SHORT STORY

Looking Back In Retrospect
by Joseph E. Scalia

     I am not a violent man.  I might even be considered a pacifist.  I never saw the point of fishing or hunting with a rifle or a bow, just to kill something.  "Live and let live" has always been the guiding philosophy of my life, and I have tried, by my action and example, to pass that on to my children.  I don't watch football and I never liked hockey.  It is too brutal and besides, I couldn't follow the puck.  Phrases like "monster truck rally," "wrestling slam-down" and "roller derby" are not part of my regular vocabulary. 

     I wrestled with my demons and came to terms with many issues that once complicated my life for years.  No one will ever refer to me as "the thin guy."  Barring terminal cancer or amputation, I will never lose the extra poundage that keeps creeping up.  The only light all those thirty-two inch waist Levis I've been saving in the back of the closet will ever see is at a yard sale or streaming through a thrift store window.  I gave up trying to squeeze into those white tennis shorts long before I gave up tennis.  The money I've squandered on get-rich-quick and you-can-buy-it-with-no-money-down schemes from late night infomercials, not to mention all the gadgets and knife collections on the Home Shopping Network, is gone forever.  I'll never own a vacation home in the Poconos or a silver Porsche 9-11 Turbo Correra.  With these realizations I came to a Zen serenity, like the character in Kung Fu.  At least that's what I thought.  But given the recent chain of events and the time I have had, here in my cell, to re-think my existence, I have come to see that no matter how we may delude ourselves that we are in command of our lives, things are beyond our control. 

     Consider my first divorce, a painful event that might have been avoided and totally changed the course of my life.  I can't place all of the blame on Lauraleen, an exotic dancer with an extraordinary pole technique that attracted me to her.   Had my timing been better, I never would have come home early from work and caught her in bed with my best man and my best friend -- in that case, at least, both were the same person.  It would have made the first divorce unnecessary, and without the first divorce, the whole second marriage thing and what followed would never have occurred. 

     I have examined the second marriage in great detail, playing over the years we spent together, like the videotape of our wedding.  It is inaccurate to think that the problems began with the sailboat we bought in happier days.  Looking back in retrospect, there were no "happier days."  It's easy now to see that living where we did, land-locked and so far away from any water, a sailboat was the last thing we needed "to make our lives better."  Our marriage was doomed from the start.  The handwriting was on the wall, long before the boat incident, clear for everyone but me to read. 

     The loss of Lauraleen left me emotionally devastated, deeply depressed and financially bankrupt.  In addition to my best man best friend, she took all of my furniture and most of my money.  In the year that followed I cowered in the darkness of a damp one-room basement apartment, which was all I could afford.  I played electronic solitaire and shunned human contact.  The extended solitude helped me formulate a new plan to deal with mankind, especially women, so that I might avoid becoming a total loser, like those smelly old guys in dirty, pee-stained underwear who sleep in empty movie theaters.  My credo became:  "Avoid confrontation at any cost!" 

     When the depression passed I stuck my head above ground in search of female companionship. 

     Enter Fatima, my second wife. 

     "In Arabic," she slurred sloppily over her fourth or fifth whisky sour in the singles bar where we met, "my name means 'Sultan's Favorite.'" 

     Perhaps.  I never learned to speak Arabic.  She was attractive and the sex was passionate.  But so were the arguments, which, as a result of my non-confrontational position and total capitulation, tended to be one-sided.  Her Lebanese background, nourished I am positive by thousands of years of Middle Eastern unrest, caused her to rush in and occupy new territory whenever I retreated, to take control when I relinquished it.  We were, for all intents and purposes, the perfect match. 

     In retrospect I realize now that much of the responsibility for what later happened falls to me.  Everything might have been avoided had I asserted myself, at least a little, earlier in the relationship, had I been more honest, had I put Fatima on notice and taken little stands along the way.  Then it would have been unnecessary, in the grandiose style of General George Armstrong Custer charging into Little Big Horn, to make my tragic last stand.  Or maybe not. 

     Our marriage was in trouble long before the incident with the sailboat.  The seeds had been sown and nurtured while we were dating and I might have been more aware that we were doomed prior to the ceremony had I clearly considered Fatima's eccentric peculiarities.  During one visit with her parents Fatima used the excuse that she needed my help finding something in her old room, then she insisted that we consummate our sexual relationship in her parents' room on her parent's bed while they were both downstairs watching TV.  With one ear to the ground and a nervous eye out for her father, a retired Army colonel who kept loaded guns in the house, I accommodated the request resulting in her multiple noisy orgasms, a feat that was never achieved again. 

     Then there were the regular sessions with a marriage counselor to "work out our differences" six months before the wedding.  It should have been a red flag that something was drastically wrong.  But I was afraid to be alone, and Fatima, when her Lebanese mood allowed, was a good lay, although never with the same intensity as that afternoon at her parents' house, so I chose to remain blind.  But even if I had been more aware, there was no way of knowing that the day we actually bought the boat our days together as husband and wife were numbered. 

     After the wedding I fell into a deep depression but I was able to avoid facing the reality of my mistake as long as there were projects for me to do around the house.  Whenever issues came to a boil, as they did quite regularly, and the question of divorce reared its ugly head, I just added on another room and waited for time to pass.  Eventually fifteen years went by and we had two children, a second floor, a full dormer, a new detached two-car garage, and a finished basement that I first had to hand dig under the concrete slab. 

     We bought Passing Wind, my name for the sailboat, on a whim.  Fatima thought that we would travel, at least as far as the water, and then we could sail our way into a better neighborhood, a bigger house, a better class of neighbors and higher society.  There was hope that a boat would bring the family closer together.  None of that was the case.  I never got the hang of sailing and eventually Passing Wind became a planter on the grassless strip in the backyard.  Her once gleaming white gel-coat turned green with moss, and maple tree saplings sprouted in her footwell. 

     With nothing left to build in the house, and the children closer to leaving the nest, the stress of our incompatibility showed on both of us.  I began losing my hair, and Fatima assuaged her pain with food, putting on so much weight it prompted me to shorten her name to "Fat."  We slept apart.  She preferred that I use the twin bed in the guest room, and I didn't object.  We rarely talked.  Instead we moved in silence, like two sailboats passing in the fog.  When we did attempt to communicate, her sentences usually began with "You didn't..." and "I want you to..."  Mine generally consisted of nods, grunts and shrugs. 

     "I want you to clean the boat," she announced that fateful day.  "I made arrangements to sell it.  The couple, if they like it, is coming to pick it up tomorrow." 

     "You didn't discuss it with me," I said, getting defensive at this unplanned change in the status quo.  "Why sell Passing Wind?  She's out of the way.  It doesn't cost anything to keep her."  I was prepared to take a stand.  "I don't want to sell.  Besides, I plan to sail, some day, when the kids are in college." 

     But she wasn't listening.  "Half of the boat belongs to me, and I want to sell.  The people who want to buy are coming," she said again.  "And I want you to scrub off all the dirt and put air in the trailer tires.  They're willing to pay two thousand dollars for the boat and that rusty old trailer.  I don't want them turning around and driving away when they see how bad it is." 

     Perhaps I should have tried harder to reason with her, but the years of avoidance were cut too deep.  Instead I did what I always did when things got unpleasant, I turned and looked for something to do in the garage, my "Fortress of Solitude." 

     My mind was occupied with thoughts, partially formed answers, unexpressed counter-arguments, things I "could have, should have" said, so at first I didn't see, hanging on the wall, the yellow Skill chainsaw.  I'd bought it used from the local hardware store years before over Fat's objections.  If the weather had been better, I might have drifted toward the woodpile behind the garage without noticing the saw.  There I might have whiled away some time re-stacking the logs, until my head was clear.  But when a shaft of sunlight glinted off Ol' Yeller's chain bar, something in me clicked, and without premeditation I knew what had to be done. 

     In an instant I was on my way through the open garage door with the saw firmly in my grasp, headed in the direction of Passing Wind.  My free hand tug-tugged on the rope until Ol' Yeller sputtered, caught and belched up a blue cloud of gas and oil.  My quivering finger pumped the trigger and the uneven cough of its tiny motor leveled out into a high-pitched scream.  When Fat saw me coming at her out of the haze with the saw, she moved faster than I had ever seen, beating a hasty retreat into the house and slamming the door. 

     "Your boat?  You say it's your boat?  You own half of it, do you?" I shouted at her over the noise of the saw.  "Sell your half, but I'm keeping mineWhich half do you want?  The bow?  The stern?  The port?  The starboard?" I demanded, brandishing the saw, yet still managing to use the proper nautical terms. 

     I pressed the spinning chain against the boat and it bit into the fiberglass and brass, arcing sparks and spewing white particles like an artificial snowstorm.  Regardless of her preferences, I had decided to take the long route and slice Passing Wind neatly into two equal halves.  I was a man possessed.  Nothing could stay me from my task, not even the police who showed up within moments of receiving Fat's frantic call. 

     Covered as I was from head to foot with white fiber, I imagine I must have seemed to them a bizarre creature, a savage Abominable Snowman butchering an innocent boat.  Lost in a red rage and the blue haze of exhaust fumes, I was oblivious of their gun-drawn presence, and certainly deaf to their orders that were stifled by the little engine. 

     "Drop the saw!  Step away from the boat!" 

     Pushed from behind, I turned to see four armed figures.  And it is here that my recollection is unclear.  According to the police sergeant's sworn testimony at my trial, "The defendant turned to confront us ready to strike with the chainsaw.  Officer Little, who was directly in front of the defendant, would have received the full force of that attack if I hadn't fired three shots." 

     Fortunately for me all three of the sergeant's bullets missed their mark.  Later one was dug out from the wooden fence post where it came to rest.  The second lodged in my next-door neighbor's bathroom ceiling.  Unfortunately for Officer Little, the third ricocheted off Ol' Yeller's hardened steel case and split into two pieces.  One jagged piece of lead was never recovered; the other dropped Officer Little dead at my feet. 

     I didn't put up much of a defense at the trial.  And in the end I was found guilty.  The newspaper's banner headline proclaimed:  "Chainsaw Massacre Madman Gets Jail For Killing Cop!" 

     Fat is my second ex-wife now.  After my speedy trial and an even speedier divorce, she laid claim to that title, along with the rest of my worldly possessions, including the house, which she promptly sold for a larger one located directly on the water.  That is one of the lesser ironies in all this, because what was left of Passing Wind would never stay afloat.

     Regrets?  I have a few.  I've lost touch with both the kids, who haven't called, written or come to see me on visiting days since I've been here.  Of course I am deeply saddened by the loss of poor Officer Little, which I expressed to his family at the trial.  But that hasn't stopped the spate of civil suits.   So, here I sit facing twenty-five years to life.  My attorney has assured me that I will be vindicated in the appeal, that is if I have enough money for an appeal.  He took most of what Fat left. 

     Prison's not so bad, really.  The other inmates have come to regard me as a kind of hero, for striking a blow for husbands everywhere.  To them I am the symbol of defiance against a system that would take away our manhood.  As for my loss of freedom, my time is my own now, to do with as I will.  I lift weights.  I have even taken to following football and hockey on the Rec Room TV.

END

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