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John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Short Story: The Arranged Time



Peach Halves, 1962, Warhol


   Thisby waited in the very back of the Diner, in the shadows, away from the windows.  He told his wife he was going bowling, and that he would be home by 7:30, maybe 8:00.  It was 5:30.  He was late but he would be there.  She was dressed in red.  This was her Valentine’s Day.
   She looked around the Diner for a waitress and spotted a little girl in a Catholic school uniform who was talking to a smiling Nick the Greek.  Over at the counter a dapper, older man was having a lively conversation with a handsome older woman.  A pensive young man in his early 30s was sitting alone in a booth by the front door, alternating his gaze from the parking lot to the lobby.
   She watched an exhausted looking, heavyset young black woman in a security guard’s uniform step off the New Haven bus and walk out into the pouring rain that drenched her.  Yet she didn’t run. She walked in a slow, methodical fashion, her large arms swinging at her sides, the flesh squeezing out from around the short sleeve cuffs that were too tight for her big body.  She watched her enter the Diner and could hear her asking the waitress for an application and the waitress telling her that they weren’t hiring and that they were even cutting her hours back.
    Towards the front in one of the booths was that English teacher from high school, Mister…what was his name?  She’d forgotten it, but she remembered he was a nice man.  Who was that he was with?  His daughter?  Or a girlfriend, maybe?
   When the waitress arrived, she ordered her usual, a diet plate with water.  When the waitress left she looked herself over and decided, once again, that she was heavy in all the wrong places and the salad and ice water was another last ditch attempt to fight back.  What she wanted was a turkey club with fries and a shake.  In fact, it’s usually what she ordered when she wasn’t waiting for him.  But he would be there, any minute now.  He could never give her an exact time, and shortly after he arrived, she would follow him to the Motel 6 up on Route 8, always three cars lengths behind to be sure they weren’t followed.  He’d have her clothes off in minutes and she wanted to look good, and if she couldn’t look good, she would at least not look too fat.
   This waiting was always the same.  She would munch on her saltines and cottage cheese and wait.  She wondered if the school counselor was right when he said that her problem was that she didn’t think much of herself.  She wondered if that was why she drank too much, and she did drink too much, and she often wondered if she was an alcoholic. 
   She came from the working poor.  She was working poor and everything she had, and everything she had ever owned was old, or used or mended.  Even now, she barely made enough to buy anything new.  She recalled that in the twenty years of her life that she had never taken any friends into the house because she didn’t want them to see the way she lived.  It would be an embarrassment.  She thought that one day she would move out and get her own place but she was concerned that wouldn’t happen.  She would live there for the next thirty years, until she died and they would find her lying on the couch.  She’d have been there for a while.  She would die from alcohol and cigarettes.  She shook her head to make the thought go away faster and looked around the restaurant to be sure there was no one there who knew her or him.
   She loved him but she was beginning to think he didn’t love her like he said he did. Maybe he was just using her for sex.  She knew his wife from school.  She was pretty and tall and men acted stupid when she was around.  She felt guilty for what she was doing.  He told her that he wasn’t happy.  He said he married too quickly.  He should have waited.  He was going to leave her.  He promised her he would and she believed him a lot at first, but now, well now, not so much as before. 
   She looked at her twisted reflection in the bright metal strip at the end of the booth.  She knew she was homely, that her chubby face was scarred, ravaged really, with acne.  She was aware that her hair was a frenzied shock of brown that leaped into a dozen different directions at once and, adding insult to injury, she was short, shorter than most people, but wider than most people.  She knew she wasn’t particularly bright nor was she particularly dull, but she was void of all and any verbal eloquence.  So the words were never there for her, and people figured she was dense.  But she wasn’t.  She was average.  She was just average.  She was okay with that, with being average.
   She turned to look out the window, staring into the rain and again saw her reflection, her entire reflection.  She was fat.  All her life, she and fat were synonymous.  She thought how she never got asked to dance, and she loved to dance.  Sometimes when she was alone in her room she would dance by herself with the radio on.
   “Isn’t that sad?” she said softly.
   That morning, she had taken an early lunch with people from her office including that new guy from accounting, the one with the blue eyes.  They were walking back to the office, talking and having fun when a car full of teens drove by and screamed at her, “Get off the road, lard ass!”   
   It had happened to her before, and when it does you’re never alone.  It always happens in front of other people, people you like and people you pray to God like you back.
   The cute guy from accounting heard it but all she could do was to pretend as if she didn't hear a thing.  But you know all the time that he’s standing there thinking, "I hope she didn't hear that.” 
   She thought that sometimes it would be such a relief to be able to disappear.  Well, maybe not disappear, just not to be such a visible walking target for people to project their aggression onto.  It’s easy for someone to joke about scars if they’ve never been cut.
   She tried so hard to lose weight.  She hated all the energy that the struggle sapped out of her.  She hated going through every day knowing that she was considered unattractive by a huge percentage of the population because of something she couldn’t help.
   “I hate hating my body,” she whispered aloud.
   She loved him.  She loved him from the moment she first saw him in the hallway in junior high.  Was it eight years ago?  She would go on loving him until the day she died.  It wasn’t fair.  One day he strolled into her life and smiled at her or something simple like that and her life wasn’t her own anymore.  She was a hostage of sorts.  That was how she reasoned it all away.  That love had taken her hostage bit by bit.  First it captured her imagination, and then it stole her heart and finally it took her soul. 
   It started after graduation.  They were part of the same crowd.  He waited for her when others left her behind and he held doors for her.  He listened to her.  He was interested in what she had to say.  And because of all those things, she spoke to him freely and revealed herself to him in long conversations sitting on the grass by Colony Pond.  She had long ago forgotten the words he spoke to her but for the remainder of her life she would never forget how those words made her feel important and safe.  She never forgot anything about him, the way he stood, the way he sounded, and a hundred little things.
    As the months went by, the crowd thinned.  A few left for college, others for the army.  She stayed.  He stayed.  He married his wife and began his affair with her a few weeks later.  There were other men that came through her life, but the love she couldn’t have was the love that lasted the longest, took the biggest toll, felt the strongest, and hurt the deepest. 
    She wondered what would happen if she ended it.  Would she fall out of love?  Can a person fall out of love, true love?  Does that happen, she wondered?  Is it possible that there is an emotion so powerful that it finds a place in our soul?  Is true love eternal?
What they were doing was wrong and it bothered her.  It made her feel cheap...he made her feel cheap.  It was a sort of madness.  She liked to think that in a world filled with self-serving practicality there was something noble in her undying love for him.  It was unselfish and stoic and all the other right reasons.  All that she wanted was to be something in his life, but she knew in her heart of hearts, that their turn would never come.  Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odor of dusty linen.
   She could stop the hurt he caused her and she could stop it now.  She could end it tonight, now, here, at this moment.  All she had to do was get up and leave.