Naked, with Glasses (the story)

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Naked, with Glasses

This is how the plan to kill your husband could begin. You come home early from work. You have a headache. A terrible headache. The worst headache of your life. You have this grant proposal to write. It’s not finished, and it was due yesterday. Your boss is gone for a week, so you bring the proposal home with you. After you open the door, you hear a noise.

“George?” you say.

Head throbbing, you wander into the living room. No one’s there, but you hear another noise. Upstairs. You find your husband in the hallway which leads to the bedroom. He’s naked, but he’s wearing his glasses. To see you better. He’s pale. He’s sweating.

“George,” you say, genuine concern in your voice, “what are you doing home in the middle of the day? Are you ill?”

He makes a movement, backward, toward the door. Too late. A young woman steps from the bedroom. She’s also naked, but she’s not wearing glasses. She doesn’t have to: she can see you perfectly well. You can see her, too. She is young. Lovely. Thin. George introduces her.

“This is Monica,” he says. “My assistant.”

This is Monica. That is just like George. Naked, wearing glasses, saying to his wife, “This is my girlfriend.” You say nothing. Your headache, however, suddenly gets worse. That is how the plan to kill your husband could begin.

Or perhaps it begins like this:

You and George go to the family reunion. It’s his side of the family. It’s hot. George’s side of the family always insists on having reunions in the middle of July. In parks that have inadequate shelters. In parks that have no trees. George hates his family. He says this constantly.

“How I hate my family,” he says. “Such a stupid family.”

You hate his family, too. You, however, are not allowed to say this. Not to George. Not to your friends. Not even to yourself, alone, with no one else around. You aren’t even allowed to think this. To think bad thoughts about George’s family is bad. It’s worse than a sin. It’s worse than a crime. It’s so bad, they haven’t even invented a name for it yet. And George always knows when you’re thinking bad thoughts about his family.

“Don’t tell me you were trying to decide between the strawberry pie and the chocolate ice cream,” he says. “I know perfectly well you were thinking how fat and ugly Great Aunt Mabel has gotten, and that I’m getting just like her.”

You don’t even remember which one is Great Aunt Mabel. They’re all so fat and ugly, you can’t keep them straight. That doesn’t matter to George. He shoves both the ice cream and the pie off the concrete picnic table, into the grass. Everyone looks at him. The children cry. You look longingly at the knife.

There are no butcher knives at the picnic. After all, everyone eats sandwiches, cookies, snacks. They eat pie and ice cream. There’s no food here for sharp knives. You think of sharp knives anyway. Long, sharp, glittering knives. Heavy-handled, glittering, butcher knives. You think of these beautiful sharp knives in connection with George. In connection with George’s throat.

Or perhaps it starts like this:

You work late. On a project. It’s important to you and to your company. It’s important to your promotion. It’s vital to your self-esteem. To your self-fulfillment. This project is not important to George. It annoys him. He doesn’t like to cook his own dinner. He doesn’t like you to cook his dinner the night before, and leave it for him to warm up. And he hates it when you come home, cook dinner, set it on the table for him, and go back to work. George hates that most of all. It means you’re not a good wife.

He doesn’t care about your education, your degrees, your career. He doesn’t want to be liberated. He wants to be an old-fashioned man. A real man. He nags. He whines. He complains. He calls you every five minutes at work to ask questions. Stupid questions that a teacher shouldn’t be asking. Questions like, “Where’s the can opener?” or “What’s it mean when the microwave goes boom?”

You discuss these things with Charles. Charles is your co-worker. He’s writing the project with you. He sometimes answers the phone for you, so he recognizes George’s voice. Charles tells George you’re in the ladies’ room.

He offers to take a message, but George says, “Never mind. It isn’t important.”

George doesn’t call back the rest of the evening. You ask Charles to answer the phone every night for a week. He does. Charles is very understanding. He’s a few years younger than you, but he doesn’t act like it. He refuses to believe you when you tell him the year you were born. Charles is beautiful. When he leans forward over the desk, his hair falls over his forehead.

“How awful it must be for you,” he says. “How dreadful.”

You start to agree with this. Later, when Charles leans over the desk, your heart starts to pound. The office is air-conditioned, so it can’t be the heat. When you get home at night, George is lying on the couch. Naked except for his glasses. Reading the newspaper. George isn’t as young as Charles. He has no hair to fall over his forehead. He frowns at you, looks pointedly at the clock on the wall above the fireplace. His glasses glitter in the lamplight. His belly bulges under the paper. It is a decidedly un-pretty picture.

You think of Charles, his arms around you, his mouth open on yours. Naked, perhaps, but not wearing glasses. You decide killing George would be a pleasure. More than a pleasure. An absolute joy.

Time passes. Life continues much in the same way. Much as everyone else’s. Only worse. But you’ve changed. You’ve made a decision. You decide the ending will be different. You’ll choose the ending to this life of yours. You. Nobody else.

This is how it could end:

George and Monica think you’ve forgotten them. George says, “She means nothing to me.” Monica doesn’t get to say what she thinks of this remark. George weeps, falls on his knees, beats his breast, swears never to see her again. He swears on the Bible. He’s very good at this. But George and Monica meet three afternoons a week. You know because you’ve been watching them. Your girlfriends and their children have been helping you. You haven’t told this terrible story to your own children. No, that would upset them. But the others understand. They chart George’s movements for you. They discover Monica’s address, phone number, license plate, dress size. They discover that she has a fiancé. The fiancé’s name is Michael. And Michael doesn’t know about George.

So one of your friends calls the house. At 2:35 on Wednesday afternoon. 2:35 exactly. She’s very prompt. You know because you’re hiding in the kitchen. George and Monica don’t know you’re there, of course. They’re too busy with each other. The phone rings. Right on schedule. Your friend says she’s a nurse from the emergency room of the local hospital. She says she knows Monica’s there because Monica’s mother told her so. George gives the phone to Monica. What else can he do?

Your friend says, “I have terrible news for you, Monica.”

Monica holds her breath. Standing in the kitchen, crouched near the doorway, you hold your breath, too.

Your friend says, “Your fiancé Michael has been in a motorcycle accident. A terrible motorcycle accident. One of the worst motorcycle accidents I’ve ever seen.”

You know what she’s saying because you wrote it yourself.

As a final touch, your friend says, “Your fiancé Michael wasn’t wearing his helmet.”

He does this sometimes. You know because some of the others have seen him do it. Monica knows it, too. She cries out. She drops the phone. She grabs her clothes and runs out of the house. George follows, but she’s gone before he can get his clothes on. He stands in the doorway. Naked. Wearing his glasses. In the front doorway. Where everyone in the neighborhood can see him. He has no shame. You’ve suspected this for a long time, but now you know it for a fact.

You don’t say anything to George as you come up behind him. You say absolutely nothing as you aim the gun. As you squeeze the trigger. George says nothing as he falls. His hands grasp at the empty air. His glasses shatter as his body hits the concrete of the front walk.

You smile. Your friends and the neighbor women gather around, nodding their approval. No one calls the police. There’s no need to: the police chief’s wife is your best friend. She’s the one who gave you the gun.

Or it could end like this:

You’re packing your suitcase. Your heart is pounding and your face is flushed. You’re so happy. George comes home. Your heart thuds. What’s he doing home in the middle of the day? He comes into the bedroom. He looks at the suitcase. He looks around the room. The closets and bureau drawers are almost empty. The suitcase is filled with your clothes. George takes off his glasses, cleans them, puts them back on.

“What are you doing?” he says.

Charles is waiting for you at the airport, but you think it best not to tell George this. Not at this time. Not in this way. Besides, you’ve left a letter for him on his desk. You look at your watch. George stands in the doorway.

“Please let me go, George,” you say.

“Not till you answer me,” says George. “Not till you tell me exactly what’s going on.”

You try to push him aside but he’s bigger than you. Heavier.

“Please, George,” you say, “I’ll explain everything to you later. But first I have to catch this plane.”

George isn’t listening to any of this. He walks in front of you as you go to the stairs. George is walking in front of you, but he’s walking backward. So he can see you better.

“Tell me tell me tell me,” he keeps saying.

You look at your watch. You should’ve been there long ago. What if Charles thinks you’re not coming? You push George out of the way. A slight push. Against the chest. Not even a shove, really. You’re a small woman and he’s such a big man, after all. But he’s standing at the top of the stairs. Right on the edge of the top step. Your push takes him by surprise. He falls. Backward. Down the whole flight of stairs.

His glasses glint in the light as his big body tumbles down the steps. His neck is broken.

It’s not your fault. Everyone agrees about that. Of course, you’ll have to change your flight. But Charles will understand.

Or perhaps it ends like this:

You’re tired. It’s been a long day. You know George didn’t mean to ruin the microwave oven, but he’s a teacher and you’d think that someone like that would know that you cannot put certain kinds of dishes into the oven.

George complains about his teaching assistant, whose name is Michael. Michael has a fiancée named Monica. George thinks Monica’s a twit. She fell off her bicycle today and sprained her little finger. She called Michael away from the lab, just when George needed him. You don’t care about Michael. You care even less for Monica, whom you’ve never met.

The proposal you wrote for the new project didn’t get accepted. It didn’t get rejected, but it didn’t get accepted either.

“Let me think about this,” your boss said. “Let me have Charles look it over.”

Charles is younger than you. He’s just graduated from college. You feel depressed. Angry. Hurt. Do you cry? Shout? Stomp your feet? No. You smile.

“That would be just fine,” you say.

Charles is the boss’ nephew.

Your head is throbbing by the time you get off work. You decide not to cook dinner. You’ll warm up some food in the microwave. No, you’ll try one of those new frozen meals that you just pop into the oven. You’ll pour yourself a glass of wine, put your feet up, and relax. You smile, and your head starts to hurt a little less.

But when you get home, you find that George has broken the microwave. He didn’t mean to, but he’s not as smart as everyone else thinks he is. You throw something. Not at him, exactly. At the wall. He doesn’t like how close the bowl comes to his head. You say three feet away isn’t close. George doesn’t agree. And after all, it’s his head.

You run out of the house. You get into the car and drive away. You drive for hours. You think of all the terrible things you’ll do to George. All the terrible, slow, painful things you’ll do to George. To Charles. To your boss.

No: to yourself. Yes. that’s it. You’ll kill yourself. You’ll deprive them of your existence. That’ll show them.

You’ll drive your car right over the edge of some cliff. A high, steep cliff, with jagged rocks and crashing waves at the bottom. They’ll find you at the last second. They’ll beg you to hang on, just for one… more… minute. But it’ll be too late. Oh, how they’ll grieve. Oh, how they’ll suffer. You drive and drive, looking for cliffs. You can’t find any. That’s because you live in Ohio. You curse yourself for moving with George to Ohio.

You think of an alternate plan to punish George and the rest of them. You’ll drive into a tree. A big, old, oak tree. There are plenty of those in Ohio. They’ll have to dig the car’s twisted metal out of the tree. They’ll have to use Jaws-of-Life to get you out of the twisted metal of the car. What’s left of you will be almost unrecognizable. Except for your face, which will be untouched, and even more beautiful in death than it was in life. Yes. That’ll show them. Oh, what weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. How they deserve it.

You drive and drive and drive, looking for just the right oak tree. You drive until you realize you’re tired. Until you realize you’re hungry. Then you go home.

A cold dinner’s sitting on the dining room table: salad, cheese, bread, wine.

There’s a note from George.

“I’m sorry I ruined the microwave,” it says.

You don’t cry. You’re too tired.

You go upstairs. George is in bed. He’s lying on top of the covers, naked, reading student papers. He looks up when you come in. He puts down his pen and the student essays.

You sit on the side of the bed. You say nothing. Tears blur your vision. George takes off his glasses. Now his vision is the same as yours. He puts his hand on yours. Your fingers tighten.

This is how it could end.

“Naked, with Glasses”
3rd Prize
Story Magazine
Seven Deadly Sins Contest

Excerpts from Naked, with Glasses

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Naked, with Glasses
© 1993, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
May not be reprinted or excerpted without written permission.
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