The Marriage Whisperer

The Marriage Whisperer

“Look at her,” Doane said. “She’s sitting on the chaise lounge, reading a novel and drinking spring water, and soaking up the sun.”

“I see,” Jack said. “Her back is to you. What do you think she’s telling you?” Jack smiled at the shorter Doane. Doane looked up at Jack with a grin, at his new marriage counselor’s blue eyes. Jack smiled. He always smiled. For a marriage counselor, Doane could have done worse. He didn’t want a female counselor. Two women with their steady stares and their keen feelings in a stuffy room would trap him. No, he needed a man. A man would understand him. He found Jack. The advertisements hailed Jack Hogan, PhD, the “Marriage Whisperer.” He was the man Doane needed.

“She wants to be left alone. She’s excluding me.”

“Okay,” Jack said smiling and nodding. The two men stood behind the closed glass and wood French style doors watching Doane’s wife, Gloria. Doane wore a white shirt tucked inside tan slacks with a thin black belt. He was thin, with dark curly hair, and short.

Jack wore an old torn t-shirt with a barely recognizable face of Jerry Garcia, and faded sweat pants that had seen more washings than mob money. Jack was tall and muscular, sandy-haired, and blue-eyed and a surf board under his arm would not surprise anyone. Jack nodded. “Doane, what’s she wearing?”

“She’s wearing yoga pants. There’s a pool right there and she wears those old yoga pants. Would it kill her to put on a bathing suit? And her hair is done up with a hair pin like a school teacher.”

Jack grinned. “She’s defying you. And she’s reading a book.” Jack said nodding, looking down at Doane.

Doane took a quiet, serious tone. “I know, right. I’m at ropes-end here. I’ve tried to loosen her up, talk to her about it, but she treats me like I’m a ghost, like I’m not even here.”

“I see what you mean,” Jack said. Jack crossed his arms across his chest, lifted his chin and asked, “What’s your outcome here, what do you want out of this?”

Doane thought for a minute. “Um, I’m not sure. I haven’t given it much though past, not this.”

“Let me rephrase it, and be honest,” Jack said and smiled. “What’s your vision of your relationship when I’m finished?”

“She used to dress up nice, you know, wear fashion and nice earrings. We used to take the Mercedes out for a dinner and I was proud of the way she looked on my arm. She would always work out. She wore makeup and looked great around the house. She always had a great smile for me, you know, happy. We used to, you know, Jack, we used to… twice a day.”

“It sounds like a dream come true for you. What changed, Doane?”

“I don’t know. We’ve been married eighteen months, and everything died, collapsed.”

Jack pushed his contract in front of Doane on the kitchen countertop and he signed it. Jack offered his hand to Doane and they shook. “I think I’m at a good starting point, Doane. Here’s how things are going to go.” He let go of Doane’s hand. “I’m going to start with Gloria right away. You cannot interfere. You cannot talk to her. If you try to talk to her, you will crash everything I have built. Do you understand, Doane?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You will see a change at once, but you can’t say anything to her. There is to be no communication whatsoever for the first few days. No matter what you see, or hear, you must back off.  If you talk to her, we’ll have to start over. Starting over is expensive.”

“I got it, no communication for the first few days.”

“Until I say it’s okay. So, today, I want you to go to a spare bedroom, or a room you two do not use and wait there. If you go to a spare room, it’s okay if you watch us, but remember the rule. You cannot speak to her. Take your cell and I’ll send you a text when it’s clear for you to come out.”

“Why?”

“You’re giving her some space. Think of it in boxing terms. It’s like sending the boxer to a neutral corner after a knockdown. You get the picture, Doane?”

Doane nodded and grinned. “Yeah, I got it, right.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Doane smiled, nodded and trotted to the dining room, to the hall, and up the circular, wrought iron stairs. He went to the spare bedroom overlooking the pool and shut the door. From there, he opened the drapery and parted the blinds. The windows were ceiling to floor. He stepped close to the glass and looked straight down. Gloria was on the chaise lounge.

He could not see all of her. He saw her yoga pants from mid-thigh to knee down, part of the chaise lounge, the alternating beige and tan patio stones, and the pool and waterfall, pool house, diving board and all the accessories. He loved the back yard, he should, it cost enough. Jack came into view. He saw Jack’s head, his strong arms. Did he have to be handsome?

Jack leaned around Gloria to peek at her face. They smiled. He shook her hand and introduced himself. He pulled a chair over to her and sat beside her. He talked to her. He touched the book, still talking to her. She laughed. He laughed. She put her bookmark in the book, set it to her side and removed her sunglasses. She smiled at him. They talked more.

That was too easy. It’s not fair. What did he say to her!

They laughed again. Gloria swung her knees around and Jack sat straight. They were knee to knee. Doane went to the next window pane to the right, threw open the thick green drapes, opened the blinds, got so close to the glass his forehead smudged it. His breath fogged the glass.

They stood below him facing one another, much too close together. He couldn’t see their whole form, but a part of Gloria’s hip and shoulder. Jack’s head moved in view, and his leg. They stood still facing one another for a long minute. Were they kissing? Jack’s hand did something behind Gloria.

Doane drew breath and said aloud, “Did he squeeze her butt?” He marched to the bedroom door and reached for the doorknob. A scene of Jack’s smiling face flashed. “…you must back off.  If you talk to her, we’ll have to start over. Starting over is expensive.” He dropped his hand.

He heard voices downstairs. Gloria and Jack were in the kitchen. They were laughing and talking. Footsteps tromped up the main stairs to the upstairs hall. They passed by his door.

“Come in and sit. I can be ready in a few minutes,” Gloria said passing.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Jack said. They laughed, and her door closed.

She invited Jack into her boudoir! She’s known him for two minutes and he’s inside the most private place in the house. After her door closed, he heard nothing else. He wasn’t supposed to hear anything. They designed the room for privacy.

Some time passed. He sat, paced, went to the window, sat, got up and paced more. What are they doing in there?

“I can’t catch my breath,” he said to the empty spare bedroom. He jerked open the door, trotted down the hall to her boudoir. He knocked, no answer. He knocked again and got the same result. The doorknob turned under his hand, unlocked. Pushing the door open, he put his face inside, “Are you there?”

Downstairs, the big, double, wooden front door shut with a bump. He turned and ran down the hall, down the stairs, down the main hall to the foyer, and the home’s front double door. He jerked the right door open in time to see Jack’s old Volvo beater leaving the long semi-circle drive.

Jack smiled and waved out the driver’s window. The sun shined off Jack’s big oar of an arm as he waved. Gloria was beside him. She finger-waved over her shoulder. A moment later Doane got a text.

Jack: She’s coming w/me – special treatment.

There was a smiley face after treatment.

Doane: Where?

Jack: Remember, no talk – start over. Start over $$$.

Doane: If I refuse to pay?

Jack: Read fine print.

Doane pursed his lips and gripped his phone wanting to squeeze it until it smashed into a bazillion pieces, but backed off.

Gloria didn’t return home. The next morning, Doane called the police.

Before noon, two detectives were in the living room. He had told the precinct there was a possible kidnapping. Doane sat on one sofa facing a detective in a plain dark suit sitting a distance across a glass coffee table on a twin sofa. The other detective, a tall thin man, stood close by.

The sitting detective, a portly older man with sinus problems, breathed through his mouth while he read Doane’s contract. The mouth breathing annoyed Doane. He held the contract up to the taller detective. “What do you think, Harv?”

“You want honesty?” he asked looking at Doane. Doane nodded.

“I think you’re a schmuck.” Both detectives laughed. “I mean, this guy Jack comes in here, and takes your woman to her bedroom while you’re standing there…” The tall man’s face was red.

“Jack told me I had to stay in another room. I couldn’t talk to her or he would have to start over.”

The detectives looked at one another wide-eyed. “I gotta meet this Jack,” the short, round detective said. They burst out laughing.

“He makes him sign a frigging contract!” The tall cop punched the shorter one.

“And then she leaves with him!” The short cop drummed his feet on the floor. The tall one bent with his hands on his knees. He let them have their laugh.

“Doane, Doane, where did you find this Jack character?”

“I’m getting tired of being laughed at. This guy has my wife.”

“Okay, calm down. Where did you find him?” the short man said out of breath. “How did he get in here?”

“She gave me a newspaper. The add in paper said he had a PhD…”

She showed you this guy… with a PhD!” They cracked up laughing, the short round detective got a handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes.

He stood. “Alright Doane. Enough. I can’t listen to anymore. My sides hurt. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll check on Hogan. But I warn you, I think Gloria left of her own free will and there is nothing we can do no matter how slick this Jack was.”

The tall detective laughed. “A PhD! This is one for the books.”

“We’re leaving now. We’ll call if we find anything.” The two detectives went to the front door. “Through all that, there was a word I kept trying to think of,” the short cop said.

“Cuckold,” the tall cop said.

“That’s it!”

Evening came, Doane watched the news, heated a frozen pizza, drank a couple beers, and went to bed. Gloria did not come home.

He padded down for breakfast in his robe, unshaven and un-showered. He passed the living room and saw the paper the detectives left and replayed the scene – how they had laughed at him and his stupidity. He couldn’t make them understand Jack had stolen his wife! His wife!

What had the cop called her? He called her, his woman. Doane sat at the breakfast nook with a cereal box and a bowl and ate. The scene with the detectives and their laughing faces kept running though his head. He smacked the counter with his fist and made the spoon jump. Jack’s contract was where he left it on the counter.

He flipped through pages and found the fine print. The print was so small he ran into his office to find his magnifying glass. A realization hit him. He was not to contact his wife for her so-called mental health, but nothing in there said he could not contact Jack. He smiled.

Back upstairs, he fetched his phone. He thumbed work texts though texts from work friends until he found the text conversation he had with Jack on the day she left with him. His number was there.

It rang, and he waited. He walked downstairs as he talked.

“Hello Doane,” Jack said, “How can I help you?”

“You know very well why I’m calling!”

“Calm down, Doane. Tell me what you want.”

Doane took two deep breaths. “I want to meet with you.”

“You want an appointment with me. Why?”

“An appointment! I need to discuss the terms of returning my wife.”

“Terms?”

“Yes! What will it take to get my wife back?”

“Oh!” Jack said and snickered. “You think this is a kidnapping!” There was giggling in the background.

“That was her, wasn’t it! Put her on the phone!”

“I’ll tell you what, Doane, I’ll let you have a meeting with me if you can pass a simple test.”

“What kind of test?” He had heard of kidnappers making demands.

“Do you remember when you and I first met we observed her on the sun deck reading a book?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What was the name of the book, Doane. You have seven seconds. Seven…six…”

Doane bolted for the French doors. He fumbled with the lock and it opened. He ran to the chaise lounge and tossed everything for the book, the lounge cushions, turned the frame up on its side. He looked under, around, on the small glass table near where Jack had set, and then under it, there! The book. He snatched it up and read the title. He put the phone to his ear.

“…One… time’s…”

“Lily in Wonderland,” he huffed. “By Kelly Fitzpatrick. I found it!”

There was silence, a pause, Jack said. “Okay, today at two. Don’t be late. Oh, and bring the book. She wants it.” Jack ended the call.

“Where?”

He found Jack. He had an office outside the ward on the top floor of Mercy General Hospital. Reality hit him deep during the long elevator ride, and it sobered him. Doane stood at Jack’s office door. On his right was the locked doubled doors of the psychiatric ward. A sign on the door gave directions for visiting hours and how the visitors obtained passes. There were several doctors in Jack’s office suite. Down the list on the glass door was Dr. Jack Hogan, PhD. He stood in front of it, head up, arms to his side holding her novel, looking much like Christopher Robin holding Pooh.

A brief time later Jack used his swipe card and escorted Doane through the double doors, past the nurse’s station, and into a large classroom with chairs arranged in a circle. Gloria was there. He noticed she wore nice slacks and a blouse, and her hair was down around her shoulders the way he liked it. Doane smiled and started to her, but Jack grabbed his arm and led him to an empty chair. Gloria stared at the floor, making no eye contact.

Jack sat next to him and introduced Doane to the group as “Gloria’s spouse.”

They all said, “Hello… Gloria’s spouse,” with some unease. Doane frowned. Gloria grinned, but looked away.

Gloria’s spouse is a millionaire!” Jack said smiling broadly. “He made his millions trading hedge funds. He has many possessions.” Jack paused and watched Gloria. Her grin turned sour. She sighed. “Gloria’s spouse has a mansion, and several cars. He has a swimming pool and many more expensive things.” Jack made a gesture of pulling things to himself.

He turned to Doane. “Before you can tell us your given name, you must pass a simple test. What is Gloria’s middle name? You have four seconds. Four… three… two… one… time. Sorry, Gloria’s spouse. You failed the test.”

“Not fair. There wasn’t enough time!” Doane said.

“My wife’s middle name is Opal. I know it like I know my own.”

“You’re married?”

“Yes. For ten years. I have two sons.” Jack smiled down at Doane, the handsome broad smile.

Gloria started crying. One of the women in the circle got up and fetched her a small square box of Kleenex. Doane put his forehead in his hand. This was getting more serious. What did he do wrong?

“Why is… Gloria crying?”

She looked up at him.

“Good, Gloria’s spouse. Did you realize since I met you, you have referred to her as ‘my wife?’ My wife, and nothing else. Just then, you called her by her name. You also remembered the terms of the contract by talking to me, not her. I think you’ve made some progress. It’s time for your next test, Gloria’s spouse. Gloria told a story of a pet her father gave her when she was nine years old. She loved this pet with all her heart. The pet died of a brain tumor the day Gloria turned ten.  Here’s your test. What was this pet and what was its name? You have ten seconds. Ten… nine… eight…

Doane panicked. His eyes darted back and forth searching for even a shard of memory for her story of this pet. It was not there.

C’mon, pet, pet, pet, tumor, tumor, c’mon, C’MON Mmmm!

“…three…two…

“Sammy! No! Squish! No!” Doane lifted his head, “Squeaky! That’s it. Gloria called the… rabbit, Squeaky. Because of the noise it made. She said the tumor came out its eye. It was horrible.”

Gloria sat up, straightened her posture, arched her eyebrows, and made eye contact with Doane. He mirrored her. Doane talked to Jack but could not break eye contact with Gloria. “Her father was so distraught over her heartbreak, he took her to Six Flags. They couldn’t afford it, but they went anyway…”

“You see me again!” Gloria said, her lip quivered. “You see me.”

“I get it now. Your father didn’t care about money. But, he loved you. I’ve… treated you like an ornament!” Doane said, and shook his head. Tears rolled down his cheek. They jumped and ran to each other in the center of the group and embraced.

“Group, I would like you to meet Doane, Gloria’s husband,” Jack said.

Doane put his hand on the back of her head and pulled her forehead to his forehead, wide-eyed, gazing deep into her blue eyes. It was a thing he did when they first fell in love. They laughed, and cried, and laughed again. They kissed.

Jack joined them in the center of the group and put a hand on Doane’s shoulder. Doane looked up at him. Jack smiled, as always. “Is this the outcome you wanted for you relationship, Doane?”

Doane smiled up at him. “Jack, you know it is!”

Jack squinted and tilted his head back. “Was it worth the money?”

Doane shook his head. “I don’t care about money,” he said and looked at Gloria’s smiling face.

“Good,” Jack said, nodding. “That’s good.”

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New Story, The Rule

Anonymous wrote this about The Rule. There are some spoilers:

Hi Tom,

Your title grabbed me. It told too little to guess anything about the story, and it was too intriguing to ignore. It’s a good title. You could say the rule is what gets Kelly killed.

(…) skipping spoilers

Your writing is to-the-point, and you don’t shy away from difficult topics or scenes. It’s something I appreciate… The story is sad indeed, in the “this needs to be written about” kind of sad. What I mean is that this story could have happened, and maybe did (though I hope not).

Kelly’s character is described in precise strokes, in how he speaks, what he wears, the feelings he has for Devin. I think the name “Kelly” is feminine too, is it not? At any rate, his characterisation is excellent, and there is just too much to it for me to quote all bits that make me imagine him so clearly. I feel bad for him, that his life ended the way it did. He may have been a transgender, but we’ll never know.

You addressed the issue of guilt, of who has the fault. I’m glad you did, because it’s a question with no answer, but the story would have felt incomplete without it. It gets the reader to think, as well. We still have discrimination nowadays, although in most countries it has gotten much better.

Your story is not only sad, but revolting. The contrast between the peace and love attitude, and Kelly having to abide by the rule of not showing his feelings, not following his heart, is striking. I enjoyed reading it for the way you handle the words and craft the story, but the thematic left a lump in my throat.

Well done.

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