Friday, April 1, 2011

The Simple Truth

Harry is a man with a round, shiny face.

He sits across from a co-worker, having morning coffee. He wears a blue tie and a white shirt. "Jim," he says, smoothing his blue tie, his words heavy with meaning and trailing down in chromatic condescension, "Life is simple. Simple. Things are black and white, and everyone complicates everything . . ."

Meanwhile, Harry's wife walks the kids to school. Again, she sees that dad with the two little girls; the handsome father with the dark hair. She sees him every day. Every day, he talks to her and looks her in the eye and they walk back out to the street together, the sound of the children fading away behind them. Every day, they stand on the corner for a half hour, talking. Talking. Every day she wonders what is would be like to have a husband who looks her in the eye. Who talks to her. All day, cleaning or working in the kitchen, she thinks of this man until the slamming of her husband's car door makes her heart sink.

Harry sits at lunch. "Too much coddling these days," he says. "Kids can't do the work, they can't do the work. You are stupid or you're smart. I'm tired of all of this crap. Used to be if you failed, they made you work harder. Now they get all kinds of help in school. It's making us all weak as a society. It's simple: you work hard, you succeed; you're lazy you fail. You're either a winner or you are not, I say."

In school, Harry's little boy, Harry Jr., stares at three columns of math problems. There are butterflies in his stomach. He can't keep the numbers straight in his head or in his vision. Tears come to his eyes. The numbers just float into each other. Left to right or right to left? He can't remember. He tries both ways. He erases until the paper is thin. The other kids are nearly done, but he is on the first problem. The classroom teacher makes a note: "Call Special Ed. director. Harry."

By the coffee pot, later in the day, Harry is pontificating (unaware of what his wife is doing at home). "People are either good or bad. Period. I'm tired of all of these considerations. You commit a crime, you get punished. No excuses. If you're a good person, you don't break the law."

Elsewhere, a man with a round, shiny face -- Harry's brother -- sweating, goes into a file he shouldn't be in and transfers money he shouldn't transfer. He can't lose his home. He just can't. Kids have to go to college. He can't. No one will know.

On the way home, Harry drives past a homeless man. A no good, lazy bum. "Get a job," Harry says to himself driving by, shaking his great, red-faced, shiny head.

On the pavement, the "bum" lies still. He is wishing for death. She was neglected while he worked and worked and worked. He knows that. Then, their daughter died. Everything fell apart. He didn't even know he had an addictive personality, but now, his skin crawls with a thousand ants. He needs more, but there is no more. Only months ago, he had a good job with a good company. "Let me die," he thinks. "Please . . . " The stomach pains are unbearable. When he had finished graduate school, things looked so bright . . .

As the door slams in the driveway, Harry's wife's heart does not sink. Not today. It's too full of warmth to sink. She can still smell the other dark-haired man's cologne on her cheek. Smiling, she reaches for the soap and washes her face. She pauses with fear, then thinks, No. He will never notice. And if he does, it won't matter.

Little Harry, who got another "F," looks up in fear as his father walks in. "I'm a failure," he says to himself, and runs up to his room.

Harry is on the phone as he walks in the front door. "Joe, why do you have to make things so damned complicated. It's simple. You get it or you don't. You work hard, you live an honest life, and things fall into place. Stop over-thinking things."

Harry is grinning a knowing grin.

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