The End of Everything
by David P. Langlinais
Marcie returns early from her long bicycle ride. When she walks into the apartment, she catches Ted in the middle of packing.
“What’s going on?” she says, still winded and finding it difficult to talk. Her jersey is soaked through and her long dark hair, which has come loose from the rubberband holding together her ponytail, is wet, disheveled, and pasted to her face and forehead. It’s August, not even noon yet, and it’s already sweltering outside.
“You’re back early,” Ted says.
“In case you haven’t noticed,” she says, “it’s fucking hot as shit outside. I had to cut the ride short before I passed out.”
Ted doesn’t say anything. He knows it’s hot outside. He can tell by Marcie’s beet-red face that she’s ridden hard all morning and didn’t stop until she reached the door that very moment. There’s no half-assing it with her and he loves that about her as much as he hates it. She rolls the bicycle inside, its wheels ticking, and leans it against the wall. After closing the front door she follows Ted into the bedroom, clopping awkwardly in her cycling cleats.
Ted keeps his back to Marcie, not saying anything. He’d decided to leave without telling her. He’d planned to call her when he got to his parents’ house. That way he could have hung up on her when she started into it. She has always called him a coward about one thing or another and it dawns on him now that she’s probably right.
“You gonna answer me or not?” she says.
“You heard me, what the hell’re you doing?” she says.
Ted quickly searches for something to say, but can only come up with the obvious. “I’m packing,” he says. “What’s it look like I’m doing?”
Ted moves to the bathroom for his toothbrush. He remains at the sink, hoping she will leave the bedroom. He knows she’ll be eager for the jug of grapefruit juice in the fridge the way she always is after a long ride. But he can still hear her breathing heavily just outside the bathroom door. She will wait out there all day if it takes that long for him to exit, and he knows it. Seeing himself in the mirror, he can only shrug before quickly looking away. He avoids Marcie’s eyes as he moves past her on the way to the bed where he drops the wet toothbrush into the nearly empty duffle bag. When he hasn’t said anything more, she does.
“No shit, Ted, I can see you’re packing. I mean what are you doing?” She pulls her right foot back and up to her butt, stretching her quadriceps. After a ten-count, she does the same thing with her other leg, going through her post-workout stretch routine. She does the same thing after jogging.
“I’m going home,” he says, zipping the bag shut. “The hurricane’s moved again and now it’s due south of Vermilion Bay. Looks like it’s heading for Abbeville after all.”
That whole week Ted put off telling Marcie he was going home. Now he braces himself for what he knows is coming.
“You’re kidding?” she says.
“No, I’m not kidding,” he says.
“So how long you been planning this?”
“I wasn’t planning anything?” he says. “I told you, I just heard the hurricane is heading for Vermilion Bay, so I decided to leave right after you got back from your ride.”
Marcie lets out a loud, pronounced huff and then is all at once breathing normally. She’s caught her breath. Ted knows she’s formulating her thoughts as she pulls off the expensive cycling cleats and throws them to the floor beneath the bike. Being serious about cycling, she dresses accordingly. She recently shelled out a good deal of money for the fire engine red Orbea racing bike, which weighs much less than you’d think possible for a bicycle. Ted mounted it once, thinking it would collapse under his bulk, hoping it would. Like Marcie, the bike isn’t as fragile as it looks.
“Why’s it so hard for you to understand that I’d want to go home?” Ted says. “I mean you’ve seen the news, you know there’s a hurricane coming.”
Marcie follows Ted as he moves to the chest-of-drawers, her wet socks leaving moist footprints on the cement floor. He pushes around the clutter on top of the tall dresser, keeping his eyes off of hers. He begins picking up coins, mainly quarters. When he has a handful he puts them in his pocket. There is no cash in his wallet and this will have to do for gas money. He can’t ask Marcie to borrow any. Not right now.
“So what, there’s a hurricane in the gulf,” she says. “What’s that got to do with anything? You said you were going to stay here this weekend. You said we were going to talk, remember? You promised.”
She pulls the tight fitting orange and blue Orbea cycling jersey over her head and throws it wet and heavy to the floor next to the cycling cleats.
“Marsh, you know I’ve been watching the weather all week. It’s not like I just now took an interest in it.” As he says it, Ted feels himself gaining a little leverage. It’s true, he’s been keeping an eye on the storm’s progress. He’s charted it the way he charts all hurricanes, the way he’s been doing since a young boy. The map with the storm’s course plotted out hangs from magnets on the refrigerator. “You act like I’m using the storm as an excuse to go home or something,” he adds, thinking that by saying what he’s actually doing will then make it off limits for her to use against him in the argument.
“But that’s exactly what you’re doing,” she says, in an instant rendering his scheme feeble and ineffective. She stands there, hands on her hips, in just the white athletic bra, the tight orange Lycra cycling shorts and the little socks, waiting for whatever Ted will throw at her next.
He likes when she wears these shorts, the way they shape the form of her toned, chiseled legs and firm behind. Much like the leggings she wears when she jogs. He likes the way the leggings, like these cycling shorts, grip at her crotch and he glances there now to see if he can make out an impression, the slight bulge and cleave that always excites him to his core.
“Well?” she says.
Ted realizes he isn’t listening to her. “I can’t believe you’d say that,” he says. “It’s just like you to not understand that I might feel obligated to go home and help my parents out with this thing.”
Being from New York, Marcie is still a stranger to hurricanes. If this storm does hit the Louisiana coast, it will be the first hurricane since she enrolled in school three years earlier. Ted thinks to explain what all preparing for a hurricane entails. Especially near the coast, in a town like Abbeville. The house on Eleazar Street where he grew up is situated on a bayou, so there’s the real threat of rising water. There will be sand bags to fill. The windows will need to be boarded up. They will have to stock up on batteries and water and kerosene for the lamps. The generators will have to be fueled and readied. And then there’s the long, terrifying wait for the storm to pass, followed by the arduous task of cleaning up after it’s over. But Ted knows it won’t mean anything to Marcie. Not within the context of this argument.
“It probably isn’t even going to hit the state, much less Abbeville, and you know it,” she says. “Hell, the weather people don’t even know where it’s going yet. Nobody does.”
“No, Marsh, you’re wrong. I’ve seen the pattern before and I can tell it’s coming,” he says, knowing as he says it how ridiculous he sounds.
“Ted, sweetie,” Marcie says, as if trying to keep her cool and not erupt into the uncontrollable screaming that is typical of her way of fighting. “You forget that I live here, too, and that I’ve been forced to watch the fucking weather channel non-stop all week because it’s all you’ve had on.” As she speaks her voice climbs, nearing the pitch of that very tone he hates, dreads. When he doesn’t say anything she adds, “I live here, too.”
“What’re you talking about?” he says, knowing what she means.
“You treat me like a stranger,” she says. “You haven’t touched me in months and you know it.”
Ted doesn’t say anything. He acts like he isn’t listening to her the way he does when they fight. That always pisses her off, the way it’s pissing her off now.
“Goddammit, I live here, too!” she repeats, moving in front of Ted so he can’t avoid her, forcing him to look at her. “I just wish you’d acknowledge that once in a while.”
Then their eyes do meet, but only for the instant it takes him to move back toward the closet.
Sure, she lives here, too. But he pays the rent, the utilities, and the phone bill. He buys the groceries. One year earlier, when she needed a place to live after her two roommates graduated, Ted told Marcie she could stay with him. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. They’d only started dating and things were still new and he couldn’t get enough of her.
Granted, the apartment isn’t much. Thin walled and dilapidated, it’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer. Nothing he does can disguise the fact that it had at one time been a two-car garage for the big house out front that is also sectioned off into apartments. The bedroom and the living room look identical in size, each ample enough to hold a large car from the 40s, the decade the house and garage were both built just outside the gates of campus. In the center of the structure, a wall was constructed to give the impression of a spacious two-room apartment. But it’s Ted’s first place alone and he sees no fault in it. Now Marcie is calling it her apartment. She’s telling him she lives there, too, and he has the urge to call her on it. Maybe then they’d finally have the big fight and everything would come to an end.
But that argument would take a long time to draw out. It would drag on for hours, quite possibly into the next day, and would only end when she wore him down and his cowardice had him apologizing and lying by telling her he didn’t mean any of the hurtful things he’d said. He doesn’t want to say he is sorry for anything right now. He doesn’t have time for that.
“Yeah, Marsh, I know you live here, too,” he says, at once hoping she doesn’t detect the sarcasm.
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” he says, taking a pair of rubber knee boots from the closet floor. He moves toward the bag on the bed, unzips it, and drops the boots in before zipping the bag shut again. They aren’t anything he needs, he already has knee boots, hip boots and waders at his parents’ house, but the bag has virtually nothing in it. He wishes he had a smaller bag. It might be more convincing.
“No, really Ted, what are you saying?” she says.
“I didn’t mean anything, Marsh, really.”
“Yeah, right,” she says, clearly disappointed that he didn’t pursue the fight that for a second seemed so imminent.
Ted takes the duffle bag from the bed and moves toward the living room. Marcie follows him. He drops the bag onto the couch where it collapses under its own weight, like a punctured life raft. Standing in the center of the room on the worn circular rug, Ted holds his chin in his hand, as if thinking. He wonders how he will get around Marcie and out the front door. Patting the breast pocket of his shirt, he realizes he’s forgotten his cigarettes on the drafting table back in the bedroom. He decides to leave them, not wanting to relinquish the ground he’s already fought to gain.
Ted thinks about turning on the TV and watching the latest weather report. He envisions the weatherman showing the hurricane on a northerly course, heading right at Vermilion Bay. That would show her. But what if the storm has turned west and is now heading toward Texas? It happened sometimes. He decides not to risk it.
Marcie drops to the sofa in a huff, still red-faced and sweating. She puts her feet on the cushion, both still in the little damp cotton cycling booties. Her legs spread apart, the tight-gripping Lycra now creeps up her just a little. She looks slutty. Marcie rarely sits like a lady, the way girls in the south are taught to sit from an early age. It appalled Ted in the beginning, as it sometimes still does, but only when not arousing something in him the way it is now.
Marcie sits there, quietly waiting. Ted will have to walk past her to get to the front door and he knows she knows it. With his face still in his hand, he pulls his fingertips against the grain of his three-day beard. Now preoccupied with the way Marcie is sitting, Ted looks at her feet before slowly working his way up her smooth, glistening legs. She keeps them clean-shaven to resist the wind when cycling, and not because she’s a girl, as if that alone isn’t reason enough. Now the thought of sex enters his mind, no matter how hard he tries to focus on his resolve to leave.
“You’re such an asshole,” Marcie says, returning her feet to the floor and bringing her knees together. “I knew you’d put it off again. God, I’m so fucking stupid thinking you’d change. Like a fool, I thought you were only going through a phase. Give him a little time, I told myself, and things will blow over.”
She talks in a high, whiny voice, the voice he figures she hears in her head when talking to herself. Marcie shakes her head and Ted feels vaguely what he assumes to be shame.
“He’ll come around,” she continues. “He’ll find himself. But no, nothing’s changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse and I’ve had it.”
Marcie seems close to tears and Ted hopes she won’t start crying. At least not until he leaves. She has a point, though. She has been tolerant. He can’t fault her for impatience and he wonders for the first time if she might actually end it, if he has finally gone too far. Or is it all an act to keep him from leaving? He isn’t sure. He has to be careful.
“Look, I’d better get going,” Ted says, sticking to his plan. “Once the hurricane begins its approach, they’ll close the interstate over the Atchafalaya. Then I’ll never get out of Baton Rouge.”
“You know, you could’ve at least asked me if I wanted to go with you,” she says.
She seems hurt, like she isn’t acting.
“Don’t change the subject, Marsh. You don’t like going home with me. You hate having to go to Mass on Sundays with my parents. You hate that they let the hunting dogs in the house. You think the food’s weird or that it’s too spicy. You think the people are a bunch of coonass idiots because they speak a different kind of French than you.”
“You don’t want me there, Ted. Your family doesn’t either, so why should I want to go?”
“Well, we’re not getting anywhere with this,” he says. “I’m going home without you and that’s that.”
Ted takes the bag and moves toward the door, seeing an opening that he knows can close at any moment. As he passes her he attempts to plant a kiss on her cheek. When she turns her face to avoid his lips, his teeth collide painfully with the top of her head.
“Fuck it then,” Ted says. “Have it your way.”
As he grabs the doorknob Marcie springs from the couch and is shouting at him. “That’s it, Ted, I’m leaving. I’m telling you now, so don’t be surprised to find me gone when you get back.”
“Where have I heard that before?” he says.
“I mean it, Ted.”
“Okay, bye then,” he says and he quickly shuts the door behind him before Marcie can exit the house.
Outside, Ted is immediately assaulted by the thick, clammy heat. He quickly moves toward his pickup, the whole time expecting Marcie to storm out of the house screaming, making a scene. But the door remains closed. As he pulls the truck onto the street he feels triumphant. But there’s something else and he knows it. Adjusting the rearview mirror, he catches a glimpse of himself before quickly looking away.
David P. Langlinais’ work has appeared in Deep South Magazine (twice), South Dakota Review, Los Angeles Review, Prick of the Spindle, Big Muddy, The MacGuffin, Raleigh Review and others. His story collection “Duck Thief and Other Stories” (UL-Lafayette Press) was 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award’s honorable mention, and his second collection “What Happened to All the Dogs? (also by UL-Lafayette Press) is due out in September. He’s from Abbeville, Louisiana, but currently lives in Dallas with his wife and daughter where he works as a freelance copywriter.