Just as Well

Andrej Blatnik

Thanks for the melody, SD

When the man returns from work earlier than usual, he finds his wife in bed. With his best friend, naturally. Ain’t you two nice and cozy! What am I supposed to do? What do you do if a thing like this happens to you? he asks them, caught totally off guard. Of course, it immediately occurs to him, there’s always that gun hidden in the closet, under the shirts, wrapped in an old T-shirt. When the army was leaving, to go south, that sort of thing could be bought cheap, and so he decided to stock up, just in case, just like everyone in the know did.

The two of them, cringing grimly under a sheet with a dainty floral pattern, do not say anything. The man does not know the answer either. Why does modern life have to be so complicated? he wonders. He takes the gun from the closet, just to make clear what needs to be reckoned with if one crawls between his marital sheets and disregards his conjugal rights. His wife says don’t make a fuss, you’re not going to do it, you don’t have the guts, you’re not man enough. You don’t think I am? asks the man, you don’t think I am? His friend takes him more seriously, the man knows the blotches on his friend’s face are not from the summer heat alone. You don’t think I am, yells the man, drawing the required determination from his friend’s fear, you don’t think I am, do you?

He grips the gun firmly and jams it under his friend’s chin, then under his own. The beads of sweat oozing down his friend’s face drop onto the gun, and the man does not like it at all, the situation is increasingly undignified. So he shifts the gun from his friend’s chin to his own, faster and faster. Well, tell me now, he yells at his wife, which one do you like better, which one should I eliminate? She tells him two more times that he’s not man enough, that he’s not what he’s making himself out to be; each time she says it more quietly, then she starts begging him to put the gun away. That she’ll call the cops otherwise.

Call them, go on, call the cops! says the man to her. Before you hang up we’ll all be dead, and by the time the cops arrive, the whole house will have burned to the ground. He does not really mean this, he is just making threats, to create a fuss, to strike terror into their hearts and regain his self-confidence. What do people do when a thing like this happens to them? he wonders again. Understandably enough, nobody likes to talk about these things. Anyway, violence seems quite inappropriate, he’s a gentle soul by nature, and besides, he has seen that despite this bit of nookie his dinner is waiting for him in the kitchen, a golden-brown roast chicken keeping warm in the oven that reminds him that his woman is not so bad as she might momentarily seem.

There’s an earth-shattering bang as the bullet zips straight into the television set. He could swear the damn thing went off all by itself. Then everything is again absolutely quiet. Not even the wife screams as might be expected, they all strain their ears to hear what happens next, who bangs on the door first. Nothing. The stony silence continues. As though nobody has heard anything.

Then the wife says softly: well, and here I was, thinking we were finally going to meet the neighbors, and she bursts out laughing. The friend starts glancing around and the man guesses the reason for his uneasy fidgeting and tells him to get dressed, just in case the cops show up anyway, he can’t meet the cops bare-assed, his wife and he can finish this hanky-panky some other time. The friend nods and starts pulling his pants on, then he asks the man if he has any idea how badly he is shaking. Perhaps I am, thinks the man, in this state I couldn’t even hit myself if I wanted to, and besides, what do I want with a gun, this isn’t my kind of thing. He carefully wraps it back in the T-shirt but then lays it on the table in front of him, to make it clear that he still calls the shots. His mouth is dry, he feels he could do with a beer so he goes into the kitchen, to the fridge, but it’s empty.

The man asks his wife where the hell all his booze has gone. The friend clears his throat and says sorry, the day was so hot, what can you do, and besides, the man knows how hard it is for him to stop drinking once he starts. To make up for it he’d gladly invite the man for a drink to the bar across the street. The wife says she feels like having a beer too, so all three go there, have a round, then another.

When they have knocked back quite a few and it is closing time and the waitress is about to throw them all out, the man says to his friend: well, then, you take my wife with you and forgive me for scaring you, forgive my selfishness, I wish you happiness in your future life together, and if you have any money to spare you can buy me a new TV set and we’ll call it quits. He realizes he sounds maudlin, but what the heck, he thinks, it’s from the heart.

And his friend says no, you take her home, she’s your wife, but first punch me. Yes, slug me, bust my nose and call me son of a bitch. And if that’s not enough, you know where I live, I expect my wife doesn’t spend her mornings keeping her legs crossed either. And the wife says, even before the friend has had his full say and a proper man-to-man talk could develop: don’t fight over me, I’m not worth it, I suppose I should throw myself under a train or something, but life has it moments, I wouldn’t want to miss them, I’ve missed too many already, you know what I mean, you – Well, you know.

That’s true, says the man, actually there’s still that chicken in the oven, keeping warm, why don’t we go back to our place, I haven’t eaten all day. Neither have I, the other two chime in, and they wheedle another round from the waitress, for the road, and then go home to eat chicken. So you’re not going to beat me up? asks the friend as they pick clean the last bones, throwing them over their shoulders among the shards of glass, as the rough edges soften and the man finds the sight of the jagged jaws of the TV set increasingly familiar. The man motions no; is a thing like that worth mentioning at all? We’re friends, aren’t we?

Well, in that case I’d like to go home now, says the friend, it’s very late, my wife will be worried sick, I’m a reliable guy, I always come home on time. You can’t drive this drunk, the man urges him, you must stay the night, life’s too precious, you shouldn’t play with it. Okay, says the friend, alright, where do you want me to sleep? Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mean anything by that, he corrects himself immediately.

The man is silent, looking at his wife. She is silent as well. How long has this thing been going on, actually? The wife keeps silent. You don’t really want to know, do you? she says in the end. You know, life really is like a comic opera. What’s the use of pretending, we all try so hard not to let it pass us by before we’ve had a chance to take notice. To somehow– Oh, you know: somehow.

I don’t understand, says the friend, what are you two talking about, do you always talk this way? I’m sorry, but I’m so sleepy I’ll just crash here. And he slumps onto the living-room couch and starts snoring straight away.

Wife, says the man, your chicken keeps getting better, but – did I really deserve this? Just look at him, he didn’t even take his shoes off. And I walk in on you with a guy like this! I’m sorry, says the wife, but he’s your friend, you brought him into our house, you’re the one who should’ve been more choosy. Unfortunately, I don’t have many opportunities to meet men. My life, you know, has not exactly turned out the way I expected it would. And what am I supposed to do, spend it crying in secret? You know how it is, we all do the best we can. And, sorry, I’m tired too, it’s been a long day. Why don’t we go to bed? Don’t forget you have to go to work tomorrow.

So they go to their bedroom, lie down and, like every night, hold hands. The man looks at the sheets and says: I hate these little flowers, we must get something else. The wife murmurs something indistinct, strokes his hand and immediately drops off, exhausted by her day, while the man stares at the ceiling for a long time, with the still salty aftertaste of crisp chicken skin on his palate, wondering whether he hadn’t overpaid for the gun and whether he could find somewhere to trade it in for a good television set. Tomorrow, he decides, tomorrow he must ask his friend if he perhaps knows of somebody who’d be interested in such a swap. There must be people who have a use for a thing like that, these are troubled times, and getting more and more so. It’s just as well the guy snoring on the couch with his shoes still on is his friend, he thinks as sleep overcomes him. If it had been somebody else, he could have really shot him, and then things might have gotten out of hand, and then there would have been no turning back. It’s just as well.

Translated from Slovenian by Tamara Soban