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“A Plethora of Exes” by Anne MacLeod

A Plethora of Exes

Anne MacLeod

“This looks interesting. Let’s try it.” I am standing in front of a gaudily painted door, all peace symbols and psychedelic colors. It resembles something left over from the 60’s.

Janice leaves off her window-shopping and comes over to see what I am talking about. Janice is my best friend, the one who’s been there for me no matter what.

“The Bargain Bin. Isn’t that the discount store that was supposed to have closed?’ Hey. There’s a sign in the window. Let’s check it out.” Janice marches to the window. Janice always marches. Never walks. Maybe I do too. It must be a result of the training. After all, we’re both ex-military.

Janice reads the sign and looks at me. “I guess it’s reopened, but with a twist. They are still a bargain store but they’ve added a new dimension. They have a coffee shop- how trendy- and have karaoke every afternoon from two to four.”

I look at my watch. “It’s almost three. But let’s not go in.”

“I know what’s bothering you. It’s the karaoke. But you can’t avoid it the rest of your life. I’ve managed to accept it.”

I knew what she is talking about. We are exes, she and I. Our ex-husbands were the best of friends. It wasn’t such a surprising friendship. They both drank a lot. They were both womanizers. And they were both musicians although, in my opinion, not very good ones. When they tried to make it big, they fell on their faces and they took it out on us. John, Janice’s husband, wasn’t quite as bad as George, George being my ex-husband and the ex-love of my life. John was a bit of a follower and George had no difficulty leading him wrong.

So, why is karaoke a dirty word in my book? Well, when George and John couldn’t play professionally, they decided to go from one drinking establishment to another, imbibing a little too willingly and singing karaoke. How many nights had Janice and I watched those two idiots trying to sing, getting drunker and drunker and knowing what was going to happen later. George would turn on the charm for other people but, when he got me alone, he was anything but charming.

But it had been three years, after all.   I have already chalked up a list of ex-boyfriends. I had to make them exes for their safety. George still keeps tabs on me and will threaten anyone who dates me. And his threats aren’t anything to take lightly. George is a big brute of a man. He doesn’t want me but he doesn’t want anyone else to want me either.

“Hey, stop your wool gathering. Are we going it or not? We need some fun in our lives.” Janice has that pleading look that is hard to resist.

“Okay’ Okay. Maybe we’ll be lucky and no one will be singing. Usually the singing is atrocious.”

“Yah. Let’s try our luck.” Laughing, Janice leads the way to the door.

But our luck doesn’t hold.

As we enter, we are assaulted by the smell of stale food, musty clothes and the miasma of sweat emanating from the crowd of people fighting their way to get to the bargain bins and, like kamikazes, destroy them. But, worst of all is the noise filling the entire space, echoing and re-echoing throughout the whole building-the noise of the shoppers, backed up by some of the most appalling music imaginable.

“Where is that music – or that poor excuse for music- coming from?” I look around but am unable to find the source of the din.

“Look up,” says Janice.

I follow her gaze and, there, on the balcony of this warehouse- like space, is a man, standing with a microphone in his hand, belting out a song in his off-key voice. I guess he thinks that the louder he sings, the better he will sound. He is wrong.

Janice grabs my arm and we push our way farther into the store, trying to avoid being crushed or having our eyes poked out by the frantic shoppers who look as if they have never seen a bargain before. Janice drags me, literally, toward the coffee shop but, when we get there, we find a long line of impatient people trying to keep their places against the push and pull of the serious, and seriously disturbed, shoppers.

“Can we get out of here?” I ask but my words are drowned in the rising and falling tide of noise, which has become almost overwhelming.

“Let’s wait a bit,” says Janice. “There are seats here. I don’t think I’m up to fighting my way through that mob again so soon.”

I sit down with relief. I am doubly relieved that the music has stopped and the noise is not nearly as exasperating.

Too soon, a new voice takes up the hideous music. I recognize the tune, one by The Ex, a punk-rock band from the Netherlands and a favourite of my ex’s. I recognize that voice too. It is the aging, but still easily identifiable, voice of no other than George, my long-gone but not missed, ex.

We are just below the balcony rail and I try to cover my face with my hair so that George won’t recognize me. “Quick! Hide!” I lean over and whisper to Janice, “It’s George. Don’t let him see you.”

“Yah, I noticed. But you can’t hide from him forever.”

“ I can try.”

But my attempt fails. Just at that moment, George looks down and stops singing. “Hey, is that you, Marsha? Sure, it’s you. I’d recognize that hair anywhere.”  I might hide my face but my flaming red hair is hard to disguise. George turns again to the microphone and takes it off its stand, tangling himself up in serpentine array of wires that connect it to the music equipment. “I’d like to dedicate this song to my wife, Marsha, who’s here with us today.”

I am angry at last. I yell as loud as I can. “I am not your wife. We’ve been divorced for three years.”

I can see, even from this distance, the vein throbbing in his forehead, the throbbing that means big trouble for me. He moves to the balcony rail and leans over it, the better to have me hear him. “You are my wife as long as I want you to be. You won’t be free as long as we both are alive.

Everyone has become embarrassingly silent, whether from shock or enjoyment of the scene George and I are creating. Janice is trying to talk to me but I tune her out.   She is pulling at my arm but I shrug her off. There are only two people in the world, George and I.

CRACK. The heavy weight of George and his anger has broken the railing. George tries to jump back but too late. The railing falls with a bang right in front of me, spilling George, still holding the mike, onto the floor. The music equipment quickly follows. It lands with a powerful force on top of him.

Someone in the crowd rushes to help him but, alas, it is too late. George is dead, buried beneath his beloved music. I just sit there stunned. Then the realization comes to me and I have to hide my face so no one can see my smile. My ex- husband has become an ex-person and I, at long last, am free, an ex in every sense of the word.

© 2015 Anne MacLeod


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