The Errant Husband

The Errant Husband image 3
The Errant Husband
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Verna Donlen was forty-four but when she looked in the mirror she saw the face of a much younger, still-attractive woman. It’s true she was overweight and she had genetically thinning hair, but she had bought two expensive mail-order wigs—one ash blonde and the other henna—and they looked just as good as her real hair.

She always believed in fixing herself up when she went out. She wore good clothes and when she saw women dressed in what looked like ugly castoffs, she felt sorry for them and was glad she wasn’t that sort. She believed in dignity, if nobody else did, and she thought that appropriateness in attire was more important than comfort. When you’re at home, you can be comfortable. When you’re out among people, you need to look as good as you can.

Her husband always looked good because he was a salesman; looking his best was part of the job. He had a whole closet full of sports jackets, suits, shirts, ties and expensive shoes. He had all these things, that is, before he moved out and took everything with him. She hadn’t seen him for six months, going on a year. Sometimes she went into his bedroom and looked in the empty closet and at the blankness where his bed and dresser used to be and she wondered where he was and what he was doing.

He had thinning hair too, but when he was in his late thirties he spent a lot of money on a toupee. After he had worn the toupee for a while, he found it satisfactory enough to buy another one in a different style, and then another one. It was the toupees, Verna speculated, that made him irresistible to women and led to his finding the “other woman” that he wanted to spend his old age with. Her name was Linda and she had two teen boys and very large breasts.

It was Thursday afternoon and Verna was going downtown to do some shopping. She wore a two-piece, heather-green wool suit and brown, low-heeled, dressy shoes that were comfortable for walking, and carried the purse to match. She also wore the henna-colored wig, which she always wore in the daytime, saving the ash blonde wig for more formal, nighttime occasions.

The first stop was the supermarket. The parking lot was crowded, as usual, but she found a good spot close to the front that somebody had just vacated. She went inside, feeling a little intimidated, as always, by the vastness of the store and the number of people, but she took a deep breath, got her shopping cart and forged ahead.

Since she only had herself to shop for now, she was never sure what to buy. She was a little too fond of bread and desserts for her own good, so she veered away from them, toward the canned vegetables, meat and fresh produce. She bought a few fresh vegetables and a small cut of beef for a stew, a pound of bacon, some cans of corn and beets, and before she was finished she stopped by the bakery department and bought a half-dozen donuts and a loaf of wheat bread for toast.

When she finished shopping, she took her place in line behind all the other people at the checkout, and that’s when she saw them come into the supermarket: her husband, Gerald, and his big-breasted girlfriend, Linda. They had their arms around each other’s waists. They were smiling and looked happy. Gerald was wearing the slick toupee that made him look ten years younger. He looked slimmer, somehow, and healthy. Linda was good for him.

They took a cart and melded into the crowd.

Verna felt her heart give a lurch at seeing the two of them together and looking good. She thought she was completely over Gerald, but her hands were shaking and her mouth dry. She hoped she would be able to get out of the store before Gerald and Linda saw her. She was the spurned wife, the laughable fool, the fodder for jokes and innuendo. She felt exposed, vulnerable, as if she might start crying uncontrollably.

One comforting thought came to her while she waited in line to pay, and that was that Gerald and Linda wouldn’t be able to marry as long as Gerald was married to her. Gerald had never asked her for a divorce. He had never attempted to contact her since they had separated. She didn’t matter, she supposed. Gerald and Linda had both decided she was completely inconsequential. They could go ahead with their plans, whatever they might be, despite her.

Finally her turn came at the cash register. She moved her items from the cart to the conveyor belt without any sensation in her arms. She wondered if she would be able to pay and get out of the store before she was sick or before she passed out on the floor. She looked behind her nervously to see if she could spot Gerald and Linda in line. If they were there, she would pretend she hadn’t seen them and would get out of the store as fast as she could.

She was glad to see that her favorite bagboy, the one named Jeffrey, was working. He had the sweetest smile and was never sullen the way some of the young ones were. He seemed to genuinely like his job, which in itself was unusual.

He bagged up her groceries expertly and put the bags in the cart.

“How are you today, Jeffrey?” she asked, not certain if her voice sounded the way it was supposed to.

“I’m just fine, Mrs. Donlen! How are you?”

She knew his name from his name tag, but she didn’t know how he knew hers.

“I’m fine, too,” she said.

She walked behind him, out of the store to the parking lot, admiring his straight, youthful body and his rounded, high buttocks and broad shoulders.

She came to her car and unlocked the trunk and stood back and watched as he transferred the bags from the shopping cart to her car.

“Do you have an exciting weekend planned, Jeffrey?” she asked.

“Oh, no. I have to work Saturday and Sunday, but I’ll have the next weekend off. We live for those days off, don’t we?”

She laughed appreciatively. “I’ll bet you have lots of friends, don’t you?”

“Sure.”

“Still live with your parents?”

“Oh, no. I’m twenty-two now. Time to be out on my own. I have my own apartment in the city.”

“Good for you!”

“Well, if there’s nothing else, Mrs. Donlen, I have to get back inside.” He swung the shopping cart around deftly with one hand.

“Just a minute, Jeffrey.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a five-dollar-bill and handed it to him.

“Oh, no, ma’am!” he said. “I can’t take that! I’m only doing my job.”

“But you do it so well I want to give you a tip.”

“Well, I do thank you, ma’am, but it’s not necessary.”

He blushed becomingly and hurried back inside.

As Verna left the supermarket parking lot and entered the heavy flow of traffic on the street, her hands shook and she felt weak and disoriented. She wasn’t sure if she remembered how to get home. She wasn’t sure if she had her purse with her or if she had left it in the store.

While she was wondering whether she should go back and look for her purse, she ran through a red light at a busy intersection. Her car was struck by a pickup truck on the left front side; it went spinning around in the intersection and came to rest on the sidewalk. She never saw the truck that collided with her car.

She was unconscious for two days and when she regained consciousness in the hospital, she couldn’t remember the collision. She had neck and head injuries and her left arm was broken, but the doctors believed she would make a full recovery.

She lay on her back in her hospital bed, heavily medicated, barely able to move. It was morning, she could tell, from the light that came in at the window. There was usually a nurse or an attendant in the room with her, but she was aware of being alone when the door opened and two people came in, a man and a woman. She squinted toward them but they were just a blur.

When the man spoke to ask how she was feeling, she knew from his voice that it was Gerald. If it was Gerald, the woman with him had to be Linda As they came closer to the bed, she could see their inquiring eyes and the teeth in their smiling mouths. They had come to torment her and make trouble for her. They were devilish imps encircling her bed.

She turned her face away from them and closed her eyes and groaned.

“For God’s sake, go away and leave me alone!” she said. “I know what you’re going to say and I don’t want to hear it!”

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

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