My mind has been stagnant lately. My muse has been silent. Depressive episodes do this to me sometimes. I lack the energy and motivation to cultivate a concept and bring it to life in the world. The more time that passes without creating a new piece of work, the more anxious I become that I will ever write something worthwhile again.
When I fall into this quagmire, I sometimes look back and rework things of the past. I began the following over seven years ago now. I conceived it as the opening chapter of a short story, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” that would be the closing of a trilogy that would also include “Life,” and “Liberty.” I’m not sure what will develop, but I really like spending time with the members of the Jacobson family and hope to go with them where they take me.
Stephen Jacobson’s day was about to get much worse.
It started off with his usual bowl of honey-nut cheerios with banana slices on top. Orange juice and coffee on the side. He felt some pain in the hip that was replaced a year ago. It was irksome, but he could bear it.
He looked across the table and saw Rachel staring into her coffee cup. She was not a pretty woman, but she was very lively for her age. She pleasant upturned lines from smiling for the benefit of others. Rachel was the kind of woman always most concerned about whoever she was with. Especially Stephen. Her steady smile mostly made up for Stephen’s pensive scowl, the one he wore now as he strived to balance a single slice of banana with each spoonful of cereal.
“Stephen,” Rachel said abruptly, looking over her coffee mug.
“Yes.” He replied. A banana fell from his spoon.
“Stephen, I’m leaving you.”
“How long will you be gone?” Stephen asked, fishing for the banana he had lost.
“I’m leaving you for good.”
“For good?” he asked. It seemed a strange expression. “Leaving… for good.” An oxymoron, he thought.
“I’m not happy, Stephen. I want to be happy.” Rachel stood up and poured the rest of her coffee, which had grown cold, down the drain.
“Of course you’re happy,” said Stephen. “You’re a happy person. That’s one thing I’ve always admired about you.”
“No, Stephen. I used to be a happy person. I’m not anymore. At least not with you.”
“What do you mean, not with me?” Stephen put his spoon down. His cheerios had grown soggy.
“You’re not a happy person. You’ve never been happy. You’ve stopped even pursuing happiness. You’ve settled for less. I want more.”
“Where are you going to find more?” he asked, tentatively.
Rachel took a deep breath.
“I didn’t want to tell you this, but I’m moving in with Saul Linford.”
“SAUL LINFORD? That dolt!”
“Saul is not a dolt.”
“How will you live? He has nothing. He lives in an apartment with his daughter. His grandson lives in the basement.”
“If you must know, Saul won the lottery. We’re moving to Vegas. We’re going to pursue happiness while we still can. Unlike you.”
A sharp pain shot from Steven’s hips to his heart. Rachel was right – about one thing, anyway. He was not a happy person. He never had been. He didn’t consider it necessary. He thought Rachel had always been happy enough for the two of them.
“I guess that’s it, then.” he said.
“I’m sorry, Stephen.” said Rachel.
“You, um… ” He stood up as if to make a pronouncement. Or a plea. Something to convince her to stay. Or, something to bless her on her way. Reaching out to her with one hand, he bowed his head and said –
“I’ll do the dishes.”
Stephen rose and put his apron on. It was a retirement gift from his daughter Monica, a subtle hint that now he had more time available he should at least help Mom out a little around the kitchen.
He turned the water on, adjusted the temperature, put in the stopper and added some detergent.
Rachel then rose from the table and headed into their bedroom. Stephen stared at the sink and listened. He could hear the sound of drawers opening and closing. He put on his music.
He briefly browsed his collection. Another retirement gift. His grandson Philip had transferred his favorite albums onto CDs. Steven carefully selected a disc and placed it in, adjusting the volume slightly.
Your cheatin’ heart,
Will make you weep,
You’ll cry and cry,
And try to sleep,
Steven glanced in the direction of the bedroom, then turned the volume up.
But sleep won’t come,
The whole night through,
Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you…
He turned it up some more and started singing along.
When tears come down,
Like falling rain,
You’ll toss around,
And call my name,
As he sang, his volume increased. He took a step toward the bedroom. The sound of drawers opening and closing had been drowned out.
Suddenly, he heard the sound of water running. He quickly turned back to the sink and hustled to turn the spigot off as the suds overflowed.
By the time Stephen had finished the dishes, Rachel was packed and ready to go.
“You aren’t taking much with you,” he said. She only had one suitcase.
“I don’t need much. I’m buying new things. I want to start over,” she said looking nervously out the window.
“Is he meeting you here?”
“No. We’re meeting at the diner.”
“The diner?” he said. Some of his neighborhood friends would be there. Not that he had any close friends, but acquaintances. What would they think to see her alone with a suitcase, leaving with…. SAUL LINFORD?
“Don’t you want me to take you somewhere? Somewhere….to meet him?” He looked away.
“No, Stephen. I think this is best.”
“I could at least drop you off at the diner. You don’t want to walk.”
“It’s only two blocks, Steven.” forcing a chuckle,” The walk will do me good. I need to lose weight.
So many changes, thought Steven. So much loss.
“Will you call me?” he asked. “Let me know how you’re doing?”
“I’ll be in touch with the children. They can update you.”
He shook his head slowly. “Has it really been that bad, Rachel? Where did I go wrong?
“Stephen, it’s just….you’ve never been happy. I could never please you.”
“I don’t want you to please me. I want you to stay with me. We’re married, for God’s sake!”
She picked up her bag, walked over to him and kissed him on the check.
He didn’t hear the door open, but knew when it was closed. The pain in his hip had become a dull ache. He sat in a chair and wondered what to do next.
He sat there for some time, unable to focus. Then he noticed a bright light coming through the window, blinding his eyes. For a while he stared into its brightness. Then, he rose to his feet, walked over, and shut the shades.
to be continued…