The Spring He Built the Garage ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Richard Eddington served in the navy in World War II. When the war ended and he received his discharge in 1945, he didn’t have much reason for wanting to go home. His mother and brother were both dead. His father moved to Texas to marry a woman he hardly knew. There was no other family.
He had been a radio man in the navy. Radios were the big thing after the war. There was at least one radio in every home and the damn things were always breaking. People would pay good money to a repairman who could keep them in working order.
While readjusting to civilian life, Richard rented a room in a boarding house and landed a job in a shoe-company warehouse. It wasn’t much of a job, but it would keep him afloat while he took night classes in radio repair.
After a year of classes, he received his diploma. It meant more to him than his high school diploma because he put a lot more effort into it. When he went for his first job interview in a radio-repair shop, the old man who owned the place gave him a broken radio and told him to do what he could with it. He fixed the radio in just a few minutes and the old man offered him a job as counter man, meaning he had to wait on customers in addition to the repairs he did.
Business picked up at the radio shop. The old man increased Richard’s pay two times in a year. When the old man broke his hip and could no longer work and had to give up the business, he offered to sell the shop to Richard for three thousand dollars. Richard went to the bank and, because of his steady employment record and his honorable service in the navy, got a loan for enough money to buy the shop and also to buy a small, five-room, frame house on a pleasant street in town. He bought a used car with money from the nickel-and-dime bank account he had had since he was twelve years old, and soon he was a regular tax-paying, going-to-work-every-day, small-business-owner living in his own home.
He modernized the business, buying new fixtures, painting the walls and adding a line of big and small radios for sale. Business doubled and then tripled. Richard hired a full-time salesman, another repairman, and a girl to do the books and handle invoices. For the first time in his life he was “somebody” instead of “nobody.”
The girl was one Delores O’Dare. She smoked a lot of cigarettes and was quietly efficient, keeping to her work until time to go home. When any of the fellows around the shop tried to flirt with her, she gave them the brush-off.
Richard was shy and had never been much of a ladies’ man. He had a girlfriend or two in high school but could never be serious about them. They only wanted to get married and have babies, and that kind of responsibility scared him off. When he asked Delores O’Dare out to have a hamburger with him after work, he was surprised when she not only accepted but seemed pleased to be asked.
He told her about his time in the war, his family and his plans for the radio shop. She listened politely to everything he said without seeming bored or impatient. He found himself opening up to her in a way he had never done before with another person. Before he knew it, three hours had gone by. When it was time to leave, he offered to take her home, but she said she was fine on her own.
Richard and Delores began seeing each other regularly. She told him her secrets just as he had told her his. She was married at seventeen and divorced at eighteen. Her two brothers were both killed in the war; the younger brother was still missing in action and presumed dead. She lived with her parents to keep from living alone, but it wasn’t a happy situation. Her mother wasn’t right in the head and never had been. Her father was disabled and never stopped complaining because that’s about all he felt like doing. When Delores saved a little money, she planned on getting herself a little apartment and getting off by herself where she could have some peace and quiet.
After three months, Richard asked Delores to marry him and she surprised him by accepting. They obtained their license and were married by a justice of the peace a hundred miles away from home and spent a three-day honeymoon in a cabin at a lake resort. Neither of them fished or swam, so after they admired the scenery they were ready to go back home.
Delores brought with her to the little five-room house a double-bed, a dresser, a couch and a kitchen table and chairs. She hung curtains in every room, including the bathroom, and in a little while it seemed like a real home. Richard expected they would wait a few months and have a baby, but Delores told him she had had an infection when she was younger and was unable to bear children. He was a little disappointed that he would never be a father, but he thought they might consider adoption a little later on when they were more settled.
Richard and Delores went to work together every day and were together all day long in the shop. They went home together, ate dinner and slept together in the same bed. They were together every minute of every day and night. Richard accepted this as the natural order of things, but after a year Delores began to show signs of restlessness and moodiness. She began drinking to excess; she told Richard she didn’t like working in the shop anymore and wanted to quit. He’d need to hire himself another girl to keep the books.
He thought it best to indulge her, at least for the short term. Every morning when he left for work, she was still sleeping, having stayed up half the night sitting at the kitchen table, reading magazines, smoking cigarettes and listening to the radio. He would give her a month or so of doing what she wanted at home and then he was sure she would want to return to the shop.
The drinking became worse. On Saturday when they went to the store to buy food for the week, she loaded up the cart with beer, wine and whiskey. When he asked her why she drank so much, she said drinking was the only thing that calmed her nerves and made her feel like getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other.
“A person who drinks every day is an alcoholic,” he said.
“What of it?” she said. “I come from a long line of them.”
“I want you to see the doctor and tell him what’s going on with you.”
“I don’t need a doctor. I’m not sick. Maybe you’re the one that needs the doctor.”
“I didn’t know I was marrying a drunk.”
“There’s nothing wrong with drinking. If you weren’t such an old stick, you’d drink too. To keep me company.”
She began going out at night. After a hurried supper, she’d go into the bedroom and put on one of her best dresses, spend an hour or so in front of the mirror doing up her face and hair, and leave without a word. He never knew if she’d be back by morning. Some nights he had the feeling he’d never seen her again.
During one of her sober periods, he talked to her about adopting a baby, or maybe two, but she laughed and said it was the worst idea she ever heard. The last thing in the world she wanted was to raise somebody else’s brats.
He stopped sharing the bed with her and started sleeping in the back bedroom. He moved his clothes out of the closet and the drawers and lived as separate from her as he could in such a small house. He tried not to notice her comings and goings. When he heard her come in in the middle of the night or toward morning, he would refuse to look at the clock. He didn’t want to know what time it was. He told himself he didn’t care.
He thought about seeing a lawyer to file for divorce, but he could see she was on a downward spiral to her own destruction and he knew that he was the only person in the world who might help her, if only he knew how.
One Sunday morning after a late Saturday night, she cooked breakfast for him and sat down opposite him at the table while he ate it. The kitchen was full of her cigarette smoke and he could smell what she had been drinking the night before.
“I’m in love with someone else,” she said. “I want a divorce.”
“I don’t even know you,” he said.
“We need money so we can go away together.”
“If you leave, I want you to promise me you’ll never come back,” he said.
He gave her seventeen hundred dollars, which was all the money he had on hand. “That’s the last you’ll ever get from me,” he said.
He expected every day that she would leave, and would have been glad to see her go, but she didn’t go. Two weeks later she was still sleeping all day and staying away all night. One day when he came home from work in the middle of the afternoon, he heard her crying behind the closed bedroom door. He pushed open the door without knocking.
She was lying on the bed on her back in her slip. There was blood all over the bed and the floor.
“What’s this?” he said. “What’s happened?”
“Sit down,” she said.
“I don’t want to sit down! I want to know why you’re covered in blood!”
“I had an abortion.”
“You had a…”
“Something went wrong.”
“You’re bleeding to death! I’m calling an ambulance!”
“No! I don’t want anybody to know what I did!”
“I can’t just let you lie there and bleed to death!”
“No, it’s what I want. It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time.”
“To bleed to death?”
“Just sit and hold my hand.”
He sat down on the bed; she took his hand in hers and wouldn’t let go.
“I know I’ve been a terrible wife to you,” she said. “I’ve been so awful. So mean and unfair. I hope someday you’ll forgive me.”
“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I’m going to get some help.”
“No! I don’t want you to leave me!”
She drifted in and out of consciousness. Her breathing slowed and then stopped altogether. She died at ten o’clock that night in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Richard called the radio shop the next morning and told Vic, the salesman, that he was going to take the rest of the week off and they would have to manage the best they could without him.
“Everything here under control,” Vic said.
Richard wrapped Delores’s body in sheets and canvas and put it, temporarily, underneath the stairs in the cellar. The official story, if anybody asked, was that she went away to pursue a different kind of life. He didn’t know where she went or how to reach her. She didn’t want to be reached but wanted only to be left alone.
He called the police and filed a missing person’s report. A couple of officers came to the house and asked some questions. Was it a happy marriage? Did the wife show signs of discontent? Had she ever talked about leaving? Was there any reason to suspect foul play? The officers seemed satisfied with the answers they received and went on their way.
Richard had always wanted to build a garage in back of his house and now was the time. He went to city hall and got the building permit and then ordered the materials, which were promptly delivered. Doing all the work himself, he built a handsome brick garage with a thick concrete floor in about six weeks.
More than sixty years later, the little five-room house where Richard lived was torn down, as were all the surrounding houses, to make way for a new highway extension. While Richard’s garage was being dismantled, the skeletal remains of a female were found interred in the concrete floor. The police, naturally, wanted to know who the female was and how she came to be there. As the property owner, Richard would, of course, have been the person to answer these questions, but he had moved on to a happier existence and was no longer available for comment.
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp