The Village Wit (a novel by Mark Beyer)
How he gets started up with Susan Castle will forever be an unfinished stitch somewhere in his brain. In Florida, jobs for book editors are few. His little writing background gets him an interview with the Gulf News as features writer. The time to celebrate the offer of employment comes and goes like a sharp pain from indigestion. Within a week though, he has a desk that he uses but twice a week because he takes to heart a memo passed to him by Jim Taschner, his managing editor: The only way to be a good reporter is to Get out of the office!
One day, however, he sits in the lunchroom amid his colleagues for a compulsory corporate meeting. Voices speak of ridiculous ideas how to make the paper better: different colored plastic bags; all-color print runs; more human interest and fewer crime stories. All there was to conclude about his features job was this: at $23k per year, he has $26 left over each month after expenses – mortgage, car, food, insurance – and that leftover can hardly even keep him in tennis balls. And if the house develops a leak, or if the a/c breaks down, or a hurricane blows in and blows him out, he’ll be financially ruined. Had Nan wanted half of everything instead of signing everything over to him (except for the bed she used to fuck another man in), he’d really be broke, but this is a different story. If he meets another woman, he promises himself, he’ll chop his dick off.
The meeting drones on: some corporate backslapping about record profits, and here he’s making squat and supposed to feel happy about it. He lifts his eyes from the dirty floor as a wave of laughter from the smiling happiness of corporate lifers laps around his ankles.
And then there she is. A Cover Girl version of early middle age, but this view is from a distance of twenty-five feet. Her eyes flash youthful interest toward him. Even under the cloudy fluorescent lights she looks okay. He wades into her stare. She’s wondering with those Scandinavian eyes, a crooked jut chin, and the crinkle across her forehead, who he is. Was she new? No, she has friends beside her, the old ladies from classified ads. He is the new lamb. Who is she?
“I just returned from a post-divorce vacation. Three months tomorrow.” Self-effacing smiles are the soul-engineering oil for the newly divorced. They sit in the lunchroom, a place Bentley frequents after first seeing Susan, where three fold-out buffet tables and unmatched plastic chairs are entertained by the constantly running television, tuned to the news channel corporation that owns this little Hicksville bi-weekly.
“Ah! The ink just dried on mine,” he tells her.
“I should’a got more from him. I sold out for less. I should’a taken the house.”
“Mine gave me everything, except the bed she used to fuck other men on.”
Eyes like sunflowers now. He’s getting good at finding commonality. It’s only taken him forty-some years.
“Pure guilt,” he tells Susan. “Her cheating heart opened the lock for a back door man.” This one doesn’t get his pop song references.
“Never heard of a guy getting everything.”
“A first, maybe. So are you going house hunting this weekend? I remember you said something about it when you rushed through the lunchroom on your way for a smoke break.”
When he mentions cigarettes, he watches her look at the pack by her Styrofoam plate. Her hand reaches to touch them, like a child grasping her blankie.
“Too close to Christmas,” she says, and turns her head to cough wetly. “People don’t wanna let a stranger in. They think I’ll be casing the joint for a X-mass robbery.”
Are you kidding, lady? People don’t do that.
“I was going to offer to come with you, so you have another opinion. You know, a second pair of eyes. Maybe I could bring along a tape measure.”
“Oh, no need for that. I can guess the square footage just by looking around from the center of the room.” She demonstrates this ability by gesturing at the lunchroom. “This room is four-hundred square feet. Maybe four-hundred-ten.”
He looks around. She’s dead wrong, by his estimation. The lunchroom easily measures thirty-by-twenty-five. “Close,” he says.
She looks up from her cigarettes.
“Where is your house?”
“By the old K-Mart on Little Road.”
“Maybe I can stop over one night this week, see what you have to compare with places I’ve seen. See your layout.”
“Anytime. Let me give you my phone number.” Can dating really be this easy? He reaches into his pocket for a pen and feels his cock twitch.
He’s telling her how it’s not so strange that two people have found each other just after double-divorce. Think of it this way — neither was messy; neither couple have kids; alimony and money aren’t an issue; there’s no love left to dissemble over time — “Dissemble?” “Um … it means take apart.” “Right. I knew that. Just talking to myself aloud.” — and finally, Life is too short not to try again with someone so on your wavelength.
They kiss. “I love you,” she says and he sees in her eyes that she means it — different eyes than he’s used to looking into; Nan’s eyes, that held truths in dark shadows the last year, and now she’s gone, just a voice from the past, over the phone, like a message, the past, images and paper.
“I gotta have a cig,” says Susan. “You want to smoke a joint?”
“Babe, it’s the weekend.” She slides a long shirt down her upraised arms – his shirt – and it slowly covers her mud-colored nipples, then her tanning-salon-brown stomach, her dark but clipped short pussy hair, all covered like a curtain come down on the stage. He’ll wait for the encore after her smoke.
“Okay,” he says. “But afterwards you have to teach me a new trick.” He pats the bed and winks. He reaches out, his hand disappearing beneath his shirt that covers her body, and wets his finger inside of her. A cough suddenly explodes from her lungs, and his finger is discharged.
“I need my smoke,” she cries, and runs from the room.
He washes his hands in the bathroom sink, thinking, “On the other hand, there’s always the rebound effect to consider.”
(from pages 304 - 306)
Available in print and ebook from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
Print edition: $14.19
Kindle edition: $6.99