The Bitter Living
by Charles C. Cole
“The Bitter Dead”
appears in issue 557
(Enter TREVOR, a ghost, resembling a man in his 60s.)
TREVOR: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my son, Sinclair — whom I adored when I was alive — and his wife, Morgana — whom I tolerated, two emotionally arrhythmic individuals, one sexually bulimic and the other affectionately anorexic. Between them, there is a kernel of goodness, which is to say each only possesses a half-kernel individually.
Let’s be honest, people become who they will be for their entire mortal lives at a very early age. In his case, I blame his mother. There’s no changing them; the primordial clay has hardened; the genetic pool can never be significantly cleansed. You want to be sad for them and angry at yourself for quitting on them. Lost causes do not improve with tears.
* * *
(Mansion patio. A young man with wet hair, ABEL, sits across from the woman of the house, MORGANA. Each wears a lovely dressing gown. They tense noticeably as SINCLAIR, exhausted and unsuspecting husband, enters, bee-lining for the coffee cart, oblivious.)
SINCLAIR: Sorry to be so late. Coffee, my oldest and dearest friend! Another all-night powwow with the other office chiefs. Another emergency averted. I truly believe if we paid politician-in-training Wainwright by the word, the company coffers would have been mere dustbins eons ago. My, how some people can talk and talk and talk and talk. Sometimes I think they do it just to delay taking action. You want to just shout, “Enough babbling. For God’s sake, do something!”
(Noticing. False bravado.) Morgana, sweetie, you should have told me we had company. And the guest bedroom was such a mess last I looked. But maybe that didn’t matter last night. Where are my manners? Good morning, faithless wife. Good morning, friend of faithless wife. Everyone have a good night’s sleep, I hope. Were the accommodations accommodating?
MORGANA: (ABEL tries to stand, but MORGANA tugs firmly on his hand.) Sinclair, you’re home early. Given the long hours, I was certain you’d stay at our apartment in town.
SINCLAIR: Sorry to disappoint. Something told me I should come home, tend to my garden as it were. But I see it’s already been tended. (Indicating.) Buddy of yours?
MORGANA: Not especially. More of a tutor, really. You hired him as my driving instructor. Remember? He came highly recommended by Babs Bainbridge. Flexible hours. Very hands-on. With the patience of Job.
SINCLAIR: All that in one package? Quite a catch. Does he have a name, too? Do you have a name, friend?
MORGANA: Don’t worry; he won’t remember.
ABEL: (Unsure.) Abel.
SINCLAIR: Abel? Oh yes. Abel! Bet we could have some jaunty wordplay with that one. “Abel-bodied” comes to mind. “I was off and he was Abel.”
MORGANA: (Victim.) If you must know, I couldn’t sleep: there. The pillow was flat and the mattress lumpy. On top of that, silly me, I’d given the maid the night off to visit her sickly mother.
And of course Truberry’s was closed. Honestly, they should have an emergency, off-hours number for their preferred customers. I mean, you’re never going to know there’s something wrong with your bed until it’s late at night and you’re lying in the middle of it. Well, you know what I’m like if I don’t get my way.
SINCLAIR: I do. I absolutely know what she’s like. And yet, we’re still married. (To ABEL) Do you know what she’s like?
MORGANA: (In denial) I just wanted a sympathetic ear. I hate the phone; it’s not natural. It’s more like voodoo meets Joan of Arc. These bodiless voices from afar talking inside my head. Lucky for me, Abel was willing to drop everything and drive right over.
SINCLAIR: Are you sure he didn’t drive over and then drop everything?
MORGANA: You’re such a boor. It was all quite innocent. We must have talked for at least an hour before I faded dead away and he, gallantly, offered to carry me up to bed, where one thing led inevitably to another. I tried to resist, I swear I did. We both did, nobly, but the unforeseen circumstances were simply overpowering at the time. If you’d have been there, you’d understand completely.
SINCLAIR: If I’d have been there, I might very well have shot him, more than once, pausing only to reload.
MORGANA: What is it about a man and his gun? It didn’t help your father, did it? Well, at least there was none of that awkward “Should we-Shouldn’t we” business. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t slept this well in months.
SINCLAIR: (Building) I’m delighted for you, for both of you. Seems you’ve perfected quite a home remedy for “restless wife syndrome.” Bit of a challenge to bottle, though. And, once word gets out, getting a patent for exclusive worldwide rights might be a bit of a problem. I mean, everyone will be doing it with just enough variation to avoid copyright infringement.
ABEL: (To MORGANA) Shall I leave now? I should probably go.
SINCLAIR: That’s a solid idea. Right on the money. Please go.
ABEL: Will you be all right?
MORGANA: No need to worry, dear. He won’t hit me; he’s not very physical. Hence the need for your services last night. We’re much better now.
SINCLAIR: Yes, we’re fine now, infinitely better. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it before: all those stressful sleepless nights. So lucky you were able to help us through this rough patch. Quite gentlemanly. We’ll have to thank Babs Bainbridge, though I for one don’t think she did your qualifications justice.
ABEL: I better go. I’m going. Call me if you need anything.
SINCLAIR: That won’t be necessary; I believe Truberry’s is open now. When it comes to customer service, I always considered them the bar to which others would need to measure up. But you’ve taken personal attention in a whole other direction. Next time they have a sale in bedroom furniture, I’ll be sure to give them your number as a reference. Sounds like you’re a bit of an expert. Don’t thank me; it’s the least I can do. And, Abel?
ABEL: Mr. Meriwether?
SINCLAIR: Don’t let the security gate hit you on the way out. (ABEL exits.)
MORGANA: If you’re quite through embarrassing the help, maybe you can pass the sugar. This coffee’s somehow lost all its sweetness.
SINCLAIR: Believe me, it’s not the only thing. Morgana, what were you thinking? As if I didn’t have enough on my mind. Now this. You’ve wounded me deeply. There’s only so much a man can take. I’m going back to the office. I seem to have forgotten something.
MORGANA: But you just arrived. What did you forget? What could be so important?
SINCLAIR: (Distracted) What?
MORGANA: I said: What did you forget?
SINCLAIR: I don’t remember. I’ll know it when I see it.
MORGANA: But you just got home. You haven’t even finished your coffee. We’ve been so busy bantering about my goings-on, we haven’t had the ghost of a chance to talk about your night. I’m all ears, darling. Did you get your way? Were you the man of the hour?
SINCLAIR: Perhaps I was, for the earlier part of the evening, but clearly there was a different man having his way at the later hour. We’ll talk when I get back. We need to talk. But not now. I have to see a lawyer. How ironic.
MORGANA: Don’t be silly, dear; you are a lawyer.
SINCLAIR: A different lawyer! (Exits.)
(Morgana smashes a cup against a saucer. She starts to pick at the pieces and cuts herself, gasping. She wraps it with a white linen napkin.)
MORGANA: (Calling) Sinclair, be a dear and... Sinclair? (To herself) I never was any good at home repair. (She breaks another cup, experimentally.) Things that are made to be whole shouldn’t be so easily broken. It’s just not logical. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole