*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
Ted knew a spot for our hideout, “It’s down towards the river,” he said. “Sometimes I walk Rommel there. It’s down a secluded hidden trail just wide enough to fit your car.”
He seemed totally numb to the whole idea. While, I parked the Subaru in an area of unknown beauty—the dark woods behind the neighborhood. There, I could hear the cars on the highway, and somehow still see the river.
“It’s nice out here,” he said. “Maybe your idea isn’t so bad.”
Slowly, I looked up at the trees and down towards the river. What a place to hide away. I began to rip off the duct tape, pulling the boards down from their resting place. “We’ll get this all hooked up and then you’ll have a place to come and hang out, get away from our wives.”
“We built clubhouses when I was a kid,” Ted said, kicking a pinecone into the woods, “It might be a lot of fun.”
By the time the sun was falling we had what resembled a shack leaning against the space between two trees. We stood back, expecting the whole thing to collapse. We’d set all of the plywood walls, cut an opening for our front door. All it would take was another day or so to hang the door and the window, and then a little time to do the roof, I picked up a large rock and smashed it against the closest wall, a massive echo shot thorough the woods, “I can’t believe it didn’t fall down!”
“I have clubhouse experience! I’ve done this before,” Ted said.
“And I’m totally proud of you!” It was my first clubhouse. My dad hadn’t been the kind of guy that actually did things with his kid. I was more proud of the fort than my own home.
“OK, this whole thing has been tons of fun, but I have to go, Kelly will have dinner ready soon.”
“I’m staying here tonight,” I said.
“Yeah,” I said, “I have a sleeping bag and everything.”
“Because I want to. Plus, I’m fighting with Sarah.”
“ . . . If you need somewhere to crash.”
“No, I don’t need somewhere to crash.”
“Well, that’s fucked up.”
“You’re wife doesn’t want a guest anyway.”
“ . . . You’re probably right,” he admitted. “Go home, it can’t be that bad.”
He began to walk back up the path to where his minivan was parked, “Call me tomorrow, maybe you and Sarah can come over and watch a DVD with me and Kelly.”
All I could think was: is Ted completely out of his mind? Doesn’t he know that no matter what, I’d be there after work, finishing the roof of our fortress?
Again, I didn’t go to work. All day, I labored on the construction of my fortress.
When I was finished, I couldn’t believe my eyes. What a wonderful place. I decided it was a better home than the where my wife and I lived. So, hey why not move out into the woods with the other stupid animals?
I’d live in a shack by the river with the sounds of the dinosaurs on the highway, and only half a mile from the toll plaza, I would be two miles closer to work. That meant four miles a day saved in gas, twenty eight miles a week. Surely that was enough money saved for what I would have to pay my wife in alimony. Because it was obvious to me that first night that I slept there, that I had to make this change. The air of the woods made me feel like I was nine years old again, on a Cub Scout camp out, even though I was never a scout, something else my father forbade.
But the fact remained that I needed my clothes, and oh, oh yeah, my savings account passbook. A million other things too. My international passport just in case.
As much as I wanted to cut all connections off from my wife, I had to go home and I had to see her. I knew that she would be there, just sitting at the kitchen table, waiting.
I opened the door, the telephone was ringing, as if it knew I was coming and it had to react quickly in order to interrupt some murder scene between me and my wife.
For sure Sarah wanted to kill me.
I went into the kitchen. She waited like a lioness, staring at me. Behind her, our phone tolled out its belled doom. “Answer that,” I commanded. She tore it off the hook, “Hello,” she said agitated. Then, cupping the receiver with her hand, she scowled at me. “It’s some girl. Some young girl. Some young girl asking for you.”
I snatched the phone from her, “Hello?”
“Jim? It’s Gena from Officetown.”
“Oh, hey. How are you?”
I cupped the phone, looking at my wife, “It’s nothing, no one.” She looked pissed. She had every right to be.
“Jim, you there?” Gena asked.
“Um, I was just calling to tell you that your order’s in. You can come and pick it up if you want, I mean, of course you want it, I mean, you should, like come now, and like get it.”
“Oh great.” get it? get it? get it?
“Have a nice night.” get it? get it? get it?
“OK, you too.” I hung up the phone. get it? get it?
“Who was that? She sounded nice?” Sarah mocked.
Suddenly all the bravery I had before entering my house had vanished. It was just like old times, the thought of leaving Sarah was like some myth that had been whispered over the years but couldn’t become truth.
“Where were you?” she hissed.
Thinking quick, “At Ted’s. I got drunk.”
“Me too,” she said, “got drunk, anyway.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“How could you do that, just not come home?”
“I don’t know.”
“And then this call, from this girl?”
“That girl . . .”
“Who is she?”
“She’s just some fat ass who works at the office supply store.”
“I think that’s what that place is called.” She studied me for a moment and I felt like screaming. Where had the certainty gone? Was I leaving my wife and moving into the shack in the middle of the woods? The idea had vanished into the wind. It would be impossible for me to live out there, with no electricity, no running water and no . . . and holy shit, I’m so helpless.
“Ted is having some real big problems with his wife.”
“Not quite, she left home. She’s going to divorce him.”
“Oh I have an idea of why a girl would want to leave her husband . . .”
“You see, their marriage isn’t as strong as ours.”
“Is he alright?” She was turning. Falling.
“No, not at all, I think he might be suicidal.”
“Suicidal?” Sarah looked at the floor. “Oh my god.”
“Yeah, I came home to get some things and to apologize for disappearing on you, but it’s just that my oldest friend in my life is going through hell.”
“Well . . .”
“Well, are you going to be all right here tonight by yourself.”
I sat closer to her, she studied me, studied, and I didn’t know I had it in me to be such an actor. I let her study me.
“You should go to your friend, I’ll be fine,” she said softly.
“You don’t mind?”
“Friends are important.”
“Yes they are, and you are my best friend, you know that right?” Really, she still was.
“Well I have had my doubts lately,” Sarah said.
“Don’t be cold to me, baby.”
We hugged. She started to cry, so emotional these days.
“Teddie needs to get real fucking drunk, talk about old times, the usual, get it all out.”
“I’m gonna get some things together.”
“OK.” I started up the stairs, “Do you want coffee?”
“Yeah, I’ll put it on,” my Sarah said.
I grabbed a few shirts, a few pairs of pants. I freaked out when I couldn’t find my bank book. I realized that I was in the middle of a mental breakdown with nothing to do but run with it. When I came back down the stairs she was putting the coffee grinds into the filter.
“What did you order from that store?”
“You ordered nothing?”
“Larry had me order some supplies for the office and they came in.”
“You do things in the office now?”
“Well I do have a baby on the way. Gotta try to climb the ladder. That booth sucks.”
“That’s great, that you want to better yourself.”
“Us,” I said, “it’s for us.”
“Do you want dinner?” she was almost smiling then.
“Look, I don’t really have time, I’m really worried about Teddie. I should go.”
I went to her, kissed her lips.
“Tell him that if he needs someone else to talk to he can always call here.”
“He knows that.”
Casually I walked to the car, casually placed my clothes inside. Casually started it. Sarah stood on the porch, loving me, waving goodbye while the bugs of the night were singing their song. I casually lowered my window, casually waved to my wife, she blew me a kiss, I caught it, brought it to my chest—a prized possession from a prize of a woman. She practically melted right there on the front porch.
I backed out of our driveway.
When I was far enough away from the house I stomped on the pedal like the true werewolf I was and I made my way madman style toward my own fury. She went back to the table and believed that our love was stronger than anything, and that only good things were coming.