Have a Good Life

Have a Good Life

They met in a bar and went back to her place. Her house was meticulously clean, a  contrast to the messy, decrepit old house he shared with two friends from college.

In bed, she was contemplating whether he should stay the night. They were both drunk and high on cocaine, though cocaine wasn’t something he normally used. She was more familiar with it.

She stared up at the darkened ceiling and said, I’d prefer it if you’d fought in a war or something like that. You might seem romantic and sad to me then.

Well, I’m sort of sad, and I could tell you I fought in a war as I make up stories.

Okay, she sighed. Was it Vietnam?

The years didn’t add up as he would have had to be about fifteen when he served.

No, not Vietnam. I fought at the Alamo.

She laughed. He liked her laugh, with its notes of pleasure and surprise. Surprised that he had made her laugh, surprised that she found herself laughing. The laugh sounded like it came from someone who has been pulled from a lonely place.

Everyone knows there were no survivors, she said, but she wanted to hear more.

I hid underground. I breathed through a reed. I was worried someone would pull the reed out of the ground.

That’s stupid, she said. But it’s stupid in an almost funny way, the way a bad movie can be funny. You can stay the night, I guess.

She was ten years older. In the night, she told him she really had loved a man who’d fought in Vietnam. He’d broken her heart by dying there. He sensed that wherever this was heading, if it was heading anywhere, he’d be only a poor substitute for the one she’d loved.

But the next day she wanted him to stay, and then the next day, and then for months. She worked as a secretary. It was winter and she’d go off to work in the morning, throwing a scarf over her shoulder, blowing him a kiss. Her age made her seem exotic. He couldn’t wait to see her again at night. He was an attendant at a mental hospital, thinking of going to graduate school. His two friends and roommates at the decrepit old house also worked at the hospital. At one time they’d practiced secluding one another by throwing each other into the closet. When he dropped by to pick up some clothes, they looked sadly at him as if they were being left behind. But he was happy to spend most of his time with her. He loved the quiet of her house, its neatness.  He made up silly stories and got her to laugh. There were days she doted over him, even said she loved him, and there were days she looked at him like he was a stranger.

In the first weeks, they hardly drank or used drugs, but after a couple of months, she started coming home later from work, going to bars with friends. When she got home, she’d lock herself in the bathroom with a bottle of wine and lines of cocaine. He stood outside the door, his head pressed to the wood, her silence frightening him, worried she might overdose.

One evening she came through the front door, and as he tried to embrace her, she stepped back, looked coldly at him, and told him it was time for him to pack and go. You should feel good about it, she said. I’d only make you miserable.

I suppose I should feel good about it, he said, his voice choking up.

Don’t be that way. I never promised you anything.

I love you, he said.

Well, I don’t love you. I don’t feel anything, really.

I guess I needed to hear that.

Now you heard it.

She came out on the lawn as he carried his clothes to his car. Have a good life, she said. She bent, picked up something from the yard, and turned back toward the house.

He drove away, to the house he shared with his two friends. They welcomed him back, but they looked at him oddly, as if he had gone through something they didn’t understand.

The line, the last line she’d said to him, lingered with him over the years. Have a good life. An ironic line, the way she’d said it.  A cruel line, really. Or had she given him a kind of blessing even if she hadn’t intended to? He supposed he’d said the same or worse, or done the same or worse, to others. He regretted that now. He wondered if she ever thought of him. Probably not. But he’d like to tell her that it had been good, good enough, his life. Better for her absence, too, so maybe it really had been a kind of blessing. He always wondered what she’d picked up from the yard.



About the Author

Robert Garner McBrearty is the author of five books of fiction, most recently WHEN I CAN'T SLEEP, a collection of flash fiction (Matter Press). His stories have been widely published including in the Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, Narrative, New England Review, New Flash Fiction Review and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. He's received a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award and fellowships from MacDowell and the Fine Arts Work Center. 


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash