Barry hated his job. Barry hated his wife. Barry even hated his children.
Barry deeply despised his wife, Lee, because she was smarter than him; more attractive than him and because she was not supposed to be with him. She was supposed to be with the mayor’s son, but fifteen years ago, Barry knocked her up. Really she knocked herself up, but it was Barry’s naked body she used.
Why she chose an ugly plumber for revenge was beyond Barry, but at the moment of seduction, he wasn’t about to complain. She called his company to fix her sink and when Barry arrived, Lee was crying. Afraid of women and terrified of crying women, Barry asked to see where the problem was.
“The problem”, she squealed through clear drippy snot, “is men.”
"O.k., hmm, tricky, I can’t fix that.” He said. “So you’re all set?” His words drowned in an awkward mumble as he backed for the door.And she seduced him. This was not difficult. Barry was an unattractive twenty-four year old plumber who had never been kissed and when Lee leaned toward him, his pimply pale body jumped at the opportunity to touch a woman.
"No, I’m not all set.”
I’m not gay! He thought to himself.
“Who do you like better,” his mother once asked him queerly, “Elton John or The Spice Girls?”
“The Spice Girls are dumb, but I like ‘Tiny Dancer,’ why?”
After a few make out minutes of head tilting and tongue touching, Barry was out of ideas and began mimicking Lee. Everything she did, he did back. She touched his cheek; he touched hers. She touched his hair; he touched hers. This worked swimmingly until she ripped off her thin leather belt. Barry mimicked, unbuckling his tool belt and dropping a large adjustable wrench on Lee’s left foot.
Lee called the plumbing company five weeks later. The secretary, Milly, the girl Barry really wished he had dropped his wrench on, gave him the message:
Lee Precious called.
“Tell that ass hole Barry, I’m pregnant.”
“Tell that ass hole Barry, I’m pregnant.”
Probably the most profanity Milly had ever seen, let alone write on a sticky note.
Milly was sweet. She had been hired a week after Lee’s first call. Milly was a small woman, lady, girl really. Short curly brownish hair, freckles and two very nice boobs. She once caught Barry staring at them. He had been waiting at her desk to ask about the day’s schedule. She was on the phone with a client. She’s such a good secretary, Barry was thinking, with such perfectly swollen water balloon breasts. It was after this thought that Milly looked up. Her eyes caught his and he blushed.
“I was wondering about today’s schedule. Sorry, I don’t know why I said ‘boobs.’”The secretary before Milly was an old dirty woman who smelled like body odor, coffee and dirty feet. Nobody liked her, but she had been around for ninety-seven years, answering the phone and complaining to the boss that the plumbers didn’t appreciate her. So Barry was the card guy. Every couple of months, he bought a Thank You card from 7-11 and made everyone sign it.
“Huh? You didn’t.”
Milly was young, organized and had a very pleasant vanilla odor. She was also, however, the boss’s “off limits, touch and die” niece. Off limits, to Barry, meant she was even hotter. She was pretty, with a nice set of boobs for sure, but there was something a little wrong with her. She had very small eyebrows, Barry realized one day. A flaw that soon turned into a fantasy. Driving from job to job, Barry would often imagine Milly plucking her eyebrows for hours, to make them perfect for Barry (the young, interesting plumber at work). Milly could have been in a relationship with a big, handsome man named Buck and Barry would never have known. Unfortunately after the infamous sticky note, Milly rarely looked at him.
When Lee was eight weeks pregnant, Barry married her. Lee’s father, a wealthy businessman of business, guilt him into it.
“Be a man.” He said. “You made this mess, now you have to swim in it.”
Barry hated swimming.
Barry’s mother, on the other hand, was happy about her son’s nuptials.
“Thought you were gay, son.” His father said to him.Barry’s father was a straightforward man. Barry usually appreciated his honesty. Not this time.
“I had no idea you had a girlfriend!” Barry’s mother exclaimed.
“Oh Mary, take off your sleeping mask” A saying he coined after Mary woke up one morning and thought she had gone blind in the night. Bill had rolled over and pulled the mask away from her eyes. “He knocked the girl up."
“Stop that Bill. I don’t like that.”
“I feel bad for the girl’s father. He’s got to give his only daughter away to our son, the plumber.”
“There is nothing wrong with being a plumber. Besides he’s applying for business school this winter.”
“You are. I told her father, Dan, you were hoping to go to graduate school next fall… Oh stop it, don’t look at me like that. You’re a plumber, for Christ’s sake!”
“I LIKE FIXING STUFF!”Barry yelled, his arms flailing like a monkey losing its balance. So that was that. He had no say in the matter.
Fifteen years later, Barry drove to work in the city five days a week. Occasionally, he was asked by the secretary to fix a sink or toilet leak. Those were the good days, but all the other days were bad boring days of answering calls, making calls, reading things and pretending he was smarter than he was. Barry hated his job.
And he hated his children, Jane and Daniel. Lee had given them everything they wanted because "they only have one childhood, Barry". Barry once asked Dan if he wanted to go camping. Daniel cried. What a baby, Barry thought. Another time on vacation, Barry asked four-year-old Jane to go for a walk with him on the beach to find sea glass. She screamed.
“Brat.”Barry told his young daughter, who then screamed louder.
Barry wanted to run away from home. He would get away, eventually. He was saving. He had promised himself when he took the job in the city that he would save up and run away. Unfortunately, Lee found his secret savings account. He had kept it for years. Barry told her that it was a back up retirement fund, but she didn’t believe him.
“I want to run away.”She shook her head.
“You’ll never run away. You need me.” She said. “You know where you’d be without me? You’d be a dirty little plumber!”
"EXACTLY I LIKE-!”And they both yelled,
He never had had much aspiration for a career. He had seen men in his life work years and years at jobs they hated. He didn’t think it was worth it. He wanted a job he didn’t mind, preferably a job he liked. He wouldn’t make as much money, but he would make enough for beers after work with his buddies and dinner with his pretty wife at night. Barry would live contently ever after.
Unfortunately Barry’s plans changed when he was seduced by a crazy rich girl who wanted revenge on the old mayor’s son. She ruined his life with spoiled children, khaki dinner parties and a boring sexless marriage. And Barry had been faithful! Lee probably hadn’t been. She probably slept with other plumbers, the young guy who cut the lawn on Friday mornings and even some of her friends’ husbands, but Barry had been faithful. Really, he didn’t much choice in the matter. He was still pretty ugly, but he dressed all right. Lee made sure of that.
“I’m out.” Barry told her.
“No, I'm sorry Barry, please don't leave. I love you.”Barry laughed.
“What? No you don’t.”
“I do, Barry, I love you. And I need you.”
There was a pause before she dared to ask him if he loved her. Suddenly Barry was confused. He hated her. Didn’t he? But at that moment, she looked sweet and sad. Oh no, Barry thought, she's crying.
Barry laughed again.
“I have cancer, Barry.”
“Yeaaah right. You just want to make me feel bad.”
“No, Barry, I’m telling you the truth. I have breast cancer.”
Barry was shocked and didn’t say anything for a very long time.
“Are you happy that I’m sick?”
“I don’t think so. No, no I’m sad.”
Lee changed and then Lee died, but the four months between her diagnosis and her death were the best four months of Lee and Barry’s marriage. Lee wouldn’t pester Barry about his job, his torn jeans or his tendency to watch games at the bar with his buddies. And Barry changed. He used his secret savings money to quit his job in the city and take care of Lee. He cooked dinner every night, cleaned the house and even did the laundry. During this time, Barry realized that he had long ago learned to love Lee and now he was learning to like her.
The night before Lee passed away in her sleep, she curled up beside him and said,
“I think death is the only thing that could have scared me into admitting that I love you."
“I love you too, Lee.”
The next morning, Lee was dead beside him. He kept her in bed for a while. It was nice to have her there, sleeping quietly. Eventually, he called the hospital and the list of people she had written down for this very moment. He organized the funeral, the burial and the platters of mini ham sandwiches. On the drive from the graveyard to their home, Barry told Daniel and Jane that he loved them. They didn’t respond. Maybe they hadn’t heard him over their sniffling, Barry couldn't tell.
A moment later at a stoplight, Barry blurted,
“I’ve always loved you guys. I just didn’t like how you treated me.”
“You used to be mean to us.” Jane snorted from behind him.
“When?” Barry pressed.
“You were never home.” Daniel said.
Barry turned around to face the blushed cheeks of his tearful children and said the most heartfelt apology he ever had.
“I’m sorry Dan. I’m sorry Jane. I’m going to start working from home now. I’m going to be a fix it man!”
And he was. He started with fliers and friends. His first couple of calls were pity jobs: people in town wanting to give him money. Eventually, though, he built a name for himself and turned his garage into a shop. During the summer months, Jane was Barry’s adorably bright secretary and Daniel, who also loved fixing stuff, was Barry’s assistant.
Two years after Lee’s death, Barry asked out Milly. She was a waitress in town and her husband had recently left her for a prostitute he swore was his soul mate. That’s what Barry had heard anyway.
Over their candle-lit table at The Olive Garden, Barry handed Milly the sticky note she had written for him so many years before. She giggled when she saw it. Barry smiled and bit into a garlic bread stick.
Barry and Milly shared cheesecake for desert.
Two weeks later, they agreed to share the rest of their lives.