Steve Bennett was born in Boston and has remained literary ever since, even after moving to Southern California. He has had many
short stories, light verse and humorous articles published. He lives with his wife and children in Julian, California.
There are hints when a marriage is falling apart.
Your wife starts working out at the gym. You find your clothes in a pile on the front lawn on fire. You find another guy in your
bed. Little hints.
I sat across the table staring at her. Julie was looking away. Between us was a printout of computer activity--hers--a dozen or
more emails sent from her to an address. Studnailz10p@...
Studnailz? Either she had a sudden interest in home improvement or I was being played for the biggest chump in the world.
She looked at me for the first time in a long time. "Well what?"
I motioned my hand toward the pile.
"What do you want me to say?" she said.
The response of no-response, but it stopped me cold. What did I want her to say? "I love you. I've never loved anyone else.
You're the only one who could make me happy." She had said those words once, long ago. None of them, now disarranged and
scattered upon another, would satisfy. Not after so many years had been so casually thrown away.
"I don't know," I answered lamely. "All I know is this-- " I motioned to the papers, "-- won't happen. Ever. Not ever."
"Yes, really." I pushed away from the table unconvinced.
You could say it was my fault, and if you're a woman you most certainly would.
I'd spent the past two years building a business and my efforts were finally beginning to pay off. Clients and referrals take time,
and consulting is too ethereal to be felt; the value is seen long after the checks are cashed and the consulteur has moved on.
Psychics get a better rap, and maybe rightly so. 'Those who can, do; those who can't... ' and then insert your own job. Mine
was consulting... computer software, of all things, as unromantic as it gets. So for two years Julie and I began passing in the
hall, and I was the guy came in late and woke up early. The lump in the bed, the shadow in the dark. And we started
communicating by email.
That's when I found Studnailz. An accidental forward that ended my reality. Like a bad country and western song: Into my
Inbox and Out of My Heart.
So I confronted her and we had our two-minute pre-divorce meeting.
"What's this about?"
Pause. "When we were adding on to the house... "
"... can't be serious... "
"... working on a hot day... "
"I paid a guy to do this?"
"... invited him in after for a drink... "
"... while he was supposed to be... "
"One thing led to another... "
"... can't be serious... "
"I didn't mean it to happen."
"... half your age... "
"You're never around."
"... can't be serious... "
"What do you want me so say?"
So there it was and there it sat. My wife infatuated like a 12-year-old girl, with a
construction worker. Studnailz. A construction worker! What could he ever consult on? Nailing one's wife, I supposed. So there
it sat and steamed.
Until the next day. We met in the hallway.
"So what do we do now?" she asked.
"That's up to you." My jaw was set.
"After nine years, over some kid."
She smiled. "He's no kid."
"You've known him... how long? Two months?"
"Sometimes that's all you need."
"This is the same long-haired idiot I caught smoking pot on the job."
"He's not an idiot."
"One of you is."
"There's nothing you can do."
I looked her in the eyes so there would be no mistake. "No."
"What do you mean, no?"
"No divorce. No nothing."
"You don't decide for me. I've had enough of that."
"Listen, Jules. This will not happen."
"You don't decide for me," she said again.
I paused. "Maybe I do."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well," she said, "I won't be around this weekend. We're going to Mexico."
"Quickie divorce, quickie marriage?"
"This won't happen," I said. "I'll make sure of it."
"Is that a threat?"
"It is what it is. Just remember what I said."
She smirked. "I wouldn't go up against Ron," she said. "He's a little bigger than you. Everywhere."
She turned before I could slap the smile from her face.
"What are you going to do?" It was a question asked by my best friend, Jack, a co-worker at my last real job, probably the only
reason he was a friend at all. Convenience and time, breaks and lunches, corners and cubicles. But he knew the score. We went
to a bar after work, drinking beers for counsel.
"I don't know."
"Not much you can do. You could fire him."
"Too late. I should have when I finally ran a check on him and found prior arrests for drugs and theft. Now the sunroom's
finished. Some add-on that turned out to be."
"More like an add-in."
My look stopped his smirk.
"There's nothing else you could do," he said. "Legally, that is."
"I'm open for options."
He shook his head while taking a drink, a respectable trick. "This guy's not worth it."
"I'm not thinking about him."
"Women," he said, and I took a gulp in agreement. "Once they get something in their heads there's not much you can do but
wait and hope their brains come back."
"I can't take that chance."
I looked around for no reason, then said: "I can't afford a divorce. My business is just starting to take off. I didn't work this
hard to have her run off with some guy and half my money. Besides, for her to piss off nine years like it's nothing... I can't let
"You want my advice? Wait it out. It's just a phase."
I rubbed my hands down my face. "I'm tired."
"You need rest. So rest. Take a vacation. Just don't do anything stupid."
Vacation. "Don't worry." I took a sip and thought of Mexico.
Rosarita is a place of contrasts: dirt and mud. Actually, Julie and I had spent some good times there. It's cheap, full of life, and
has pockets of class between the tacky pottery and dirty-faced children selling nickel Chicklets for a quarter. Our old getaway
locale had been the Rosarita Beach Hotel, a place that looked new and clean and had good margaritas. I assumed that's where
she would be headed. I talked Jack into coming with me and we checked in under assumed names for no good reason. Down in
Mexico one name's as good as another, and it wasn't as if I was trying to hide my presence. I was there to make sure Julie and
Ron saw me, and saw me plenty, but it set the mood.
Jack had bitched all the way down; about the roads, the heat, the air quality. I questioned my choice of companions, but I
wanted company, even irritating company. And I wanted a witness. But at what price?
"God, this place is a dump," he said as I locked the hotel door behind me and we started down the hall. "Do they always keep it
so dusty here? I can't believe the way these people drive. Or should I say, don't drive? I thought you said this was going to be
cheap? I'd never pay that much for a room anywhere, anyway, ever!"
"You're not paying," I reminded him as the elevator doors opened. Two beautiful, young, bronze, bikini-clad Mexican girls stood
wet and gleaming as our mouths dropped and we stumbled into each other getting out of the way. Jack leered as they went out.
"If you two were salsa and I were a chip, how I would love to take a dip," he said, and laughed like an idiot.
The girls looked back and giggled. "Viejoy y cojo," one said to the other, and they laughed and jiggled away.
"What did she say?" Jack asked as the elevator doors closed.
I knew enough Spanish to know they weren't referring to me. I patted him on the back. "She likes you."
He straightened. "Maybe I was wrong. This might be a good trip after all."
We walked outside and past the pool and into the restaurant. "By the way, where did you come up with that little chip poem."
He raised his hands. "I don't know, it just came out." He took a deep breath. "It must be the ocean air."
We sat at a table and a waiter immediately brought a basket of chips and salsa and set them down. I ordered two Corona's
which came almost as fast and we popped limes into the tops.
"To new beginnings," I said, raising the bottle.
"Amen," Jack said, took a sip, and almost spat it out. "Holy cow, look at that!"
Another almost-dressed woman, tanned, dark, thirty-five-ish, walked by and gave Jack a big smile. He stared after her, guzzling
his beer. "This," he said, rising, "is the greatest place in the world." He put down the bottle and followed her down the pier.
Alone, I turned my eyes to the horizon and my mind to thought. Thinking, I knew as I finished my drink, was a dangerous thing.
Two beers later I saw them walking up the stairs from the beach. She looked deadly, he looked like a target. She was firm and
tight, naturally, wearing a purple skirt which blew lightly around her muscular legs and a matching low-cut top, painted on and
pushed up. Ron was smiling and flexing biceps as he held her squashed against his chest. They walked toward me for a few
seconds before recognition set in, and when it did all the smiles faded.
"What are you doing here?" Julie asked sternly, her true self coming out at last.
I watched a young beauty walk by. "Enjoying the scenery," I said, smiling.
She snorted, then looked at the meat. "I brought my own."
Ron laughed and held her tighter.
I looked at him and said with mock concern: "I hope my last check cleared."
"It didn't. But Julie wrote me another one."
I swirled my beer and put it on the table. It left a sour taste. "Good. Good."
"So, why are you here?"
"Like I said," I said. "The scenery. And the chips." I dipped one in salsa, flipped it into my mouth, then casually looked for ice
"How long are you staying?"
I put down the glass and wiped my mouth. "Long enough."
"This won't change anything. Nothing you do will change anything."
"Not trying to," I mumbled between bites. "Just making sure you're happy."
"That would be the first time." She paused. "I want the divorce finalized by the end of the month."
"Kind of soon."
"No, years too late."
"I'll see what I can do."
"I've already spoken to a lawyer. The papers will be ready Monday."
I nodded. "Then I guess there's nothing to say. I'll have to enjoy the last few days of married life while I can."
She pursed her lips and pulled Ron with her as he nodded his head to a table of smiling women who stared after him as he
"See you around," I said. I turned back and took the bottle and let the last few drops drip slowly into my mouth.
I looked up to see Jack with the woman in hand.
"I've had better days. Not you, it seems."
He smiled at the woman who looked back with the big brown eyes of love. "I need a favor... a por favor... " he said, laughing
stupidly. "Do you mind if we, uh... " He jerked his head toward our room.
"Be my guest."
He smiled at the woman and jerked his head in like direction. "Give me a few hours," he said, towing her along.
A few hours, I had a few to give. I motioned to the waiter. "Senor, dos Corona's por favor." He nodded, and when he returned I
held his wrist for a moment before putting a twenty dollar bill in his hand. "Guarde el cambio." His smile became confused and
uncomfortable when I held on for a second longer before letting go. That was so he would remember later, when I needed more
than beer and he needed more than twenties.
When I figured Jack's time was up I went back to the room. As I opened the door I heard the shower running and an off-key
baritone singing "Feliz Navidad," which was six months out of tune. A few steps in found me staring at a beautiful naked brown
body lying on the bed without covers and with the air conditioner running full blast. I could only stand and stare and shake my
head at the smooth perfection and the incredible unfairness of life. The girl stirred and turned over, squinting with a smile in my
direction as the other side of paradise came into view. Oh cruel, cruel life.
"Jack?" She put out her arms to me.
I hesitated, but the shower stopped and a door clicked open. Even I'm not that fast. I shook my head and emptied my pockets
on the table near the glass doors. The girl got up and went into the bathroom, followed quickly by a squeal, a slap, a laugh, and
the shower door clicking and closing. Jack came out wearing a towel and a stupid grin.
"Having fun... south of the border?"
"Bueno, muchas bueno. She's giving me lessons in cultural appreciation."
"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself, but couldn't you have used your own bed?"
He shrugged. "Yours was closer."
"She have a name?"
"I'm sure she must."
"Listen, I need your help."
I smiled. "Doing nothing."
"I think I can handle that." The shower stopped. He grinned. "A little later." He took a few steps to the bathroom before,
unfortunately, dropping his towel on the floor.
In the interim I walked back to the restaurant and caught the eye of my favorite waiter. I let him see me taking my wallet out of
my back pocket to speed the process and he came right over.
"Mi amigo," I said, handing him another twenty, then putting my arm around his shoulders. "Rosarita is muy hermoso. Very
beautiful," I translated back to myself. "A place for amor."
He gave me a strange, uncomfortable look.
I shook my head. "I need a favor," I said. "A favor, por favor. Eh?"
He gave me a stranger look, which didn't change as I whispered into his ear.
Jack and I walked along the beach. A woman tried selling us hair braids, a man tried selling us Cancun T-shirts, a boy tried to
sell us his sister. I spotted Julie lying on the sand while Ron applied lotion to her already burned skin. He was gawking at two
young girls sprawled on a blanket nearby until we walked up to the both of them.
"Hi, you two love birds," I said, and Julie turned with an angry look. "I hope you're enjoying the sun."
"What do you want?"
"I just want you to be happy. You remember Jack?"
Jack extended his hand. "Sure."
"Glad to meet you," Jack said, redirecting his hand to Ron who shook it with a squishy sound, which led Jack to wipe the squish
off on his pants.
"What do you want?" Julie repeated.
"Like I said," I said. "I know I made a big deal about everything at the house, but I've had a change of heart. I want you to know
I wish you both the best, and I won't do a thing to get in the way of your happiness. Not a thing."
She studied me. "Okay." Her suspicious look hadn't gone.
I motioned to Jack and we walked down the beach.
"What was all that about?"
"Part of the plan," I said.
About an hour later we rented a couple of horses and rode down the beach toward the hotel.
"How do you steer this thing?" he asked as his horse stopped for the third time to circle around itself.
"Pull the reins. No, back toward you, not up. They hate that."
"I think it hates me already." The horse moved his head a few times, then bent down to sniff sand. "So, why did we have to get
on these stupid beasts?"
"Julie and Ron are further up riding ATCs. Thought I'd let her know I was still around."
"Why do you need me along? Whoa!"
His horse had given a quick jump for no reason and he was holding on. "So Julie wouldn't think I was stalking her. Besides, it'll
be fun to watch me make her squirm. C'mon."
It took ten minutes of weaving in and out of people on the beach to get to them. I came close to stepping on a dozen or more
sunbathers, Jack trying desperately to follow in my hoof prints. Finally we came upon them, or her, as Julie was sitting alone on
her vehicle while further up the beach her soul mate was driving recklessly nearer the water. A handful of middle-aged women
were clapping and laughing at his antics. Julie was equally entranced as she watched her lover, and equally annoyed when she
"What do you want?" It was her favorite question.
"Just seeing the sights," I said, as Jack came beside me breathing relief. "I thought that since you've already found someone,
maybe I will, too."
"I won't stop you."
"It's so hard to choose, though." I scanned bodies. "There are so many beautiful women here."
"Your chances get worse the more they see you."
"You can't rush true love."
"Then take your time. But take it somewhere else."
I pursed my lips. "I have to sift through them all slowly, find someone with a good attitude."
"They all have good attitudes," she said, "until they get to know you."
I ignored her. "And I'll have to find someone my intellectual equal. That will be a nice change."
She pursed her lips back at me. "I think you already have. You're riding her."
Jack laughed. I shot him a look and pulled sharply on the reins to head back the way we'd come.
"So what was that all about?" he asked a moment later..
"Part of the plan," I mumbled.
"Last night," I told him later as we were sitting at our favorite table.
"What about last night?"
"No, this will be our last night."
"Because they're leaving tomorrow. So are we."
"She told you that?"
"No. But I have ways, mysterious ways."
His face was blank.
"Tomorrow's Sunday. Then Monday. Work, remember?"
Mi amigo with the cerveza came over to take our order. He knew where his next thousand pesos were coming from. "Listo?"
We ordered lobster for two and I slipped him another twenty before he left.
"Big tipper," Jack said.
"He's done me some favors," I said. "Maybe he'll do some more."
"Oh, yeah? Get one for me."
"Not that kind of favor."
"What other kind is there?"
I smiled. "You never know."
I was finishing my third margarita while Jack went off in search of the girl with no name. I saw Julie and Ron walk across the
outside veranda and into a room off to the right. It was glass and well lit and full of tables. Julie led Ron to one in the corner and
they sat and picked up menu's. I called my favorite waiter.
"Champagne, mi amigo, por favor. But send it to that table, to the lady with the long-haired idioto. And send me the bill." I
gave him another twenty, and when he left I took a quick trip through my wallet. It was a good thing this was my last night in
I watched them as the bottle arrived, the waiter pointing me out as I waved and Julie looked angry and Ron began pouring.
After a moment I got up, steadied myself, and walked to their table. It seemed be a very long, dizzying trip.
"What do you want?"
I smiled at the consistency. "I wanted to see if you liked the champagne."
"Sure, thanks," Ron said, taking a gulp.
"Why what? Why did I send it for?" I wiped my lips straighter. "To celebrate." I raised my glass. "To new beginnings. That's
always something to celebrate. I just wanted you to know that I'm letting you go."
"I'm already gone."
"Fair enough," I said. "I'll admit that I followed you two down here to make trouble. But that's all over, in the past. Forgotten,
like yesterday's vows. Maybe it's the atmosphere or the sea air."
"Or the margaritas," Julie said.
"The beer and margaritas," I corrected. "And the women."
Ron nodded to himself, scanning.
"Whatever it is, it's done the job. I'm through with the past, done with the present, and ready for the future."
"Great," she said flatly. "Now, if you don't mind... "
"I may even stay here," I went on. "Mexico kind of grows on you."
"As long as you sign the divorce papers, I don't care what you do."
I withheld a burp. "It will not be a problem. Enjoy."
I made my way back to the table. Surprisingly, Jack was back. Alone.
He shook his head. "Not tonight."
I looked at my wife, drinking to the future with her new love. I watched as people danced badly to the trumpets and guitars of
bad music. I looked at the moonlight reflecting over the ocean, and the blaze of bonfires on the beach. The air had a cool
lethargy about it. The day was ending as they all do in Mexico, sad and lonely, either because you have to leave or because you
have to stay.
"One last thing," I said, standing. "Let's go."
I tripped over my chair, then stood straight. "To say goodbye to my girl."
We were in the parking lot. "See this," I said, standing next to a black Toyota 4Runner. "This was my baby, my car. Now it's her
car. And his car. Their car."
Jack nodded. "So?"
"You don't understand. When I finally started making money in my business, this is what I bought to reward myself. This was
my dream car."
"A Toyota? You couldn't have dreamed of a Porsche?"
"Now she'll have it and I'll never drive it again."
"Buy another one."
"That's what it comes down to. You work, you build for the future, and somebody comes along and takes your dreams."
"I guess. You know, it's getting kind of cold out here."
"One last goodbye," I said, tugging at my zipper. "Join me?"
He had a confused look, then realization. "Sure, what are friends for?"
We stood in the parking lot peeing on my wife's car while the music of the mariachies serenaded the night. When we were done
I patted the car goodbye, zipped up and turned... and stopped as if shot. My waiter friend was standing right in front of us. He
didn't look as disgusted as I would have had I been in his shoes, but this was Mexico.
He walked over to me and paused. I patted his shoulder with my left hand. "Take good care of her," I said, and he nodded
understanding. He had a few objects in his hands: a roll of duct tape in one, a knife in the other, maybe a small bag in the third.
Maybe I wasn't seeing straight, maybe he wasn't holding anything at all. Demasiada cerveza, if there was such a thing.
"What is he up to?" Jack asked as we walked.
"Everything's taken care of," I said simply. We went through the hotel and out to the pier to drink the rest of the night away.
The next morning found Jack and I lounging in the sun like rubes wearing shades and sombreros to protect our pounding
heads. Why did they keep the surf so loud? After a half hour a loud scraping sound raked across my brain, making me turn my
head in its direction while I slid my sunglasses to the bridge of my nose. Ron was dragging a large bag across the courtyard
which seemed to be bulging out its sides as the heavy weight threatened to crush its tiny plastic wheels. He had a smaller bag
slung around his shoulders. There was no sign of my wife. There seemed to be something red dripping from the bottom of the
It didn't have to be this way, I thought, watching the dumb lug scrape his bag along the concrete. It could have been Julie and
me and another ten years, or twenty, or a lifetime. But a thought comes into someone's head and an action follows and pretty
soon you're doing things you never dreamed were possible. And I don't mean Julie and Ron and their endless love. The same
process takes place in reaction, as well, and in weighing the alternatives of the counterstrike. A little creativity mixed in with the
pain and soon you find yourself planning someone else's future. Call it revenge, call it jealousy...or maybe call it just a little
justice for me and all the other guys who had poured lifetimes into their one true love only to have them spit it back in their
face. But to sit back and do nothing was not an option.
I sat back. "To love," I said, holding up an imaginary glass for my imaginary toast to that imaginary emotion.
"I told you I wasn't finished packing," said a voice in a tone too recognizable and easily making all wish to hear the soothing
suitcase scraping sound again. It was Julie, walking briskly across the courtyard in deafeningly clipped strides. "What are you
doing?" She bent down and unzipped a side pocket.
"You said 'take the bag,'" Ron nearly whined, looking forlornly at the beauties in the pool and Jacuzzi.
"Now look, all the shampoo tipped over. Now everything's going to smell like strawberries. You never listen to anything--"
And on and on. It made me wonder at the workings of love and the mysteries of the heart. After the clean-up and dress-down,
Ron followed as Julie started off with short, quick steps. When she passed by she hesitated, then stopped. There was enough
anger to go around.
"We're leaving," she said.
"We're staying," I said.
"Forever, I hope."
I shook my head with care. "Just a little while longer."
She hesitated. "There are papers for you to sign at home on the dining room table."
"My lawyer brought them over before... " she faded off awkwardly.
I raised my hand in understanding, contempt, defeat, and they walked off without another word.
"Well, this was one big disappointment," Jack said after a moment.
"What do you mean?"
"You just let her go."
"Weren't you going to do something?"
"Was I supposed to do something?"
He shrugged. "Something. Ruin their lives, make sure she didn't get your money. That's what you told me, right?"
"Something like that."
"Well? All we did was pee on her car. I mean, that was fun, but... "
"And now divorce."
"You didn't do anything."
"But pee on her car," I said.
"And that's all we did."
"I didn't do anything else?"
"Not that I saw."
"You're right." Inside the restaurant I could see my favorite waiter bringing a young couple margaritas and chips, a good
Rosarita breakfast if ever there was one. As he looked up I raised my arm and, hesitating, he did likewise, a friendly gesture for
a friendly town. It was good to have a few amigos.
"I thought you said everything was taken care of. Looks to me like somebody didn't do his job."
"I decided to take your advice," I said to him. "To let it go and move on with my life. Who knows? Maybe it is just a phase and
she'll be over it before they hit the States. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and she'll be next to me in bed and things will be back
to normal, like old times."
"Yeah, maybe," Jack said. "But not likely."
No, I thought. Not likely. She wouldn't even make it that far. In an hour they would hit the border, and after another hour
waiting to cross they would finally come up to the gate. Soon after that they would find themselves being motioned over to the
side as their car was searched and they were questioned and eventually arrested. The drug-sniffing dogs at the border were
trained to find a miniscule amount of contraband buried within layers of clothes in a suitcase. They certainly wouldn't miss a half
kilo of marijuana duct-taped to the inside of the 4Runner's front bumper. And if they did...
"I'm glad you're taking it this well," Jack said.
"It's the only way to take it."
And if they did, well, it was good to have friends, and friends with cousins selling plaster crap castings to people waiting in that
long line to cross back into the States who were keeping an eye out for a certain SUV. Authorities would be notified. And before
Julie and Ron finally extricated themselves from their predicament, the divorce papers would be signed and sent and perhaps
finalized and in the confusion I would have time to move my assets to a more secure place, one far away from prying ex-wives
intent on spending hard-earned alimony on their lovers' legal fees.
"Maybe we should hit the road," I said to Jack, my good friend. With Ron's prior drug record, a half-hidden, half-smuggled half
kilo wouldn't seem out of character, but if Julie did try to connect it back to me, here was my alibi sitting at my right. Jack was a
witness to my inactivity. Besides, if they checked (and I would make sure they did, if it came to that) it would be his DNA they
would find staining the driver side door, not mine; I had aimed lower. The cops might wonder what else he had been doing to
my wife's car. Jack had been well known to divulge in the illegal substances himself, and a few choice words from my camarero
compadre, my waiter eyewitness, would lead the trail around me and right back to him. Different friends, I learned, had different
"I suppose so. Wait, just un momento!" Jack pushed himself from the chaise lounge and almost jumped into the air. The
woman he'd been looking for was back and she ran up and threw her arms around him as they kissed. I wondered briefly just
how much money he had told her he was worth, but there wasn't time to finish the thought because she had brought a friend,
one whose dark eyes looked at me shyly under a straw hat which hid her long black hair, and under that a green string bikini
which hid very little else.
I stood, always the gentlemen, tossing the sombrero behind me as the senorita smiled and coyly extended her hand. It was
time for margaritas.
Steven D. Bennett