Out of Place
It was certainly not nothing, she had explained when he answered her with the one word that offers no explanation, and fails miserably as an excuse when he dared to say, “Nothing.”
Nancy had heard that lame answer too many nights, when John entered his house and mixed his drink as he tossed that answer over his shoulder. She had grown tired of the fact that he was tired of his job. There were times she wondered about where he was and who was capturing his attention, but the idea that John would be having an affair had lost the impulse to feel jealousy or even envy.
The truth is, John was really exhausted from arguing all day at work and then having to use fighter jet pilot skills to make it around through the twists in I-395 after fighting his way out of the maze the DOT had dreamed up to put Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in the rearview to get home at some decent hour. John thought about the endless committee meetings that must have been held, impact studies, traffic count metrics, and all that goes into planning and approvals to build a road, and then those geniuses still screwed this mess up.
Finally, John offered a lazy attempt at conversation, “You cannot believe how stupid the clowns at work are.”
“Why do you let them get under your skin?”
“Try being a political consultant. These assholes don’t need a consultant; they need a shrink.”
John really felt the temptation to answer ‘Nothing’ but that response didn’t work for either of them, “My guy decided today to go on the news and completely flip on a policy he had promoted in a bill with his name on it.”
“Yeah, now he’s against the very thing he fought so hard for.”
“Did he ask your opinion?”
“Of course not; he just had me drive him to Reagan so he could stump back home. Good luck with that. Imagine what the people that voted for him think.”
John shook his second martini, “Is there more ice?”
“Let me get that for you.”
She let the cubes splash and clang a dull sound against the stainless steel twenty four ounce cylinder that Nancy had ordered from Amazon for him. She studied the pages to find this one set that included a twist function to measure perfect recipes for Martinis, Cosmopolitans, Margaritas, Mojitos, even a Whiskey sour. There had been some afternoons she would have enjoyed sampling all concoctions the shinny vessel promised. For now, the ice vermouth and gin were all for John. Then, she decided she deserved to shake one out for herself. She asked if he’d like to go out on the deck for quiet time and talk. He led the way. A crispness in the night air hinted at the time of year he had missed the colors of the leaves by coming home so late. Noise from the road outside their subdivision hummed without interruption. That sound could lull one to sleep, and then sleep all night as traffic never stops in the burbs around the power center of the universe.
“My day was interesting,” said Nancy.
When they were younger and had more hormones, such a statement would tantalize John into a fantasy of what she might do and who she may do it with. Now, they had tread marks to the degree that such ideas were no longer threat or temptation. He sipped his fresh tonic, “What happened?”
“Hmm. Bummer,” reacted John.
“Don’t be that way. I know she and Robert can be a pain, but they are good neighbors and are having a get together tomorrow.”
“You obligated us?”
“They can tell if we’re home. So, what excuse could I have given?”
John gulped the last bitters of vermouth, “Let me get a tune-up.”
Nancy took a deep breath of night air feeling the exhilaration of chilled freshness fill her nostrils. She closed her eyes and listened at the barely muffled clink of ice cubes and metallic shaking of the martini tumbler from John just inside the sliding glass doors at the kitchen counter. He returned lugging a martini glass in each hand, “Here,” he offered one to Nancy. The freshness of the night air now swelled into the lemony freshness of the concoction laced with juniper and the slightest orange bitterness. The cold of the fall night transposed into smells of spring and the promise that comes with new beginnings. John plopped into the aged cushion of the wrought iron patio chair, “Since we have to endure Ann and Robert, we may as well prepare. Cheers.”
The two sat quiet and sipped. Nancy turned to John, “What bothers you about them?”
“You kidding? Every sentence Robert manages is some kind of assault on my guy. Ann is okay. Actually, she could have been kind of hot several years back. I guess Robert wore on her.”
“Hot? You think our neighbor is hot?”
“Just an observation. Nothing that means I’d like to see the two of them in our hot tub. Just more of a comment about what a complete asshole like Robert can do to you if you have to listen to his rants.”
“True. He can be a bit much.”
“A bit? You think? If I want that kind of abuse, I can watch the news. At least I can talk back to the damn TV. Try to get a word in with Robert. Like talking to a brick wall.”
“You can’t change minds.”
“It’s a shame.”
Nancy turned her pyramid glassware upside down sucking the last of the clear liquid. “I could do another,” she said and handed the glass to John.
He ran his errand a tad slower as the alcohol had begun to work its magic calming the world around them.
“Damn,” he said upon returning. “After this one we’re on the way to being shitfaced.”
“Not a bad place to be,” she said and stroked the stem of the beautiful glass that had taken on more charm as if crystal could endure itself.
Once reseated John picked up, “There was a time when both sides got along.”
“Just look at where we live.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s all around us. We live in a liberal haven. You want trouble? Just mention the economy or some other topic. You’re lucky to get out alive.”
He gulped another swallow of the martini that had grown in potency one drink to the next, “Think about this. Here we live in the bastion of liberal thought and both airports are named after Republicans. How can that be?”
Nancy laughed at the thought. John continued, “I really believe people had a better grasp back then. It was two Democrat presidents that named the places.”
“Yeah, Kennedy named Dulles after John Dulles. A big time Republican conservative Secretary of State. Then, Bill Clinton gave credit to Washington National to Ronald Reagan.”
Nancy smiled and licked the lip of her glass savoring the bite of alcohol, “Well, if those leaders of the free world can get along, we can tolerate Ann and Robert.”