My Wife Thinks You’re Dead

July 31, 2008

Short Fiction/Final Part

Betty’s grave site in Cedar Hill Cemetery is on a lovely maple-shaded slope of perfect grass. It is early autumn in the mountains, the leaves bright red and yellow, the sky Kodachrome blue with small white clouds hugging the horizon. As the mourners dismount from the line of cars parked along the paved path winding through the hilly graveyard, a soft breeze stirs the leaves. It seems only fair that Betty’s final home is a resting place so serene, so quiet, so pure—especially considering that her short life had been a constant whirl and blur of frantic drug induced action. Betty’s service is attended by local friends and family, plus several strangers, mostly men, but also a few thin party girls like herself—all of them from small towns within a fifty mile radius. They were Betty’s good-timing friends and they can’t believe that such a powerful life force has so suddenly been removed from their mist.

To Bernie’s surprise Helen encourages him to attend Betty’s funeral. She volunteers to come herself. She even brings the kids. Helen reassures Bernie there are, in her words, “No hard feelings considering how the situation has turned out and all.” If Bernie is suspicious of Helen’s behavior he doesn’t let on, realizing that it’s best not to go into too much detail about her sudden interest in seeing the woman she calls his “old friend” off to the hereafter “for the last time.” Either he completely misses Helen’s subtle sarcastic tone, or just assumes that his perfect wife is being her usual forgiving self. Chuck is at the funeral, too, of course, crying full-out like he does when anyone dies—even people he only knows from reading their newspaper obits. Chuck, for all his wastrel ways, is, as Fred likes to say, “a sensitive dude.” Fred, Bernie’s high school buddy and town sheriff, looking sheepish and naked without his sidearm, is also in attendance.

The newspaper account of the circumstances surrounding Betty’s death had speculated that it was open and shut, “a drug bust gone bad,” simple as that. This, despite the fact that rumors circulating around town suggested Fred may have used unnecessary deadly force in the exercise of his duties. The mere sight of Fred, the lawman responsible for the demise of their childhood playmate, inflamed several of Betty’s male cousins and there was a brief scuffle. The boys were escorted off the cemetery grounds by three of Fred’s uniformed and well-armed police officers.

Fred’s version of what happened during the raid at Chuck’s place is simple, at least on the face of it. At the inquest he testified that the drug dealer had reached for what he—Fred—thought had to be a gun. (It was later determined the only “weapon” the dealer had on him was an Italian sausage he was bringing home to his wife in a brown paper sack.) Fred claimed that, fearing for his life, he had fired in haste, and was most apologetic about poor Betty being so unfortunate to have been standing where she was. The police department impounded Fred’s .38 and assigned him desk duty for the duration of the internal investigation. At the time of Betty’s interment they had not found any holes in Fred’s story—no smoking gun, so to speak—so the consensus in town was that he would be restored to full duty in a week or two, or as soon as passions cooled somewhat, whichever came first.

After the last prayer is recited over Betty’s grave, and the last ritual handful of dirt dropped onto the casket lid, the funeral party and guests head to their cars so the professional grave diggers can close up. Going up the shaded path, Bernie holds the hand of his son, the boy holds his younger sister’s hand, and Helen has the little girl’s other hand in hers. Fred passes the family on the way to his unmarked patrol car, and for a brief instant Bernie thinks he sees his old friend wink at Helen. He does see Fred smile at her, and Helen smiles back. Bernie says nothing. In the car on the way home, Helen says, “Bernard, sweetheart, I don’t feel the least bit like cookin’ tonight. Swear I don’t. What say you take your little family to Carvelli’s for pizza and then to see a picture show at the Visulite?”

END

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


My Wife Thinks You’re Dead

July 30, 2008

Short Fiction/Part Three

The next morning Bernie showed up at the police station and Fred laid out his plan. Fred, eight months Bernie’s senior, tall and handsome, had taken the younger boy in tow in their freshman year of high school. Now, as adults, Fred the mentor with Bernie as supplicant were roles they continued to play. Fred explained that his drug enforcement department had been given a federal grant to conduct an investigation which he hoped would nail the town’s lone drug dealer, but he needed insider help. Fred also knew that Betty was fresh out of Goochland, knew of Bernie’s history with her, and Helen had updated him on Bernie’s positive progress to becoming a model husband and citizen. In Fred’s view, all this made Bernie the natural candidate for undercover police work. Betty would be the bait to set up the sting. Fred was sure Bernie would go along with the program as pay back for the many times he, Fred, had kept Bernie out of the can. So he was surprised big-time when Bernie flat-out refused to get involved. “Trouble’s not what I’m looking for,” Bernie said, sounding for all the world like a country song lyric, “trouble’s where I’ve been.”

Fred just smiled and continued laying out the plan, waiting for the right moment to play his ace in the hole. He told Bernie that his assignment, should he agree to assist the authorities in their quest to rid the community of the illegal substance operation being fronted out of Rexton’s convenience store, his task would be to lure Betty to Chuck’s apartment, then have her call Rexton’s and instruct the owner to deliver some fine white party powder. Once the viper showed up with the goods and they had the transaction on videotape, his squad of highly trained cops would take it from there.

“Things are different now,” Bernie said. “It’s not like the old days. I don’t have nothing to do with that woman.” He was getting more and more upset. “When Betty went to jail I expected it would be the last I seen her. Honest. Especially when the rumor got around she was stabbed dead in a lesbo love triangle in her cell. That’s exactly what I told Helen, and she believed it. Shit, I believed it, too. And that’s how I want to leave it.”

Bernie was almost like a brother to him, but over time Fred had developed a commitment to law enforcement stronger than blood—at this point in his career he would have nabbed his mother for dealing, too, if she didn’t have a really good excuse—so without a pang of conscience he smiled and played his trump card. In his soothingly official voice Fred informed Bernie that Chuck was already in on the sting, had even been deputized, and Fred described the tiny surveillance camera they had planted in Chuck’s VCR. When Bernie heard that news he went as pale as an Allman Brother and sat down. Fred asked if he would like to see a playback of the threesome action the camera had recorded the night before. Bernie barely had the strength to shake his head. When Fred inquired if Bernie had changed his mind about cooperating with the investigation, all the defeated man could do was nod.

A week later, as the trio of Bernie, Betty and Chuck await the drug drop-off, Betty’s last words on earth are recorded by the camera in Chuck’s VCR. Later, they will be presented as evidence at the inquest into the killings. In the grainy, slightly out of focus image, we see Bernie and Betty on Chuck’s davenport. Chuck is off to one side, only half in frame, sitting on the arm of the sofa. Bernie says to Betty, “O. K., girl—it’s true—we’ve seen a lot of miles together, and it’s still fun, but after this, that’s it.”

Betty smiles. “Whatever you say, Bern.”

Leaning into the frame, overacting for the camera, Chuck points at Bernie and says to Betty, “He might be my buddy but he don’t speak for me.”

Bernie ignores Chuck and continues to Betty. “Even good times have to end, baby—from here on out you’ll just have to find another ex-sweetheart to party with instead.”

“Right you are,” Betty says. “After today we will go our separate ways.”

At this point in the surveillance tape there is a knock on the door.

The final part of My Wife Thinks You’re Dead will post tomorrow.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


My Wife Thinks You’re Dead

July 29, 2008

Short Fiction/Part Two

When Bernie walked through the door, Helen straightaway asked him what he was doing home in the middle of the afternoon. He hemmed and hawed and came up with a nervous story about needing to retrieve some work stuff. Bernie’s jiggly behavior, plus a telephone call Helen had received only minutes before, put her on a Mean-Green Betty alert. She didn’t let on, though, just allowed him to think he had lied his way out of the situation. Bernie didn’t know it, of course, but he was pre-sunk—that phone call had alerted Helen to the younger woman’s resurrection. “Your buddy Fred called,” Helen said, telling part of the truth. “Wants you to drop by the police station tomorrow first thing. Some kind of special project.”

Fred, the town sheriff, was Bernie’s best friend from high school. At one time Fred had also been belly-bumping close to Helen, but she had kept that fact from Bernie, it being a bit of deception she allowed herself out of concern for his feelings—or so she liked to think. Without another word, Helen went back to work on a complicated tuna fish concoction she was whipping up for supper, her mayonnaise-covered hands deep in a big yellow mixing bowl. Bernie picked up some papers and walked out the door. Helen was whistling as she worked, but she had murder on her mind. She had confessed as much to Fred earlier when he called. Helen told him straight out that either Bernie or Betty had to die, and she was at the point where it didn’t matter which one. Fred laughed, of course, but he also felt a tad uneasy—not being sure if Helen was joking or what.

Monday was Helen’s bowling league and her mom kept the kids, so Bernie was free to do as he pleased—within reason, of course. He went out for a ride and stopped at Jigg’s Drive-In for a few beers, and it wasn’t long before he got to thinking about old times. The Jigg’s crowd provoked it, all them being real young these days—too young—and Bernie realized he didn’t really know anyone enough except to nod and say “Hi” to. On an impulse, feeling a tad lonely, he decided to cut out and visit his old friend Chuck. That turned out to be a first rank bad idea. He and Chuck were a duo that went back to the days of running with the booze-pill-and-sex bunch that featured Betty as the main attraction. The three of them were—well, let’s just say they got to be very close. Chuck is your basic small burg bachelor, a big rumpled guy with a small neat apartment over the pet shop on Main Street, and he has a small neat brain to match. He’s the sort of fellow who gets along by going along, satisfied to spend his days working part-time in an auto body shop, picking up the occasional house painting job and selling a bit of weed or a handful of pills to take up any financial slack. Chuck would never intentionally harm a living soul but he’s not above providing the means for folks to screw themselves over.

That evening found Chuck and Bernie in Chuck’s living room, shirts off, drinking beer, toking on a fat spliff they passed back and forth, and yelling at a two week old football game Chuck had recorded on his VCR. Three minutes into the fourth quarter there came a knock on the door. Chuck opened it and Betty glided in a foot off the floor, on what appeared to be air currents. Whatever it was that she had ingested also produced an aura of sensuality that glowed off her like yellow-green neon. Bernie and Chuck could tell she was there for one purpose only, to play big-time party tag and those two hapless dolts were “It.”

It being hot, the first thing Betty did was take off her blouse and bra and head for the fridge to, as she said, “cool her tits” and get a beer. Bernie somehow came to the conclusion that he was capable of resisting her charms and followed her into the kitchen. Betty was stationed in front of the open freezer door fanning cold air onto her chest with one hand and sipping from a Coors can with the other. As in times past, Bernie felt himself instantly attracted to the incredible muscle definition in her back. “Goddamn it, Betty,” he said, “one of us is gonna have to leave this town.”

She turned around, smiling, with one perfect breast cupped in her free hand. “Really, Bern? You mean that?”

“It’s good to see you, baby—been a long, long while—but I can’t afford to play them games no more.”

“Your choice, hon.” Betty slid past him and headed for the living room where the amiable Chuck waited in ecstatic anticipation.

Bernie stayed in the kitchen for a beat, feeling what resistance he may have had ebb from his body like brackish water from a swamp. By the time he got to the living room Betty was completely naked, astride Chuck in the classic lap dance position, him smiling over her bare shoulder like it was Christmas and he was more than willing to share this gift. Bernie watched those two go at it awhile, then shrugged. “What the hell,” he thought, moving toward them, “Helen thinks she’s dead.”

By evening’s end the threesome had done everything to each other they could think of, short of man-on-man, which Chuck and Bernie would have no part of even to please Betty. They were convinced, however, that they had invented several trio combinations heretofore undocumented in Chuck’s extensive porn collection. Bernie had never had so much fun or felt so low at the same time—especially later, on his way home, drained dry like a corn husk left in some farmer’s field during a ten year drought.

Part three of My Wife Thinks You’re Dead will post tomorrow.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


My Wife Thinks You’re Dead

July 28, 2008

My Wife Thinks You’re Dead was inspired by a clever county song of the same title, written and performed by Junior Brown. When I heard Mr. Brown’s lyrics (he was on Curb Records then, these days he’s with Telarc—click the “Junior Brown” sidebar link to hear samples), it occurred to me that the best country songs tell a condensed tale which, with a bit of imagination, can be spun out into a short story, a play, or perhaps even a novel. I’m working on several other stories which use country songs as a starting point, but so far this is the only one I’ve been able to complete. My Wife Thinks You’re Dead will post in four parts, today through Thursday.

Short Fiction/Part One

When Betty got back in town the first thing she did after she stepped off the bus was corner Bernie, which would have been fine had his wife not found out. Betty, a petite stringy-haired blond with a firm body—parts of which were decorated with tattoos you could fully appreciate only when she danced naked to hillbilly music in your living room—had just been released from Goochland Correctional Center, a state institution for women who do stupid things. She was the sort who spent her tragically short life involved with drugs, the wrong kind of sex with both sexes, and serial breaking and entering escapades to raise money for pharmaceuticals. Betty could not resist a fun evening, never mind the consequences.

On this particular day Betty planned to “accidentally” run into her old pal Bernie on his way to the post office, a trip she knew he made like clockwork. She had his schedule timed to the split second, so when Bernie turned off Main onto Market Street they collided before he had a chance to avoid his fate. Betty also knew that once they made physical contact, Bernie would be hooked like a mountain trout, a fish that exists with only one purpose—to be pan-fried for supper. “Damn,” Bernie said, and stepped back and looked Betty up and down three times.

She batted her eyes in fake surprise and played him out. “How you doing, Bern?” Of course Betty knew damn well how he was doing—she knew that the second Bernie saw her he most likely got a boner on. “Not bad for a failure,” Bernie said.

Betty laughed. “Whatcha doing this evening, son?”

“Now, girl, you know I’m happy married. When you disappeared off the radar, I up and told my wife I heard you was dead.”

“O.K.,” Betty said, “if that’s how you want it,” and she flounced off down the sidewalk with that sway-sway walk that Bernie loved to witness.

As Bernie stared after Betty, the one thought in his brain was that with her on the loose he needed the strong reminder of his family to help him resist temptation, so he went straight home. Bernie appears old for his age, not all that much to look at, chubby-soft, balding in the worst way—front to back—and he has mild prostate trouble, which points him to the bathroom a bunch of times each day. His wife loves Bernie more for his kind nature than anything physical. Just picture it, here’s this forty-seven year old manager of an auto parts store who lucks out and lands a beautiful young wife, Helen, to share his bed and keep the house spotless. They have two little kids—boy and girl—just the cutest things. Each Sunday morning he drops his perfect family off at the Holiness church and waits in the car, reading the sports pages. Bernie considers himself reformed from his wild days, but not yet ready for religious instruction. And he thinks of Helen as an angel, soulful and so pure he feels extra guilty about the level of lust he still has for Betty.

Back in the old days, Betty saw Bernie as a cocksman pure and simple, one big hot-to-trot party penis with plenty of money to spread around. Yeah, that was his special appeal when they were burning up the highway, hitting one roadhouse after the other, always winding up as a big ball of naked flesh in some borrowed bedroom or the back seat of a car in the darkest corner of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Betty was looking forward to more of that.

Part two of My Wife Thinks You’re Dead will post tomorrow.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


The Adventures of Morton

July 25, 2008

Click the image for a larger view. To purchase reprint rights for this comic strip, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My email address is: jimscartoons@aol.com Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Cat Nip

July 23, 2008

Zen photography thought for the day: Inside the vertical there may be a better horizontal. (And vice-versa.) When it comes to photographic composition, whenever possible, I prefer what some might call the “arty” method—that is, I like to carefully arrange the image in the view finder of the camera before the shutter is tripped, then exhibit the result full-frame. But I’m no stickler. I know from experience that sometimes a well planned composition is simply not possible (for instance, when grabbing a shot of a child or other small animal on the move), and in such cases a well planned crop may save the day. My idea of a good photograph is one that elicits an emotion in the viewer, either positive or negative. The crop above was selected with the idea of pure “joy” in mind; to intensify that feeling I “zoomed” in on the original (see below) to eliminate unnecessary details and emphasize the dynamic lateral movement of the woman’s head out of the left side and top of the frame. (Whenever possible I like to have important elements “bleed” off the edges, which adds to the drama.) This extreme crop keeps the eye of the viewer where it needs to be, focused on the expressions of both the young lady and the cat; it prevents the eye from wandering up or down, right or left, forces it to remain close on the interesting blur of the woman’s head and the sharper head and body of the animal. The full frame image is one of those “shoot and hope for the best” deals that happen so fast you’re happy if you get anything at all. (With animals and kids you can forget about re-staging an action, so the crop becomes a useful salvage tool.) This image makes me smile each time I see it—and the way I decided to crop it, I think, enhances the playful feeling. My idea was simple: Make it easier for the viewer to share the joy I felt the first time I saw the image come to life in the developing fluid. (If you have a different idea, or like it better un-cropped, take a moment to post a comment and tell me about it.)

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Today’s Gag

July 21, 2008

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.