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A Slap in the Face
a story by Paul Germano

On the night of August 17th, 1998, political junkie Lucy Palermo McCloud sat on the edge of her favorite chair, her focus fixed on the TV screen. She listened intensely as President Bill Clinton apologized for his inappropriate behavior in the whole Monica Lewinski mess. Lucy immediately forgave the President -- her President -- the man she voted for, twice. She nodded in approval as Bill told America that he and his wife and their daughter had a right to their privacy: "This is nobody's business but ours." And when the President made sharp remarks against Kenneth Starr, Lucy again nodded her approval, adding a spirited "yes!" She was satisfied, pleased even, with the way the President handled himself in addressing the nation about such an embarrassing situation. As Tom Brokaw kicked-off his network's post-speech coverage, Lucy sipped at her third cup of coffee, from a full pot, freshly brewed for the telecast. She looked over at the empty chair, next to hers, where Harry usually sat.

Once again Harry had phoned, another late night at work. But no matter, Harry was completely disinterested in politics. Or to put in Harry's own words: "I don't give a rat's ass about all the political bullshit in Washington."

Harry tended to swear a lot. Once upon a time, Lucy found this charming in a roguish sort of way. But no more; now she found it extremely annoying. Of late, his language had become much more crude. Where once a "damn" would do, he now used "goddamn." And his simple little "hell" had been replaced by far more vulgar variations. Lucy made a practice of never swearing. As her mother always told her: "Swearing shows a lack of good breeding."

While Lucy listened to NBC's coverage at home, clear across town Harry was in full throttle with his so-called "late night at work." At a corner table at Coleman's, his back against the wall, he worked on his third Vodka Tonic and listened intently to his personal secretary, Marilyn Brock, as she explained her take on The Birds. Marilyn regarded it as Hitchcock's finest work, placing major emphasis on the caged lovebirds. Her explanation complete, she smiled sweetly, took a sip of Diet Pepsi and swirled the straw, waiting for Harry's response.

"No question about it my dear Marilyn, a great film indeed," Harry said, his body buoyant and swaggering, his pudgy finger raised in a playful tone. "But the best? The best, you say? Rear Window. That is Hitch's greatest film. Let me tell you why..."

All smiles, Marilyn rested her chin in her smooth, slender hands and listened in awe. The two of them could talk about movies for hours and often had, especially when it came to discussing the filmmakers themselves. Each with their own extensive knowledge, together they had comprised a short list of favorites: Robert Altman, Speilberg of course, Penny Marshall, Norman Jewison and Barry Levinson. And then there were two others whom they held in the highest esteem: Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorcese. Last Tuesday, after a month-long debate, they had finally named Raging Bull as Scorcese's best, placing Taxi Driver and Mean Streets at a close -- almost interchangeable -- second and third. Harry and Marilyn already knew that choosing Hitchcock's best would take longer.

They sauntered through the buzz of customers at Coleman's, hand in hand, casually walking the few blocks to Marilyn's tiny apartment, embracing the cool night air. Time was at a premium. After what some would crudely refer to as a "quickie" -- but they playfully called a "draw the drapes moment," -- they shared a goodnight kiss in Marilyn's kitchenette.

Harry briskly walked back to his Camaro, fire-engine red, still sparkling from a recent waxing. Hopping in, he headed for the homefront. By the time he walked into his living room, Lucy was on the cordless, engaged in her own post-speech conversation with Frank, her younger brother and fellow political junkie -- it runs in the family, her family, that is. They get it from their father.

Harry kissed his wife on the cheek and shouted a "Hey, Frank" toward the phone. Harry knew the routine. His wife always talked with her brother after any major speech. "I'm beat," Harry told his wife. Heading down the hallway toward their bedroom, he made some appropriate grumbling noises for his wife to hear about his "goddammed job" and the "dumb-fucks" he worked with, and what a "horse's ass" his boss was. He could still hear Lucy yammering away to her brother about the President but was thankful that her voice was muffled when he shut the bedroom door. Harry did not see the annoyance in his wife's face over the language he had just used.

Four-and-a-half-months later and only two-weeks shy of their twenty-third wedding anniversary, Harry would get careless. His stupid slip-up would make Lucy discover his seven-month affair with Marilyn.

Lucy did not cry, scream or even waste time arguing with her husband. She simply confronted him, slapped him hard, just once, across the face. "You son-of-a-bitch," she said, her voice stern. She turned her back to him, walked into the kitchen and through the back door to their two-car garage. She took the Pontiac -- leaving him his precious Camaro -- and headed for her sister Rena's house.

It was over. Lucy Palermo McCloud would not be as understanding or as forgiving as Hillary Rodham Clinton -- or at least as the First Lady publicly appeared to be.

Within the protective confines of her family circle, Lucy eventually filed for divorce. This was a new century, and she would have a new life. All future communication with Harry was done through the family attorney, Adam DeLorenzo, a gaunt, reserved and kind man who kept asking: "Are you sure this is what you want to do?" He finally stopped asking when he was convinced that she was, in fact, sure.

Today, finally, Harry received the divorce papers. He knew they were coming; but still, it was a shock. Though dead-sober, he staggered his way into the living room of the house they once shared and let his body drop into Lucy's favorite chair. He thought he was composed and then realized he was crying, actually crying; crying for only the third time in his adult life.

In another part of town, Lucy was driving up and down Erie Boulevard, a newly developed habit. A habit she was certain was better than chain-smoking or drinking. And most certainly better than staring at the cheerful yellow wallpaper in the cozy guest room at her sister's house, a sprawling hearth her sister shared with her husband, Jack, three teenage sons, an 11-year-old daughter and a playful German Shepherd puppy.

In the eyes of the law, the woman who tightly gripped the steering wheel was still Mrs. McCloud. But official or not, Lucy had already reclaimed her maiden name. Once again she was Lucy Palermo, just the way she had started out in life.

Up and down the boulevard she drove, the events of 1998 slipping further and further into history yet remaining fresh in her mind. She had the radio strategically tuned to FM-88, allowing the soothing notes of dreamy-eyed jazz to keep her calm, though it really wasn't succeeding.

Abruptly, a Camaro cut in front of her. It wasn't Harry's car; it wasn't even red. Still, she felt like ramming right into its sorry little bumper. She didn't, of course. She simply continued on her path. Driving up and down the boulevard, with an irreparable pain in her heart; forced to replay her final moments with Harry over and over and over in her mind: Slap. Slap. Slap. "You son-of-a-bitch." "You son-of-a-bitch." "You son-of-a-bitch." Slap. Slap. Slap...


"A Slap in the Face" Copyright ©2001 by Paul Germano. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations for the purposes of critical reviews or articles. Educators who wish to print or photocopy in part or whole this story for classroom use, or publishers who wish to include this story in an anthology, should send inquiries by email to the author. Inquiries by mail may be sent to:
Paul Germano, c/o collectedstories.com,
Columbia U. Station, P.O. Box 250626, New York, NY 10025.
FEEDBACK HIGHLIGHTS FOR PAUL GERMANO.
"Paul Germano's piece ('A Slap in the Face') captured my own mixed feelings (and maybe the nation's in general) about Bill Clinton's behavior. He was a wonderful president, but still the things he did. And of course, the story is really about Lucy and Harry, such engaging characters, but I genuinley enjoyed the way Bill loomed over the story. Thanks" -- Judy B.
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