Third Marriage - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Third Marriage

Richard stands by the kitchen door and holds the dog’s sturdy halter; strong woven threads in bright red.  Sammy is whimpering.  The mutt is at least sixty pounds — rambunctious – it is also Margo’s dog.  Not Richard’s.

“Here,” he tells her, offering Sammy’s red halter.

Margo looks at him.  Her gorgeous, steel gray eyes are wide.  “You’re coming with us?”

Richard knows that tone of voice.  She’s tired of him and he is shocked at how much he still wants her.  “Yes.  Is that all right?”

She shrugs; squares her shoulders.  Her gesture tells him, he is intruding.  But she says, “C’mon.”

Margo pulls the red halter over Sammy’s head.  He fights her, trying to eat the woven strap that fits under his neck.  “Sammy,” Margo says.  Her voice is low, stern.  Sammy releases the strap and stands still while she clips the ends of the halter together, under his belly.

Richard pulls Margo’s heavy wool coat off the hook next to the back door, “Let me help you.”   He holds out the coat for her to slip her hands in the sleeves.

“No, not that one,” she says.  “It’s too warm out.”

Richard hasn’t been out all day and realizes he is probably overdressed.  It is February; he assumed it was cold.  He’s put on his ski parka of Gore-Tex with new fangled thin sleeve linings that keep the chill out.

When they emerge from the house, wearing sweaters, Richard walks beside Margo.  He does not try to take her hand.  She holds a plastic bag to pick up Sammy’s poop, and the leash is looped around her other wrist, grasped in a fist.

They don’t say anything to each other.

Six houses down from theirs, Margo’s voice is light, airy. “Is there a baby yet?” she calls to a man who looks boyish.  He glances at them, smiling.  Richard studies his house; it’s bigger than his.  Brick with a slate roof.

“Girl.  Born yesterday!”  He yells, a jaunt in his step.  He walks across his front lawn to a Volvo station wagon parked in his driveway, flings open the door and gets in, waving.

Richard thinks about the guy’s new family and then he thinks about his children, all grown now.  He can’t remember ever being that excited.  Guilt.  That was mostly what he felt, especially when he no longer lived with their mothers.  The new dad is smiling as he backs out of his driveway.  Maybe he is thinking of driving.  Just driving.  Until he winds up on the exit ramp that leads out-of-town and presses on the gas pedal.  Richard turns to Margo, “Do you know that neighbor?”

“No idea who they are,” she replies. “I watched his wife’s belly grow, and yesterday she was out, in a lime green sweater, rubbing it.”  Margo pulls on Sammy’s leash.  He is about to pounce on a squirrel. “She told me that she was overdue.”

“Huh,” he says, nodding.  He is relieved that Margo never had children.

A few houses down from the folks with the new baby, there’s a woman who stands behind a little boy, holding his hands.  Deep blue mittens hang from strings off his coat sleeves.  He’s wearing a hat with ear flaps.

“There’s Sammy!”  the mother says.  She lets his hands go, hovering near him.  The boy moves a foot and stops, then the other foot, holding onto one of a pair of brick columns that flank their front path.  They come up to Richard’s chest and two stone pineapple sculptures, painted white, are centered on each one.

“Hello,” Margo waves with the plastic bag.  It swings in a wide arc.  Sammy tries to jump on the child.  Margo holds him back so he can’t plop his paws on the small boy’s  shoulders.  “Whoa,” Margo says as Sammy jumps.  His front paws go up in the air and she drags him back.

“There’s Sammy, Brian!”  the mother has a friendly, sing-song voice.   “He named his new teddy bear Sammy!” she adds, to Margo.

“Oh!  What an honor,” Margo replies.  Richard looks at the child.   He is not smiling, but he’s not cringing, either.  He follows Sammy’s hectic movements with his head, moving in unison with the dog’s jerking attempts to free himself from Margo’s grip.

-o-

Richard noticed Margo right away at the office.  But he’d just been through his second rough divorce.  He didn’t want to make any more mistakes.  When he finally asked her out, Margo told him it was her birthday.

“Oh, then we need to celebrate!” he said, trying not to sound stupid.

She smiled.  Richard remembered that the corners of her mouth pulled up.  He couldn’t see her teeth, but she looked pleased.  Margo was strong and soft looking at the same time.  There was a sadness about her that caught him and held his attention.  Margo wouldn’t look right at him.  He had not seen her look directly at anyone.  When she sat at her desk, she’d hold her head in her hand, cross her legs and wiggle her foot.

“Do you like Italian?”

“Yes,” he croaked.  He actually croaked, the word came out and he sounded like a duck.

Margo named a specific restaurant in Little Italy.   When Richard called the place, the owner, whose name was Sal, put his wife on the line.   The wife knew it was Margo’s birthday and she told him not to worry, she’d take care of everything.  Did he want balloons?

The night of her birthday was hot — but not humid.  Margo and Richard walked up to the awning that framed the restaurant’s entrance and a small man with a large belly and a long, white apron greeted them, “Bella!  Bella!”

He kissed Margo on both cheeks.   The door to the restaurant opened and a tall, dark haired woman with a dishtowel tossed over her shoulder stood in the doorway, waving them in.  She also kissed Margo on both cheeks.

“This is Sal and Gina,” Margo told him.   Her voice was loud, excited.

The Italian couple led them up a stairway at the back of the restaurant, glancing at Margo and Richard as they climbed the narrow steps.  Double French doors lined the wall on the top floor.  Gathered gauzy curtains covered the door’s windows.  Sal grabbed the brass handles on each of the double doors and shoved both of them open.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

Margo stood still beside Richard.  Half a dozen people were there.  The large Mylar balloons he’d told Gina to place on the table were moving slightly on long ribbons.  A dozen pink roses he had not requested were placed in front of them.  Standing next to the roses was a man in a shiny, sky blue shirt with several multi-colored strings that hung like fringe from the yoke: Wyatt.

Wyatt was the artist Richard replaced at the advertising agency.  He was supposedly a good guy who also went through a rough divorce.  It took him out of the state and Wyatt left his job at the agency.  He was making a living by selling his artwork when Richard met him.  Wyatt had come to the office to see Margo.  She gave him a hug that Richard thought was too tight and a kiss on his cheek.  He kissed her back and fury descended on Richard like an insect bomb he’d used once to fumigate his house.

“Happy birthday, Margo.  Graceful pink roses, like you,” Wyatt said, opening his arms to hug her.  Richard felt the brush of Margo’s sleeve against his as she walked into Wyatt’s arms.  He wanted to shove Wyatt through the glass panes of those French doors.

“I can’t stay,” he said, releasing her. “I’ve got Daniel for a few days, he’s home with a baby sitter.”

“Thanks for coming.  You are a hard act to follow,” Richard cupped Wyatt’s shoulder.  The cloth on Wyatt’s shirt felt dingy; cheap.

“I’ll walk you out,” Margo smiled at Wyatt.  Richard watched the white of her perfect teeth.  He wanted to grab her arm, tell her to sit down.  Wyatt can find his own way out.  But he clasped his hands together, clenching them so hard, they ached.  Richard forced his mouth to stretch in a smile and stepped back to let Wyatt and Margo pass.  He watched them until they were out of sight.  Then he sat down and plucked the linen napkin off the plate in front of him, spreading it over his lap.

They were gone a long time and Richard felt like he’d been played for a fool.  Hell, he was a fool.  A fifty year old ass, who thought a beautiful, thirty year old woman would want him.   But at the end of the night, Margo kissed him.  Chaste.  Quick.  On his surprised lips.

-o-

They round the corner with Sammy and find the magnificent manor house Richard has researched.  It was built in 1840.  Large, white; with a wide front porch and a peaked roof.   The builder must have been someone important, though Richard did not recognize his name.  The house was most likely a summer retreat before Baltimore’s boundaries expanded.  A century ago, the whole area was farm land.

He can see the mansion’s huge front door through the bare branches of the bushes that line the property.  There is a guy digging in between the bushes with a rake, shaking out leaves that fell several months ago from old, thick trees on the front lawn.  A block of discarded leaves cover light colored squares of sidewalk.  The leaves are black; gooey.  Margo and Richard step around them as he watches a round woman in a quilted white vest appear with two little, yappy dogs.

Sammy’s ears straighten.  He pounces at the dogs and pulls Margo with him.  “Sammy!”  Richard yells, and Margo loses her balance, landing on the gooey, dead leaves.

The young guy throws the rake down and jogs over to them, “Are you all right?  Here, let me help you.”

Sammy begins to growl.  He holds his head rigid and shows his teeth. The guy backs up.  Richard leans down, trying to help Margo up.

“I’m fine,” she snaps, “Take Sammy.”

The guy is pulling off his work gloves, “I’m a physician, do you want me to take a look?”

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” Margo grimaces.

Richard takes hold of Sammy’s halter and steps back so he doesn’t jump on the guy.

“I’m Ezra, by the way,” he offers Margo his hand.

“Hello,” Margo says, taking his hand.  “Ahhh!” she winces, leaning on the guy’s arm.  “My foot!”

The guy stoops down. “Put your hand on my back,” he says as he wraps his arms around Margo and leads her to the curb, away from the filthy leaves.

Richard gathers Sammy’s leash and watches his wife’s foot being caressed by another man.

-o-

Richard met with an investigator before his last trip to Williamsburg.

“Mr. Haught, we can do this several ways.  I am assuming you want evidence?  Something you will be able to use in court.”

“Evidence, yes,” Richard replied.  “What are you talking about?  Photos?”

“Or videos, we can do that too.”

“Yes, ok.  Thanks.”

“I’m staying here,” Margo had said when he asked her to come with him to his mother’s memorial service.  Richard’s mother had dropped dead on a golf course.  Heart attack.  Her sister was with her.  Richard’s mother had lived with her sister and both of them played all year because the weather in Williamsburg was better, milder than Baltimore.  But that wasn’t why his mother lived in Virginia.

Margo was just like Richard’s mother.  Distant.  Aloof.  He could sense something was going on.  Like his mother, who’d carried on with a creepy politician.  Richard wasn’t supposed to know about him.  The asshole’s face would be in the stupid newspaper all the time next to his wife’s.  Not Richard’s mother.  The politician was the reason why his mother moved out of Baltimore.

At the last Virginia rest stop before Williamsburg, Richard parked.  He noticed the tasteful lines of the brick building.  An architect before he switched to graphic design, came to the agency and met Margo, Richard always enjoyed the colonial look of Virginia’s public buildings.

He parked at the rest stop because his stomach ached.  Richard walked quickly into the men’s room, thinking his pain was as much about missing his mother as it was about whatever Margo was doing.  He obsessed about Margo, wondering what the detective might be discovering.  Richard was glad his mother would not see him devastated.  Lost.  Richard’s mother would have gloated, told you so.

Selecting a stall, he unzipped his pants and sat down.  Richard stayed put until he could hear no one else in the men’s room.  After he washed his hands, his stomach pinched in pain and he slipped back into the stall.

-o-

Ezra drives with one hand on the steering wheel.  He lays his right arm along the back of Margo’s seat.  She is sitting next to him.  No one speaks.  Richard watches Ezra’s profile as he drives.  He thinks they have forged some kind of connection since she slipped on his gooey leaves.  He wants to smack that full head of hair on Ezra’s head.  The doctor.  Oh, Richard knows she’s flirting with him.  That’s what she does, and he doesn’t know how to make her stop.  Sometimes he just wants to crush her.

Richard had always wanted women who did not want him.  Each of his previous wives had gradually grown more fond of him than he had of them.  He’d been the one who eyed others just like that damn doctor, Ezra, was now eyeing Margo.

Beside him, Sammy pants.  His mouth is open and he is watching the back of Margo’s head, just like Richard is.  Ezra pulls his arm back to the steering wheel and parks, turning toward her.  “This it?” he asks.

“Yes,” Margo and Richard say at the same time.

“I think we can manage from here,” Richard adds, reaching for the door handle.  “Thanks.”

He pushes Ezra’s back door open, “I’ll help you out, Margo.”

Sammy darts over his lap and out.

“Sammy!”  Margo screams.  “You’ll have to catch him, Richard.  He’s spooked.  You know how he hates to ride in a car.”

Richard does know that, but he wasn’t about to let Ezra drive his wife home, alone.  “Ok.  Ok,” he says.  Richard is so pissed off; he thinks of swinging his hand at her.  It is gripping the back of the seat where Ezra’s arm had been.   Richard crunches his hand into a fist, imagining the impact of his knuckles on Margo’s face.

Richard doesn’t look back when he starts off across the lawn after the damn dog.  He hears Margo’s light, musical laugh.  It actually sounds like the beginning cords of a song.  He’d heard that laugh floating over the blue fabric cubicles in the office.  It was one of the first things about her that Richard liked.  As he skips and hops over the flagstone path to the other side of his lawn, he thinks of the manila envelope the investigator gave him that he’s never opened.  It is stashed in the back of the center drawer – locked — in Richard’s desk.


About the author

Caryn Coyle

Caryn Coyle writes about arts, culture and food for the websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Her fiction has been published in a dozen literary journals including Gargoyle, JMWW, The Little Patuxent Review, Loch Raven Review, Midway Journal, The Journal (Santa Fe) and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore from City Lit Press. She won the 2009 Maryland Writers Association Short Fiction Award, third prize in the first Delmarva Review Short Story Contest, 2011 and honorable mentions for her fiction from the Missouri Writer's Guild (2011) and the St. Louis Writer's Guild (2012). Contact the author.
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