a short story by Paul Beckman
About the Author
Paul Beckman has published stories in The Connecticut Review, Other Voices, Playboy, Parting Gifts, The Writer’s Voice, and many other magazines — print and online. He lives in Connecticut and previously sold real estate to support his writing habit.
“Congratulations on your choice to publish “Argyle Nights” by Paul Beckman. I have been a fan of Paul’s work for several years and am glad you shared his story with your reading audience. Paul has a unique voice–smart and funny.”
“If you loved me, you would fight with me — you would at least argue with me — you wouldn’t just sit and stare,” my late wife, Myra, would say. “Don’t you care enough to argue — to raise your voice? What kind of man doesn’t have a strong point of view? Or any point of view? I’ll tell you, a man with no love in his soul. A man with no soul, that’s who. That’s who you are.”
Before that period of our life Myra would say to me, “Stop fighting with me all the time. Can’t you ever go along? Why does everything have to be a debate with you? If you loved me, really loved me, you would let me have my way once in a while instead of fighting me at every turn.”
Neither approach worked with Myra. I tried to change — I did change; but what good did it do? I was wrong no matter which way I turned, and on August fourteenth, everything began to change. Once the change began to happen, it couldn’t be undone. I didn’t know it then, nor did Myra. On that day I began building my fence.
I was sitting in our living room on my lounger being berated by Myra for some husbandly malfeasance, when off in the distance, through the living room window, I saw a stack of white pickets piled high in large, neat piles. As her voice droned on, I visualized myself walking across the yard to the pile, taking a picket, and returning to the living room. Myra was continuing her harangue when I came back, and just before I sat down in my lounger, I looked at her, picked up a hammer that happened to be lying on the floor, and hammered in my first picket. All of a sudden her voice was not quite as grating.
A few days later, Myra got on my case in the supermarket. I walked away and found the pickets section, selected a nice white, straight one, and returned to face Myra. I hammered it in next to the first. I had not planned it this way, but somehow I knew that once the picket fence was complete, our marriage would be over. Oddly enough, I never thought about my picket fence or visualized it unless Myra was bothering me. Then I had a two-picket day. I could see the pickets in the horizon of my peripheral vision taking shape as a fence. The pickets proceeded from right to left like the Kaddish. One day there were a few lonesome pickets, and then, they became the makings of a fence. I was fencing Myra out of my life or vice-versa.
We had our ups and downs, and at one point, we went through a very rough period that brought the fence mid-way. This was followed by a long, quiet, almost loving time, when no pickets were added; but make no mistake about it — I never considered removing any. These good times were just temporary — I knew.
When I was alone, the fence never entered my mind, but whenever Myra and I were interacting, or even in the same vicinity, the white picket fence, in whatever stage of construction, came between us. For a while, I feared that I was turning into my brother who kept a loose-leaf notebook on stupid, irritating, and annoying things that his wife did. Once the notebook was filled, he planned to leave her.
“A man should only have to take so much in his life,” my brother said, “and I have decided that my allotment is this loose-leaf.”
At all times, he carried with him a pocket-sized spiral, and each evening he would sit in his lounger with a glass of Old Overholt and transfer his daily notes into the loose-leaf. Often his wife was right in the room with him, knitting or watching TV, and if she happened to say something stupid, irritating, or annoying, my brother would shake his head and add it to his list. Sometimes he only wrote a sentence, and at other times, he wrote pages. He often offered to let me read his loose-leaf so as to gain my sympathy for his plight, but I told him I’d wait for the end and read it as a novel.
My brother’s wife — she was stupid. She should have let him finish the book and divorce her so she could get on with a more normal life. Instead, every so often she would sneak into his desk and add blank pages to the loose-leaf. She should have been ripping them out.
My brother was critical, compulsive, and very vindictive. I tried to relate his notebook to my white picket fence and came to the conclusion that there was no association whatsoever. My brother was off-the-wall. I, like his wife, was a victim.
Incredible as it may seem, my brother made no secret of his journal. He told anyone and everyone who would listen, never understanding what a bad light it shed on him. I told no one of my fence.
One day I came home late from work, bursting with good news about business, but Myra would hear none of it. She was irate because I hadn’t called to tell her that I was running late, and from the top of the stairs she threw my clothes over the railing and into the hallway. With each toss a picket went up.
That night I finished my fence. The next day Myra was dead.
I moved all of my belongings into the guest room and did what any Jew would do for the dead. I stayed home from work and sat Shiva — mourning for a week. I tore my shirt, didn’t shave, wore a black armband, and covered the mirrors with sheets. I took the pillows off of the chairs so I would not be comfortable, and I said the Kaddish morning and evening.
The next week, a widower, I went back to work. Nothing else changed in my life except that now, when I came home from work and Myra talked to me, I didn’t have to pay any attention because she was dead. Period. Oh, Myra carried on for a while, even refused to make my meals and do my laundry, but I held my ground and said nothing. After all, what good does it do to argue with the dead — especially if you couldn’t argue with them when they were alive?
Myra came around. It took months, but she finally realized that I was never going to speak to her again, that, for me, she was no longer living. She went back to cooking and cleaning for the two of us. We even went to some family functions together, but never spoke. Myra never liked me that much anyway and was probably just sore that she hadn’t thought of it first. Divorce. Don’t ask — out of the question. I personally do not believe in divorce.
Of course, the only one in my family who said anything to me at all was my brother. “Are you nuts?” he asked. “You just can’t declare someone dead and go on living with them.”
“Why not?” I asked, but he was busy writing in his spiral and didn’t hear me, or chose not to.
Then he looked up and asked, “Do you plan to date?”
Myra and I had been married for eighteen years, and we, like many other couples, had fallen into a regular routine. She would lay my clothes out for me every morning while I was in the bathroom, and I would wear whatever she selected. Both of us came to the conclusion that her taste was superior to mine in the world of fashion. Early on in our marriage, strictly by coincidence, she had put out argyle socks for me on a day that we had made love. Argyles had become our signal, and it was always Myra who initiated the schedule. I had not given much thought to lovemaking since her death; so finding the argyles set out one morning kind of threw me off kilter. I didn’t know how to react or what to expect.
It wasn’t just an argyles and jump-in-the-sack kind of night. We had a ritual — a nice meal of brisket and kugel with a glass of wine. Then I would pour two more glasses of wine, and Myra would bring them to our respective nightstands while I showered. She would sip half of hers, and as she showered, I would sip half of mine. After we made love, we would lie next to each other, bodies touching, holding hands and we would sip the remaining wine, then go to sleep.
I didn’t know what to expect this argyle night. At first I thought that Myra had put out the argyles by mistake, but Myra doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes. I came home from work and could tell by the smells upon entering the house that it was an Argyle Night. Brisket and kugel air met me at the door. As per custom, Myra had also made her apple strudel for dessert. We drank a couple of extra glasses of wine with dinner, but even that didn’t loosen my tongue enough to talk to a dead woman. I lingered longer than usual because of my uncertainty on how to end the evening.
Force of habit had me pouring two glasses of wine afterwards, and I didn’t know if they were going to her room, my room, and one in each or what. Myra, not surprisingly, took control. She carried the glasses to my room and ran my shower. I soaped with anticipation, and not wanting to seem too eager, I took my time in the shower. When I came out, I saw only my glass of wine on the nightstand. Myra was not there. I lay on the bed for quite a while, sipping my half glass of wine, figuring that she was showering and getting ready. I waited for her return, but, after a while, it became apparent that she wouldn’t be coming back. I finished my wine, fell asleep, and dreamt of Myra-sized argyles, dozens of them, dancing around me seductively as I sat sultan-like on a large kugel pillow.
In the morning, I dressed with the clothes Myra had laid out for me. For breakfast she made corned beef hash and poached eggs, my favorites, just as she always had after an Argyle Night. And she never even looked at me, or said a word, as she sipped her coffee.
“Argyle Nights” Copyright ©2002 by Paul Beckman.
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