SUBSCRIBE OR FOLLOW

Nov 142010
 

by
Dave Moyer

 

Waiting for change always seems to take longer than you would expect.  Delores Metcalf had been encouraging her husband, Dwayne, to cut back on his drinking for over 25 years, with her preference being that he quit altogether.  She assumed that after he got out of college, his propensity for indulgence in this regard would diminish into a range that she considered “normal.”

 

The two met in college at Southern Illinois University, a nationally renowned party school located in Carbondale.  Delores was born and grew up in the small town of DuQuoin, Illinois, located just 20 miles north of SIU.  The southern part of Illinois more resembles Arkansas than what most non-Illinoisans think of when they think of Illinois, that being the great city of Chicago.  Delores possessed a southern accent that immediately caught Dwayne’s attention in August of his their freshman year, and the two become college sweethearts.  Though not official until Christmas of their junior year in college, from their first date forward, both parties assumed they would marry the other.

 

There was plenty of underage drinking in DuQuoin, but the kids who attended parties regularly or got drunk frequently were considered rebels, punks, dropouts, sluts, dirtballs—or what northerners might derogatorily term, “rednecks.”  A faction of strict fundamentalist families in DuQuoin, to which Delores’ parents belonged, frowned upon drinking to excess and believed strongly that drinking alcohol should be confined to various appropriate settings, such as holidays, weddings, or anniversaries.

 

What attracted Dwayne and Delores to each other is a matter of speculation. Truth be told, there really isn’t any rhyme or reason to the magnetic forces of nature.  Young people fall in love because that is what they do.  Delores turned heads, plain and simple.  Tall, thin, tan, graceful, polite, and unassuming, she caught everyone’s attention immediately upon entering any room, and Dwayne, powerless, fell victim to her spell.

 

Dwayne hailed from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the land of the corner bar.  Drinking beer was as common and accepted a practice as pouring milk in one’s cereal in the morning.  He chose to become a Saluki because Southern was the southernmost school that offered him a baseball scholarship.  The drinking age in Wisconsin was 18 at the time, while it was 21 in Illinois.  The law did not discourage Dan from attending the typical college parties on weekends that were common for the majority of students, but for the most part, that is where it stopped.  He kept himself in shape and took his studies seriously.  He hoped to be drafted by a major league organization someday and kept his goals and dreams always at the forefront of his thinking.  Delores, though not much of a partier, played along and accompanied him wherever he went.  She had a few moments where she became intimate with a toilet, but these instances were rare.

 

Delores absolutely adored her man.  Handsome and talented, Dwayne represented security and the much greater likelihood of a happy life than most of the girls in her high school class who stayed behind in DuQuoin could hope for.  These girls spent most of their energy working to secure the affection of some local boy, who likewise stayed in the area, obtaining shaky employment at best.  Whenever she brought Dwayne home, she attached herself to his arm, ensuring that it was obvious to all that Dwayne was her man.

 

Soon after their initial encounter, Delores relented and experienced the company of a man for the first time.  Sex with Delores was always at the top of Dwayne’s to-do list, as it probably would have been with any college boy who had the good fortune of sharing her company.  To his credit, he never once took advantage of her affections in any way.  Dwayne’s fidelity never came into question, and his manners never wavered.  He made her feel special for the obvious reason that, with perhaps the exception of baseball, she was the most special thing he could imagine.  Their relationship could be characterized as healthy—as healthy as a relationship for two people in their early 20’s who never really dated anybody else could be.

 

Shortly after the proposal, spring practice began.  Scouts considered Dwayne, the team’s top pitcher, a candidate to be drafted in the top 10 rounds of the June draft, meaning they considered him a strong prospect to pitch in the major leagues someday.  During his second bullpen session in January, he felt a twinge in his shoulder.  He tried to complete his next scheduled session, but after 10 pitches, he approached the pitching coach and told him he had to shut down for the day.  The trainers began treatments, and the coaches gave him a week off of throwing, but when he tried to play catch a week later, he could feel the stiffness, and he was sent to see the team doctor, who ordered a MRI.  The MRI indicated a torn rotator cuff.  Dwayne spent the entire spring rehabbing his arm, hoping to avoid surgery, but it became apparent that the only way he would be able to pitch his senior season was to have surgery, and during the first week of May, on a Friday, when the rest of his team was participating in the opening round game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, Dwayne lay on an operating table, praying that he would one day be able to throw a ball again.  That, not Delores, was the last thing that went through his mind before he was out.

 

The doctors proclaimed the surgery a success.  Dwayne worked hard at his rehab, but come spring, he was just another arm.  He went undrafted after his senior year in college.  Delores and Dwayne made plans for a wedding to take place in DuQuoin the following spring.  Behind in credits due to baseball, Dwayne had to finish up a few courses to graduate the following December.  Delores, not wanting to try to secure a full time job until they had a better idea where they might eventually land, worked part time at a convenience store in Carbondale.  Dwayne graduated, found a job at an insurance agency in Centralia, about an hour north of Carbondale and just 40 minutes north of DuQuoin.  The two were married and relocated to Centralia, still considered “downstate,” as was any city south of I-80.  Everything seemed perfectly normal.

 

To supplement their income, Delores took another part time job, this time as a receptionist at a local car dealership.  She hoped that this position would be temporary until she could find something related to her major of interior design, but the demand for someone with her expertise in Centralia was minimal at best.

 

During their first year of marriage, Dwayne became puzzled with a phenomenon that he could not understand.  All through college, the two enjoyed a vibrant intimacy that others might have envied had they known.  However, almost the second they got married, it was as if a third party flipped a switch on the wall from on to off.  For a while, he actually wondered if she had an old boyfriend in the area.

 

Secure, though unfulfilled, Delores turned her attention to what seemed the logical next step—starting a family.  The routine and mechanical attempt to conceive did nothing to ease Dan’s confusion about his wife’s apparent lack of interest in him.  Almost two years to the day after they were married, their first child, Evelyn, was born.  Everything seemed perfectly normal.

 

Then Delores suggested they purchase a house.  The financial stress of children and house payments made Dwyane exceeding nervous and uncomfortable, but thinking it would make her happy, acquiesced.  Everything seemed perfectly normal.

 

Throughout all of this, Dwayne’s drinking neither escalated, nor decreased (as Delores had hoped).  She made her feelings known on the matter a few times, but Dwayne’s behavior was rather harmless, and so she never pushed too hard, and Dwayne never made any real attempt to change.

 

A year later a second child, Stephanie, blessed the young couple, and two years after that, their third child, Phillip, entered the world.  Throughout this time, Dwayne continued to sell insurance, increasing his profitability only enough to cover their additional overhead, and with the children so small, Delores had yet to return to the world of work, interior design or otherwise.

 

Dwayne, a Brewers fan, spent his time adjusting to the preponderance of rabid Cardinals fans, getting use to a life without baseball, a life with children, home ownership, and what he termed, a pseudo-wife.

 

As the two prepared to go out to eat for their five-year anniversary and Dwayne combed his hair in the bathroom, he decided that when they got to the restaurant, he would have a talk with Delores.

 

The babysitter arrived, an occurrence which was far from common, and Dwayne went out to the driveway to start the car.  A couple minutes later, Dwayne looked up, and Delores appeared to be walking toward the car reluctantly, almost sideways, looking back over her shoulder at the front door.  This served to strengthen his resolve to broach the topic of his perceived lack of intimacy with his wife at dinner.

 

They arrived at the Centralia House Restaurant, the nicest place in town, and about 15 minutes into the meal, Dwayne said, “Delores, I am very happy that you are my wife, and I love you.  I do my best, but you haven’t seemed very interested in me for quite a long time.”

 

“Well, Dwayne, I love you, too, but you know, the kids take up a lot of time and energy, and it’s just hard,” she said.

 

Dwayne chose not to respond; mostly because he sensed no hint in her voice that there was any chance things would change in any way.  Then, he got pissed.  It was shortly after that evening, that he began to drink more.

 

 

 

The tedium of Dwayne’s mundane existence was not what he had in mind when he married the exceptionally beautiful Delores.  He couldn’t stand himself and had all he could do to trudge to work every day.  He didn’t do it for Delores.  He did it for his kids.  I have this to look forward to for the rest of my life.  That thought permeated his everyday existence.  He drank most nights.  He drank more than he should, and he knew it.  Nobody had to tell him that, and out of spite, there was no way in hell he was going to quit.  Periodically, Delores became angry.

 

“But what if something ever happened that you had to take a kid to the hospital or something?” Delores said to him one time.

 

“Then I’d take them.”

 

When she started on him, Dwayne did his best to ignore her.  So what?  So she’s mad?  Who in the hell cares? For Dwayne, feeling nothing was preferable to feeling angry all the time.  The decision wasn’t that hard for him to make.  Sometimes he couldn’t suppress his anger, and thoughts would pop into his head like, I bet the bitch can’t wait until we have enough money and she can divorce me.  Then she can be free to run around and screw everyone in town.  Everyone except me.

 

By this point, it was indiscernible what had caused what.  Did his drinking cause her initial indifference to him, or did her indifference to her husband contribute to his elevated drinking?  Some questions are very difficult to answer.

 

Though childish and not reflective of his true feelings, Dwayne kept a checklist in his top right desk drawer at work in which he checked off the milestone accomplishments in his life including ridding himself of high chairs for the final time, no longer needing car seats, the final little kid birthday party when Phillip turned seven, and on up the ladder until Phillip’s high school graduation.  During this time, Dwayne had honestly come to believe that his name had legally been changed to “Hey Dad.”

Things went along like this for the next 20 years, neither person happy, both wishing the other would change, with neither really understanding the root or extent of the other’s discontent.  Dwayne did some part time work as a handy man to make a little extra money and get out of the house.  Delores went back to work at the car dealership to make a little extra money and get out of the house.

 

It was June.  Evelyn had graduated from Washington University’s Olin Business School, where she majored in Finance, the previous year.  She took a position at the corporate office for Coldwell Banker Gundaker in St. Louis.  It had been almost a year since Dwayne and Delores had helped her move into a condominium near downtown, and she had recently begun talking about pursuing an MBA.  Stephanie had just completed her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and would begin work there on her Master’s degree in the Department of Veterinary Biosciences the following fall.  That summer, she stayed in Champaign where she had secured a job.  Phillip, who followed his parents’ footsteps and enrolled at SIU, had become a pretty good baseball player in his own right.  He walked on as an outfielder his freshman year, earned a partial scholarship his sophomore year, and was currently playing summer ball for the Springfield Sliders.

 

The emptiness of the house produced mixed results.  Dwayne enjoyed a greater degree of peace and solitude.  This helped his mood some.  But Delores so missed her children that her temperament actually became increasingly worse, and since Dwayne could not understand this, the net effect on her receptiveness to his existence and his drinking was zero.

 

Then about 7:30 in the evening on a Wednesday, a month after they had “celebrated’ their 25th wedding anniversary, Dwayne was sitting outside having a beer and reading the paper.  He began to wonder if Delores had stopped at the store for some reason on her way home from work when he received a call from the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department.

 

“Can you please come to identify the body . . .”

 

That was about all Dwayne remembered of the phone conversation.  His wife was struck by a truck on her way home from the car dealership and was very dead.

 

Dwayne, with the help of Evelyn, made the appropriate arrangements, and Delores Metcalf, mother of three, one-time raging beauty, and former college sweetheart of her future husband, Dwayne, was buried at the age of 48.

 

The next day, around two o’clock in the afternoon, Dwayne, still off of work, put his ring in his dresser drawer, and a very strange feeling overtook him.  He had a thought.  No matter what you do or how much money you make, the quality of one’s happiness in adulthood is directly proportional to the extent to which they marry the right person.  Free of the stress a marriage that had become intolerable, Dwayne took a deep breath, and realized he had had his last drink.  He no longer felt the need, nor did he have anything to prove.

 

Delores would never see the change in him she had been waiting on for so long.

  3 Responses to “The Chicken or the Egg”

  1. Even the most tragic of lives can turn…but sometimes too late. I enjoyed the story but would have liked to know just why her affections became so “neutral.” Perhaps greater depth here would provide readers with a true lesson in relationships

  2. Excellent short story! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  3. My first time on this site and I am particularly struck by the connection between image and word. There is a steadfast and serious quality to this story which paralells the theme of marriage and being stuck in what appears to be normality. It is a concise portrayal of what I imagine to be midwestern life, sparse in how the data is selected and shown, which I appreciate. It is a stark story and, unlike the first review, I appreciate the negative space. At first I objected to the use of so much cliche, then rethought that. It fits.