Revenge Isn’t Sweet
The bed was 150 years old and made of solid brass. Sarah had spent at least thirty hours polishing it. Harry had sold it earlier that morning. He knew that she wanted it, but he didn’t care. Now the apartment was almost empty. There were still a couple of photographs of Sarah on the otherwise empty walls. Her cameo face stared out at him. He’d shot her eyes so that the shadows accented their dark quality. Her hair was night black, and he’d given it the quality of a waterfall. But her mouth was wrong in both of the pictures. He didn’t want them. There was no reason to keep flawed work. What a fucking time she had picked to call it quits on their marriage! God knows, it had always been just as much of a disaster as she now seemed to think it was. Having money hadn’t made it any better. The absolute cunt art of her; she wouldn’t even talk about it.
It was ten o’clock in the morning when Harry opened the bottle of Moet. He didn’t use a glass. Drinking the stuff in the morning was the best. The nine to five grunts were lucky if they were getting a swig of water or a cup of coffee and here he was sipping the bubbly.
When he popped the cork, he thought about how Sarah got her face scrunched into that cute grimace when she tried to uncork a bottle. He loved it when she couldn’t manage and handed it to him. She’d told him that she loved the way he sneered before it popped.
Why the fuck had she left? It didn’t figure. It wasn’t as if he’d given her a reason. The truth was that cunts were all the same. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that much out. When they were working on films, and he had arranged for her to drive around in a Rolls, then she loved him. When he arranged to take her to Europe, then he’d been great. But, all of a sudden, she was upset that he didn’t have a steady job. All of a sudden, he drank too much. Well, let her do without the bed. He needed the money.
When he heard her key in the lock, Harry sat down and lit a cigarette. He turned his back to the door and stared out the window. He thought about Bogart. Sarah didn’t arrive alone. She’d brought her friend Denise with her. That figured. He’d be unable to say anything with Denise there. He wanted very much to have a fight with her, at least one fight. He’d never heard of a marriage ending without a fight. It just didn’t seem natural.
Sarah was surprised to see him. She’d felt that way every time she’d seen him since the day that she’d decided that their marriage was absolutely hopeless. She turned to Denise. Her friend took the cue and called out a “hello” to Harry in a voice that was a little too loud. Denise loved to tease Harry in front of Sarah. She walked across the room smiling to accent jiggle of her breasts. She gave Harry a kiss on his cheek and laid her tit on his arm for an instant. Harry ignored her. He was watching Sarah. He remembered the day that he’d picked out the dress she was wearing. She had no mercy. She hardly looked at him when she followed Denise across the room.
“Hello, Harry.” She said trying to sound at ease. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Life’s just full of surprises, isn’t it?”
She pretended not to hear him. Denise is going to help me get the bed.”
“It left about an hour ago.”
Sarah turned her head toward the bedroom. He watched her face as it turned back but there wasn’t any expression on it. That was disappointing.
“What happened?” she said in a flat tone.
“I got offered a good price, and we won’t be needing it.”
“You’re a real fuck, aren’t you Harry?” said Denise.
“No honey, you’re the real fuck.”
Denise laughed. “Harry, you’re such a baby when you try to be cruel.”
Sarah didn’t laugh, but Harry felt her mocking derision. He walked over to the refrigerator. Except for the bottle of very old Rothchild, it was empty. He pulled it out with a flourish.
“We’ve got to toast the last time we’re going to be here together, don’t you think?”
“It’s too early in the morning to drink,” said Denise.
Harry and Sarah looked at each other and exchanged a secret smile. He popped the cork, filled three glasses and passed them around.
“At least we’ll always have Paris,” he said in his best tough guy style.
Sarah began to laugh. Then she began to cry. Then she and Denise left.
Sarah felt awful when they got into Denise’s van. The fact that they were coming back with it empty embarrassed her. She had told herself that she wasn’t going to let Harry do that to her anymore.
“They’re pricks,” said Denise. “That’s what they’ve got, and that’s all their good for. The trick is to not see them as human beings. When you start looking at them the way they look at you, everything gets much easier.”
“I know you’re right,” said Sarah, “but Harry was more than that and he could have been … we could have been, something special, you know?”
“I know that thinking that way has put you in the mess you’re in now. Would a friend have sold your bed?”
“I guess he felt that he had to get back at me.” “Who paid for the bed, Sarah?”
“We didn’t keep separate money.”
“I wonder why that was. As long as I’ve known you, you’ve had a job, a steady job that paid the rent and put food on the table. When was the last time Harry came up with enough money to do anything except party?”
“I know. I know. I left him, didn’t I? I just wanted to walk away with some kind of good feeling about things.”
“Why? So you can feel sorry for yourself about it being over and eventually talk yourself right back into it?”
“That’s not what I mean. I loved Harry and part of me will always love him.”
“That sounds great but you know what, it’s stupid. Besides, he wasn’t that good in bed anyway.”
Sarah looked out the window. She knew that Denise and Harry had gone to bed together, but she wished that it would stop coming up in their conversations. It was bad enough that her best friend had slept with her husband. It was a bit much to have her talk about it.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” said Denise.
“I know he fucked you; he fucked Diane; he fucked Jennifer, but that’s not why I left him. I knew what he was like all along. It wasn’t Harry that changed, it was me.”
“And it’s a god damn good thing that you changed too.”
“Is it? You know why I don’t want to talk to Harry alone? It’s because I don’t have any answers to any of his questions. He wants to know why it’s over and I don’t have any answers. It’s just over. And that bothers me too. My marriage is over and I don’t really know why, not in a way that I can tell him so that he’ll understand and see it too.”
“You need to get laid,” said Denise.
“That’s the last thing I need.”
“I figured you’d say that, but I’m not going to let you sit around and sulk. And believe me that’s what you’ll do if you don’t get yourself a distraction. My suggestion is one with about seven solid inches and a hard ass.”
“That works for you.”
“Honey, the right dick works for anybody.”
“Do you know how that sounds?”
“I just don’t think that I could face all that right now.”
“Look, you’re probably right. I’m just trying to help you through this, that’s all.”
Denise stopped her van in front of Sarah’s parents’ house. Sarah didn’t get out. “This is going to be some scene,” she said. The thought of hearing her mother preach to her about what a lousy bastard Harry was and that didn’t sound at all appealing. Her father had even cleared out a spot for the bed in the basement.
“Why don’t you just run in and get some things. Spend the night at my house.”
“Maybe that’s what I’ll do.”
They were back in the car in twenty minutes. Denise had distracted Sarah’s parents by walking in and telling them everything. “You would have been proud of your daughter. She finally told Harry what a low-life, sleezeball he really is.”
“I think you should call the cops,” said Sarah’s mother.
Sarah hadn’t said anything. She put a few things into a bag and told them that she’d be back in a day or two.
“Do you want me to tell him where you are if he calls?” her mother asked. It was a trick question. Sarah knew it. If she said yesall hell would have broken loose.
“He won’t call.”
“You’re gonna be a jerk for the rest of your life, aren’t you?”
“It sure looks that way,” said Sarah.
“I hope he does call,” said her mother. “There are a few things that I’d like to say to him.”
“He’s not going to call,” said Sarah.
Back at her apartment, Denise made them some coffee. Sarah wasn’t talking. She sat in the kitchen staring at Denise’s plants and chain smoking.
Finally, Denise said, “Dave is supposed to come over after dinner. Do you want me to call him up and tell him not to bother.”
“I don’t want to ruin your evening,” said Sarah.
“He’s got a friend named Greg.” Sarah didn’t answer. “Seven inches and a tight, little ass.”
Sarah wondered if Denise had slept with him too. Then she found herself saying, “Sure, have them come over.” Then she stopped herself and said, “Wait a minute! That was a mistake. I didn’t mean that.”
“Not on your life, honey.” Denise practically jumped up and ran to the phone. Sarah thought that Harry had been right when he told her that she was a spineless pussy.
Denise was back at the table all smiles and charm. “You know, if I were you I’d fuck every one of Harry’s friends.”
Sarah managed to laugh and lit another cigarette.
Harry didn’t stop drinking until about three that afternoon when he passed out in the back seat of Sam’s car. Sam would be done tending bar at about seven o’clock. Then they were going out to do some serious drinking. The reason was cunts all over the world. Sam had been divorced for two years. She had wrung him out by the balls. She’d taken him for everything but his asshole.
Harry was glad that he’d sold the bed. He’d done it for Sam and the rest of the poor jerk-offs like himself. Harry woke up parked in the driveway of Sam’s house. It was about midnight and the place was dark. Harry rang the bell until lights went on.
“I thought we were gonna do some serious drinking.”
“I was just waiting for you to be in the condition.”
“Let’s go,” said Harry.
Sam smiled in a way that lifted his mustache and made him look like a walrus. “It’ll take me ten minutes.”
Even Sarah would have had to admit that the evening had been a relief. She had eaten, laughed and spent a long stretch of time not thinking about what had happened with Harry. But Denise had started to fool around with Dave a little bit and while Greg was momentarily sitting there thinking about the best way to move in. She thought about Harry.
It wasn’t as if she’d always made it easy for him. When they’d first met, she hadn’t even liked him. That was an old story. Sarah told herself that she couldn’t afford to remember the way he was when they’d first met. She told herself that she wanted to remember him puking on her when she tried to help him off the floor. She told herself that she wanted to remember his face when he told her that he would leave her if she ever got pregnant. But the way the sun shone on his hair when they’d first walked through the streets of Paris, and the way he looked so like a little boy when he slept kept crowding in on her thoughts. And now Greg had put his hand on her shoulder. He brought his fingers up to her lips and tried to find the focus of her eyes. She flashed a nervous smile.
“I’ll bet you were a million miles away,” he said.
“Not so far,” said Sarah.
“Some days your tits seem bigger,” laughed Dave.
“Some days, so does your cock,” said Denise.
Sarah remembered that Harry told her that guys were afraid to look at each other’s cocks. It was only something those homos did. She looked up at Greg and decided that she wasn’t going to sleep with him. She wondered if he was going to be a pain in the ass about it.
Dave and Denise were practically undressing each other.
Sarah asked Greg about his job. He was a credit manager at a clothing store. She told him that she was a nurse. He smiled. People always smiled when you told them you were a nurse.
They should only know the truth about it. The truth was that Sarah wasn’t in love with nursing any more either.
It didn’t take Harry long to be plastered again. He had the floor at The Pub. “The ideal woman knows that she should live for her twat. She knows how to feed and care for the thing. It’s like her pet.” The bar loved it, and Harry felt like he was on a roll. The room felt warm and fuzzy. He knew the faces around him. He was home.
Denise had taken Dave to bed. Greg was looking at her hopefully. Sarah said, “Did Dave tell you that I was getting a divorce?”
Greg said, “No! How long were you married?”
“That’s a long time.”
Sarah poured some wine and thought that it didn’t sound like a long time to her.
“Women can make you feel like a king or a jerk-off, and they can do it in the blink of an eye. They know they’re doing it and they won’t even admit it. From now on my motto is “fuck em and forget ’em.”
A low, gravelly cheer went up from Harry’s audience. They had gone to school, hung out, and played sports together. They hadn’t been suckered into thinking that getting older meant that you had to give up good friends. Dale was an accountant now, the only one in his office that didn’t have to wear glasses or contacts. The guys teased him about his profession all the time. Harry teased him the most. Bob was a weight lifter who’d had a dream of making the Olympic team. It hadn’t worked out, but now he owned a gym and had made good money when being fit became fashionable. The bartender said that it was almost time to close up. Sam said that he wanted to buy everyone another drink. Two of the others said that they wanted to buy everybody a drink too. There were four or five full glasses in front of everyone by the time it was five to two.
Sarah told Greg that she was getting tired. Greg said that he’d driven over in Dave’s car. Sarah picked up the keys to Denise’s van and said that she would take him home. On the way she apologized for not being more fun. He told her that it was all right and asked to see her again. Sarah said things were very difficult right now and that she didn’t know where she was going and what she was going to be doing. Greg told her that he could help her out.
The weeks that followed weren’t easy for Sarah or Harry. He found himself unable to concentrate on anything. Anything that was required of him had the feel of being unnecessary, and Harry was getting tired of drinking all the time, but at least it was an activity that he was able to accomplish successfully.
Sarah’s problems were different. She wasn’t able to do anything except work. She filled her hours and days with an unending series of tasks that she feared would eventually run out. She didn’t see much of Denise, but she spoke with her on the telephone most days.
It was on a Thursday night that Sarah ran into Bob. It was good to see a familiar face and when he asked her if she wanted to have a drink, it seemed like a good idea. It was the beginning of July, and Sarah looked good. Her tan was deep and even and her body felt strong and warm. Bob didn’t look bad either. His T-shirt was stretched tightly across his chest and around his arms.
“I never thought that you and Harry would break up.”
“I suppose that he didn’t think so either.”
“Harry and I have been friends for as long as I can remember.”
“Harry always made a good friend. The problem was that the party never stopped. I just couldn’t keep up with it, that’s all.”
“Yeah, going to visit you and Harry was always a blast.”
“But then you went home.”
“I guess I did.”
“Harry was one of the most unique people that I ever met in my life. He managed to do more of what other people dream about than anybody else that I ever met.”
Bob smiled and finished his drink. Sarah swirled her straw around her glass. Then she said, “You know, I was always attracted to you, Bob. Do you ever realize that?”
“I didn’t think about it until I ran into you tonight. There hasn’t been much else on my mind since then though.”
Bob reached for her and Sarah responded. The kiss was passionate. His arms felt so huge and hard that Sarah trembled. She never thought she’d like a lot of muscles on a man, but this seemed more than OK. They got up and went back to his apartment.
They had sex once. It was brief and uncomfortable. Sarah was annoyed. Bob had been selfish and rough, and now he was sitting with his back towards her, hunched over in a guilty position.
Sarah felt a sense of resolve. “This wasn’t such a good idea.”
“No.” Bob didn’t turn around. He hunched further, so that his hands were in his forehead.
Sarah got her clothes on quickly and left, but she didn’t go home; she went back to the bar. Sam would still be working and she wanted to see him.
Because of all the time that he’d spent and their house, Sarah and Sam said had developed a friendship. Of course she didn’t see him half as much as she used to, but they still talked on the phone, and Sam had been one of the only people to call and see how she was doing after the break-up.
He was standing at the end of the bar looking tired but covering it with his professional bartender’s smile. He’d seen her leave with Bob, but Sarah was sure that he wouldn’t think anything of it. Talking to Sam would make her feel respectable again. She stayed with him until it was time to close up. Then he asked her for a ride home.
“What happened to your car?”
“Harry came in earlier and asked to borrow it.”
More pangs of guilt. Yes, she’d kept the car. Yes, she knew in her heart that she deserved it. She had made the payments. She had handled the cost of the insurance, but the thought of Harry having to ask someone else for a car was unsettling for her.
“Do you think I’m a bitch, Sam?”
“I think that it’s a good idea not to try to judge people from the outside looking in.”
Sarah wanted to kiss him for saying that, but she wondered if he really believed it. Sam was a good bartender. He was good at making people feel that they were right even when they weren’t.
Sam’s car was parked in the driveway when they arrived. Harry was asleep in the back seat. Sarah stared at him through the window, unable to look away. She still loved the way he looked when he was sleeping. She used to watch him for the longest time and wonder about what he was dreaming.
“You better go home before I wake him up. There’s no telling what kind of condition he’ll be in.
Sarah could tell what kind of condition he was in from the sound of his breathing. “Was it always like this with Harry?”
Sam looked at her with a tiny smirk. “Like what?”
Sarah saw the smirk. She’d seen it on Harry’s face too. It was a conspiratorial look. She hated it, but it fascinated her and she respected its allure. “Do you think that Harry and me ever had a chance, Sam?”
“I don’t know of anybody our age that’s made it. It must be a lot harder than we think.”
Sarah wondered if he’d seen her recoil. It wasn’t what he’d said; it was the voice. It came straight from behind the bar. As she drove home, she wondered if maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe Sam told the truth when he stood behind the bar. Maybe the voice had been her imagination. She didn’t know anybody her age that had made it either.
Her mother was still awake. She was lying on the bed watching a late movie. Her voice sounded happy and surprised when she saw Sarah. “I didn’t really expect to see you back here tonight, but I’m glad you’re home.”
Sarah wanted to talk. “I ran into Harry.”
Her mother’s face reminded Sarah of tasting lima beans when she talked about Harry now. But Harry had been able to charm her back every time he’d outraged her. Sarah wondered if he could still do it. Doubtful.
“He sure looked like a bum tonight.”
“He doesn’t know how to be happy with life. That’s why he’s always playing the showman. The sad part is that he thinks he does know how to be happy.”
“I thought he did too,” said Sarah.
More weeks passed with speed and similarity. Harry drank and slept in the back of Sam’s car. Sarah slept with Dale after he’d done some book keeping that had to be done to prepare papers for her father’s retirement. She hadn’t enjoyed sex with him either. She had gone to see Sam in the bar as soon as it was over. It was uncanny that she never ran into Harry there. She almost hoped that she would and then one night she did.
It was almost unfair for Sarah to see Harry when he hadn’t been drinking, but he had been on a shoot from seven o’clock that morning. He had taken seventy-six confirmation portraits for his hometown parish. Sam’s mother was active with the church and Father Magula remembered Harry. It had gone off without a hitch. It was a very easy $1200. Harry was telling himself that he could get used to making money this easily. Harry was just having his second drink when Sarah came in.
She was tan and thin and wearing a denim mini that showed most of her dancer’s legs. The white peasant shirt was tight and left her shoulders bare. Harry smiled and waved to her.
She smiled back and started towards him with her head in a temporary time warp. She stood close to him and they hugged. She felt dazed by the feel of him. His arms and chest and cologne took hold of her. He let her go just before she wanted to pull away. Harry didn’t hug anybody for a long time. He thought Sarah felt beautiful and unreal. They had a drink. They told each other that they were doing well. They each asked about the other’s people.
Then Harry said, “Have you been seeing anybody?”
Sarah said, “I’ve been going out.” She looked away, and Harry flinched.
“Have you slept with anybody?”
Sarah looked in his face and said, “Yes.”
At first Harry felt like he was going to pass out. He lit a cigarette. It helped. He smiled at Sarah and took a pull on his drink. “Any good?” he said sharply.
Sarah said, “What about you. Are you seeing anybody?”
“I don’t know. Nobody that I remember. Don’t you want to tell me if the sex has been good?”
“Then it must’ve, you’ll pardon the expression, sucked, ” said Harry. He was feeling better. If she had tried to sleep with somebody else and not liked it, she was getting what she deserved. He’d take her back if she begged.
“Actually, it’s been very good,” said Sarah. Harry felt like he’d gotten smashed with a wave. She was exactly what he thought she was: a fuck who used it like a weapon.
“Well, I guess life moves along for everybody doesn’t it?”
“I shouldn’t have said anything to you.”
“Who did you sleep with?”
Sarah put her head down and didn’t answer him.
Harry stared at her and the thought hit him. “Was it anybody that I know?”
“I’m going to leave now, Harry. I don’t want to argue with you.”
“You fucking cunt! You slept with people I know! You no good fucking cunt!”
Sarah got off the stool and walked quickly out of the bar. She wouldn’t go back there anymore, but she wondered if that was the last thing that Harry would ever say to her.