by Charles C. Cole
Ginger Loren St. John, dressed in a simple white robe, slipped quietly into the dark garage. She pressed Redial on the house phone and slid into the driver’s seat of the family SUV. She glanced at herself in the rearview mirror and then jerked it downward.
“Mom, I’m sorry to wake you. I know we agreed I’d wait until a reasonable hour, but something’s wrong. Can you just listen? Nothing’s happened, I don’t think. I just need to believe it. Don’t say anything. Just let me rant until I’ve worn myself out and I can fall peacefully back to sleep. We both know that’s what I need. Please.
“And when I’m done, if you think I’ve dropped off the deep end again, you can send Daddy right over with the paddy wagon and the jaunty men in their white suits, and I’ll go away for my yearly emotional reconstruction and give the professionals a chance to duct-tape me back together through the power of your palliative prayers and the startling wonders that only a state-of-the-art pharmacy can bring.
“It’s Griff. He’s different from the guy I dated. The magic’s gone. Or at least it’s been replaced by something cloying and artificial; an enhanced personality, if you will.
“Ask yourself: Why would a man who is routinely more affectionate to his dog than to his wife, more concerned with the upkeep of his truck than his marriage, suddenly and inexplicably blossom into a gallant and charming — almost unrecognizable — gentleman? Another woman? That’s everyone’s first guess. I thought Maybe, but then why waste the lovey-dovey on me? No, that’s not it. I’d smell the guilt on him like cheap cologne, the cheapest. So then, what?
“I’ve gone through the list of all possibilities, no matter how far-fetched, so I can narrow it down to something more reasonable. Near-death experience. Hypnotism. Split personality. I’ve considered them all, even that maybe he was recently replaced by a previously unknown, well-mannered twin, wild as it sounds. It’s Occam’s razor, am I right? As Dr. Ziegfeld would say, I’m overthinking it. He wants something, that’s all. A reputation, I think. To be considered the best man.
“Griff, my husband and life partner, and his friends have been cavorting altogether under one roof for the last week, and this one lucky fellow, Reynaldo, is newly married among them — with that saccharine glow; you know what I mean, the honeymoon tan from the traditional period when they hold the door for you or put the toilet seat back down; maybe use a coaster once in a while under their drinks.
“You see, I think Griff wants to appear the best husband of the three of them. He certainly has the most experience, not that things have always been roses in our humble and weedy garden. Even when they have been roses, we all know roses are covered with thorns, unlike sweet peas or nasturtiums or morning glories. I mean, why does anyone think roses are romantic at all? Don’t they see the insidious irony? Sometimes I think I should have been a horticulturist instead of a hairdresser.
“Anyway, Mom, should I ask him, privately, the goal of his charade? Do I really want to know? Or maybe I should just enjoy the brief, albeit disingenuous, thrill of a cheap Harlequin novel. If I ask him, he’ll tell me, and then I can no longer ignore the pink elephant in the room, then I’ll have to squash his dear sweet dreams like an annoying, skin-obsessed mosquito.
“He’ll get whiny in front of the others, and our nice little vacation will quickly transform into seven days on an overcrowded North African passenger ship, which may not sound so bad, but the seas are rough and there are shocks in the water. Sharks, I meant sharks.
“It’s all very distracting, more than inconvenient, when it happens at a time I thought — I was certain, no, I was promised — I’d be relaxing, swimming, shopping at outlet stores, tanning, and sipping yummy margaritas with innocuous and non-threatening girlfriends.
“I never believed in aliens, you know I didn’t. But I also don’t believe in grown men doing something for absolutely nothing. Why would they? So which is it? Are we in fact being invaded by shape-changing off-worlders, or has my perennial man-boy returned from his recent male empowerment weekend newly sensitive and selfless, putting my needs and those of our family above his own? Piffle!
“I need help! This is not a joke! I wish it were only a joke. This is where you offer talk-show wisdom and tuck me in, metaphorically speaking. Talk me off the ledge as only an experienced mother can.”
The kitchen light snapped on.
“It’s Griff! He’s awake and looking for me. I’ve got to go. He probably wants something. Can you think of any over-the-counter remedy I can take that creates a headache? That’s what I need. Why am I so attractive to men?
“Listen, Mom, if you don’t hear from me in exactly 24 hours, you’ll know I’ve been brainwashed or cloned or stuffed into a large alien casserole. I’ll talk to you in exactly 24 hours. I love you. Kiss Daddy for me. I’d give a million dollars to have your simple, worry-free life. ‘Night-night to the lady in white’.”
Griff peered into the dark. “Ginger, honey? Your dad called my cell phone while you were on with your mom. He sounded stoically peeved, as only your dad can be. He seems to think you’ve been monkeying around with your dosage again.
“I told him we learned that lesson the hard way two years ago, and there was nothing to worry about. Prove me right, sweetie. Come on back to bed. It’s two in the morning. We’ll give Dr. Ziegfeld’s office a call when they open, just for a check-in. I’m sure it’s nothing. We can do this. I’ll meet you upstairs.”
“Be right up,” said Ginger.
Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole