The Unfinished Business of Kildare Dobbs
The Thirty-Minute Break-up
by Kenneth L. Warner
“The geese are back,” she said.
“Yes,” he replied in an uninterested way. “Every year at this time.”
They sat stiffly across from each other in music that was loud, speaking with voices that were not and tried to keep from fading into the soft greens and paneled oak wood that was the restaurant.
They had been apart now for almost two months, ever since Kildare Dobbs had left her at midnight sleeping in her apartment to go down to Torb’s for a night-cap.
Instead of just drinking a late-night beer, he had ended up drunk and banging Jamie, the waitress with the too-wide space between her teeth, against the hood of his Ford truck.
That wouldn’t have been quite so bad in and of itself except that three of the girls from Marsha’s office had watched the spectacle and then told her the next morning in the break room at work.
Things had not been good between them since. This time, Marsha really did fuck half the town in her remorse and she had tried to hurt Dobbs as much as he had hurt her.
They talked first about her dangling earrings that glistened with the dancing candlelight against her dark tanned skin, then about the dubious quality of the almost room temperature beer that came from the failing tap system in the bar.
Silence broke the repeated attempts at small bits of conversation, and for a moment they found themselves staring out at the shimmering lake water made jewel-like by the setting sun.
After a while though, she tried to really talk.
“But you know,” she broke into his thoughts with a voice showing the slightest signs of a repeated loosening of (with?) warm ale, “You never told me, so how could I know?”
Kildare Dobbs first glanced at his watch and saw it was 4:35. “Dammit,” he thought, “This is going to take fucking forever if she wants to start this talk shit.”
He looked desperately around for something to fix his eyes on so as to be able to avoid locking them with hers and he smiled at an imagined friend at the other side of the polished wooden bar. He hadn’t told her because he knew it would be the end. And of all things, he didn’t want the end of anything, let alone her.
There had been too many endings in the last year.
“But you never asked,” he said. “You never even once asked how I really felt. That would have been all it took, you know. I just don’t see myself on the banks of the Seine at this point in my life.”
As an afterthought laden with beer he added, “It’s a shame you couldn’t have kept your legs together as tightly as you did your lips.”
She shot back a hard stare that softened now because they weren’t lovers anymore so it didn’t matter. She still wanted to hurt him a little though, so she told him in a coy, almost virginal way, that she loved him.
“I really do love you, you know. And, even if you don’t want to go,” she continued, “I would even marry you now if...” and she reflected for effect. Then said, “No, I could never marry you now, because you don’t really want anything.”
He bristled at her trying to stab him in the heart so early in the evening.
Kildare Dobbs and Marsha had been lovers ever since the night of her father’s funeral when, with her broken with grief, he had driven her out here by the lake to try and cheer her up. Making love on the beach against the hard rocks had been the start their relationship – and also some of the best sex Kildare Dobbs had ever had.
It had been the beginning of something else, too.
Her father had left her $250,000, and she wanted to use it to take Kildare Dobbs on a trip to France, Europe, maybe even around the world so that he could write his book and they could get away from the small town that, according to her, suffocated dreams like putting a plastic grocery bag over your head.
But Dobbs liked his job at the weekly newspaper. And he liked the fact that everyone in town knew him, and that life was really pretty easy. Breakfast at the diner. Tuesday night poker. Thursdays at the Elks Lodge
He even liked seeing her mother once in a while, if only for the entertainment value.
“Look, do we have to bring that part up again?” he responded. “Don’t you understand that it was for you, remember? So you could get over everything that happened this year? And now, shouldn’t it be enough that we’re here now talking and trying to communicate at least?”
He hated the way he sounded. And he felt as though he were a stand-in at a marriage counseling session for someone else’s marriage.
“Understand?” she flashed back. “What the hell did you ever know about understanding? It was all so you could write your novel.” She felt her own voice gain in intensity and shuddered inside as she realized it was like listening to someone else. She could feel the beer telling her to let go and really tell him, really make him feel like a shit. But then, there were others in the restaurant, and it wouldn’t do to make more of a scene than they already were.
He lowered his eyes to the parsley left on his plate after the fried haddock and steak fries. They stared away from each other for a few moments in silence.
“Did you ever wonder what in the hell parsley was for?” he said. “I used to think it was poison because no one ever ate it.”
“It’s to sweeten the breath,” she said shaking her head. She looked at him now and thought how he was always coming up with something like that. Some trivial, obscure fact to skirt the real issue at hand.
She found herself staring out the broad windows again and her mind wandering back to her noisy, crème colored VW convertible bug as it made the last turn at the top of the winding hill road they called Jacob’s Ladder.
As she broke the crest of the hill she would always switch off the ignition and shift into neutral so she could coast over the top and all they way down to where the cottage was across the bay. For an instant, there at the top, she could have a full view of the water spread before her. The sight always sent a shiver of happiness through her long body. And she always smiled when she saw the fullness of the green meadow spread out to the right and the forested hills on the other, windward side, that rolled down to meet the water’s edge, broken here and there with the white cottages of the vacation crowd.
It was there, at the place where she grew up, long lazy summer upon longer lazier summer, that she first met him.
Her family owned the large white house directly on the bay as well as the two smaller ones in back. One was quite large and had a yard. The other was tiny, with two bedrooms the size of postage stamps and backed up to the boat storage yard at the marina.
His family was renting the smaller of the two. The short, flat roofed one with the screened-in porch almost as big as the whole cottage.
She had first noticed him there, the summer of her sixteenth birthday, on an early morning when she went for her first swim in the lake, before anyone was up except the great blue heron that nested in the cove. It was the first time her father had let her stay there by herself.
They were new renters. In the other was her Aunt Kate, an old, grandmotherly lady for as long as Marsha could remember, who had rented the place for the season every year.
Kildare Dobbs, his mother and her friend Gloria had the place for the month of July and would be there for the huge July 4th weekend celebration that swelled the little lakeside village from it’s 5,000 summer population to over 20,000 just for those few days.
She had seen him before he had seen her, and, though they ran in different circles at school – she was a cheerleader and he was on the intramural football squad and debate club – she recognized him and found herself strangely attracted to him.
He was reading in the big rope Nantucket hammock strung between the two big oaks and she wasn’t sure if he was actually reading or asleep.
In any case, he wasn’t paying attention to her in her one-piece swimsuit she wore for the school team.
He did finally notice her after a week when, after she wondered if he ever would, she put on her khaki shorts that were cut particularly high and her purple pullover with the string straps cut low so that it showed off her breasts just a little too much, and boldly walked across the lawn with brownies she had baked for her uncle’s birthday.
Her strategy worked. Kildare Dobbs had twisted his head around so far that he fell out of the hammock. Marsha tried to not see it and looked away laughing.
She walked onto her aunt’s porch and looked in to see the table beyond and the now unwrapped presents; a coffee cake, some stationary, and a wooden box of cigars. She wondered at the things people gave to old people. Things that they could eat, or use up quickly -- short term -- things that don’t last.
She glanced over her shoulder to see Kildare Dobbs recovering and smiled as only a sixteen-year old girl smiling at a sixteen year-old boy can.
Her mission had been successful. She got noticed.
For Kildare Dobbs, it was love at first sight.
She turned away and shouted into the screened-in porch.
“Hello!” she shouted, “Is anyone with a birthday in here? Hello?”
Her uncle came out from around the corner with a big grin at the brownies.
“Here,” she said, “I made these for you.”
“How nice of you to remember,” said her aunt, who always seemed to be speaking in clichés.
“Won’t you come onto the porch and sit awhile?”
They sat in the comfortable wicker chairs and gazed out toward the lake and she watched Kildare Dobbs still fumbling with the hammock and staring in her direction. Finally, flustered and embarrassed, he walked straight toward the green back door of the cottage, letting it slam behind him as he went in.
Marsha giggled to herself as her aunt gave out grandmotherly advice.
“That boy has it real, real bad!” and they both laughed out loud.
Now, through all these years, Kildare Dobbs still had it bad for Marsha, but not bad enough to say or do any of the right things. Now, they were sitting in a restaurant, breaking up.
“Remember the days at the cottage?” she asked almost dreamily, breaking the silence and interrupting Dobbs who, wrapped in his own thoughts, was busy dissecting a beet salad with his fork.
“Of course I do,” he answered.
“Well, then you will remember what I said to you then, and so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.”
Dobbs sat back, prepared for one of Marsha’s monologues, but he wasn’t prepared for the onslaught and vicious scolding he was about to receive.
“I told you then, and I’m telling you now. I’m getting out of here Kildare, once and for all. I’m through with my mother. I’m done with this small town bullshit where everyone knows what color your underwear is for crissake. But here’s the new part. I’m done with you too, Kildare. I’m done with you because you never give a shit about anything and getting anywhere and doing anything. I’ve got money. My own money from Daddy and I’m not going to let it go to waste sitting and waiting for you and your shitty newspaper. You’re just a small town, shitty….”
Tears were rolling down her face and Kildare Dobbs was feeling worse for her than he was for himself.
She threw down her fork and pushed away from the table as she stood.
“Fuck you, Kildare Dobbs,” she sobbed. “Fuck you, fuck my mother and fuck everyone else.”
And she stalked out the front door.
Kildare Dobbs looked at his watch. 5:05, he thought. Thirty minutes.
“That didn’t take too long,” he said out loud.