The Good Humor Man

Oct 31, 2016 by

 

We’re  happy to introduce new contributor Robin Vigfusson. Robin earned an M.A. in Political Science from NYU, but my real love is fiction, especially short stories. Robin’s work has appeared in Coe Review, The Blue Hour, Referential Magazine, Caravel Literary Arts Journal, Lunaris Review, Bookends Review, Junto Magazine, Jewish Fiction.net and podcast on No Extra Words.

 

That year, Halloween fell on a Saturday much to John Dante’s chagrin.     His wife, Lisa, dressed their four-year-old daughter as Tinker Bell, and told him they’d be gone all day.    John had been designated to stay home and hand out treats.

It was unseasonably warm and hordes of costumed kids trooped up the street like a Mardi Gras parade.    He stood at the door dropping Miniature Snickers into goody bags.

There was a lull in the drift of children during lunchtime and he reclined in his taupe La-ZY boy with a bottle of Blue Moon, watching a rerun of Robocop on one of the movie channels.   Just as he’d settled into the giddy mayhem, the doorbell rang.

It was a boy, no more than four or five, dressed as Spiderman.  He’d taken off his mask and stood there alone, shy and diffident, looking eerily like John himself with the same olive skin and chiseled features.   Everyone said John’s little girl, Abby, was the spitting image of her father and this boy could have been her twin.

“What’s your name?” John was compelled to ask, feeling a primal dread.

“Logan,” the child said softly and John was about to ask him his last name when he saw Bernadette Galloway at the end of his walk, impatiently smoking a cigarette, waiting for this boy who was apparently hers.

John quickly closed the door and went to the living room window, staying out of sight while he watched Logan run to his mother.  Bernadette just stood there, finishing her cigarette.  It had been years since he’d seen her.   John was sure she didn’t even know this house was his; the pleasant, tree-lined street was a popular trick-or-treat destination.

She wore tight jeans and a black leather jacket, still as robotically svelte as he remembered.   Only her shoulder-length hair looked different.   It had been dark and monotone when he knew her, but now blonde highlights sparkled through like sunlight in a forest.  She dropped her cigarette on the sidewalk, crushed it with the heel of her stiletto boot, took the kid’s hand and walked down the street.

There wasn’t a doubt in John’s mind that Logan was his.

The doorbell rang, again.   A little girl of three or four, done up as Cinderella, stood with her smiling mother.

“Trick or Treat!” she squealed and John numbly dropped candy into her plastic jack-o-lantern.  Her mother looked miffed by his lack of enthusiasm and John closed the door, knowing he couldn’t deal with this, now.

He went up to his attic man cave in a state of shock, as far away from the celebrants’ knocks as he could get.

Five years ago, he’d painted Bernadette’s kitchen.  Though he finished college, most of his adult life he’d found gigs through friends; bartending, catering, shoveling snow.   He’d been married for five years and his wife, an accountant, was the breadwinner.   At the time, her patience with him was running out.

“You better decide what you want to be when you grow up!” she’d screamed at him the morning he started work at Bernadette’s. “Tomorrow, you turn thirty-five!”

Bernadette’s house was in the wealthiest section of town, a huge, white, multi-tiered Victorian with the whimsical architecture of an elaborate wedding cake.

Bernadette had greeted him at the door.  She was a striking brunette, maybe his age or younger, in a teal strapless cotton sundress.  She looked statuesque with plush breasts and great legs shown to their best advantage, a woman who chose the colors of a room with her own skin tone in mind.

“Come on, I’ll show you the kitchen.”  She’d unabashedly fastened her eyes on his, letting him know she appreciated what she saw.   John was used to attention from women.   He was slim and well-built with dark hair, sloe eyes and a fine-boned face that was patently romantic.  Even as a little boy, girls had loved him.

“Johnny’s too good-looking,” his grandma had lamented. “All the girls are going to want his babies.”

Sometimes, a woman took a snide attitude.    Often, she was conspicuously un-pretty herself, venting her resentment on him rather than another female.

“There’s less to him than meets the eye,” a toad-faced frump in a college lit class had once told a smitten friend.   She’d said it out loud for him to hear, and he could have cared less, knowing her ride through life was going to be a lot less pleasant than his was.

Bernadette’s bright, spacious kitchen was Mediterranean-style and she’d decided on a color called ‘Tuscan Sun’ for the background.  After he’d moved the appliances and covered the floor in drop cloths, she sat on a folding chair, smoking, swinging a shapely leg and talking to him, nonstop while he cleaned and primed the walls.    The more she talked, the more tension collected like humidity, especially as her chatter turned coarsely personal.  John had never cheated on Lisa, but it began to feel inevitable.

This was Bernadette’s second marriage.  Her husband was a doctor.

“A gastroenterologist,” she told John.  “My first husband was a plumber.  Same difference, right?”

He laughed, sweeping the wall with a roller.

“I mean aside from the money, it’s really the same thing.  Your hands are in shit all day.”

“You’ve got a point,” he agreed.

He’d seen her wedding picture on the mantle in her living room.  The new husband was nearly thirty years older than she was.  At first, he’d thought she was posing with her father.

“I didn’t break up his marriage,” she told him.

“It’s none of my business.”

“Just saying,” She pensively puffed on her Marlboro. “She left him.”

He nodded and kept working.

“It was the Viagra.  He’s fucked me raw.  God knows what he did to her.  He’s like a resurrected dinosaur.  A horny T-Rex.”

John could only shake his head.  It didn’t sound delightful.

“In the divorce, she charged mental and physical abuse and the kids stood by her.  Kids.  They’re my age for Christ’s sake,” she smirked and kept talking.  “How should I put this?  When a woman gets old, she’s not that elastic down there.”

“This is way too much information.”

She grinned.

“You’re cute,” she said, one arm hugging the other.  She crossed her legs, her right mule almost slipping off her toes.  “I’d like to flush all his pills down the toilet.  Or better yet, I wish he’d drop dead.”

“You sure you want to be telling me this?”

“You think this is like Dateline, right?  Like I’m planning to kill him.  Or I’m asking you to help me.”

They both started laughing and he almost felt drunk.

“If anything happens, my lips are sealed,” he promised.

“Do you have any kids?” she asked. “They must be beautiful.”

“Not yet.”

“Me, either.  He doesn’t want kids.  He’s a grandfather, for Christ’s sake.  And he’s greedy.  He wants me all to himself.”

He didn’t reply.

“I forget what it even feels like to make love to a normal man,” she said as if blowing him a kiss, but he left it alone.

The next day she came onto him in earnest.

There was a cement pool in the backyard and it was sweltering out.   Though she had central air conditioning, she insisted he join her for a swim.

“You’re sweating like a horse,” she said, staring directly at his damp, lean chest through his tee shirt.

“I didn’t bring a suit.”

“You could go in your briefs.  Or wait.  I’ll get you one of my husband’s.”

“Oh no.” That struck him as an infraction of territory, like shaving with another man’s razor.

His protest annoyed her. “It’ll fit.  He’s in really great shape for a geezer.  He runs every day.   One of those.”

She was wearing a scant bikini, totally at ease with her near-nudity.   He felt self-conscious being so close to that creamy, poreless skin since of course, he wanted to touch it.  His own wife, Lisa, a pretty blonde, had always been modest even when her figure was at its peak.  This woman seemed genuinely wild at heart.   A real adventure.

While Bernadette went outside, he changed into the boxer trunks in the kitchen.   The way she described her husband, John had imagined a thong.

When he came outside, she looked thrilled.

“Come on in!  It feels fantastic!” she said, splashing water at him.

The pool was hidden from view by a chain fence thickly laced with ivy, and within a half hour, she was climbing all over him.

They made love the next day and the day after that.  After he cleaned up in the kitchen, she kissed him goodbye with fervent affection.

“I’m going to miss you so much,” she said, close to tears.

“I’m going to miss you, too,” he told her. “I’ll never forget you.”

It had been like a cruise to a tropical country.

After Bernadette, he changed profoundly.  He shed his stubborn laziness like a last remnant of adolescence, studied for the Praxis exam and got a job teaching high school.  He was ready and willing to acquiesce to life’s demands. Lisa wanted a child.  He’d seen a baby as a costly disruption, but now he felt he owed it to her.  Abby was born around the same time as Logan.

There were neighbors looking at Logan now, maybe thinking who he reminded them of; it was unavoidable that he and the Galloways knew some of the same people.   His Camry had been parked in her driveway for three days straight. He almost felt like junking it.

A headache had unfurled like acrid smoke behind his eyes, blurring his vision and making him nauseous.   He’d never had a migraine this bad and it seemed a barometer of how dire things were.   When he sat up, he felt severely dizzy as if he’d lost synch with the earth’s rotation.  Before blacking out, he hoped it was a fatal hemorrhage.

He woke up with Lisa standing over him, yelling.  She was home much earlier than he’d expected.

“Can I leave anything to you?  There are mobs of kids at the door and you decide to take a nap?   You want them to break a window?”

Abby was smugly munching a candy apple in her green tutu and gaudy nylon wings, standing beside her mother like a spritely minion.

“I’m sick, honey,” he managed and Lisa narrowed her eyes, taking him in more closely.  In the pale haze coming through the attic’s skylight, he looked cadaverous.

“God, you look awful.  You’re white as a sheet.”

“It just hit me.  I don’t know if it’s a virus or what.  I never had a headache this bad in my life.”

“Do you want to go to the hospital?”  She felt panicked.  When young people got this sick, it was usually lethal.   Her own brother had died from cancer the year before.  Since losing him to that preying disease, no one she loved seemed safe from it.

“I just want to go to bed,” he told her.

“I’m sorry I got so mad.”

She helped him up by the arm, gently guiding him downstairs.

“Whatsa matter with Daddy, Mommy?”  Abby wanted to know.

“Daddy’s sick, sweetheart,” John mumbled. “I just need to lie down.”

“Are you gonna be OK, Daddy?”  She’d turned whiney and frightened.

“Of course, I will,” he said to soothe her.

He got under the comforter in their bedroom and Lisa drew the shades, then kissed him on the forehead.  He wasn’t running a fever.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the Emergency Room?” she asked anxiously.

“No.  I just want to sleep.”

When she left the room, he closed his eyes and floated into a dream, an outlandishly vibrant retread of a childhood memory.  He was with his mother on a street in New York.  The colors were wildly lucent, and his mother got so excited when she saw a blazing white ice cream truck that she turned into a little girl.

She bought sky blue Popsicle for both of them, then confided to him how every day one summer when she was a child, the Good Humor Man had parked his truck in a neighbor’s driveway.  A year later, when her neighbor gave birth, the baby looked just like the ice cream man.

“Did her husband ever find out?” he asked.

“Just us kids knew,” she whispered.   “The Good Humor Man; he lived to please everyone.”

He woke with a sharp intake of breath as if hands were at his throat.

“You OK?” Lisa had opened the door to look in on him and make sure he was still alive.

“Better.”

“You want dinner?”

“Just something light.  I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

It was late afternoon and the house seemed soft and dim for his benefit.  All the lights were off. Walking into their small kitchen, he felt soothingly compromised as if convalescing, in retreat from the world.  Lisa had made clam chowder.

He sat down at the table, next to Abby.   She was still dressed as Tinkerbell, but dusk had muted the colors of her costume and even her glitter-soaked wings looked delicate.     She held his face in her little hands.

“Are you all better, Daddy?”  Her sweetness flayed him and he burst into tears.  Lisa looked terrified.

“My God, what is it?”  she asked.

He could only shake his head in desolation.  Bernadette had been determined to seduce him from the moment they met; none of it had been spontaneous.   Her predatory friskiness should have warned him she was borderline.

Lisa sat next to him and tightly gripped his shoulder.

“Are you sick, Johnny?  I mean – really sick?”

“No.  I just had a very bad scare. I thought I was going to die,” he eased into this alibi like a bath she’d just prepared for him.

“John, maybe you should see a doctor.”

“Lisa, let’s sell the house.”  He wanted to get as far away from Bernadette as possible, the way people went into witness protection programs.

Lisa stared.   “What?”

“You’re not happy, here, Lisa.  You been complaining for years.”

She often bitched that the main street was shabby and charmless, blocks of nail salons and pizza parlors.  It was a town to drive through, not live in, a vapid place you barely noticed on your way to a mall.   Now, her discontent seemed fortunate.  They only stayed because he was so complacent.

“We could go to Maplewood,” he said, knowing that hip, festive suburb was her dream destination.   “Abby’ll be starting kindergarten, next year.  You said they had a really good school system. You never liked it here. You call it ‘Sopranoland’.”

“Yeah, but you like it here.”

“Things can change in a day,” he told her. The world he’d owned that morning was now as remote as a faded star.  As it drifted away from him, he felt an acute loneliness.

“Your mother always says that.” The woman greeted all startling events with that adage, whether it was good luck or tragedy, births, deaths, windfalls or wars.

“I never knew what she meant till now,” he said, blandly.

 

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