Never Mix, Never Worry ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
They were out all night and didn’t get home until after dawn. Honey was still feeling ill and went right to bed. So as not to disturb her, Nick slept on the couch in the living room. When he woke up at two in the afternoon, he had a terrible headache. He thought he was going to lose the contents of his stomach, whatever was still there, but he held himself very still for a while, lying flat on his back, and soon he felt well enough to get up and go into the kitchen.
Honey was sitting at the table reading a book. She had a cup of tea beside her; she never drank coffee. When Nick came into the room, she didn’t look at him but concentrated very hard on the page she was reading.
“Hello, Honey,” Nick said, going up behind her and putting his hands on her shoulders close to her neck. Instead of warming to his touch, though, she seemed to shrink from it. She did her best to ignore him.
“What a night!” he said with a little laugh. “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. “Do you want me to fix you some eggs?” she asked.
Nick groaned. “I can’t stand the thought of eggs,” he said. He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. “Don’t we have some peaches or tomatoes or something?”
“I haven’t been to the market yet,” she said. “I was planning on going today but I don’t think I feel like it.”
He poured himself a glass of orange juice, pulled out the chair 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 vomiting?” He ran his hand over his face as though trying to pull it into shape.
“Yes, I’ve stopped for now, but I don’t dare put anything on my stomach. I think it’s going to take me several days at least to feel right again.”
“How about some toast? That might make you feel better.”
“The thought of solid food right now makes me feel ill.”
“We need to talk about last night,” she said.
“Not now, Honey,” he said. “I don’t feel like a deep discussion at the moment. And, anyway, I think the least that’s said about what went on last night the better it will be for both of us.”
“Better for you, you mean,” she said.
“I’m going to take a bath,” he said. “Maybe later we’ll go out for chicken or something if you’re feeling up to it.”
“Don’t try to change the subject,” she said.
“What subject is that?”
“We were talking about last night.”
“You were talking about last night.”
“I feel humiliated.”
“There’s no reason,” he said. “You didn’t do anything.”
“I drank bourbon and scotch. Not together, but one after the other.”
“That’s nothing to be humiliated about.”
“My one steadfast rule is ‘never mix, never worry’,” she said. “Well, I mixed, and I paid the price. I’m still paying the price.”
“Honey, nobody’s perfect,” he said. “We all have little lapses.”
“Don’t take that tone with me!” she said.
“You’re patronizing me!”
“Why don’t you go back to bed and stay there until you feel all right again? You can stay there all day if you want to and I’ll wait on you. How will that be? Anything you want to eat I’ll go and buy.”
“You’re still doing it!”
“Maybe it would be best if we didn’t try to talk right now. Not until we’re both feeling better.”
“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, “and I wish we had never done it.”
“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 very long time.”
“You’re thinking of your career, of course.”
“Well, one does what one can to get ahead.”
“Just once I wish you would give me the same consideration 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?”
“It was when you were doing your provocative dance with that horrible woman.”
“He was teasing you! It was just all in good fun.”
“Well, deliberate cruelty isn’t my idea of good fun.”
“Yeah, things did sort of get out of hand, didn’t they?”
“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 are we going to live here and you have your career here when I feel so uncomfortable?”
“It’s just something you’ll have to get over.”
“I don’t think I can. I want you to resign your position first thing tomorrow morning and I want us both to leave this place.”
“Honey, do you know what you’re saying? Do you know how hard it was for me to get this job?”
“You’ll get another one. I want to go.”
“Well, we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We’re going to stay here.” He picked her book up off the table and threw it against the far wall to let her know he meant business.
“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 for you 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 have to 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 anymore faculty parties.”
“What am I supposed to say when people ask me where my wife is? Do I say 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 life, not mine.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m going away tonight.”
“Where are you going?”
“Away from here.” She got up from the table and went into the bedroom and closed the door.
“I’m hungry,” he said to himself. “Let’s see what we can find to eat.”
He wasn’t especially worried about Honey leaving him. He knew she was still naïve in many ways. She still didn’t know how the game was played, but she would learn if she was given the chance and took it. He would humor her. His own father would have broken his mother’s jaw and slammed her into the wall, but he, Nick, wasn’t like that. He would finesse his way through this problem, if it really was a problem, the same way he finessed his way through everything else.
As he took the mayonnaise and pickles out of the refrigerator, he wondered about that Martha. He wondered what she was wearing or if she was even out of bed yet. He would arrange to see her again just as soon as he could and Honey would never know. At the moment it was the best way he could see to advance his career. She was, after all, the daughter of the president of the college. One good word from her might go a long way.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp