ACT LIKE A NUT • by Heather Lynn Horvat

She knew the credit card number by heart; had memorized it for quicker, stealthier online purchases. In the darkness, her cell phone screen glowed a tinge of blue, highlighting her cheekbones and casting cavernous circles for eyes. Her husband, John, slept beside her, at times stirring or muttering in his sleep. With each noise, Penny held her breath, her finger hovered over the Home button.

A surge of endorphins coursed through her as Penny tapped Submit Purchase for a pair of Pixie Cove high, high heels. The shoes would look adorable with the newly acquired vintage-inspired dress that waited for a night on the town. She looked over to him, his back to her. Her fingertips stretched across the king-sized bed and touched his tattooed shoulder. He grunted but didn’t turn.

Penny sighed and clicked off her phone screen. She placed the hunk of aluminum alloy in the charger and lay down, her back facing his.

It hadn’t always been like this: John asleep early while Penny shopped for pantry items, a new dress, shoes in different colors, a cute purse. They used to turn off the television early to make love. Or at least make out. Then they would spoon and talk about their day, or dream of their next vacation.

Penny remembered clearly the day she came home from work with a thick envelope containing her severance package. “We’ll have to downsize,” John said, with pain in his eyes.

“I’ll find something better,” she said.

That had been a year ago. With each resume ignored and interview unsuccessful, their savings grew smaller. Penny shut her eyes until she saw only blackness with light floaties that obliterated the zombie look on John’s face each time he now looked at her.

The next morning — after her purchase of the latest Pixie Cove heels — Penny woke early. Turning on the coffeemaker, she hummed while she whipped up a batch of pancakes in their too-large kitchen in their too-large house purchased after the market crash.

“What’s with breakfast?” John asked when he came downstairs, clean-shaven and dressed for another day of supervisory strategy marketing.

“We’re out of breakfast bars. How many pancakes?”

“I have an early meeting. I’ll just grab these.” He held up a pack of crackers. God knows how long they’d been in the pantry. Penny made a mental note to toss the old and expired items.

John poured a cup of coffee, pecked Penny on the head, and went into his home office, located down the hallway and around the corner. Penny heard the door latch click. Moments later John’s deep voice said good morning. Then he laughed and said he was doing great.

Penny buttered her pancake, then took a gigantic bite. It tasted flat.

Married five years, one year of honeymoon bliss, three years of saving for the future, and this. Penny whipped out her phone and checked emails: two-for-one deals, discount codes, free with purchase. Spotting a hot, new makeup trend, she clicked on the photo of the perfectly airbrushed model and began browsing the site. Mascara that would take your lashes to the next level of over eight times their natural length (hey, the picture proved it), daily cleanser that promised to open pores while erasing fine lines and wrinkles (these testimonials raved about it), and 80’s blue eyeshades that had come back in style (come to think of it, Penny did see a friend on Facebook sporting blue liner).

Her thumbs moved deftly over the screen while her index finger tapped and swiped and tapped. John’s louder than life voice boomed through the walls, distorted, but she could still make out the joke he told. It was the one joke he knew and always told to new clients. How do you befriend a squirrel?

Just act like a nut!

Penny smiled, remembering their first date. He had told the same joke.

***

“Never tell that joke again,” she said, laughing.

“It’s my signature, babe.” He flashed a goofy smile and Penny swooned. They shared a love of small dogs, cheesy horror flicks, and everything Harry Potter. Six months after being set up on a blind date by mutual friends, they were engaged. Eight months after that they were married.

Tornado-like winds swirled their lives together and kept them close. Vacations to the beaches of Jamaica, hiking Western mountains, even camping at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Penny smiled, remembering their last night camping at the base of the canyon. She was tired, hot, and most likely dehydrated. Both had headaches and body odor when John said, “Let’s make love.” She swatted his arm like he was a gnat, but soon gave in.

***

She blushed even now as she thought about the sex that night: tender but savage, lust with nothing but love in his eyes. Deeper than sex, deeper even than any feeling that came before that moment. He looked at her like she was his lighthouse; a guiding light to his everything.

Penny shook her head, the memories dissipating like vapor. Instead of paying the stack of overdue bills (tacked with a late fee already, another day wouldn’t hurt), she dressed and applied makeup. She thought, I’d look good with a splash of blue on my eyelids.

“Going grocery shopping. Need anything?” She knocked lightly on John’s office door.

“Nope. See you later,” he said in the tone he took with new hires when he delved into his no-nonsense, step-by-step performance policy.

“Love you.” She paused and waited for a response.

“No, I’m here. Just the radio.” His husky voice pierced her heart.

Penny kept the car in park while she performed a quick inventory of her online makeup cart before tapping Place Order. Then she backed the almost-new SUV out of the two-car garage. Maybe today she would receive a job offer. Then her husband would look at her the way he once did. Until then, she heard velvet was making a comeback.


Heather Lynn Horvat is a graduate of the Mountainview MFA and is working on her first novel. Her work has appeared in The Blue Guitar Magazine and The Sunlight Press. “One-Way Ticket,” a story about mental illness, was a finalist for the Spring Fiction Contest. Another fiction piece won first place in a short story contest. She regularly writes short stories and features for a local magazine.


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