An Unfinished Husband by Adrian Kalil

A family man feels there is something missing from his life, and he finds it is not what he expected, by Adrian Kalil

"I'm not really sure I understand what it is you need," said Kate.

Larry looked out over the vast blue ocean that lay before him and smiled. "A new car," he said quietly.

He squinted to see beyond the spread of brown beach that lay between him and the water. The sun glared; its heat was relentless and oppressive. Larry was tired and longed for the respite of some shade and a large, cold beer. He coveted gulping it indiscreetly and enjoying a satisfying belch, but he'd given up drinking a few months back and, deferring to the moment, thought better of it. Moreover he had, of all things, begun jogging again, though usually quite slow, along the familiar beach where its firm sand met the water. Alone like this, his uninhibited mind would travel through foreign and forbidden ground.

Kate had said nothing about these ascetic changes but Larry knew it pleased her, if only in passing. For her husband to surrender something gave the woman a strange aura of stifling superiority that dispelled all remaining myth, all hope, that he was any longer the head of their household.

He didn't really care, as his passion to lead had faltered, as had his unquenching desire to be with her most every night. It gave Kate great, unwavering satisfaction to get her way, no matter what the cost and Larry wondered if that, too, had been a part of her plan. Over the years she had exerted more and more subtle influence over the decisions he was accustomed to making and had become more manipulative, more precise in her methods and intent.

"What on earth do you want with a new car?" she pushed. "We already have one." Her accusing eyes were upon him and he did not look back.

"It's yours, really," he said, "the one we have is yours." With that he turned away and thought, too, that he had been the one to pay for it. Their last vehicle was merely a fresh example of most everything, including the children, that was once theirs and that she had somehow endeavored to make hers. Miles separated their reclining beach chairs.

The children were playing in the water a few dozen yards away and were unaware their father was watching them so closely, so lovingly. They were growing up so quickly, he could not grasp how long he would know them or how many years they would wish to know him and share their unconditional affection. As he sat there on the sand next to their pale, colorless mother, Larry wondered if they would ever forgive him for what he was thinking. They were so young and beautiful, so trusting at this age.

It's a shame, he thought, that adolescence sometimes arrives abruptly, blossoming at the door, at the cost of such sweet innocence.

He wondered, too, if Kate could read his mind. She paused and blinked, then slowly returned a bemused gaze to her book as she slid her sunglasses back on her nose with a single, slender finger. He felt her panting and sweating behind her eyes, crouching like a hungry lioness in the summer heat. She swallowed and he sensed she tasted blood.

He didn't hate his wife, but had lost respect for her a long time ago. From the things she had said, the distance she kept, he knew there was no more fire, no more of the passion they had once enjoyed. Lately, when she was asleep and he lay next to her, confused and torn, he would watch her breathe, watch her breasts rhythmically rise and fall. He would look deep into his heart, his anticipation and passion unrequited, and think of being somewhere else.

Long ago he had held onto some remote delusion of becoming the perfect husband, and soon found himself on the generous and selfless, yet quickly unsatisfying end of a disparate equation. It was clear she'd become accustomed to his constant desire to please and to keep her comfortable and secure, wanting nothing. She began, then, to expect more than he could muster, and her need for attention and satiety soon outgrew his spousal abilities. Her appetite swiftly turned into rejection.

Their early courtship was captivating and seductive, but had blinded him cold to the reality of such barren and desolate love. Once she knew she had the security their association held, she stopped giving. Even after the arrival of their children, events that should have pulled them together, she turned away.

He had been exquisite in his passions to no avail, for she grew unmoved by his attempts to please her. For a while he thought he had succeeded, but she had a way of turning her displeasure into wanton void, and in her wake festered a cloud of guilt that hovered low over black, frigid water. To subject one's soul to unceasing self-scrutiny, more critical than anyone else could ever imagine, defied definition, and Larry became shackled into looking hard at both sides of his dark mirror.

Kate's dispassionate submissions stemmed only from obligation and, after a while, she grew weary and bored. They still slept in the same bed and he was rewarded with occasional lusty satisfactions, but he knew her bitter heart heard a voice that was not his. His love became a discarded beach shell; a music unheard, a melody he could no longer sing. He did not like what he saw, nor what they had become.

Where do I begin? he thought. He wanted to want something in his life, and longed to know what it felt like to care about something passionately again. He wanted someone to want him in the way he had once known, but found the thought of himself revealed; his raw soul, the fragile vulnerabilities and the exposed flaws, so profoundly frightening. Sitting next to her, he shivered hard in the afternoon heat.

Every weekday morning he would leave the house at the same time and drive the same comfortable road to the familiar gray parking lot behind his office. More often than not his wife would be sleeping as he prepared for the day and would arise as the front door closed. If Kate happened to be up with the children, she maintained a glacial wall of silence as she maneuvered through her morning tasks, efficient and unanimated in her routine. At these times, the bleak chasm between them was deafening and the sound would shake his soul.

Despite the omniscient darkness that arose from such occasion, Larry preferred it to her frequent critical diatribes and, however difficult it may have become, he closed the door behind him and, in silent concession, breathed a new day. He paused for a moment on the porch.

It's not as if I'm running from anything, he thought. More so he felt the need to run to something fresh, yet undefined. Only the unconditional love of his children drew him back to their home.

A few months ago, faced with malignant boredom and a manifest desire unfulfilled, Larry began to notice things he had otherwise ignored. To break the day's routine, he made a point of slowly driving past showrooms, their floors glistening with shiny new vehicles. He would often park his old car and peer into the window, his reflection an apparition of longing and dissatisfaction, his eyes watching the caged, painted beauties. They seemed so far beyond him and so far from what he felt he deserved, but he could not look away.

One dealership was close to the office and he took to walking by on his lunch, mesmerized by the sights and smells of raw, new power, of an unbridled sensuality waiting for his touch. He felt stronger and more independent when he looked at these magnificent, unattainable creatures and dreamed that somehow they could be his.

One day while taking in the charm of a late model, he noticed something in the background and a bit out of his focus move, rise, and then move again. He looked up from the polished, refined temptations to see a handsome young man standing tall in a sea of human mediocrity. The gentleman acknowledged his interest with a kind and dignified nod, his eyes on Larry for what seemed a colorful and luxuriant moment.

As others in the showroom remained occupied with their deals and clever distractions, the young man's face was a welcomed sight. Ignoring everything else, as at the time it all seemed quite unimportant, Larry walked over. The cool, soft room was a pleasant respite from the sun's incessant glare and the hot, melting sidewalk outside. The soft, exquisite aroma of untouched cars filled his nostrils and lay rich within his senses. However steady and sure he felt upon entering, he flushed with caution as he approached. The young man's hand then extended and, with it, a smile quite unlike the historical artifice of others.

"Hello. I'm Dash." Larry looked at his nametag. It read "Dashiell." Fascinating, he thought.

"Hi, I'm Laurence," he said, caught a bit off-guard. "Larry, please. It's Larry."

Dash's hand gripped his in a solid and knowing way. It was strong and certain. For a brief moment, Larry was unsure what to do or say next yet, somehow, he felt taller facing this man, as if he had unexpectedly found new ground.

"Please, take your time and look around. Anything in particular I may show you?"

A new life, he thought, but just smiled to himself and thanked Dash as he walked around the room, feigning interest in the white sidewalls and shiny chrome. Dash walked alongside him, confident and slow, as if he could anticipate his next steps. Larry became aware of Dash's cologne and was reminded of distant summer nights and rugged health. His company was an attractive, unobtrusive presence, and he regarded Dash carefully.

"Tell me about this one, the red one," he asked. Larry twisted his wedding band as he felt sweat forming under his shirt. It dripped slowly down his side as his clothing clung uncomfortably to his skin.

"A fine model; aggressive, solid. Smooth ride and handles well under the most unforgiving conditions. Low maintenance."

Good God, he thought, could everyone read me? Although a little flustered, Larry found this guy unexpectedly pleasant and openly welcomed the attention.

"Well, I am undecided right now," said Larry, as he laughed at the irony of the obvious. "But, I would like to look more, just not today."

"Feel free to come in anytime, and ask for me." He handed Larry his card and, again, his warm hand. This time Larry noticed the man wore no rings.

"Anything I can do for you," said Dash, "let me know. Anything." His words lingered like a fragrance, welcomed and long overdue, and Larry drank it in.

He walked out and back to his office, holding the card tightly in his damp hand before slipping it into his pocket. He did not look back, but felt Dash watching him as he turned the corner. Larry thought of his children and the questions they asked during those tender and trusting hours they were together, when they would often astound him with their precocious insight. He thought of Kate and all the things he would never reveal to her and vowed to not go back to the showroom, to not ask for Dash, but he knew he was kidding himself. It was, he sensed, just a matter of time.

Dash represented more than a benevolent salesman. To Larry he seemed a step into the light; his words and self-respect a taste of new wine and Larry's soul was thirsty. Larry was certain he wanted to see him, to talk with him, but was unsure how to pursue it. This budding attraction was new and didn't make much sense, but the thought of spending even a little time with someone so kind and civil was powerfully seductive to his aching and hungry self. Within the context of his marriage, he had endured abuse for too many years and felt the time spent with his wife was taking him down to an eternal abyss from which he saw no resolve, no return. Beyond family, he had never dared to tread any uncertain ground before, but now yearned for the covenant of fresh direction.

A few days later he walked by the showroom early when he thought Dash may be working and, as he approached the corner, he saw him. Larry watched him cross the street and walk toward the dealership, head held high, eyes bright and forward. Dash was lean and tall and wore his clothes well, at once projecting youth and maturity. For a moment Larry wondered what he drove, how much money he made, what his life was like away from the cars and deals. He seemed to stand out from the crowd, and appeared more sincere than most other people Larry had met. He imagined him successful in his work or, for that matter, most anything. Dash was athletic-looking and carried himself well, as would a man reaching for a goal. Larry found himself watching intently from the sidewalk, as if on a hovering cloud, when Dash looked up and saw him. He stopped and waved, then crossed to where Larry was standing.

"Hello! I thought you may return," he said.

"Uh, I was hoping to talk with you about..."

Dash interrupted, "Hey, it's not busy right now and I could get away. Breakfast?"

"Uh, yes. That would be nice, thanks." He glanced at his watch. "I have the time." Such eyes, he thought.

They walked around the corner but quickly decided against the noisy cafe too familiar with its mundane occupants. Dash suggested they walk a little further to a place neither had tried, but one that looked tempting and interesting. They entered and found a rather private corner and a table where sat some fresh flowers. Their blossoms were young and fragile, perched alone, white-and-lavender, wanting company. The waitress arrived and greeted them; Dash acknowledged her warmly. Larry found it difficult to find his voice and fidgeted with the vase until Dash spoke his name.

"Look, Larry, I'm not trying to make a sale. I just hoped you might stop back so we could visit."

As he spoke, Dash looked directly into his eyes and, as Larry's gaze met his, they both stopped. Neither said a word. He was aware that something unique was about to happen, something unimaginable before now, and the moment seemed to herald a turning point in his thoughts, his concepts and all the familiar notions of what men are to one another. He felt the fire's embers, a gateway into the realm of the imagination. He swiftly became far more at ease with this man than he could ever have believed. Larry smiled and breathed a faint sigh of relief as they opened their menus.

"I was not sure," he began, "I had no intention of anything other than to look at the cars, but I think meeting you has opened up a door."

"How's that?" asked Dash. He again looked up.

"I'm not sure. Listen, if I am not making any sense, or if I am looking up the wrong road, I will..."

"No, that's OK. I understand. Let's just eat and you can tell me something about yourself."

Over the next hour, as if time stood still, Larry opened up to Dash in a way he had not imagined possible and with a manner of ease he had long forgotten. Something from within surfaced through the years of suppressed emotion, and the layers of armor and doubt slowly, gradually fell aside. The infant seed that had been growing, gaining independence, emerged from the soil in search of new light. He was hungry and wanting. Dash listened without agenda or judgment and heard his words, their depth and the pain behind them. For a brief and gratifying moment, Larry thought of his children and their undying devotion in a soft and kind way. He soon forgot about his troubles with Kate, her relentless disappointments, and the misery their marriage had become. He now was certain he needed some new ground on which to harness this evolving foundation. It caught him like a swift current, pulling him along toward the deep, enveloping sea.

When he was done, he took a sip of his coffee and sat back.

"And that's really it," he said. "You may have seen something coming, but I didn't. I feel as if I am entering through the back door, long overdue, while everything else has been tried and has failed."

"You're a good father, aren't you?"

"Yes," replied Larry, "and an imperfect husband."

Dash smiled. "I think you need a friend. Meet me here tomorrow, same time. We'll talk more."

That evening after work, while Kate was out, Larry held his children in his lap, read them each a story, and rocked them until they were asleep. They did not once ask about their mother. As he closed the door to their room he smiled. A great burden had been lifted and the future looked bright.

The two men met several more times before work and, over the next several weeks, a few evenings for dinner. Dash would offer occasional fragments of insight into his private, young life, but usually passed their time listening. As Larry talked, he slowly filled his void with the freedom of new conversation and the joy of opening one's heart without expectation. At home, Kate didn't question his odd schedule or his occasional absence when she thought he should be around. The change in routine was good for Larry and helped lift him from the cruel certainties around which his life had come to exist.

Each time they met they grew more familiar in thought and word. Larry was not alarmed when Dash's hand would sometimes rest on his shoulder, or reach out across the table and hold his in a gesture of warmth and comfort. He would sometimes find their knees touching under the table, or when they sat side by side after a walk. At first Larry was hesitant, but Dash possessed such a broad and evident confidence that Larry found himself more comfortable with new touch and increasingly open to Dash's gestures of affection. He found that, should space and opportunity allow, he would sit a little closer to Dash, exploring his profile, the way he held his eyes, the way he spoke as words emerged from his golden voice. He grew eager for the chance to be in his company and began to find new meaning in his life as this extraordinary situation continued to unfold.

As profound as their conversations had become, more enjoyable were the increasing moments where there was fertile silence. They would walk for hours or sometimes run slowly along the ocean and paths Larry knew. Stride for stride, in swift tempo with their strong heartbeat and uniform breath, little was spoken, but they quickly realized a common understanding more powerful than words could convey. They knew just how fast to go, just how far to take it. Neither led, neither followed as they enjoyed their wordless, cadent rhythm.

A few weeks later, and after a long and difficult run, having covered more distance than they had been accustomed, Larry fell exhausted on the ground, his eyes closed, panting for air. Dash stood by him for a moment, then dropped to the ground and, propped up on one elbow, leaned close to where Larry lay breathing. He reached over, stroked his hair, and gently kissed him.

Larry looked up to see Dash's intense eyes, full of strength and passion.

"No, no... I," he muffled, still catching his breath as he began to pull away.

"Shhh, Shhh. Stay," Dash said, and gently touched his face.

"Is it you?" he asked.

"Yes, Larry, I'm here."

Larry reached up, brushed Dash's cheek and, looking directly into his beautiful eyes, cautiously kissed him in return.

"Night is falling," he said.

"I know."

"I must be going..."

"No, come with me."

"But, the kids..."

"They will still love you tomorrow."


"No one will know, Larry. No one."

That night, in the soft colors of dusk and dreams, they faced each other and slowly removed their damp clothing. They explored each other with the freshness and innocence of adolescence. Dash was patient and allowed Larry to venture uninhibited as he delighted in their inevitable consummation. Their passion knew no limits, no bounds as the two men found a place in which both their lives became complete.

"If I didn't come to see you tomorrow," Larry asked, "what would you do?"

"I would learn to not expect you."

As their tongues explored salty skin there formed a bridge of masculine solitude from which grew a deep and personal, brilliant understanding. Here was left something fresh and believable, and so far removed from the oppressive and critical love Larry had known.

No one had ever touched him that gently, passionately, and powerfully. The simmering, volcanic feelings he had known for so long finally surfaced, bursting into a new light, a new way to see his life. Dash's grip was strong and tender as he held Larry's wide, trembling shoulders in his hands. Their exploration knew no bounds and, amidst thunder and life itself, their unbridled rhythm began to build, escalating to fullness.

Several hours passed and they lay exhausted. Larry felt he had never belonged as he did nestled in this man's arms; his head resting on Dash's chest, his mouth breathing the same air.

Larry slowly sat up and watched the man as he slept. He then quietly dressed and closed the apartment door behind him. It was late and the deep blue evening was cool. As he anticipated the imminent discovery of what they had shared he felt no shame. Larry slowly walked home.

How can one explain, he thought, if one has never been there? We are, after all, only visitors. You make your own hell; you make your own heaven. When all is gone, when all else has perished, I will continue to be.

1 comment:

  1. this is a very powerful story, thought provoking. i knew where it was going, but that was the author´s intent, to show us the build up and the almost inevitable climax.
    i think this is absolutely brilliant.

    michael mccarthy