Tag Archive: miller


Wedding Night by Jeffrey Miller

Two weeks after I met Suzy in the parking lot of the Cocky Bull, we’re in my buddy’s Ford Fairlane headed north across the eerie moonscape-like desert to Vegas. With a suit I borrowed from Larry in avionics, as soon as I finished the graveyard shift at the air base, Suzy and her two friends, Billy and Joy and I were headed north on I-15.

My family back in Illinois didn’t know. In my mind, I could hear my mother screaming how I could marry someone two weeks after we met in a bar and my father trying to calm her down. “Well, he is twenty-one now.”

Suzy had her heart set on the Silver Bell Wedding Chapel as soon as she laid eyes on it. For starters, it really did look like a chapel—this white clapboard building with what appeared to be stained glass windows and a steeple, surrounded by the cutest white picket fence you could imagine; though, the red and yellow neon sign out front and neon trim around the eaves were a bit over the top. I wanted to get married by the King at the Graceland Wedding Chapel, but Suzy protested. How could anyone not want to be married by an Elvis impersonator?

Billy and Joy loaned us some money so we could have the deluxe wedding that came with photos, a cassette recording of the vows, and four tickets to a show, tokens and a complimentary bottle of champagne. The minister, reverend, or whatever religious moniker he used to sanctify the vows reeked of whiskey and cheap cigars. Turned out he grew up not far from my childhood town. Then he asked me for a tip, or a donation to the church as he put it.

The show turned out to be some off the strip venue, but the guy that played Chuck Campbell, the ventriloquist with his dummy Bob on TV’s Soap headlined along with a chorus line of naked women dancing to the music of Star Wars as they brandished illuminated plastic light sabers. Suzy quaffed most of the champagne and promptly ordered more followed by shots of tequila and Coors.

Outside, while I waited for Billy to bring the car around, a hooker propositioned me. Joy and Suzy staggered out of the casino. The hooker smiled and shrugged before she sashayed down the sidewalk.

We had the $3.95 “All-You-Can-Eat” buffet special at the Circus Circus before we go back to our hotel located next to the airport. As soon as we arrived back at the 12.95 a night hotel, which came with with a complimentary bottle of cheap bubbly and tokens for one of the casinos, Suzy made a beeline for the bathroom. I fed some quarters in the vibrating bed and turned on the television just in time for Saturday Night Live.

“Suzy, are you okay?” I asked.

She said something unintelligible, which I took for, “I am so sick” as she vomited into the toilet.

Eric Idle was the host of SNL and Kate Bush was the musical act. Looked liked it was going to be a good one, I thought. I cracked open a Bud and dialed home. Dad answered and wasn’t too happy to have been woken up.

“It’s me, Ray,” I said and swigged some of the beer. “Yeah, I know what time it is. I just wanted to let you and mom know that I got married today.” It got quiet on the other end and heard him wake my mother. Through two time zones of static, I heard the two of them yelling. First, he yelled that I was old enough and then she yelled that I was his son and that this would have never happened if he would have spent more time with me as a child. Then it got quiet again before my father came back on and told me how happy he and mom were for us.

In the bathroom, I heard Suzy vomit again.

“Oh God, please don’t let me throw up anymore,” she said.

Finally, my parents got around to asking how we were.

Outside, another jet took off rattling the windows.

“We couldn’t be happier.”

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Kathy had already gone through our album collection, writing initials on the ones she insisted she bought—the dishes and glasses had been easier to divvy up, most had already been shattered against the kitchen wall—before she called and said to come over and pick up the rest of my shit.

After I worked up the courage with a couple of shots at Flo’s—just in case she still had some fight left in her—I headed over to what used to be our house just down the street. She must have been furious. The two plastic pink flamingos, the ones we bought at a garage sale two years ago were lying in the muddy front yard belly up. My shit, as she referred to it on the phone was on the front porch—the part of the porch that was not covered—which after the last thunderstorm, a soggy reminder of what we once had.

She wasn’t even home for one last fight. Her kid sister got the honor of handing over the rest of my stuff and then, reminding me to hand over the key. Either her sister feigned ignorance or finally got back at me for the time Kathy and I locked her in the bedroom so we could do it on the couch, she knew nothing of the Elvis on black velvet.

“I know it’s still here,” I said moving past her.

Kathy and I bought it three years ago on our way back from Galena where we had gone antiquing. Some guy was selling them in the parking lot of this abandoned Sonic Drive-in. It wasn’t just any Elvis black velvet painting. This was his “Love Me Tender” days when Elvis was, well Elvis and not the overweight buffoon and rock and roll caricature he would become in the late 60s and 70s. She was just as much an Elvis fan as I was and we both fell in love with it at the same time.

“I think you should wait until she gets home,” her sister said. “If she finds out you were rummaging around the house, she’ll be angry.”

The painting used to hang on the wall in the living room, above the sofa, but it had been replaced with a print of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. I was almost tempted to take that one, too.

There was only one place it could be.

“You can’t go in there.” Her sister moved toward the bedroom door but I moved faster. She stepped out of the way; maybe she thought I would lock her in the bedroom again.

There it was, on the bedroom wall above the bed. There was no way I was going to let this Elvis watch over her while she looked up at him when another man banged her. I pulled it off the wall leaving a faint outline where it once had been.

“What’s mine is mine.” I said and walked out with Elvis under my arm. And then, I curled my upper lip and in my best Elvis impersonation, “the King is gone but not forgotten.”

Penance by Jeffrey Miller

Jonathan took out a sheet of paper and began another letter he knew he would never send.

The letters were part of the punishment he inflicted upon himself three times a week. On Tuesday and Thursday, he punished himself at lunch he took in the park across from his office when he saw young mothers with their small children running, playing and giggling. On Saturday afternoons, when he did his weekly shopping at Costco, the punishment was crueler and unjust when he saw the fathers with their children—either pushing them in a baby carriage or holding their son or daughter’s hand as they shopped.

He could have easily avoided those places and gone somewhere else for lunch or shopping, but the punishment was of his own design and atonement.

Each time he saw the mothers and fathers with their children he thought about his own children whom he had not seen in years. In the photo he kept on his desk, the boys had never grown older; after all these years they were still six and two. The oldest one had his arm around his younger brother. He remembered the day he took the photo of them, the day they had gone to the amusement park. The day the oldest one rode the rollercoaster for the first time and his youngest got ice cream all over his face and clothes.

He picked up the photo and touched their faces through the cold glass. It had been so long since he last heard their voices; he wasn’t even sure what they sounded like anymore.

That was the same day when he yelled at the older one for not watching his brother more carefully. It was on their way back to the car, when the youngest boy ran across the street nearly getting hit by a car.

“I told you to hold onto your brother’s hand,” he screamed, “and not to run. You both could have been killed.”

“I’m sorry, daddy,” the oldest boy cried. “I’m sorry.”

It hadn’t been his weekend to take the kids, either. The one weekend he had been looking forward to all summer to go to Chicago with some buddies from work and take in a Cubs’ game, his ex had to drop off the kids on Friday night.

“I’m sorry. I have to go out of town on a business trip. I won’t be back until late Sunday,” she said, standing in the doorway of his tiny apartment, with both boys playing hide and seek behind her.

“What about your mother,” he said, remembering the contingency plan they had agreed on, for such an occurrence. “Can’t she watch them?”

“She’s visiting friends in Chicago this weekend.”

The irony was not lost on him. His ex-mother-in-law was also a big Cubs’ fan.

She kissed the boys on their foreheads, told them to be good, and then rushed out of the apartment to the waiting airport limousine.
At night, when he took out the pen and paper and sat down to write a letter to his boys, the same letter he tried to write every night on the days he had lunch in the park and the weekends shopping at Costco—that was when the punishment gnawed away at his heart and soul. In his desk drawer were months of unfinished letters and finished letters stuffed in envelopes that he never got around to sending. He wasn’t even sure if the address he had was still the correct one. Each letter began the same way, “I’m sorry for what I did and hope you will forgive me” – over and over.

Of course, penance never came easy for a tormented soul; it would never be enough punishment for that rainy night on the way home from the movies when he lost control of his car and the accident that took his family away from him.

He took out another sheet of paper and started another letter

After my brother and I came back home after watching The Bridge at Remagen at the Majestic Theatre, we played in the front yard with our G.I. Joes, taking on the entire German Army until mom yelled for us to come in and wash up for dinner. She made a big batch of sloppy Joes and later, her friend Barb from work stopped over with her boyfriend Don who just returned from Vietnam.

Don sat cross-legged on the living room floor and stared straight ahead with hooded eyes at the television and Clint Howard on Gentle Ben. He wolfed down two plates of Joes and washed them down with a six-pack of Old Milwaukee. When he finished, he fidgeted with a large hunting knife that he had strapped to the outside of his brown boot and jumped when a car backfired outside.

That’s when I stopped playing army.