Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Free Pass With Elvis by Mark Rigney

Jane and Tom only have eyes for each other, and maybe one or two other people, in Mark Rigney's short comedy

Four months into their marriage, Jane announced to Tom that if Elvis Presley were ever to show up at their door, he, Tom, was to leave. Moreover, he would not merely leave, but he would vanish gracefully and with astonishing speed in order to give Jane and Elvis twelve hours of uninterrupted privacy. Afterward, no questions would be asked. "If Elvis knocks," said Jane, "I get a free pass."

Since Jane made this stark, unequivocal announcement in 1990, a good thirteen years after the King had officially left the building, Tom merely chuckled and said, "Sure, hon. Twelve hours. Free pass. Go to town." He even enjoyed giving permission; it made him feel kingly himself, broadly magnanimous. I am a good man, he thought, willing to go to ridiculous lengths to please my wife.

Three years later, Jane raised Gregory Peck to Elvis' exalted position. "I like men with strong voices," she explained. "But not to worry. Just twelve hours. Free pass. Then it's back to just us. Forever and forever, in sickness and in health."

Tom, uncertain as to Peck's existential status, protested gently at first, buying time. He suggested - cleverly, he thought - that surely not even Gregory Peck could replace Elvis. But Jane was persistent, so finally Tom gave in. Significantly, he gave in before he had a chance to check at the library and learn that Peck was in fact very much alive, despite having entered the world in the almost unimaginable year of 1916. Surely there had been dinosaurs then? Titans? Precambrian fogs?

"All right, hon," he said, happy again to have humored his wife. "Twelve hours. Free pass. If."

A year later, Jane added Andy Garcia, who, as it turned out, often vacationed in their famously ski-sloped town. It was, therefore, statistically plausible that Garcia, should he take a wrong turn or otherwise miss his way, might approach #32 Topcliffe and actually knock at the door. In which case, Tom would be expected to vamoose. For twelve hours. And to feel perfectly munificent in so doing.

But Tom took his foot and put it down. "Andy Garcia is alive and not old," he said. "And we both see him, at least a couple of times a year."

"But he's so handsome," Jane said, her sighing intake of breath the very definition of rapture.

"No."

"What if he were dead?"

"Gregory Peck's not dead."

"You," accused Jane, "are applying inconsistent standards."

Tom thought carefully before replying. Had he sported a moustache, he might have twirled it. "I tell you what," he ventured, "let's make a trade."

Jane, who had a disquieting talent for arching just one eyebrow, did so. Tom flinched, then carried on.

"You can have Andy," he said, "if I can have Greta."

"Greta?"

"Greta Scacchi."

Jane instantly crossed her legs and placed both hands on her upper knee, a position her mother had once referred to as "a woman's built-in chastity belt." As her pout settled, pruning her mouth, Jane tried to disentangle her twinned objections, the first being that she knew that merely thinking about Greta Scacchi's Santa Claus scene in The Coca-Cola Kid could make her husband hard at forty paces, and the second being that she did not think for a moment that she should have to make any sort of swap for the purely theoretical pleasure of a half-day frolic with Andy.

On the other hand, she was secretly pleased that Tom had not instead named Meg Ryan. Perky blonde Meg, whom Jane viewed (correctly) as her principal rival for Tom's bedroom affections. Not that he'd ever gotten any nearer to her than a television screen, since she, unlike Andy Garcia, did not vacation in the area, but still. TV was close enough - and besides, Meg did not in any way compare to Elvis, Gregory or Andy. And couldn't. Ever. So.

"Fine," said Jane, arching the opposite eyebrow. "Done."

Thus began a period of theoretical infidelity rarely equaled in the history of humanity. With so many stars and celebrities to choose from, Tom and Jane drew battle lines almost daily, adding new objets du d├ęsir at the drop of a hat. Many of their selections were chosen only to needle and annoy, and soon a smoke of jealousy and sexual competition hung heavy in the air. Entire meals would pass between them with only one topic at hand, that of parsing the world for all the many people they might encounter and potentially, ecstatically, bed.

In short, their life together became one long contest, Herculean in scale and impossibility, and sheer madness in terms of their inability to see past their own hyperactive vanities.

Needless to say, they gave up entirely the notion of sleeping with each other. They were far too angry - and besides, what could be more pedestrian and tepid than making love to one's own spouse?

Jane saw the light first. Falling on her own sword, she approached Tom in the garage, where he was scraping oil-scented grass from the underside of the mower. He had the main door up, the better to let in fresh air, a cool sprite of playful mountain breeze. "What if I," she said, putting one hand lightly on her husband's shoulder, "were to take Elvis off the list?"

Tom, crouching, stiffened as if he'd received an electric shock - as if the mower's blade had suddenly whirled of its own volition into frantic, lethal action.

"Tom? Honey?"

"If you were to do that..." He could hardly speak. He swallowed, wiped his brow, let the pry-bar scraper he'd been using clank to the concrete. "I'd be so incredibly grateful."

She nodded, feeling wise, aware that their roles were now reversed, that it was her turn to bask in the glow of a good deed justly done. "He's gone," she said. "He's nothing."

Tom drew a tenuous breath, one that somehow tasted sweet and vital despite the still redolent stink of the mower. "Okay. Greta's gone, too. And Meg." He'd added her, of course. Months ago. "All of them."

Jane knelt behind him, pressed against his back, nuzzled his neck with her face. "Me, too," she said. "I take it all back."

He swung around to kiss her, then hesitated, suddenly aware of footsteps clicking up the driveway, dress shoes, real Italian leather approaching from the street. Someone coming, backlit, hard to see. Who on earth?

"Sorry," said the new arrival, as he ran one hand back through a high sweep of jet-black hair, "but I seem to have lost my way. Any chance you could give me directions?"

Jane's fingers tightened into claws atop Tom's shoulders. Every bridge they'd just built collapsed, to rise again as minefields that stretched for as far as their vows could see.

It is written - in stone, in blood - that not all stories have happy endings. Equally written and equally true: in the midst of a tough negotiation, there are moments when the person who speaks next loses. But that day, in that awkward, fraught encounter, all three spoke at once.

"No."

"I'd better be going."

"It's only twelve hours."

8 comments:

  1. This story made me smile and laugh. I would like it better if I knew A) who showed up in the end and B) who said what at the end. I admit I'm scratching my head.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very witty. A terrific, quick mid-day escape. Keep 'em coming Mark!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Clever and wise; Mark should consider a stage and/or film adaptation and expand it. Fine writer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fun! I loved the "high sweep of jet-black hair" and the real Italian shoes as the only descriptives! And that "No!" telling exactly how the couple looked and how He looked when they said it . . .

      Delete
  4. Brilliance:
    "Thus began a period of theoretical infidelity rarely equaled in the history of humanity."
    Great story. I love its voice and humor.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The fun of the puzzle at the end: it's not just who's speaking, but where they're looking when they open their mouths. Vivid.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great short story -- few words, used wisely. Not only funny, but relateable. Who hasn't had a conversation with their spouse about "out of reach" celebs?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well written, fast paced and very clever. I enjoyed the humor and the insight into married life.

    ReplyDelete