and doing the dishes. The real problem with food was that it left behind such a mess. She tried to compensate by making plain meals that required little preparation and clean-up, but even that wasn’t enough. “Could you remember to put that glass in the dishwasher?” she asked him.
“I can’t believe I voted for those jokers. Raising my cigarette taxes just so they could support a bunch of high schools and colleges. What good are those places, anyway? Not like you’ll ever learn anything useful there,” he said.
Because she knew he wasn’t going to do as she instructed regarding the glass, she began to needle him. “Well, you did vote for the incumbent in the last election.”
He shrugged. “Of course I did! What the hell else could I do? Did you play today’s numbers?”
She handed him a stack of lotto tickets. “Yes, 3-6-5, 3-6-9, and 4-1-2.”
“That last one’s an area code,” he said. “Those have a lot of win in them.”
She scooped up his plate and silverware and carried it to the sink. She rinsed each item carefully before placing it in the dishwasher. “We should probably pack coats and shoes in case it rains,” she said.
“And 3-6-9 hit four or five times in 1989. I rode that number for most of the year,” he said.
“I’ll bring the hand sanitizer, too. The generic stuff, I mean. I wouldn’t want to waste the name brand sanitizer on a car trip,” she said.
He had started leafing through a supermarket circular. “Green bean pieces are twenty-seven cents a can. How much did you pay last week at the Wal-Mart?”
“Forty-two cents a can, but that was for whole green beans,” she said.
He shook his head. “Ripped off again. How is a person supposed to live like this?”
She wasn’t as thrifty as he was and chafed against this forced parsimony. There were weeks when he would eat the same meal seven times in a row, provided the components of the meal were available at some cut-rate price. “It’s fifteen cents.”
“They’re getting you everywhere,” he said.
“Who is?” she asked.
“They are. And they’re the ones who get you!”
She ran the sweeper around the table. He moved his feet but otherwise failed to take notice of her behavior. He had endured in the marriage by ignoring her fastidious habits, which was perhaps the only way anyone could survive more than an hour in her presence. “I really need to set aside a day to give this room a good sweeping.”
“8-4-4, maybe. I’ve got a hunch on that. Hunches have twice the luck,” he said.
She continued to vacuum. Their home life always seemed to be devolving into disarray. She did the best that she could to preserve the status quo, but it was never enough—and now this vacation loomed. Who would maintain the house in their absence? “We need to buy garbage bags,” she said.
“The mail hasn’t arrived,” he said. “It’s 2:40 and the mailman still hasn’t stopped here yet.”
She had watched him check for the mail several times that day. The mail mattered to him, since the mail brought bills. Bills were always going up; bills demanded immediate payment. “It might be a different carrier today.”
“Don’t they understand I’ve got things to do?” he asked. He was retired and the only things he had to do were shower, smoke cigarettes, and watch television. He had completed the first of those activities around 1 p.m. and now his day was almost over.
“I’m sure it’ll come soon,” she said, although she didn’t want it to come because she didn’t want to hear him complain about a dollar increase in the price of their cable service.
“I bet they’re going to raise the cable again this month,” he said. “It’s been a year. They’ll starve us. I’ve just about had it. A dollar more for the same thing—and it’s not like there’s even anything good on the TV!”
She never watched the television because she was too busy cleaning the house. When she had time to herself, she went out to see complicated movies that he lacked the patience to understand. “We’re almost out of milk, too,” she said.
They drank milk at every meal and purchased a gallon of it three times a week. “Can’t believe how fast it goes,” he said.
She hadn’t talked to him for this long in several months. This trip would bring them much closer together, a prospect she dreaded. “So do you want to stay for three days?” she asked.
He didn’t want to stay for three days because the local team’s season started in two. He hoped to return home in time for their opener, even though the home team invariably broke his heart with spiritless performances and foolish mistakes. “We should get back here in two,” he said. “Don’t want the mail to build up.”
She knew he wanted to see the local team’s home opener. She hated the local team because he loved it so, and last year’s championship had only increased her contempt. “We can get a hold placed on the mail,” she said.
“I’ve got a lot of things coming,” he said.
“What is coming? We’ve paid all of the bills except for the cable bill,” she said.
“You never know,” he said. “Something could turn up in the mail. Besides, the big Powerball drawing is on Thursday.”
“You can watch that in the hotel,” she said.
“That’s not lucky. You can’t watch those on the road. You don’t know anything about odds,” he said.
She knew that he was a jerk, yet for thirty loveless years it hadn’t mattered. This second honeymoon, which was to consist of a lackluster trip to a mediocre place, would confirm all of her beliefs about their relationship. “No, I don’t know about those things,” she said.
“You don’t know how the lottery works, not at all,” he said.
Through the small window in the kitchen, she looked out at their yard. The yard had no trees, no garden, and very little grass. The sky overhead was partly cloudy. “I suppose I don’t,” she said.
“You talk about these things you don’t know anything about. Really, what do you know? What do you know?” he asked.
She thought then about changing the subject, but it was just a thought.