On entering his apartment Rob could hear the sound of the television. Coming down the hall he noticed cardboard boxes sealed in duck tape with “Arthur’s clothes and books” written across them in scribbled black text. Arthur sat in the living room, despondent. The light coming from the television broke the darkness at intervals with iridescent flashes. Rob passed into the kitchen.
Letting Arthur move in had been Rob’s failed attempt at social rejuvenation. Arthur’s presence merely cast a shadow over Rob’s own life. His role as mediator during the divorce process was coming to an end along with any friendship he had with Arthur.
“So, I got a text this morning from Kate and all the divorce stuff has gone through,” he said leaning against the kitchen doorframe with a beer. Arthur didn’t respond. He’d spent a good part of the day trying to forget about his short-lived marriage; now it’d been forced back into his mind.
Arthur hesitantly relaxed into a freshly assembled Ikea armchair. He’d been let go from his job and spent most of his free time decorating his new home.
After their marriage, Arthur and Kate moved into a small one-bedroom apartment in a building twenty minutes outside the city. The building’s brutalist architecture was reminiscent of the Soviet Era apartments Arthur had seen in Cold War films. The neighbours consisted mostly of retirees and young migrant couples whose children would fill the stairwells and corridors with laughter that occasionally turned to crying.
Kate hated the building; it stood in stark contrast to the sunny island resorts and brightly coloured buildings in Central America where they’d spent their honeymoon. The sombre return to this apartment had overshadowed her aspirations for a married life of spontaneity and excitement. She’d gradually started to spend more time at work, teaching maths at a local high school.
On a Thursday afternoon towards the end of the first month of their marriage, Arthur received an email from their wedding photographer with a collection of photos. As he skimmed through them the feelings he’d felt that day came back to him. His joy was diluted by the irritation he felt during Jessica’s speech. It was the last in a long line of both intimate and banal speeches that were filled with flat humour. By that stage, most of the guests had consumed liberal amounts of alcohol and were ready for the final act of the night: ejecting the elderly and dancing until exhausted.
Arthur despised Jessica, due to her offbeat comedy routines and what his mother termed ‘incorrigibly lewd behaviour.’ However, Jessica was Kate’s best friend at college and Arthur had no choice but to hear, what he guessed, would be a speech ridiculing him.
Arthur didn’t hear a good deal of what she said, but effectively became lost in thought after the first joke, which was along the lines of: “We were all surprised to see Kate engaged to Arthur, because, as nice a guy as he is, we expected her to go into a different line of work due to her randy behaviour and extensive list of boyfriends at school.”
The speech continued as Arthur saw one of his uncles’ wince. The joke had stayed with him for a long time and ruminated the dark cellar of his mind where he placed his pestering thoughts. Accompanying it was a memory from when he first started sleeping with Kate when, on a night out, he told some of his friends who had studied with her at University.
“You should get checked out,” one of them drunkenly joked, and after seeing both the concerned and angered look on his face added, “just in case.”
Whenever these thoughts came back to his mind he felt as though he had entered a sham business deal, which he took pride in, and others mocked knowingly. He had an urge to get out, to get back his freedom and independence. These thoughts quickly subsided once Arthur got further into the collection of photos. Seeing the smile of his wife and her beauty he thought, “you’re married now, this is your wife.”
Kate sat in the teacher’s lounge sipping lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup. It was well past teaching hours and the room was empty and silent. She couldn’t return home, the image of the tiny apartment crammed with furniture, the air stagnant due to Arthur’s idleness, and the constant noise of the neighbours or TV came to her mind's eye and inhibited her from leaving.
She sat expressionless, starring at the math equation on a paper in front of her. She considered how over the span of little more than a month Arthur had put on weight, grown facial hair, and engaged in a habit of heavy drinking. She shuddered when she considered the eventual outcome of these habits if left unrestrained. These feelings spread like bacteria over her love for Arthur, which remained reinforced by the happy memories of the times they had spent together in her final years of University and over the course of their engagement.
These feelings spread like bacteria over her love for Arthur
They had always struggled to find time to spend together, with her commitments at university and his work out of town; it was always a fleeting exchange, finite, keeping her involved and interested. After their marriage, however, they spent almost every minute together. With Arthur out of work, whenever she was at home she was around him, and by that time she was exhausted. Kate missed her friends from university, the ad hoc plans they made in her dorm room, the impromptu drinking, and at the end of it all the fact that she could be alone, hiding away behind a duvet, sheltered in warmth, bathed in the light of her MacBook.
The door to the teacher's lounge opened, shattering Kate’s reverie.
“Wow, you’re a soldier, here after six, who are you trying to impress?” Paul said, both hands clasping bags, his glasses pushed up into his thick black hair.
“Oh, no one really, just thinking,” Kate said a little lost for words as if she had just woken up.
“Well, I’ve got to dash, got the kids at night sports, you coming for drinks tomorrow? Got to start the term off right.”
“Sure, I’ll have to check, but it should be fine.”
“Ok… I’ll take that as a yes,” Paul said with a friendly smile as he let the door close.
Kate liked Paul, he was sincere and innocent and unlike most of the teachers at the school, was her age. He had made her feel welcome, with introductions and pointers, and remained unthreatening due to his childlike sense of humour to which Kate often had to force a laugh she hoped was convincingly genuine.
That Friday morning Kate was in a rush. Arthur was up early yawning at the kitchen bench drinking his third cup of coffee.
“So, you were home late last night,” he said.
“Yeah, I had some curriculum stuff to finish off,”
“Ok,” Arthur said.
“So there’s this drinks thing tonight, for the teachers, did you want to come?” Kate asked.
“Yeah sounds good,” Arthur said. He was relieved, he had been stuck in the apartment too long, and he knew it.
“I’ll text you the details,” Kate said opening the door with toast in hand.
Arthur spent the day around the house, checking his emails and watching television. Towards late afternoon he starting drinking and, due to his eagerness, finished a six-pack of beers within an hour. As he lay on the couch listening to music, he floated away, forgetting about his unemployment problems, the tiny apartment, even his marriage. He went back to his single days, in his parent’s house on a Friday afternoon, alone, smoking weed and getting lost in his own thoughts.
At seven o’clock Arthur got an Uber to the bar Kate had texted him. It was underground and spacious; leather booths lined the walls and thick oak tables filled the centre. At the far end the bar glowed. The light shone through the liquor bottles onto a white marble bench top. It was jazz-themed, which Arthur picked up coming down the concrete steps, seeing pictures of Monk and Davis on the walls.
Arthur quickly spotted Kate and before long he was being introduced to a line of teachers who were, for the most part, wholesome family people, like the members of a small town’s church community. Before he knew what was going on he had a cocktail thrust into his hand and was being patted on the back. Kate took him aside and talked in hushed tones.
“Have you been drinking?” She asked.
“Just a bit at home, is that not allowed?” He said.
“Just don’t get too drunk, ok?” she said.
Paul interrupted them, introduced himself to Arthur, and asked if he could detain Kate for a few moments to get her opinion on something. Paul was the first guy who seemed remotely threatening to Arthur. He was tall and fit, with thick black hair, and a tan that was noticeably out of season.
He was tall and fit, with thick black hair, and a tan that was noticeably out of season
Having eaten little, Arthur was starting to feel the effects of the strong cocktails he was drinking. While standing alone listening to a Jazz song he was struggling to put a name to, Arthur was approached by an elderly man with a glass of white wine.
“So, you’re the lucky guy who’s married to Kate,” he said.
“Yep, that’s me,” Arthur said, giving up on the limited Jazz Rolodex in his mind.
“So, what do you do…”
“Arthur,” he responded finishing the sentence, “I’m out of work at the moment but I do construction supervision.”
“Hmm, exciting,” the man said with such enthusiasm that Arthur couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic.
“Brubeck” Arthur suddenly said to himself.
“Pardon?” said the old man inquisitively moving his head closer to Arthur’s face.
“Oh nothing” he replied, instinctively moving away.
At that point a laugh broke out from across the room, Paul and Kate were talking and Arthur saw Paul’s hand touch her arm.
“They go so well together those two,” the old man said, “Paul’s a terrific guy.”
“Excuse me,” Arthur said moving across the room.
“Hey man,” Paul said enthusiastically as Arthur approached.
“Hi,” Arthur responded.
“So Kate is doing really well at the school, I think the kids are starting to like her more than me,” Paul said with a grin.
“That’s good,” Arthur responded.
“So what do you do for work Arthur?” Paul said.
“Construction supervision,” Arthur said feeling odd at having repeated himself in such a short space of time.
“Kate told me that you were out of work, not much going at the moment,” Paul said.
“Yeah” Arthur responded, shooting a glance at Kate who was looking at the floor.
“I’m sure something will come up soon,” Paul said slapping Arthur on the shoulder.
“mmhm,” Arthur mumbled.
There was a brief silence in which Paul started moving awkwardly to the Jazz music.
“So, we better go, it’s getting late,” said Kate.
“Ok, I should think about leaving too, got the babysitter at home,” Paul said.
After the innumerable goodbyes Kate gave, they left, catching Paul as they were stepping out.
“See you on Monday Kate!” he added.
“Jesus,” Arthur said as they came into the bracing night air “is that guy for real, he is way too cheerful.”
“I think he’s sweet,” Kate said.
“Sweet?” Arthur repeated as they stepped into a cab.
During the cab ride both Arthur and Kate’s comments edged in and out of passive aggression, with recriminations to accusations not fully formed. As it became more personal and bitting Arthur’s wall of inhibition crumbled, letting the darker side of his thoughts come out.
“I don’t mind if you flirt with Paul, because that’s your thing, but don’t do it in front of me. I mean do you have any sense of shame? People can see you.”
“Paul is a friend, and he is married, you idiot.”
“I mean we’ve only been married for what? A month? And this is already happening,” Arthur said ignoring Kate’s comment.
“What’s happening?” Kate said with increased irritation.
“You, flirting, you always do it, but you’re my wife now.”
“I’m not a piece of meat Arthur, and if you had any respect for me, you would know I wouldn’t do anything.”
There was a pause, in which the cab driver timidly asked the direction to the particular part of the apartment block. Arthur sat frustrated. The alcohol was still having a distinct effect on him. As they entered the apartment he wanted to finish off the argument getting reassurance from Kate.
“If this is going to work you need to stop doing that kind of thing,” he said in a commanding tone.
Kate sat down and took off her shoes. She felt tired and old, worn out, it was the same discussion they’d had on their wedding night, and she was sick of it. She hadn’t even thought about another man and concluded that this argument would be forever reoccurring.
“Maybe, we need a break from each other for a while” she finally said.
“What?” exclaimed Arthur in subdued rage, “Oh no,” he whispered, stomping into the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of cheap cooking wine and, breaking the seal took a large gulp.
“After everything I’ve been through, all I put up with,” he repeated to himself in whispered tones, his boiling anger preventing any reaction to the sour wine. He continued muttering the same sentence, like a mantra for his anger. His thoughts swirled becoming muddled. He considered his unemployment, the hopelessness of his situation, and Paul.
“Look, I’m exhausted,” Kate said as she entered the kitchen.
Arthur claimed not to have remembered what happened next.
Arthur heard oil frying in the kitchen. He stood up and turned the Television off. He walked down the hall past the boxes. Outside, on the city streets, he could breathe. He could walk without feeling the eyes of judgement on him. To the passing strangers he wasn’t guilty of anything.