Loralee: The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Two, Oh Henry
Originally published on October 27, 2011
Static crackled through the radio’s old speakers mixed with the fading strains of “All Shook Up,” part of the New Year’s Day Golden Hits of Rock and Roll countdown, the low volume created an odd background noise in the afternoon quiet of Henry’s bedroom. The house was rented, not far from the ranch. Loralee was wrapped in the new robe Henry had given her for Christmas.
“This is wonderful, this is my new favorite thing.” She ran her fingers over the edges of the lapel. “Did you buy her one of these too?” Loralee asked quietly.
“You know I did.”
“Oh, Henry, I know you didn’t.”
“Then why did you ask?” Henry sat leaning against the headboard, one leg stretched out in front of him, one leg bent, foot on the floor, jeans unbuttoned, no shirt, and a glass of tequila in his hand.
“I’m sorry. Things are, well, things are no worse than usual. I hate feeling jealous, makes me feel like I’m weak. It feels unnatural to me.” Loralee was walking around the room, her fingers lighting on his comb, his wallet, his keys, touching the edge of a picture frame that contained an old photo of him.
“She’s gone. I ran her off.” He drained the glass. “The only reason I was ever with her is that you haven’t left him yet.”
“Henry, I left him in every way that matters, the first time that he cheated on me. Do you think that I could be with you this way? Do you think that’s who I am? I was faithful for years. I’d have never been with another man. Why get married? I wasn’t just faithful, I was loyal.” Loralee collapsed into the chair where he threw his laundry. “Malcolm was barely home for Christmas.” She never wanted to talk about this.
“About a month ago, I wanted to get this Cuisinart thing for Billy and his wife.” The words caught in her throat. She washed them down with the tequila they’d been drinking all afternoon. Talking like this to him, it made her feel bad. It made her feel old. It made the reality of the situation undeniable. “Well, he came home with three Cuisinarts, one for Billy and Melanie, one for Jan and Bob, and one for me. Of course, I already have one, but I didn’t say anything. I was kind of surprised he remembered I’d said anything at all. There was no card, there was nothing. His phone rang in the middle of dinner. He didn’t get up and walk away until after he said her name, and I just, I was stunned. The kids were right there and I, well, Billy, he knows. Or he knew before that. Malcolm barely excused himself from the table. He went to Houston that night. I don’t know if it even matters or if it just caught me off guard.”
“Has he come home since?” Henry was refilling the glasses.
“No. Somehow, the pretense of our routine was a comfort. I don’t care one bit about a glorified blender. It’s that it was so cold of him. You know? Then it was just so cold in that house. I kept thinking you were here, that you were with her. I fought all day to keep myself together. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time anymore, Henry.”
“I was here, alone, thinking you were with your family. You should have called me.” He sipped his drink, it was the last of the bottle.
“And then what?” Loralee emptied her glass. “I tear myself apart, Henry. Every goddamn thing I can find that I know is wrong with me, every flaw, and then I go over them again. Every reason why I don’t deserve love and every reason why no one would ever want me.”
“Stop this,” Henry said, his jaw tightened. “His going to Houston is not because of some flaw of yours.”
“Oh, Henry. I’m not critical of myself because of Malcolm. It was wondering where you were. It was that he was thoughtless, careless, maybe unintentionally mean, and he didn’t care. I thought, for the first time, I thought, I deserve better. And I know that that kind of thinking is nothing but trouble.”
She didn’t say it, but what she was thinking was not just what Malcolm had done, but Paul. She was thinking about her first love, about every heartbreak she had ever endured. She was thinking about all the gossip over Paul, and how happy she had been before she’d found out. How she had to try to find some way to deal with it with some sense of dignity and how long it had hurt. How long it had been, while Malcolm kept that apartment in Houston, and everyone knew it, and no one said a word. She was tired of feeling like love was a game, or a con job, or an obligation, like it was anything other than love. Her body ached with the want of something she had barely been able to remember until Henry.
“I tear myself apart because of you.” Loralee twisted her hair around her index finger so tightly it was cutting off the circulation, a bad habit she’d picked up when she had given up cigarettes.
“You’re not making any sense, Loralee. You have no reason to beat the hell out of yourself because of me.” He got up, started looking for his smokes.
“They’re in your pocket, shirt on the back of the door.” Her response was nearly monotone. She always knew where those cigarettes were because she always wanted one.
“Loralee, I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t, and that makes it worse.” She stood up, started picking up her clothes.
Henry grabbed her hands, stopped her. “Then tell me.”
“I want to hate you, Henry. I look out the window every morning to see you show up at work. When you’ve been late, I’ve wondered if it was her. I don’t have a right to wonder about you like that. I’ve never been jealous before in my life. I know what it means, it means I’m insecure because I feel like I don’t have a claim on you, or to this, how good it is. I want something with you that I don’t even know if I believe anymore. I want something I don’t have a right to want. He goes to Houston, and he’s with her and doesn’t give it a second thought, but I hold back because I can’t afford to feel anything, Henry. Can you understand that? I’m not like him. Henry, you were seeing another woman, and I… Oh, damn it.”
“I know you don’t hate me, Loralee.” He brushed the hair away from her face and kissed her. “I know you don’t hate me.” He kissed her again, pushing the robe off her shoulders. “I know you don’t hate me.” He lowered his voice to a whisper.
“You’re going to mess up my life.”
“Your life was already a mess. Say it, Loralee, trust me, say it.”
“I love you, Henry.”
If you’d like to continue following along, reading “Loralee” one chapter at a time as it was originally published, the links will be here.