by Theresa Cartier
Laura has been talking about the new guy in her office all week. Then she makes Walter give back the keys to her place. And now—it’s midnight already—and Walter’s pounding on the door to her apartment but nobody’s answering! Are the two of them in there? Walter tries to still his ragged breathing, ignore the singing of hot blood in his ears as he presses the side of his face to the door. Nothing. Tears sting his eyes—God damn it—as he fondles the doorknob. After all these months with her, and he’s been trying, but it’s turning out just like it did with all the other ones. Except this time it’s worse. She’s making a fool of him! Anyone can see that she’s hot for this new co-worker of hers. Just because he’s tall and wears those expensive suits. But would he, as Walter has, single-handedly redecorate her apartment? Pick out her clothes? Take her to work and bring her home? Call her every day just to say, “I love you”?
Obviously not. Walter kicks the door with his bad foot, and it begins to throb in time with his head. The pain reminds him that he is not whole, as the co-worker is. When Walter was a child with a clubbed foot, his parents didn’t love him enough to take him to a good doctor. The one he got botched the job so badly that gangrene had set in. So now Walter only has half of his foot, and he limps, and what woman could ever find him attractive?
But Laura is very beautiful, with a thick mane of blond hair, green eyes, and long legs. And she was so sad when Walter met her because nobody really cared about her, just like no one has ever cared for Walter! And he told her, “I’m going to give you all the things your other boyfriends never did.” And he has kept his promise! All he wants in return is some affirmation of the good things he’s done. Maybe a little more gratitude, a lot more focus on him. But all she cares about these days are her stupid friends and co-workers. And they don’t love her like Walter does!
God damn her! Walter kicks the door again and some busybody neighbor sticks her head out the door, stares at Walter through narrowed eyes. “I’m gonna call the police.” She says it in that sing-song voice kids use. I’m telling on you!
“I’m leaving,” Walter tells her. “Have a nice evening.” He tries to smile, but his face is tight, and it turns into a smirk. He gives her a casual wave from the end of the hallway. She drives that red Honda. He makes a mental note to smear it with dog shit the next time he’s here.
Walter has not slept well. His dreams have been poisoned by images of Laura in the co-worker’s arms. Laura kneeling before the co-worker, kissing his perfect feet, saying, “I have waited so long to be with a whole man.”
Unable to bear it any longer, he gets out of bed, still wearing yesterday’s clothes. He goes downstairs for breakfast and grimaces when he sees his fat sister, Tina, sitting at the table. She is mouth-breathing, slurping soggy corn flakes, and reading the list of ingredients on the cereal box. Walter shoots her a look of disgust, then picks up the phone and dials Laura’s number. No answer. Damn! He slams down the phone.
Tina looks up from her corn flakes. “What’s your problem?”
Something in Walter’s stomach feels funny. Shaky. They’re together right now, he’s losing her at this very moment! Walter watches his fist smash into the bowl of cereal, spraying the wall with brown and white droplets.
Tina screams: “Mom!”
Their mother rushes into the kitchen. “Walter,” she yells. “How many times to do I have to tell you to leave your sister alone?”
Tina runs to her mom and starts blubbering, even though she’s fourteen for Christ’s sake, and now their mother is stroking her hair and making soothing noises all over a stupid bowl of cereal. Meanwhile, Walter is standing here with his guts hanging out because Laura has re-opened the oldest, deepest wound!
“Why do you always take her side?” Walter says. He hates the tears in his voice.
“She’s sick,” his mother says. “You know she has bad allergies.”
“What about me? I have allergies, too! I’ve been sneezing all week!” He sniffs and rubs his eyes, which are very red, but certainly not from crying!
“Go to the doctor,” his mother says. “You’re an adult.”
Walter mutters something under his breath and heads toward his room. He throws himself on the bed and glares at the choo-choo train wallpaper.
Walter has fallen asleep without realizing it and wakes to the sound of voices downstairs. His parents and Laura. Laura! He jumps up and limps down the steps, sweaty hand sliding on the banister. Laura’s high, sweet voice rises to meet him: “…won’t be staying long. I’m just dropping off some of Walter’s clothes. It’s for the best, really.”
“If you think so, dear,” his mother clucks. Then he hears the screen door open and close, a car door slam.
“Laura!” He is hopping down the driveway after her car. She sees him and next thing, she’s tearing down the road. He must go after her! Walter hobble-runs to his car—it’s not there!
“Mom,” he screams. “Where the hell is my car?”
“It was blocking your father’s car. I parked it in the church lot.”
Walter crosses the street without even looking for traffic. A teenager driving an Escort squeals the brakes just hard enough to avoid hitting Walter, who doesn’t look back. There’s still time. He can still catch up with her. Except—
What’s this? Not only has his mother parked Walter’s fine black Mustang next to a beat-up Nova, but there’s a streak of dull orange paint across his door. And here’s a scratch eating into the glossy black sheen he’s worked so hard to preserve! Walter knows his mother has done this on purpose. She has parked his car in the worst place on the lot just hoping it will be ruined. He feels his face heating up as he turns back to confront her.
He enters the house, so angry, so frustrated. He can feel his voice, strident and harsh, beating against his mother. Her face is red; she is crying and yelling right back at him. All the commotion brings his father into the kitchen. Walter stops shouting because he wants to hear what his father has to say. There are some things only a man can understand.
But Walter’s father doesn’t understand at all. He seems half amused, half disgusted, and not sorry at all that Laura has left Walter. “Son,” he says. “The way you act sometimes, I don’t blame her.”
Walter has been waiting outside Laura’s building for several hours. From behind a bush, he watches her slip into another man’s car—there is no doubt it’s the co-worker’s—and his stomach heaves as she gives her long blond hair a luxurious toss before pulling the door shut. He bites his lip and clenches his fists. How can he lose someone that beautiful? It’s too much to bear.
Now he knows what he must do. He must find a way to get inside her apartment. Then he will wait for her, perhaps make something special to eat, and when she comes home he will explain that she can’t leave him because he loves her so much. And no one else will take care of her like he has. Then he will put his arms around her and everything will be all right.
Walter wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and enters the building. He limps down the long hallway to Laura’s apartment and, after taking a quick look around, jimmies the door open with a few passes of his driver’s license.
What he sees inside is a complete shock. No, more than that: it’s an insult. Laura has rearranged all the furniture! And she has taken down the curtains he picked out. The table he refinished is nowhere to be found. Walter gropes through the living room like a blind man trying to get his bearings. It is obvious that Laura has removed all evidence that he was ever a part of this place.
He stumbles toward the kitchen, but he can’t remember why he wanted to go in there. Something about food. A romantic dinner, that’s it. He can still win her back. But when Walter turns around, he is horrified to see two wine glasses on the table, one bearing the imprint of Laura’s full lips! And now Walter has forgotten all about candlelit dinners and pretty speech as he sends the wine glasses crashing to the floor. He makes small, quick noises like a hurt animal as he flings open the cupboards and wrenches out every piece of china he can find. Take that, you bitch! The kitchen blossoms with mini-explosions of white and blue until there is nothing left for Walter to throw. He is exhausted, panting, when a knock at the door startles him. It’s the nosy lady next door. He recognizes her whiny voice. “What’s going on in there?”
Walter limps boldly to the door—why should he be afraid? This is his place, decorated and paid for, top to bottom, by him. He can do whatever he wants, even break his dishes if he feels like it! He opens the door and holds it steady against the neighbor’s insistent pushing. She glares at him, then cranes her neck to see if her dark suspicions about Walter are true. “Where’s Laura? Is she all right?”
“Laura’s out right now. I’m fixing up the place for her, sort of a little surprise. You won’t tell, will you?” He does his best to smile.
“Yeah, right,” says the neighbor. She pokes him in the chest with her finger—oh, she shouldn’t have done that—and leans toward him. “I don’t think Laura wants you around.”
“Oh? What’s she been telling you?”
“That’s between me and Laura. But it’s pretty obvious she’s too good for you.”
Walter tries not to hear the words. Shut up, shut up already! But the mouth won’t stop moving and now it’s telling Walter, “You better get out of here right now before I call the cops.”
“Maybe you should go check your car,” says Walter. “I think there’s something wrong with it.” His smile comes easily this time. The neighbor lady’s mouth quivers, then she steps back and runs down the hall. Walter laughs as he imagines the look on her face when she sees what he’s done to her car. Serves her right! But when he closes the door, the good feeling leaves him as he thinks about what the neighbor lady said. What has Laura been telling people?
Laura has been keeping secrets from him, and that’s not right. You don’t hide things from someone you love. Walter heads straight to the bedroom. If Laura won’t tell him, he’ll find out for himself. She’s making him do this! He slides his hand under the bed and finds the flowered diary she keeps. He knows about the diary because when she first met him, when she was still very sad, she read parts of it to him.
Walter’s sweaty hands leave smudges on the pages as he searches for the truth. The fat, loopy script becomes smaller, slanted, meaner as Laura writes bad things about Walter! And then it gets worse, much worse. Laura is in love with the co-worker.
All the blood drains out of Walter’s head and his legs buckle under him. He starts weeping and tearing up the diary. But the words are still there, accusing him: He’s not the person I thought he was. I’ve made a terrible mistake.
Walter howls, “No!” He frantically scrapes up the remnants and hobbles to the kitchen. Destroy it! He opens the oven, throws the remains of the diary inside, then he lights a match and tosses it on top. The paper jumps and curls into little black logs and the smoke stings Walter’s eyes. All he wants to do is run from this building, from Laura and her terrible lies.
The sirens are coming, and they’re coming for Walter. Still in bed, he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to brace himself for what will happen next. His father storms into the room and seizes him by the collar of his pajamas. Walter flaps like a rag doll as his father shakes him. “The police are here. What have you done this time?” He drags Walter by the ear to the driveway, where they are all waiting for him: two officers in black leather jackets, his mother, his sister, the neighbor, the co-worker, and Laura. Spikes of red and blue light flash from the patrol car, hurting Walter’s eyes. And all the mouths are moving as a chaos of voices pounds at Walter’s head. His mother is waving her arms, Tina is crouched into her fat self like a turtle, the neighbor is shaking with anger, and Laura’s face is streaked with mascara. The co-worker puts his hand on her shoulder and looks sternly at Walter.
One of the officers approaches Walter’s father. “He needs to come with us.”
“Go on,” says his father, giving him a shove. “I’m through with you.”
The officer pushes Walter into the back of the patrol car and slams the door. How can they do this to him? They’ve got the wrong man!
He looks numbly out the window at the chorus of angry faces. He watches them get smaller and smaller as he begins his journey to the police station.