Charlie Changes His Mind
“Isn’t that Mick over there in the corner?” Charlie asked when Sheila came back with their drinks.
“Yes,” she said settling in opposite him.
“He went and got himself one of those mail order brides from the Ukraine,” he said now sipping his beer and staring at Mick.
“Stop staring at that sad feck, he’ll come over,” she said, not wanting what was their first night out in weeks spoiled by Mick and his troubles.
“Me, I like to think that love just happens. You know like with us. There you were, that dark, angry look on your face and all I wanted to do was make you smile the moment I saw you,” Charlie said wistfully.
“Not much good at that, are you,” Sheila muttered darkly.
“Makes you wonder,” Charlie said, looking back to his wife, “What happens? Why some people end up sad and lonely in this world while others, like us, get more than our share of happiness. Is it just luck? Is it some kind of test?”
Sheila, looked at Charlie, who was again staring at Mick and realized he was serious. Sheila knew, after a few pints and some music, she could almost make Charlie tolerable. Not the hot, heavy, mad thing they’d had when they were younger, but tolerable. Well more than a few pints, she amended, after all she knew too much about her Charlie. He wasn’t, for one thing, thoughtful. This night, the two of them, their anniversary date, the “Hey, do you fancy a pint,” wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t spent a solid week dropping hints. She’d not even bothered with “You know what special day it is next week,” or “I saw this thing on pintrest, says ninth anniversary is copper and tenth is tin.” Those would be too subtle for her Charlie and besides anything to do with metal would have him talking about how people didn’t use proper pipe anymore and everyone was using plastics when building houses. No, Sheila had decided that getting him out for a couple of pints, a bite to eat and home to bed was the way to go. No pressure, no anniversary talk. She’d just wait two weeks after and casually remark, when he’d come home to remind her that his parent’s anniversary party was coming up and they needed to get them something, that his parents could get by on their own with a couple of pints since that is all he did for their tenth anniversary.
Sheila’s dark meditations were interrupted be the creeping awareness that Charlie’s staring at Mick had achieved the result she most feared. Mick was coming from across the pub to join them.
“I told you not to stare,” she hissed.
“There’s no harm in Mick saying hello,” Charlie said, rising to meet him.
“Jeesus, Charlie, you don’t want to talk to him. He’s. . .not right,” she whispered.
But her Charlie was already on his feet, hand out to Mick.
“Charlie,” Mick said, shaking his hand. “Sheila,” Mick acknowledged her as she stared into her pint.
“Mick,” she said, not looking up.
“Pull up a chair,” Charlie said, and Sheila was calling upon every dark creature of wrath and vengeance in her mind and arraying them in a battle formation against Charlie.
“Well, if you don’t mind,” Mick said, and pulled up a free chair, becoming the third at a table for two.
“How’ve you been?” Charlie asked.
“Oh, well enough,” he said, looking down into his drink to invite more questions.
“Well that is great to hear,” Charlie said. “I was just saying to Sheila here, that life measures out happiness in odd ways.”
Mick stiffened in response to this observation, “That’s true enough.”
“So many people in this world go along, never-” Charlie went on.
Mick began to shake, and erupted, “I was happy. For a while.”
Charlie paused, and looked to Sheila for support, but he only found her glaring at him as Mick was now ignoring the both of them and staring into his pint.
“I’m sorry,” Charlie said, “It’ll be alright.”
“No it won’t. It was our anniversary and I forgot,” Mick said, and erupted once again, this time in strangled sobs.
“Oh,” Charlie said. “Well, let it be. She’ll settle down after a bit and you can go and patch it up. This happens with couples early on. A row now and again. But you make it up. You apologize. Why we used to have more than our share of fights, Sheila and me. You grow out of it,” Charlie said, looking to Sheila, but she was drinking her pint and looking at her watch.
“No, it’s over. She threw me out. Done. My stuff thrown in the hall, she even has my keys,” Mick said.
“Oh, well that’s just-“ Charlie said, but Mick was up from his chair.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have come over. I’m really not fit company tonight. Charlie, Sheila,” he said, and left them.
“What a sad feck,” Charlie said, looking down into his pint “Mail order bride and she throws him out of his own flat. It’s like I said, in this lonely world the shares of happiness are. . .”
Charlie looked up and realized he was talking to an empty chair. Sheila was halfway across the bar. Charlie reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills, he waved at Mary who was tending the bar and pointed at the money on the table. She nodded her head then her eyes went to the door where Sheila had just departed. Charlie shrugged and Mary shook her head. Charlie half trotted and half ran from the pub.
“Sheila! Sheila, wait up,” Charlie called after her, she didn’t slow down.
Sheila was, in a good mood, a fast walker and Charlie would have trouble keeping up with her when they’d go to the shops. But in a bad mood, she could lose him in less than two blocks if he didn’t run. Charlie found himself running.
Even running dead out, he didn’t catch her up until she was inside their flat and closing the door on him.
“Hold up,” he said between snatches of breath, “What’s wrong? What did I do?”
“Do?” Sheila said, “You brought that sad little feck over!”
“Aw, now, you can’t deny a fellow creature a bit of sympathy,” Charlie said, “Don’t we have enough love between us to appreciate when a-”
“You don’t even know what today is,” Sheila cut him off.
“Sure, Mick forgot his wedding anniversary, so his mail order bride threw him out. But I don’t see why that’s got to-”
“Mick didn’t get a mail order bride.”
“Sure he did. He has pictures of her and everything. Pictures of the wedding, pictures of the honey moon in Sardinia. And-” Charlie said, his breath finally coming back.
“Didn’t you notice something different about her in the pictures?” Sheila said, her eyes narrowing in a way that made a primal portion of Charlie’s brain aware that something very violent was likely to happen to him if he answered incorrectly.
“Um, well it did seem to me she was out of his league,” Charlie said.
“A kitchen chair is out of his league,” Sheila said, slamming the door in his face, he heard the bolt slide into place.
“What’s that mean?”
“She’s a fucking doll!” Sheila yelled.
“She’s cute in a kind of magazine way, but I wouldn’t say ‘a doll’,” Charlie said. “She’s not beautiful like you,” he said in a last and desperate gambit to get Sheila to keep talking to him. He failed.
After an hour Charlie left the hall outside their flat, walked past the pub and then down to where Mick lived. He figured Mick, if he were any kind of man, would go back and try to sort things out with his missus. Then maybe he could find out what had upset Sheila.
When he arrived at the building he found clothes on the street. He found more in the hallway outside the door. He considered leaving, but he decided to knock at the door, as Mick’s problems were less likely to get him killed then going home to his own. He knocked. The door opened slightly.
“Hello?” Charlie called into the flat.
No one answered. Charlie pushed at the door, it opened and he saw that the flat was a mess. There were plates stacked everywhere, dirty clothes and then, in the far corner, sitting in a chair, arms crossed, glaring at him was. . . Charlie couldn’t remember Mick’s wife’s name.
“Um, sorry. I was here to see Mick,” he said, and considered backing out of the door.
She said nothing.
“If you could just let him know I came by,” Charlie said, talking loudly as it had occurred to him that she might not speak English.
She still didn’t move. Charlie was turning to go when he saw the coffin on the floor. He looked back at her and realized she hadn’t moved. The coffin or at least the box the size of a coffin was open, and empty, except for a few papers, “Miss?”
Charlie walked over to her and realized that her eyes weren’t moving and she wasn’t breathing. He had a very bad feeling about this. He stopped breathing, reached out and touched her. Her skin wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t clammy either, it wasn’t, skin.
He went back to the coffin, which, now that he came to inspect it he realized was a sort of shipping crate or industrial luggage. The papers were promotional materials for the Andrea Doria, fully life like, companion and love doll. He read through the materials and shook his head.
He sat on the couch for twenty minute reading over all of its features. That was when he saw, among the clutter, a note.
I’ve been patient, but I cannot do this anymore. You live like an animal, you never take me anywhere, and you won’t let me have any friends! I’ve thrown your shite out and I’m having the locks changed.
We are over!
The hand writing wasn’t Mick’s, it was clean, sharp lines, done by a steady hand. Charlie looked from the note to the doll that still sat in the position of reproach she’d been posed in when he’d entered the flat. He looked back through the manual and found nothing to suggest that break up notes were part of her features. Charlie rose from the couch and was going to leave, when something about that angry, judgmental stare caused him to turn and shut the door.
A week later Sheila received a letter sent from Spain. It was from Charlie.
I’ve finally found someone who I can make smile.
I’m sorry that it ended this way. But like I said, life measures out happiness in ways that aren’t fair and I know I’ve gotten more than my share.
Wishing You The Best,
Text Copyright 2017 Cusper Lynn
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