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USGN, Chapter Six (Part One)

How bold is it of me to separate a chapter into parts?

The truth is, I hit some writer’s block- but here’s the first part of Chapter Six.

6.

Voices echoed throughout the house. They sounded jovial. Skip opened his eyes, and at first was frightened. It was dark. Then he remembered that he’d taken a nap. What time is it? How long was I out?

He rubbed his eyes and got out of bed. He looked down at his completely naked body. He rushed to dress himself. He went to the bathroom, examined himself, and then went downstairs. As he got closer to the kitchen, the voices became more distinct. It was Evelyn. She was laughing. The first time he had heard it. It was Florence, uttering a few sharp phrases followed by her own, deep belly laughs. Then, a man’s voice. A voice that was familiar. Mr. Smith.

Skip suddenly felt more self-conscious of his fresh-out-of-bed appearance, but plastered a smile on his face before he entered the kitchen.

“Oh, Mr. Wilson! You’re up!” Evelyn said. She was holding a champagne flute. Surely, Mr. Smith’s arrival was an occasion worth celebrating. “Sherman, this is our guest, Mr. Skip Wilson.”

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wilson,” said Sherman.

“And I, yours,” Skip replied. “Is there more champagne?”

“Of course. Florence, can we get another glass?”

“I’m so happy you two finally get to meet. And I’m so glad you’re home.” Evelyn turned to Sherman. He grabbed her waist and pulled her in to kiss her. She laughed as their lips met. Skip was caught off guard by their shameless display of affection, and Evelyn’s merry countenance. He found himself getting caught up in her joy, and smiled broadly watching the two of them interact. Clearly, she had been as miserable as he had been, longing for her husband, and that is why their interactions had become so stagnant.

It was refreshing to see a happy face in the house. Skip was worried that his entire visit would be colored by gloom.

“So, Skip,” Sherman said. “Let’s go to the parlor and drink there. I’m dying to hear how you two have been getting along.” Evelyn smiled and they walked together to the parlor, poking at each other teasingly. Florence handed Skip a full glass of champagne and he followed them and their voices.

It was amazing to him, watching their chemistry come to life. In some sort of way, he imagined their marriage as one of convenience and circumstance, and as such, lifeless and morose. Perhaps it was his own mood, his own view of relationships that painted a sheen over theirs.

“I have to say, Skip,” said Sherman, “it feels like we’ve met once before.” Skip practically choked on his champagne he was in the middle of sipping.

“You don’t say?”

“I’ve always thought,” Evelyn began, “well always meaning in the past few days that we’ve become acquainted, that you two would get along swimmingly.”

“I think we should. We’re both crazy about you, darling. Aren’t we, Skip?”

“So far, we’ve-”

“To be honest,” Evelyn interrupted, “we haven’t spent that much time together. Here and there, but you know, Skip is a writer. He’s quite solitary. We did go to town yesterday and picked up a few things for dinner.”

Calm and cool Evelyn had become stiff and defensive, and Skip responded in kind. He tensed up, then took a swig of champagne as if it were water.

“Ah, yes, well I’m sure whatever you picked up, Florence will turn into something miraculous, as usual. Skip, you’ve had a chance to eat- how many of her meals now?”

“Haven’t been counting, but I’ve been here…”

“Four days. Three meals a day. You skipped lunch, didn’t you? Ten so far, then.”

Skip grew uncomfortable. Small talk of this nature always did. He’d met Sherman already, and now Evelyn was acting as if they had only seen each other in passing.

“Have you been writing anything worth reading, Mr. Wilson?” This question came from Sherman, whose countenance had taken a marked turn and was suddenly rigid.

“Unfortunately, I can’t find any inspiration. Or it hasn’t found me. Still haven’t worked out exactly how the pattern goes. After all these years, you’d think I’d have mastered it.”

“I’ve found sometimes that we can’t know ourselves as much as we’d like to. Sometimes I think I know Evelyn here more than I know myself. Isn’t that strange?”

“A bit. I’ve never found myself in that predicament.”

“It’s not a predicament. Let’s not label it that way. I consider it an advantage.”

A kind of darkness imbued the room, not in the way of light, but in the way it felt.

“I’m going to get another glass of champagne. Would anyone like a refill?”

“I think, actually, I’d like something a little stronger,” Sherman said melodically.

“Then I might, as well.”

Evelyn had remained silent for the past few moments. Skip looked at her. Her pallor had gone white.

“Evelyn, darling, could you check on dinner? And maybe get yourself some more champagne. Finish off the bottle.”

“Alright.” Evelyn adjusted her composure and walked out of the room. Both of the men watched her walk away and then instead of turning to each other, faced the bar instead.

“What should we go for? I’m thinking a nice bourbon,” Sherman growled.

“That sounds good,” Skip replied stiffly.

“She won’t be back for a few minutes. We can talk. Though perhaps we’d better go outside.” Skip watched Sherman pour the whiskey as if he was watching the clock. Soon, it would be time to drink in and numb out. He couldn’t stand it.

“I’ll meet you out there.”

“Ah, one second. Almost done.” Sherman slowed the pour and it was like torture. “There we are.”

Skip twisted the handle on the door and began to push.

“Ah, ah. I haven’t given you your drink yet. We haven’t toasted yet. Bad luck to do that outside. Didn’t you know?”

“I didn’t, no.”

“Must be a Southern tradition.” Sherman handed Skip a rather full glass. “What should we toast to? Good health? Good fortune?”

“What about simply a good meal and a restful night’s sleep?”

“You’ve gotta think in the long term, Skippy. Come on. Try harder.”

“To getting to know each other better.”

“I like the sound of that.” Sherman held his glass forward. Skip moved his to meet it, but Sherman interrupted and instead, drew his glass to his mouth and took a sip. Then he laughed wryly, and then clinked their glasses together. “Let’s go outside.”

Sherman pushed open the door the rest of the way and walked outside. He walked to the edge of the deck, then took a sip and expelled an unctuous sigh.

“So,” Sherman said and then waited.

“So,” Skip replied, and then took his own performative sip. After a few moments, it became clear he was going to have to be the one to speak up. “Are you happy to have a home-cooked meal this evening? I didn’t see much in town. What were you able to get your hands on? Corn flakes?”

Sherman laughed. Skip released some tension.

“Something like that. You know. I’m a little bit at odds with myself over what to say. I think we both know, well, you see, Evelyn-” he stopped and then looked at Skip to measure his response. Skip, to his credit, remained completely still and calm. “She was raised a certain way. As much as I know she doesn’t like lying to me, I also know that she’s a woman of manners and etiquette. I don’t mind that the two of you have gotten close-”

“I wouldn’t say we’ve gotten close.” Another release of tension, this time from Sherman.

“But you have spent more than a few silent meals together.”

“Ten, I’d wager, if Evelyn’s math is correct.”

“Ha.” Another sip. “Well, I don’t mind it. I just think we ought to let her know that she doesn’t have to act as if there isn’t anything untoward going on. I know her very well. She would never do something unladylike. And from what I’ve seen of you, I don’t think I have much to worry about. Am I wrong?”

“Well, I’m not about to get in the middle of a marriage.”

“Exactly. Though that does prompt a question in me. I hope you don’t mind me asking it. Please don’t deem me impolite.”

“I’ll try my best.”

“Do you agree that men and women have different responsibilities within a marriage?”

“That’s fairly obvious.”

“Do you agree that they share different responsibilities to one another?”

“I don’t see how the questions differ, really.”

“Take a moment. Think about it a little longer. A little harder.” Sherman placed the glass to his lips, but waited for a response.

“I- I think they probably share separate responsibilities, but in equal measure.”

“Diplomatic response. I think we better head inside. Evelyn won’t come out here, she’s too shell-shocked. Shall we?”

Skip merely nodded, and followed Sherman as he walked back inside.

When they got to the kitchen, only Florence was in the room.

“Must be upstairs. Florence, is the table set?”

“Of course, Mr. Smith.”

“Mr. Wilson and I are going to take our seats. I’d appreciate it if you’d call Mrs. Smith down to join us.”

“Yes, sir.”

Then, Sherman did something that surprised Skip. He tilted his glass to his lips and drank the entire contents. “Let’s get another drink, Skippy.” He began walking back to the parlor. Skip looked down at his glass, which he’d barely made progress with. He followed Sherman out of the kitchen, down the hallway, and into the parlor.

Cameron Harrie