THE RELIEVER • by River T. Huffman

“It’s seven-forty,” she announces, with a tone that reminds me why I don’t cook her breakfast anymore.  “Will you please wake up and listen to me?”

I roll on my good shoulder and look into the bathroom.  No eye contact again today.  She stands at the mirror, doctoring her face like a fighter between rounds, and speaks to her reflection.

“I’ve left you a list of things I need from the store.  You’ll have to get the produce and almond butter at The Natural Way,  but you can go to E.W. James for everything else.  And this time please get the brand I’ve taken the time to write down.  Also, there’s a bag of clothes by the door you need to take to the cleaners.  And I mean Humphrey’s Dry Cleaners, not that dump downtown you like.”

When I was playing, it wasn’t like this; she worshipped me.  You pitched a great game today, Hooker.  You’ll be out of this Double A town and into the majors in no time.  I can’t believe I’m going to be the wife of a pro baseball player.  My friends are so jealous.

Then came the Tommy John surgery, the rehab assignments and the flat curve ball.  I threw it, they hit it.  Crack!  Three-run homer.  Crack!  Two-run double.  Crack!  Game-winning single — all compliments of Hooker McLain and his surgically repaired right shoulder.  They booed me off the mound and out of the Southern League.  In a year, I’d gone from starter to closer to middle reliever.  Then Viola!  Errand boy.

Now she fluffs out her hair — always the last thing she does before leaving — and pushes it in the direction she wants it go as if the future of mankind depends on it.

“Socorra will be here at ten.  You need to get up and get your errands done by then.  I put another list on the refrigerator, next to yours, of things I want her to do.  Your Spanish is so-so; see if you can make her understand it.  The last couple of times she’s been here, she hasn’t done everything I’m paying her good money to do.”

I hear the bread-winner bite in her voice and prepare to spend another day rolling Improvidence uphill.  Why does a woman have to be more proud of her husband than of her own accomplishments?  She was happier when I was on my way up and she was a secretary.  She never tells her friends about her job; she’d rather put me down in front of them.  Insults and snide remarks circle like buzzards.

She hurries by.

“I’m gone,” she says, and the door slams a few seconds later.

The BMW roars to life and the garage opens to free it.  I jump out of bed and rush to watch her disappear down the street.

I spend the next couple of hours frantically dusting, polishing, vacuuming — marking everything off Socorra’s list as I go.  Then, a few minutes before ten, I take a quick shower.  Without getting dressed, I unlock the front door for her and get back into bed with a cigar and a six-pack of Coronas.

River T. Huffman is the author of ANTIQUE GHOST STORIES. Other works have appeared in Muscadine Lines, Flashquake and Heavy Glow.

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