There’s Something I’ve Got to Tell You
by Patrick J. Murphy
Wednesday started out badly. Just before waking, James Elliot had dreamt that his aunt Rebecca, a dignified woman of seventy-three years, had wrestled him belly down to the ground, pinned him there with her butt, and one by one had clipped his toenails, disturbing what was usually for him his favorite day of the week.
“I had the strangest dream,” he said to his wife, while sitting at the breakfast table and keeping an eye on his daughter, Tracy, a rather wound up baby with troll-like hair who was busy hitting Cheerios with the back of a spoon.
“Really?” Alice was using her professional wife voice, meaning she was too busy to listen, and too busy to devote much time to not listening. She had thickened a bit and was dressed now in a light pink robe, which bunched around her hips. Her hair was pulled back into a dark blonde ponytail falling just below her shoulders. She stood at the sink, rinsing dishes.
Their house was small and leased by the year, two bedrooms, one bath, a living room and a kitchen. The backyard, though, was completely fenced and perfect for their daughter to play in when she got a little older. And, of course, they’d be looking to buy something soon, he thought. Something in the Northeast section of Tallahassee, where the more affluent dwelled.
He told her the dream, while helping Tracy drink her milk from a sip glass, three hands on the small container.
“That’s disgusting, dear,” Alice said and started the dish washer. It was loud and filled the room with a knocking and a hissing.
He ate his grapefruit and toast with jelly and wiped Tracy’s hands at intervals. He loved his family, but guessed there were simply things he couldn’t talk about at home. When he was ready to go, he smiled and kissed Alice on the cheek, then hugged Tracy’s belly against his face while she squealed.
He worked at a computer store, one of a chain of a hundred twenty-one stores spread out across the country. He’d been there for five years, gradually rising to Assistant Manager, and fully expected to get the Head Manager’s position soon. He stayed late on Mondays and Tuesdays so he could take off early on Wednesdays, an arrangement he’d worked out months ago, and he was usually at the motel by 3:00 o’clock, a few minutes before June.
Today, she had beaten him there and was already sitting back fully dressed on the bed and reading a book. She was thin with tightly curled hair. Her eyebrows were arched, giving her a half-surprised expression, one which had intrigued him at the beginning. He’d stared at her green eyes and wondered what on earth she could be thinking. Today, she wore tan slacks and a white blouse and unblemished white sport shoes.
“Hi,” he said and threw his coat on the chair and walked over to the bed. He kissed her sweetly upraised lips. “How’s Tony?”
“I have no idea.”
It was a running joke they had. Tony was her husband, a moody man. He worked in construction, roofing mostly, and James had seen a picture of him. He had long hair and a mustache and goatee. He’d been standing, bare to the waist, in front of a new house, one hip slung out, one hand on the other hip, looking filled with himself. June said he ignored her, but there was no way for James really to know.
“It’s been a strange day,” he said and sat down beside her, putting his arm around her shoulders and squeezing. Now, they talked before making love, edging into it. He preferred the earlier impatience. He told her about his dream, his aunt and her attack on his toes. “What do you think it means?”
June was an intelligent woman, interested in macrobiotics and aroma therapy. The question didn’t seem to faze her. “Well, your Aunt’s doing you a service. Maybe you feel you’ve neglected her.”
He waved that away. “Everyone neglects her.”
“Okay.” She fell silent for a moment. “How was it done?”
She shook her head and stared at him with a hint of irritation. “No, I mean, with what emotions. Was it humble or maniacal?”
“Maniacal,” he said softly.
“There you are!”
There he was. “Yes?”
“Change is coming, but you don’t want it to. You’re fighting it.” She smiled. “And you’re losing.”
Was that the meaning? He was happy the way things were. On the wall hung a picture of a girl in a white dress walking in a field of Impressionistic flowers and he stared at it and thought about the doctor’s appointment he’d scheduled for next week. Now that he was forty-two, it was the first in a planned series of increasingly unpleasant physical intrusions, but it was just an exam and he felt fine, though there was that occasional strange ache in his guts. He thought about it, finally deciding that it was better to be warned, on the look-out for things. Watchful waiting was the key. He grabbed her and threw her under him.
“Be careful of the blouse,” she said and dropped her book on the floor.
That Saturday, after it happened on the golf course, James never really lost consciousness, but then again, he didn’t feel fully awake until he’d spent that night in the hospital. He’d been on the fourth hole and had about two hundred yards to make. The course rose in deep green swells in front of him. Beside him, Lake Jackson stretched around a jut of land crowded with magnolia. The lake was draining. Every twenty years or so, somewhere hidden in the limestone, a sink hole opened and the water slowly vanished, leaving at last a moonscape and the desiccated bodies of fish. No one knew what caused it. No one knew where the water went. Then the hole closed and the lake filled up again and the newspaper spoke of hydraulic mysteries.
Now, the water was simply low and a slight breeze ruffled the surface. An odd cloud or two floated about in an otherwise perfectly clear sky and there was nothing to warn him what was coming.
James approached his ball and was swinging a three wood, feeling it in his shoulders and back, already looking ahead to gage the trajectory, thinking this one was good, at least this one, when the bolt hit him on the shoulder, exploding his world into brilliance.
“What do you know?” he asked himself over and over, while riding in the ambulance. “Who would have guessed?” He wasn’t sure what he meant, but was confident he was right.
Alice came to see him as soon as she found someone to take care of Tracy. “You are so lucky,” she said, looking down at him tucked between the stiff white sheets of the bed. Her blond pony tail swung over her shoulder.
He didn’t feel lucky. He felt chosen and relieved. He had a large wound on his shoulder and a smaller on his right foot, the entrance and the exit, but at least it had happened, he thought. Out of an almost infinite number of places, the lightning had struck exactly where he was standing. He tried to explain how miraculous that was, the odds against such a thing.
“It’s the club, stupid,” his wife said. “You were holding it up. It’s like an antenna.” He looked at her in sorrow. It was obvious she just didn’t understand.
On Sunday, after he’d gotten home and rested a bit, he located the dirty-white shoe he’d been wearing. It had a hole the size of a doughnut burned through the bottom. A memento, he thought, and put it on the mantle above the fireplace. Already, he thought, things were different. He could feel transformations working inside him.
“What the hell is that?” Alice asked, when she walked into the room carrying Tracy in her arms.
“It’s my souvenir.”
She looked at the shoe. “Well, get it out of the living room.”
He left it above the fireplace, insisted it be left there. After all, look at what he’d gone through to get it.
The following Wednesday, he was more than ready. He was still bandaged and a bit sore, but other than that he felt great. Charged. “Lightning Man,” he called himself.
“Do you notice anything different?” he asked.
June was beneath him. Her legs were wrapped around his and her eyes were unfocused. “What?” she asked, after a second.
“Can you feel the difference?”
She stopped moving. “Difference in what?”
It wasn’t the reaction he expected. “In me.”
Maybe it was more subtle, he thought. Only for the observant. He looked down at her puzzled expression, then kissed her deeply.
Afterwards, they lay pressed together, catching their breath. Her weight hurt his shoulder, but he said nothing, hoping only she didn’t move.
“That was great,” he said. He always said it. There was too little politeness in the world, as it was.
She was silent. Usually, she agreed with him and now he wondered if he’d done something wrong.
“Sweetie?” he asked.
She moved away and sat up against the headboard. “There’s something I’ve got to tell you.”
“How the earth moved? How it’s never been that way for you before?” He was feeling fine. It wasn’t until she didn’t respond that he began to worry.
“We’ve been seeing each other, now, for how long?” she asked finally.
Uh-oh, he thought. “About six months.” He said it carefully, as if the wrong inflexion would spell disaster. “But we’re keeping it fun, aren’t we? No heavy stuff. That’s what we agreed.”
She looked at him. Her eyes seemed intent, mysterious. “I told Tony about us.”
He didn’t understand for a moment.
“I thought he had a right to know. It’s not just a one-night stand.”
“You told Tony?”
She smiled. “He took it really well. We sat down and had a long talk, something we haven’t done in years. He said he wants to meet you.” She reached out and smoothed his hair. “I told him we’d set something up.”
That night he had trouble falling asleep and when he finally managed to do so, he had another dream. In it, he and God were taking a trip in a 1979 Plymouth Volare. God, of course, was driving. He seemed in an excellent mood.
“We’re making good time,” God said.
James, apparently, was the navigator. The map was spread out on his lap. He felt confused. He knew where they were, but not where they were going. Which could be a problem, if God ever asked his advice.
“Beautiful weather we’re having,” the divine being said.
It was, but James had no time for blue skies and impressive vistas. He was growing increasingly worried. According to the map, the road they were on ended soon.
“I can tell you’re concerned,” God said.
James pointed to the map and explained the problem.
“Let me worry about that.”
They seemed to be on a vast plateau. Behind them rose mountains, ahead lay what seemed to be the horizon. After few minutes, they passed a sign, telling them to turn back. God smiled and tooted the horn.
The road deteriorated. The car bounced and swayed as the asphalt vanished. James wondered what they were doing and held onto the door handle. He looked ahead, but couldn’t see anything, then realized the road dropped away.
“No!” James said, worried now, unable to help himself. “No!”
They flew over the edge and seemed to hang for a minute in the air. James saw the ground, impossibly far below. Then they fell, each second falling faster. The car filled with wind.
James screamed and screamed again.
“You’re upset,” God said.
“We’re going to die!”
God turned to him and smiled. “We? We?”
James woke just before the crash, feeling bitter. Disillusioned. Isn’t that always the way? he thought. Nothing was ever as it seemed. Then he remembered June and her husband Tony, who wanted to meet him. And there was his Aunt and the close call with lightning and hydraulic mysteries and his baby girl dreaming in her crib in the next room and it all suddenly seemed too much. Something had to be done! He sat up and looked around. Alice was asleep beside him. He gently shook her shoulder.
“Do you love me?” he asked. It was important.
She raised her head, but her eyes were still closed. “What?”
“I just wanted to know if you really loved me.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him, but her expression seemed blank, unreadable, and it felt for a moment as if he didn’t know her at all, then she put her head back down on the pillow.
He placed his hand on her hip and stared into the darkness. She was a morning person, he thought. He’d ask her again, tomorrow. There was nothing really to worry about. That’s all it was.
“Your girlfriend called,” she said quietly. “She wants to talk.”
He couldn’t breathe and the dark seemed filled with endings. “What?” he said. “What?” But of course there was no answer.
Read the Backstory
Patrick J. Murphy is widely published in the short story form. His stories have appeared, among other places, in Fiction, The New Orleans Review, Soundings East, Sou’wester, The Cream City Review, Confrontation, Nexus, Other Voices, The Sycamore Review, the Notre Dame Review, three times to The Tampa Review, and twice to the New England Review and Buffalo Spree Magazine. A story of his appeared in the anthology 100% Pure Florida Fiction published by The University Press of Florida, and his collection entitled Way Below E was published by White Pine Press. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (three times), the O’Henry Prize Stories, New Stories from the South, and the Best American Short Stories collections. His recent stories have appeared in the Notre Dame Review and the North American Review. He has been employed as an intern pastor for the Presbyterian Church, an adjunct professor for the University of Texas and Florida State University teaching English, an electronics engineer for NASA at the Ames Research Center, and he currently works as an inspector specializing in forensic toxicology for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.