By Marshall Norman McCarthy
Just have a good day. He dragged the razor across his cheek, wincing as it tore instead of cut. Just have a good day. Were his eyes always this sunken; were the bags beneath them always so dark? Just have a good day. How was his wife still able to look at him with that old spark, the one that hadn't guttered out over the years?
'Just have a good day,' he repeated his mantra to his reflection, putting down the razor and checking his work. Free of stubble, yet his face seemed haggard, worn; another day's journey towards the end.
All his life he'd been told that men age gracefully, that they get better, more handsome with age. Thinking on that as he scrutinized the ever unfamiliar man in the mirror, he believed he understood now the word conceit.
'Just have a good day.' Now he was speaking to the cat, who sat on the little table near the front door watching him pull on his coat. How many times had he wished, in childish fashion, that he could switch places with the little orange beast? He'd even asked the cat to trade places with him one day, but, in classic feline fashion, he'd been answered with a nonplussed stare.
The January air bit at his face. The ice storm had passed, leaving his world sheathed in slippery reflections. At least today the car started. It groaned when he turned the engine over, sputtered for a moment and, just as a curse was set to leave his lips, his little sedan coughed out the last of its reluctance, and hummed. He cranked the heat and waited for the windshield to clear.
Just have a good day. Easier said than done. If he could just stay home and work away at his little projects, tinkering and creating, he could find that sort of satisfaction. He could, even if he managed to only take a single step towards progress, be happy.
But pulling out of the parking lot of his apartment building, happiness was eight and a half hours away.
The streets were bustling with routine traffic. He navigated his route to work in the half awake way of daily commuters. Images of accidents bubbled up in his mind. He saw himself skidding into a ditch; T-boned at an intersection; head on with an eighteen-wheeler. Those shouldn't be nice thoughts, but to him they seemed like salvation. Old fantasies, born in a darker times, now resurfacing…
Just have a good day. The mantra repeated, but it was his wife's voice speaking in his head. An end to him would be no end for her. She was a tough chick, but when they'd put those rings on each other's fingers they'd sworn to face the world together. They'd sworn to stand against the darkness, hand in hand, surviving by the strength they shared.
And so images of fatal accidents were followed by scenes of grief, by the sight of her face tear streaked, the sounds of her raw voice wailing at the injustice that all feel when someone they love is taken from them.
He may never understand that woman's love for him, for a man with artistic aspirations fumbling with the work-a-day life, but he'd hold to it like a lifeline…
* * *
'Hey, babe.' Even sitting on the couch in her pajamas, wrapped in one of those thin blankets she picked up at a bargain, his wife was stunning. It was the way her eyes lit up when he walked through the door. Every time. No matter how shitty their days went – and working retail that was often – she always had that same Everything's Right with the World expression when he got home.
'Hey, love,' he said, unable, and unwilling, to fight the grin that hitched at his mouth. 'How was your day?' He hung his coat, shuffling over to her.
'Don't even get me started.' She shook her head, lit them each a cigarette. 'Yours?' She handed him a smoke as he sat beside her.
'Doesn't matter.' He leaned into her, shoulder to shoulder.
'Bad day at work?'
He could go on about it, weaving his tale of retail hell, but looking into those big brown eyes, he knew that it would only sully this moment and, realized as he puffed on his cigarette, this moment was what he'd worked for. This moment when he could forget about his boss, his customers, and just be rejuvenated by her.
So he kissed her, deeply, instead of seeking commiseration. And when they parted, and he saw her girlish smile, he deflated, shedding off the stress. It would return with the dawn, but for now, all was right.
'Let's see what's on T.V.,' he said, putting an arm around her. They settled into each other and he decided then that, yes, he had had a good day.