THE TURNING POINT by Maggie Nerz Iribarne

In that dreary mid-March, mid-semester time, Larry found it hard to get up. Long after his wife, Cheryl, left the house for her student sewing circle and after his own alarm sounded, he lay awake. He listened to a dragging sound, something heavy and dull, scratching against outside pavement. Perhaps it was a dead body in a garbage can, he speculated, hauling his own load from a rumpled bed. While doing so, he accidentally kicked a plastic water bottle, of which there were many spread around the room, under the dresser.


The air had its familiar humidity from Cheryl’s many plants hanging from the ceiling, lining the book shelves and dressers. Their tentacles reached out for him, tickling his neck as he made his way to the bathroom. Stopping at the window to investigate the origin of the dragging sound, he caught the edge of movement, round and bright, a little dumpling of light. This would require his glasses, he thought, hastening to find and secure them to his face. Yes, upon magnified observation he found a plump woman with honey-colored hair wearing orange medical scrubs standing in the sunshine of the neighboring driveway. He remembered the old Sibleys next door had become very frail. This must be their nurse, Larry concluded.


The cats were everywhere, of course, all black with yellow eyes. Cheryl loved cats and lots of them, and Larry didn’t, so she obtained multitudes of matching ones, so he’d never know how many there actually were in total. He smirked at the one sitting elegantly on the stair post, licking its chops, blinking its golden pool eyes, as he continued on to the empty kitchen, whose counter and sink were cluttered with dirtied plates, glasses, and pots. It was a sight that always provoked a cringe. Larry sat alone at the kitchen table, sipped his coffee, snapped his paper, focused on the “daily atrocities,” as he referred to current events. He noted the date, March 15th, The Ides of March. “Indeed,” he muttered, scanning the page.


Back upstairs, Larry stood naked in his bedroom, poised to enter the bathroom for his shower, gazing out the window to catch one more glimpse of honey hair. He’d only cheated that one time, he recalled, with Greta the grad student, whose alliterative sound still pleased him to say, but retrospectively, wasn’t worth it. Sex with Cheryl, at least originally, had been much better, all love, no shame. With Greta, even 17 years ago, every sag, bulge, and wrinkle made him want to run for cover. When he finally blurted the truth, confessing the short affair, Cheryl pronounced, “Kitchen is closed. Forever.” And she’d stuck to that promise.


Coincidentally, this happened to be 1998, the year of the first Harry Potter book. After Cheryl took in the fact that her marriage had been desecrated, she went into her study, teary-eyed and angry, grasping that first weighty tome and seemed to come out five minutes later a totally different person. She admired best the Hogwarts professor Pomona Sprout and began studying herbology with alacrity. Soon after, she pitched a herbology course at Tamsen College, where she and Larry both taught biology. Her proposal accepted, it soon became and still remained the college’s number one course, with a waiting list every semester, taken by students of every major across campus. So, due to his infidelity, Larry’s wife became a star and he remained a doughty professor of standard biology. He was well aware many students called him Dr. Blithers, a portmanteau for bland and Smithers, much to Larry’s regret.


Cheryl’s car, parked as usual in Larry’s spot, a few feet closer to the door of their building than her assigned place, gleamed red in the bright mid-morning sunshine. As was his custom, he swallowed the annoyance with a clench of the steering wheel of his wasted grey Volvo wagon and a purse of his lips. Passing Cheryl’s open classroom door, he took a quick peek to regard for a moment her long purple muumuu and combat boots as she snipped sprigs of plants for her various concoctions. Her grad student groupies, whom Larry silently referred to as Bobby and Betsy Kissup, ran around doing god-knows-what at their revered professor’s bidding. Larry had stopped saying good morning about five years ago, so he simply slipped into his own office, which connected to his classroom and lab. One of the Kissups instantly appeared and handed him a note with Cheryl’s elaborate handwriting looped with its familiar shapes. Book club tonight. Stay away until 9 PM. Larry sighed, folded it sharply, cutting his finger as he did so.


It was the cut finger, something so small, that did it. As he walked to the mens’ room, sucking the blood out, he decided. He would ask that honey-haired nurse or whatever she was next door if she would like to have dinner that night, that very night, while Cheryl hosted book club. He would also ask Cheryl for a divorce, by note, the very next day. He didn’t care if the honey-haired woman was married. He didn’t care if she was stupid. He didn’t care where she lived. He wanted to strip down with her, put his hands on her plump hips, bury his face in that honey hair. He could smell its floral scent already. He wanted to nuzzle and fondle her, to make her toast with lots of butter and jam every morning. He wanted to leave Cheryl’s endless mess, multiplying cats, and terse messages in the dust of his past and make love to that woman in orange scrubs.


***


This story first appeared here.

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