Cold Comfort

The light in the room was receding.

Jimmy sat on the old green recliner in the unlit living room. He hadn’t half noticed the lack of light or the sounds of the busy street three stories below the apartment. He was deep in thought, deep in regret. This might be the very last time that he would be in this apartment; the place that he and Marie had moved into after their first divorce, when they realized that they needed to be with each other. This was the place where they hoped they could rebuild their life together.

But it hadn’t worked out – again.

He and Marie had been married for five years when they had gotten the first divorce. It had been a hell of a time for Jimmy. She had managed to get the shark of all sharks for her lawyer, and Jimmy had spent months scrambling for enough money to pay for all of her demands.

He still didn’t understand why Marie had made the divorce so hard on him. He had never put up a fight at any time throughout their married life. He had always gone along with whatever she wanted.

Well, he tried.

But his job meant long hours and irregular schedules. Marie knew that when they got married. She knew that he worked for the government in acquisitions – she didn’t know what that meant and she didn’t care. Thirty percent of their income came from Jimmy’s working independently for agents on his own time. Yet, Marie started to resent all the hours he was away from her. She started to complain that he was never home, but when he took time off to spend with her, she complained that the money was too tight and that he never took her anywhere decent.

Jimmy had tried to make her happy, but one day Marie stood in front of him and declared that the marriage was over. He’d never seen it coming. After the lawyers had milked him for every last cent, the divorce had finally gone through.

Three months later, with nothing in his new dump of an apartment to eat, he had gone to get supper in the neighborhood diner where he and Marie used to go all the time. When he walked in, he looked toward the booth that he and Marie had thought of as theirs. He had been disappointed to see it was occupied – he could see the top of someone’s head over the high back of the booth. So he sat down in the booth next to it.

Sitting there quietly, he could hear the sound of gentle weeping. Before he knew what he was doing, he had climbed up on the seat to peek over the back of the booth. The second he looked at the woman crying there he knew why he had recognized the sound. It was Marie weeping. In their booth.

Jimmy knew that, for all his life, he would remember the moment Marie looked up at him, her big brown eyes red from crying. When she noticed him, her face registered amazement that he was there, and then her expression turned into a look of pure, beatific joy.

It was the sweetest moment in his life.

Marie stood up then and embraced Jimmy, telling him that she missed him more than she could say. Three weeks later, they had found a new apartment and had married again, in a civil ceremony at City Hall.

In a bar the night before the second wedding, Robert McCall, his old Company friend and occasional independent employer, had patted Jimmy on the back and, laughing heartily, declared that Jimmy was a braver man than he was. He had bought the bar two rounds of drinks, toasting to Jimmy’s happiness, calling out that Jimmy needed all the best wishes that everyone could contribute.

McCall was a good friend and now, a year later, Jimmy was waiting for Robert to pick him up from what was soon to be his ex-apartment

He sat in the growing darkness in his favorite chair, which he was going to leave with Marie. He didn’t have a place to move to and there wasn’t any money to pay for storage. Anyway, Jimmy had no stomach to fight over possession of anything with Marie this time, so he wouldn’t be seeing any of his furniture again.

It was only a month ago that Marie had faced Jimmy and told him that it wasn’t working, that they were too alike and that the second marriage had all the problems of the first. Jimmy had been stunned, he thought they were doing OK. Marie was always a little moody and Jimmy made sure not to make waves. He had kept quiet, as usual, doing what he was asked to do around the house and working as much as he could for the Company. He hadn’t seen the second breakup coming at all

He still didn’t understanding how he had failed Marie and his marriage once again. He felt like a stupid two-time loser.

Maybe if he still had his hair it wouldn’t have happened?

He glanced at his watch. It was early. He was going to stay with Robert for a while until he could find a new place. Robert was scheduled to pick him and the last of his things at up five, an hour before Marie was due home from her job, but Jimmy had finished packing his few possessions up quickly.

Suddenly he remembered that there was beer in the fridge. Marie didn’t like beer and Jimmy thought that a few cans would go down good right then, to celebrate yet another bad milestone in his life. Wearily, he lifted his thin frame out of the chair and he slumped into the kitchen.

He had switched on the overhead florescent light and was already sucking at an opened beer can when his eyes happened to settle on the refrigerator door.

Marie had the habit of decorating the refrigerator door with an assortment of cute magnets: apples, kissing elves, brightly colored letters and numbers. He had never really looked at it though. The magnets held up assorted notes and receipts and pictures. As Jimmy stood in front of the refrigerator he studied the photographs with growing interest.

There was a picture from their second wedding. Another just-married couple had taken it in front of City Hall and mailed the photograph to them three days later. When the picture came in the mail, Marie had cried with happiness. A note had been included from the other newlyweds, saying that it was a blessing to sharing their wedding day with another couple who looked so much in love.

Jimmy felt tears welling up as he stood there remembering. How did things go so wrong again? He sniffed, took another deep drink from the beer and concentrated on looking at the refrigerator door.

There was a picture of Marie from last summer and another picture of Jimmy, where he was laughing at something someone had said. It had been taken at Marie’s sister’s twelfth anniversary barbecue. Jimmy managed a smile. That had been a great day.

He recognized other photos from assorted family celebrations. There was Marie’s brother Tony, the cop, at Christmas. There was a picture of Marie’s sister, Emily with her new short, short haircut and there was yet another picture of Marie and Jimmy with their arms around each other looking happy.

Jimmy remembered when that picture had been taken. He had felt real good, surrounded by family, food and friends. He shook his head and finished the beer. That happiness was all gone now; he didn’t feel one trace of it left.

He grabbed a paper towel, wiped tears off his face and blew his nose loudly. He didn’t want Robert know that he had been crying. His friend wouldn’t make anything of it, but Jimmy thought he wouldn’t be able to stand it if Robert knew that he had cried that day. He opened the fridge, popped the tab on another beer and drank, leaning on the kitchen table. He stared at the refrigerator door.

Suddenly, he wished something with all his heart: He wanted his picture to remain on Marie’s refrigerator.

He wasn’t the type of man who thought of taking pictures, but suddenly he would have given anything to know that he would remain up there, magnetized to the door of Marie’s refrigerator. His heart ached to remain there, a happy member of Marie’s family. Forever.

In a way he knew it was dumb. Why should he care? It was just some pictures, but still…

He didn’t have any relatives of his own and most of the guys from the Company were just associates. His close off-work friends were all bachelors and divorcees like him, who didn’t make the effort to collect pictures for any reason, much less to display them on a fridge.

Jimmy knew, in his heart of hearts, that there wasn’t any hope in the world that he would ever be a part of a crowd on anyone’s fridge again. He was a man twice divorced with no children, and he had the sneaking suspicion that there wouldn’t be another marriage or kids in his future

That thought made him sadder than hell, and he stood in the kitchen and, accompanied only by the droning of the refrigerator’s motor – he wept. Why did he always lose the things he hoped for?

Abruptly, Jimmy put the beer can down on the kitchen table and with tears streaming down his face, rushed into the hallway near the bedroom. He opened the linen closet and rummaged thorough the shelves until he found his old, rarely used toolbox. Aware that it was getting late, and that the shadows were spreading through the apartment, he rushed back to the kitchen and began to work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Robert showed up at the apartment, Jimmy met him at the door with a smile on his face and the rest of the beers packed into a paper bag. He told his friend that that would drink them when they got to Robert’s apartment to celebrate the beginning of his new outlook on life.

Beaming, he passed a large duffel bag that contained all his things to Robert before he lifted his own four-foot high burden. Robert looked questioningly at Jimmy, but Jimmy just laughed it off and followed his friend out into the hallway. He was making a new start by taking what he wanted in life.

Marie’s refrigerator door, still festooned with all the pictures, just fit into the elevator with the two men.

And somehow, Jimmy was feeling a lot better.

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