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Sixty-Five by Kristi Schirtzinger



I stopped giving a shit when I turned sixty-five. Pauline told me it would happen and crowed about the sense of freedom it gave her. She’d been not giving a shit for three months. It generally got her into trouble, but she said the fun she had was worth it. The last time Pauline really let fly was Friday Night Bingo. Flo Montgomery wouldn’t stop flapping her gums to her cousin Diane and Pauline missed Otis calling the number that would have given her Bingo on two cards. When Pauline pointed out that Flo could be heard the next county over and that this county could actually benefit from her and her loud-mouthed cousin leaving it permanently, we all got tossed out on our ears by Otis. When Pauline told Otis he needed to give up the calling, that his cracking voice could not command a Bingo Hall the way it did in the 1750s, we were invited to play Bingo at St. Matthias from now on.  We got in Pauline’s 1983 Buick Electra and tore out of there like a couple of bank robbers.

“Whoo hoo,” Pauline said, “I’ve been waitin’ since high school to tell that hag just what I think of her and her trashy family.” She lit a Virginia Slim and coughed when she inhaled since she had just started smoking last week. “Let’s go drinkin,” she said.

I reasoned that Walt hadn’t expected me home until ten anyway, so one drink with Pauline at the Eagles would be harmless. “OK, but I gotta be home by ten. You know how Walt gets.”

“Sweetie,” she said, “You gotta stop givin’ a shit.”

  As anyone with any sense could tell you, two women our age – one with a brand-new attitude she was wearing like a rodeo buckle, and one with a habit of blindly following the rodeo buckle – probably had no business being at the Eagles. It was old crony night, apparently, because the place was crawling with comb-overs and polyester. Not that I wasn’t wearing jeans with some elastic in the waist, but all I really wanted to do was sip my sloe-gin fizz and chat with Pauline, not be leered at by old men who damn well knew I had a husband. When Ted Brinkman asked what I was drinking, Pauline said, “Not what you’re offering, Ted. Get lost.”

Ted, having recently stepped down as the longest running township trustee, thought he was too important to be spoken to in such a forward way.  “Pauline,” he said, “I think Marge can speak for herself.”

“Margie, do you want Ted buying you a drink?” asked Pauline.

“No thank you,” I said.

“Get lost, Ted.”

With a snort, Ted gave a tug to his pants and shoved off.

I was three sloe gin fizzes in when I realized it was 10:30. Walt would have called the church basement and my sister’s place by now looking for me. “Hey, Paul,” I said, tapping my watchless wrist, “we gotta go. Walt will have smoke coming out his ears.”

               “Alright, alright,” she said, pinching her Virginia Slim between her finger and thumb for one last drag. “We wouldn’t want Walty getting his panties in a bunch.”

We zig zagged through mostly empty tables, saying our goodbyes. The band had left hours ago, and George Straight was crooning from the jukebox.

All my exes live in Texas,” Pauline sang loud enough for the bartender across the room to hear.

"You girls OK to drive?” he called.

“I’m fine, Jack,” Pauline said. “Margie’s the one who's drunk.”

“Would you stop,” I whispered sharply, though she wasn’t wrong. “The last thing I need is Walt hearing I was drunk.”

“Hate to break it to you, Sister, but he’s going to notice.”

"Why, am I talking funny?”

She howled at that, “And walking funny.”

We got into the Electra, put in a Clink Black CD, and burned rubber.

When we turned on my road, she paused the CD. “So how you going to get past Walter?” she asked, eyeing me as serious as she does her Bingo cards.

“I’m just going to breeze right by him - tell him I’m sick and going to bed.”

“Maybe he’ll already be in bed.”

“He won’t be.”

She pulled up to the curb. “Nope, it doesn’t look that way.” Walter’s silhouette paced  the brightly lit living room. We both sat in silence, as if one of us was moving to Siberia and didn’t want to say our final goodbyes.

“I’ll wait here until the lights go out,” she said to my reflection in the windshield. “The Rooster stays open ‘til two, and I know you’ve still got some party in you.” Then the ornery part of her grin wilted and she looked herself dead in the eye. “Nobody is waiting at home for me.”

“The Rooster’s where the kids go,” I teased. “What would we look like in there?”

“Who gives a shit?”

*

I started up the drive. At first, I felt confident, then I felt the whiskey in my walk. Straighten up, Margie, I said to myself, then opened the front door. There stood Walter, arms crossed.

“Marge, where have you been? I called the church and they said you and Pauline got kicked out of Bingo the first round.”

I remembered my plan – to tell him I was sick and going straight to bed – but I never was a good liar and my confidence scrambled like a spooked possum. “Well, Walt,” I explained, nonchalantly hanging up my coat, “when Otis kicked us out ...” I swiveled to meet him head-on, having collected myself, then suddenly I needed the wall to catch me. I held the wall, and the wall held me, and I burst into laughter thinking about Pauline two-stepping with the 90-year-old man in a green suit jacket.  Walter’s gaze felt like an impatient spotlight, but lanky Pauline being shuffled across the dance floor by a man who – now that I thought about it – looked like an elderly leprechaun just struck me hard and I couldn’t not make it hilarious.

“Marge, are you drunk?” The way he said drunk sounded like he really meant purple and thinking of myself as purple made me realize I was not going to be able to hide the fact that I was drunk.

“Yes I am!” The laughter was throttling me now, bringing me to tears, making me clutch my knees for balance. There was no way to contain it, and I didn’t care.

“Have you lost your natural mind, Margie? Our children and grandchildren live in this town. They’re going to hear about this! It’s an embarrassment!”

I couldn’t give him an answer. The best I could do was stifle my laughter. He didn’t appreciate how hard I was trying because the vein that always popped out on his forehead began pulsing. “Marge - what do you think of this – of the respect you’ll lose in the church, the community – the rotary?”

“I couldn’t give a shit!” I said with perfect sobriety. His face went from red to white. In 48 years of marriage, I’d never used foul language, but something unlocked my gut when I said it, and oxygen came flooding in. I filled my lungs with it. “I couldn’t give two shits,” I said. It felt like a pledge I needed to memorize through repetition.

“Yeah, I heard ya the first time. I wish I hadn’t.” Something about those words took the stuffing right out of him and he crumpled to the couch, looking at the beige carpet like it would take him back to the real world. “Margie,” he said, and the way he said Margie sounded like the next words were going to be I want a divorce. Whatever he wanted to say, his face and mouth couldn’t come to an agreement, so he just sat there waiting until they did. I felt sorry for him. I sort of wished the vein was popping and the accusations were flying, but he just sat there like a deflated birthday balloon. I had expected so much more from this dust up.

“What, Sugar,” I said, sitting beside him. I rubbed his back as he stared down at his feet. He was quiet for so long, I felt sure he was going to ask what appliances I wanted.

“Margie, aren’t you sick of this carpet?”

“Pardon?”

“I said we’ve had this carpet - ‘accessible beige’ - for ten years. Aren’t you sick to death of it?”

I laughed again, but intentionally. “I’ve been sick of it for at least eight.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“I just assumed you liked neutral.”

“Honey, why do you think I went out with Pauline tonight? Neutral is killing me.”

He met my eyes. “I want smoky mauve or sky blue – or tangerine shag. Anything but this.”

  “Let’s go pick some out tomorrow.” I hugged him and he hugged me back, longer than I realized he needed to. When I pulled away, his eyes were misty. “Do one thing for me tonight,” I said.

“What’s that?”

"Pauline’s out there waiting for us to turn the lights out. Then she’s going to drive home to an empty house. What if we jumped in her car and told her the night’s too tangerine to go to bed.”

“She'd think we were crazy,” he said. “Besides, it’s past eleven, and you’ve certainly had enough to drink.”

“Who gives a shit? We don’t have to follow the rules – whatever those are.” I put my lips to his ear. “We could dirty dance.” When I kissed him there, his jaw went lax, and his shoulders softened.

He put his lips to my ear. “OK, I’ll go, but do me a favor: stop saying that word.”

“Not tonight,” I said.

*

Pauline jumped out of her skin when I tapped the passenger window. Walter hopped in the back and I took shotgun. “Let’s show these kids how to dance,” I said. For once in her life, she was speechless.

“Cat got your tongue?” Walt said, tapping her shoulder.

“Isn’t it past your curfew, Walter?” Pauline said in the rearview. “What will your wife think?”

“Who gives a shit? Crank up that stereo.”

Anyone with their lights still on (and there were none, unfortunately) would have seen a 1983 Electra streaking off into the night with three fools singing at the top of their lungs, up to no good, and heading straight for town.

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Real funny, Kristi.

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