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Ready in a Minute, Honey

October 10, 2011

(A short story.)

– 6:00 a.m. The alarm clock on Charles’ night table begins its annoying buzz. He rolls over to switch it off. His wife, Darlene, is already in the bathroom. She was always in the bathroom long before he got out of bed. Darlene didn’t want Charles to have to see her, “without her face on,” as she put it. When Charles finally walks into the kitchen for breakfast he knows he will be greeted by his wife with a friendly good-morning kiss. She will be wearing her house dress and an apron. And she will have her face on. He’ll sit down for a few minutes to read the paper and drink his coffee, then quickly shower, shave, and leave for the office.

– 6:05 a.m. Damn these one bath New York studio apartments. Charles was lying upright in bed, waiting to use the toilet again. When they were first married he had teased Darlene about her time alone in the bathroom. In the early days he had tried to sneak in with her so that they could shower together, or perhaps even brush their teeth at the same time. But the door was always locked. On the rare occasions when she would forget to lock up, the door would always slam back in his face before he could open it more than a couple of inches. Oh well, Darlene was an old fashioned type of girl.

– 6:10 a.m. Yes, Darlene was from the old school, Charles had once thought contentedly. Though she was married twice before, and twice tragically widowed, she would not allow Charles to make love to her until their wedding night. She was not a dynamic lover, but then Charles wasn’t either, so neither one noticed. Darlene would always wear her nighties to bed so that Charles never actually saw his wife naked in the bright room light. She would only take off her nighties under the protection of the covers and even then she managed to maintain at least one layer of underclothes.

– 6:15 a.m. Charles had noticed early in their marriage that Darlene managed to spend an inordinate portion of her life in the bathroom. On the evenings that they would go out, even if it were just for a movie, she would spend an hour getting ready. During which time, of course, the bathroom was occupied and Charles would impatiently go over the day’s accounts, or plan his presentation for next week’s meeting. When Darlene finally said she was ready to go, Charles would shower, shave, change his clothes, and pull the car around front, all in seven minutes. There he would sit steaming while his wife did her final touch-ups and strolled down the slate pathway to the car.

– 6:20 a.m. Not long ago Charles made the mistake of mentioning his wife’s peculiarities to Howard, his friend and colleague at the office. Howard was astounded at the amount of time that Charles’ wife spent unattended in the bathroom. The two of them estimated that Darlene spent five hours a day sequestered away, this taking into account the spare time she had available to her during office hours. Howard jokingly suggested that perhaps she had a lover hidden behind the shower curtains —a ridiculous notion. Charles shrugged it off. She was just a bit meticulous and old fashioned. Perhaps she has a repulsive birthmark, or something of that nature, Howard offered helpfully during a business luncheon. Of course not! Well, even if she had, it wouldn’t mean a thing. Charles loved his wife despite her little quirks.

– 6:25 a.m. In the moment though he was longing to urinate, and cursed her silently under his breath. But he really did love her. They had met at a singles’ resort. He was freshly divorced and she was recently widowed. The story of her husband’s sudden stroke touched his heart. They both needed someone and were married just three weeks after they’d met. She had never done anything to disappoint him. She kept an immaculate home, cooked superb meals, entertained well, and was, as far as he knew, a most faithful and loving companion. He was happy with his marriage and successful in his career. Her little quirks didn’t really bother him. In fact, he used to find them quite amusing. She must have been that way with her previous husband as well, though he never questioned her about her prior marriage. He actually knew very little about her history altogether, but that didn’t bother him. She was a bit old fashioned in some ways, strived a bit too hard to please him with her appearance he supposed, but they lead a happy normal life, and he liked having her around.

– 6:30 a.m. She was a heroin addict, Howard announced. They always lock themselves up in the bathroom like that for hours. They’re the most normal people in the world, as long as they can shoot themselves up with junk a couple of times a day, he insisted. Charles tried hard to ignore Howard completely. He had already checked behind the shower curtain for her clandestine lover. There was nothing but mildew. He had even checked the garbage can for empty syringes, but there was nothing but cotton balls and used Kleenexes. He tried to put it all out of his aching head. His head had begun its incessant throbbing not long after Howard had volunteered his first evil suspicions about Darlene.

– 6:35 a.m. Charles’ mind shifted from his pounding head to his pleading bladder, and back again, as he thought of what Howard had said last week. He had suggested that Darlene was really a transsexual weirdo and spent the time plucking out eyebrow hairs and shaving his/her body all over. Charles was insulted, and would have punched him then and there, but for the fact that Howard was a good two inches taller than him and had considerably more seniority with the company. That night when Charles came home he looked suspiciously at his wife. He scanned her homemaker’s body, her light pink house dress and matching apron. That night he casually felt her body for any abnormalities. Though she was a bit shocked, he could discern nothing out of the ordinary. In the morning he listened closely to her feminine whine and scrutinized her swinging gait. Yes, Darlene was all woman.

– 6:40 a.m. Charles pounded back four aspirin for his aching head. He thought about how much Howard was beginning to annoy him. Howard had been married for a while and – he told Charles with pride, his wife had never been in the bathroom for more than five minutes alone. Howard knew exactly what his wife did in the bathroom, because he had watched her doing it.

– 6:45 a.m. The throbbing in Charles’ head was being joined by a sharp pain behind his eyes. He had been going to work with that pain for some time now. Yesterday morning Howard had tried to cheer him up by announcing his latest theory on Darlene’s bathroom time. Before Charles could stop him Howard proceeded to make his wildest speculation of all. Perhaps Darlene wasn’t really doing anything in the bathroom. Perhaps Darlene was just staying in there as long as she could to annoy Charles. Perhaps she was just trying to get Charles’ attention; Women’s Lib and all that stuff. After all, Howard argued convincingly, whatever she did in there to make herself look presentable couldn’t possibly take that long. Who can spend almost two hours getting ready for a movie?

– 6:50 a.m. Charles had to admit that Howard might have a point there. After all, it rarely took Charles more than ten minutes to get ready for a fancy night out. Was Darlene deliberately taunting him?

– 6:55 a.m. The idea was too incredible, Charles bristled at the thought and his forehead broke out in a cold sweat. No, it was too ridiculous. Darlene was a nice old fashioned girl. She adored him, and served him lovingly. She would never try to defy him in any way! Charles’ head was swelling with pain.

– 7:00 a.m. Darlene was still in the bathroom when Charles suffered a sudden cerebral aneurysm. His bladder emptied, warm urine spread slowly between the sheets. With the blood flow stopped to vital portions of his brain, he was dead within a few minutes. Darlene had just gotten to the point of brushing her teeth.

The End

Optional Epilogue
Darlene was, of course, heartbroken at Charles’ untimely death. Two months later she collected the insurance and booked herself on a Mediterranean singles cruise, with Howard; specifying a cabin with private bath.

(This story was inspired by a Dear Abby column, or perhaps it was Ann Landers, in which a reader asked for advice on what to do about his wife taking so long in the bathroom. The response: learn to live with it. Ann/Abby said women take a lot longer to get ready than men. I haven’t been able to track down that original article – if anyone can find it I’d be much obliged…)

From → Other Writings

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