UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
JO NEACE KRAUSE

GOOD OLD AMERICAN FAIR PLAY

         It was during the new surge in the campaign. Going big time now. Enthusiastic crowds filled all the hotels in the city.

Everywhere we went people wanted to shake my husband’s hand and tell him they were for him, always someone proclaiming their love and how they were ready to die for him. I didn’t like that but what can you do, people are like that, wanting to be thrilled, like they have it coming, you know.

         If you didn’t see them on the street, swirling and gushing towards him, you saw them on television. His face was everywhere. We had to change clothes about every three hours to look fresh. The laundry came and went all day. Boxes of starched shirts, ties, jogging pants, underwear, socks, etc. I had a dozen suits, all colors, usually tight fitting at the waist, flared at the hips. I liked red best. With red shoes, high heels, only in heels can I feel my own importance. At first I wore a double string of pearls or something around my neck, but when I saw how easy it was for hands to come out of the crowd, grab hold of them, I stopped wearing them. The people meant no harm, just wanted a souvenir, I suppose. They were not real pearls, of course. The string broke with one pull and the tiny glass beads went all over. I noticed how no one ever stooped to pick them up. Too much trouble. Too dangerous. Like the liquor. The rivers of alcohol! Champagne, whiskey, gin, fire water, man. My husband talked fast when he drank. He got aggressive and wouldn’t let anyone butt in. He took up the whole room with a glass in his hand. Others in the room faded slowly into gray shadows while he became a Technicolor figure. Standing like a man next to a gas pump, pumping gallons, the wind carrying his voice. His wonderful hair. I sometimes laughed thinking how the stuff is stored in cellars, in underground tanks, then his saying, “If they cut off the flow we’ll drop the big ones on them! Nuke the hell out of them fucking red necks. That’s where it’s made, isn’t it. Says here on the bottle. The Commonwealth of Kentucky. Then Tennessee. Well, just let them get smart and try to cut off our supply.” Everyone was dancing, drunk and cracking jokes. The room was full of smoke. I kept telling him to slow down, don’t drink anything more, I pulled at his sleeve. But he said, “Look, it’s been ten days and I haven’t touched a teaspoon. Ten days and you think I can’t quit?”

         There was the band too, great band, young, wild, good looking people. A money crowd. A crowd that watched its weight, dressed right, singing in a roar, they looked strange, spellbound, like they were a flock sailing up to heaven. Then this little girl stepped up to the mike , swinging her hair, threw her head back and belted out southern nights, have you ever seen a southern night….lawd…have you ever? I told him again to watch it. He was looking all jacked out of shape, singing along with her, holding the gin bottle by the neck. “You can’t escape the pain what’s put you here,” I told him. “The hell I can’t!” he said. That was about two in the morning, about an hour before we staggered out, and then he starts up a conversation with these complete strangers in the elevator going up to the eighth floor, people who had not been in the ball room--- not important enough to be invited, huh? My husband kidded them. He smiled but his malice was like something that had crawled underneath the smile. They asked for my husband’s autograph and he began signing all these pictures, trying to balance himself against the wall. When the elevator stopped he got out with them. On the sixth floor.

         “You’re what? On your honeymoon? Then I want to be with you ever minute. See what you know for sure.” Lots of loud laughter, like a dog howling. And he went right into their suite with them. Arms around them. I followed because I was worried. Yes, because I knew what he was like when he got this drunk. And right away he starts getting pissy with them. You know, insulting them left and right. “Not important enough to run with the big dogs, huh? Didn’t pony up, huh? And you, bride woman, you’re going to go to bed with this worm creature, pretending you’re going to get some, huh? I’ll tell you who you should fuck on your wedding night. You should fuck me, something you’ll remember. You’ll remember that, I promise you! I’m a politician, you can believe me.”

         Yet he couldn’t be satisfied with insulting them. He had to get physical, start wrecking the place, breaking the lamps and stomping the drapes, after pulling them down. He had the devil right in him. He grabbed the woman by the hair and slung her around, her screaming for her husband to do something. Oh, he did something all right, pulled out his cell phone like it was a pistol… called his attorney, and you know the rest. Oh, you just think you know the rest. It cost us plenty to shut the story up, even if he was so good at denying it all. All a big misunderstanding. He said he was sorry for the mix up, sorry, until I pulled the real joker out of the deck. I realized three months later I was three months along. “It’s not mine,” he said with a grin.

         I broke down in tears. Then I said something he didn’t expect. “I know,” I told him. “I know it’s not yours.” His smile went away. He looked at me. He has a handsome sober face, very intriguing face.” “I know,” I kept saying, shaking my head while he waited. “You know it’s all your fault! The way you passed out and left me!” I repeated. He got interested. “So that man. The husband. That bridegroom. He insisted. Turn about is fair play. Right, he kept saying. If a man takes my wife, shouldn’t I take his? Just good old American fair play! You see, I just wanted to be fair. But Oh, I’m soooo sorry. Sooo sorry.” I wept. Even when I told him it was just a joke, he didn’t believe me. He wanted to die he said, because he had a fool for a wife! He took a bottle by the neck and locked himself in. I could hear him behind the door shouting and cursing. Saying he wanted to die!

         But he didn’t. Didn’t die. He rehabbed real well. Dropped the booze. Dropped the cocaine. But it will never be the same between us. I can tell you that much. A woman knows when things are over. That’s what liquor will do to a family, I always tell him when he gets to looking at me like I’ve messed up his life, that there’s the DNA test I could take as proof that I’m just kidding. Yet, he says he doesn’t really want to know. Best not to really know. He gets into moods. And there’s the thugs who look out for him. “Better keep that mouth closed about …” they tell me. Like I have something to tell somebody. But I can’t tell. Because I don’t have anything to tell. “Its all made up stuff, ” I say, and they say, “It better be.”








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