Lulu by Bill Cook

“The therapist says I’m a wreck,” the husband said.

“We’ve already established that,” said Lulu.

The husband pushed aside his ThinkPad, licked his fingertip and snapped open the daily classifieds.

Lulu sat across from him. “Uh-huh, I see.”

The husband frowned. Laid the paper on the tabletop and slid his bifocals down the bridge of his nose. “Unh-unh,” he said back. His eyes washed over the personal ads.

“Older men looking for younger women,” he said.

“Is that right,” said Lulu. She unpinned the man’s new dress shirt. She wore no lipstick, no makeup this morning. Only some lip balm, raspberry he had thought earlier.

The husband took a red Sharpie from a pencil holder, and said, “Let me see what I can do to fix this.”

He smudged the felt tip over their midlife requests. Saw sleazy hotels, late nights, and hot rod cars, old lust. No more moonless nights stargazing, milk-tea shared on the veranda, leafy backroad drives, in search of some yard sale find.

Finished, the husband cast the blunted point down the page and stalled on an eraser-worn crossword.

Lulu said. “I see you were at it again.”

With pins clumped in her palm, she lowered the ironing board, plugged in the steam iron and pulled his shirt flat.

She spritzed the iron, testing. “Almost ready,” Lulu said.

She was staring at a small bald spot atop the husband’s head. Kinked wires of silver-gray frazzled from a lack of sleep, sprung restless and unsubdued. Blue eyes betrayed mourning.

“You’ve been up fretting over those precious children again? Worried, Who’ll take care of them if I have a stroke, a heart attack, get run over by a truck? ”

The husband picked at his breakfast, rolled a sausage link along the rim of his plate with the tines of his fork. He had had trouble with insomnia since Mary’s memorial service.

“What’s the world coming to Lulu?” The husband was staring out of the large window, at his wife’s untouched hammock. He talked towards a leafless Sycamore. “When a grown man has to go looking for love from one of his daughters friends?”

Lulu kept the iron moving over the fabric. Sweat beaded on her face, shoulders, under her cotton top.

“I don’t know Mister Robinson,” she finally said, and lifted the husband’s shirt and held it in the air and shook it lightly. “You best finish getting ready for your interview. You don’t want to miss this chance. It’d be the third time this week, and it’s only Wednesday.”

“Well, I suppose you’re right again,” Mister Robinson said.

But Lulu had stepped into the living room. She was gathering up crumbled paper plates, plastic forks, crushed soda cans—a few emptied bags of popcorn—littered across the fireplace hearth. A clot of sofa pillows and an old Afghans slumbered in front of the widescreen. Their mother had knitted one for each of her kids. Lulu considered leaving them on the floor. It had been movie night, an old family pastime.

The eldest, Jamie and Jessie, were at school. Little Freddie was in the bathtub, soaking.

Lulu listened for troubling sounds as she carried Mister Robinson’s pressed interview outfit—a decent pair of ironed slacks, a newly purchased Claiborne dress shirt, a slender leather belt—into the master bedroom and rested them across the back of his reading chair.

The curtains were drawn as requested, a bare mattress. For a second, she stared blankly at the clean bedding. He had a chance this morning, she thought, but why? Why had she even broached the idea of his condition?

Lulu dabbed her finger to her tongue and pressed at a small crease on the shirt’s collar as the husband came into the bedroom. He stood in the expanse of the doorframe.

“Why’s it so dark in here,” the husband asked with a quizzical smile.

“I don’t know,” said Lulu, nodding. She shivered as if a window had been opened, gazed fondly on the husband’s profile. “Your getup is over here,” she said.

The husband switched the light and went over to the reposed garments. Draped the ironed clothes over his prostrate forearm and strode into the master bath.

When he came out, he stood in front of the closet’s mirrored doors, critiqued his blowzy reflection.

“What do you think,” he asked Lulu. “Do I need a facial or should I just shave?”

“Get out of here. I’m too busy to answer such silly questions. Shoo now,” she said, tucking in the bedsheet corners military style.

The husband yanked at his blue-striped tie. “These doggone things. I can’t seem to ever get a handle on them. If only Mary…”

Lulu was already tiptoeing over. She slipped her fingers around his collar and lifted it. “Hold still,” she said, “always fidgeting.”

“Okay,” said the husband. He crouched down, cocked his chin, and found himself affected by the cupreous outline of Lulu’s mirrored reflection. How had he not ever noticed her before?

“You must take real good care of your hair. It’s so beautiful. Naturally curly, am I right?”

“There you go,” Lulu said. “Now you have no more excuses for not meeting the world head-on.” She flung her copper-brown hair and it fell over her right breast. She pulled it into a hairclip.

“There. You won’t get distracted anymore. Will you?”

“I do have a first name, you know,” the husband said. He felt his face tingle and he smiled at her shyly.

“Yes Mister Robinson…Dave, I mean,” Lulu said. “Sounds like little Freddie’s ready to get out.”

Lulu went out into the brightly lit hallway and turned towards the bathroom. Strands of her girlish hair loosened from the clip.

“Lulu,” Dave said, suddenly breathless.

Bill Cook resides in a small community nestled in the Sierra Pelona Mountain Range. He has fiction published in Juked, elimae, Tin Postcard Review, Right Hand Pointing, The Summerset Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and in Dzanc’s anthology Best of the Web 2009.

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