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The Turnaround Game (1990)

The Turnaround Game (1990)

©1990, 2013 by Dallas Denny
Source: Dallas Denny. (1990). The turnaround game. Unpublished short story.





The Turnaround Game

A Short Story by Dallas Denny


As soon as they were in bed together, he knew there had been another man. He pulled her toward him, and there was a resistance there had never been before. Gently disengaging himself, he rolled away. He put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling of rafters and pipes.

She lifted herself on one elbow. Her long brown hair obscured one eye. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

He closed his eyes against the hurt and anger, saying nothing.

After a few seconds he felt the turning on of her anger. He felt it through closed lids, as if someone had hit a switch and the room were suddenly illuminated and heated, heated and illuminated. She rolled away from him.

Five minutes later he said, “You’ve slept with someone else.”

As suddenly as it had come, her anger was gone. She burst into tears.

He was supposed to console her. He didn’t. He just lay there with his hands behind his head and looked at Wilfred Mays’ legs. The legs were two asbestos-covered pipes that reminded her of the legs of a quadriplegic she knew. She had named them, and from that moment on the pipes were Wilfred Mays’ legs.

Her anger switched back on again, at a lower intensity. That caused him to get up. Nude, he walked over to the antique refrigerator, opened it, and drank orange juice from a plastic gallon jug. Then he sat down on the legless couch. The television was on, and he rose, switched it off, and sat back down on the couch. He pulled a cushion from behind his back, set it on the arm of the couch, and lay back against it.

For the rest of the morning she lay on the bed and he on the couch. He slept several times. His sleep was all the more satisfying because he knew she wouldn’t. He was wakened by her at two o’clock. She was packing her suitcase. She threw her clothes indiscriminately in the case, tried to cram it shut, and cursed when it wouldn’t latch. It was a game they had played before.

“And you’re never coming back?” he mused.

There were tears in her eyes. “Why should I?” she asked.

He shrugged. “You’re going to go away forever and ever?”

She nodded. He wanted to kiss the hurt from her eyes, to tell her he loved her. Instead, he threw the cushion across the room. He walked to the refrigerator and drank the rest of the orange juice. The bathroom was upstairs. He opened the top of the carton and urinated in it, standing in front of the open refrigerator. He thought of emptying the jug into the suitcase, but instead screwed the top on and dropped it in a cardboard box full of garbage. He sat back down on the couch,

She laughed. Just a little. “You’re strange.”

He looked at her, “Who was it?”

She told him.

He nodded.

“I knew you’d know,” she said. “I can’t believe I did it, I’m bad.”

God, how fatalistic she was! He knew she expected him to throw her out like “the tramp she was.” She was fond such phrases. She used them often. She had been convinced her reputation was ruined because she had slept with him. He told her other people had too many worries of their own to concern themselves with her reputation. “You’re no longer a young girl, anyway,” he had told her.

She had managed to close the suitcase. Ordinarily she wouldn’t let him see her apply her make-up, but she sat at the other end of the couch and began fixing her face. He watched bemusedly, thinking back on their history, of what he had come to call the turnaround game.

Their relationship had begun when he had walked up to her at work and told her her very beautiful eyes would look better if she used brown eye shadow. “Shitcan the gray,” he told her.

“It’s green,” she had said. “If you think I should use brown, why don’t you buy me some?”

“I will,” he said, and walked away. That night, when buying groceries, he picked up an inexpensive eye shadow and tossed it in the cart.

She was surprised when he gave her the makeup, but the next day she had worn it. She had worn brown eye shadow ever since.

After that they had talked with each other at every opportunity. Conversation was effortless for them. They were both intelligent and well-educated people. They shared a cynical view of their work, their world, and the people around them. She didn’t share his taste for self-indulgence and Bohemianism, but otherwise they were soul mates, with common interests in and opinions about art, television, movies, and literature. They were both widely read. Her favorite was James Joyce. His was Joseph Heller. He told her Catch 22 was the most astonishingly witty book in the world. She brought him Joyce’s Dubliners.

Acquaintance deepened into infatuation, and infatuation into love. He would stand in her office until an hour past quitting time, She would sit in his office for hours at a time. They developed private jokes. She was convinced she had ugly feet. He would look at her feet and she would hide them from his view, piling papers or clothing over them. When they began to go to lunch together, he would make a point of lifting the tablecloth and smiling at her feet under the table. It never failed to embarrass her.

He first touched her in a K-Mart store. They had gone there to buy supplies for a party, and she had started up the wrong aisle. He had placed his hand firmly around her waist and steered her toward the party supplies. He had also first touched her at work. He demonstrated a technique for immobilizing a violent person, and used her for demonstration. In each case the touch was electrifying, sensual and yet somehow innocent.

Other people could tell they were in love by just looking at them; at work, it was assumed they were sleeping together. But except for their innocent touches, they had only talked.

It was months before they even kissed. She had visited him at his weekend job. They were sitting close on the couch, and he asked her if he could kiss her. He could tell she thought it strange he should ask, but she said yes.

Despite their obvious love for each other, she wouldn’t allow him to make love to her. He thought her reluctance strange. But she went on vacation with a girl friend, and after her return she came to his bed. He knew she had discussed sleeping with him with her girlfriend, who had given her the go-ahead. Thank you, girlfriend.

She was wondrously passionate. Some weekends they would hardly get out of bed. They would spend hours talking, touching, making love many times in one day. It was wonderful; it was so wonderful it scared him.

After they had slept together a dozen times she told him she had been a virgin. He had never slept with a virgin. He had never considered it would have mattered, but he discovered her declaration of inexperience gave him pleasure. He was proud she had never had another man. He thought she had told him to make him feel guilty (she hadn’t). He told her it had been her decision to stop being a virgin. He hadn’t raped her. Yet still, in his deepest recesses, he was proud to have deflowered her.

The fights had begun in the fall. He was falling into his old habits, playing in a rock and roll band, drinking and smoking weed, and she disapproved. She disapproved vocally and vehemently. They began to argue. Each time he strayed, she would be mad for three days- the day before he played, the day he played, and the day after. Since the band practiced twice a week, it left them with little good time.

For most relationships, it would have been the end. It almost was for theirs. But although each of them was pained and unhappy, they stayed together. After a year of this bickering, he moved to another city. She didn’t go with him. Yet the relationship somehow survived two years of separation. It became a romance of extended telephone conversations and weekend visits, but it endured. Two hundred and fifty miles of telephone lines, two hundred fifty dollars of long distance bills every month, and it had endured. He visited her. She visited him. Status quo.

Before they began sleeping together, she would spend evenings in his tiny one-room apartment. Loving him, unable to get enough of him, she would stay and stay. Toward the close of evening, when he became tired, or tired of her, he would play the turnaround game. He would lie on his bed. She would begin to leave when he began to doze. He soon discovered he could control her, reel her back in at any time before she roared off in her car by sitting up and talking to her. He experimented with her, alternately ignoring and paying attention to her, marveling at his control.

Her behavior was always the same. She would fold her arms, glaring at him. She would pick up her pocketbook. She would put her coat in her lap. She would put on the coat. She would put on her gloves. She would put her wrap around her neck. She would place her woolen cap on top of her thick mass of hair. She would sit there, sighing. She would rise, reaching for the doorknob. She would step through the door and look back at him, her eyes filled with pain and longing. Then she would slam the door. Thirty seconds later her motor would race angrily, and five seconds after that her tires would screech as she reversed. There would be a brief pause as she shifted into drive, and then the tires would screech again. Lying there, he could hear her accelerate as she left his street and turned the car onto the highway.

And at anytime before the tires screeched, like rewinding a tape, he could turn her around. He played her like a cat plays a mouse. He would sit up; she would take off her hat, her gloves, her wrap, her coat. He would say something witty; her pocketbook would go onto the floor beside her. Then, when he tired of the game, he would allow himself to doze, and she would again go through her unvarying sequence. He found it endearing. Blinded as she was by her love for him, he doubted if she even realized what he was doing. He hated himself for running her through hoops, but did it anyway. Almost every night, he played the turnaround game.

And now, at what was supposed to be the start of her visit, after she had driven such a long way to see him, before they had even made love, they were back to the old tricks. She sat on the edge of the bed, her coat in her lap, her suitcase beside her. He lay on the couch, looking at her. He who had cheated on her many times, blaming her for the once she had strayed, angry at her for the loss of his exclusive privilege with her. He smiled at her; then he closed his eyes. He wanted to rise and hold her, to tell her he was sorry, to tell her he loved her, to beg her to stay, to unpack, to not start the five-hour trip back to her hometown. But he didn’t. He just closed his eyes.

He kept them closed until he heard the screeching of tires.