Prose / Writers

A Roof Over Her Head by Susan Breeden

Marcus Jackson is doing quite well for himself. His 1940s-era home was recently updated by a Harvard-educated architect. While it isn’t the largest house on the block, it’s the only one with Egyptian mosaic tile on the master bath ceiling, Brazilian Cherry hardwood floors throughout, and a subzero wine cooler stocked with Chateau Lafite Rothschild dating back to 1982.

The driveway, while somewhat narrow, is deep enough to accommodate his Jaguar and BMW, which means his wife Sarah must park her Toyota on the street. Sure, if he pulls both cars farther up, nearer the custom-crafted cast-iron gate, maybe her car will fit. But she leaves early each morning for the commute to her job outside of the city, so this arrangement suits them both just fine.

Marcus has worked hard for all of this. No one ever gave him so much as a dime. Unlike the other poor fuckers he offices with in the hi-rise overlooking a man-made lake, Marcus created a business model for his mortgage practice that allows him to pocket eighty percent of receivables while doing little actual work. He sleeps late in the morning and gets home by three-thirty in the afternoon, unless he’s able to book a private lesson with the country club’s golf pro. Otherwise, Sarah doesn’t get home until after six p.m., so he has time to enjoy a nap or watch television before his space is encroached upon.

Sometimes, if there’s nothing on television worth watching, Marcus goes through his wife’s things, although that usually bores the hell out of him. She wears the same shirts and pants and underwear that she wore before they married a year ago.

Then again, it would piss him off royally if she bought new clothes since she doesn’t pitch in for expenses aside from keeping the place stocked with snacks, laundry detergent, and toilet paper. And how much could that cost?

She’s probably socking away thousands, he thinks, while he carries the financial burden. That’s one reason why he refuses to touch her in the way she asks to be touched. The other reason is because of what she said after the first and only time they had sex since the wedding.

“You were amazing,” she had said.

It was enough to make Marcus reconsider.

After all, he’d already given her what she demanded: a platinum wedding band, a formal church ceremony, and a sappy reception. The whole shebang. On top of that, she gets a roof over her head. Not some ordinary roof, but one made of slate imported from the Arouca region of Portugal, 60 kilometers southeast of Oporto where he vacationed once with a friend. She doesn’t seem to appreciate the time and money he invested to get slates that are random in width, and in an impossible shade of blue-grey, just like his architect had recommended. He’ll be damned if he’s going to let her have orgasms, as well. Not until he’s ready. And he has no plans of being ready anytime soon.

But Sarah has the patience of a saint. When he rejects her advances, she simply puts on her tennis shoes and faded black jogging suit and goes for a walk around the neighborhood, like every other middle-aged housewife who ought to get her fat ass to the gym and do some serious weights instead.

Truth is, she still looks damn good, except for that little bit of belly fat that crept on shortly after they got married, which doesn’t bother him even though he allows her to believe otherwise. Sometimes, when she turns away from him at night and tries to hide her sobs beneath her pillow, he has the urge to reach over and say, “I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this. I hate myself for doing it.”

Then Marcus remembers how Sarah had insisted he wear some horrible tuxedo, just like his first two wives had done, and how she threatened to make his life miserable if he didn’t at least appear to be having a good time at their wedding. So he lets Sarah cry herself to sleep and tells himself that, someday, he’ll get used to being married again. Maybe even grow to like it. Until then, an occasional kiss or hug is the best he can do. That, and having dinner with her most every night, but only because it’s convenient for him.

Today, however, she’s made other plans.

“I’m having dinner with a coworker,” she calls to tell him.

“O.K.,” he says.

Marcus knows she’s waiting for him to ask, “Which coworker?” Waiting for him to show some interest in her life or, perhaps, even a spark of jealousy because he’s seen some of her colleagues. He had met them at a black-tie function she forced him to attend. The good-lookers enjoyed a serious chuckle when he showed up in a regular business suit paired with sandals and no socks. Sarah, of course, didn’t think it was funny. That was the whole point.

When she mentions her dinner plans, Marcus refuses to take the bait. Even if she shares an entree with a good-looker, she won’t take it any farther. She isn’t that kind of girl.

When Sarah returns home, Marcus stares at the television even though he sees her in his periphery. When he doesn’t acknowledge her, she changes into her jogging suit and leaves again.

She’s gone longer than usual, but he won’t go looking for her. She knows better than to walk alone this late at night, even though they do live in the best neighborhood in the city. Hell, it better be, consider the high property taxes he forks out every year with no help from her.

In bed that evening, she runs her fingers down the length of his back. He pretends to be asleep, even though it feels awfully good. In less than forty-eight hours, he’ll be in Chicago. If he wants to have that kind of fun, he’ll have it there.

She pulls her hand away when he doesn’t respond. “We need to talk about this,” she says. “It’s been a year. We need to fix the problem.”

He doesn’t move.

“Did you hear what I said? I know you’re awake. I can tell by your breathing,” she said.

“I heard you. There isn’t a problem.”

But she’s right. The problem is, he’s getting bored with the way she just takes all his crap. In fact, he’s almost embarrassed for her.

When they first started dating, she didn’t put up with shit, and he respected her for it. Respected, but still didn’t want to get married again. He couldn’t say that much or she would have left. At least, that was her threat. “If you don’t want to marry, I can’t waste time with you,” were her exact words.

So he told her he didn’t want to lose her, which was true. When pressed, he said that, yes, he did want to marry her. Even though it wasn’t a proper proposal, she moved forward with plans as if it were.

He had tried to make the whole process as miserable as possible, hoping she’d be the one to call it off so they could go back to the previous arrangement. He made her beg for the guest list for his side of the family, cancelled the tuxedo fitting, and didn’t sit beside her at their couples’ shower. But she refused to fight. She must have convinced herself that this was normal behavior for a cold-footed groom-to-be, and that if they could just get through this part of it…

Marcus knew, even back then, that the load of crap he was piling on would eventually be too much for any woman to handle. Yet, she keeps taking it, so he keeps shoveling it.

This evening, as they lie together in bed, he senses something has shifted, perhaps even in his favor. When she whispers, “I understand now what you really need,” he can hardly believe it.

A blow job, he thinks.

Then she whispers, “I’ve needed something too,” and turns away.

He’s a bit curious, but not enough to ask. He waits for the crying but doesn’t hear any. Just as well. He needs his sleep.

The following evening, after she leaves for her walk, he goes through her things again. He rummages through her closet. Nothing of interest. He opens her underwear drawer and sees the same black cotton high-waist panties. He digs a little deeper and touches upon something silky and pink. The tags have been removed, but the thong otherwise looks new.

“Jeez, she’s going to try that angle. I could have told her not to waste her money.” He holds it up and tries to imagine it on anyone but her. His loins begin to tingle as he puts it back in its hiding place, alongside a matching bra that was also buried beneath the granny panties.

He retrieves his oversized suitcase from the hall closet, packs some clean underwear and a business suit, along with a black cashmere sweater that won’t show lipstick or wine stains. Everything else he might need for his trip is already inside.

***

On the plane to Chicago the next morning, he can’t get that pink thong out of his mind. The thought of it twists around his brain like some sort of perverted rubber band. He even visualizes Sarah wearing it. Hopefully, he’ll be distracted at the conference. Otherwise, he might give in and, once again, she’ll get her way. Just like at the wedding, when she jabbed him in the ribs to remind him to smile for the photographer.

He had smiled, all right. And plotted his revenge.

Marcus is still thinking about the thong when he checks into the Marriott. In fact, he can’t contain the hard-on that came over him in the taxi.

Damn her.

The thong brings back memories of their first Halloween together, a few months after they had met. How had he managed to forget? He’d gone to pick her up for dinner and she answered the door wearing a cat mask, high heels, a black thong, and nothing else. Needless to say, they didn’t go out that night.

That was nothing compared to the week they spent in Vienna, two years later. After the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, the two of them barely made it back to the hotel room, it taking all their willpower not to indulge in complete penetration right there on the elevator floor. But it was more than that. He’d had plenty of women in his life, but he’d fallen in love with just one. It had happened that night.

God, she’s beautiful. What happened to us?

Crap happened, he thought. All the crap he’s put her through, and just because she wanted a life with him. Come to think of it, she didn’t even ask for money when she lost her job. Instead, she filed for unemployment benefits. Didn’t say anything when he bragged about how the slate roof was costing him a fortune but was worth it, even though she had just applied for a personal loan to pay for a faulty transmission. His first two wives had thrown shit-fits to get full access to his accounts. Not Sarah. And this is how he repays her?

He can fix this, he thinks. He wants to fix it.

Put at ease by this revelation ­– this glorious epiphany – Marcus unpacks his suitcase. He hangs the sweater in the closet, even though he’s reevaluated its purpose. He unzips the side compartment of his luggage with the intention of permanently discarding the secret he’s been hiding. He reaches in, but finds his wedding ring instead.

He zips the compartment shut, then unzips it again and plunges his hand deep into every corner, checking to see if the lining was damaged and perhaps the condoms had slipped through. Yet that wouldn’t explain the ring, which he had promised Sarah he’d wear but never has.

Even though chilled air is blasting from the air-conditioning unit, Marcus begins to sweat. At this moment, Sarah is probably imagining his expression when he makes the discovery. Or perhaps she’s thinking he’s already at the point of needing a condom by the time he unzips the secret compartment. How long has she known?

Once again, his mind turns to the pink thong buried in her drawer, and the words she spoke in bed the night before.

I’ve needed something too.

***

Sarah’s car is still parked on the street when Marcus arrives home from Chicago that same evening, even though the trip was scheduled to last a week.

It’s much too late for a walk, yet Sarah isn’t home. He goes through her drawer and finds that the pink thong and matching bra are also missing. Not that he expected them to be there.

Marcus goes outside and moves his Jaguar up the driveway to where it almost touches the gate, then pulls his BMW up flush behind it. Plenty of room for her Toyota now. When she returns, he’ll ask for the keys and offer to move it for her.

In the meantime, he’ll wait inside for her to return. Her walks had become longer the past few months, and she seemed so happy when she came through the door, although he pretended not to notice and never asked why. He won’t ask this time either. Doesn’t have to. He knows that one of the good-looking coworkers lives a few blocks over. She had told him that much, but he hadn’t considered what it could mean.

Marcus rubs his thumb across the platinum band on his ring finger. It doesn’t feel so awful after all. He takes a seat on the couch where he would usually lie down, take custody of the remote, and turn on sports, despite Sarah’s pleas to watch something different every once in a while. He sits this time, instead of sprawling out so far that she’d be forced to settle for one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs.

How could he have been so thoughtless? Never even offering to scoot his legs over and let her curl up on one end. Or, better yet, persuade her to lie down beside him like she used to do, their bodies spooning as they watched a movie.

Marcus recalls even more now as the pitch-blackness of night softens into early dawn. He recalls how they used to tug at each other’s worn-out jogging suits. She’d apologize for her granny panties and he’d insist that, no, he loved those panties, then proceed to pull them down with his teeth. Sometimes, they couldn’t make it through the previews without touching, petting, and fucking, then settling into a loose embrace before falling asleep. Neither of them thinking, for one moment, that there was any other place they’d rather be.

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8 thoughts on “A Roof Over Her Head by Susan Breeden

  1. Mesmerizing in a horrific sort of way. I wish the story was longer. This guy’s background deserves exploring. Well done, Susan.

  2. I absolutely love this, Susan! Horrifying and unbelievable behavior on Marcus’s behalf. I’m so glad he gets his comeuppance. So believably written to the extent that I found myself totally furious with Marcus and wanting to pull his hair out, strand by miserable strand.

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