Not Very Pretty
Prof. Edgar Handler’s wife was a thin mousy woman with drab hair, but she was devoted to him. She prepared his meals on time, she did the annual taxes so that he didn’t have to, she did the dishes and the laundry and the grocery shopping and cleaned the house, of course, and she would do anything he wanted to do in bed–some of it kinkier than he supposed other women would have permitted. That was fortunate for Edith because if she hadn’t readily followed his orders and been so utterly compliant in so many ways, he thought he might have divorced her a long time ago. She was not quite pretty enough to be the Dean’s wife, and Edgar Handler thought that some day–if he played his cards right–he might end up as the Dean. He supposed that having such an ordinary-looking woman wouldn’t disqualify him out of hand. She was sweet and likable enough. It was just that he couldn’t help thinking what an asset it would be to have a smart, vivacious, socially adept woman like his colleague Erika Bishop at his side, never mind that she had no interest in him. Whatever else you could say about Edith’s good qualities, she was not socially adept and she was not very pretty.
Lately she had started taking tennis lessons and walking around the house in a cute white tennis outfit with a very short skirt. The outfit seemed out of character for Edith, since she had never worn anything like it before. Edgar did not know quite what to make of it. The skirt revealed her slender, beautiful legs to the world in such a flagrant way that Edgar was embarrassed for her and embarrassed to consider that she might be identified in public in that dress as his wife. One had to consider public perceptions, after all. Her appearance reflected upon him. “Don’t you think you could find a more modest costume to wear at tennis,” he said one day, apropos of nothing in particular except his own misgivings.
“No,” Edith said. “This is what they all wear.”
“But aren’t they all quite a bit younger than you are?”
“Most of them.”
“Surely you could find something else then, something more age-appropriate.”
“I’m not that old,” she said and sashayed out the door. He believed it was the most defiant thing she had ever done in his presence! What did she think she was doing! He had made a perfectly reasonable suggestion! He could see he was going to have to speak to her about it again–much more firmly next time.
But he wasn’t very focused on Edith at the time. His attention was on more important matters, namely, the endowed professorship competition within the English Department. The only two candidates were, one, Prof. Ernest Strickland, the Chair and most senior member of the English Department, a man who had been associated with the College for better than twenty-five years, and, two, Ben Pelphrey, the upstart candidate, a person who had been hired only six years earlier and had only recently been promoted to Associate Professor. No one else even had the temerity to run against Strickland because they were gentlemen (and gentlewomen) enough to realize what bad form it was to do so. But Pelphrey, with his immense ineptitude in social matters, plunged ahead like the egotist he was. In his way, Edgar was delighted—delighted that Pelphrey should make such a crass move—but also terribly anxious that he might succeed.
Edgar Handler regarded Pelphrey as his personal nemesis, and it had become the pattern of his life to make matters difficult for Pelphrey whenever he could. Pelphrey was amiable enough and had tried in his own fumbling ways to be friendly to Edgar over the years, but they were always pitted against one another–there was no getting around that point, in Edgar’s view–for no other reason than the fact that they were near contemporaries, they were often in competition for the same plums of academic advancement, and they were both considered “poets.”
Edgar was irritated because Pelphrey had definitely not been hired as a poet. If he had known the man wrote poetry “on the side,” he would have done more to prevent his hiring in the first place. The problem was that Pelphrey’s incidental and occasional poetry was far better received than his own, which was his main scholarly pursuit—if publication was any measure of accomplishment. It wasn’t, in his estimation. It simply showed that Pelphrey had better contacts than he did. But some people did believe the fallacy that publication proved the inherent worth of the work, and this was a source of endless pain for Edgar. Pelphrey’s publications!
Pelphrey had undoubtedly appraised the current situation and concluded that the fact that he had published so many essays, reviews, stories—and even poems—in so many estimable journals would count in his favor. (Pelphrey thought they were estimable, but Edgar had never heard of some of them. Well, he had heard of them, but he was going to pretend that he hadn’t.) Weren’t endowed professors supposed to be well-published? Strickland had not published very much—true. The only publication he had was his own dissertation, if the truth be known, which he had published himself twenty-five years ago in a handsome leather-bound volume. Maybe that didn’t count, in some quarters, but the scholarship was impeccable.
At some institutions perhaps publication would have been the sole criterion no doubt—publication that was not self-publication. But at Merit University, thank God, a man’s character had something to do with whether or not he was to be so honored—his character and the many, many contributions he had made to the welfare of the College as a whole for so many years, serving on so many committees, chairing a major department, and serving as a mentor to so many younger faculty members. Strickland, for Heaven’s sake, had been elected Chair of the Faculty Council, the highest governing body within the University. And, after all, the true importance of colleague’s publications ought to be judged by the quality of the scholarship they contained, not by the mere frequency of appearances all around the globe in a mishmash of ephemeral journals that no one had ever heard of—or even if a few people had heard of some of them.
The coup de grâce was when a member of the Nominating Committee asked that the candidates place samples of their publications in the Departmental lounge for members to peruse. Ben Pelphrey actually brought in a small blue bookcase, and his publications filled every square inch of it—two shelves worth—about five linear feet across of bound material, mostly journals, but there were books too, mostly edited volumes, of course, not books he had actually written. But to Edgar Handler it was a staggering sight. It was mind-boggling and embarrassing to everyone. Such prolificity was obscene in its way. Then poor Prof. Strickland had been faced with the task of laying his modest leather-bound volume in front of this bursting shelf, and Edgar could only imagine the feelings that must have accompanied that humble act. He thought Pelphrey’s behavior unforgiveable!
No one gazing upon the sheer volume of Pelphrey’s output could argue that Pelphrey had not put in a lot of hard work, and Edgar would be the first to acknowledge that he deserved credit for that. But was this young man really ready for an endowed professorship? That was the theme he hit upon in his many conversations on the topic. Wasn’t it true—when you looked into the matter carefully—that Pelphrey’s publications were neither fish nor fowl, neither scholarship nor art. They were actually journalism, journalism of a higher sort perhaps but journalism nonetheless—generally slick and facile, as journalism so often was. Even the poems were a form of journalism, workmanlike bulletins and excretions from his unconscious about his utterly prosaic and petty concerns, which consisted mainly of embarrassing confessions about his exercise routine, his marital life, and eulogies and elegies of his dead father.
Nevertheless, in spite of what Edgar regarded as a slam dunk for Prof. Strickland’s candidacy, he had one more element to interject that he thought might contribute to the dialogue they were having as a Department and that was certainly relevant; and this he made to Prof. Strickland himself in his capacity as Chair early during the week of the election for the professorship. Edgar steeled himself and knocked on Strickland’s door late one afternoon and was welcomed in and asked to please sit down. Edgar started to do so, then made a gesture indicating that he had best close the door first, since this was serious. Then he sat.
“There is a matter that I thought I should bring to your attention,” Edgar began, “but I’ve been reluctant to do so.”
“Edgar, you know you can discuss anything with me. If it’s something that you’d like to keep private—just between us—then so be it.”
“Well, I would leave that decision entirely to your discretion, of course—what to do with it, I mean. I just didn’t want to seem like a tattle-tale, but my private feelings are probably not as important in the grand scheme of things as getting the facts out and considering what it might mean to the Department. It’s about the new man.”
“Yes. Pelphrey. He seemed like such a good hire at the time too.”
“He’s having some difficulty, is he?”
“I’m afraid he has a little trouble keeping his zipper in line, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, no! Frankly, I wondered about that. Keeping it in the up position, you mean?”
“Well, yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Oh, my. Have there been any complaints about that?”
“Well, no—not to my knowledge. Not complaints per se. But I’ve heard some rumblings, you know—oblique things, nothing definite. But I can read between the lines, I think. Secrets are not that easy to keep in a community this size. The girls seem to like him, I guess—at least so far. At least they aren’t complaining yet, and, you know, they flock to his classes.”
“Oh, but a thing like this could blow up in our faces, Edgar. Eventually, one of them will complain—you can bet on it.”
“Well, it’s certainly not what we would hope for in the way of increasing enrollments.”
“I’m obliged that you mentioned it, Edgar. A thing like this could do serious damage to the reputation of the Department as a whole, and of course there is the possibility of lawsuits to consider.”
“I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re absolutely right,” Edgar said.
“Times have changed.”
“Yes, they have. They have indeed.” Strickland himself was married to one of his former students, and Edgar did not know the circumstances under which this had occurred. Had Strickland and his wife become involved while she was his student? He didn’t know, but it made him a little uneasy to think about it.
Strickland sat back in his chair for a moment and sucked on his teeth. “At this point, I think we should follow a policy of watchful waiting. We need something concrete in order to actually confront the fellow about it. But keep your ear to the ground, Edgar, and let me know if there is anything new on this subject—anything at all. I’ll mention it quietly to a few of the senior members, and we’ll keep our eyes open. Thank you.”
“Thank you,” Edgar said. “That seems a wise course.”
“I’m grateful to you, Edgar, for having the good of the College in mind, for your willingness to confide in me about a thing like this. I know it couldn’t have been easy.”
“Not at all,” Edgar said. “I had confidence that you would know the best way to handle it, and your response is a great relief to me. If you don’t mind my saying so, it’s a little bit easier to participate as a junior member of the group when the senior members are as experienced in the ways of the world as you are. It sets an example that we all can follow.”
Edgar’s elation as he left the Chair’s office was at a peak. For all he knew, Pelphrey was guilty as charged. He certainly might be. But even if he were not, this little stratagem might slow him down somewhat, and that was really all Edgar was hoping for—to slow Pelphrey down. Edgar did not intend to do any real injury to the man—of course not—he hardly knew him. He didn’t want to know him. If Pelphrey had won the professorship, Edgar did not think he could have endured it—there was that. But he did not feel in competition with Prof. Strickland who was not unlike him, just a generation older, and who was, at the same time, almost a father figure to him and who was shaping up as a valuable ally as well. Prof. Strickland was so much more deserving of the honor than Pelphrey, it did not bother Edgar in the least that he had gone to such lengths to assure that Strickland would win. Within the week, the verdict was well-known. Strickland did win, of course. It was really no contest.
That evening when they went to bed, he tied Edith’s arms to the bedposts, as he usually did, and then whipped her, bottom to top. He used more force than usual and even smacked her ears, to show his displeasure with her attitude about the tennis outfit, and she kept her lips tight and squinted up at him to see when the thrashing would be over. He untied her and turned her over and tied her up again and flayed her bottom more than usual with the cat-of-nine-tails, leaving a few marks. Usually she kicked and moaned when he did that, but this time she just lay there as stiff as a board as if she was completely oblivious or didn’t care. “What’s the matter?” he said.
“Untie me,” she said, “so I can do you.” Usually she was in no hurry for the next step. But he untied her and lay down quickly beneath her as she stood above him. Much to his surprise, she reached down and used the same ropes to tie his hands to the headboard as he had used on her. He let her do it, though she had never wanted to before, and he had never asked to have it done. He loved what came next–the sight from below of her tilted pelvis and the way her hairy vagina looked. Usually it gave him an instant erection, but tonight it did not. Something did not feel normal. Something was in the air. Suddenly, she was peeing in his face, which was not permitted. “Hey,” he said. “Stop that this instant!”
“I’m leaving you, Edgar,” Edith said. “I’m running away with Jerry!”
“What?” he said, choking for a moment, and spitting. “Who in the hell is Jerry?” He thought she must be joking.
“He’s my tennis pro,” she said, “and he loves me.” Then she hopped off the bed and walked out of the bedroom without bothering to untie him. As Edgar strained his neck to watch her go, he was flabbergasted that she would just leave him there. What in hell did she think she was doing! Slowly he began to realize that she wasn’t joking at all. Thus began his “Period of Mourning.”
With Edith gone, Edgar Handler’s life took a downward spiral that almost finished him off. At first, he was simply angry all the time–but especially angry at Edith and at that fucking tennis pro, Jerry, the man who stole his wife. Jerry, for God’s sake! What kind of ridiculous name was that? Who was stupid enough to leave a man who was a full professor at a prestigious university and probably the next Dean to run away with a poorly educated ball-chaser, a man with no profession at all? Apparently Edith Handler was!
Playing tennis was not a profession in Edgar’s book–it was merely recreation, no matter how well you did it. Where was this Jerry going to find work now anyway after committing the unpardonable sin of running off with one of his students? Jerry would be lucky to get a job sweeping floors. Edith was going to regret that she had thrown in her lot with such a poor provider. Then maybe she would reconsider.
It was one thing to stand around the tennis court in skimpy clothes in someone’s arms whilst they pretended to show you the proper swing and quite something else to go through the grind of day-to-day living together, especially if the main breadwinner was an out-of-work former jock who sat around the apartment all day drinking beer and belching and regretting what he had done. Well, Edgar could state one thing with absolute certainty. He was not going to take her back! After she had humiliated him in front of the entire campus community! After she had left him tied to the bedposts! After she had actually filed for divorce and gone through with it. She was now just a memory, and thus she would remain. His first wife. He never wanted to see her again. He never wanted to speak to her again. And no matter how many times she came crawling back to him, begging for mercy and claiming she was sorry for putting him through what she had done, he was not going to listen or forgive her.
Then he went out and wasted a couple of thousand dollars consulting various lawyers about whether or not it would be a good idea to sue Jerry What’s-his-name from here to Kingdom Come for breach of contract or Grand-Theft-Spouse or Using-Tennis-to-Insinuate-His-Way-into-Edgar’s-Wife’s-Underpants. But no such laws existed in this context. According to the lawyers, there was not going to be any payoff there at all, so, reluctantly, Edgar dropped the idea and wished he hadn’t wasted the money.
After several months, when it became clear that Edith was not going to come back, begging, crawling, or otherwise, and Edgar was living in a house that resembled a rat’s nest, his attitude underwent a slight revision. He missed her. He missed her terribly. He thought often of their early courtship –every little thing that she had done or said–and what a wonderful woman she had been and what a fine mother to their children. She had sacrificed so much for him. He hadn’t realized how much she meant to him. He hadn’t appreciated her properly–there was no doubt of that. God, he would give anything to see her moaning on the bed again, kicking at him and thrashing from side to side as only she could do. The farmhouse where they had lived together was too full of memories, so he sold it abruptly, put his furniture into storage, and moved into an apartment near campus.
His classes suffered, and his writing did too. He couldn’t focus! All he could think about was Edith and their former happy lives together. What had gone wrong? Why had he been such a prig and an asshole? He started buying large bottles of Johnny Walker Black and imbibing after dinner each night, lining up the bottles along the kitchen counter and watching their progression through blurry eyes across the beige Formica as if they were measuring the length and seriousness of his decline into the abyss. Oh, yeah, time to add another to the long, long line–it was the Johnny Walker Black Plague in Merit, New York–but at least it was helping to keep him sane.
Okay, maybe not. He knew he was slightly tight when he went into the bank that day, but it was not a big deal. He just needed some cash, and he wasn’t at all certain how to use the ATM machine–never had used it and never would. Whether he was a Luddite or not was beside the point. This was the way he always did it–he walked up to the teller as he always had. It was late in the afternoon, and so he supposed everyone was a bit tired and stressed out at the end of the work day, but that, in his opinion, did not excuse the surly attitude of the teller he encountered. She said in the snippiest possible way that if she cashed this check his account would be overdrawn, and, in addition, she handed his check back to him as if it was covered with bugs! “You’ve made a mistake,” he said, as politely as possible. “Possibly you’re using the wrong account number?’
“No mistake,” she said. “You have zero funds in this account, Mr. Handler.” Then she gave him the God-what-a-jerk look that sent him over the edge.
“Do you have any idea who I am?” he said.
“Handler, it says here. Mr. Edgar Handler. Is that correct?”
“Dr. Edgar Handler,” for your information. “I’m Atwood Professor of English at Merit University!” She did not seem to be very impressed by that, as she should have been. “Do I look to you like someone who would overdraw my personal checking account?”
“I don’t go by looks, Sir. You could be General Petraeus, for all I know. I have to go by the numbers, and the numbers say you have a balance of zero. I’m sorry about that, Mr. Handler.”
“You say you’re sorry, but you don’t look sorry at all, if I may say so. Maybe if I showed you this big gun in my pocket, you would look just a bit more contrite? What do you think? I just cleaned it this morning too. It’s ready to go.”
“That won’t be necessary, Sir. I really am very sorry.” But Edgar was already making a bulge with his forefinger inside the pocket of his sports coat, and already the teller was reacting to it. Yes, indeed, she began to look as if she might be just a little bit sorry for offending him, but she may have pressed a button behind the counter at that point–he was never quite certain of the details.
“It’s only a .45,” he said. “But I’ll bet it would blow your face off with one shot.” The next thing he knew his head was hitting the floor like an overripe watermelon and what felt like a 300-pound man in a guard’s uniform was straddling him and pinning his arms above his head.
“No gun,” the guard called out. “He’s unarmed.” There were voices all around him, and general chaos, which Edgar thought it best to avoid. So he simply pretended to be unconscious, though he supposed he may actually have been unconscious. He certainly should have been after taking a hit like that. In any case, he had sustained a severe concussion–that much was certain. All the doctors agreed on that point. It was just a little misunderstanding, for God’s sake! Why did they have to make a Federal production out of it. The teller overreacted! He was joking! Yes, he supposed he did have a somewhat oddball sense of humor–that much he was willing to concede. He was an egghead, har-har. Prof. Edgar Handler ended up in the Rome Insane Asylum, though they didn’t call it that anymore. It was the nearest bona fide mental hospital to the Merit campus, and he stayed for over a week at the Dean’s suggestion while his colleagues covered for him. Edgar did not see much of the other patients, nor did he want to for that matter, because he spent most of that time in bed, thinking and sobering up. To tell the truth, it took him that long before he could stand up without feeling dizzy. What a charade! What a rotten deal! The coup de grâce was that he did have over $5000 in his checking account! The shit-for-brains teller had been looking at his savings account!
He supposed now he could forget about ever becoming the Dean of Merit University if Dean Tim should ever decide to move on, but that was perfectly okay with him. It was a relief actually–a whole lot less to worry about. He had enough to worry about just getting through the day. Why had he even wanted it?–the Deanship? He couldn’t remember. He was a poet after all, and a poet had a lot to think about and write about. Poetry and madness were close cousins, of course, and always had been, so this fall from grace should not have surprised him as much as it did. If anything, this was a confirmation of his condition and stature, proof of his calling. He was a madman, and the world had found him out. The world was so crazy that it made every truly sensitive person crazy right along with it. A poet suffered and a poet wrote poems about that suffering, and that was what he was going to do now. He was already doing the former! Now this was his wake-up call. He would just give in to his inner madman and produce works of transcendent genius, just as he had always wanted to do.
In the hospital and all that fall Edgar began to think about Lauren Landfair again–his Buffy. Buffy had been one of his best students back in the eighties, and for a time he had wanted to forget her because of the compromising position she had placed him in. She was such a beautiful girl, just beautiful. Well, okay, she wasn’t that beautiful in the traditional sense. She was gawky and maybe a little knock-kneed; and not everyone considered freckles to be beautiful. But she had the kind of wholesome good-looks of the rich blonde girls in the Ralph Lauren ads and commercials and she was, in fact, a rich blonde girl from Darien, a privileged girl with a prep school education, an incredible wardrobe, and a Mercedes Benz. She was the kind of girl who wouldn’t have looked at him twice if they had met in high school or grad school or anywhere else but Merit University when he was her poetry professor. His position of authority gave him some kind of momentary glamour in her eyes, and he took advantage of that. Or she did. Who was really the aggressor? It was hard to say.
In a way, it was Pelphrey’s fault. By then, Edgar had begun to believe his own rumors about Pelphrey. He knew this was a bit screwy. He knew that he had no real evidence for any such transgressions on Pelphrey’s part. Pelphrey had an attractive wife he seemed devoted to, but Edgar chose to believe that Pelphrey was sticking it to every female student under his guidance, every one that he chose to debauch, that is. No one could have done them all, but Edgar imagined Pelphrey could take his share and was doing it. His sense of outrage was equaled only by his pangs of envy. That not one student stepped forward to even flirt with Edgar himself was humiliating enough. That not one female came forward to complain about Pelphrey’s behavior was evidence to Edgar that Pelphrey was getting away with it, and the only conceivable way that Pelphrey could be doing that, in Edgar’s mind, was because the women were satisfied!
Then Buffy appeared, so attentive, so bright-eyed. So flirtatious. Who could have resisted her? Pelphrey might not have considered her beautiful enough, and Edgar supposed that his own perception of her might have been air-brushed and romanticized somewhat—after the fact. But she was beautiful to him, the way she shyly unzipped his fly and then took his penis into her mouth–no questions asked, no permission called for, impossible to deny–the way she knew how to deep throat his member so that her lips went all the way up to the end of his shaft. O my God! Where did she learn to do that, he wondered? How many dicks had she practiced on? Or was she born knowing it? It did take a certain talent after all. He tried to teach Edith to do it once, but she only gagged and threatened to throw up–not exactly the romantic outcome he was hoping for. Poor Edith–how he would be delighted with whatever fumbling efforts she might make in that direction now!
It had all started with Buffy Landfair when he had invited her to dinner at the farm. Edith was away for the week at her mother’s. He was feeling lonely, so on an impulse after they had finished going over one of her poems in his office he had invited Buffy to come on out to his place for dinner later on and she had accepted. The farmhouse on 155 acres was utterly private and remote. (How he missed that place now–he wished he hadn’t sold it.) He still remembered the sight of Buffy’s cherry red Mercedes coming slowly towards him up the long gravel driveway. He stood on the porch and waved to her–the not-so-famous poet in his carefully chosen Orvis clothing–and when she emerged from the car, she was carrying a bouquet of gorgeous yellow irises for him. She was that thoughtful. Of course, they had had the requisite wine with dinner, but it was not drunkenness that led to his affair with her but like-mindedness. She liked to suck his penis and he liked it too. No, he mustn’t demean it in any way. It went beyond the physical. It was pure poetry in itself, pure animal attraction and mutual admiration at first. She was a fine student and a talented apprentice poet who deserved the A’s he gave her. They could talk to one another without pretense or inhibition, like equals, though she, of course, always deferred to his superior knowledge. She played him perfectly. She had a mediocre mind and talent, but she knew exactly how to get what she wanted out of him. Oh, for God’s sake!
Okay, why did she stop coming around for free blowjobs in the backseat of her car after the class was over? Just as he was growing accustomed to the intoxicating, erotic scent of expensive leather? Why did she end it with him that way? Was it guilt on her part? Obviously not–she was never guilty about anything. He was the guilty one. Had he ruined it with his guilt? Quite possible. More than possible. Had he ruined it because he could never bring himself to make love to her? She did him, and he thanked her, grateful but paralyzed. Not exactly the basis for a long term relationship! How could he have made such an oversight? How could he have been such a klutz? He realized that he didn’t really know how to approach women, not even one that he was terribly in love with. He was inept as a lover. Yet he had to acknowledge that in spite of his disappointment at the time, a part of him was relieved to be free of her, and delighted when she graduated. He was terrified that he might be found out, and if they had gone on as they were, he would have been. Somehow he had managed to skate through.
Years passed and Edgar’s life entered a period of stasis. He continued to live in the cramped apartment. He was a portly, balding endowed senior professor, and the junior members listened to him and were very polite in his company. But he was not certain if they took him seriously or not. Perhaps not. His mentor Strickland was long gone, still living but retired and no longer a player. Edgar missed him terribly. Edgar missed Edith terribly. Edgar even missed Pelphrey! Pelphrey had gotten another job somewhere else. Now that there was no one to compete against, no one of distinction in the Department who had the credentials that Pelphrey had, the place seemed vacuous to him—and lackluster. How had he gotten himself tethered to such a place? It was not good for his work to be surrounded by such mediocrities. The students barely tolerated his meandering lectures. Either they were not as smart as previous generations had been, or he was not as sharp himself.
There was no question that these new students were different, less interested in text that went on beyond a few paragraphs. It was almost as if they all suffered from attention deficit disorders. They were less interested in poems that had deeper meanings too. If they couldn’t understand something on a first reading, they gave up. They had no patience with the process of exegesis, or with him. They wanted billboards, not poetry. They wanted slogans, not verbal acuity. It was painful to him to feel so old and out-of-touch, and horrible to be considered a notorious bore. He felt he should probably retire soon or lose all of his self-respect, but he had no idea what he would do if he did retire. How would he occupy himself? He supposed he would write or try to write, but he had no energy for it now. He did not have an appetite for the sheer labor of it. Who was he kidding? He had never been more than a pedestrian poet, and he never would be anything more than that! It was astonishing that his colleagues had not recognized this essential defect about him, or maybe they had. He knew a great deal about poetry, of course. He was primarily a scholar of poetry, and that knowledge had served him well in the classroom for many years—until recently when no one seemed at all interested in it anymore.
He was still living in this miserable apartment and paying storage bills for his furniture from the farm. Maybe he should move back out into the country and take long walks across the meadows, he thought. Maybe he should buy 200 acres somewhere. He got in the car one sunny Saturday afternoon and went for a long drive. His meandering path took him several miles out of the village and wound back and forth along narrow country roads like the one he used to live on. Eventually he found his way to that road too. He supposed he had in mind to stop at the foot of his old driveway and reminisce and feel sorry for himself again, as he often did these days, but as he approached the old place where he had turned in so many times in the past, his heart almost stopped because there was a For Sale sign posted there among the honeysuckle and bramble bushes. By God, he couldn’t believe it! He wondered how much they were asking for it?
Within a month’s time, he had bought back the farm, shed his lease, removed his old furniture from storage, hired a couple of his students and a truck and moved in. His prospects brightened. He tried to put everything back exactly as it had been before his life had gone so suddenly downhill, and then he sat there and looked at it in the silence and occasional birdsong and wondered if this had been a good idea. He bought it back for less than he had sold it for fifteen years earlier–because real estate prices had tanked in the meantime–so it seemed like a good business proposition. But he was still terribly lonely and the opportunity to reflect on the past was increased exponentially.
Then one day he made his usual slow walk down to the mailbox at the end of his driveway and found a postcard from Edith, forwarded from his old address. There was nothing on it but her phone number, so he hastened back into the house and dialed her number.
“I bought back the old place,” he told her rapturously.
“Well, isn’t that wonderful,” Edith said.
“Where are you living now?” Edgar said.
“Buffalo,” she said.
“How in the world did you end up there?” he said. “Where’s Jerry?”
“Jerry left a long time ago, Edgar. Jerry left about a month after we got here.”
“And so you’ve been living there all this time?”
“Do you live alone?”
“Yes, of course.”
“What do you do?”
“I work as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, Edgar. It’s not very exciting work, but it gets me out of the apartment. I can’t afford a car, so I just ride the bus or walk.”
“It’s so good to hear the sound of your voice,” he said.
“Yours too. What are you doing? Are you still teaching?”
“Yes, though I’ve thought about retiring.”
“Are you married yet?”
“Heavens no, of course not. You know, you’re the only girl for me, Edith, and you always have been. I’ve missed you so much. Nothing is the same without you.”
“Oh, Edgar…. I’m surprised to hear you say that.”
“Well, it’s the truth.
“Do you mean it or are you just making polite conversation?”
“What a thing to say! Of course I mean it!”
“Why haven’t you told me before this?”
“I didn’t know where you were! I thought you were still with Jerry. I didn’t think you would want to hear it.”
“Edgar, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I’ve been thinking that I might like to come home now.”
“Today? You mean, this home?”
“That home—yes—if you wouldn’t mind considering it. I mean—what do you think about that idea?”
“I don’t have to think about it at all. I’ll come and get you!”
“Can I come today? I’ll get in the car right now.”
“You want to come today?”
“I don’t know. Okay, that would be okay, I guess.”
“What time will you get here?”
“As soon as I can. I’ll call you.”
“I’m quite a bit older, Edgar. I hope you recognize me.”
“I have no doubt that I will—no doubt at all.”
He made himself a sandwich and a thermos, got in the car, seized the wheel, pointed it in the direction of Buffalo, and started off. He drove a little too fast because he couldn’t wait to be there. He was going to see Edith today! He was going to bring her back home!
Joe David Bellamy’s novel Green Freedom was published in 2012 by Narrative Library. He has recent stories in Narrative and The Provo Canyon Review. “Not Very Pretty” is from his new novel Merit, which is out now looking for a home.