Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fiction #74: Harlan Yarbrough

One Mistake After Another

Rudy once admitted he preferred slender women, and Ysadore made sure he paid for that transgression.  For twenty-three years, she attacked him and criticized him for failings invented, real, and imagined.  Already tending ever so slightly toward the Rubenesque, she put on ninety pounds to become a caricature of the beautiful woman he had courted.  But Rudy loved her and submitted to her attacks and did his best to make her happy—a difficult task at best, but one that mattered to him.

Through two decades, Rudy wished his wife could feel glad for his love, for his desire.  He wished she could experience their lovemaking with a feeling of “He isn't making love to a tiny waist or a pair of pointy tits—he's making love to me,” but she apparently couldn't.  Instead, Ysadore usually avoided sex altogether, which left Rudy's large appetite frustrated most of the time.  Still, he persisted in doing everything he could to make her life as good as possible, not because he was a saint but because he was in love with Ysadore.

He faced an enormous conflict, when, after twenty-three years together and twenty-two years of marriage, Ysadore met a man who liked “curvy” women and fell in love with him.  Rudy felt devastated to lose whatever love there was from the person he loved most in the world.  At the same time, he wanted Ysadore to be happy, the same thing he’d wanted for twenty-three years.  He wished she could be happy with him, of course, but first and foremost he wanted her to be happy, to live the life she wanted.  Keeping his focus on that wish wasn't easy, but he worked hard at it.

Fred seemed like a decent sort, nothing special (except to Ysadore), maybe not as intelligent as Rudy or Ysadore, but a nice guy who might love her and care for her.  Rudy wanted to accept that, and he didn't dislike Fred—Rudy wasn't sure whether that made the situation easier or more difficult—so, although aching, he did his best to support Ysadore in her exploration and development of her new relationship.  She had the decency to feel guilty about putting Rudy through so much pain, but Rudy didn’t want Ysadore to feel guilty: he wanted her to be happy.  For his part, Fred seemed to sort of go along with whatever Ysadore wanted.

Mei Lin came from Hong Kong and taught biology at the university in the city.  When Rudy met her, he wasn't swept off his feet—he was still in love with Ysadore—but he was impressed.  Mei Lin wanted Rudy and didn't hesitate to say so, whenever they were out of earshot of Ysadore.  Rudy appreciated Mei Lin's attention, as well as her beauty and her intellect, but didn't encourage her—until the week Ysadore told him about Fred.  Even then, Rudy continued to wrestle with an inner conflict because of his continuing love for Ysadore,  but he did enjoy feeling wanted in a way he hadn't in a quarter of a century.

In the course of a difficult five months, Rudy and Ysadore made a relatively peaceful transition to separate lives.  Rudy moved into a too small house with one of their daughters, and Fred moved into the house Rudy and Ysadore once shared.  Rudy entertained Mei Lin most weekends for six months, until he went overseas for work.  As an immigrant himself, Rudy thought he could understand Mei Lin’s situation and outlook better than most and thought seriously about making a life with her.

Nevertheless he worried about their compatibility—or potential lack of it.  They talked about how they could spend more time together, but she felt no desire to leave the city and Rudy knew he could never stand to live in an urban environment.  Ysadore went on with her life almost as if no change had occurred.  Her feelings for Fred seemed to put a glow on everything, at least at first.

Her life seemed almost identical to the life she and Rudy once shared.  She continued to enjoy her many animals, the garden, and the orchard she and Rudy had planted.  Once their initial passion subsided, sex became an afterthought every three or four weeks.  Her younger daughter, Lily, continued her successful high school career and mostly got along OK with her mom and stepdad.  Lily didn't much like Fred but obeyed half of her father's injunction to tolerate and respect her mom's new partner.

The months Rudy spent overseas didn't do much for his emotional state—he continued to ache for his lost love—but they left him in a much better financial position.  He faced the pleasant dilemma of whether to add on to the house he and his elder daughter, Rosie, again occupied or to buy something else in the area.  He chose the latter option, which didn't effect much change in his life and made none at all to the pain lingering in his heart.  Mei Lin resumed visiting but with less intensity and less frequency than before Rudy's overseas trip.  Between those visits he enjoyed a couple of dalliances with female friends who expressed an interest once they learned he was single.  He still loved Ysadore but recognized after two years that he was better off out of that relationship.

One late Autumn evening nearly three years after Ysadore had moved Fred in with her, Rudy's 'phone rang.  He picked up the handset and heard her voice saying, “Rudy, do you think you could come over and fix the pump?”

“Why doesn't Fred fix it?”

“He can't do that.”

“He prob'ly could.  It isn't that hard.”

“Fred isn’t handy like you.  You know that.”

“Sure, but, really, it would be easy, even for him.”

“Trust me: he couldn't do it.”

“OK, then.  Can you manage until tomorrow, so I can do it in the daylight?  Do you have water on hand?”

“Some.  Yeah, tomorrow would be great.”

“Do you know what's wrong?”


“OK.  Is that old blue pump still there—in case I need to install it as a temporary fix?”

“Yeah, I think so.  I'm pretty sure it's in the garage.  I'll look.”

“Good.  If you need more water tonight, you can get all you want out of the tap down the hill from the hen house.  It's below the tank, so you don't need the pump.  You can't take a shower or that sort of thing, but that'll be OK overnight, won't it?”

“Yes, Rudy, that'll be fine.”

“OK, good.  I'll see you tomorrow then, probably late morning or early afternoon.”

“OK.  Thank you.”

The next day, Rudy fixed the old water system, as he did for two decades before Ysadore met Fred.  He found the problem wasn't the pump but a severely clogged filter, cheaper and easier to fix, which he gave a thorough back-flushing at the tap below the henhouse.  He showed both Ysadore and Fred the old filter and how to install it and told them to pick up a new one next time they were in town. 

The next day, Ysadore 'phoned Rudy again.

“I just wanted to thank you for fixing the water,” she said, then added, “and to tell you how nice it was to have you here.  I've missed having you around the place.”

“You're welcome, of course.  You know me: I'm always glad to help.”

Another month passed before Ysadore 'phoned again with another request for help.  This time, Rudy drove over and fixed a broken rain gutter.  Fortunately, he left plenty of spare lengths of gutter and fittings, when he moved out, and noone had moved them.  He even found the glue he'd left behind, so fixing the problem took almost no time.  As Rudy stood by the door of his pickup ready to leave, Ysadore made as if to hug him, but he slipped into the driver's seat with as much subtlety and tact as he could.

The following day, Ysadore's 'phone call didn't surprise Rudy.  She thanked him again for his help and again told him she missed his company.  “I miss you, too,” he said, truthfully, “but you have Fred after all.”

“Yeah.  I don't know how much longer that'll be.  I'd rather have you.”

“Awww, that's sweet,” Rudy said, “but I'm still me, and you're still you.”

“We did pretty well the first time,” Ysadore replied.  “We lasted twenty-three years.  We can be really good together.  Wouldn't you like that?”

“I guess that's something we can think about,” Rudy answered and extracted himself from the conversation as quickly and tactfully as he could.


Graduated as a mathematician, Harlan Yarbrough has been a full-time professional entertainer most of his life, including a stint as a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry. Repeated attempts to escape the entertainment industry have brought work as librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and city planner among other occupations. Harlan lives in New Zealand but returns to the US to perform.

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