It was one of those moments in couple therapy when Harley just knew the
therapist was in cahoots with Morena, fixing to make his life hell. As if he
didn't know what he had done and that it was wrong, Harley had made peace by
agreeing to go hear what a horrible person he had become, to hang this thing
he called a life on the community clothesline. No one ever parked in the
spot in front of New Wings Psychotherapy, even though the package store and
Pudgie's Pizza were there and parking was slim in the strip mall. No one
wanted the rumors spreading.
"Harley doesn't talk to me." Morena, fanning her face with a Reader's
Digest, rocked back and forth in the chair. "He comes home and turns on the
"Harley." Mercedes said. "You hear what she's saying to you. Go ahead and
talk to him, Morena. Not me." Her hospital ID still hung from around her
neck. Their appointments were always at the end of the working day,
ostensibly so Harley could attend. But most of the time he sat, a silent
partner, not knowing what he might say to repair a marriage ten years in the
ruining. Something he hadn't already said a thousand times, anyway.
Women, all their interesting foibles and large breasts, fascinated him.
Morena turned to Harley and said: "You come home and turn on the TV. I wish
"Yep." Harley looked at his nails, then out the window, and let out a breath
he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "You're right."
He wondered how other men handled themselves. Theoretically, everyone didn't
sleep with every woman who interested them. But even lust of the heart was
adultery. Harley figured he didn't know which sin was worse. He knew he
shouldn't do it. Every ache of his guilty heart said so, but his loins sang
a different song entirely.
Morena threw down the magazine. "See. He doesn't give a fuck about my
"I just don't know what to say to you. I'm sorry I fucked Cheryl." Harley
snapped his thumbnail against his jeans. "But what else can I do but not do
Mercedes brightened perceptibly. "Let's explore that, Harley. Just keep
"I thought her name was Anne," Morena said.
"When I was a kid in high school, I thought that cars and pussy were it. I
spent all my time going after them and didn't get any. Then Pop left. I was
sixteen and I worked all the time. Ma fucked the grocer for food and loans.
Then I got married." Harley sat up and stared at Mercedes' hospital badge,
the green and yellow of it like a feed-store hat against her black shirt. "We been over this, trying to pin my doings on something that happened to me
when I was a kid."
"There is no pinning, Harley. We're exploring different possibilities."
Mercedes scribbled something in her yellow pad. Harley tried not to notice.
Morena's chins started to tremble.
"I love Morena. Always have." Harley tried a quick look at Morena. She
looked at the ceiling, still rocking in her chair and shaking her head.
"Harley, goddamn it. Who the fuck is Cheryl?" Harley ducked, but the magazine
drew blood from the corner of his eye. Morena hadn't even gotten up from the
"Jesus Christ," Harley said. Mercedes handed him a tissue without blinking.
"Maybe we've taken this as far as we can for the day." Mercedes dropped her
glasses onto her nose and wrote on her pad again. "One of the next steps we
take in couples therapy is to reacquaint ourselves with each other. We have
a choice of course, in what we plan for your date night, but we've found
that dance lessons work best for loosening couples from their normal
routine. I assume you don't dance now."
Harley shook his head. Morena said, "Fine. We dance then."
Harley drove home in silence. Morena carped at him, hit him once or twice
when she thought he wasn't paying attention. Walking down the dirt path to
the house, he noticed the bug zapper shorting out. Three short buzzes and a
pause; it sounded to him like an SOS. It seemed appropriate.
He sat next to her during the nighttime game shows and read from the Song of
Songs, trying to get a feel for how Solomon dealt with these things. If
Solomon couldn't figure out what to do, and the twin does of her breasts and
all that running water under the Falls of En-gedi made him lose his mind for
a woman, what could he, Harley, do? He knew it was what Mercedes would call
rationalization. She would tell him that nothing or no one could make him do
anything. He would have to do it himself. As with everything.
When Morena fell asleep in front of the off-air signal, Harley walked
outside to fix the bug zapper. He knew it could wait, but he wouldn't be
able to sleep anyway. Something useful could come from this night.
Dancing, he thought. He had a vision of how painful that would be. Someone
he knew would be there watching as he tried to train his clumsy feet. Waltz.
Fox-trot. Achy-Breaky. Most men would have no trouble with them. He didn't
think they'd be line-dancing, but he could hope for something simple. Yet
again, though, his troubles would be there for everyone to see.
Harley sat heavily in the chair --fuck the zapper, he thought-- and watched as
cars passed. He listened to the night, to the infernal machine, until the
three-zap pulse became a melody in his mind, and there he waltzed with his
wife until he woke in the morning covered in welts.
Rusty Barnes co-founded and edits Night Train. His work has
appeared or is forthcoming in journals like Bonfire, Cadenza, Gator Springs Gazette, SmokeLong Quarterly and Red Rock Review.