A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

Home Fires…

I avoided Eastern Avenue and the store, staying on side streets until I was almost back to the Interstate. When I got home it was closing in on mid-night. I'd left the restaurant before ten. Kathy was sitting up waiting for me, as she always did, reading her latest romance novel.

"Didn't go well dear?" she asked, helping me off with my coat.

"Oh fine," I said, failing to show any excitement.

"It's usually not good when you take so long with him," she said. "Did he want many changes?"

"He liked it. Liked the fact it was early. Mostly he wants me working on a spring piece he needs to keep the publishers happy with my production," I said. "Didn't want any changes. That doesn't mean the publisher won't."

"When will you know about this book?" she asked.

"When he wants to let me know, Kathy. It will be fine. He said it's sold, and they're happy to have it."

"It doesn't seem fair it takes so long. Any more talk about the contract?" she asked, bringing me tea from the pot that was steeping on the table.

"The usual. He's working on it. They're thinking about it. No commitments at this time. Money's tight. Get this new book done by spring and we'll have more leverage. The usual crap. He likes me sweating out each book. I think he thinks I'll quit working so hard if I'm under contract."

"After the next book would be nice," she said. "That would be three. Wouldn't that be good, Tom?"

"Yes, it would be, dear," I agreed, as the other events of the evening pushed into my thoughts for an instant.

I refused to let them gain a foothold this time.

"Are you happy, Kathy? I mean with me? Our lives?"

"What a silly question, Thomas. I'm with you aren't I? I wouldn't have it any other way. We're happy."

"I mean with me? Do I make you happy? I know it's not easy, me never knowing if the next book might be a flop, end my career. We'd lose everything. I know it's difficult for you."

"Each of your books is better than the last. You know they will sell. You're a good writer," she said, coming to sit on the arm of my easy chair as she did when I needed to be mothered or reassured, or in this case a little of both.

She had inherited the mothering job as well, along with making sure I had clean underwear before she let me out of the house.

I heard her answer but I wondered. That's what she's supposed to say, loyal wife and all. Did I really make her happy? I mean where it counts, between the sheets, in the old hide the sausage game? Did that make her happy? I couldn't ask her that. I couldn't ask her if she looked forward to my love making, or if she merely condoned it. Did she miss it when I was so involved in my work that I forgot to make love to her for months on end?

I never felt like much of a man before I met Kathy. I remember wondering after the first time if I'd satisfied her. I couldn't ask her then either. She did marry me. I still didn't know if I was very good where it really counted. I wondered about that before we got married. After Amy and Tom Jr. were born, all doubt was removed.

I had either convinced myself that I must be pretty good at it since I sire such fine kids, or maybe I just pushed it out of my mind. I had reproduced after all. I'd done my duty as a man and Kathy never complained if I was in a slump.

"You need to get your elbows up, dear. You've got a hitch in your swing. You're batting like a little girl."

There was always a good excuse, when I wasn't performing. This came most often during the periods when I was doing my most intense writing. Then there were the months before I sold the first book. Everything was closing in on us. I slept in the study and growled like a lone wolf. We both knew it happened periodically, but we had the kids to prove we loved each other. It all had to do with my chosen profession. When I'd first stayed home to become a writer, she'd give me these long worried looks, but she never said anything about what she was thinking.

"What if you don't sell? What if there is no income? What if we lose everything? Couldn't you just have a part time job, something, anything? You'd make a fine managers at MacDonalds."

She went to work and made sure we didn't starve. She never said anything about what she was thinking, and that left me free to invent these farcical conversations with myself; what she would say if she was half the man I thought I should be. So, why was all this crap regurgitating? I was on a roll. I had sold my second book. We hadn't lost the house or even gotten close to bankruptcy.

We came damn close though, but she never once questioned my talent or ability. Just didn't have the doubt about me that I had. We did go down to the final few months as our expenditures became obviously greater than our income, her income. I was considering going back to the newspaper business. We hadn't talked about it but the bottom line was staring us in the face every time we wrote a check. It was right after I started thinking about going back to work that it arrived. The endless rejection slips were interrupted by a significant sale of one of my older short stories, along with a request to see more of my material. I had been published and my view of the world changed.

Todd Sweeney had called me the following month. He was an agent that specialized in new talent. He'd read my piece and wanted to represent me in future negotiations with publishers far and wide. He was sure he could sell more of my material, and he did. I did moderately well with him submitting my work to the proper publishers. I had failed to break into the big time book market for two more years. My short stories were selling and our standard of living improved.

According to Todd, several of my novels were positioned for the changing marketplace, and he maintained he would sell one of those soon. Once again he had judged the situation correctly. I cranked out a couple of short stories a month and worked on my books in-between. I'd sold the first book and wondered if there was any more where that came from. The second book was easier and no one questioned it would sell.

I wanted to be a writer and now I was one. While I was not selling, I doubted I ever would be one, but once I did sell, the road had been relatively smooth. Everything Todd Sweeney promised, he'd delivered. He thought a contract would be good, but there was a certain leverage that came with independence. I liked the idea of the security of a two or three book deal. He said security was nice but the big checks came when several publishers were interested in my next project. He saw the second book as a breakthrough. The third book would be the key to a big contract.

Todd was more a friend and adviser by the night I met him at Anthony's. We only occasionally saw one another when it didn't have to do with my books, but he always caught up on my family and how I was doing emotionally. He'd fill me in on his own. He was a sincere fellow that knew his business, becoming attached to the people he handled.

It was an easy relationship except during negotiations and final rewrites on a book, and then I became high strung and ill tempered in my effort to keep my work from being butchered by the hacks that masqueraded as editors. Todd stood his usual middle ground during these periods, appeasing me when he could, telling me what a jerk I was when he couldn't. Through it all we'd come to trust and like one another.

My meeting with the boy that night had altered our usual dinning routine. While I was there it was obvious to both of us that I had something other than work on my mind. My curiosity hadn't been satisfied by my circuitous route home, and somehow that inadvertent meeting had opened a door I didn't want to be walking through.

"Let's go up," I said.

"So early?" she asked, noticing it wasn't one yet.

"I thought we might…."

"Let me get the lights. The meeting must have gone well," Kathy said.

I guess I needed to prove something to myself. We'd finished twice before I rolled onto my back and pulled on my boxers.

Kathy rarely said anything after. She seemed content enough but there were no compliments or great orgasms I could detect, not that it was a primary concern. Kathy was quiet and subtle, and she'd always supported me no matter what it was I needed. It had been that way in sex. As long as I was satisfied, she seemed to be, but was she? Perhaps there was someone on the side that took care of her needs, why not two or three some bodies? Perhaps I'd just caught the gold ring.

"Do I make you happy?" I asked.

"What's got into you, dear?"

"I don't know, Kathy. I need to know I make you happy," I said.

"If I got any happier I'd absolutely burst. You are the man I love and I have never once regretted loving you, dear. Yes, you make me happy," she said, kissing me on the cheek but not touching me any place else. "What's this all about. This isn't like you. You okay? What did Todd do to you?"

"Nothing! I'm okay. I just was thinking about it on the way home. I do stay to myself a lot. I mean when I'm writing. I was wondering. Doesn't it bother you, me being so isolated when I'm writing?"

"Tom, you let me proof the chapters. It makes me feel as though I'm a part of it. I understand your need not to be bothered, interrupted while you're working. I understand that it is part of your process. I accept it."


Being the answer I was looking for, how far was I expected to delve into my own insecurity, but it didn't stop the dreams from entering my sleep. They were meaningless dreams and I was on the run. I was sweating and unable to escape, from what I wasn't sure. Like most of my dreams, they had no beginning and no end, and unlike my stories, there was no resolution. I woke feeling as though I'd not slept at all. The one picture I retained from my tortured sleep, the boy leaning on the storefront from an angle I never had of him.

Who was he?

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