“This is bullshit,” moaned a disheveled, middle-aged man as he slammed another empty glass onto the bar. His eyes were beginning to glaze over, and he had started slurring his speech. “I don’t know why I put up with it!”
“What’s gotten into you, James?” His friend Nelson – this one nursing his first scotch and water – looked on, concerned by how his friend was acting. “Don’t you think you should slow down. You’re hitting it pretty hard tonight.”
“What does it matter? Why does any of it matter?” He slurred. “Give me one more, Gary.” The bartender looked over to the friend, who nodded, and the bartender reluctantly brought over a fresh scotch.
The pair remained silent for a moment, but as soon as James had his drink in hand, he began his complaint anew. “I’ve been there for almost twenty years,” he began.
“And they don’t appreciate what you do for them,” his friend completed the refrain. “Yeah, I know. We all know. Why don’t you spare me the bullshit and just tell me what happened today.”
“Spare you the…, fine,” he sputtered angrily. “I’ll tell you. My tightwad boss yelled at me, wanting to know about the Andrews account. I closed that deal a month ago, he signed off on it, and now he’s pissed off because he thinks we under-charged them. He wants me to cancel the contract and renegotiate. It’s bullshit. They won’t go for that! They’ll find someone else to do business with, and then I’ll get blamed for losing another major contract, all because THEY can’t do their jobs correctly. I’m tired of being their punching bag.”
“Then get out,” a voice cried out from the other side of the bar. James whipped his head around, angry that he had been overheard, though he had been complaining so loud that many people had simply left to go elsewhere for a drink.
“What did you say?” James’ friend asked.
“Get out,” she repeated herself with an eerily calm voice. She was an attractive forty-something, with expensive tastes. She looked out-of-place in the slightly seedy establishment. Nelson looked at her, and she wore a haunted expression on her face, but other than that, betrayed no emotion, though it was obvious to all that she had been crying recently.
“What business is it of yours?” James spat.
“None, I suppose,” she sighed, “but I think you should listen anyways. What could it hurt?” James shrugged as he started on his scotch. The stranger walked over and sat beside him.
“It’s funny how similar a job is to a romantic relationship. At first, it’s all perfect. You’re in love, after all. He brings you flowers, tells you he loves you. He brings you gifts and treats you like a princess. You get lost in the fantasy. At work, it’s the same, they check up on you, make sure you have everything you need, ensure you’re comfortable. They have a responsibility to you and they want you to succeed because their success is dependant on your ability to do your job.
“It doesn’t take long for the new relationship smell to start to wear off. You don’t notice it at first, but it slowly begins to change. It’s subtle, first he stops giving you flowers, or he stops rubbing your neck at the end of the day. There are no more sweet love notes, or he stops kissing you altogether. There’s a moment when you look up, and you realize that the magic is gone, but you can’t pinpoint when it happened, but you know you want to leave, but he doesn’t let you.
“‘I’ll change,’ he promises. ‘Just give me another chance.’ So you agree, and at first there’s a noticeable improvement. He starts kissing you again, his voice seductive promising you things he promised once before, and you fall for his charm. He comes home at a reasonable hour. He treats you how you deserve to be treated, for a while, but sooner rather than later it goes back to how it was. He neglects you, takes you for granted. You’ve become nothing more than a nursemaid while the jackass goes out to play.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” James groaned.
“Don’t you see?” The stranger said pointedly. “You’re nothing but your boss’s bitch. Sure he may treat you a little better should you want to leave and he needs you, but what’s the point? How many times do you have to do the stupid, little dance? You know what I’m talking about, right?”
“I’ve talked about leaving, sure,” he agreed.
“And what? Did you get a raise, a better office perhaps?”
“And a promotion, but I’m still doing the same bullshit work.”
“Exactly,” she shoved her finger into his chest. “Nothing but trinkets given to take your mind off the fact that they don’t respect you.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Leave. Get out while you can. It’s a toxic relationship, abusive to the point where you’re losing yourself in drink just to numb the pain. Break up, while you still can, and leave on your own terms. Leave before you lose all sanity, lose all control, and do something you may regret later. You’re nobody’s bitch.”
“I can’t just quit,” James cried. “I have a family to support.”
“And yet you’re here and not with them,” she countered. “Don’t you think this is taking a toll on them? How long before she gets tired of being neglected? Get out while you still have a marriage to save. Or stay and lose everything. I don’t give a shit.”
The stranger got up, paid her tab, and left without saying another word. “What a loon,” James laughed before returning his attention to his drink.
“I don’t know,” Nelson said quietly. “I think she has a point, and I think you need to stop drinking and go home to your family before you end up like me, divorced and alone.”
James walked into his house, his children already in bed. His wife was curled up in front of the television, which she had on mute, a book in hand. She barely registered his entrance with a weary nod.
“I think we need to talk,” he said glumly.
“Oh?” she replied, not taking her eyes off the book.
“First, I want to say I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting, the way I’ve been treating you and the kids. I love you all, and I don’t want to lose you.”
That finally got her attention and she put her book down. “Okay?”
“I’ve been having a hard time at work, and I know it’s no excuse, but that’s why I’ve been so distant lately. I want to change before I lose you. I don’t want to lose you. I can’t bear the thought of losing you.”
“Okay? So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you think it’s your job that’s at fault, leave.”
“Just quit? I can’t do that! I have a family to support.”
“And you think you’re supporting us by coming home drunk every night? By neglecting us? I hate to break it to you, but you’ve already lost me. I’ve been seeing someone for a while now, someone who’s taken care of me, who treats me how I should be treated.”
“Oh,” James replied, stunned by the revelation, not knowing what else to say.”
“Yeah, you’ve already lost me. I’m just here for the kids, but even for them, I don’t know what more I can take.”
“So, you’re sleeping with him?”
“Not yet, but it’s going to happen any day now.” His wife looked at his compassionately for the first time and smiled grimly. “I love you, too, but I can’t go on like this. You say you don’t want to lose me, this is your chance. Quit your job. It’s either them or me.”
“And what about our mortgage and our bills?”
“We have enough to get by for a couple of years, but you should be able to find a job before then. We’ll have to cut back on a few luxuries, but so what?”
“Wow,” James exclaimed softly, waves of fear, anger, and jealousy over taking him. “So you have someone on the side and you’re about to leave me?”
“I have someone on the side, but I wasn’t planning on leaving you just yet, but eventually, yes. I won’t be treated like this, not by you. If I have to find affection somewhere else, yeah I’ll do it, and feel no guilt for doing it.”
“I – I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.”
“I told you. Quit. If you want me, that’s my price. Quit your job, and come to counseling with me. I’ve been going for several months, alone.”
“I need to think about it. I can’t just up and quit.”
“Suit yourself. You know what’s up. I’ll give you some time, but not much more. I’ll take a poorer man over you if that means I get to have his attention. And just so you know, that trip I was planning for this weekend with the girls?”
“I’ll be with him in Vegas, in his arms, in his bed.” She got up and walked out, taking her book with her, leaving him to his confusion.
James picked up the remote to the television to shut it off when a picture grabbed his attention. The same woman who he met at the bar. He turned up the volume to listen to the news report.
“…woman wanted by the police in connection with the brutal murders of her husband and his lover was found moments ago, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Friends described her as an outgoing, loving person, who had endured years of abuse and neglect, culminating in cold-blooded murder.”
“Chilling, Steve. Next, we check in with Dave for the weather. How’s it looking for the…”
James shut off the television and walked into the bedroom, the brutality of what he saw breaking him. “What’s the matter?” His wife asked, as he sat on the bed, shaking by what he saw on the news. He had just talked to her moments earlier.
“I love you. I’ll put in my notice tomorrow. If you have to go this weekend, I won’t blame you, but I won’t stop fighting for you.”
“Babe, if you choose me, I’ll choose you, too. Just understand, this is your one and only chance, but I won’t guarantee I’ll stay, either.”