Exercising the craft—April 8, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: Your character’s husband is an alcoholic, but your character refuses to realize it. She idealizes him. The couple had a dinner party the night before, and your character’s husband got drunk and violent. Your character tells the story of the party in the first person and tries to convince the reader that what happened was no big deal.

http://www.creative-writing-now.com/short-story-topics.html

I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling.  Morning sun rays streak across the ceiling and the wall, and I lie there for a few minutes thinking about the party.

I realize some people might think Mark has a problem, but they don’t know what kind of stress he’s under.  He works so hard as a financial advisor, and these days with the economy the way it is—well, you try to manage other people’s money during a recession, and you’ll probably want to relax when you come home too.

And it’s better than running around with other women or doing drugs or something terrible like that.  But how could I explain all that to the people at the party last night?  They’re so caught up in their definition of societal norms that they forget that those definitions don’t help a person in the real world.

If only that idiot, Luke, hadn’t set Mark off.  Everyone else didn’t have a problem staying away from the topic of money and investing.  But Luke just had to talk about the banks and how it was their fault that everyone’s in this mess.  Mark doesn’t even work for a bank, but Luke was enough of a jerk to include investment firms.  He knew Mark would get mad—he knew it!

Mark actually had managed to get through most of the evening without any run-ins with anyone.  Sure, he’d stopped at the bar before coming home from work and had a couple of pegs, but I had everything handled at home anyway.  After working all day I would never dream of making him help me around the house.  That’s not fair to him.

I made sure the caterers came on time and had set everything up so that when Mark came home they wouldn’t be underfoot.  He hates when the caterers are buzzing around when he comes home.  I also had his favorite glass ready for him and made sure I had enough ice.  Mark likes his ice.

The guests started coming and Mark hadn’t showed up yet, but I did my best to gloss over it when anyone asked.  We’d only invited two couples and that new single guy who just moved in across the way.  Mark doesn’t like too many people at the house at one time, and I guess I can see how having more than four or five guests would cause a lot of noise.  And we never invite people with kids.  Mark says that the sound barrier breaks just by them walking into a room.

Of course, when I try to point out to Mark that more and more of our friends are having kids, he just ignores me.

But back to the party.

Luke and Ellie came first, and then Karen and Danny showed up.  I had just taken their coats when the doorbell rang again.  Michael smiled and held out a bottle of wine.

“Thanks for having me over,” he said, and I could tell he really meant it.  Poor guy, he probably doesn’t get a real home-cooked meal very often.

I smiled back and took the wine, and just then Mark came to the door.  He had a little trouble standing up straight, and when he saw the wine bottle in my hand and Michael standing there Mark just frowned at me.

Maybe he’d had more than a couple at the bar.  But he still usually managed to be pleasant when he came home.

“Who’s that from?” he asked.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath and kind of turned my face away.

“It’s from Michael,” I said, nodding my head to our new neighbor.  “You remember, don’t you, Mark?  He just moved in last month.”

“Wha—oh, yeah,” Mark said gruffly.  He pushed between Michael and me and did a pretty okay job making it into the house.

I saw Michael look at me, but I ignored him.  Most people usually look at me like that the first time they meet Mark, although I don’t know what they have to feel sorry about.

Anyway, even with that small thing at the door the evening still started pretty well.  And then Luke had to go and start slashing investors.

I could see Mark getting a little agitated, but I never thought he’d get so mad he’d start yelling.  And when Luke started to raise his voice too, something about that made Mark angrier.  One minute they were standing and staring each other down, the next Mark had turned and upended the card table the caterers had set up with the munching snacks—you know, chips and dip, nuts, that sort of stuff.

Thank heaven it wasn’t the drink table.  Things would have gotten bad.

Luke kind of stepped back when Mark dumped the table, but Mark didn’t notice.  He kept yelling at Luke.  After a minute Luke looked at me.

“I’m sorry, Gretchen, I think we gotta go,” he said, glancing at Ellie.  “I, uh—I have to get an early start tomorrow.”

“Yeah, you better get going, you little—” Mark let loose with a few words that I knew he normally wouldn’t use.

Ellie didn’t say anything, just stood there with wide eyes like she couldn’t believe what had happened.  I definitely couldn’t.  Didn’t Ellie know it was Luke’s fault?

Still, I wanted to make sure I hosted them well, so I told him I understood and that I was glad they could come.  I didn’t want to point out that no one had had dinner yet, even though I was sure Mark was hungry.  I’m sure that was why he was so out of sorts.

“We should probably be going too,” Karen said after getting a look from Ellie.  I don’t know what the look was for, but Danny started talking about needing to get somewhere in the morning too.

Michael just looked at everyone and back at me.  He didn’t have to say anything at all.

“I’ll get your coats,” I said.

“Get their coats, Gretchen, they all need to get out,” Mark said, walking back a few steps.  He looked at everyone, and then he turned and went back to the kitchen.  In a few moments I could hear ice clinking in a glass.

I ran to the coat closet and grabbed the jackets.  Now, more than anything, I wanted everyone to leave so I could help Mark feel better.

Luke and Ellie and Karen and Danny just mumbled something that resembled a goodbye.  I smiled at them, ever the gracious hostess, and then they walked out.  I turned to Michael and held out his leather jacket.

“I’m really sorry, Gretchen,” he said.  “I know it’s probably none of my business, but if you need some help,” he lowered his voice and glanced toward the kitchen, “I could try to get some information for you.”

I thought Michael had understood that Mark needed some space, that he was just overworked and under so much stress.  But he hadn’t understood at all.  I knew the smile I gave him was a cold one.

“That won’t be necessary, Michael, thank you,” I said, practically shoving the coat in his arms.  “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to take care of my husband.  He’s had a long day.”

He gave me another one of those looks—you know, the sympathetic kind—and left.  I took a deep breath and closed and locked the door.

If only people understood Mark better.

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