Never Mix, Never Worry (I Was Dancing and I Was Ridiculous) ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(I posted a different version of this story previously.)
They were out all night and didn’t get home until after dawn. Honey was sick from too much to drink and went right to bed. Nick slept on the couch in the living room, slept the morning away, and didn’t wake up until the middle of the afternoon. When he awoke, he had a terrible headache that he hadn’t been aware of while he slept. He wasn’t sure if his body was going to allow him to get up, but after a while he pulled himself to a standing position, head reeling, and went into the kitchen.
Honey was sitting at the table reading a book. She had a cup of tea beside her; she always said tea with lemon settled her stomach. When Nick came into the room, she didn’t look at him but concentrated on her book.
“Hello, Honey,” Nick said, going up behind her and affectionately putting his hands on her shoulders close to her neck. She flinched and leaned forward; he took his hands away as from a hot stove.
“What a night!” he said with a little laugh. “Whew! I feel like eating something but when I think about what I might eat I think I’m going to puke.”
She marked her place in the book, closed it, and laid it aside. “Want me to fix you scrambled eggs?” she asked.
Nick groaned. “I can’t stand the thought of eggs.” He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. “Don’t we have any bacon?”
“I haven’t been to the market yet. I was planning on going today but I don’t think I’m up to it.”
He poured himself a glass of orange juice and sat down at the table across from her. “Can somebody please tell me what happened last night?” he said.
“You haven’t asked me how I feel,” she said.
“How do you feel?”
“Lousy. I feel lousy.”
“Were you able to stop the vomiting?” he asked, pulling downward on his face with both hands as if trying to pull it into shape.
“Yes, a person can only vomit so much. I’ve stopped for now, but I don’t dare eat anything. I think it’s going to take several days for me to feel right again.”
“Do you want me to fix you some toast? Do we even have any bread?”
“No, if I eat anything, I’ll vomit again.”
“We need to talk about last night,” she said.
“Not now, Honey,” he said. “I don’t really feel like a serious discussion at the moment. And, really, I think it’s better if we don’t talk about last night at all. Don’t you agree?”
“Better for you, you mean,” she said.
“I’m going to take a shower,” he said, standing up. “If you feel better later, we’ll go out and get some chicken or something.”
“Maybe I need to talk now!” she said in an insistent voice that made him stop in his tracks.
“Talk about what, Honey?”
“I humiliated myself last night.”
“You didn’t! You didn’t do anything the rest of us didn’t do.”
“I was dancing and I was ridiculous.”
“We were all dancing. It was all in good fun.”
“Then why do I feel so humiliated today?”
“You’re tired and you’re overly sensitive.”
“Don’t talk down to me!”
“I don’t mean to…”
“I’m humiliated. I drank bourbon and scotch. Not together, but one after the other.”
“That isn’t anything to be humiliated about. We were all drinking. It was a drinking party. We’re all grownups. Grownups get to drink as much as they want. That’s what it means to be a grownup.”
“Yes, but you know my one steadfast rule: Never mix, never worry. Well, I mixed and I’m paying the price.”
“Honey, nobody’s perfect,” he said. “We all have little lapses.”
“Stop treating me as if I were a child!”
“Why don’t you go back to bed? You can stay there all day and I’ll wait on you. How will that be? If there’s anything you’d like to have to eat, I’ll go and buy it.”
“The faculty party was bad enough, but after that was over we couldn’t just go home and go to bed and quit while we were ahead the way any two normal people would. No, we had to go to an after-party party.”
“Yeah, I admit it was a mistake,” he said. “I wish we had never gone.”
“Then why did we?”
“She’s the daughter of the president of the college and he’s a senior professor in the English department.”
“The history department.”
“It never hurts to cozy up to the entrenched people. They’ve both been around a long time. They’re part of the landscape. She’s daughter of the president of the college, for Christ’s sake!”
“You’re thinking of your career, of course.”
“Well, one does what one can to get ahead.”
“Just once I wish you would give the same consideration to me that you give your career.”
“Honey, that’s absurd,” he said. “There’s no comparison.”
“Well, I’m glad you admit it!”
“That isn’t what I meant!”
“A night like last night causes me to question my entire existence.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are we going to spend our lives hobnobbing with disgusting people just so you can get ahead in your career?”
“Because I’m telling you, Nick, I don’t want to live that way.”
“It was just one party.”
“You can find out a lot from one party.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“If those people, that George and his wife Martha, are representative of the life in this college, then I don’t want any part of it. The way they tear each other apart is indecent. And when they’re finished attacking each other they go after whoever happens to be present at the moment. Just being in their presence makes you feel degraded.”
“You’ve been reading too many books.”
“Did you know he called me ‘angel boobs’?”
He laughed. “Yeah, I think I heard that,” he said.
“And ‘monkey nipples’.”
“He really called you ‘monkey nipples’? I didn’t hear that. When did he call you that?”
“When you were doing your provocative dance with that horrible woman.”
“He was making a joke! You ought to be able to take a joke! You’re not a child!”
“How can you stand by and do nothing when a strange man calls your wife filthy names?”
She began to cry. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulder. “You take things too seriously, Honey.”
“How would you like it if he called you those names?”
“I think I might have punched him in the nose!”
“But it’s all right when it’s me?”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“I can never face those two again,” she said. “I vomited all over their bathroom. It was as if they saw me without my clothes.”
“You were just being human, Honey. It happens to the best of us.”
“How can we live here and you teach here when I feel so uncomfortable?”
“It’s just something you’re going to have to get over.”
“I don’t think I can. I want you to start looking for another position right away. If not today, then tomorrow.”
“But, Honey, we just got here! Do you know how hard it was for me to get this job?”
“I don’t care! If you have as much regard for me as you do for your career, we’ll leave right away!”
“Honey, that’s so unreasonable! You can’t be serious!”
“I have never been more serious in my life.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We’re here and we’re going to stay.” He picked her book up off the table and threw it hard against the far wall, not because he was so angry but because he wanted to make a point.
“I can always leave on my own,” she said. “I don’t necessarily need you.”
“Fine. Go home to your mother. Tell her what a mistake it was to marry me.”
“I want to know what happened between you and that woman, that Martha, while I was passed out.”
“Nothing happened! What do you mean?”
“I’m not as stupid as you obviously think I am. I heard them talking about it afterwards.”
“Heard who talking?”
“George and Martha. They thought I was still passed out, but I was just lying there, fully awake, with my eyes closed. I heard the words stud and houseboy. They were talking about you! Were you a stud or were you a houseboy?”
“I didn’t hear any such thing, so I don’t know what you mean.”
“How are you going to face them again?”
“I don’t think I’ll see them again until the next faculty party and that probably won’t be for several months. Everything that happened last night will be forgotten by then.”
“Well, I can tell you right now I’m not going to any more faculty parties.”
“What do I say when people ask me where my wife is? She’s too squeamish for university life? She throws up a lot and can’t stand to be teased a little bit?”
“I don’t care what you tell people. It’s your career, not mine.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m going away tonight.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll think of something.”
She stood up from the table and went upstairs.
“I’m hungry,” he said to the empty chair where Honey had sat. “I’m going to see what I can find to eat.”
A little bit of humoring would bring Honey around. She would never leave him. She was too dependent on him. He’d finesse her, just the way he finessed everybody. He’d cajole her, buy her a new coat or a piece of jewelry and everything would be fine. She needed to get out more and meet more people. If she happened to meet a young fellow, a handsome athletic type, who wouldn’t mind romancing her, so much the better. Nick would encourage it. Casual infidelity was all part of the game. The sooner she realized it, the better off she’d be.
And as for Martha, she wasn’t half-bad. A little bit gone to seed, but obviously with a few good years left in her. If she really liked Nick—and he would give her every reason to like him—she could help him in ways he hadn’t yet imagined. Of all the pertinent wives he might plow to further his career, the daughter of the university president had to be the most pertinent. And what could he do for her? He could make her feel good, make her feel young again. Remind her, if she had been inclined to forget, what it’s like to be with a real man.
He started to make himself a sandwich but then stopped what he was doing and went to the phone and picked up the receiver. He looked over his shoulder to make sure Honey wasn’t in earshot and then he dialed Martha’s number, which he had committed to memory. He let it ring twelve times and was about to hang up when she answered.
“Hello,” she said.
“Martha?” he said.
“Yeah, who is this?”
“Nick? I don’t know any Nick.”
“Nick from last night?
“Oh, yeah! You woke me up, you bastard!”
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you are! Tell that little slim-hipped wife of yours she vomited all over my downstairs bathroom last night. Nobody can stand to go in there today. I ought to make the little twit get her ass over here and get down on her hands and knees and clean it all up.”
“She’s not feeling very well today.”
“Got a hangover, huh?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, what can I do for you, lover boy? It’s Sunday, you know.”
“Is your husband at home?”
“No, he’s at school. Even on Sunday the old bastard goes to the old salt mines, just to get away from little old me.”
“I was wondering if we might get together today. You know, just the two of us.”
“My goodness! You are an eager beaver, aren’t you?”
“I had a really nice time last night.”
“So did I, lover boy. What did you say your name is again?”
“Nick. The stud. Remember.”
“Sure, baby, I remember! Who could forget?”
“So what time can I come over?”
“Make it about an hour.”
“And when you get here, you can clean up the vomit in the downstairs bathroom.”
“What about my wife?”
“You can drop her down a well as far as I’m concerned.”
After he hung up the phone, he had the distinct impression that Honey had been listening in on the upstairs extension. He was sure she took down every word in her secretarial shorthand. She would use it in a court of law during the divorce proceeding.
He crept to the bottom of the stairs and looked up. Not a sound came from Honey’s bedroom. He went halfway up the stairs and stopped, as if afraid to go the rest of the way.
“Honey!” he called. “I just remembered some work I have to get done today in my office at school! I’m going to be gone for a couple of hours. When I come home, I’ll bring you a cheeseburger and a milkshake. How does that sound? Bye-bye!”
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp