Ulysses and Penelope WardbyMatt Moreau©
I'd heard the two of them talking about me. My heart was broken. Why she'd said those things about me I couldn't guess. She didn't need to be saying stuff like that. I'd never done her wrong—never. That was two days ago. I'd been in a blue funk ever since; she hadn't noticed; of course now I knew the reason she hadn't noticed: she'd had her own agenda. She was sitting across from me soft pedaling what it, her agenda.
"I'm sorry Uly, but it's the way it has to be. Time to get on with things," she said, and then she was gone. My Penelope was gone. Gone and I didn't really know why just that there was another man.
Nine years of marriage in the shitter. No kids at least; that was something. I had the condo; she'd said she didn't want it. She'd not wanted anything except for her share of the condo's equity. Well, and except for the condo, we didn't have much. Our cars, our personal stuff, some furniture, and that was about it. She asked me to send her half the equity when I could afford it. I'd said that I would.
Pen and I had met in college, dated off and on for three years, gotten engaged at a frat kegger, and married a month after our common graduation. Now, thirty-five years old and starting over. Well, it was what it was.
The divorce would be final in seven months. I swallowed hard and prepared to get on with things as she'd said. I took stock. At five-six and one-forty I was too damn small, but I was otherwise okay looking, I guess. My job at Wilcom Enterprises was a good one: I was sales rep for the southern district. Wilcom marketed, installed, and serviced electronic and computer products for several makers of such. Problem was that Pen worked for Wilcom too, different division, she was admin assistant to the company CEO, Brad Siefert.
Working for the same company meant that we'd still be seeing each other from time to time, and that was going to be hard for me. Worse, I'd no doubt be seeing her with him, Herbert Morgan. Herbert was the reason, evidently, that she'd left me. Herbert was HRO chief for Wilcom.
I'd sorta been wrong about seeing her at work. For a full two months after her laying it on me, I did not see her. Nor had I heard from or about her during that time.
The divorce still had a few months to go before being final. I spent my evenings mostly at home crying in my manhattans. Manhattans were good friends to have, very sympathetic actually. I appreciated that. But then I did, see her that is, and him.
It was a company honoraria. It was kind of a mandate to attend, so I did. Everyone was eating. I knew the band would be gearing up soon; they were already setting up on the dais raised for the purpose.
I was seated at a table of my coworkers on the sales force. My soon to be ex was across the room with good 'ole Herbert. They weren't necking or anything, but they were seated close to each other and quietly conversing and laughing at whatever during the affair. Mister Siefert went up to the mike and tested it.
"Okay, folks, this is where I get to say thanks to all of you for a job well done this quarter. And, I have some special thank yous for a few special ladies and gentlemen tonight as well," he said.
One by one, the top three performers from each of the company's four divisions went up to receive plaques and an envelope—presumably a bonus cheque for a job well done. And then it was the turn of the sales division.
And for the sales division number three is Ulysses Ward. I was surprised. I had not expected to get anything. I went up and got the usual short accolade and was handed a plaque and my winnings. The applause was polite. I glanced over at my wife; she was still that. She was smiling and applauding too. Her date did too after she nudged him.
The other winners followed, some photos were taken and we resumed our seats.
Awards made, the drinking and dancing began. This was where the rubber would meet the road. I watched her dance with him several times. I had no interest in asking anyone to dance, and I didn't. But I did drink, rather heavily. Mark Wilson, my bud from the materials division kept after me to make a move on some of the other females in attendance. He was joined by Hank Larabee and Quentin Cedar, installation guys.
"You oughta ask one of the gals to dance, Uly, said Quentin.
"Yes, you're divorcing, but you're not on your death bed," said Mark. "You're a good looking guy; you need to get started on the rest of your life," he said. Quentin was nodding his agreement.
"You know, you're right," I said. He smiled.
"Damn straight," said Mark. "I usually am." He laughed. I looked around to see which single gals might be willing to have mercy on me. I targeted two.
I got up and asked Ann Williams to dance. She turned me down, said she had a sore ankle. I nodded and went back to my table. A bit later I asked Meryl Childers to dance; she said maybe later. I guessed that my bud's assessment of my worthiness was not as accurate as he thought. At any rate, my ego sufficiently dented, I just decided to get really sloshed.
I was into my fourth manhattan when she came up to me. "Dance with me Uly," she said. She was so beautiful; I wanted to cry—again.
"No, Pen, wouldn't want to upset good 'ole Herbert. You don't owe me anything. Just go on back to your new man," I said. I don't think I sounded especially bitter, but I could have been wrong.
"Come on, Uly, we were married a long time. We can still be friends. Really," she said.
"No," I said. And I turned my back on her.
"Okay, if that's how it's going to be," she said. Then she did go back to him. I saw the two of them talking animatedly. Of course I didn't actually know what it was about, but it figured to be me.
Having seen her politely applauding me, and her essentially offering me a chance to salvage a bit of pride by asking me to dance with her, did something to my psyche. I made a decision. I'd sell the condo and get out of Dodge. I just couldn't bring myself to work in the same place as she did, my beautiful Penelope.
At work I was just going through the motions for the next three months. It was very difficult for me to concentrate. But then, finally, the condo sold. I sent her her half of the equity, $11,000. I took my half, and put it in a savings account at a new bank: I'd closed out my old accounts. The divorce was final two weeks after I sent her the cheque.
I showed up for the final decree. She was across the room from me—with him. She tendered me a smile; I didn't return it. She took on a questioning look I didn't quite understand. But it was what it was. I made the required declaration and she made hers. When I heard her, I started to cry; there was nothing for it; it was the saddest moment of my life. And then I quit my job. And when I did, I was summoned to the CEO's office for a sit down.
"Have a seat Uly," he said.
"Thank you, sir," I said. I took the proffered seat.
"So you've decided to quit. Sure it's the best thing for you? You've put in a lot of time and energy with the company," he said. I decided to be candid.
"Sir, I can't—"
"Your wife?" he said.
"Well, yes. I can't work where she does. Seeing her, well it's too much," I said. He nodded.
"Uly, Pen is a very good assistant. I treasure her skills. She actually came to me and offered to quit. She said she knew it might be hard for you working here with her; I mean with her divorcing you and all. I talked her out of it. I told her that you were a tough guy and could handle it. But, I guess I was wrong, huh," he said.
"Sir, with all due respect, and believe it, I do very much respect you; but me seeing her . . . I just can't do it. She's my life, and I mean she is still my life. There will never be anyone else for me. I have to leave town, start over, or try to," I said.
"Okay, Uly. I kinda felt that's what you'd say. Here, take this, maybe it will help you," he said. "Oh, and if you ever change your mind; well, we can always use a good rep, and you're one of the best. He handed me an envelope.
"Thank you, sir," I said. We said our goodbyes, and then I was gone.
I decided not to work sales anymore. Sales required a kind of focus that was only possible for someone whose personal life was stable. Emotional cripples like me could never really be any good at high end sales. I needed something mindless that took up all of my time and at the same time could pay me a living wage.
All Hallows Hamburgers—it had been founded on Halloween some years before—hired me as an assistant manager on the spot. My recommendation from mister Siefert had been in the envelope along with a personal severance check; it helped me there.
I was in my mid-thirties and pushing burgers for a living. I should say the job wasn't exactly chopped liver. True, I used to make upwards of 80K annual with bonuses, and that was now down to 40K, but when I made manager that would jump to a solid 60K and the benefit package wasn't too shabby; it was a statewide chain, was All Hallows. At any rate, I was getting by, just not like I used to.
What had actually sold me on the job were the outrageously long hours I'd be required to put in. Sixty and seventy hours a week were not uncommon, not uncommon at all. It's what I'd wanted. Something to take my mind off my wife, my ex-wife. And it did.
At any rate, between my job and my pal Old Overholt, my favorite rye whiskey, I was doing marginally okay. Of course, I had no social life, not with my schedule; but again, I hadn't wanted one. Had I wanted one I probably wouldn't have done all that well anyway. My whole situation kinda sucked.
I found myself wondering, and that almost every night, why my ex married me in the first place. Pen was a looker and social star. I, on the other hand, was a social cipher. I was a hard worker and a good provider. But there were other guys with my skills and who had as well social skills. But, she had chosen me. I guessed I would never know the answer to that question, but I sure would have liked to.
My fortieth was coming up. I had no family. I had no wife of course. A couple of casual friends I drank with on occasion were about it as far as anyone caring one way or another whether I lived or died. Which was okay with me because I didn't care.
I was hanging out at the Round Tree, sitting at the bar, when they came in. Talk about coincidences.
"Uly!" she said. I hadn't seen her until she addressed me. I turned around and there she was, the most beautiful woman in the world Penelope 'Morgan' with her husband standing right behind her. He was smiling and she was trying to.
I turned back to my drink trying and pretended she wasn't there.
"Uly? Please?" she said. I downed the drink, threw a ten on the bar and stalked out. I had not uttered a word to her. She said my name one more time as I distanced myself from them, but I kept on going. I was doing my best to not break down before I got out the door.
What I had not counted on was her determination to talk to me. She couldn't catch me, I was sure of that, but he could and did, no doubt under orders to do so from her. I was keying the lock on my car door when he pulled me back and away from it.
"What the . . ." I started.
"She wants to have a word with you, Ulysses. It won't kill you," said Herbert.
"Get out of my way. I need to get out of here. Okay!" I tried to get by him again, but he was too big and he held me back. I saw her coming out. I did it. I took a swing at him, and then I was feeling real good and it was dark and the beep-beep in the back ground was kinda soothing. I fell asleep and it was good.
I woke up at some ungodly hour. I think the clock read 3:00AM, but my vision was not real good, so I wasn't sure. I had to pee. I knew I was in the hospital. I also knew my rival, my victorious rival, had mopped up the parking lot with me and had put me there.
I'd been laid up in the hospital before. I knew the place. I knew where the bathroom was. I swung out of bed and hesitated before trying my legs out. I was dizzy, but otherwise not in much actual pain. Drugs I figured. Then, I saw her. She was curled up in a chair across the room. I made to sneak by her. I really had to pee. I made it inside the john and sat rather than stood to do my business. Now I had to do something.
I didn't want to talk to her. I didn't want her to tell me again how sorry she was for hurting me. I just wanted to be left alone. I decided to get my clothes: I knew where they'd be' there was a closet across from my bed. I figured they'd be in there. I'd dress quietly and get the hell outta there. But she short shanked me.
I opened the door to the head and she was standing right there waiting.
"Uly, please talk to me for a minute. Please!" she whispered. I ignored her and just went back to bed; ideas of dressing and getting out of there without her seeing me trashed.
I had long before determined that I was not ever going to speak with her again, not for any reason. Talking wasn't going to solve a damn thing and it was ten to one that I'd break down and humiliate myself more than I already had. No, there was no percentage in talking to her. She could go talk to the husband that she loved so much more than me.
"Uly, sooner or later you have to talk to me. But, I guess it's going to be later. I would have thought that five years would have softened your feelings about what I did to us. But, I guess not. I'll leave you alone for now. I guess I understand how you feel," she said. And, then she was gone.
She'd been right about one thing. Five years had not softened my feelings about how she'd done me, not at all. They, my feelings, were as raw now as they had been the day she cut the heart out of me. I had to think that that would never change.
I was released two days later. It turned out that mister Morgan had spent the night in jail before being bailed out, presumably by her. I had two missing teeth, a broken rib and a mild concussion. Oh, and he had a broken nose; I guess I'd connected with my one and only shot, but in truth I couldn't remember anything about it.
Not only had the asshole messed me up, but I'd had to pay for my teeth and my hospital expenses on my own. I toyed with the idea of suing the asshole. I decided not to file a complaint against him because I didn't want to be dealing with Penelope even indirectly; hence, I'd lied to the police told them that I'd started it. And, actually, I had thrown the first punch, so I guess it wasn't actually a lie. The price tag for not sticking it to him or at least trying to? Why four thousand dollars. And, it really rankled my having to pay it.
Back at work two weeks later, I buried myself in the doing of it. The good news? Why as every good student of the puritan work ethic knows, hard work will virtually always spell success. It had taken a while to get there, but I was no longer an assistant manager, or even a manager. No, I was now district supervisor for the chain. I was now earning a hundred grand annual with bonuses—yes, more than I ever did with Wilcom.
I had thirty four stores under my direct overseership. And, I was an overseer, and one with a figurative whip, a theory "X" manager for sure. I brooked no subpar efforts on the part of my crews. Penelope's betrayal had made me into a different person. I no longer cared very much for what anybody wanted or thought except my bosses: the chain's high command. And then I got a visit.
"Thanks for making time for me Uly," said mister Hughs.
"Absolutely," I said. "Anything I can do." I should note here that mister Rodney Hughs was company VP in charge of personnel.
"You've done well, Uly. You've been noticed at corporate. Anyway, to get right to it. The company is going nationwide. I know that you're not married and not otherwise involved. And, as a result, I am tempted to offer you an opportunity," he said.
"An opportunity?" I said.
"Yes, you'd be VP in charge of the Southwest region. A hundred and six stores are planned in New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. You'd be based in Phoenix. Your job would be to get the stores staffed and up and running.
"Sound like something you could get your head around?" he said.
"Damn straight," I said. We talked for quite a while. As he got up to leave, he paused.
"You haven't asked about your pay or benefits?" he said.
"Don't care," I said. "So long as I'm busy, really busy."
"You're a strange one you know that?" he said. "But for the record, you'll be making an estimated 250K annual with bonuses factored in. Oh, and you'll have a company car as you do now but with a driver added in. And oh yeah, I almost forgot; and a Lear Jet-45 to get you around faster."
"Jesus, that is something," I said, suitably impressed.
"Yes, yes it is," he said, smiling the smile of a man who'd finally made an impact.
I spent the rest of the day sitting at the Round Tree feeling a little down. I should've been sharing my success with her. But I wouldn't be, and not with anybody else either.
"Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down
'Twas sad as sad could be."
Coleridge's lines seemed a metaphor for my life. The divorce had surely taken the wind out of my emotional sails; and the sadness had so far not left me; indeed, it, the sadness, had only gotten more intense with every passing day. At least the Ancient Mariner had come out of it okay in the end; well, it was a qualified 'okay' right enough, but at least he had goals; me not so much.
I'd been given two years to get the stores up and running. I'd done it in nine months. I didn't make the $250K I'd expected; I'd made $500k. I'd made the money, but it had not made me happy, not close.
"I was called back for a major confab at corporate as soon as store number 106 opened for business. My jet had me back in a bit under five hours.
The reason for the big sit down? There were two. One: to get congratulated. Two: we were about to integrate a new computer system that would tie all six hundred stores coast to coast together. The system's supplier? Why Wilcom Industries. One had to love it.
"It'll be your job to get it done, Uly," said Rod Hughs. "You okay with that?"
"No problem, Rod, I used to work with Wilcom. Though that was a long time ago. They are the best at what they do; that much I can vouch for," I said. He nodded.
"You know, I didn't know you worked for Wilcom until your old bud Brad Siefert clued me," he said. "There's nothing about your previous employment with them in your file."
"At the time I wanted it that way, and Jim Huerter, the guy who hired me, went along. My ex is Brad's secretary. I didn't ever want to see or hear from her again. The pain, at the time was just too fresh."
"But now?" he said. "She's still Siefert's assistant. She will likely be with him."
"It was years ago, eight to be exact. I can handle it now. I can do the job," I said.
I'd told my boss that I could handle seeing her. It had been three years since I'd last seen her, and I'd run from her then. So now? Could I handle it? I determined to keep things on a professional level. If I had to talk to her directly about anything at all, I'd deal with it and at worst cry in my manhattans later.
All Hallows had a nice meeting room which had an adjunct kitchen that made it convenient to hold sit downs when we had large groups to deal with. I was early and sipping my post prandial caffeinated beverage while going over Wilcom's projected startup date.
The morning brunch had been pretty good. I'd eaten too much, but, I promised myself that I'd make up for my dietary sins after the Wilcom folks were gone; that figured to be in a couple of days if we could come to an agreement on installation dates.
She startled me. "Hello, Uly," she said. I kept it together.