The Last Wives Club

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: church mouse productions

Chapter 11 (v.1) - Cathy

Submitted: January 11, 2019

Reads: 10

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Submitted: January 11, 2019

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Just like every other Christmas Eve, Cathy felt the minutes and seconds of her life slipping off into the darkness as she waited.

Waited. Waited. Waited.

Waited for Ricky: who’d refined his lifestyle, and their marriage, to the point where he was a husband almost always somewhere else. A way of life he’d stopped apologizing for years and years ago: as a  “temporary” driving assignment—a big circle on Interstate highways through the Midwest—eventually became a “permanent” driving route that was carved in stone.

Ricky drove Ricky’s Route. Set in stone.

Pick any day on the calendar, in any month, or any year, and he could tell you what town he’d be in—what deliveries he’d be making—what truck stop breakfast he’d be eating. On the road almost continuously: because America needed “stuff”—“stuff” was in trucks—trucks had to keep moving—and trucks didn’t drive themselves, you know.

Cathy had received these Christmas Eve calls so consistently over the years that she guessed the bitterness of the whole situation had just drained away: to the point where she never considered anything drastic. Always just at home. Never going to Mexico on her own. Or even just South Padre Island, which she heard was a nice place to visit.

Someone really brazen and bitter and assertive might have told her husband to keep on driving, if that was what he wanted to do: booking herself into a singles weekend for seniors— slipping off her wedding band—squeezing into a new swimsuit that left just enough to the imagination—and maybe getting the sense, in some tropical paradise, that unattached men could be interested in her.

Cathy had never done that, and had never even thought of doing it.

Possibly showing a certain lack of imagination.

On the other hand, she was about to do something much more drastic than that. After being a little startled by what The Club was debating, she’d decided, once and for all, it would be the best thing for her, too—firm in her decision—and meeting with Dorothy about it soon.

 

Tonight, though, while Dorothy, Maggie, and Bib spent the holiday with their children and grandchildren—and Jill had gone to Miami to be with Roberto’s family—Cathy sat alone in her house.

Alone with her thoughts.

Alone with the four responses she’d received, so far, from the online dating site where she’d registered a few days before.

Cathy knew she was different from the other girls. She knew it, and she thought they probably knew it, too. For all the others (except maybe Jill) sex was like a kitchen gadget that they’d occasionally discovered at the back of a drawer. Definitely familiar to them, but not something they really had any use for at this point in their lives. After a quick look, they would toss it back where it had been, and forget about it. Putting it thoroughly out of their minds, in a way that Cathy would never be able to do.

The reason for that was simple. They hadn’t had the kind of lover you could never forget. They’d never felt the way she’d felt. Never known what she’d known.

And she remembered.

When Cathy was left alone, she was often left alone with those memories, even though she and Ricky were such different people now. Just by going to a bright room in her mind, she could savor the vivid sensations of being sixteen years old again.

Sixteen…and hungry.

Burning up, sometimes. Sometimes unable to sleep at night.

Burning with desire.

Wanting to be with Ricky. To be naked with him. To have him inside her.

The touch of his hand. The touch of his lips.

Such perfect moments. Such pure feelings.

None of that intimacy even long enough. Wanting time to stand still. Wanting to be nowhere else but with him.

Living with that day to day anticipation, she’d been desperate to open that secret world they made wherever they were—just the two of them—pulled into that flow of sensation so powerful it lifted away any kind of worries about the future.

She didn’t give a shit about how poorly she was doing in school.

She didn’t give a shit about what sort of job she might have, or how she’d make a living.

She didn’t give a shit about what the future might hold.

She knew that, in the locker rooms, boys talked about how much they wanted to have It. How they needed It. How they thought about It all the time.

They guessed that girls didn’t understand. But no one understood their point of view better than Cathy. She understood desire, if she understood anything at all.

They joked about girls they thought were “insatiable”, and Cathy knew she was on that list. Even during their stolen minutes of intimacy, Ricky couldn’t keep up with her. He needed twenty minutes to “reset”. She was ready to go again in twenty seconds. Her want matched his, and even went further: making him uncomfortable enough to joke about it, sometimes. Whine about it, a little.

He’d been rueful, and a little embarrassed, by the idea that she was ready for another round long before he was: to the point that she schooled herself to calm the waters by assuring him that he was “a perfect lover”.

A lover without peer—even though he was just a kid. Just seventeen.

She put in a lot of work building up his ego. The thing was: she wasn’t lying.

His skill, from the very beginning—from their first time—had been uncanny. Knowing exactly what to do, and exactly when to do it. Anticipating wishes she couldn’t describe to herself. Sweeping her away from her limited and dreary blue-collar life—and making all thought of the future irrelevant.

Until “the future” more or less took care of itself.

For the first twenty-eight days, she kept the news of her “big surprise” absolutely secret: to the point (again) where she’d found it hard to sleep, impossible to study, and almost completely lost her appetite. She assumed she was the only girl in Elsinore High who pulled off her underwear, each night, praying feverishly to see brown spots of blood.

The second time her monthly missed, she sought out Dorothy—sensible and level-headed Dorothy, who always seemed to know what to do—and they’d taken a walk, outside the building, while Cathy babbled and blubbered. Dorothy had been prepared for a serious topic of discussion—but she hadn’t been equipped to handle what seemed like a full-blown panic attack behind the stadium bleachers.

I seem to be making a habit of losing control of my body, Cathy had thought, as she panted and sobbed. She found herself unable to walk for a few minutes, as Dorothy sat with her and held her hand.

That talk had gone on for a long time—a lot longer than Dorothy thought it would. They missed class. People were starting to look for them. All the same, sensible and level-headed Dorothy didn’t have a magic bullet: just the same catastrophic scenarios that Cathy had come up with on her own.

 

At three months pregnant, Cathy’s body made it clear that a decision was required, and—unless she wanted to stick out her thumb next to the freeway ramp and take her chances—people were going to have to be told. Which turned out to be the beginning of what she thought of as Ricky’s “finest hour”. The time of their lives together when he’d fully earned what she was sure would be her enduring love.

The pinnacle of his life—his most heroic moments—were all before he was even old enough to drink.

It wasn’t just his eerie sense of calm that had inspired her. It was the sense that their secret world—the world that had been spun from what other people might call “animal” sensations—was real and permanent and stable. As far as Ricky was concerned, there was no question that what lay ahead was something they’d meet together. He’d been true to her. She’d been true to him. There was no question that the baby was his—so his first instinct had been to meet with Cathy’s father alone: man-to-man.

That plan terrified Cathy so much she’d started wondering what funeral home they’d send the body to. Ricky had laughingly dismissed the idea that her father would kill the kid who’d knocked her up—but Cathy had no problem imagining herself picking out a casket. She convinced the father of her child that it was best to sit down with both her parents, together, and—if it looked like Daddy was headed out of the living room, toward the gun case—both Cathy and her mother could at least slow him down long enough to allow Ricky to get out of the house.

Ricky had finally agreed to her plan—without agreeing to her fears.

“What’s done is done. We’re not going to get rid of it, so everything that means anything is ahead. We can expect them to be unhappy—”

“We can expect them to go ballistic—”

“But still: nothing else to do. They can’t change what’s happened.”

Cathy had laughed, a little bitterly: “I doubt they’re going to see it that way.”

They were people she’d known all her life. The first people she’d known in her life. She thought she knew how the discussion would go.

 

She thought she’d prepared for the worst—when “the worst” turned out to be so much more grinding, and awful, than anything she could have imagined. Hearing her mother swear at her, virtually non-stop (some of the most poisonous language Cathy had ever heard) was not what she’d expected, let alone her mother stopping in front of the couch and slapping Cathy right across the face before Ricky could move to stop her.

Tough stuff. Almost unbearable. Only Ricky’s hand in hers had kept Cathy from running out of the room, and maybe heading for the freeway after all.

And yet her mother’s venom had been just a prologue to the truly unbearable: as Cathy had watched her father silently shrink into himself. A man she’d loved with all her heart—who’d been proud and pleased with her all her life—someone she’d never wanted to hurt in any way. In just a matter of a few minutes, before her eyes, he closed himself off from her, and she saw him visibly grow smaller: saying almost nothing, as—for the first time in her life—she’d seen tears rolling down her father’s cheeks.

Tears of her own manufacture.

Tears that belonged to her.

Her mother’s belief (the beginning of their permanent estrangement) had been that Cathy had killed her father that night: the same as if she had plunged a kitchen knife into his heart. The bitterness began, and endured, and and surfaced in a thousand ways. Right up to the graveside. After the handfuls of earth had been sifted on the lid of her father’s coffin, the last words Cathy ever heard from her mother had been short and searing: “Happy now?”. Then the older woman had stalked fiercely away, without saying anything more—while Ricky had braced his arm around his wife’s shoulders and whispered a lot of things: trying to make it better.

Through all of that, Ricky had been calm, cool, mature, and fully grounded. Not backing down in front of her folks. The only one of the four of them looking forward to the future at all.

He’d have his diploma before the baby arrived, he said. A job would follow. A good one. He’d make it work. He wasn’t the kind of guy who’d bail when the going got tough. Everybody could count on him.

All of which had proved to be so amazingly true.

He was on time for the marriage paperwork at the County Clerk’s office—and spent his own money to make his basement bedroom comfortable during the couple of years they had to live down there, being broke so much of the time.

After months of checking her underwear for hopeful signs of blood, the blood—when it had arrived—appeared with a vengeance. Ricky’s wife for only a couple of months, there’d been so much blood, with no warning at all, that Cathy was sure she was dying. Blood in the bedroom. Blood in the car. Blood all over the Emergency Room, and—finally—blood in a bag hanging above her after the doctor and nurses got everything back under control.

Once again, Ricky there. Ricky patient, and strong. Never leaving her side: ready, steady, and hopeful. Holding her hand—serious, sober, and loving—as the doctor carefully explained that she could probably get pregnant as often as she liked, but the odds that she would ever carry a child to term were very long.

She was set up to begin a baby. But never to finish one.

From there, the man in the white lab coat behind the desk had begun a speech maybe delivered many times: about the hundreds of children waiting to be adopted by loving parents. During that speech the voice she’d been listening to had been the doctor’s—but the face she’d been watching had been Ricky’s: where she could see that her husband’s “finest hour” might be coming to a close.

Ricky wasn’t going to adopt. He didn’t want “somebody else’s mistake”. At the same time (during their pillow conversation the very same night) repeating that he loved her, and didn’t want a divorce. There were plenty of people happily married, without children, and there were more important things for them to take care of just then. Get their finances in shape, so they could get out of his parents’ house and start living their own lives? Get better cars. Maybe buy a house of their own.

It all made sense at the time. No one would give an adoptive baby to a couple of penniless teenagers. And they could revisit the idea of kids when times got better.

Which they did, in one sense—while, in another sense, things started to get lost.

 

Ricky passed his CDL and went on the road. Cathy got a job spraying disinfectant into bowling shoes, and—with the curtain rung down on the only grand drama their lives would know—Cathy would begin watching what other people knew as “life” pass in front of her. Watching smart kids leave town: to start bigger, and better, lives somewhere else. Watching her married friends from school deliver children—build families—settle in—plant gardens—plan family vacations. Most importantly, watching the incandescent sex that had been the foundation of her bond with her husband—the secret world she’d treasured so much—growing smaller and dimmer and farther away, year by year.

The balance of their feelings couldn’t stay the same, since, year by year, their marriage became less and less about simple proximity.

The money is out there, Ricky said. The more time he spent on the road, the bigger his income got, while he wasn’t alarmed at all by her observation that he’d started to build a whole other life for himself out there. A “brotherhood of the highway”: more real than his wife and house, because that was where he spent most of his time.

Although he never came right out and said it, Ricky often felt younger and more free behind the wheel. And it wasn’t as though Cathy needed him for much of anything. She’d always been a feisty kind of character. She had her job (managing the bowling alley, now), and her friends. Her house. Her garden.

According to Ricky—and according to Cathy, too—her life had worked out better than she could have guessed: considering how defiant and short-sighted she’d been as a teen. Elsinore being the kind of town where “everybody knows everything”, she knew plenty of people with more intelligence, and higher hopes, who’d crashed and burned. Married, but not together anymore. Jumping from job to job—nothing ever really working out. Other people who were victims of terrible, random diseases—or caught up in addictions.

Nothing really terrible had happened to her since that terrible night, when she’d lost her father to heartbreak, and her mother to terminal anger—all for the sake of a child who’d never been born.

After that plunge into confusion, her life had been still, and calm.

Nothing terrible or catastrophic: just sitting in an empty, silent house on Christmas Eve, waiting for Ricky to call from one of his regular stops, outside Chicago.

 

That call didn’t happen until almost eleven, and Ricky began—as he usually did—with some sort of apology about something.

“Sorry about the hour, baby, but there was an accident on the road in Ohio, and then some guys wanted to hit the buffet here, and they didn’t want to wait, so turkey and dressing here.”

“Was it any good?”

She could feel him shrug through the phone: “Steam tray food. Nothing like eating at home...but...um...at least you don’t have to clean up after me.”

Cathy smiled at the idea that he thought he might be doing her a favor by being hundreds of miles away at Christmas.

“I’d still rather have you here. Even if it was just TV dinners.”

“Well, America needs stuff, and we got to salt away our nuts before Social Security kicks in. Then I guess we’ll see how you feel about having me around all the time.”

He said this only half-jokingly. Cathy knew that the road was his life, and he was probably planning on dying at the wheel. They both knew it, in fact. To the point where it wasn’t worth talking about: and the rest of the their annual holiday conversation followed the same old script for about five minutes—with the usual background roar from the parking lot of a busy truck stop.

It was in the middle of a pause—when the two old married people had run out of things to say to each other—that there was the unmistakable sound of the distant cab door opening and closing. Then a kind of commotion before Cathy heard a woman’s voice.

“Who you talkin’ to Ricky?”

A Southern girl. Probably not a graduate of one of the Ivy League schools. A hillbilly, by the sound of it.

And not just one. Someone else getting into the cab thought this question was funny, and her laughter got picked up as well.

Ricky’s voice took on some urgency: “Cathy! Cathy! Can you still hear me? Can you still hear me OK? Sounds like you’re breaking up!”

Cathy played along—because it was just too much work not to.

“Ricky? Ricky, are you still there?”

“Yeah...yeah...still here babe. That was weird.”

“That was weird. You couldn’t hear me for a second?”

“You were breaking up—and it sounded like we got into the middle of someone else’s call.”

Someone else named Ricky, Cathy thought. Now there’s a coincidence.

“Maybe I’ll call the phone company, and ask them how that kind of thing happens.”

Ricky didn’t agree with that suggestion, of course: “Well, technology. What can you do?”

“Right, what can you do?”

What can you do except lie your head off, Cathy thought. But the old guy can sure think on his feet—and he’s about to get something special for Christmas, after all.

 

The “call from the road” trailed off, after that, and—after the ritual “Miss You’s!”—Cathy saw an update on her computer screen that suggested someone else might be alone on the eve of the Feast of the Nativity.

A fifth man had answered her dating site profile: bringing the score so far to four prospects in Oklahoma City, and one in Tulsa.

Not bad looking, this new one, if the picture was accurate. He liked fishing, and fast cars, and said he was divorced—which might, or might not, be true.

The men were out there. No question about that.

Magda had emphasized that the Club’s cruise in September would be “singles only”. With the right kind of swimsuit, and the right kind of attitude, Cathy was sure she could see some action on that trip. That kind of travel would certainly have its advantages. You fucked the cruise away, and then never had to see someone again.

But a little fling on a “love boat” would never replace dating.

A girl couldn’t be cruising all the time, and—when Cathy started thinking seriously about a singles lifestyle—she understood that she’d have to start thinking seriously about leaving Elsinore. It was a little drastic, but she was coming around to the idea that, after Ricky’s funeral, she might try telling the realtor to offer the house with all the furniture and appliances included: moving on without boxes, or baggage.

Starting fresh.

Now that two of the husbands were in the ground, the five-way split meant that money wouldn’t be a concern. If she could figure out a city where the men were willing and ready, she’d want new closets to hold new clothes—and new furniture in a new place. And a new car, of course. Something wildly impractical.

She could be the person she could never be in her hometown: flying high, without looking back.


© Copyright 2019 churchmouse. All rights reserved.

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