Switch

Switch, a short story by Doug Hawley - Written Tales

Duke’s call from Janine: “Duke, this must come from out of the blue. I know that we have not been in touch for twenty years since I left town. It must have been quite a shock, considering what we meant to each other, but I had to leave town because I was being stalked and was very afraid. I know that we had meant a lot to each other. I hope that you can forgive me for the sudden departure.”

“Janine, of course, I forgive you. That must have been horrible for you. I hope that you are OK now.”

“I thought it was the end of my problems when I put the stalker behind me, but my marriage is not going too well. I’ll probably end up divorced – there are trust and fidelity problems. Enough of my situation, how are you doing?”

“Pretty good. Been married a long time, doing OK financially. No kids. Fairly healthy, we hike a lot, do yoga and so on. If you ignored my face, I’d probably look about the same as the last time you saw me.”

“We should see each other again. Right now would be a bad time while the divorce thing hangs over me. I’m living right down the road from you in Salem now.”

His wife Sally asked, “Who called?”

“That was Janine, you know that unstable girl that I knew way back when.”

“What did she want?”

“She called to explain why she disappeared years ago. Apparently, she was being stalked.”

A few months pass and Sally takes off for her business trip to Northern California this year. Duke calls Janine “Hi, you mentioned us getting together again. Would now be a good time?”

“I think so. I’m officially separated now, so I can’t see any harm. Could you come down this evening?”

Duke wonders if he could get in any trouble. He has nothing scheduled in the afternoon, and he can always tell Sally he went out to eat or work in the yard if he missed a phone call.

Later in Salem, Duke and Janine go out to dinner. She explains her emotional upheaval with the upcoming divorce. They talk about the good times when they would go on a picnic with carnal delights for dessert. Duke tries to rub up against her, but she says even though she is separated, she is not divorced.

After Duke returns to Portland, he can’t get the memories of Janine out of his mind. By comparison, his life with Sally has gone stale. The same TV shows, the same food, the same vacation every year. Even though he was content, he can no longer imagine another twenty years like the last twenty years.

After Sally returns, he can no longer visit Janine without raising her suspicions. He has to be content with sneaking phone calls. Janine is always friendly but steers the conversation away from any kind of commitment, claiming that her situation is still unresolved. Duke insists on knowing when she is officially free.

A couple of months later, Janine called to tell Duke that she is unhitched. He immediately tells Sally that it is over. “Sally, you don’t want me while I love another. I’m sure that someone as attractive and clever as you will have no problem finding someone to give you the love that I can’t give you any longer. I know that I’m in the wrong and I’ll make any financial settlement you need within reason.”

Sally frowned “It sounds like nothing I can say could get you to stay, so clear out, take everything and leave. My lawyer will be in touch with your lawyer.”

Good to his word, Duke was quite generous to Sally.

Down in Salem “I’m free, you’re free, we can get married and make up for all of those years we could have been together.”

“Duke I’m afraid you misunderstood. First, when I talked about infidelity and trust, I’ve got to tell you, I was the one that couldn’t be trusted and was fooling around. In fact, my boyfriend Evan and I already have plans to be married. As for what we talked about, I was just trying to be kind to you because I felt a little guilty about how I treated you several years ago. Even then you were just one of the guys I was seeing. I’m so sorry, but you are a small part of my past, Evan is my future.”

A broken-hearted, depressed Duke returns to Portland where he rents a small apartment with the little money he has left after his settlement with Sally. He soon learns that a financially impaired, unimposing forty-five year old has very little luck on the dating market. In desperation, he tries to make up with Sally, promising to rub her back, rub her front, crawl, whatever it would take to get her back. She says “Not after the way that you humiliated me. Anyway, I’ve found someone who really appreciates me, and there may be a wedding pretty soon.”

Unknown to Duke, Janine had called their house a week before she talked to him. That time Sally answered. “Is Duke there?” Janine asked?

“No, this is his wife Sally, what is this about?”

“This is Janine. He may have mentioned me. I’m just trying to reach some people I knew when I left Portland to explain why I left.”

“He’s mentioned you. Sometimes I get the feeling that you were the big deal in his life rather than me.”

“That may be what he thought, but it wasn’t that big a deal for me. When I was seeing him, I was already married to my first husband Jack. Jack was the typical bad boy, very exciting, but bad husband material as I found out after I made the mistake of marrying him. No money, no future, bad temper. I thought that I’d try Duke out for a better future, but after a while, I got tired of the two of them and cleared out. Duke fell for me completely, but he was plain boring. By that time Jack had gotten suspicious and I was scared.”

After a long pause, Sally says “Based on what you tell me, you could do me a big favor. You’re right about how boring he is. I’ve been seeing a guy while Duke is at work. Duke is too thick to suspect anything. I could ask for a divorce, but if I look like the bad guy, I might lose my friends and be hurt financially. If he asks for a divorce, I’m golden. Would you consider leading him on a little, if possible without outright lies, to see if he would ask me for a divorce? Maybe I could do something for you in return.”

After another long pause “Do you think that you will get enough in your divorce to pay for a decent honeymoon for my boyfriend Evan and I.”

“Most definitely.”

“Ok, then, I’ll call back later and talk to Duke to get the ball rolling.”

Poor dense, dumb, deprived, defeated Duke.

Appeared in Bitchin’ Kitsch

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