“Y…you…” Martin rasped as he pointed a finger at Elizabeth. “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?”
There was a rapping at the window. Startled, Martin looked to his left to see a man about his age.
“Hey buddy, are you alright?”
Martin looked at him a moment trying to figure out what was happening.
“I honked my horn at you the last light and this one too. Are you stalled? What’s the problem?”
Car… Martin was driving a car. God! How long had he been sitting there?
“No. I’m fine. I mean, I’m sorry.”
“Well then let’s move it out on the next green will ya? I got places to go too, you know.”
The man walked back to his car and got in. Martin rubbed his forehead.
“I have to pay attention to what I’m doing.” He thought. “All I need is to get into a wreck.”
Lafayette Street turned into Washington and then into Bascom just at the 880 Freeway turn off. Martin crossed over Hedding Street and then two lanes further turned left onto University Avenue. It was a tree-lined street filled with Tudor and brick colonial homes. Mostly upper middle class and “old money” family homes. He and Elizabeth had purchased the house at the end of the long block where University Avenue joined into a ‘V’ with the street parallel and became University Street.
The house was a two story brick Tudor with a steep twin gable roof and ivy growing on the south wall and front facade. Two large bay windows graced either side of a doublewide oak panel door and there were neatly trimmed shrubs that lined the walk. Instead of a fence they had planted a the entire perimeter of the house with Italian cypress trees, which had grown tall and thin and not only provided a good measure of privacy for the back (Elizabeth had a habit of sun bathing in the nude) but also a windbreak against the few winter storms that blew in to San Jose. From the outside, it was a warm and friendly looking house. You had to live there to know the truth. Martin lived there. Martin knew the truth.
He parked his Mercedes in the drive, crossed the front lawn and entered the side door into the kitchen.
“Hello Honey, I’m home.” He called out sarcastically. Elizabeth wasn’t there. No one was.
He stared around at the furnishings. He didn’t like what he saw. With the exception of the coffee maker, he didn’t use anything in the room. It was the same with the entire house, mostly. He slept in the bedroom and kept his clothes on his half of the walk in closet up stairs but he didn’t live there. The living room was just another room to him. Certainly not a space for “living” in. The dining room was of little use, since no one ever dined there. Even when he and his wife had functioned in the home as a couple, the dining room was more for show. The whole house looked like an advertisement from House Beautiful, nice to look at but hardly the kind of place you would want to live. There were only two rooms in the complete structure that Martin ever felt truly comfortable in and he spent the majority of his time in them, his office and the small bathroom directly adjacent. Those were his domain. It was the only corner of the house that was off limits to Elizabeth and her meddlesome decorator friend. Elizabeth never ceased to be appalled by what she called Martin’s lack of taste, but the rooms suited him and he forbade Elizabeth to touch or so much as enter them for any reason whatsoever. For her part, she was just as happy to stay out anyway. She hated his office. It had come to symbolize Martin and all that he was.
He made his way through the kitchen archway, across the dining room, through the living room and finally down the hallway to his office door. The trip was Elizabeth’s revenge. He had wanted to install a door directly off the driveway but she wouldn’t hear of it. He would have to walk through a house that he hated every time he wanted to go into his private domain. If he were able, through some miracle, to wrestle this house away from her, his door would be installed the very day the papers were signed and the day after that he would rent a dump truck for everything else! But the furnishings wouldn’t go to the dump where they could be salvaged, oh no! He would rent a piece of land somewhere, get a burning permit and set them ablaze just for the satisfaction of it. That would be a day to mark on his calendar! Would he love to see the look on Elizabeth’s face as her precious furniture, the furniture that went unused, that no one could sit on or store things in, go up in smoke. He smiled to himself. It would be worth the price he would have to pay. Hell, he might even invite his wife just to complete his satisfaction.
He opened the door to his office, reached to his right and snapped on the light. The small room was flooded with a soft amber glow from the chandelier mounted into the recessed ceiling. The room was long and narrow. On the right was a burgundy leather button cushion divan. At the end two wing back chairs of the same design. At the head, to his left, was a large dark mahogany desk, intricately carved. The top of the desk was festooned with papers and documents and other assorted brick-a-brack, including a rather large pipe rack lined with a generous assortment of seasoned briar and Meerschaum pipes and a bowl filled with black Cavendish tobacco. Elizabeth hated tobacco and smokers which was precisely why Martin never found it necessary to give up the habit and besides, it was one of the few things besides alcohol, which he could no longer enjoy, that gave him pleasure. Actually, the pipes, no matter how he loved them and the pungent aroma of the tobacco, burned his mouth horribly. As a cigarette smoker, he could never quite seem to get the patient knack of drawing on them properly. But he would light them up occasionally simply because he knew how his wife detested the smell.
Behind his desk was a large wall to wall bar made of oak and a “snug” in the corner, converted from a confessional that Martin had rescued from an old church that was about to be demolished. To the immediate left of the desk was a large multi paned window of warped lead glass, framed from the outside by ivy. In the center, a rag rug and coffee table. All in all, from the leather couch to the desk, the tobacco and the smells that went with it, to the bar and the snug, it was a man’s room. It was Martin’s room, every last inch of it and it was the only room in the house in which he was permitted to live. It was the only room in the house that was sacrosanct from the craziness of the outside world. It was the only room in the house that would remain intact when everything else was shipped off to be burned.
He reached down to the top right drawer, opened it and took out a pack of filter cigarettes, lit one and inhaled deeply. God… it felt good. They might be killing him but at least they weren’t trying to bleed him dry in divorce court! He smiled faintly. His wife and women in general did not know how to enjoy the simpler pleasures of life, like tobacco. Always worried about the ashes or the smell or how their fingers might become yellowed kept them from appreciating the satisfaction of a truly good smoke. How solitary and unique an experience to smoke in the dark! The eerie red glow of the burning ember. The lazy drifting of the smoke. The smell of leather and dust from an old book. A good scotch… scotch… scotch. No, no scotch. Just a smoke. He suddenly needed to get out of his office. The ghosts of the past and their appetites began to fade into the room from the dark paneled walls.
He retraced his path back toward the kitchen, out the side door and down the path to the back yard. Most of the expanse was taken up by a large pool, patio and flagstone that left little room for grass. A small strip was conceded to the very back of the lot but the pool shed covered most of that.
Martin sat on one of the lounges to smoke as the sun faded steadily away behind the towering cypress. As the light slipped carelessly away, the pool’s automatic lights shimmered to life and a soft turquoise glow filled the surrounding darkness, bathing Martin with the flickering of the water. A small gust of wind stirred at some leaves along the edge of the pool and made him shiver just a little. It was all so sad. So unnecessary. Why couldn’t she love him anymore? Why couldn’t he love her? How had they not seen what had come before it arrived? He hated himself for not knowing. He hated her for not wanting to know.
As suddenly as the breeze had stirred the leaves, he found there were tears on his cheeks. Tears? Crying? He could not stop. He held himself, wrapped his forearms across his chest and sobbed like the lost little boy that he truly was inside. The cypress began to sway as a larger wind butted into them. The pool’s reflection continued to dance across his face and he mourned all the harder for all that was lost, all that would not be. He cried so hard that he could only clench his teeth in defense against the maelstrom of pain that threatened to sweep him away. He gripped himself even tighter.
“Stop it!” He growled to himself. “Stop it! Get a grip on yourself.”
But he could not stop the pain, the tears or the sound that escaped his throat; a sound like the mewling stray cats that wandered in the darkness calling out to mates that never came. As he sat swathed in the semi-flaccid glow of the pool, all of the bitterness of the past poured out of him like a poison, and he wept uncontrollably, wept until he could weep no more. His anguish simply poured from him, and for once in his life, he could not stop and did not want to.
As the light faded into complete darkness his torment finally waned and he began to regain a composure of a sort. He needed another cigarette but had left the pack in his office, so he struggled to his feet and set off to retrieve them.
Once he was back in the womb of his office, he began to feel a little better. The snug confines of his quarters were reassuring, and for a moment, he forgot why it was that he had left in the first place. He went straight to his desk, grabbed another cigarette, lit it and inhaled deeply. As he blew a large cloud of smoke into the air it hit him… he wanted a drink, needed a drink and that’s why he had left in the moments before. A drink… a drink, just one, how could that be so bad? After all, it wasn’t like he was going to slip back into the “old ways” was it?
“No!” Martin sneered to himself. “You know better!”
Ah, but how much harm could just one small swallow of the Little Devil do him anyway?
“Little Devil…” Martin laughed ruefully.
It’s the name he had given to his favorite brand of scotch. He would have a swallow of the Little Devil and suddenly life was that much easier to bear. The living was better, the lights brighter, the music sweeter; he was better looking, the women more compliant and everything was just that much more than it was before.
“Now I ask you, what’s wrong with that?” Martin asked himself.
“You know it wouldn’t stop there.” A voice inside him answered. “You know that one drink is never enough. It always has to be two, that turn into three, that turn into five until the bottle is gone and from there, it only comes to an end when the money is gone or you pass out.”
Martin took another drag off his smoke and sat down behind his desk.
“You’re right, you’re right,” he admitted out loud.
But still, he wanted a drink. He needed a drink. He was dying for a drink!
In the cabinet to the right of his desk, behind several books that he never got around to reading, was his last bottle. Like a few recovering alcoholics, he kept it as a remembrance and on rare occasions when he was sorely tempted, pulled it out to look at it and remind himself of just what it was that he was recovering from; just what it was that had caused his life to run amuck and fall onto such desperate times. He moved to the cabinet, opened the doors, shoved the books aside, took his Little Devil by the neck and brought him out into the soft light. The amber liquid rolled across the glass like mercury in a vial. He held it gingerly; carefully as if afraid to grip it too tightly for fear that it might strike out like a coiled viper at him. He stared at it a moment and then moved his hand to the lid as he slid down into the over stuffed chair behind his desk. There was a momentary movement and then, as quickly as an Ozark mountain grandmother twists the head off a Sunday dinner chicken, the cap was turned and the Little Devil was loosed for the first time in three years.
Martin held the decanter to his nose and inhaled. The acrid copper perfume of a half bottle of perfectly aged scotch filled his nostrils and lungs.
“Could anythingsmell sweeter?” A voice asked.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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