Grudge

Tom stared blankly at the ceiling. He tried to coordinate his breathing pattern with the steady hum of the bedside fan. He had always had trouble sleeping in the heat, but this summer heatwave had recently made repose all but impossible for him. His girlfriend, Janine, had no such troubles. She lay comfortably asleep with her head profiled against Tom’s chest and her legs serpentined down the side of his body. Tom tried to relax himself by imagining how similar to the Rod of Asclepius he might have looked. Perhaps that would relax him and bring sleep. Still, it just would not come. It was Janine’s breathing pattern. Tom noticed it was entirely out of sync with the nearby whir. It was actually the most mundane torture he had ever experienced. Each one of her exhalations was a small refreshing breeze on the skin that immediately settled into hot stagnant condensation. Tom could not wipe the moisture for fear of waking Janine, and slowly watched it build up into a puddle.

Janine had to be doing this to him on purpose. She knew his finicky sleep patterns and she was almost certainly upset with him. She was always upset about something. She just never let things go, and based on this Tom knew for sure that Janine was mad. It had all started over that journal she had kept poorly hidden beneath her hosiery in the bedside drawer. Tom didn’t want to find it. He wished he hadn’t found it. He would have preferred to never even know its existence. He had simply been looking through drawers without any real purpose when he was confronted by the worn russet cover of that journal glaring at him from beneath a labyrinth of bra straps.

At first he didn’t mind. Everyone is entitled to privacy, especially Janine, he thought. He didn’t even bother reading it. He figured he’d never even mention it again. But one day he slipped. Janine had been looking around for a piece of paper to take make a grocery list. After searching through old notebooks, attic boxes, he suggested that she just rip a page out of her journal.

“My journal?” she immediately replied. Her cheeks flared up with tiny red blotches.
“Yeah, I saw it in the drawer once. Do you have paper in there?” he said.
“Did you read it?” she asked, her eyebrow nearly collapsing under the rising gravity of the increased blood flow to her face.
“Did I read it? Why?”
“Yes. Did you read it? I think it’s a logical question to ask when someone says they found your journal. Don’t you?”

Tom didn’t respond. How could he? It didn’t matter, he knew what was in that journal. She could only have been so concerned with him reading her journal if it contained something she wanted to hide from him. Something like her various grievances. Those damn grievances, thought Tom. He sleeplessly stared upwards towards nothing and couldn’t help but imagine the fading isabella ceiling as the pages of this forbidden journal. He didn’t even have to look into it to know what would be written in Janine’s scrawled lettering. Janine and her grudges. There’d be the one from last December. They had just moved in together and a few nights later Janine saw Tom’s phonebook open.

“Honey, this is a little weird. Is there something I should know?” she asked after calling him into the room.
“Well I didn’t call that number,” he said. “You know there is no reason I would,” he said.
“I just think it’s weird that your phonebook is open to an ex-girlfriend of yours. It’s just weird, that’s all.”

He wasn’t lying, he never had the slightest intention of dialing the number. And it wasn’t weird. He simply liked to glance at it from time to time and think of Sarah. Not in any sort of wistful longing way. He simply liked to think of what Sarah was doing and imagine how much she must have missed him. Sarah wasn’t a looker like Janine. No, Tom had seen the way his friends eyed Janine when she came out with them. They never looked that way at Sarah. Tom had even worried they thought less of him when she was around. What if they whispered about how he had sold himself short on those days after Sarah would drink a few too many and slur incessantly throughout the night? She was lucky to have had him and he knew he was better off now. Now he had something that was desired. He had worked his way up. Sarah could not have done the same. He imagined the men she would see now. Men who had not done as well at school. Bank clerks, insurance salesmen, not soon-to-be surgeons. Men with asymmetrical faces and cheap warehouse suits. Men who didn’t know about Impressionism and had never read Proust. He would think like this for a span of two glasses of whiskey. He figured he couldn’t just tell Janine about this though. No, he thought, she would just hold it against him. She was sensitive like that. Instead, he said nothing. She had shrugged, perhaps squirmed, with uneasiness and went back to what she was doing. She would have written about that. About how she didn’t believe him. About how Tom could easily have had Sarah back if he wanted.

Another entry would be dated from that February. Tom had been at a birthday party for one of his med school friends. He was a good drinker by most standards, but that night Tom was in rare form. He was already drunk when he accidentally blew out the candles on the cake and he was even drunker after the gin-and-tonic he had ordered to try and forget the incident. He ended up remembering the candles, but little else. One of Janine’s friends was present and had told her that Tom was necking with some whore in the coat closet. Janine would have called the girl a whore. She couldn’t have possibly have been a whore though. Either way, Tom had no recollection. If he had no memory of it happening, how could he confess or apologize? He told her that everyone got pretty drunk that night. He told Janine that her friend must have been mistaken.

“Did you come up with this theory before or after you stuck your tongue down someone’s throat in a coat closet?” she had asked. “Maybe it was after you parked our car atop the new garbage cans? Perhaps it came to you in a dream while you slept face-down against your steering wheel. I’ll take Pete’s word for it. At least he knows how to drink socially.” He had apologized, but he knew it meant nothing to him or Janine at that point. She would hold it against him forever. How was that possible, he wondered? He felt the burning on his chest.

Of course Pete would have told Janine. He had seen the way he looked at her. In fact, Tom remembered a party he had brought Janine to where she and Pete had danced closely for a long time. Tom had been caught at the bar by a particularly talkative classmate of his. He tried to leave but for fear of coming off rude was forced to stand around and listen. The classmate really went into it. Tom even had time to drink two whiskeys. He didn’t really remember what was said to him, but he saw Pete’s hand work slowly down Janine’s back as they danced. Both hands had clearly started atop Janine’s shoulders, but now one was slowly approaching the small of her back. He saw Janine brush her blond hair up behind her ear. He remember how often she had done that when they first began dating. He tried to remember the last time he had seen Janine do that but couldn’t. He never said anything about it to her.

He thought she deserved the opportunity to do whatever she pleased as long as it was reasonable. He never held any grudges. He wasn’t like Janine. No, he thought, I know how to let things go. As for the necking, he thought, he was drunk and even if it did happen Janine should be understanding. He wasn’t all there and he had always been faithful otherwise. Janine had simply connected that time with the phone number fiasco. It seemed like something she would do. He had always been forgiving of Janine when it came to drunkenness. He understood the line between malice and harmless drunkenness. Just like that time in Costa Rica. Tom had gotten a fellowship position at some small hospital serving several destitute villages. They had been desperate for staffing and were willing to take him fresh out of his undergraduate studies. Tom figured it was a great opportunity for a scenic summer getaway and a great listing for his medical school application. Janine had nothing to do that summer and tagged along to keep Tom company.

One night, they got particularly drunk at one of those beachcomber bars that really look more like a shanty than any sort of establishment. They ended up going down to the beach to smoke with some local boys. Tom tried to remember their faces. His memory produced the same generic face for both of them. Dark skin, dark hair, dark eyebrows, dark eyes. They couldn’t have been much older than sixteen. Either way, Janine was drunk and wanted to smoke.

At the beach the foursome sat on an overturned canoe and conversed casually while one of the boys rolled up a joint. Their English wasn’t perfect, but Tom was surprised at how funny they managed to be. He had learned several languages at university, but still felt awkward trying to be funny in a foreign tongue. For reasons he could not understand he simply couldn’t pick up on humor in other cultures. Tom then smoked for the first time in years. He didn’t want to come off as uncool to these kids. Each drag burnt the back of his throat. He mainly coughed out the smoke rather than properly exhaling it. They had finished the joint and the group sat silently and stared at the water. Eventually Janine stood up.

“I want to go swimming!” she yelled.
“Swimming. Well let’s go get our suits. The room isn’t more than fifteen minutes away. We’ll get our suits. We’ll be back in twenty minutes,” Tom said.
“No! No! We’re right here. Look how beautiful the water looks Tom. Look how beautiful it is. We don’t need bathing suits”

At first Tom wasn’t sure what she had meant by this. Before he could respond Janine had already taken off her shirt. The moonlight struck her pale torso and seemed to illuminate her. For some moment Tom and both the boys stared silently at her translucent breasts. Janine’s pink nipples barely masked her veins, and Tom had guessed that the dark-skinned boys had never seen anything like it. He saw how they looked at her.

“Janine, put your clothes on. This isn’t right,” he said.
“Stop being so sour Tom. Just look at the water, it’s as pretty as a picture. It’s prettier than any picture I’ve ever seen actually.” He grabbed her by the wrists. He figured it would shake some sense into her. “Get off Tom! What’s your fucking deal? I just want to swim. What is wrong with you?”

The two boys scampered away into the night, but Tom could hear their laughter as they slipped into the hedges leading back up to the main road. He knew what they were laughing about. He dragged Janine back to their lodgings, her breasts swinging around as she resisted. She even tried to punch him. It was one of those drunken punches that doesn’t quite hit and her fist had slowly slid down his chest after the initial impact. When they got back she vomited and fell asleep, still topless. Still, he reasoned, he had never said anything about the incident to Janine following that night. He knew she was drunk and didn’t mean anything by it. Why couldn’t she let things go? He had given her a pass. He wasn’t holding any sort of grudge.

Tom blinked a few times and the journal pages burnt away into the ceiling. He felt a dryness in his throat and had the sudden urge to smoke a cigarette. He could reach the pack on the bedside drawer without rousing Janine. The cigarette would help him sleep. He would ash all over that stupid journal. But would the smell wake her? he thought. He tried to remember if it was Janine or Sarah who always hated the smell of cigarette smoke, but eventually decided it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to risk giving Janine another journal entry. Not tonight anyway. The grayness of impending morning started breaking through the shutters. The puddle of condensation poured down the side of his body. Tom felt Janine’s breathing pattern change. She snorted and turned her face away from his sticky dank skin.

“Tom, honey, are you still awake? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Oh nothing, baby, I was just thinking about you.”

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