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Excerpt: Sleeping With Ward Cleaver

Excerpt: Sleeping With Ward Cleaver

Women's Fiction

“So guess who’s going to Miami with you next week? Moi! I can help you celebrate your forty-fourth birthday!”

Jack stares at me like I just told him I joined a cult.

“Excuse me?”

“Me! I’m going to Miami! Your mom offered to come spend the weekend with the kids! Isn’t that great?”

Jack knits his brows in a Ward-ly way. He doesn’t look so much delighted as constipated.

“Christ, Claire. Don’t you think you could ask me before you go making some grandiose plan to join me on a business trip?”

I look at him with dispassionate fury.

“Tell me something, Jack. Did you sharpen that needle of yours before you plunged it into my happy balloon? Or would that somehow indicate that you actually planned to be an insensitive oaf, rather than it merely being an unintentional act of deeply-entrenched ignorance?

“Because I’d like to believe that you’re not actually a premeditated asshole, only one by happenstance.”

I storm out of the room, the kids standing there aghast, and me furious that once again, Jack has reinforced my fears that he’s become an incurable prick. Jack, however, is hot on my tail.

“Look, Claire, perhaps you misinterpreted what I meant,” he says. I can tell by his tone of voice that he’s buffering his reaction in the hopes of not killing his chances for his upcoming Sunday night fuck.

“Oh, noooooooooooooo,” I snear. “No, way, fella. The only thing I misinterpreted is what kind of man you would one day become.”

“Look, Claire, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just wish you had consulted with me first, as I have a very full schedule for this trip, and won’t have a moment for you.”

“Ha,” I smirk. “Not that you have a moment for me anyhow, Ward.”

“Excuse me? Who’s Ward?”

“No one. No one. Just never mind. You know what? I don’t want to go with you anyhow. I’m just going to go somewhere on my own. I’m gonna take a weekend and go away for me. Just Claire. It’ll be a Claire-filled getaway. I’m gonna go and have fun and maybe get my nails done, and maybe sit there and drink an entire bottle of champagne by the pool, and you can just go on to your little Miami beach thing, and do whatever you architects do when you go to the beach–I don’t know, build sand castles? Whoo-hoo! Go to town, buster. Cause I’m gonna paint the town red. Blood-fucking red.”

Jack looks combustible all of a sudden. I don’t think my little tirade appealed so much.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Claire, I really don’t,” he snarls. “You act as if you are living some horrible existence here, like you’re somehow suffering or something. Well, I’m sorry if that’s what you think. But you have a loving husband, five wonderful children, and a fantastic home. What more do you want, Claire?”

Tears are beginning to descend. How can I explain anything to him without offending him deeply, and without making him realize how much I’ve grown to abhor the man he’s become.

“You just don’t get it, Jack. You just don’t get it.”

~~~

The rest of the weekend is played out on two levels.

Level one: we aren’t speaking to each other, and I’d sooner have unscheduled bowel irrigation than have contact–aural, oral, physical, or otherwise–with Jack.

Level two: we attend a cocktail party and have to pretend that we’re the happy, loving, simpatico couple that defines us to our mutual friends.

Under normal circumstances, the party, hosted by the founder of Jack’s firm at his sprawling contemporary home along the Potomac River, would be at least interesting. Elegantly-attired women in uber-overpriced couture clothing. The elite in the art and architecture community. Top shelf drinks and premier catered food.

But circumstances aren’t normal, and although I’m stuck at Jack’s side for lack of someone else’s side to which I could adhere, I am forced to pretend I’m a perfectly happy little pig in shit with the man.

“Glass of wine?” He asks without looking at me.

“Please.”

It’s nearly as hard to force the niceties out of my mouth as it was expelling each of my five children from the birth canal. Something, I might add, that I did all on my own, just like my little weekend getaway will be. On my own. Without Ward. Wardless.

I realize how similar Ward is to a warden. In my confining little marriage, Jack has become my jailer, and now I’ve got the key for a weekend leave. I think about that, and finally get it. I’m not sad that I won’t have a weekend away with Jack so much as sad that he rejected the notion without so much as a perfunctory consideration to my attending.

Hmmm. I wonder if he has more planned on the agenda than he’s let on.

“–Julia, I’d like you to meet my wife, Claire.”

I’m interrupted from my thoughts by Jack, whose chest has fluffed up like our parrot RePete when his feathers are ruffled. All of a sudden Jack’s not looking as much like Ward Cleaver as he is a rutting male mountain goat on one of those science class filmstrips about mating in the animal kingdom.

“Claire, this is my new colleague, Julia.”

Jack beams at Julia. I pointedly note to myself that there’s no beaming directed my way.

Julia has naturally blonde hair and heart-shaped lips. Who the fuck has naturally blonde hair after the age of twelve? And heart-shaped lips? I thought those were only found on cartoon drawings of buxom women.

My lips are the flat line of a heart monitor still hooked up to a dead patient.

“Julia. Pleased to meet you.”

Julia grabs my hand in a pandering I’ll-pretend-I’m-one-of-you-housewives wimpy handshakes, which I absolutely detest. I deliberately squeeze too hard.

“Claire, so wonderful to finally meet you!” she says with an energetic enthusiasm reserved only for the ummarried and childless in the world. She’s a human exclamation point. Fucking bitch.

“Finally?” I wonder how long Julia’s wanted to finally meet me. Or is it that she wants to finally fuck my husband.

Jack interrupts. “Yes, Julia joined the firm a few months ago, and I’ve told her all about you.”

“I bet you have.”

Jack throws me a caustic look that could strip paint.

“So, Julia, what brings you to Kelley, Kelley, Goodman and Doolittle?”

“I finished up school a few years ago, but took some time off to travel and see the world. Jack hired me on a few months ago, which was so sweet of him, considering I hadn’t had my hands in the trade for a while.”

I wonder where else her hands might have been.

“Yes. That’s just like Jack, so thoughtful and all,” I say without a hint of warmth. “Always cutting other people slack.” I mentally grind my stiletto heel into his groin.

Julia just smiles in agreement. I decide to chum my hook for a little fishing expedition.

“So, Julia, I bet you’re looking forward to that trip to Miami next week.”

“Oh, my God! Am I! I even bought a new little bikini! I can’t wait!”

I wonder if she’s lined up the Brazilian wax just for the occasion. I glare subliminally at Jack as I smile politely at Julia.

“Why, I’m surprised you’ll even have a chance to get to the beach, what with that brimming schedule you’ll have.”

I’m enjoying watching Jack begin to squirm before me. That glowing candle he was a few proud moments ago is turning into a puddle of melted wax, snuffed out by yours truly.

“Gosh, I was under the impression that this was one of those perk getaway weekends, to make up for all the late hours we put in!” Julia twinkles a supernova look at Jack. “I was told we only had a meeting or two and some nice dinners out.”

I arch an accusatory brow toward Jack.

“The partners have a far more trying schedule lined up,” he interjects.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be trying a lot with your schedule.”

Julia is not reading the subtext of our conversation, not that I’d care if she could.

“Don’t worry, Jack will be working far more than I will,” she perks.

“Yes. Knowing my Jack, he will be working it. If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to refresh my drink.”

A waiter steps up to us with a tray filled with wine and champagne, but I scurry past him.

So Jack is committed to a real working weekend, is he?

Maybe he needs someone to supervise his work while he’s in Miami. Maybe that’s exactly what old Jack-o needs.