Thirty-Four With A Shrug

AG2 William Benson, who can travel short distances into the future, comes home from a long underway to find that his wife has “gone out with the girls”. This follows sequentially from A Step Ahead.

On the drive home William experienced the aftereffects. Strange thoughts, mixed voices. It was just his mind playing catch-up, but still, he had to be careful.

He stopped at the package store. Friday night, packed as usual. William roamed the aisles for a while, pretending to browse and noting how the line grew. He let his mind finish playing catch up. By the time he was done, the line had wrapped around the coolers in the back.

William got in his car. All better now. He drove home in the dark. Party this weekend. Weekend pleasure, Monday morning regret, and no regret was worse than the regret experienced in a floating steel labyrinth.

Just wait till deployment. Nine months, maybe eleven.

Current mess deck rumors suggested they’d get extended. It made sense. Hadn’t the Bataan gotten extended? The Bush? Or were those just rumors too? The worst rumors were the ones that had come true before. Precedence. Hard to argue against it.

Deployment. Nine months, eleven. Eleven? Call it what it is: a fucking year. No amount of port visits could justify that. William had never jumped ahead more than a few hours. Not one day, let alone 365. How long would it take to catch up then? Could he ever?

He pulled into the driveway. They lived in military housing, free but you lose your basic housing allowance. Fourteen hundred dollars you won’t see, to live in a safe neighborhood. It seemed a fair trade-off to William.

No lights were on and he knew what he’d find before he found it. The note taped to the door was written in marker.

Got tired of waiting up. Davin’s at Jess’s. I’m going out with the girls. Don’t wait up.

Past this was her name, Alisha, a heart dotting the i.

William nodded. Made sense. She rarely waited for him anymore. He plucked the note off the door and turned it around, smiling in triumph.

On the back she’d written, AKA ADMIN BITCH

#

William stood over the sink and poured himself a shot of Jack Daniels. He downed the shot, poured another and held it up.

Davin would be okay — let the fat bitch keep him tonight. Jess worked part-time as a caretaker and she had great reviews. Alisha would be okay too — she’d gone out with some girls, all Navy, attached and single, and they chose the designated driver beforehand, no rock-paper-scissors or its close cousin hatchet-shield-club. Alisha would be okay. She might meet a guy.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

His wife’s infidelity only gave him an excuse to be unfaithful too. And while he did flirt with some of the girls on the ship, William had found that since discovering his gift his desire for sex had dropped. He didn’t want her like he had in the early days, and when they did have sex, he laid there and let her do everything. She acted like she preferred it, but he knew better.

Their last passion was after boot camp graduation. William’s family hadn’t come and Alisha’s left the two of them alone. They’d gone out to “get some donuts” and William didn’t know if it were true or not, and with Alisha yanking at his dress blues, he didn’t care either. Their last moment of lust.

William downed the shot and poured another.

Life had changed since he’d discovered his gift, but it wasn’t Alisha’s infidelity, her impending exit from the Navy or his own lack of lust that bothered him. In the end, it was a simple feeling.

He hated his life.

He had hated his life since grad school, when it became apparent that even if he did finish, it didn’t matter: he was going nowhere. He looked at the other graduate students, who gave little shrugs when asked what they planned to do with their degrees. Thirty-four year olds, some with families, pissing away their youth for a piece of paper, and when asked what they planned to do with it, they shrugged. Hell if I know.

William would be in debt the rest of his life, thanks to college. The Navy was supposed to give him money to go back and do a real degree. Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering. A little something to show for his efforts, that would be nice, not Thirty-Four with a Shrug. What are you going to do? Hell if I know.

Then Alisha got pregnant.

We were using protection, everyone’s classic excuse. In William’s case, he didn’t know — when he’d lost his lust, he’d lost his interest too, his planning . . . and one morning Alisha turned up pregnant, and what are you going to do? Hell if I know?

But, no. William knew.

It involved two decades and a Thank You for Your Service.

A car went by, brake lights flashing, easing over the speed bumps. He downed this shot and laid the glass in the sink.

Alisha wasn’t the only one who could go out.

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